Four Southern communities hosting Jewish Film Festivals in January

Four communities in the region will be hosting Jewish Film Festivals this month, with a wide range of Jewish-themed offerings.

Only one film — “Hava Nagila” — will be screened at all four venues, but several films are in more than one community.

Mobile’s Jewish Film Festival is in its 12th year, expanding its venues and community partners. It is sponsored by the Mobile Area Jewish Federation and the University of South Alabama, and will have seven films in eight time slots.

Additionally, the Mobile festival will screen “As Seen Through These Eyes” to over 2,000 students at St. Paul’s, Davidson, UMS-Wright and Bayside Academy. Fran Sterling from “Facing History and Ourselves” in Denver will speak after each school showing.

Sterling will also lead a Holocaust education workshop for teachers in the Mobile and Baldwin county schools on Jan. 9 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the USA College of Education.

Birmingham’s Jewish Film Festival is sponsored by the Levite Jewish Community Center, The Edge 12 Theatre and Winn-Dixie Supermarkets.

“The Film Festival committee wanted to make sure we had a diverse selection of films that will have an impact on the Jewish communities across the area,” said Mindy Cohen, director of Senior and Adult Programs at the LJCC. “We feel that we have a line-up that can please many folks and hope to have our best attendance yet.”

JewishCinemaMississippi is in its 11th year, co-sponsored by Beth Israel Congregation and the Jewish Culture Organization at Millsaps. Co-chair Michael Steiner said the festival is “the only organization that brings first-class independent Jewish- and Israeli-themed films to the state. It serves as a vehicle to educate and entertain audiences on the Jewish experience and Israeli life and culture.”

The final film, “Remembrance,” is being shown on Jan. 27 in conjunction with the United Nations-designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Mississippi festival will include a visit from Glenn Hartman and Jonathan Freilich, founding members of the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars. They will discuss Klezmer music and perform during Shabbat services at Beth Israel in Jackson on Jan. 25.

On Jan. 26, they will perform at the Malco following the screening of “Hava Nagila,” joined by Buddy “Dr. Rhythm” Fish, a Beth Israel member. Individual tickets for the Jan. 26 program are $15.

The Baton Rouge Jewish Film Festival, now in its 7th year, is designed to “inspire, inform and entertain.” Two of the filmmakers are scheduled to join in post-screening discussions by Skype.


Baton Rouge

All films at the Manship Theatre
January 16: Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story, 7 p.m.
January 17: Torn, 7 p.m.
January 19: Hava Nagila, 7:30 p.m. Patron’s dinner at 5:30 p.m.
January 20: Foreign Letters, 1 p.m.
Footnote, 4 p.m.
Tickets $8.50, at Manship Theatre or Orders after Jan 12 will not be mailed. Same-day tickets sold space permitting. Patron levels start at $100, available from Jewish Federation of Greater Baton Rouge.

January 12: West Bank Story and The Concert
Levite Jewish Community Center auditorium, 7 p.m.
January 13: The Edge Theatre, Crestwood Festival Center
Life In Stills, 11 a.m.
Portrait of Wally, 12:15 p.m.
Hava Nagila, 2 p.m,
The Day I Saw Your Heart, 3:30 p.m.
Tickets $10, students $8, festival pass $36, available at Admission to “Life in Stills” is free thanks to Epsman Center for Creative Expression.

All films at the Malco Grandview Theater in Madison. 7:15 p.m., except 3 p.m. on Jan. 27.
January 23: A Bottle in the Gaza Sea
January 24: Hava Nagila
January 26: My First Wedding
January 27: Remembrance
Tickets $12, students $6, available at Beth Israel or Festival passes $35 or $15 for students by Jan. 18; $40 and $20 after. Sponsorships start at $200, sponsor reception at 6 p.m. Jan. 26, $30.

