Israeli films dominate JCC Jewish Film Festival
Photo: JCC Apples from the Desert

By Ben Tinsley

The cinematic vision of Israeli filmmakers dominates the Aaron Family JCC’s 19th annual Jewish Film Festival Sept. 6 through Sept. 30.
As many as 11 films — many of them the fruit of Israeli filmmakers — will be shown during the festival.
Israeli films such as Is That You?, Apples from the Desert, Vice Versa, Aya, Paradise Cruise, A Borrowed Identity, and The Farewell Party stand out among the movies selected, said chairs (husband-and-wife team) Brenda and Peter Marcus.
“We choose only the very, very best,” Brenda Marcus said. “This year the Israeli movies stood out as being the very best.”
Peter Marcus agreed that Israeli filmmakers have made extraordinary leaps in their craft in recent years.
“These movies have been recognized nationally and worldwide, which is a reflection of their quality,” he said.
The films at the festival were winnowed down from 80 movies by the Marcuses, who watched all of them and passed an estimated 20 percent on to the committee for final judgment. From this, the 11 were selected.
The 12-member selection committee was made up of Brenda and Peter Marcus; Judy Borejdo; Alex Goldberg; John Lacritz; Catherine Lake; Paul Lake; Ann Meyer; Steven Meyer; Haiya Naftali; Ted Rubin; Sol Stein; Carole Wolanow; Joram Wolanow; Shelly Young; and Sissy Zoller.
Brenda Marcus said it’s not easy to be on this committee. A lot of work is involved.
“You have to answer specific questions such as ‘do you think it would appeal to a larger audience?’ or ‘did it appeal to you?’” she said. “People often come to us asking to be on the committee and when we tell them how hard it is, they later tell us they’ve changed their minds. It’s very hard to be a reviewer — you have to write from the heart and there’s a lot of passion involved.”
This year saw mostly romance-themed and a few award-winning productions.
Aya, incidentally, won Best Short Film, Ophir Awards 2013. A Borrowed Identity: aka Dancing Arabs, was the Israeli Ophir Nominee for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.
These films were sent to the JCC from filmmakers and distributors. Festival officials get the rights for each film from the distributors of filmmakers and are allowed to show it one time.
Brenda Marcus credited Rachelle Weiss Crane, director of Israel Engagement and Jewish Living at the JCC and producer of the festival, as providing crucial help in this regard.
“She watches the movies with us and goes out and negotiates the price to show the film,” Brenda Marcus said. “She can do this so well.”
Crane said she considers it an honor to work with the Marcuses and the committee. She likes how the films are chosen more democratically in this festival.
“It’s a hard-working group — and not just with the screening,” she said. “The committee gets involved in a lot of different ways. It’s nice to be involved in one of the few festivals where many people are allowed to make decisions.”
Brenda Marcus said all the effort in this selection process is for the cause of quality cinema.
“We have an obligation to the community to put out the best festival we can,” she said.
The 11 films are made up of 10 events and 1 double feature, courtesy of Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas (The J) and the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs.
Running Sept. 6 through Sept. 30, the films will be shown in three Metroplex locations: the Studio Movie Grill on Spring Valley, the Angelika Film Center in Plano and the Zale Auditorium in Dallas.
Tickets are $12 per person in advance and $15 at the door.
To purchase tickets, go to
The films are as follows:

Blue Tattoo: Dina’s Story, Joe’s Song

Sunday, September 6, 2015 – 3:30 pm
Zale Auditorium, JCC – free preview and open to all
Tickets Trailer Extras
To RSVP for this film only, please contact Rachelle Weiss-Crane at 214-239-7128 or
Blue TattooThis moving documentary tells the story of Dina Rosenberg-Jacobson, a Holocaust survivor, and Joe Crookston, a song-writer who was inspired to put her testimony to music. As a young woman, Dina lost all her beloved family in the Holocaust and was stripped of her name and humanity in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Although it was difficult to speak of her past, Dina generously shared her experiences with over 3,500 students at Vestal High School between 1994 and 2012. Her visits to the school were facilitated by now-retired history teacher, Brian Adessa, who felt that having Dina speak to his students was the most effective way to help them understand and connect with the history of the Holocaust. Over the years the students grew to know and love Dina, and were deeply affected by her story.
Joe Crookston is a song-writer who traveled for 14 months throughout New York interviewing residents and writing songs about their lives. During this time, in 2007, he met someone who told him about Dina. Although Dina was very hesitant at first, she agreed to meet him, and eventually became comfortable enough to share with him the intimate facts about her past. In Joe’s words, “Honestly, it was probably the hardest song I have ever written. It mattered so much to me to do it well and not dishonor her.” This song, The Blue Tattoo, is on You Tube for all to hear. Sadly, Dina recently passed away, but Joe continues to sing and tell her story, keeping her memory alive.
This 45-minute documentary is available for screening at local middle- and upper schools free of charge. It comes with a written study guide for teachers, and suggests questions and topics for discussion. If anyone is interested in having it shown at their school, please contact Rachelle Weiss-Crane at 214-239-7128 or and she will be happy to assist you.

