Friday, January 23, 2015

Ungar named new director of NOLA Jewish Family Service

Roselle Ungar has been hired as the new executive director of Jewish Family Service of Greater New Orleans, starting her new position on Jan. 28.

A New Orleans native, Ungar was approved at a board vote on Jan. 21. She had been serving as president of the agency, and as a result of the vote, Julie Wise Oreck became the new president.

In recent months, Executive Director Michael Steiner was on leave due to medical reasons. He had been hired by the agency to succeed Deena Gerber, who retired in June 2013 after 19 years of leading the social-service agency.

“We formed a committee to conduct a search, but then received a resume from a candidate who was so exceptionally qualified and surpassed the credentials of anyone we could have potentially recruited,” said Oreck. “We are thrilled with this selection and know that Roselle will be a superlative leader for the agency.”

Ungar was assistant executive director at the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans from 1997 to 2006. Most recently, she has been the owner of Strategic Nonprofit Consulting, speaking and training across the country. She has also been the director of community and philanthropic affairs at Crescent Bank and Trust.

Ungar graduated as an R.N. from the Touro Infirmary School of Nursing. In 2008, she received her Certified Fundraising Executive designation and is one of only 4,127 individuals in the United States to hold this credential.

Ungar is also a former national vice president and current national board member of Hadassah, and co-chaired the 2014 national convention in Las Vegas. She also is a past president of Beth Israel Congregation.

“It is such an honor for me to take on this role,” Ungar said. “JFS is an agency that changes people’s lives and I look forward to being a part of making a difference through this organization’s great work.”

Jewish Family Service provides a wide range of programs to the Jewish and greater communities, including counseling, homemaker services, the Lifeline emergency response service, a Teen Life Counts suicide prevention program in schools, case management and adoption home studies.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"Peace panel" at UAB features activist who attended Tehran anti-U.S. conspiracy conference

Medea Benjamin being interviewed on Iranian television last fall (courtesy ADL)

A Jan. 13 panel at the University of Alabama at Birmingham billed as two Nobel Peace Prize nominees discussing approaches to peace may not be what it seems.

The Birmingham Interfaith Human Rights Committee, which is affiliated with Birmingham Islamic Society, and the Muslim Students Association are hosting a talk at Heritage Hall at 6:30 p.m. with speakers Kathy Kelly and Medea Benjamin.

Kelly’s topic will be "The Cost of War, The Price of Peace" and Benjamin will discuss "Beheadings, Bombings and Bullets: A New Peace Movement is Urgently Needed."

In a press release from BIS, program event coordinator Farook Chandiwala said "We are excited to have these guests in Birmingham to speak on this important topic. They are known to empower audiences to work for change."

Benjamin is a co-founder of CODEPINK, which was formed in 2002 to oppose the war in Iraq. The group describes itself as a “women-led grassroots organization working to end U.S. wars and militarism, support peace and human rights initiatives, and redirect our tax dollars into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming programs.”

Part of CODEPINK’s advocacy is to boycott Israeli products, especially Ahava and SodaStream, and to boycott Re/Max realty because of its Israel ties. The group also seeks to defund U.S. military aid to Israel and has led several trips to Gaza.

In September, Benjamin went to Tehran as part of Iran’s New Horizon Conference, which organizers said would include “elite thinkers, philosophers, activists and politicians worldwide” who will discuss and “expose” Zionist control of the film industry and the influence of the “Zionist lobby in America.”

Numerous leading Holocaust deniers, conspiracy theorists and Sept. 11 “truthers,” who claim the World Trade Center destruction was an "inside job" by the United States or an Israeli operation, were among the speakers.

On Iranian state media, Benjamin said the conference discussed how U.S. military funding was at the expense of adequate healthcare for Americans, and that conferences like that “should lift the pressure off of the Palestinian people.” She also stated that Americans are being “manipulated” into supporting the fight against ISIS.

In the interview, she also stated that American foreign policy often works in Israel’s interest to the detriment of American interests, and that newly-elected Congressional representatives are “forced” to go on “one-sided propagandistic” trips to Israel.

In 2013, Benjamin got into a vocal confrontation with President Barack Obama over the continued existence of the terrorist detention facility at Guantanimo Bay.

The author of “Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control,” Benjamin organized the first-ever International Drone Summit, and led delegations to Pakistan and Yemen to meet with drone strike victims and families of Guantanamo detainees.

Kelly, a “frequent visitor to Afghanistan” with the Afghan Peace Volunteers, is a “war tax refuser” who has refused to pay U.S. income tax since 1980. A co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and a co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness, Kelly is about to serve a three-month prison sentence after being arrested at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri last year for crossing the boundary while protesting drone operations.

