Film Fest Time!

It’s that time of year again. Tonight is opening night for the Mandell JCC’s Hartford Jewish Film Fest! As usual, I’d love to see some familiar faces in the crowd. You don’t need to be Jewish to attend! There’s a little something for everyone, and they are all worth viewing. Learn more about each of these films (and others – I left a few out), along with location information, on the film fest site (for the budget-conscious, I have not included opening and closing night in this list, but they’re worth seeing, too).

If you like…
…soccer and/or gay politics: Kicking Out Shoshana (Sat. 4/2 at 9PM and Wed. 4/6 at 7PM)
…mother-daughter relationships (good or bad): Look at Us Now, Mother! (Sun. 4/3 at 1PM)
…stories about pot brownies (no samples available): Dough (Sun. 4/3 at 7:30PM and Sun. 4/10 at 4:30PM)
…food: In Search of Israeli Cuisine (Mon. 4/4 at 7PM)
…#millennialproblems, improv, the Mark Twain House, or any post-film conversation moderated by Hartford’s own Julia Pistell: Are You Joking? (Mon. 4/4 at 7PM)
…art, artists, how art/lives are changed by illness, or learning about ALS: Imber’s Left Hand (Tue. 4/5 at 7PM)
…political incorrectness: Serial (Bad) Weddings (Wed. 4/6 at 7PM and Sun. 4/10 at 2:15PM)
…motivating and challenging inner city students and/or teaching about the Holocaust: Once in Lifetime (Thu. 4/7 at 8:15PM)
…perseverance through music: Rock in the Red Zone (Sat. 4/9 at 9PM)
…use of archival footage and/or stories of peacemakers: Rabin in His Own Words (Sun. 4/10 at 11AM)

While I mentioned above that I was not including it, I have to say that I am incredibly excited to see the preview of Trinity College History Professor Sam Kassow‘s Who Will Write Our History following The Last Mentsch on closing night. I recently read the book and was amazed by the work of Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabes Archive.

See you at the movies!



We are four days away from the opening of the 18th annual Hartford Jewish Film Festival. It is once again a great selection of films, and I hope to see many of you there. Every one of us on the film fest committee has our favorites. I have managed to narrow my list down to five full length films, and one short. Susan Dunne of the Hartford Courant has written about a couple more that are also quite worthy, including 50 Children – The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus and Next Year Jerusalem.

Visit the Festival web site for information about showtimes, costs, and more complete descriptions. The links below will take you to each movie’s trailer.

Judging by the ticket sales, one that is proving very popular is The Jewish Cardinal. This is the story of Jean-Marie Aaron Lustiger, Archbishop of Paris and the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants. There are many of us in the area who are interfaith, and it raises some interesting issues. 

Interested in photography? Life in Stills is for you. There are other twists and turns, as you might imagine with a family business, but this documentary focuses on a photography store that has been in business since the beginning of the modern Jewish state. It blends art, history, city planning, and more.

Ordinarily I would not sit through a film described as a “gripping spy thriller.” But as those of us on the film fest committee screen all of the selections, I can now recommend Bethlehem. The ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is the focus, and the viewer gets a sense of the emotions on both sides.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you are looking for something light and cheery with a happy ending, check out Cupcakes. It is a spoof on the Eurovision contest and just generally cute.

Several of the films, including Cupcakes, are preceded by shorts. There will be four opportunities to see GentleDog. I’m not saying it’s worth buying a ticket just to see the short, but if you are choosing between a film that screens with GentleDog and one that doesn’t, go with the dog.

Sometimes fiction strikes a nerve, and such was the case when Aftermath was released in Poland. It is not an easy film to watch, but the issues it raises are worth being aware of.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment. See you at the theater!


Israel Trip: A Look Back

I was asked to speak tonight about the trip at the Federation’s board meeting. Though I spent time considering what I would say, it didn’t quite come out how I hoped. I decided I’d give it another try here.

As I have previously mentioned, much of this trip was about making connections. Some of the connections were quite simple, a-ha moments. I knew of the Dead Sea, but reading about something like that, and actually swimming in it, are two completely different experiences. Similarly, when I was in third grade (regular school, not religious school) we did a social studies unit on kibbutzim. I recall pushing our desks together to represent the community. Certainly I knew that a kibbutz would be larger than for child-sized desks, but until I drove through kibbutzim and moshavim, I had no idea just how vast they are. I never considered that one might be on the Lebanon border and be staffed by numerous soldiers. These visits connected me with Israel, helping me to better understand why the US Jewish community actively supports it.

