Wednesday, Dec. 16, 7 pm
The 23rd annual Simon Family JCC Virginia Festival of Jewish Film, presented by Alma* and Howard Laderberg, which takes place in January, is kicking off early with a pre-event film this month.
A film festival extra, Rosenwald will screen at the Naro Expanded Cinema. It is the incredible story of Julius Rosenwald, who never finished high school, but rose to become the president of Sears. Influenced by the writings of Booker T. Washington, this Jewish philanthropist joined forces with African American communities during the Jim Crow South to build more than 5,300 schools during the early part of the 20th century.
After the movie, a discussion will take place with Aviva Kempner, the film’s director, along with Casandra Newby Alexander, a professor from Norfolk State University. Joel Rubin, president of Rubin Communications Group, will moderate the discussion.
“Researching my own family roots in 1979 inspired me to become a filmmaker,” says Kempner. “I am dedicated to making films that span the years prior to and during World War II , since they so scarred my family.”
Kempner’s Polish-born, Jewish mother passed as a Catholic working at a labor camp in Germany. Her parents and sister perished in Auschwitz and only her brother survived the death camps.
“Upon liberation by Americans, my mother met my Lithuanian-born father, a U.S. soldier, in Berlin. My father’s mother had been shot by the Nazis. They married, and upon birth I was anointed the first American-Jewish child born in Berlin. We came to America in 1950 and settled in Detroit. My father, who immigrated to America in the late 1920s, made me aware of our country’s hardships during the Depression and the social discrimination against Jews and other minorities,” says Kempner.
Her previous films also have Jewish content.
“In 1979, I felt an urge to make a film about Jewish resistance against the Nazis to answer the unfair question, “why didn’t Jews resist?” I produced and conceived of Partisans of Vilna to show Jews had fought despite the moral dilemmas. It was released in theaters in 1986, and on DVD 20 years later. I formed a nonprofit foundation, naming it Ciesla after my maternal grandparents’ last name to keep the name alive,” says Kempner.
She says she chose Hank Greenberg, her father’s baseball hero, as the subject of another film The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. “Every Yom Kippur our father would tell us how Greenberg went to synagogue instead of the stadium. I believed Greenberg was part of Kol Nidre service. I was sick of seeing only nebbish Jewish males on the screen.” The film took 13 years to make due to funding issues. The Ciesla Foundation issued a new DVD of the film in 2013 that includes over two and a half hours of extras.
“I am also proud to have made a film on radio and television pioneer Gertrude Berg,” notes Kempner. Berg was the creator, principal writer, and star of The Goldbergs, a popular radio show for 17 years, which became television’s very first character-driven domestic sitcom in 1949. “Berg received the first Best Actress Emmy in history, and paved the way for women in the entertainment industry. She was the most famous woman of her day, but almost forgotten when I made the movie about her. She paved the way for the Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, Seinfeld, and Friends,” Kempner says.
“Although both Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg and Julius Rosenwald’s careers spanned the years when our country faced the enormous challenges of the Great Depression and World War II , they both displayed great courage in performing as positive Jews in spite of the negative atmosphere swirling around them. Most of all, they were heroes to all Americans,” says Kempner.
For information on the film, call 625‑6276 or go to www.narocinema.com.
The 23rd Annual Virginia Festival of Jewish Film, presented by Alma* and Howard Laderberg begins Saturday, Jan. 16.
*of blessed memory