Live screenings return for JCC’s annual film festival in Marblehead

Movies also are available to watch online

Jérémie Renier and François Cluzet in a tense moment in the French thriller, “The Man in the Basement.”

By Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD — The Jewish Com­munity Center of the North Shore International Jewish Film Festival is celebrating both its ninth year and its return to in-person screenings with a diverse menu of 12 films inspired by Jewish history, culture, and humor.

All in-person screenings will be shown at the Warwick Cinema in Marblehead. Films also are available to view virtually for those who choose to watch at home.

The festival runs from April 24 through May 5 and includes prerecorded and live Zoom conversations with filmmakers. Fran Levy-Freiman and Izzi Abrams are cochairs. The festival is sponsored by Sharon and Howard Rich and Leslie and Bob Ogan and is partnering with the Central Mass International Jewish Film Festival at the Worcester JCC.

Opening night presents the tense, psychological thriller, “The Man in the Basement,” a French film about a Parisian couple who sells their basement apartment to a seemingly well-mannered former teacher. Their world is turned upside down when they discover he has hidden his secret life as an antisemitic conspiracy theorist, leading to a sinister standoff.

Two historical dramas set in 1942 recount the plight of Jews living in France during the Nazi occupation.

Rebecca Marder and Cyril Metzer star in the French historical drama, “A Radiant Girl.” Photo Credit: Jérôme Prébois

Set in Paris, “A Radiant Girl” is the charming story of a 19-year-old aspiring actress whose carefree life and indomitable spirit are put to the test by the growing Nazi threat to her entire world, especially her close-knit family.

“Valiant Hearts,” starring Camille Cottin, tells the true story of six Jewish children forced to take refuge among the Louvre Museum artworks hidden in the Chateâu de Chambord. This story of exceptional bravery is suitable for the whole family.

Another family choice is “Alegria,” a dramady centered around a matriarch who returns to her native Melilla in Spain for the Sephardic wedding of her niece. Along the way, she reunites with her estranged daughter and reconnects to her roots, illuminating Melilla’s multiculturalism and the richness of her relationships with the women in her circle.

In “Plan A,” a newly released mystery/drama, a Jewish Holocaust survivor meets a radical group of Jewish resistance fighters in 1945. They, like him, have lost hope for their futures after their families were killed by the Nazis. They hatch a revenge operation that takes the concept of “an eye for an eye” to a new level. They will kill six million Germans – one for every Jew slaughtered.

On a lighter note, “The Specials” is an uplifting story about two friends – one an ultra-Orthodox Jew, the other a Muslim – who join forces to advocate for autistic teens that have been rejected by state-run hospitals.

Menachem Begin addresses a crowd in the documentary, “Upheaval: The Journey of Menachem Begin.”

Rounding out the dramatic offerings is the Israeli film, “Greener Pastures,” a comedy about a widowed man obsessed with escaping the nursing home his family has placed him in against his will – until he discovers potentials provided by legal medical cannabis the residents all enjoy and rely on.

Five documentaries complete the lineup. “The United States of Elie Tahari” chronicles the life of fashion designer and mogul Elie Tahari, from his childhood in Israel to his arrival in New York City in 1971 with $100 in his pocket to his fashion empire, worth over a $1 billion today.

Israeli-born filmmaker Becky Tahel grapples with her understanding of religion, love, and identity after her younger sister marries a non-Jew in her introspective film, “American Birthright.” Her quest leads her on an extraordinary journey of self-discovery.

The Israeli film, “Yerusalem: The Incredible Story of Ethiopian Jewry,” describes the brave Ethiopian Beta-Israel immigrants and the people who risked their lives to help them make Aliyah between 1977 and 1985. Despite their long history of observing Jewish traditions and the trauma of a tumultuous exodus, the Beta-Israelis can’t shake their outsider status in Israel, where they still struggle to prove their Jewishness and earn a legitimate place in Israeli society.

“Upheaval: The Journey of Men­achem Begin” portrays the life and essence of the brilliant and proud man who never compromised when the survival of Israel and the Jewish people were at stake.

Finally, closing night (May 5) showcases the film “The Automat,” a valentine to the iconic 100-year food chain, Horn & Hardart. Featuring an original song written and performed by Mel Brooks, the movie includes interviews and reminisces of such notable former customers as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Howard Schultz, Colin Powell, and others. The in-person screening will be introduced live by Richard J.S. Gutman, America’s leading diner expert.

For more information and to buy tickets, visit jccns.org/film-festival-2022.

CSH, JCCNS partner with theater company to present unique Women’s Seder

CSH, JCCNS partner with theater company to present unique Women’s Seder

Tiffany Moalem (l) and Kimberly Green (r) will perform stories at the Women’s Seder.

By Shelley A. Sackett

Why is this year’s Passover different from other years?

Because this year, the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore and Congregation Shirat Hayam have teamed up to partner with The Braid (formerly the Jewish Women’s Theatre) to put on a hybrid Women’s Seder that will interweave Zoomed professional story performances with the text of the women’s Haggadah the team has created.

“The broad themes of encouraging each of us to free ourselves to be ourselves might seem only individual. But when we see a group of women around us wrestling with the same issues — trying to uncover and accept who each of us is beneath all of our expectations, responsibilities and self-denials — we realize we are more similar than different,” said Janis Knight, Director, Center for Jewish Education at CSH.

It all started when Sara Ewing, JCCNS Director of Adult Programs, reached out to Knight, who has run a CSH Women’s Seder for years, asking if she wanted to partner with the JCCNS. Ewing had received a grant from the Jewish Women’s Endowment Fund. Knight was immediately on board.
“Collaborations are key in getting the word out, sharing resources, and building a sense of community,” Ewing said.

