Deborah Kaufman, Alan Snitow_311.
(photo credit: Zohar Ron)
It’s never easy to be a Jew, but it’s a particularly difficult time to be an
American Jew whose views don’t fit neatly into a category. Deborah Kaufman and
Alan Snitow focus on this dilemma in their latest film, Between Two Worlds, an
examination of contemporary Jewish identity, which is showing this week at the
Jerusalem Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
dealing with Jewish identity issues throughout our lives,” says Kaufman, a
filmmaker who founded the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in the early
Eighties. Kaufman and Snitow’s previous films include the acclaimed
documentaries Thirst, The Secrets of Silicon Valley and Blacks and Jews. They
were inspired to make Between Two Worlds after they found themselves as the
center of a debate over whether the film, Rachel, a documentary about Rachel
Corrie, an activist who was killed trying to stop an Israeli military bulldozer,
should be shown at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
filmmakers found themselves swept up in this controversy over the film (Snitow
is on the board of the SFJFF ), which was shown along with many other films in
2009, and the intensity of it surprised and intrigued them.
calls to boycott the festival,” says Kaufman. They were on the receiving end of
what Snitow calls “Internet rage,” particularly angry and even threatening
“The level of bullying reached a high point. We had a
sense that the center had collapsed. The whole idea of a Talmudic,
respectful debate has been crushed,” says Kaufman.
“The whole idea of a
debate over the issues has been hijacked by people on the far left and the far
right,” notes Snitow. “People on the fringes have been yelling to silence those
in the center. The movie is trying to reestablish the idea that there is a
But the movie does not focus only on San Francisco and that
debate, but looks at several issues around the globe that have been polarizing
Jews, particularly in recent years. These include the evolving definition of
Jewish identity, as more young people grow up in religiously mixed households;
the controversy over the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, which is being built
by American Jews on a Muslim graveyard; why American Jews continue to vote
mostly on the Left, even though the representatives of the Right say this is
against their self interest; and the BDS movement, the group that advocates
boycotts of, sanctions on and divestment from Israel.
BUT RATHER than
simply presenting this in the traditional talking-heads documentary format, the
filmmakers have brought themselves into the picture, making a kind of personal
essay that explains their own involvement in these issues.
“We decided if
we were going to make a film about Jewish identity we had to show who we were.
We had to use our own stories about our own ideological parents,” Says Snitow
Their parents, who were also intensely involved in American Jewish life, were on
opposite sides of the political spectrum.
Kaufman’s father was a
committed Zionist activist (and had to deal with the fact that Kaufman’s sister
married a Muslim), while Snitow’s mother was a Communist who visited the Soviet
Union as a young woman. Kaufman’s mother moved to Jerusalem and still lives
“We wanted to anchor the conflicts of today in the conflicts of the
past, in the vicious infighting of the past,” says Snitow.
“We needed to
show that every family has a lot of ideological conflict,” Kaufman
“And that makes it that much more complicated when there is the
tendency, as there has been so much in recent years, to label everything you
don’t agree with as illegitimate and inauthentic.”
Snitow and Kaufman
arrived in Israel just in time for the opening of the Jerusalem Film Festival
last week, amid reports that flotilla activists would be attempting to enter
Israel by air. The filmmakers were told they should expect a slow time getting
through Customs and they were interrogated a bit more thoroughly than usual,
“We didn’t say this at the airport,” says Snitow. “But we
hope the film is a kind of cinematic flotilla. It should generate as much
interest.”Between Two Worlds will be screened next on July 15 at 2:15
p.m. at Cinematheque 3. To find out more about the film,