From 1996 to 2003, her organization openly defied economic sanctions against the Iraqi regime, and in 2004 she was arrested and sentenced to three months in prison for crossing into the Fort Benning military training school near Columbus, Ga.

In 2009, Kelly lived in Gaza during the final days of Operation Cast Lead. In 2011 she was on the “Audacity to Hope” “U.S. Boat to Gaza” project. She also tried to enter Gaza by flying into Tel Aviv as part of “Welcome to Palestine” but was deported by Israeli authorities.

This panel comes two months after an anti-Israel event was held on campus, “Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Palestine but Were Afraid to Ask.” That panel, which was co-sponsored by the UAB Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, was criticized as being “extremely biased” and “misleading.” Students from UAB Hillel or the local pro-Israel community who asked questions were openly mocked, sometimes receiving howls of protest from the crowd.

After the Nov. 12 panel, the Birmingham Jewish Federation met with UAB Provost Linda Lucas to discuss ways to encourage balanced debate “in an atmosphere free of intimidation where all voices and viewpoints could be heard.”

Lucas said she determined the panel “was well intended, but not planned or executed as well as it should have been… The format and panelists did not provide an opportunity for open, balanced and constructive educational dialogue.”

In a notice to members and friends of UAB Hillel, the Jewish student organization on campus, it was noted that many of the organizers of the Jan. 13 event are the same as those who organized the November panel.

The Hillel leadership urged the Jewish community and supporters to attend. “If we are wrong and it's not a hate panel, you will have simply came out to hear an academic panel. If it's what we suspect, we need your support,” the statement said.

According to the event’s Facebook page, 44 have said they are going and there were 46 “maybes” as of press time.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Some area congregations having King Weekend events

Anshe Sfard at the 2014 Martin Luther King Day Parade in New Orleans

Anshe Sfard in New Orleans is doing a weekend of programming in observance of Martin Luther King Day.

The weekend will start with Shabbat services on Jan. 16 at 6:30 p.m., followed by a dinner for young Jewish professionals. The 20s and 30s congregants of First Street Peck Wesley United Methodist Church will join the young professionals for dinner.

At the 9:15 a.m. Shabbat service on Jan. 17, instead of Rabbi David Polsky giving a sermon, Rev. Martha Orphe, pastor of First Street Peck Wesley United Methodist Church, will be the guest speaker after the conclusion of services. She will speak about how the Psalms have been used in her community’s spirituality. After her presentation, there will be a buffet lunch. Some of the church’s congregants and Imam Wayne Ali Nuriddin of Masjid Bilal are also expected to attend.

On Jan. 18 there will be two panels at First Street Peck Wesley United Methodist Church. After the conclusion of First Street’s Sunday morning worship, around 12:30 p.m., the groups will assemble for lunch. Because most of the food will not be kosher, Anshe Sfard will provide some kosher selections.

Around 1 p.m., the first panel will consist of presentations by Orphe, Nuridin and Polsky about the sanctity of all human life in their respective faiths.

The second panel, “Combating Injustice Today” will start after the first presentations. The Jewish representative on the panel will be Simone Levine, Deputy Police Monitor for New Orleans Independent Police Monitor. The Christian and Muslim representatives on the panel, as well as its moderator, were not finalized as of press time. There will be a period of questions and answers afterward.

On Jan. 19, after the Martin Luther King Day Parade, the communities will work together from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. in Central City for a service project supervised by United Saints Recovery Project. The project will be sanding, caulking, scraping and painting the double house located on 2219/2221 Baronne Street. All necessary materials and refreshments will be provided. Parking will be available at the corner of Baronne and Jackson. Everyone 13 and up is welcome and invited to participate in this project.


Touro Synagogue will also be participating in the MLK Day march on Jan. 19, as will the New Orleans Jewish Community Relations Council.

The JCRC encourages those marching in the parade to wear blue and white and to bring a banner or sign identifying the organization with whom they are marching. The JCRC will be providing transportation from the parking lot of the Home Depot on South Claiborne Avenue to the start of the parade route. Transportation will run from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

The parade route ends at Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd and Claiborne, which is a short walk to Home Depot. The march begins at City Hall and goes to the King monument on South Claiborne.


The New Orleans Jewish Community Relations Council, the Rabbinic Council of Greater New Orleans, the Jewish Community Center and the Urban League will have a free, community screening of “Joachim Prinz: I Shall Not Be Silent” at the Uptown JCC on Jan. 11 at 3 p.m.

