By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published October 19, 2006
One film invites viewers to journey to Israel and experience the sublime and earthly elements of Jerusalem from the Old City and Western Wall to the market and the soccer field. Another is a story of human solidarity about thousands of Bulgarian Jews who were saved from the Holocaust and will be followed by a discussion with a priest and rabbi. A director will reflect on the film that he made with his mother about the traditional Jewish mourning period for his grandmother’s death.
Transfiguration Church, Temple Kol Emeth and Hillels of Georgia are hosting these and other events during the Holy Land in the Heartland Film Festival in Marietta Nov. 7 to 11, featuring Israeli feature, documentary and short film screenings, panel discussions with filmmakers and community leaders, and displays of arts and crafts.
The festival, sponsored by Holy Land in the Heartland, Inc., opens Nov. 7 in Transfiguration’s auditorium at 7 p.m. with a reception of Israeli food and wine followed by a performance by Israeli vocalist Na’ama Ben-Nathan, accompanied by the Transfiguration Choir.
The opening will include the feature film “Ushpizin” about a poor, childless and orthodox couple praying desperately on the eve of the Jewish holy day of Succoth. Another highlight will be the Nov. 9 evening screening of “The Optimists” about 50,000 Bulgarian Jews who were barely spared extermination camps due to the intervention of Christian neighbors. It will be followed by a discussion of the film’s message of how disparate people can live peacefully together by Transfiguration’s pastor Msgr. Pat Bishop and Temple Kol Emeth’s senior pastor Rabbi Steve Lebow, moderated by Dr. Lili Baxter, director of the Weinberg Center for Holocaust Education at The Breman Museum.
On Saturday night, Nov. 11, the festival will close with a reception and the film “It’s About Time,” which explores how in Israel time ticks double speed.
Msgr. Bishop said his parish has a very close relationship and “a long history with Temple Kol Emeth in which we cooperate with one another and learn from one another,” a tradition established by former pastor Msgr. Henry Gracz which he is glad to continue. “Rabbi Lebow is one of the most gifted and wonderful people I’ve met with, so I really enjoy working with him and his community. The Jewish people are our grandparents in faith, and the more we learn about their traditions the more we understand the traditions from which our faith grew and was nourished. (The festival) is an opportunity like a family reunion where everybody can get together and tell stories and pass on our family traditions to one another,” the pastor said.
Event supporters include the Regional Council of Churches, Temple Etz Chaim, The Breman Museum, Israeli Consulate to the Southeast, the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, The America-Israel Friendship League and community organizations. Planners hope showing Israeli society and culture to American people of the heartland will promote solidarity and understanding.
Organizers David Dorfman and his wife Ravit Turjeman, an Israeli of Moroccan descent, believe the critically acclaimed films challenge conventional notions of Israeli society and provide an inside look at the multifaceted culture of the Jewish state.
“We really tried to find movies to show America there are shared values, the culture is rich and deep and not alien, that most Americans can relate to (it). Israel has a lot of mystery, but we really captured the full spectrum of what Israeli society is all about,” Dorfman said. “We know that there is a special relationship with the American people and Israel … and (what) we’re hoping to do is by using this festival as a platform to strengthen and develop that relationship primarily through cultural understanding.”
Dorfman, 26, has studied and traveled in Israel and works for the Israeli Consulate in New York. There he met his wife, who used to work as a film and theater director, before founding Dragoman Films, a North American distribution company for Israeli films.
The couple conceived the idea of the festival one day while riding the subway and pondering how they could further share their passion and love of Israel with Americans living beyond the eastern and western seaboard cities. So as a private initiative, they founded Holy Land in the Heartland.
“I’m just a typical American Zionist, born in a secular Jewish family, not very religious, but that doesn’t discount belief in God. I’m the only one in the family who fell in love with Israel, and it was more from the experience traveling there and studying there. I’ve worked on political aspects of Israel through the foreign ministry,” Dorfman said. “There are so many perceptions of that tiny piece of land. When there you can see, taste it and feel it. There are so many immigrants, a nation of immigrants from all walks of life with the only thing in common being Judaism. With Israeli cinema I saw smart, sophisticated cinema that captures that.”
Dorfman’s friend Rabbi Gerald Meister of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs had visited Transfiguration and recommended it as a host site. Msgr. Bishop said that he and his parish were glad for the opportunity to join the initiative. “It’s quite an honor to have been asked to do this.”
Msgr. Bishop encouraged Catholics and the general public to take advantage of this unique opportunity to learn about Israel and the Jewish people. “For the Catholic Church to host a Jewish cultural festival is an opportunity for Christians to understand better the religious, social and historical roots of our faith. For all people of good will, it is an opportunity to get people of all faiths to recognize and celebrate more fully the one God of Christians, Jews and Muslims.”
Working with Transfiguration and Temple Kol Emeth, the New Yorkers selected recent films that have had little exposure in the United States and that are appropriate for all ages. The films don’t address political conflicts.
“They almost exclusively deal with Israeli culture, meaning the people, values, the faith, whether secular or very religious,” said Dorfman, who has been an avid film fan since childhood. “When I’m in Israel (I’ve found that) most of the time you’re living a life in a country that has nothing to do with the conflict. There is still this thriving society over there. We really want to find films that captured the Israeli society.”
Dorfman said “Ushpizin” is a “really special” and “spiritually challenging” film with its revelatory and humorous look at the daily lives of ultra-orthodox Jews living in modern-day Israel. He said it’s the first film that is “made, shot, directed and acted” by Orthodox Israeli Jews, and while the orthodox typically don’t watch movies, hundreds of thousands turned out for this critically acclaimed hit in Israel. The director of “The Optimists” spent several years making the film and both his parents came from the Bulgarian Jewish community. “It is a really touching, educational film.”
