Saturday evening, September 1 2012, the Eshkol Payis auditorium in Beit Shemesh is jam-packed. Lisa, a member of the fifth group of the Maccabim program, announces the opening of the Raising the Curtain Festival – the curtain rises…
The Start of the Movie
One Thursday evening in March 2012, in the meeting room of the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council – the presentation of projects by members of the fifth group of the Maccabim program has just ended. As part of the program we, 13 women and men from Beit Shemesh and Mateh Yehuda, have gathered for a year of study based on a modern beit midrash (academy) format. During the program we discussed Jewish issues, and the Jewish calendar, and we looked through books from the Jewish library – from the Bible to the Midrash commentary and through to modern literary and poetry. Part of the program addressed community leadership with the aim being to create a Jewish community venture. As part of the course, each member of the group was asked to present to the plenum an idea for a community venture and, following a series of discussions, the group decided to produce a Judaism Film Festival.
Getting Down to Work
Now we began to create some sort of film festival. There were several topics on the table, including: the nature of the festival, selecting the movies, financing, marketing etc. After a number of discussions a decision was made to hold a festival on two, non-consecutive, evenings whereby, on each evening, a film would be screened followed by a short discussion. The group divided into several committees whereby the main challenges were choosing the speakers and the movies, and finding financial backing. Two strategic decisions were also made – to charge NIS 20 for entry, and that the content committee would draw up a list of potential movies for the festival and would present them to the whole group. The final choice was to be made by the entire group. The funding problem was solved thanks to an offer of support from the Jewish Agency / Partnership, Municipality of Beit Shemesh, and the Kehila Association who helped to finance the festival and made it possible to hold it at the Eshkol Payis auditorium in Beit Shemesh. The content committee presented a number of movies to the group, and 2 were selected:
• Circumcise Me – the amazing life of Israel (formerly Chris) Campbell, a standup comedian who converted to Judaism three times.
• Torn – can someone be a Catholic priest and an observant Jew at the same time?
The Big Evening
After a series of work sessions, and great marketing efforts, which included new media viral marketing, and with each member of the group marketing the festival to people he or she knew, we arrived at the big moment. The group stands at the gates to the dark Eshkol Payis auditorium, waiting for the janitor to allow us in and to arrange the refreshments which were partly donated by Ella Wineries and Café Neeman. To be honest, most of us were skeptical about the public response, and even the optimists among us only hoped a few dozen people would come. It’s 8:45 p.m., and the trickle is turning into a deluge. The influx of viewers is increasing and exceeding all our expectations. We are walking around as happy as a bride and groom on our big day. At 9 p.m. we hurry the members of the public inside and, believe or not, the hall is full!!! Lisa welcomes the audience and the screening begins. The movie had the crowd laughing out loud. Following the movie there was a session and Q&A with the director, Matthew Kelman.
The Curtain Drops
A highly successful evening is over, which left us wanting more. The success of the evening showed that there is demand among the local residents for similar cultural events. It would be wonderful if the festival could become a fixture.
Supplement to the article after the second evening:
On September 8 2012 we showed Torn, made by Ronit Kretzner. The movie tells the tale of a Polish Catholic priest who discovers, at the age of 35, that his parents were Jewish. At the age of 67, because of his frustration with anti-Semitism within the Catholic church in Poland, he makes aliyah and starts to study Hebrew and immerse himself in Judaism. He is “torn” between two different worlds – his Jewish identity and his Catholic identity. After the screening there was a discussion led by Shimon “Shimko” El Ami, the Maccabim program teacher. He presided over a successful discussion about the main issues that came up in the movie. The audience participated enthusiastically.
The fifth group of the Maccabim program.