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Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival Celebrates Life Through a Jewish Lens

Layout 1The Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival will present two weeks of award-winning films from around the world, plus speakers and special events, from March 20 – April 6.
In all, 20 films from 10 countries will be screened across the Pioneer Valley – in Amherst, Chicopee, Greenfield, Longmeadow, Northampton, Shelburne Falls, Springfield, and West Springfield – in venues ranging from the Basketball Hall of Fame and the Jewish Community Center in Springfield to Smith College in Northampton and the Garden Cinemas in Greenfield.
In addition to the films, special events will include a special “Nosh & Schmooze Mid-Fest Celebration on March 26, a family concert on March 30 and a variety of guest speakers and local scholars who will speak at eight different screenings.
The Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival is presented by the Springfield Jewish Community Center and is produced in partnership with Avoda Arts. It is funded by a grant from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.
For ticket information, call
(413) 739-4715 or visit

Hunting Elephants

Hunting Elephants

Hunting Elephants
Thursday, March 20, 7 p.m.
Longmeadow High School, Longmeadow
In this modern-day heist film, teenager Jonathan (Gil Blank) is left in a nursing home by his mother with his curmudgeonly grandfather (a former bank robber), after losing his father in a bank accident. Together, they, with help from fellow nursing home resident Nick and an eccentric English uncle, (Patrick Stewart) – hatch a scheme to help Jonathan avenge his father’s death and re-live their glory days.



Saturday, March 22, 8:30 p.m.
Basketball Hall of Fame Auditorium, Springfield
This provocative thriller is set in motion when Franek returns from the U.S. to his native village in Poland. There he discovers his brother, Jozek, is hated by his fellow Catholic villagers. When Jozek is attacked and beaten for removing old Jewish tombstones that were used to pave the village roads, he finally reveals the reasons for the town’s hostility. What Franek discovers next is an ominous and terrifying secret that has claimed countless lives and scarred his village for almost half a century.

RamlehDouble Feature:
Ramleh & the Dreamers
Sunday March 23, 7 p.m.
Stoddard Hall, Smith College, Northampton

This documentary profiles seemingly disparate women residing in the town of Ramleh. Profiled are Sima and Orly, two ultra-Orthodox Jewish women who rediscover religion and support the conservative “Shas” party, Svetlana, a single-mother and recent immigrant struggling to establish herself in her new country; and Gehad, a young Muslim teacher and law student attempting to find a sense of national identity.
Introduction by Miri Talmon, Shusterman Visiting Professor of Israel Studies, Smith College. Post-film discussion with Smith College faculty will follow.
Ruchama and Tikva, two orthodox women, embark on a journey to fulfill their dream of making movies. But living in a closed religious society, they must struggle to find balance between their profound commitment to the community and loyalty to their individual creativity.
Introduction by Miri Talmon, Shusterman Visiting Professor of Israel Studies, Smith College. Post-film discussion with Smith College faculty will follow.

The Jewish Cardinal
Monday March 24, 7 p.m.
Library Theater, Elms College, Chicopee
This powerful fictional film is based on the true-life story of Jean-Marie Lustiger (1926-2007), who, born of Polish Jews, joined the Catholic priesthood and was appointed Archbishop of Paris. There, he openly celebrated his dual identity as a “Catholic Jew,” bringing him friends and enemies from both religions.
A post-film discussion will follow. Co-sponsored by: Elms College Office of Diversity Support Services and the Mary Dooley Lecture Series.
My Australia
Monday, March 24, 7 p.m.
Garden Cinema, Greenfield
In a poor neighborhood in 1960’s Lodz, Poland, 10 year-old Tadek and his brother are members of an anti-Semitic gang. After vandalizing a Jewish school, they are arrested. Their mother, a Holocaust survivor, has no choice but to reveal though raised as Catholics, they are in fact, Jews. Telling the younger boy they are going to Australia, the land of his fantasies, the family boards a ship to Israel.

Broadway Musicals:
A Jewish Legacy
Tuesday, March 25, 1:30 p.m.
Jewish Community Center Auditorium, Springfield
Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy explores the unique role of Jewish composers and lyricists in the creation of the modern American musical and many of the songs that comprise “The American Songbook.”

The Pin
Tuesday, March 25, 7 p.m.
Yiddish Book Center, Amherst
Two young people find love while in hiding during World War II. The boy, now an old man, works as a Shomer, a religious watchman guarding the souls of the dead before their burial. One night he comes face to face with his long lost love when her dead body is wheeled into the morgue where he works. He recalls the brief but intense circumstances of their love affair.