Ewing was introduced to The Braid at a national JCC conference. She liked the company’s creative approach and she and Knight reached out to the California-based group to work together and bring something innovative and different to the North Shore community.

Jodi Marcus, Community Partnership Lead at The Braid, explained how their unique process works. First, she asks if there is a particular theme the organization wants to explore and the number of stories they want presented. To create a unique Haggadah, as they are doing in this case, Ronda Spinak, The Braid Founder and Artistic Director, suggests specific stories that illuminate the theme — some funny, some thought-provoking and some that might elicit a tear.

“We are thought partners,” Marcus explained.
The team selects stories to highlight JCCNS/CSH’s theme of “Journeys to Liberation – Transcendence, Acceptance, and Freedom to Reveal Our True Identities.” They then forward those stories to the JCCNS/CSH team for approval, and determine how they’d like to integrate the stories into the Haggadah, including room for writings, prayers or songs that are meaningful to the community.

The Braid’s virtual partnership will bring a creative and modern twist to an ancient tradition. Their stories, performed live for an online audience, are guaranteed to punctuate and enrich the seder experience.

Cantor Sarah Freudenberger, who is excited to help create and participate in the event, will enhance the morning with her musical talents. “I am excited to see what Passover is like at Shirat Hayam, and to add my own music to the story,” she said.

Before the seder, The Braid and local team will have a technical rehearsal to ensure the event will flow smoothly. Knight, in particular, is thrilled (and relieved) to have been able to hire someone to focus on the timing and production of the Zoom event.

Since 2008, The Braid has pioneered a new theatrical art form called Salon Theatre, a compilation of true stories curated around a theme meant to illuminate the human condition. This unique art form sits at the intersection of theater and storytelling, giving voice to diverse contemporary stories grounded in Jewish culture and experience that can be performed anywhere.

The Braid doesn’t use sets, props or costumes. Rather, the experience is meant to be intimate and engaging, whether on Zoom or in person. “Touching hearts and leaving no Jewish story untold is at the core of what we do,” Marcus said.

The Braid will perform many stories, including: the retooling of Dayeinu (“It would have been enough”) into a rap song; a mother’s trauma when she discovers her son has head lice (one of the 10 plagues), and the true story of Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, senior rabbi of New York’s Central Synagogue, the daughter of a Korean Buddhist mother and a Jewish father.

These stories will be Zoomed in at specific times during the seder, which will be inperson only on Sunday, April 3, at 11 a.m. at Congregation Shirat Hayam. A $5 fee includes a kosher boxed lunch.

Stressing inclusivity, particularly for Jews of Color, LGBTQ+ Jews, Jews of choice and others, Knight is especially hopeful the seder will draw teenage girls and their mothers, in order to expand their awareness of what being a Jewish woman is and can be in this community. “I hope to hear singing, laughter, conversation, and that indefinable humming noise you get when someone hears a story that has touched them,” Knight said.

For more information or to register, go to bit.ly/WomensSederNorthShore

Ruth Wisse will discuss her new memoir, “Free As A Jew,” in person at JCCNS Jewish Book Month Speaker Series on November 7

Ruth Wisse

By Shelley A. Sackett

Ruth Roskies Wisse is no shrinking violet. Born in Czernowitz, Romania, in 1936, she and her family escaped to Montreal in 1940, where her parents’ home became a salon and safe haven for Jewish writers, actors and artists who had also fled the Nazis. After graduating with a BA from McGill University in 1957 (where she befriended Leonard Cohen), she earned a MA in Yiddish studies at Columbia University, the only place in North America that offered such a program at that time. She returned to Montreal to raise her family and finish her Ph.D.. In 1968, she began teaching Yiddish literature and helped found a program that would become the Department of Jewish Studies at McGill.

No less a trailblazer academically, Wisse became a joint professor in the Departments of Yiddish and Comparative Literature at Harvard University in 1993, where she taught until she retired in 2014. Her gender, religion, subject matter (Yiddish) and conservative political and social views set her apart from the get go. Her razor-sharp intellect and prolific authorship made her views impossible to ignore.

In 2000:, she received the National Jewish Book Award in Scholarship for “The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey through Language and Culture” and in 2007, she received the National Humanities Medal, which cited her for “scholarship and teaching that have illuminated Jewish literary traditions. Her insightful writings have enriched our understanding of Yiddish literature and Jewish culture in the modern world.”

Along the way, she developed relationships with Nobel Prize winning authors, Saul Bellow and Isaac Bashevis Singer, and a bevy of Harvard University students, faculty and administrators.

A staunch neoconservative and supporter of Israel, Wisse is a prolific author. She has collaborated on Yiddish collections, penned numerous political essays (many of which appear regularly in Commentary, The New Republic and The Jerusalem Report), and authored several books, including the controversial “If I Am Not for Myself…The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews,” a Zionist critique of the American Jewish climate.

No less controversial is her new book, “Free as a Jew: A Personal Memoir of National Self-Liberation,” a no-holds-barred memoir. Wisse will discuss her book with Andrea Levin, Executive Director and President of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), as part of the JCCNS Jewish Book Month Speaker Series on Sunday, November 7 at 3 pm at Temple Emanu-El, Marblehead. The in person event includes a reception and book signing.

