The Arty Semite

Why Jewish Film Festivals Are So Important

By Olivia Antsis

  • Print
  • Share Share

Thirty-four years ago, in two American cities on opposite coasts, a group of visionaries developed what would one day become one of the most powerful vehicles for connecting Diaspora Jews to their culture: the Jewish film festival.

With numerous scholarly works and studies devoted to dissecting the state of modern Jewry in America, the increasing popularity of Jewish film festivals has made one fact abundantly clear: Jews crave a meaningful connection to their roots. With over 100 Jewish Film Festivals in existence today, Jews all over the world flock to theaters anticipating an authentic connection to their heritage. For some Jews, participation in their local Jewish Film Festival is the only way in which they feel Jewish.

Does such a statement justify the prevailing attitude among Jewish leaders and professionals that the fabric of our once vibrant and engaged Jewish community is in danger of unraveling? While widely debated studies like the 2013 Pew survey of American Jewry points to a steady decline in religious identification and a significant rise in interfaith marriage, what do these statistics actually say about today’s Jewish community except that it is continually changing, evolving, and presenting new challenges?

As a Jewish professional working in the Jewish world, I have observed many of my colleagues grow disheartened by the possibility that the progress we have made in preserving Jewish culture is in danger of being compromised. My trepidation is that too much credence is being given to the results of quantitative surveys and not enough consideration is being paid to programs that are already working to establish a vibrant Jewish community.

As director of the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival for over six years, I have been told again and again how important the Festival has been to people’s lives. Phrases like “It makes me feel proud to be Jewish” or “It makes me feel like I am really part of a community” are common.

In the past decade, Jewish film festivals around the world have not only proven successful in serving diverse populations of the Jewish community, but they have begun to expand their reach to other groups. Through their extensive outreach efforts and opportunities for cross-cultural programming and marketing, Jewish film festivals have proved the potential to grow and attract new and engaged audiences. Since the exclusivity once coveted by American Jewish communities to satisfy their need for safety and acceptance is no longer necessary, it really is the scope, breadth, and quality of Jewish film programming that makes the model of the Jewish film festival so inviting and engaging.

Through the power of compelling stories, Jewish film festivals have penetrated to the heart of what moves us and accomplished the difficult feat of unifying Jews of varying religious affiliations and denominations, as well as bringing together Jews of competing ideologies and political leanings. This is because Jewish film festivals work hard to cultivate a neutral platform for the exchange of ideas and the sharing of experiences. Not only have younger and older generations discovered a common language and understanding through film, but Jews who want to share their history, culture, and heritage with their non-Jewish friends are now able to do so in an open and welcoming environment.

It is my hope that Jewish film festivals continue to evolve and adapt, as this will ensure both growth and longevity. In my six years serving the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival I have witnessed the immense impact of my work. I have watched PJFF’s audience double and I have listened to patrons wax poetic about how films they viewed at our festival changed their perspectives and opened their hearts and minds to new possibilities. This feeling of making a difference in my community is just one of the many reasons why I love my job and why no matter where life leads me, I will always support my local Jewish film festival.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, Film

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.