Between two filmmakers

Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow explore the role of Jewish identity in a polarizing world in their latest film, ‘Between Two Worlds,’ showing this week at the Jerusalem Film Festival.

Deborah Kaufman, Alan Snitow_311 (photo credit: Zohar Ron)
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.
“We’ve been 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.
Both 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.
“There were calls to boycott the festival,” says Kaufman. They were on the receiving end of what Snitow calls “Internet rage,” particularly angry and even threatening emails.
“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 center.”
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 here.
“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 notes.
“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, they admit.
“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,