The film details the life of Rabbi Prinz, a World War II survivor who was able to leave Germany in 1937 and later became a leader in the American civil rights movement. He was president of the American Jewish Congress from 1958 to 1966, and gave a speech representing the Jewish community at the 1963 March on Washington, just before Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

He then was co-founder of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.


Temple Sinai in New Orleans will have a Martin Luther King Shabbat with two guest speakers. The 6:15 p.m. service on Jan. 16 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Bill, the 50th anniversary of the National Voting Rights Act and the 25th anniversary of the New Orleans Human Relations Commission.

Guest speakers will be Moon Landrieu, former mayor of New Orleans, and Norman Francis, president of Xavier University. A reception will follow the service, which is open to the community.


At Temple B’nai Sholom in Huntsville, Rev. Oscar Montgomery will speak at the 7 p.m. service on Jan. 16.

Montgomery has a doctorate in agronomy and turned down an offer from MIT to join the Department of Agriculture at Alabama A&M, figuring the students there needed him more.

In 1977, he also became pastor of Union Hill Primitive Baptist Church.

Friday, January 2, 2015

January is Jewish Film Festival time in the South

The Jewish communities of Mobile, Jackson and Baton Rouge are hosting Jewish film festivals this month, with a wide range of films and guest speakers.

In Mobile and Baton Rouge, the festivals also hold student screenings of Holocaust-themed films for school groups.

The Mobile festival runs from Jan. 11 to 22, with several screenings at the Laidlaw Center for Performing Arts at the University of South Alabama. Other screenings will be at Springhill Avenue Temple, Ahavas Chesed, the Ben May Library and the USA campus in Fairhope.

Mobile’s festival is co-sponsored by the Mobile Area Jewish Federation and the University of South Alabama.

The Baton Rouge festival takes place from Jan. 14 to 18 at the Manship Theatre. Among the special guests will be Louisiana native Susan Rosenbaum, who founded Enthusiastic Gourmet Food Tours in New York City. She will discuss “The Sturgeon Queens,” about the Lower East Side lox and herring emporium, “Russ and Daughters.”

Jackson’s festival, Jewish Cinema Mississippi, runs from Jan. 21 to 25 at the Malco Grandview Theater. A highlight will be the Mississippi debut of “Wandering Rabbi.”

Mobile goes “Above and Beyond” in Franco tribute

With this year’s 14th annual Mobile Jewish Film Festival, a new feature is being introduced. The Jan. 18 matinee, “Above and Beyond: The Birth of the Israeli Air Force” will be the first Reita Franco Memorial Film.

The film’s producer, Nancy Spielberg — whose brother is Steven Spielberg — will introduce the film and take questions afterward.

On April 22, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans will have a screening of the film and an appearance by Spielberg at the National World War II Museum. Alan Franco, son of Reita Franco, is the New Orleans Federation’s immediate past president.

Spielberg was inspired to produce this film after reading a 2011 obituary for Al Schwimmer, who was credited with being a founder of the Israeli Air Force. She researched the story of U.S. and Canadian pilots, World War II veterans, who were inspired to fight for Israel’s independence despite the risk of losing their U.S. citizenship because of an administration embargo.

The pilots — both Jews and non-Jews — trained and coordinated in secret to stay ahead of the FBI and played a critical role in repelling five invading Arab armies in 1948 after Israel declared independence. Some of them wound up flying repurposed Nazi planes, which had been abandoned in Czechoslovakia, that they had tried to shoot down a few years earlier.

Many of the now-elderly pilots were interviewed for the film, some have died since the filming.

Organizers of the Mobile festival credit Reita Franco, who died in April, with being “almost single-handedly responsible for the financial well-being” of the festival. Every year, one film will be designated in her memory, with the tribute underwritten by the Maisel and Bronstein families.

The Mobile screening will be at Ahavas Chesed on Jan. 18 at 3 p.m.

The New Orleans event will kick off with a 5:30 p.m. reception, a 6:30 p.m. talk by Spielberg and the movie will be screened at 7 p.m. Seating is extremely limited, and reservations are required. The cost to attend is $18, $10 for students and adults under age 30.

“Wandering Rabbi” comes home to Mississippi

One of the most visible services of the Jackson-based Goldring-Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life is the traveling rabbi program. Rabbis on staff travel throughout the South on weekends, serving congregations that are too small to have a resident rabbi, and many of the congregations have just a handful of members remaining.

At the Jewish Cinema Mississippi, there will be the local debut of “Wandering Rabbi,” a 14-minute documentary about Rabbi Marshal Klaven, who until last summer was the ISJL Director of Rabbinic Services. He now serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Galveston, Tex.

