Karl Grossman
Karl Grossman

Third Annual Jewish Film Festival — in The Hamptons

The Hamptons on Long Island are noted as a summer playground famed for their beaches and sun-soaked scene. But they are also the scene of the Jewish Film Festival.

A powerful series of films is being shown this summer at the Third Annual Jewish Film Festival presented by the Southampton Cultural Center in partnership with the Chabad Southampton Jewish Center.

And at many of the showings there have been or will be guest speakers — often the filmmaker or someone otherwise involved in the making of the film or in the subject matter presented.

Tina Silverman, artistic director of the festival, explains that “for a film to be included in the program, it should be historically significant. Each film should speak to a particular aspect of the Jewish experience.”

Through the films, says Ms. Silverman, who curated the series, “we get to have a glimpse into an amazing and diverse culture that has contributed so much to humanity through arts and science and education. Although so much of Jewish life was obliterated in both Europe and the Middle East, through documentaries we have a window to vibrant Jewish worlds” some of which “have all but vanished.”

“Unless the stories continue to be told,” Ms. Silverman continued, “they will be forgotten. For me remembering and retelling is the very least we must do to honor the lost.”

Films to be shown in coming days and weeks include, next week on July 24, Wagner’s Jews about, says the festival’s program, Jewish “young musicians who became personally devoted to” the notoriously anti-Semitic composer Richard Wagner “and provided crucial help to his work and career…Wagner called for the elimination of Jews from German life, yet many of his most active supporters were Jewish. Who were they? What brought them to Wagner, and what brought him to them?”

In an interview, Hilan Warshaw, a violinist and conduct as well as filmmaker, writer and producer of Wagner’s Jews, told me how “Wagner was not listened to by my family. When Wagner came on the radio, the radio was turned off” — because of Wagner’s “deep anti-Semitism.” In conducting research on Wagner, Warshaw said he found Wagner had many Jewish assistants and this “sparked” his curiosity as to “what those relationships could have been like of these young people surrounding this notoriously anti-Jewish master.” Warshaw said there were differences, with some of the assistants trying “to ignore” Wagner’s anti-Semitism.

A “dramatic climax” came with Hermann Levi, a conductor of Wagner’s last opera and the son of a rabbi, “becoming the one, more than anyone, who stood up to Wagner in a very significant way.”

There will be a panel discussion at the showing with Warshaw, and Allan Leicht, a expert. which will be moderated by stage director Robert Kalfin.

Next week, too, on July 25, Bagels Over Berlin will be screened.

Says the program: “In the 1930s, anti-Semitism and discrimination against Jewish Americans was rampant. With Hitler’s propaganda and anti-Jewish rhetoric sprouting from the likes of Henry Ford and Charles Lindberg, the coming war was blamed on the Jews. Nevertheless, many American Jews responded to the outbreak of the war with an overwhelming determination to fight for the country they loved. This documentary is based on riveting interviews with Jewish Airmen who fought in the US Army Air Corps during the Second World War.”

In an interview, Feinberg said the project began when “Uncle Don,” his wife’s uncle Donald Katz, who was a nose-gunner on a B-24 over Europe during World War II, spoke of his wartime experiences at a family dinner in Boca Raton, Florida, where the Feinbergs reside. This inspired Feinberg to interview other Jewish veterans of the war, “men now in their 90s,” he said, and put all the stories together in Bagels Over Berlin.

Feinberg will speak at the showing of this film which he directed,

To be shown on August 1 will be German & Jews which explores, says the program,  Germany’s “transformation from silence about the Holocaust to facing it head-on….Germans & Jews is provocative, unexpected and enlightening.”

On August 3, No Place on Earth will be screened. The guest speaker will be Chris Nicola who co-authored the book on which the film is based—about how during World War II a group of Jewish families “survived the Holocaust by hiding underground in total darkness for over a year.” (Most of the films are shown at the Southampton Arts Center in Southampton, but some, including No Place on Earth, are being screened at Guild Hall in East Hampton.)