According to Wisse , she began writing about parts of her life as a way of understanding the world around her. “Free As A Jew” takes her to the point of her retirement from Harvard in 2014. “One of the ways in which I’ve been fortunate is in the interesting people I’ve come to know. I’ve tried to write this as cultural history, and about myself as a minor participant in that history,” she said by email.

She chose the title carefully and deliberately. “I call it a personal memoir of national self-liberation because I concentrate on the public, intellectual, cultural, and political events I witnessed: most extraordinarily, the reestablishment of a sovereign Jewish country. The defeat—at least formally—of German Fascism and Soviet Communism were great victories. Not for a moment can we afford to take those civilizational achievements for granted,” Wisse said. “But they are being taken for granted.”

The direction of current political and cultural life concerns her, particularly the uptick in anti-Semitism and anti-Israel rhetoric and what she calls “contemporary loss of confidence.”

“It is no secret that the ideological and military war against the Jewish people has in many ways revved up rather than quieted down in recent decades. When people are under assault, many grow frightened, or apologetic, wanting to stay out of trouble. Some respond by trying to appease their attackers, or by becoming more like them. Jews have many things in common with other minorities, but no other minority is under the same sustained attack. This is confusing. Many lose confidence in their Judaism and blame their fellow Jews for the attacks against them,” she said.

Wisse stresses that her memoir is intended as neither homily nor “how to” book, but rather as another tool in one’s toolbox. “In explaining how I came to think about certain things, like the modern challenges to women, the nature of community, liberalism and conservatism, how literature works and why it matters, education and Jewish education, and so on, my story may be useful to others. No two lives are alike, but we all tend to have certain problems and opportunities in common,” she said.

The Exodus story of the Jews leaving slavery Egypt for freedom in Canaan particularly resonates with Wisse and also influenced her book’s title. “Jews learn that escape from bondage is only the first step of the process. We are a rabble — miserable, needy, and anxious — until we accept our pretty stringent set of laws. To be free as a Jew means to assume the responsibilities of freedom and to realize how liberating that really is,” she said.

For more information and to buy tickets, visit jccns.org.

Beloved Boston Radio host Jordan Rich kicks off JBM Speaker Series

By Shelley A. Sackett

Jordan Rich

Although the venues may have shifted over the decades from news to music-drive-time-FM-host to podcaster and talk show host, Jordan Rich’s impressive career weathered a half century in the mercurial field of Boston radio. In his new memoir, “On Air: My 50 Year Love Affair with Radio,” the longtime host of WBZ AM 1030 Radio’s ‘The Jordan Rich Show’ chronicles his remarkable run in his home town.

“It was my dream as a kid in junior high to impact and entertain on air, and I continue to live it out every day. Audiences here in Boston are like no other,” Rich said by email. “The greatest reward of my 50-year career has to be having the luck and opportunity to ply my craft in this market for so many years.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 5 at 7 pm, Metro Boston fans of Rich and the JCCNS Jewish Book Month Speaker Series are also in luck for this double treat: the popular series will kick off its 27th year with an in person opening night event at the JCCNS featuring Rich.

His book is chockfull of stories about the personalities local audiences know and love, and the changing landscape of Boston radio from the 1970s to the present. It also includes intimate details of Rich’s struggles with depression and how his honesty with his radio audience helped him to heal. “When the voice in the night, the trusted, calming, funny voice reveals his human side, beautiful things can happen — and did for me,” Rich explained.

One story not in his book is the way he has coached and advised dozens of people, mentoring broadcasting students on their way into the business just as he was mentored in his young days. One mentee, writer, editor and educator Matt Robinson, is delighted he’ll be interviewing Rich at the October 5 event. “In addition to being a friend, he is an inspiration and ardent supporter,” Robinson said.

The remaining 11 events will take place between October 14 and November 16 in COVID-mindful formats. “We’re hoping that, in whatever way you feel comfortable, you will plan to ‘join’ us for this year’s series, which features a combination of in person, virtual and hybrid events,” JBM committee Chair Diane Knopf said.

Four novelists will share behind the scenes details about their latest works of fiction. Authors Ronald H. Balson (“Defending Britta Stein) and Pam Jenoff (“The Woman with the Blue Star”) will speak about their WWII historic novels, both inspired by true events (Oct. 14, 7 pm on Zoom). Internationally best-selling Israeli author David Grossman will talk about “More Than I Love My Life,” the story of three generations of women on an unlikely journey to a Croatian island with a secret that needs to be told (Oct. 21, 12:30 pm on Zoom). Rounding out the category is Joshua Henkin’s “Morningside Heights: A Novel,” the sweeping and compassionate story of a marriage that survives immeasurable hardship (Nov. 9, 7 pm in person at JCCNS).

Although memoir is a popular genre among this year’s lineup, the four authors differ dramatically in the experiences they share.

Jenna Blum’s “Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog” is a valentine to Woodrow, the treasured black lab who had been by her side for 15 years (Nov. 1, 7 pm in person at JCCNS).

Tracy Walder tells the larger-than-life story of her journey from sorority sister at USC to CIA Middle East undercover operative and FBI counterintelligence specialist in the gripping, action-packed memoir, “The Unexpected Spy” (Oct. 26, 7 pm on Zoom).

Widely published columnist and Harvard University professor emerita Ruth R. Wisse chronicles her life’s journey from her childhood escape from the Nazis to her trail-blazing fight to gain academic equality for Jewish literature and Jewish women in “Free as a Jew: A Personal Memoir of National Self-Liberation.” Temple Emanu-El, Marblehead will host the in person event on Nov. 7, 3 pm.