The film follows Klaven as he tours the South, leading Shabbat services and lifecycle events in communities with small and dwindling Jewish populations. Much of the film is set in the Mississippi Delta, and shows candid interactions between Klaven and congregants.

The film is by Jackson native Henry Wiener. After graduating from Columbia University, he worked in New York for five years before enrolling at Stanford University. His films “tell stories of people who pursue life with special passion and energy, across a spectrum of American culture.”

In June, “Wandering Rabbi” was screened as one of eight thesis films in the Masters of Fine Arts documentary film and video program at Stanford. The film won a 2013 Carole Fielding Grant from the University Film and Video Association.

“Wandering Rabbi” will be screened on Jan. 24 at 7 p.m., just before Israeli comedy “Hill Start.”

Improbable mission: Rescue 50 children

The Baton Rouge Jewish Film Festival will be presenting “50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus” as the student presentation on Jan. 14 and 15, while Temple Beth Or in Montgomery will have “50 Children” author Steven Pressman at a Jan. 15 presentation.

The film and book detail the story of a Jewish couple from Philadelphia, Eleanor and Gilbert Kraus, who were not particularly religious or political. Moved by reports they saw from Europe, they decided in 1939 to go to Austria and Germany to try and rescue Jewish children.

Because of anti-Semitism and isolationism in the United States, and even resistance from leaders in the Jewish community, that was no easy task. They used careful readings of immigration law and visa loopholes to bring 50 children to the United States.

After they returned to the United States, they rarely spoke about what they had done. About 10 years ago, their granddaughter gave Pressman — her husband — the unpublished memoir Eleanor Kraus had written decades earlier, leading to this film.

The documentary includes interviews with nine of the children.

The film will be screened in Baton Rouge at the BREC Independence Theater for school groups on Jan. 14 and 15 from 9 a.m. to noon.

Pressman will speak at Beth Or in Montgomery on Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. The program, sponsored by the Rothschild-Blachschleger Lecture and Culture Fund, is open to the community.

Mobile Jewish Film Festival

The Mobile Jewish Film Festival starts on Jan. 11 at 3 p.m. at Springhill Avenue Temple with “Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did for Love.” The biographical film chronicles his personal and creative highs and lows, including winning every major artistic award by age 31 — Grammys, an Emmy, three Oscars, a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize. With exclusive access to Hamlisch’s personal archival treasure trove and complete cooperation from his family, Dramatic Forces and THIRTEEN’s American Masters explored his prolific life and career. The film debuted on PBS in December 2013.

Following the screening, there will be a cheesecake dessert and Broadway sing-a-long with pianist Terry Maddox.

On Jan. 13, the festival moves to the Laidlaw Center for Performing Arts at the University of South Alabama. “Run Boy Run” at 7 p.m. is a 2013 French-German production that had its Southern debut as the opening night screening for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.

Based on the bestselling Holocaust novel by Israeli author Uri Orlev, the film is the true story of Israel Friedman, who was nicknamed Srulik, the son of a baker in Poland.

In 1942, when he was eight years old, he was smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto and finds himself with a group of Jewish orphans who forage at farms in the countryside. A harsh winter and loneliness drive him back to civilization.

He eventually finds a family of Polish partisans to take him in, but they figure he has a better chance of surviving as a Catholic. The wife renames him Jurek and teaches him how to pass as a Catholic, but eventually rumors spread that they are hiding a Jewish child. After a raid and the home was torched, he was on the run again.

He went from town to town, working as a farmhand. At one of the farms, he lost an arm in a wheat grinder. After Russian troops liberated the area he spent three more years in an orphanage, still passing as a Catholic.

In 1948, a Jewish agency tracked him down, and after initial denials he re-assumed his identity. He moved to Israel and made up for the education he never got as a child, becoming a math teacher.

Several years ago he told his story to Orlev, whose novel was published in 2000. The film is directed by Oscar-winner Pepe Danquart.

The film will also be screened at the USA Fairhope campus on Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. After each screening, Rabbi Steven Silberman will offer reflections on the story.

“Body and Soul: The State of the Jewish Nation” will be on Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. It documents the undeniable historical connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, at a time when Palestinian advocates are insisting there is no such history. Filmmaker Gloria Greenfield will introduce the film and take questions afterward.

On Jan. 15 at 7 p.m., “Zaytoun” portrays the improbable and remarkable friendship between Fahed, a 12-year-old Palestinian refugee, whose father has been killed and Yoni, a 30-year-old downed Israeli combat pilot. Forced into an unlikely alliance, the would-be adversaries eventually find trust and friendship as they traverse the barren beauty of war-ravaged land while dodging all forms of danger during the 1982 Lebanon War. A dessert reception will follow the screening.