Mid Fest Celebration!
Zig Zag Kid

Wednesday, March 26, 6:30 p.m.: reception; 7:30 p.m.: film
Cinemark Theater (Rave Cinema), West Springfield
Nono longs to be like his father – the best police inspector in the world – but his mischievous nature always gets him in trouble. Two days before his bar mitzvah, he is sent away to his uncle Shmuel to get him on track. However, through a mysterious encounter with master-burglar Felix Glick, an old acquaintance of his father, he stops the train and enters a world of disguises and chases and learns a secret that will change his life forever.

50_Children_DVD.indd50 Children
Thursday, March 27, 7 p.m.
Springfield College, Marsh Chapel, Springfield
50 Children reveals the never-before-told story of Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, a Jewish couple from Philadelphia who, in 1939, traveled to Nazi-occupied Vienna in a daring effort to rescue 50 children and bring them back to the U.S. In carrying out this incredible mission, the Kraus’s were responsible for rescuing the largest known American transport of refugee children during the Holocaust.
Guest Speaker: Writer, director, and producer, Steven Pressman, will be at this screening to talk about his film.
Fill the Void

Thursday, March 27, 7 p.m.
Gamble Hall, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley
The well-to-do family of Rabbi Aharon
suffers a tragedy when his daughter, Esther, dies during childbirth. A younger daughter, Shira, 18, is pressured by her mother to marry her deceased sister’s husband. Declaring her independence is not an option in Tel Aviv’s ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community where religious law, tradition and the rabbi’s word are absolute.
Post-film discussion with Dr. Lawrence Fine, Professor of Religion and Jewish Studies, Mount Holyok College.

A Serious Man
Saturday, March 29, 8 p.m.
Pothole Pictures, Shelburne Falls
Jewish physics lecturer, Larry Gopnik, is a serious and very put-upon man. With lawyers’ bills mounting for his divorce, his brother’s criminal court appearances and a land feud with a neighbor, Larry is tempted to take the bribe offered by a student to give him an illegal exam pass mark. The rabbis he visits for advice only dole out platitudes. Still, God moves in mysterious – and not always pleasant – ways, as Larry and his family will find out.

The Escape
Saturday, March 29, 8:30 p.m.
Stoddard Hall, Smith College, Northampton
In this road movie, a group of Israeli teenagers from different backgrounds set out on a personal adventure following the original “Bricha Movement,” which was set up to help Jews escape post war Europe and get to Israel. Using today’s Europe as the backdrop, the teenagers meet with survivors, witnesses and local youth to hear their personal extraordinary experiences. Co-sponsored by: Smith College Jewish Studies Program.
Mama Doni’s Jewish
Holiday Party
Sunday, March 30, 3:30 p.m.,
Lander-Grinspoon Academy, Northampton
Mama Doni Zasloff returns in person to sing, dance and story tell her way through Passover and Shabbat with the premiere of her new film series, Mama Doni’s Jewish Holiday Party! Mama Doni and acoustic guitar virtuoso Eric Lindberg fuse together traditional Jewish melodies with contemporary blue-grass sounds. Perfect for toddlers to grandparents! Co-sponsored by PJ Library.

Mabul (The Flood)
Sunday, March 30, 7 p.m.
Smith College, Stoddard Hall, Northampton
Yoni is almost 13, gifted, but physically underdeveloped and, struggling to grow up before his up-coming Bar Mitzvah. His classmates, a year older and two heads taller, bully him every chance they get and his parents barely say a word to each other. Only a week before the ceremony – his autistic brother, Tomer, 17, hidden for years in hostel that is now shut down – returns home. This shakes not only Yoni’s life, but the unstable foundation of the entire family. Post film discussion with Joel Kaminsky, Professor of Religion, Smith College, and Miri Talmon, Schusterman Visiting Professor of Israel Studies, Smith College.