Nhi Aronheim’s inspirational survival story starts with her escape from Vietnam through the Cambodian jungles. Eventually, she lands in the US and converts to Judaism after marrying a Jewish man. “Soles of A Survivor” reveals her deeper appreciation for the humanity, diversity and unconditional love she has experienced as a Vietnamese Jew (Nov 16, 7 pm on Zoom).

Completing this year’s literary menu are three nonfiction selections. In “The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos,” Judy Batalion details the spectacular accomplishments of three brave Jewish resistance fighters (community read in partnership with Abbot Public Library, Swampscott Public Library and SSU Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies with a book discussion led by Izzi Abrams in person at the JCCNS on Nov. 3, 7 pm; discussion with the author Nov. 14, 8 pm on Zoom). Mahjong fans will have the chance to listen to Annelise Heinz’s virtual presentation of “Mahjong: A Chinese Game and the Making of Modern American Culture” while enjoying a Chinese dinner, wine and — of course — playing mahjong (Oct. 20, 6 pm in person at JCCNS).

Finally, for those who have been dying to know how the Israelis manage to succeed in the start up venture arena, veteran venture capitalist Uri Adoni shares the secrets to Israel’s incredible track record and the principles and practices that can make any startup, anywhere in the world, “unstoppable” in “The Unstoppable Startup: Mastering Israel’s Secret Rules of Chutzpah” (Nov 14, 11 am on Zoom).

For more information and to buy tickets, visit jccns.org.

Local author unpacks a pivotal court case, an obscure doctrine and an ugly legacy

Jack Beermann

By Shelley A. Sackett

The Dormant Commerce Clause doctrine is aptly named. Known to induce temporary dormancy among even the most avid first year law students, its post-bar review practical value outside academia is, essentially, nil.

And yet, Jack Beermann, a Boston University School of Law professor of Constitutional Law, Civil Rights and Administrative Law, has just published a book, “The Journey to Separate But Equal,” based on a little-known but pivotal Supreme Court case that hung its hat on this arcane and crucial constitutional construct that prevents both discrimination against, and excessive burdens on, interstate commerce

Moreover, he turned out a narrative that is as accessible to lay readers as to legal scholars.

It all started when Beermann, who grew up in Skokie, Illinois and lives in Swampscott with his wife, Debbie Korman, read a law review article that cited Hall v. Decuir, an 1877 Supreme Court decision that struck down a Louisiana state antidiscrimination statute and, for the first time after the Civil War, actually approved race-based segregation.

He had never heard of the case.

His curiosity piqued, he began a ten-year journey of trips to Louisiana, research, writing and re-writing, fueled by a drive to document the Court’s first step towards validating segregation in US society. The end result, “The Journey to Separate But Equal,” while exhaustively researched and painstakingly scholarly, is also immensely readable, owing to the compelling human story at its center.

Josephine Decuir, a mixed-race, privileged and wealthy woman whose free family owned slaves that worked their Louisiana plantations, had, as was her custom, booked a first-class ticket in the ladies’ cabin aboard the interstate riverboat, The Governor Allen. Instead of honoring her prepaid ticket, the boat’s stringent segregation policy relegated her to the “colored-only” section of the riverboat, where all non-White passengers, regardless of sex or social status, slept in common areas.

Madame Decuir sued the riverboat owner, citing Louisiana’s nondiscrimination statute, a state law passed during Reconstruction. State courts ruled in her favor, and the owner appealed. The case wound its way to the Supreme Court as Hall v. Decuir. That court ruled against Madame Decuir, citing the US Constitution’s Dormant Commerce Clause doctrine, which is used to prohibit state legislation that discriminates against interstate or international commerce.

Essentially, the Court accepted the owner’s argument that, despite violating state law, segregation was both customary on riverboats and necessary to keep Whites as customers; i.e., integration had the potential to negatively impact his business.

Beermann, who already knew the Supreme Court had prevented the federal government from enforcing Congress’s civil rights program for Reconstruction, wasn’t aware it had also prevented states from enforcing liberal civil rights laws. “I would have written the book regardless of what was happening in the world, but it feels like this subject gets more timely every day,” he said by email.

There are many parallels between the Courts of 1877 and today, Beermann said. “One thing courts are very good at is justifying terrible decisions with bland, benign language. The Justices in 1877 were good people, well-trained in the law; and yet, without flinching, they doomed millions of their fellow citizens to terrible lives of oppression and injustice.”

During his research, Beermann experienced two “aha” moments. One was when he realized the scope and implications of the story he had uncovered. Decuir, as a “person of color”, was used to the treatment and privilege her wealth, status and lighter skin afforded her. Suddenly, she felt the sting of prejudice and exclusion almost as strongly as the darker-skinned people at the bottom of the social ladder.

The other was when he recognized, after repeated attempts, that he couldn’t address the complicated issue that Madame Decuir and her family were themselves slaveowners before the Civil War. “I decided to focus on her dignity harms and leave that issue to the reader, or perhaps to another project,” he said.

As a teenager, the protests against the Vietnam War and Martin Luther King’s activism awakened Beermann’s interest in civil rights. He remembers his father as “a bit involved in politics. I knew we were a very liberally oriented family, even when I was a small child.” He has taught in Israel numerous times and, “although I don’t agree with all of its policies,” he is a strong supporter. His family (including three sons and a daughter, when they are home) attends Chabad House and Temple Sinai in Marblehead. “Our Jewish identity is very important to us,” he said.

Beermann hopes his readers will gain a better sense of the racial politics of the Reconstruction era, opening their eyes to how laws and courts contributed — and continue to contribute — to racial segregation. In the end, though, he admits he doesn’t know the moral of the Decuir legacy.