The screening of “Above and Beyond: The Birth of the Israeli Air Force” will be at 3 p.m. at Ahavas Chesed on Jan. 18.

The Mobile Public Library and Mobile Christian Jewish Dialogue co-sponsor “The Jewish Cardinal,” Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Ben May Library. The film tells the story of Jean-Marie Lustinger, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants who converted to Catholicism and eventually became Archbishop of Paris, while maintaining a Jewish cultural identity. He wound up being a mediator between the communities when a group of Carmelite nuns wanted to build a convent at Auschwitz.

Holocaust scholar Jerry Darring will be the speaker.

The festival concludes at Ahavas Chesed on Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. with “Aftermath.”

The 2013 Polish film is the story of brothers who are sons of a poor farmer. In the 1980s, one of them immigrated to the United States and cut off all ties with his family, returning only when his brother’s wife shows up. He discovers his brother has been ostracized from the community and threatened, and they eventually uncover a dark secret about their family and hometown.

The film won the Yad Vashem Chairman's Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival. Polish nationals have accused the film of being anti-Polish propaganda, as well as a distortion of a sensitive piece of Polish history, leading the film to be banned in some Polish cinemas.

Author Roy Hoffman will lead a post-screening discussion.

The Pensacola Jewish Federation will have a group attending the Jan. 22 film in Mobile.

The festival will also screen “Blessed is the Match” as this year’s Julien E Marx Student Holocaust Film. Over 2,000 high school and middle school students from Bayside Academy, Davidson High, St. Paul’s, UMS/Wright and several Catholic middle schools will view the film, which is the story of Hannah Senesh.

Racelle Weiman, senior director for Global Education and Professional Training at the Dialogue Institute of Temple University, will be the speaker.

An educator workshop in collaboration with the Gulf Coast Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education and the University of South Alabama will also be held. Educators in attendance will receive CEU credits and are gifted a copy of the film for their classroom use. Weiman will also facilitate the workshop.

Tickets are available online or through the Mobile Area Jewish Federation. They are $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and students.

Baton Rouge Jewish Film Festival

The ninth annual Baton Rouge Jewish Film Festival opens with “The Sturgeon Queens” on Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. The film about the Lower East Side lox and herring emporium was timed to coincide with the store’s 100th anniversary. The documentary features interviews with two of the original daughters for whom the store was named.

Guest speaker will be Louisiana native Susan Rosenbaum, who moved to New York in 1989 and conducts Enthusiastic Gourmet Food Tours.

The Jan. 15 double feature at 7 p.m. includes “The Lady in Number 6” and “Hitler’s Children.” “Number 6” is an Oscar-winning documentary about Alice Herz Sommer, a 109-year-old Holocaust survivor and the world’s oldest pianist, discussing her story on how to achieve a long and happy life.

“Hitler’s Children” is a documentary of how family members descended from high-ranking Nazi officers of Hitler’s inner circle struggle with the last names they carry, such as Goering, Himmler and Hoess.

On Jan. 14 and 15 there will be student screenings of “50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus,” at Independence Park Theater.

On Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m., “The Wonders” is about a slacker, a private investigator and a femme fatale who join forces to rescue an abducted holy man. The film, which explores the idea of messianic cults that misuse funds finagled from followers, uses hand-drawn animation to show the protagonist’s overactive imagination with Jerusalem as a Wonderland.

The festival concludes on Jan. 18 at 1:30 p.m. with a double feature of “Quality Balls: The David Steinberg Story” and “Under the Same Sun.”

Steinberg directed some of the most successful situation comedies of the last 20 years, including “Seinfeld,” “Mad About You,” “Golden Girls” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The film includes backstage stories from Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Larry Charles, David Bianculli, Bob Einstein and others.

“Under the Same Sun” follows a Palestinian businessman and an Israeli businessman as they try to forge a business relationship, dealing with unique personal and political challenges in a society where there is a strong stigma about working with “the other,” from both family and community.

Tickets are $8.50, available online or at the Manship Theatre box office.

Jewish Cinema Mississippi

Jewish Cinema Mississippi begins on Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. with “Sukkot in Warsaw,” which portrays the Jewish community in Warsaw today. The children of Holocaust survivors celebrate Sukkot in the area where the Warsaw Ghetto stood, and college students in Warsaw’s Moishe House describe what it means to be Jewish in 21st century Poland.