At the Lebanon border.
At the Lebanon border.

Much of what I have learned in the past two years about Israel, I learned from the films we have screened for the Hartford Jewish Film Festival. Our opening night film this year will be The Jewish Cardinal. It is based on the true story of a man, born Jewish, who converted to Christianity at age 14. After watching the film this fall, one aspect I did not contemplate was that there would be others like him. While listening to a speaker at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, I heard of a researcher at their archives who was born Jewish and later became a priest. This certainly isn’t a Nobel prize style discovery, but it helps me to see the bigger picture. Another film in the 2014 festival is Life in Stills. The subject of the film is the photo house opened by Rudi Weissenstein. Weissenstein was known for his photographs of the early days of Israel, including images of the signing of the Israeli declaration of independence. During my trip, I sat in the room where that happened. I know that when I watch the films again during the festival (these and many of the others that will be shown), I will have a stronger understanding of the issues presented.

Independence Hall, Tel Aviv.
Independence Hall, Tel Aviv.

Never before have I felt so connected to a group of people. Most of the others on the trip were strangers to me before we left West Hartford. We had such a wonderful time together and now I can truly call them my friends. Both in Israel and since we’ve been back, they have helped me learn, offered welcome advice, and even invited me to join a cycling group! These are all people I want to continue to get to know, which is a wonderful feeling.

About to exfoliate in the Dead Sea.
About to exfoliate in the Dead Sea.

Overall, this trip connected my past and present learning. It connected me with a country 5000 miles away, and a community in my backyard. The experience was not one I was looking for, but I am so incredibly glad I found.

Surviving Un(der)employment

This is my story. It will inevitably be different than yours. It is not so much a guide as a giant thank-you note.

As of Monday morning, I have returned to full time employment. I am incredibly excited to be the new Digital Cataloging Specialist at the Hartford Public Library. I will be splitting my time between maintaining the classical music collections and working with the collections of the Hartford History Center. Though I have spent much more time working with historical collections, I am equally excited to be working with the music collections.

Altogether, I am incredibly fortunate. My un(der)employment only lasted six months. I was able to work part time, so I was never completely unemployed. Financially, it wasn’t easy, but I made it through without any permanent damage. The worst was the perfect storm of heating bills (I advocate summer underemployment), Christmas credit card bills (again, no pesky Fourth of July presents), and the property tax bill for my vehicle (hmm, that does happen in July, too). I could have lived quite happily without January.

There is so much that I thought about doing during the lull in my employment. I considered trips to the beach, museum visits, taking the train to New York for the day. If given a choice, I would have chosen to be out of work during the warmer months of the year, those more conducive to cycling. It doesn’t really matter which half of the year a person is out of work, though. While underemployment provides plenty of free time, it is rather stingy with the spending money. I constantly faced the emotional tug-of-war of wanting to leave the house, but not feeling that I could afford to. Fortunately, I live in a great place, with highly talented people, and plenty of affordable entertainment. Over the past six months I attended Envisionfest, Nightfall, Other People’s Stories, The Ear Cave, and two events at The Hartt School, most recently the Women Composers Festival. I even attended the Colgate Women’s Basketball game at UConn, which added to my alma mater’s [thirteen] minutes of fame. All of these were free! Ok, the Colgate game was free with four years paid tuition, but I digress… I volunteered for The Connecticut Forum and was able to attend their events, too (the Vision & Brilliance panel was phenomenal). Without a steady paycheck, I managed to be happier and do more things than in the past when I had much more money.

While events are fabulous, the emotional support of my family and friends has been priceless. My parents did everything from sending me home with leftovers to making sure I could attend my nephew’s first birthday party. My sister put her son in front of the webcam whenever I needed a smile. A giant hat tip to everyone with whom I regularly interact on social media, as well.