“It’s too simplistic to say that race discrimination is wrong; my sense, maybe what I was trying to communicate, is that race discrimination, and white supremacy in particular, are woven into the fabric of our country and have resisted unraveling at every turn,” he said.

Join Beermann at a free Zoom author event on May 27 from 7-8 pm. To register, visit jccns.org.

JCC’s International Jewish Film Festival presents a virtual array of history, culture, and inspiration

by Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD – The Jewish Community Center of the North Shore International Jewish Film Festival is celebrating its eighth year – and second straight virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 restraints – with a diverse menu of 13 films inspired by Jewish history, culture, and values.

The festival runs from April 5 through April 25 and includes prerecorded and live Zoom conversations with filmmakers.

This year marks the first time the festival has partnered with the Central Mass International Jewish Film Festival, widening its audience to include the Worcester area. Tickets are $15 for individual films, with three discount packages for six, nine, or all 13 films. Films may be purchased ahead of time or when you are ready to watch. Eventbrite is the festival’s box office and screening platform, with tickets and information available at jccns.org.

Opening Night (April 5) presents the blockbuster “Six Minutes to Midnight,” starring Dame Judi Dench and Eddie Izzard. Set in 1939 at a finishing school in an English seaside town where influential families from Nazi Germany have sent their daughters, this taut, heart-racing espionage film heats up when a teacher figures out what is going on and tries to alert British authorities.

The social justice documentary, “Shared Legacies,” uses a treasure trove of archival materials to weave together crucial historical lessons of Black-Jewish alliances, starting with the founding of the NAACP in 1909. Narrated by eyewitnesses, activists, Holocaust survivors, and movement leaders, a prerecorded conversation with head writer-director Shari Rogers and members of the ADL’s Black-Jewish Alliance is included.

Among the other documentaries, “Code Name: Ayalon” recounts the 1975 discovery of The Ayalon Institute, a secret ammunition factory built by Haganah underground youth in 1947 during the British Mandate. The David vs. Goliath story includes interviews with surviving group members and a live discussion with the film’s producer, Laurel Fairworth, on April 21 at 7 p.m.

In 1977, Aulcie Perry, a basketball legend from Newark, New Jersey, was recruited by Maccabi Tel Aviv while playing a pickup game in Harlem. “Aulcie” chronicles this inspiring story and includes a live discussion with the director, Dani Menkin, and the raffle of a basketball signed by Aulcie on April 13 at 7 p.m.

Tamar Manasseh, the subject of “They Ain’t Ready for Me,” is a force to be reckoned with. Tired of the violence that has plagued her south side Chicago neighborhood, the Black rabbinical student builds bridges between her two worlds with grassroots activism and Jewish community celebrations. This timely and moving portrait includes a live discussion with director Brad Rothschild and Manasseh on April 23 at 7 p.m.

Filmed over 10 years, “A Lullaby for the Valley” introduces Eli Shamir, an Israeli artist who paints the view from his studio overlooking the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel. Director Ben Shani documents the artist at work, neither guessing at the changes that would occur over their decade together. A live discussion with the filmmaker is April 18 at 2 p.m.

The remaining seven features range from comedy to drama to historical docudrama. “Adventures of A Mathematician” reenacts the story of Stan Ulam, the brilliant Polish-Jewish scientist who worked on the top-secret Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb. A live discussion with the film’s team will take place on April 11 at 1 p.m. In “A Starry Sky Above the Roman Ghetto,” the discovery of a puzzling photograph sparks an Italian student to probe the history of Rome’s Jewish ghetto and the fate of one little girl.

Sparks fly in the screwball romantic comedy, “Kiss Me Kosher,” when two families from wildly different cultural backgrounds – German and Israeli – collide to plan a same-sex wedding. On a more serious but no less romantic note, the historical drama, “An Irrepressible Woman,” tells the true story of Janot Reichenbach, who fell in love with French-Jewish socialist and three-time Prime Minister Léon Blum when she was a teenager and abandoned all to be by his side decades later when the French government fell to the Nazis.

“Here We Are” is the touching story of a devoted father who has dedicated his life to raising his autistic son. The docudrama “Winter Journey” features Swiss actor Bruno Ganz in his final screen role. The film blends reenactments and archival materials to relate a Jewish-German couple’s poignant pre-World War II romance and is based on the book by their son, NPR radio host Martin Goldsmith.

Finally, closing night (April 25) showcases “The Crossing,” the story of Gerda and Otto, Norwegian siblings whose parents are arrested for resistance activities. They discover two Jewish children hidden in their basement, and decide to risk helping them cross into Sweden to escape the Nazis.

For more information and to buy tickets, visit jccns.eventive.org.

JCCNS Jewish Book Month Speaker Series goes virtual

Jason Rosenthal, seen with his late wife, Amy, will open the series on Oct. 6.

by Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD – With hurricane season, daylight savings time and the election looming just around the corner, we could all use an engaging and stimulating indoor activity to look forward to during these trying COVID-19 times.

To the rescue is the 2020 virtual Jewish Community Center of the North Shore’s Jewish Book Month Speaker Series with a line-up of 12 outstanding authors who will literally travel right into your living room and share their books.

“Books are a way into people’s souls. Arts and culture are a non-threatening way for people to have a Jewish identity,” Suzanne Swift, Jewish Book Council Director of Author Network, told the Journal. JBC provides resources and support to Jewish organizations, including the JCCNS.

From Tuesday, Oct. 6 through Sunday, Nov. 29, the annual JBM speaker series offers an especially broad selection of genres and topics, including memoir, history, fiction, humor and – of course – food.