Following the Warsaw film, “The Dove Flyer” will be screened, detailing how in 1950 and 1951, the 130,000-strong ancient Jewish community of Iraq ceased to exist, fleeing to Israel.

On Jan. 22 at 7 p.m., “Under the Same Sun,” which was also at the Baton Rouge festival, will be screened.

“Wandering Rabbi” opens the Jan. 24 festivities at 7 p.m., followed by “Hill Start,” a comic drama about a family in Jerusalem. After the mother goes into a coma following a car accident, the family tries everything possible to bring her back.

On Jan. 25 at 2 p.m., the festival’s final day opens with “Broken Branches.” The story of a 14-year-old girl who is sent from Poland to Israel just before World War II is told through the animations of her granddaughter.

The festival concludes with “The Zigzag Kid,” a family drama about Nono, who wants to be like his father, who is a police inspector, but he keeps getting into trouble. Two days before his Bar Mitzvah, he is sent to his uncle to get him back on track. On the way, he encounters a master burglar who is an old acquaintance of his father, and takes off with him.

Individual tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students. A festival pass is $35 for adults, $15 for students before Jan. 18.

Monday, December 29, 2014

“Our Mockingbird,” “Shell Shocked” to air on PBS World

Our Mockingbird

Two films with regional ties will air on the PBS documentary series “America Reframed” on the PBS World channel. The series airs on Tuesdays at 7 p.m.

Journalist Natasha Del Toro hosts the series, which presents 60 to 90 minute independent films and conversations about a range of social issues.

On Feb. 3, Sandra Jaffe’s “Our Mockingbird” will be broadcast. The film shows the collaboration of two Birmingham area schools in a production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Now living in Boston, Jaffe was already planning to film a documentary about Harper Lee’s novel when she heard that Fairfield High School, which is mostly black, and mostly white Mountain Brook High School were doing a joint production of the stage version. Jaffe is an alumna of Mountain Brook, where the vast majority of students in Birmingham’s Jewish community currently attend.

Jaffe left Birmingham for college in Boston in the 1970s, where others immediately jumped to conclusions about her because of where she was from. She later rediscovered “To Kill A Mockingbird” as a reminder that “there were people ‘not all like that’ on the right side of history who would work to make things better.”

She filmed a Boston class that was doing a three-week project on the Harper Lee novel, then decided to visit Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, where since 1991 a local group has put on a stage version of the book.

The Monroeville version, done entirely by locals, begins on the lawn outside the county courthouse, then moves inside for the courtroom scenes. The 1962 film version modeled its courtroom after the Monroe County Courthouse.

The first time the Monroeville group performed outside the county was after a visit by the Israeli consul general from Atlanta in the mid-1990s. He invited them to perform at the Khan Theater in Jerusalem, where they had sold-out performances in 1996.

After seeing the play in Monroeville, Jaffe researched other venues that were doing the play. “On the Dramatic Publishing website I discovered that Mountain Brook High School was doing the play and I got in touch with Pat Yates, the drama teacher and director, who informed me about the collaboration with Fairfield. I knew that this experiment in crossing the divides of residential segregation would be something I wanted to include in my film.”

She said there are three themes to the film. First, how the novel itself still resonates “in our public discourse on race, class and justice.” Second is the view of Alabama, then and now. Third is the story of two very different schools coming together in what Yates described as “an exercise in empathy.”

The film weaves commentary from an array of notables, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, journalist Katie Couric and others who reflect on the legacy of Lee’s novel and the timeless reflection of her central character, Atticus Fitch.

The documentary debuted in 2010 in Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, then was at Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham in 2012, and was screened as part of Birmingham’s 50th anniversary commemorations of the civil rights era in April 2013, on the 55th anniversary of the attempted Klan bombing of Temple Beth-El.

On Feb. 17, “Shell Shocked: A Documentary About Growing Up in the Murder Capital of America” will air. The film explores the high murder rate among blacks, especially teens, in New Orleans, and what individuals and groups are trying to do about it. In October 2013, Touro Synagogue hosted a community screening with director John Richie.

Richie and Jonathan Jahnke had started working with honor-roll inner-city students in New Orleans and were shocked to discover that they all had been directly affected by gun violence. The film that came from that revelation took five years for them to complete.

One segment in the film features Dana Kaplan discussing how the New Orleans youth prison system is counterproductive without positive interventions. She notes that drug violence is perpetuated because finishing school or finding work is difficult with a record.

Kaplan leads the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana and ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2012.

Friday, December 26, 2014

JCDS in Metairie reopening pre-K program

The Jewish Community Day School in Metairie announced that it will re-open its pre-Kindergarten program next fall. With the addition, the school will range from pre-K to fifth grade.