Then on August 8, Starting Over Again will be shown. Lucette Lagnado, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal will be the guest speaker. It is the story of Egypt’s Jews between 1948 and 1956. The film, the program notes, “chronicles the many Jewish families who flourished in this rich environment, as proudly Egyptian as their Muslim and Christian neighbors. Sadly, their lives changed irreversibly following the 1962 Egyptian revolution.” Ms. Lagnado was born in Cairo. She and her family left Egypt as refugees when she was a child. The experience shaped her memoir The Arrogant Years, One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn.

On August 15, shown will be Big Sonia in which Sonia Warshawski tells of surviving the Holocaust as a teenager. Big Sonia “explores what it means to be a survivor,”

On August 16, Bogdan’s Journey will be screened with this film also one shown at Guild Hall. It tells of how on “July 4, 1946, a crowd of people in Kielce, Poland, murdered Holocaust survivors living in the city…For Bogdan Bialek, a Catholic Pole, anti-Semitism is a sin. In a story that begins with murder and ends with reconciliation, one man persuades the people of Kielce, Poland, to confront the truth about the darkest moment in their past,” says the program.

On August 21, there will be a “special theatrical event,” the “premiere staged reading” of The Resettlement of Isaac. This play is based on the “true, incredible story of Isaac Gochman, a 17-year old from Rovno, Poland, who, in one horrific night, survives a Nazi massacre of his entire family along with 20,000 other Jews. Thrust alone into the forest and the wildness of war, Isaac finds the courage to fight back as a Russian partisan blowing up Nazi trains, and finds the passion to fall deeply in love with Anya, a Russian partisan nurse—in love for  the first time in his young life. It is a tragic love that transcends religious differences,” says the program. There will be a “talk back” after the reading with the playwright, Robert Karmon, the winner of five Tony Awards and founder of the Chelsea Theatre Center in Manhattan.

On August 22, Defiant Requiem will be shown. It is about “the courageous Jewish prisoners in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp (Terezin) during World War II who performed Verdi’s Requiem while experiencing the depths of human degradation. With only a single smuggled score, they performed the celebrated oratorio sixteen times, including one performance before senior SS officials from Berlin and an international Red Cross delegation.”

The program also says: “Defiant Requiem is a tribute to the inspired leadership of Rafael Schachter who was forced to reconstitute the choir three times as members were transported to Auschwitz. The performances came to symbolize resistance and defiance and demonstrated the prisoners’ courage to confront the worst evil of mankind.”

Dimona Twist will be screened on August 29. It involves seven women who with their families, from North Africa and Poland, settle in Dimona in Israel in the 1950s and 1960s . They “talk about the pain of leaving their homes behind, about poverty and the difficulties of adjusting in their new homeland and about their attempts to create rich and meaningful lives.”

The festival began on July 6 with the film The People vs. Fritz Bauer about Bauer, a German Jew who had been in a concentration camp during the war and in 1956 became attorney general of Frankfurt. He brought a class action lawsuit pivotal to the “Frankfurt Auschwitz trials” and led the prosecution at the trials which began in 1963. Some 22 defendants were tried under German criminal law for their roles in the Holocaust. And, “Working with Mossad, he was instrumental in the capture of Adolph Eichman,” says the program.

That film was followed by Deli Man about how Ziggy Gruber has built “arguably the finest delicatessen in the U.S., Kenny & Ziggy’s,” says the program, and it also tells the stories of other “iconic delis, such as Katz’s, the 2nd Avenue Deli, Nate ‘n Al’s, the Carnegie and the Stage.”

Then came Arab Movie about “a tradition of 1970s Friday afternoons in Israel tuning in to the only television channel and watching the Arab movie of the week. It was a national pastime, and a strange one at that,” the program says. The guest speaker was the filmmaker Carole Basri, born to Iraqi Jewish parents.

Made in France followed, about terrorist attacks in France, and the guest speaker was Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University who served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence in which “he specialized in Islamic groups,” relates the program.

“The programs,” say Ms. Silverman and Thomas Knight, board chairman of the Southampton Cultural Center in a joint statement, “are a window into the trials, tribulations, and joys of the Jewish people.”

About the Author
Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury who has specialized in investigative reporting for 45 years. He is the host of the TV program “Enviro Close-Up,” the writer and presenter of numerous TV documentaries and the author of six books.
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