Across Oceans and Generations—A Jewish History of Tidewater

by | Mar 20, 2015 | Other News

Alan, Brenda, John and Andy Stein.

Alan, Brenda, John and Andy Stein.

Documentary premieres to standing room only crowd

As somber music plays in the background, the prow of a boat cuts through dark waves in the dramatic opening scene of a new documentary about the Tidewater Jewish community. A narrator’s voice begins over an illustrated map of Europe:

“They came across a vast ocean…Ahead, only distant stories and promises etched in paper. A future as uncertain as the vastness of the ocean on which they sailed. They came to this promised land, and in one generation created a transformative imprint on their adopted home.”

A crowd estimated at 300 came to the Sandler Family Campus on Sunday, March 8 to see an exclusive screening of Across Oceans and Generations—A Jewish History of Tidewater, Virginia.

“This is a great achievement for Joan London Baer, the executive producer of this film, and for Eric Futterman, who wrote and directed and edited it,” said Miles Leon, president of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, who welcomed the community.

“It’s also a tremendous gift for all of us who will recognize and remember a lot of our friends and relatives who we hear and see in this documentary, and for future generations who will benefit from knowing about the people who built this community.”

Leon also emphasized Baer’s generosity in working with the UJFT to set up an Across the Generations Scholarship Fund. DVDs can be ordered through the Federation for a suggested $25 donation, with all proceeds going to financially assist students attending Jewish preschool, day school and JCC summer camp.

The screening of the 40-minute film was its first. Among audience members were some who were interviewed to help tell the story of the community; more than 20 discussions with local residents were included. After the movie ended, almost two-thirds of the crowd remained for a question and answer session with Baer and Futterman.

“I’m completely amazed by how many people came today, and who stayed afterward for the discussion, but, I think overall that they enjoyed it,” said Baer. “Of course we couldn’t include every event or family even though we would have liked to— that would have taken at least four times longer—which is why we called this ‘a’ story, rather than ‘the’ story. It was wonderful to hear how interested people are, and how they feel other communities could use this as a model for their own histories.”

The idea for the film arose from Baer’s genealogical research into her family— seven generations of which have lived in Tidewater. She began working on Across the Oceans four years ago with her late husband Steven Baer. The Baers hired Futterman, an Emmy Award winning producer who owns EAF Custom Communication in Richmond (and who counts four generations of Tidewater Jewish residents in his family) to help create their vision.

Work stopped for almost two years following Steven’s illness and death. Baer was committed to completing Across Oceans and Generations, though, and Futterman agreed to help when she reached out to him about a year ago.

“This is truly a project of the heart,” Futterman said. “We both are very connected to this story—and with many, many hours spent researching and filming and writing and editing, and with Joanie’s determination to finish it…and the help of some really special people—we’re excited to finally share it.”

DVDs are available for a $25 donation per copy. All proceeds go to the UJFT Across the Generations Scholarship Fund. Order online at Generations. For more information, call 757-965-6124 or email

by Laine Mednick Rutherford