The school introduced a pre-K class for the 2008-2009 school year but discontinued it in 2012.

Judy Fried, the JCDS first grade teacher, will serve as the lead for the re-instituted Pre-K Program. Her history at JCDS dates back to its beginning years in her role as a founding parent. She also created the JCDS kindergarten program and has mentored the majority of JCDS graduates. Before teaching at JCDS, Fried taught Kindergarten for 12 years at Akiba Academy, a Day School in Dallas, which won a Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching.

According to JCDS Head of School Sharon Pollin, who started with the school in 2013, small classes, highly qualified teachers and Jewish values help children develop skills and outlooks that will serve them for their entire lives.

She said pre-K “provides an attractive pathway for families to engage in Jewish living and learning,” through “the happiness and fun of celebrating holidays with their young children, bringing to the home what children gain from the culture of the school.”

Pollin said the older students are excited at the prospect of being reading buddies “and actually participating with them in their classes.” This lets the older students develop leadership opportunities, and working with the younger students helps the older students with their literacy as well.

The pre-K class will use the Project Approach, which supports open-ended learning experiences and the development of self-confidence and self-regulation. A sense of wonder permeates all aspects of the JCDS pre-K program.”

The curriculum has three main inspirations. The Reggio Emelia approach is based on the principles of respect, responsibility and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment.

Maria Montessori’s work fosters independence, deep understanding and peaceful interpersonal relationships. Lev Vygotsky’s thinking promotes rich language and literacy environments, complex play to encourage critical thinking, and self-regulation. Joyful Jewish traditions guide the creation of a lifelong ethical framework.

There will be open houses for prospective parents on Jan. 13 at 6 p.m., Jan. 15 at 9 a.m. and Feb. 11 at 9 a.m. Private tours are always available.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

BunkConnect seeks to make summer camp more affordable

Birmingham campers at Camp Barney Medintz in Georgia

In an effort to make Jewish summer camping more affordable for families, the Foundation for Jewish Camp has launched BunkConnect, a national program that matches eligible families with non-profit Jewish summer camps.

“BunkConnect marries best practices from the business world, new technologies and learnings from the hospitality industry, and takes a fresh approach to addressing affordability in Jewish life,” said Michael Leven, president and COO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., former camper and counselor, and key program funder. “I am very excited to bring this program to a national stage and see how we can help more kids have a summer experience like those that were so meaningful to me many years ago.”

After applicants supply some basic, confidential information online, the BunkConnect website matches families with available summer camps at a 40 to 60 percent discount. Some camps offer the discounted rate for a second summer.

BunkConnect has 75 participating camps, representing various movements and denominations. Participating camps in the region include Adamah Adventures, Camp Barney Medintz, Camp Judaea, Ramah Darom, Camp Sabra in Missouri, Camp Young Judaea Texas, Camp Coleman and the Greene Family Camp.

The program is for first-time campers, basing eligibility on a family’s adjusted gross income, number of dependent children and place of legal residency. For example, through BunkConnect, a family with two children living in Illinois with a maximum adjusted gross income of $145,000 can realize the dream of Jewish camp.

The expense of Jewish day school enrollment is also taken into account to determine eligibility.

“Families want to send their children to Jewish camp. By matching their desire with available summer experiences, we are opening new avenues of access,” said Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of FJC. “BunkConnect is changing how we look at scholarship, affordability, and capacity for Jewish camp and beyond.”

BunkConnect is a program of Foundation for Jewish Camp with The Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy, made possible by funding from The AVI CHAI Foundation, The Leader Family Foundation, The Michael and Andrea Leven Family Foundation, and The Jack and Goldie Wolfe Miller Fund with additional support from Eileen and Jerry Lieberman.

“The philanthropists we advise challenged us to create an outcome-driven business approach that capitalizes on the enormous impact of Jewish camping,” said Joseph Hyman, president and founder of CEJP. “BunkConnect is a game-changing initiative that sets a standard for other philanthropists and organizations to follow.”

The initiative is modeled after the success of FJC’s One Happy Camper program, a need-blind grant initiative of up to $1,000 for first-time campers. A camper may participate in only one of the two programs.

In Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and the Florida panhandle, One Happy Camper is administered by the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana, sponsored by the Goldring Family Foundation.

The BunkConnect website is here.

Monday, December 22, 2014

JCRS to honor five families, celebrate 160th at musical roots gala

This coming year’s gala for the Jewish Children’s Regional Service will celebrate the unique agency’s 160th birthday and honor five families for their contributions and passion for Jewish youth.