The festival will run in the spring in Albuquerque, N.M. Dorfman and Turjeman are trying to establish three more locations. They hope to attract Jews, Catholics and others of good will together from across North Georgia to one or many of the films. He promised that the reception foods provided by a local Israeli caterer will be authentic and that “when you come to opening night you can not only see Israel but taste it.”
“It’s really going to be a great five-day experience to immerse yourself into Israel. We know it’s very difficult to take a trip to Israel sometimes, but we’re going to save people that effort by bringing Israel to them,” Dorfman said. “By doing it, we’re supporting the country, and we want to make it an annual event. We really look forward to sharing this with all the people of Marietta and the Atlanta area. … We’re putting ourselves headfirst into it.”
The Festival Schedule Is As Follows:
On Tuesday, Nov. 7, the festival opens in Transfiguration’s auditorium at 7 p.m. with a reception featuring Israeli food and wine, followed by a live performance by Israeli vocalist Na’ama Ben-Nathan accompanied by the Transfiguration Choir. The evening will conclude with the feature film “Ushpizin.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 6 p.m. at Transfiguration, “A Treasure in Auschwitz” will be shown. It is about a young Israeli student following a story he hears about Jewish artifacts buried underneath the ruins of a synagogue next to the Auschwitz extermination camp, where he discovers a dark secret. Then the 18-minute film “Moments, Jerusalem” will explore the sublime and earthly elements of Jerusalem. At 7:45 p.m. will be “39 Pounds of Love” about a man with a rare form of muscular dystrophy who as an adult leaves the woman he loves and returns to the Unites States to confront the childhood doctor who predicted his early demise. It will be followed by a question and answer session with the Israeli director Dani Menkin. Also that night at 8 p.m. at Emory University’s White Hall 208 “Columbia: The Tragic Loss” will be shown, about the diary written in space of the first Israeli astronaut which was discovered following the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia.
“The Last Scene” will be shown at Transfiguration on Thursday, Nov. 9, at 1 p.m. It is a docudrama about a woman’s attempt to recreate the defining moment of her childhood when she left the train station in Warsaw, Poland, in the spring of 1935. It will be followed by the 23-minute piece “Mother’s Dance,” about a woman who becomes the mother to her three brothers after their mother dies, and then is challenged to discern the right path after she wins a scholarship in Jerusalem.
That evening at Temple Kol Emeth at 7:30 p.m. viewers can see “The Optimists” about 8,500 prominent Jews in the Nazi ally country of Bulgaria who were deported to Treblinka, seemingly destined for annihilation, but later told to go home. Ultimately, despite Nazi pressures, the entire 50,000-member Jewish community of Bulgaria was spared the Holocaust. The screening will be followed by a discussion featuring Rabbi Lebow and Msgr. Bishop.
On Friday, Nov. 10, at Transfiguration, “An Evening of Jewish Life in Israel” will begin at 6 p.m. with “Shivah for My Mother.” Award-winning documentary director Yael Katzir dared to film in real time her mother’s Shivah, the traditional seven days of mourning following her death. Filled with humor and emotions, the film exposes the life and relationships of three generations in one family. Producer Dan Katzir, the director’s son, filmed the Shivah. It will be followed by a question and answer session with Dan Katzir, whose films have won 22 international awards.
At 7:45 p.m. the next film is “Covenant” about the eight days of waiting between a child’s birth and circumcision, exploring the tension among faith, religion and religious law, between cultural conventions and the feelings of a mother. It will be presented along with the 32-minute “A Shabbos Mother” about three sisters who gather at their widowed mother’s house for the Sabbath where old wounds are opened as they confront issues of womanhood and motherhood. Along with it, “Ushpizin” will be repeated at 9:45 p.m.
On Saturday, Nov. 11, at Transfiguration at 1 p.m. “Company Jasmine” will be shown. Director Yael Katzir followed five young women in training at the prestigious Women Field Officers School, and accompanies them on exercises, during orientation, on the shooting range and during trips home. They and their female commander reflect the diversity of Israel’s young female population. It will be followed by a question and answer session with producer Dan Katzir. At 3 p.m. will be the screening of “Hats of Jerusalem.” The documentary full of stories and history lessons explores the diverse headdresses of the three religions populating the city. Then “Moments, Jerusalem” will be repeated.
The closing event at Transfiguration will be at 7:30 p.m., with light refreshments and a ceremony where the winner of a round-trip ticket to Israel will be announced, and Holy Land in the Heartland will give 10 percent of proceeds to Transfiguration or a charity chosen by the parish. The closing 55-minute film will be “It’s About Time,” a mosaic of dialogues with a little girl, a psychiatrist, an Olympic swimmer, a news editor, a lifeguard, a comic and others.
- General admission for each film is $9, $6 for students or those over 65 with valid ID. Each screening is at least 70 minutes and some include an additional short film.
- A Heartland Pass for $35 is good for five general admission tickets, but not for opening and closing events, and is transferable.
- The Holy Land All-Access Pass is $200 and good for all screenings and events for two people, and is non-transferable, requiring valid ID.
- Opening night gala is $50 for one or $80 for two, available by advance purchase only.
- Closing night reception and screening is $35, and opening and closing night package is $70.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.holylandheartland.com or by mailing or faxing through Nov. 1 a downloadable order form. Tickets can be purchased by cash or check in advance and throughout the festival at Transfiguration Church, 1815 Blackwell Road, Marietta, telephone (770) 977-1442, and Temple Kol Emeth, 1415 Old Canton Road, Marietta, telephone (770) 973-3533. Tickets for “Columbia: The Tragic Loss” only are available at Emory University Hillel, 201 Dowman Drive, Atlanta, telephone (404) 727-2085.