A growing part of my life, particularly since the fall, is my relationship with the Mandell JCC. I am in awe of how much more than a gym marionmembership it has become for me. Toward the end of the summer I was invited to participate in the Stavis Leadership Forum (a joint program with the JCC and the Jewish Federation) and asked if I would like to be on the Hartford Jewish Film Festival committee. I can’t do justice to either in this paragraph, but both have been great experiences. For the film festival I suggested a Kickstarter campaign, and the committee was willing to try it. The extra time I had allowed me to put together our project (please watch the video and support us!). Most recently I was recommended to help with a project for the JCC’s centennial. In the process, I found out my Great Aunt was an Executive Director of one of the agencies that became the JCC. I guess I’m meant to be involved!

Sure, these six months were not entirely puppies and rainbows. There were job interviews and rejections. Weeks went by without there being any positions posted that grabbed my attention. Evenings out with friends were far more likely to include a glass of ice water than wine. As a contractor, if I didn’t work, I didn’t get paid, which took away from the glamour of hurricane and blizzard days. I’m also still recovering from the fear that I wouldn’t get this job, and would eventually find myself in a nightmare situation, such as unemployed. In Greenland. But I survived by having a strong, supportive, and varied network that allowed me to enjoy life as much as I could. This had the possibility of being a very dark period, but my community kept it light. Certainly there were days when my spirits were down, but those days were the exception. I don’t wish un(der)employment on anyone, but if you do find yourself there, I hope you have plenty of community support to see you through.

We “Hava” Liftoff!

It has been a few cold, snowy months since I last wrote about the Hartford Jewish Film Festival. With opening night on April 4, we are springing into action! The website is live, tickets are being sold, and apparently someone is even prepared to kosher-ize the popcorn machine at Spotlight Theatres (this announcement left most of the committee with puzzled looks on our faces and at least one of us heading to Google for an explanation).

This week’s new and exciting announcement is the launch of our “Hava Hartford” Kickstarter campaign. Many of you have probably already seen my postings about this on Twitter and Facebook. For those who are unfamiliar, Kickstarter is an online fundraising tool that relies on crowdsourcing. Our goal for this project is $1000. We have to secure pledges of at least that amount before we will be awarded the money. With the contributions, we plan to exhibit a collection of Hava Nagila photographs, mostly collected from those who pledged to the campaign. Watch the video I made explaining it further!

A few things I hope you will keep in mind:

  • You don’t have to be Jewish to support the project!
  • Any pledge amount is welcome.
  • Supplying a photo is optional, though we certainly hope that if you have one, you will.
  • When the exhibit is in place, you are all welcome to view it at the JCC.
  • Please share the Kickstarter link with your friends and family!

I truly enjoyed making the video, working with the JCC staff to get the project launched, and continue to enjoy being a part of the HJFF Committee. As I said in the video, thank you for your “uplifting” support!

hjff hava kickstart-1

Film Festival!

Where can you find a movie featuring Leonard Nimoy, Harry Belafonte and Regina Spektor*?

The Hartford Jewish Film Festival!

As some of you know, I am currently on the committee for the Hartford Jewish Film Festival. In its 17th year, the festival is produced by the Mandell JCC of Greater Hartford. This year’s committee has been screening films since May (I joined in August) and has quite a line up planned for April.

All of the films are award winners, premieres in this area, or both. Opening night will be held at the new Spotlight Theater in Hartford. Closing night will include a dance party at the JCC. Theaters in Bloomfield and West Hartford will host the nights in between. Among the titles I have enjoyed so far are a documentary about legendary New York Mayor Ed Koch (NYT article); Numbered, a documentary about Auschwitz numbers (NYT article); and The Day I Saw Your Heart (trailer), which has some lighthearted moments.

As you might imagine, in order to pay for the films, theaters, etc., we need to raise some funds. Will you consider donating? Any amount is welcome, but  in the Sponsorship Opportunities brochure you may read about perks for donating at certain levels. You don’t have to be in Connecticut or be Jewish to donate! Please consider a gift in honor of or in memory of someone, as well.

Even if you are unable to give at this time, we hope you will be able to join us in the Hartford area, April 4-15, 2013.  More information will be available in January, including on the HJFF website. If you leave a comment on this blog, I am also happy to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you!!

*Leonard Nimoy, Harry Belafonte, and Regina Spektor are featured in the closing night film, Hava Nagila (includes 10 min. clip).