Tuesday, April 1, 7 p.m.
Amherst Cinema, Amherst
(See Aftermath, Saturday, March 22)

Nicky’s Family
Tuesday, April 1, 7 p.m.
Springfield JCC Auditorium, Springfield
The amazing story of Sir Nicholas Winton, a young British stockbroker who organized the rescue of 669 Czech and Slovak children just before the outbreak of World War II. This remarkable tale of “the British Schindler,” part documentary and part dramatic re-enactments, has inspired not only those he saved, but thousands of others to invest themselves in positive actions around the world.
Ladies’ Tailor
(Damiskiy Portnoy)
Wednesday, April, 2, 7:30 p.m.
Flavin Auditorium, UMass, Amherst, FREE SCREENING
This powerful Holocaust drama takes place in Kiev, on the eve of the mass execution in Babi Yar on September 29, 1941. An old Jewish tailor joins his family in their soon-to-be-lost home. The film chronicles the last 24 hours of their lives as family members pack, bake cookies for the road, argue and reminisce about the past.
Co-sponsored with the Massachusetts Multicultural Film Festival and the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Introduction by Olga Gershenson, Associate Professor, Judaic and Near Eastern Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Hunting Elephants
7 p.m.
Garden Cinema, Greenfield
(See “Hunting Elephants” March 20)

Thursday April 3
Closed Season
Thursday, April 3,
4 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.
Amherst College, Amherst
Suspense and intrigue infuse the thrilling tale of Albert who flees to Switzerland to escape Nazi persecution and is given shelter by villagers Fritz and Emma. Unable to conceive, Fritz proposes that Albert father a child with Emma. At first, repelled by the idea, Emma relents, only to find herself falling for the young stranger. A maze of jealously and betrayal erupts, while frequent visits by a Nazi patrolman adds suspense.
Introduction by Christian Rogowski, Professor of German, Amherst College.
Co-sponsored by: Amherst College Department of German and Office of the Jewish Religious Advisor and German Consulate General in Boston.

Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story
Thursday, Apri. 3, 7 p.m.
Western New England University, Sleith Hall, Springfield
The story of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese Consul General stationed in Bordeaux, France, who despite Circular 14 — ordering Portuguese diplomats to deny visas to Holocaust refugees seeking to escape via Portugal — issued visas to some 30,000 refugees, about a third of whom were Jewish. Co-sponsored by: WNEU Spiritual Life Department.

Jealous of the Birds
Sunday, April 6, 2 p.m.
Springfield JCC Auditorium, Springfield, FREE SCREENING
Some 15,000 Holocaust survivors remain in Germany after WWII. How could they stay? In interviews with survivors, their children and other Germans, filmmaker Jordan Bahat explores what it means for victims to live among perpetrators and for children of those perpetrators to deal with the guilt borne from the crimes of their parents.

“Aftermath” Powerfully Evokes Polish Anti-Semitism
By Abe Foxman

After Germany itself, no country has been more scrutinized for its behavior during the Holocaust than Poland. This is understandable considering the fact that three million Jews lived in Poland and the fact that the largest death camps were in Poland.
Sometimes, however, this scrutiny takes awkward turns. From time to time one hears references to the “Polish” camps, and it is necessary to set the record straight: These were German camps located in occupied Poland.
At other times one hears comments such as the Poles learn their anti-Semitism from their mother’s milk or the Poles were even worse than the Germans. But while Polish anti-Semitism was real and virulent, there is an implication of something historic and inherent about Poland that does not square with the record.
If Poland was always an anti-Semitic country, why were three million Jews living there on the eve of World War II? The answer is that for many centuries, Poland was a more welcoming place for Jews than countries in Western Europe.
Jewish communities were given a degree of autonomy and stability in Poland that did not exist elsewhere in the late Middle Ages and early modern period. Anti-Semitism existed, of course, but Jewish life could flourish. It was only later, with the dissolution of the Polish Empire and, particularly, in the 20th century with the emergence of reactionary political forces, that Polish anti-Semitism took a turn for the worse.
In sum, the history of Poland and the Jews is a lot more complicated than some would have it.
Still, the power of anti-Semitism in modern Poland is real and never has it so brilliantly been portrayed as in the Polish film “Aftermath.”
It is a story of two Polish brothers, one now living in America who goes back home. He sees that his brother is being abused by his neighbors. He learns that it was a result of his brother’s digging up tombstones of Jews that were used to pave a local road and setting them up in the field behind his house.
Whatever his attitude toward Jews, he explains that “they were human beings. There is no one left to look after them.” People began to call him “Jew lover” and other even less pretty epithets. This, however, is only the beginning of the tale. As it evolves, the story of those dead Jews becomes more and more gruesome and relates back to events that took place during World War II.
The film is one of the most riveting Holocaust-related films I have seen for several reasons.
First, it is not in your face. The story and the revelations slowly emerge and are all the more powerful when they do.
Second, anti-Semitism is shown not to be a simple phenomenon, but one with many layers. Both of the brothers themselves make anti-Semitic references and yet each is very different from their hate-filled neighbors. For the brother living in Poland, even if he carried with him common stereotypes about Jews, using tombstones to pave a road was too disrespectful. So he took a stand.
And for the brother coming from America, concern about issues of property in the town led him to pursue with vigor and integrity the true story of what happened to the Jews of the town and the role of prominent members of the community in those events.
Third, through the telling of a story it shows the importance of recovering the truth of the past in order to repair the present and the future.
While this is a fictional account, it is based on the horrific events that took place in Jedwabne in 1941 when the Germans invaded. Jan Gross has written an important book on the subject.
Much like when Gross’s book came out, so too when “Aftermath” appeared in Polish theaters there was much controversy. The filmmaker was accused in some circles of defaming the Polish people. Others, however, commended him for speaking truth about terrible acts committed by respectable Poles.
“Aftermath” is a must-see film. In a sophisticated way, it does a better job of communicating the power and destructiveness anti-Semitism than almost any other film.
And it is a story about heroes, about people who do the right thing even if they are less than perfect people themselves.

