To learn about a culture, taste its food.
The Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival enters its 23rd season with this idea fueling its opening night event.
Filmgoers can taste a spectrum of Israeli gastronomy with a buffet highlighting stops on the culinary journey featured in the night’s film, “In Search of Israeli Cuisine.” Award-winning Israeli chef Michael Solomonov takes viewers on a tour of the people driving Israel’s dynamic food scene.
Beyond opening night’s medley of yummy offerings (which also includes post-film desserts), attendees will enjoy a feast of Jewish-themed stories all week long.
The festival’s diverse offerings always impress audiences, said Julie Sherman, festival coordinator. But this year, it’s a “wow,” she said.
“It’s really balanced—kids’ movies, documentaries, special events, dramas and comedies,” she said.
Some films, such as “In Between,” show a slice of life. This film takes place in present-day Tel Aviv and follows three young Palestinian women as they negotiate life and share a flat in the city.
Other documentaries, such as “Operation Wedding,” take on more serious subjects.
In 1970, young Jewish dissidents tried to hijack a small plane to fly to Israel after being denied permission to emigrate from the Soviet Union. This group used the pretext of attending a bridal ceremony as a reason to rent the entire plane. The daring escape attempt became known as “Operation Wedding.”
Filmmaker Anat Zalmanson-Kutznetsov, daughter of dissidents Eduard Kuznetsov and Sylva Zalmanson, created the documentary of the same name.
“It wasn’t so much anti-Semitism that motivated my parents,” Zalmanson-Kuznetsov said. “They just didn’t feel Russia was their home. They wanted to be free.”
The Soviet Union considered the dissidents “terrorists.” But, all her life, the 37-year-old filmmaker said she has been asked, “Do you know your parents were heroes?”
The film captures this complexity and will be followed by a local angle—a panel discussion of Soviet Jews who immigrated to Harrisburg.
Another documentary film in the festival, “On the Map,” takes place in Israel but under the shadow of the USSR. In 1977, the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team unexpectedly won the European Cup after beating the Soviet team that initially refused to compete against them.
“[This win is] a big story in Israel, maybe like in America the walk on the moon,” said Director Dani Menkin.
A few films center on the Holocaust and World War II.
The French-Belgian war drama, “Fanny’s Journey,” was inspired by the true story of a group of children fleeing Nazi-occupied France to Switzerland.
The German historical thriller, “The People vs. Fritz Bauer,” takes viewers into 1950s Germany. Bauer, a German attorney general, shared information about Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible for the mass deportation of Jews.
The World War II theme takes a lighthearted turn to Uruguay, with the comedy-drama, “Mr. Kaplan.” In it, an older Jewish man experiencing an existential crisis thinks a new-to-town German might be a Nazi. He tries to capture and bring him to justice.
Other lighthearted films also should give viewers a laugh or two.
“The Women’s Balcony,” a hit Israeli comedy-drama, depicts women in a modern Orthodox synagogue and the charismatic, young rabbi who challenges them. He appears at first to be a savior, but slowly starts pushing fundamentalist views.
The family-friendly drama, “Abulele,” plays with the idea of the monster that Israeli parents use to threaten misbehaving kids. In this film, the monster is “pretty friendly,” Sherman said.
“It’s a really sweet movie,” she said.
The festival highlights famous Jewish Americans, such as Star Trek icon Leonard Nimoy and novelist Philip Roth.
For 3rd in the Burg on May 19, Midtown Cinema presents “For the Love of Spock,” a documentary about Nimoy made by his son, Adam.
On May 21, the annual “Sunday Morning Book Club” will gather to discuss Roth’s novel, “Indignation,” and watch the film based on the book. The New York Times’ Stephen Holden wrote that this film is “easily the best film made of a Roth novel, which is saying a lot.”
Literature and writing professor Yelena (Helen) P. Khanzhina-Wexler will join the group at that event to help guide the discussion about the book and its film adaptation.
Once again, food will play an important role, as bagels and coffee will precede the event.
The Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival opens May 18 at the Jewish Community Center, 3301 N. Front St. The festival continues until May 25 at Midtown Cinema, 250 Reily St. For more information, visit www.jewishharrisburg.org or www.hbgjff.com. Find ticketing information for the rest of the festival at www.midtowncinema.com.
2017 HARRISBURG JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL SCHEDULE
Thursday, May 18
Jewish Community Center
6 p.m.: Israeli Buffet Feast (reservations required)
7 p.m.: “In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” followed by a dessert reception
Friday, May 19
6 p.m.: “For the Love of Spock”
Saturday, May 20, 8:30 p.m.
“The Women’s Balcony”
Sunday, May 21
10 a.m.: “Indignation,” followed by a book club discussion
2 p.m.: “Abulele”
4 p.m.: “Mr. Kaplan”
7 p.m.: “On the Map”
Monday, May 22
3 p.m.: “The Pickle Recipe”
5:30 p.m.: “Fanny’s Journey”
7:30 p.m.: “Sabena Hijacking: My Version”
Tuesday, May 23
11 a.m.: “In Between”
3 p.m.: “The Women’s Balcony”
3:15 p.m.: “My Hero Brother”
5:15 p.m.: “Mr. Kaplan”
5:30 p.m.: “On the Map”
7:15 p.m.: “The Pickle Recipe”
7:30 p.m.: “The People vs. Fritz Bauer”
Wednesday, May 24
3 p.m.: “Sabena Hijacking: My Version”
5:30 p.m.: “In Between”
7:30 p.m.: “Operation Wedding,” followed by a panel discussion
Thursday, May 25
3 p.m.: “The People vs. Fritz Bauer”
5:30 p.m.: “The Women’s Balcony”
7:30 p.m.: “Fanny’s Journey,” followed by closing night reception
Author: Barbara Trainin Blank