The “Jewish Roots of Music” will be directed by renowned musician Harry Mayronne, who created last year’s JCRS “Jewish Roots of Broadway” production at the National World War II Museum. Mayronne’s credits include musical direction of the Big Easy Awards and co-writing and producing the off-Broadway production of “Waiting Around — The Restaurant Musical.”

The event, which will be on March 7 at the New Orleans Hyatt, will recognize the Cahn and Goldring families of New Orleans, the Woldenberg Foundation of New Orleans, the Klein family of Louisville, Ky., and the Grinspoon family from Western Massachusetts.

Originally formed as the Jewish Children’s Home in New Orleans, JCRS became a social service agency when the home closed following World War II. Serving seven states, JCRS provides need-based assistance for Jewish summer camp and undergraduate college aid, along with outreach and case management services. The agency serves over 1500 Jewish youth annually.

The Goldring family is well-known locally, nationally and internationally for its numerous philanthropic endeavors that support many causes within the civic and Jewish communities. The Goldring Family Foundation was created by the late Stephen and Mathilde Goldring in 1957, and its vast work has continued to be carried out through their son, Bill, and grandchildren Diane Franco and Jeffrey Goldring.

Malcolm Woldenberg, a native of Montreal, with his friend Stephen Goldring, founded Magnolia Marketing Company in New Orleans in 1944. Magnolia became a leading distributer of beer, wine and liquor.

Woldenberg, who died in 1982, dedicated his later years to philanthropy that continues today through the Woldenberg Foundation, which has made major contributions to JCRS, Touro Infirmary, Tulane University, the City of New Orleans, and many cultural, civic and health related programs in Israel.

Mike Cahn, a Mississippi native, and Blanche Lazard, a New Orleanian, met and married in New Orleans in 1911. They had two sons, Emile and Jules. Their two sons, together with their spouses, Adele and June, carried on a tradition of passionate and involved philanthropy, that has now passed down to their children, New Orleanians Jimmy and Marie Cahn, and Richard and Vivian Cahn, through the Cahn Family Foundation.

Mike and Blanche Cahn were already supporters of, and mentors to, the residents of the former Jewish Children’s Home in the early part of the 20th century, when in 1936, their son, the late Emile Cahn, married Adele Karp. Adele was one of four Karp sisters raised at the Home. Today, at age 97, Adele Karp Cahn is one of the oldest and most proud surviving alumni of the Jewish Children’s Home.

Like Adele Karp Cahn and her three siblings, Elias Klein and his brother, Ike, in the 1930s, found themselves in need of assistance from the Jewish community of New Orleans and the former Jewish Children’s Home. Elias and Ike were child refugees, who were sent out of Nazi Germany by their parents, who were left behind. The community helped to place the boys with New Orleanian Lillian Greenwald, who became their foster mother.

Elias married native Beverly Aronowitz in 1948. The couple was residing in New Orleans in 1981, when a teaching position at the University of Louisville Medical School lured Elias from his position as the director of the Gulf South Research Institute. In appreciation of the support that the young Klein boys received from New Orleans Jewish institutions, Elias and Beverly have given back to New Orleans, and together with their children, have created a college scholarship fund at JCRS that supports children from refugee families.

In 1993, Harold Grinspoon a real estate developer, created a family foundation whose original mission was to support services for residents of Western Massachusetts and to support a variety of programs for various Jewish communities. Over time, both the mission of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the number of his own family members that he involved in the foundation has grown exponentially.

One deep passion for Grinspoon is his desire to enhance Jewish continuity, and to channel that passion through programs for Jewish youth and young families. In 2006, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation launched the PJ Library, a program that now provides free, monthly Jewish-themed books to 136,000 Jewish youth in North America. PJ has also expanded into South America, Australia, and Israel. With additional local support from the Goldring Family Foundation, JCRS administers PJ in New Orleans and across parts of six states, providing over 900 Jewish youth each year with book subscriptions.

The Grinspoon Foundation also believes strongly in the value of Jewish overnight summer camping, which is also one of the primary initiatives of JCRS. The JCamp 180 program works with over 75 camps on consulting and grant-matching.

The gala is slated to begin at 6:30 p.m. on March 7. The agency’s annual meeting will be held on March 8 at 10 a.m. at the Uptown Jewish Community Center, which is located in the spot where the Jewish Children’s Home was located.

Also on March 8, the agency is planning a 2 p.m. family celebration of eight years managing the PJ Library in New Orleans. The Grinspoon family initiative provides free Judaic books monthly to children from the ages of six months to eight years. JCRS coordinates PJ Library in New Orleans and other areas of its region that are not already covered by local groups.