JBM chair Diane Knopf acknowledges there is a silver lining to mounting the series during a pandemic. “There is no geographical barrier to participate in a virtual series” she said.

Jason Rosenthal, who will open the series on Oct. 6 with his memoir, “My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me,” lived in a romantic fairytale for the 26 years he was married to his bashert (soulmate), Amy, a writer and filmmaker until she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her last project before she died in 2017 was an op-ed piece for the “Modern Love” column of the New York Times entitled, “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” expressing her wish for her beloved Jason to remarry. It was published right after her death, catching Jason completely by surprise.

His book describes his life with Amy and their three children (the “Rosies”) and how he coped with his grief and loss. Judaism played a big role in his upbringing and in the family he and Amy raised in Chicago (regular Friday night Shabbat dinners, Jewish day school for his kids). “Shabbat dinners meant slowing down from a hectic week. Simple. Quietly reverent. And always full of gratitude,” he told the Journal.

After Amy’s death, however, he sought comfort elsewhere. “I look more to other spiritual elements in my life; mindfulness, meditation and yoga come to mind,” he said.

Although he shares some upbeat stories about women who wrote to him after they read Amy’s column, his aim is to help others. “Grief is a beast and a non-linear process,” he explained. “Ultimately, my book is filled with a message of hope and resilience. One never ‘gets over’ grief; we move through it.”

Other memoirs in the series include: “On My Watch” by local author Virginia Buckingham, who was head of Logan Airport on 9/11 and bore public blame for “letting it happen,” and “What We Will Become” by Mimi Lemay, a woman raised in an ultra-orthodox Jewish family who supported her transgender child’s odyssey.

On the fiction stage are Lynda Cohen Loigman’s “The Wartime Sisters,” the story of two estranged sisters reunited at the Springfield, Massachusetts armory during the early days of WWII, and Anna Solomon’s Good Morning America Book Club pick, “The Book of V.”

In “The Book of V,” Solomon intertwines the individual stories of three women: a Brooklyn mother in 2016; a senator’s wife in Watergate-era 1970s Washington, D.C., and the Bible’s Queen Esther in ancient Persia.

Solomon, who grew up in Gloucester and whose mother was the first female president of Temple Ahavat Achim, reconnected with the story of Esther when she read it to her own children. She was struck by how many questions the story raised, especially about Queen Vashti (executed after disobeying her husband, the king), who had fascinated her since she was a little girl.

“What did she do that was so bad? That was the mystery I wanted to unravel,” she told the Journal. “I also wanted to explore how our notions of a bad and good woman have and haven’t changed over time, and how we continue to reduce women to types.”

Solomon was born in the late 1970s when, for some women, it seemed gender equality had been achieved. “But anyone can see that’s not the case today. I wanted to play around with what it means to experience life in a way that doesn’t match what you’re being told. These three women all take charge of their own story in some way,” she said.

She hopes the book’s call for more connection and less competition among women resonates with her readers. “Let’s judge each other – and ourselves – less and reach out across our supposed differences more,” she said.

Fans of nonfiction and investigative reporting will also be thrilled. Longtime BBC correspondent Raffi Berg will discuss his “Red Sea Spies: The True Story of Mossad’s Fake Diving Resort,” the story of undercover Israeli spies who staffed a luxury resort on the Sudanese coast and secretly evacuated thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Local author Eric Jay Dolin covers the history of American hurricanes from Columbus’s landing to contemporary climate change in “A Furious Sky,” and Kristen Fermaglich’s “A Rosenberg by Any Other Name” chronicles the impact of name change on American Jews. “The Last Kings of Shanghai” by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jonathan Kaufman recounts the remarkable history of two wealthy and powerful Jewish families who helped shape China’s economic boom.

On a lighter note are Iris Krasnow’s “Camp Girls” (about the joy and lasting importance of the summer camp experience); Rachel Levin’s “Eat Something” (part comedy, part cookbook and part nostalgic journey). Alan Zweibel, an original Saturday Night Live writer who got his start selling jokes on the Borscht Belt circuit, shares his own stories and interviews with friends in the riotous “Laugh Lines.”

For more information and to buy tickets, visit jccns.org.

This year’s Jewish Film Fest will leave you on the edge of your seat

by Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD – Jewish film festivals are wildly popular, and according to jewishfilmfestivals.org, moviegoers had 170 to choose from worldwide in 2018 in locations ranging from Nebraska to Nepal. For the sixth year, local residents need travel only a few miles to Marblehead and Salem to view 13 films offered by the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore International Jewish Film Festival from April 28 to May 9.

While films about the Holocaust are natural candidates for a Jewish film festival, this year’s lineup features several films that – although set during World War II – are more character than history-driven. Bookending the 12-day festival are opening night’s “The Catcher Was a Spy,” a thriller starring Paul Rudd based on the true story of Moe Berg, the Red Sox catcher who became a WWII spy, and closing night’s “Prosecuting Evil,” a gripping documentary about Ben Ferencz, the remarkable 99-year-old and last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor.

Gordon Edes, an award-winning sportswriter and Boston Red Sox historian, will speak and answer questions following “The Catcher Was a Spy,” and both films include a post-screening reception.

The remaining 11 films are a well-balanced mix of documentary, drama, and comedy. In “Winter Hunt,” a riveting German contemporary psychological thriller, a young woman on a personal mission of vigilante justice goes to extremes as she seeks reprisal against a suspected ex-Nazi. Powerful performances, an edgy score, and a tight script fuel the suspense.

