The power of art and aliyah

“I was raised in a home where we were always active and involved with all sorts of humanitarian causes,” says 23-year-old Mikayla Goetz.

By KATHY MARDIROSIAN
August 15, 2019 10:42
4 minute read.
The power of art and aliyah

Bezalel by James Tissot. (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)



Two artists living millennia apart both count on the power of “the experience” to move the human heart.

Tucked into the infinitely detailed instructions for building the Wilderness Tabernacle and all of its furnishings, the Bible introduces us to an artist who was tasked with the formidable challenge of creating God’s sanctuary on earth. The book of Exodus tells us that this man, Bezalel, was chosen by God and “filled with the spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts and artistic designs.”

His job was to create the atmosphere required for no less than “an encounter with God.”

Fast forward three and a half millennia. This time the artist is a young woman. She too has before her a formidable task: to capture and translate for a worldwide audience another divine encounter – aliyah.

Aliyah is the Hebrew word meaning “to ascend,” commonly used to describe the immigration of Jews from across the globe back to Israel, as foretold by many of the ancient Hebrew prophets.

“I was raised in a home where we were always active and involved with all sorts of humanitarian causes,” says 23-year-old Mikayla Goetz, who holds a BFA in acting from Coastal Carolina and is a founding member of Boots on the Ground Theater, or BOTG.

In the winter of 2018, Goetz jumped at the opportunity to place her “boots on the ground” for two months in the frozen, poverty-stricken and war-torn areas of Ukraine. With a backpack and a Go-Pro, Goetz conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with Jewish families and individuals who were trying to escape the harsh conditions of their homeland and seek a better life in Israel.
She embedded herself with the teams of Ezra International, a humanitarian aid organization working hand in hand with the Jewish Agency, which is dedicated to rescuing the poorest of the Jewish people from impoverished and politically volatile parts of the world and helping them immigrate to a place of safety and stability in Israel.

According to Gary Cristofaro, director of development at Ezra International, the Ezra teams have helped rescue over 40,000 Jews from Ukraine since 1995 and bring them to Israel.

“I really wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do with the stories, but I knew that would come,” says Goetz. And it did. In less than a month after returning from Ukraine, she remembers running along the river in her sunny Florida and being overcome with the idea that her stories were to become a film. According to Cristofaro, the idea had to be “inspired.” The only problem was that Goetz had never written a film script or produced a film.

While Goetz may not have been directly filled with the knowledge she needed as Bezalel was, she was filled with an idea of how to get it. She packed up and moved to Washington, hoping to capitalize on an environment of movers and shakers. Within a month she attended her first two film conferences, meeting film writers, producers and many potential mentors.

“At these conferences, I just walked right up to the presenters, told them what I was trying to do, and asked if they would be my mentor,” Goetz says. “Surprisingly, most of them said ‘Yes.’”

Fast forward eight months later: the script is complete, initial financing has been secured, a team has been assembled, and filming for Aliyah is set to begin in Orlando in October.

“Art has a unique and powerful ability to move people into action,” says Charlotte Overby, CEO of Boots on the Ground. “It is about creating an experience for the audience that allows them to become part of something bigger than themselves.”

Research shows that over 70 percent of people want more “experiences,” and are spending more on “desirable experiences” rather than tangible goods. Millennials, in particular, crave more experiences, with over 80 percent reporting that they attended a variety of live experiences in the past year, ranging from parties to concerts, festivals, performing arts and sports.

The BOTG team hopes to use this film to create an experience for the viewer that moves them to action – perhaps to seek more information about the aliyah efforts or to support these efforts in tangible ways.

According to BOTG’s new partner, the National Performing Arts Funding Exchange (npafe.org), Aliyah will be the first premium documentary developed and produced by teams in the United States, Europe, and Ukraine marrying music, film and dance for documenting the impact of today’s rising tide of antisemitism and intolerance towards immigrants in this country and abroad. Aliyah portrays actual Jewish Ukrainians as they rediscover their identity in a land marked by the sordid history of Ukrainian pogroms, Nazi atrocities, and intolerance lasting even until today.

“When a great story is coupled with compelling artistry, performer and audience become one – intellectually, visually, viscerally, and emotionally,” according to Goetz. “Together, we move past the here and now. Together we see what can be. And when we make all that part of the story, we also discover how we can get our world to where we want it to be.”

Looking back, Goetz says “it’s been kind of a whirlwind since this all began... It’s just so much bigger than I am.”
I’m sure Bezalel felt the same way.

To support the production of Aliyah, contact coverby@botgtheater.org


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