Abraham H. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor from Poland, is national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Observant Israeli filmmaker fills empathy ‘Void’
By Michael Fox

Rama Burshtein’s gripping debut, “Fill the Void,” focuses on the quietly dramatic domestic lives of religious Jews in Israel.
Even more rare and unusual, however, is that the director is a member of that community, an observant Jew.
Born in New York and a self-described “wild child” back in the day, Burshtein became religious while she was studying at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem. The deeply empathetic “Fill the Void” wasn’t made for her community, she emphasizes.
“It’s you that doesn’t know about us,” Burshtein explained. “I did the film out of pain, that we’re portrayed only [by] outsiders. No one from within really portrays us and we have no culture voice in the world, which is crazy because we’re 3,000 years old and we’re very wise and we’re very open-minded, and it’s crazy that we don’t have a voice. So I made a little squeak, trying to say something from within.”
“Fill the Void,” which Burshtein calls “a crazy love story” and a journey “from the impossible to the only possibility,” screens in the Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival at Mount Holyoke College on March 27.
The film revolves around teenager Shira (Hadas Yaron, who received the Best Actress prize at the Venice Film Festival), whose marriage plans are upended when her pregnant older sister dies suddenly, leaving a widower and a newborn as well as grieving parents.
Torn between her dreams and a sense of responsibility to her mother and father, Shira grapples with the strange, alluring and vaguely frightening prospect of marrying her brother-in-law. However, unlike most films set among traditional, cloistered and religious people, the parents and rabbi aren’t depicted as agents of repression and suffering.
“I think it’s like a secret in life, which of course I did not make up, that if you start seeing the world without villains, then dialogue can start,” the 40-something filmmaker muses. “It’s very childish to work with villains and good guys and bad guys. So I specifically went [about] opening the dialogue.”
Misconceptions around arranged marriage are likewise addressed, with Shira having a definite say-so in whom she marries. In the film’s mysterious and unexpectedly amusing opening scene, she and her mother surreptitiously check out a potential prospect – proposed by a matchmaker – in a supermarket.
“This is like a true portrait,” Burshtein declares. “This is how it works. Shira would probably meet the guy from the supermarket, and he’s a good guy and she likes the way he looks and they will marry and from that commitment they will build generations. She will sit with someone, and if it doesn’t feel right, and it doesn’t move her in any way, she will not marry him.”
Burshtein evinces amazement that “Fill the Void” has traveled as far as it has, from international festivals to Israel’s official submission for the Foreign Language Oscar to a national theatrical release in the U.S. She’s even more stunned at the range of ways in which the audiences interpret and respond to the characters.
“Everyone reads [the film] differently. But really differently. Someone will say this is a war movie, and someone will say it’s a peace movie. This is a victims’ movie, and someone will say it’s a love story. Some think it’s so tragic and some think it’s so romantic. I have no idea how it happened. I did not mean that. I meant to do a love story, only very delicate. The real location of the film is Shira’s heart, and the journey is to understand what she feels.”
“Fill the Void” unfolds with a great deal of tension and ambiguity, an approach that heightens the viewer’s fascination and identification with Shira and provokes immediate discussion after the credits roll. With a chuckle, Burshtein attributes the film’s power to luck rather than forethought or skill.
“[Her heart] is where everything happens. It’s a house with rooms. Because she doesn’t have the words for it, because I am crazy enough not to [include] a girl friend so she would tell her what’s going on, it’s up to you to decide.”

“Fill the Void” will be screened on Thursday, March 27 at 7 p.m. at Mount Holyoke College, Gamble Hall, in South Hadley.

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