Jewish women are front and center in three films that look at dilemmas they face as they struggle to forge their own paths in a world complicated by religious tradition and social conformity. “Working Woman” addresses the complexity of contemporary life in Israel, chronicling the predicament faced by Orna (played by the remarkable Liron Ben-Shlush) as she juggles motherhood, marriage to a struggling restaurateur, and a meteoritic rise in the corporate real estate world. When her boss relentlessly sexually harasses her, her entire world is brought to the brink of disaster.

Life for women in pre-state Israel was no less complex, as illustrated by “An Israeli Love Story.” Based on a true story and set in 1947, the well-shot and edited film explores the relationship between an aspiring actress and a kibbutznik who is also a member of Palmach, an elite fighting force. In “Leona,” a young Jewish artist in present day Mexico City finds herself torn between her traditional, observant family and a forbidden love.

On a lighter but no less poignant note, the award-winning “Shoelaces” traces the relationship between Reuven, a surly parent, and Gadi, his charismatic adult son with special needs, as the two slowly develop a tender and life-affirming bond of devotion. The popular film is thought-provoking and unexpectedly funny.

Three documentaries reveal different facets of present-day Jewish life. “Chewdaism: A Taste of Jewish Montreal,” follows two local men on the cusp of middle age as they nosh their way through a series of classical eateries and share their community’s 100-year Jewish history. “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” charts the underdog journey of Israel’s national team to the 2017 World Baseball Classic in a story of sports, patriotism, and growth.

“Sustainable Nation,” shown in partnership with CJP as a free community event in honor of Israeli Independence Day, follows three visionary Israelis as they bring water solutions to an increasingly thirsty planet.

Poland and France are the settings for the rest of the line up. “Who Will Write Our History” is a documentary set in 1940, after Nazis sealed 450,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. The story of Oyneg Shabes, a group of journalists, scholars and community leaders who resolved to fight Nazi propaganda with pen and paper, is told through writings, new interviews, rare archival footage and dramatizations.

In her deeply personal documentary, “Chasing Portraits,” filmmaker Elizabeth Rynecki travels to Poland to find the remaining work of her great-grandfather, a prolific impressionistic painter who captured scenes of pre-war Jewish life.

“A Bag of Marbles,” based on a true story, follows two young Jewish brothers as they fend for themselves, making their way through German-occupied France to reunite with their families.

Many films have post-screening guests who will speak to issues raised by the films.

For information and to buy tickets, visit jccns.org or call 781-631-8330.

Daughter offers glimpse inside private world of Leonard Bernstein

by Shelley A. Sackett

Leonard Bernstein, whose global 100th birthday celebration has invigorated his reputation as one of the great musicians of modern times, was best known as a composer, conductor, pianist, teacher, and humanitarian. With the publication of her memoir, “Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein,” oldest daughter Jamie Bernstein shifts the spotlight to his least examined – but to her – most important role: that of father.

Jamie, a writer, broadcaster, filmmaker, and concert narrator, paints a detailed portrait of a complicated and sometimes troubled man, plumbing the emotional complexities of her childhood and inviting the reader into her family’s private world of celebrity, culture, and occasional turmoil.

North Shore Leonard Bernstein fans will have a chance to hear Jamie speak about her book and answer questions at 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 7, at the newly renovated Temple Emanu-El, 393 Atlantic Ave. in Marblehead. In addition, there will be a screening of the documentary, “Leonard Bernstein, Larger Than Life,” followed by a dessert reception. The event is co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Center North Shore Jewish Book Month and International Film Festival committees.

One of Jamie’s goals in writing her memoir was “to answer the frequently asked question: WHAT WAS IT LIKE?!” she told the Journal by email. “What was it like growing up in that family, with that father? The short answer: not boring. The longer answer: read my book!”

In her 400-page memoir, chockfull of spicy details and intimate family pictures, Jamie paints an eyewitness portrait of the 1960s and 1970s she lived. “I grew up in amazing times. They were turbulent and shifting. It was a particularly intense time to be a young woman,” she said. She also dishes about the extraordinary circle of characters that populated the Bernsteins’ lives, including: the Kennedys, Mike Nichols, John Lennon, Richard Avedon, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins, and Lauren Bacall.

Her two siblings, Nina Bernstein Simmons and Alexander Bernstein, also have been involved in preserving their father’s legacy. Jamie showed them every draft of her memoir. “All along, I told them that they had complete veto power. They were amazingly supportive; I don’t think they ever asked me to take anything out,” she said.

Their mother, Chilean pianist and actress Felicia Montealegre, raised her three children to be bilingual, which serves Jamie well when she narrates concerts in Spanish in locations such as Madrid and Caracas. “Our mother was not only beautiful, elegant, and talented, she was also the stabilizing force for our family in general and [for] our dad in particular,” she said.

Giving new meaning to the phrase, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Jamie communicates her own love affair with classical music through her roles as speaker and concert narrator. She writes and performs the script for “The Bernstein Beat,” a popular and successful program of family concerts about her father’s music modeled after his own groundbreaking “Young People’s Concerts.”

Leonard Bernstein conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1970. Photo by Heinz Weissenstein, Whitestone Photo, BSO Archives

“I’m not exactly channeling him [her father], since I’m only doing half of his job – the writing and talking part,” Jamie said. “But I do feel a similar urge to reach out and communicate to my audiences. I love sharing the stuff I’m excited about.”