January 6: Follow Me – The Yoni Netanyahu Story
Update: Due to the tornado, this film has been moved from Springhill Avenue Temple to Via Services on Dauphin Street, 7 p.m. Update on Israel, by Larry Voit, follows film.
January 8: Nicky’s Family
USA Laidlaw Performing Arts Center, 7 p.m.
January 9: Kaddish for a Friend
USA Laidlaw Performing Arts Center, 7 p.m.
January 10: Remembrance
USA Laidlaw Performing Arts Center, 7 p.m. Discussion led by Roy Hoffman and dessert reception follows.
January 13: Hava Nagila
Ahavas Chesed Synagogue, 7 p.m. Dessert and Israeli folk dancing follows.
January 15: Nicky’s Family
USA Fairhope Campus, 7 p.m.
January 17: As Seen Through These Eyes
Centre of the Living Arts — Space 301, 7 p.m. Followed by remarks by art therapist Jacqueline Glover
January 22: Torn
Bernheim Hall, Ben May Public Library-Main, 7 p.m. Followed by discussion from members of the Catholic and Jewish communities.
Tickets $8, students and seniors $6. Order online at, or at box office subject to availability.


Hava Nagila (Mobile, Jan. 13; Birmingham, Jan. 13; Baton Rouge, Jan. 19; Jackson, Jan. 24): It’s one of the classic Jewish party songs. But you also routinely hear it at ballparks everywhere, Aly Raisman used it in her floor gymnastics routine at the 2012 Olympics, and Harry Belafonte made it a mainstream hit. How did a Hebrew song become ubiquitous? And where did it really come from?

“Hava Nagila: The Movie” seeks to answer those question. It premiered to a sold-out audience at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in July.

The song has a 150-year history, adding layers to the story as it traveled the world. The film features interviews with Belafonte, Connie Francis, Glen Campbell, Leonard Nimoy and others. As the production was wrapping up, a chance encounter with a direct descendant of the Ruzhiner rebbe, under whose influence the then-wordless niggun began, brought the film full-circle.

Production on the film began in 2009. In 2010, a 10-minute clip was posted online, which attracted half a million views and hundreds of contributions to help cover the film’s expenses.

The film includes Belafonte’s version, Bob Dylan’s “Talkin’ Hava Negillah Blues,” Alan Sherman’s “Harvey and Sheila” parody and Lena Horne’s “Now,” a civil rights anthem set to the tune. Elvis also did a version.

“Belafonte made comparisons to black spiritual music and commented on the song’s deeper messages of joy, hope and peace,” recalled executive producer Lisa Thomas. “He had us spellbound.”

Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story
(Mobile, Jan. 6; Baton Rouge, Jan. 16): One of Israel’s brightest moments was the July 4, 1976 rescue of 103 airline passengers who had been taken hostage and held at Entebbe, Uganda. In mere moments, the terrorists were dead and the hostages were evacuated — but Israel had one casualty, their leader, Yonatan Netanyahu — older brother of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The film is an intimate journey into a young hero’s mind. The narration was drawn from Yonatan Netanyahu’s own letters and words, which unveil the complex character of this thoroughly modern young hero. The film deals with the Entebbe rescue itself and with Netanyahu’s life story.

Remembrance (Mobile, Jan. 10; Jackson, Jan. 27): j. the Jewish news weekly of San Francisco, started its review of this film with: “To those who swore they’d seen enough Holocaust-themed films to last a lifetime: Rescind your vow, just this once.”

The film starts with a German Jew in a Nazi concentration camp in Poland in 1944, where she survives by trying to remain invisible. Fast-forward to a comfortable post-war life in Brooklyn 30 years later, where she sees a TV interview with a Polish ex-partisan. That non-Jewish person was a fellow prisoner, her lover in the camp and the other reason she survived — and though she is happily married, she has to see him again.

Torn (Baton Rouge, Jan. 17; Mobile, Jan. 22): The film is the true story of Romuald-Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel, who was born in 1943 to Jewish parents in Poland. They convinced a Christian family to take him in, saving his life, as his birth parents did not survive. Nobody came back to claim him after the war, so he was raised as Romuald Waszkinel, eventually becoming a Catholic priest. When he was 35, his dying mother told him that he was born a Jew, and the odyssey began.

He felt that he could never repudiate his Jewish identity, but he also could not deny his Catholic faith. Upset with the anti-Semitism in the Polish church in the 1960s, he moved to Israel, trying to find a place where he belonged. Churches didn’t want him because he was Jewish, and he had trouble finding a religious Jewish community that would allow him to go to church on Sunday.

Then there was the matter of the Law of Return — those who have chosen another religion and do not renounce it when moving to Israel are not eligible.

Director Ronit Kerstner told the Jerusalem Post that Weksler-Waszkinel did not like the title of the film, saying he is comfortable in his dual identity, it is others who are torn. She noted that Yad Vashem, where he does research, is the only place that accepts both of his identities completely.