While on her book promotion tour (“a considerable amount of schlep”), she has talked to many people who experienced her father’s mystique, either through concerts at Tanglewood and the New York Philharmonic or through recordings, TV, and Broadway productions. “It has been incredibly touching. The attendees are curious and attentive and quite emotional. And so many of them have stories!” she said.

Izzi Abrams, president of the JCC in Marblehead, is among those with stories. Her family had an indirect relationship with the Bernsteins through her uncle, Rabbi Israel Kazis of Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Brookline, where the Bernsteins were members when Leonard was a boy. Abrams also taught a course on Bernstein last fall and winter. “I’ve been excited ever since I heard a couple of summers ago that Tanglewood was going to celebrate Bernstein’s 100th birthday in 2018,” she said.

With over 5,000 events worldwide, Jamie acknowledges that her book is just a small piece of the LB Centennial celebration that she and her siblings hope will remind those who lived in their father’s era of the enormous legacy he left behind.

“We also hope that young people will discover Leonard Bernstein, and be excited to know more about him, his music, and his music-making,” she said.

For information or to buy tickets to the April 7 event, visit jccns.org or call 781-631-8330.

 

Izzi Abrams becomes President at JCCNS

JCC-Izzi-COmmNewsSummer2018

Izzi Abrams at the JCCNS Annual Meeting, where she was inaugurated as President for the 2018-2020 term. “I’ve come full circle,” she said.

Shelley A. Sackett

Rabbi Michael Ragozin, of Congregation Shirat Hayam, began the opening invocation at the June 3 Annual Meeting of the The Jewish Community Center of the North Shore on a personal note, remarking how much the JCCNS had become even more of a blessing to him after he tore his ACL.

 

He noticed the subtle nuances during his many months of recovery. “This is not just a place to rehab or workout. It’s about the people. The JCC is a promoter of relationships and community,” he said to a crowd of more than 115, many of whom nodded their heads in agreement.

JCC-Ragozin (SAS)

Rabbi Michael Ragozin gave the invocation.

 

President John Gilberg, who handed over the reins to Izzi Abrams, reflected on his 2-year term. “I grew up in this building. I went to nursery school here, so for me being president was especially rewarding,” he said.

 

John and Marty

Marty Schneer, JCCNS Executive Director, presents outgoing President John Gilberg with a framed print of L’dor v’dor (“from generation to generation”).

 

Two of the biggest challenges he faced were balancing the needs of the many different groups that use the JCC — it is a school, workout center, summer camp, senior center and community source of Jewish programming — and keeping its financial boat afloat.

 

“I give kudos to Executive Director Marty Schneer, who manages all the J’s facets expertly,” Gilberg said. He credits CFO Tom Cheatham with anchoring the financial information and providing numbers “like we never had before.” This allows management to act quickly, adjusting programming that isn’t meeting expectations.

 

Annual revenue and net surplus both increased in 2017, and the endowment grew by $1.5 million, creeping closer to its $5 million goal. “My happiest moment will be when we hit that $5 million,” Gilberg said.

 

Schneer drew laughter introducing the new board and officer installation ceremony as “part of peaceful transition of leadership,” handing over the microphone to Barbara Schneider, Jewish Journal Publisher Emerita and JCCNS life-board member and past President, to do the honors.

 

She introduced Abrams as “our community’s cultural guru” and advised her, above all, to “have fun and do good.”

 

Abrams spoke of growing up in Worcester, where her father, Rabbi Abraham Kazis, served as her role model for taking leadership roles in the Jewish community. “He was a humble leader, a man of the people,” she said. “I hope to emulate him in engaging new members.”

 

Over the years, Abrams has been President of the local chapter of ORT (a non-profit global organization that provides education and skills training for needy Jewish communities); Chairs of the Holocaust Center and Youth to Israel Program; President of the Jewish Journal and Chair of the JCCNS International Jewish Film Festival.

 

When Abrams, an early childhood educator, first arrived on the North Shore, she was approached by Bea Paul to join the JCC as an afternoon kindergarten enrichment teacher. Over the next 10 years, she continued to work at the JCC in various areas, including teen and adult services, eventually becoming Director of the Preschool. She retired in 1994 and now is Co-Head of Children’s Services at the Swampscott Public Library.

 

Of becoming JCCNS President, she said,” I’ve come full circle.”

 

She stressed that the JCC is welcoming for all who want to be involved in giving back to an agency that has done so much for this community. “I invite you to join me on this journey,” she said to a standing ovation.

 

Bea Paul then presented Jason Garry, JCCNS Director of Facilities, with the Bea Paul Professional Staff Award and JCCNS Life Board Member Michael Eschelbacher presented Virginia Dodge, longtime JCCNS supporter and member, with the Samuel S. Stahl Community Service Award.

 

New JCCNS Board of Directors members, whose 2-year terms will expire in 2020, are: John Gilberg, Betsy Rooks, Shari Cashman, Anthony Chamay, Daniel Gelb, Peter Short, MD, Susan Syversen, Courtney Weisman, Sara Winer and Joseph Zang.

 

Joining President Abrams as officers are Vice Presidents Randall Patkin MD and Adam Forman, Treasurer Michael Goldstein MD and Secretary Kate Clayman.

 

After Abrams’ family said the Hamotzei, a sumptuous brunch was served, including a table of irresistible desserts prepared by Sara Winer’s “Sara’s Baked Goods and Specialties.”

Sara's goodies

While attendees sat at tables enjoying their food, the lobby was abuzz with people coming from and going to classes. Former JCCNS Executive Director Sandy Sheckman commented, “Isn’t it amazing how, while all this is going on in here, the JCC is still alive with activity out there.”