Is that You?

Tickets Trailer Extras
Tuesday, September 8, 2015 – 7 pm
Studio Movie Grill, Spring Valley Rd
Central Expressway, Dallas
Nominated for Best Film at the 2014 Israeli Academy (Ophir) Awards
Narrative, romantic-comedy | English, Hebrew with subtitles
Length: 84 minutes
Director: Dani Menkin
Is that you?Israeli teenage sweethearts Ronnie and Rachel made a promise that, no matter what life held in store for them, they would celebrate her 60th birthday together. Now, many years later, Ronnie finds himself unemployed, and decides to search for Rachel – his long-lost first love – who lives somewhere in America. Accompanying him on his journey to upstate New York is an unlikely partner, a young American film student who is working on a documentary about “regrets.” This touching film starts with an individual’s quest to recapture what was lost—but becomes a wider commentary on the “what ifs” of life, with vignettes that are poignant and funny in equal measure. Written and directed by acclaimed Israeli movie-maker, Dani Menkin, whom we are thrilled will be on hand to discuss his incredible movie.
Community Partners: Bnai Zion, Temple Shalom
TALK BACK following the screening with Writer and Director, Dani Menkin.

The Last Mentsch

Tickets Trailer Extras
Thursday, September 10, 2015 – 7 pm
Studio Movie Grill, Spring Valley Rd
Central Expressway, Dallas
Starring award-winning German actor Mario Adorf
Narrative, drama
Length: 90 minutes
Director: Pierre-Henry Salfati
The Last Mentsch Menachem Teitelbaum has been running away from himself for much of his life. After surviving the unspeakable horrors of the Nazi concentration camp, he chose to deny his Jewish heritage completely. This was, for him, the only way to drown the painful memories of all he had endured and lost. To his German friends in Cologne he is Marcus Schwartz, a skilled translator who never married.
Now, in his twilight years, he suddenly feels the urge to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. The only problem is that he has no way of proving to the Rabbi that he is, in fact, Jewish. His only recourse is to return to the Hungarian village in which he grew up in the hope of finding someone who can testify to his Jewish roots. Together with a surly young Turkish woman who offers to drive him to Hungary he sets out on his desperate quest. The Last Mentsch is a poignant tale about identity, friendship and redemption. Renowned German actor, Mario Adorf, gives a powerful performance as the vulnerable and driven Marcus.
Community Partner: The Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas
TALK BACK following the screening with Professor Zsuzsanna Ozsváth, Leah and Paul Lewis Chair in Holocaust Studies, and Director of the Holocaust Studies Program at UTD’s Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies.

Apples from the Desert

TicketsTrailer Extras
Saturday, September 12, 2015 – 9 pm
Angelika Film Center, Plano – apple pastry dessert reception after movie
Three 2014 Israeli Academy Award (Ophir) nominations (Reymonde Amsallem for Best Supporting Actress, Elisha Banai for Best Supporting Actor; Best Costume Design); Winner of Audience Award at San Diego and Atlanta Jewish Film Festivals
Narrative, drama, romance
Length: 90 minutes
Original Title: Tappuhim min ha-Midbar
Director: Arik Lubetzky and Matti Harari
Apples from the DesertRebecca Abravanel is an exuberant young Sephardic woman who finds her cloistered existence as an only child living in Jerusalem with her strictly orthodox parents incredibly stifling. No longer able to endure the restrictive conditions of her home and community, she secretly attends co-ed dance classes, where she meets Dooby, a secular kibbutznik. As she falls in love with Dooby, Rebecca finds herself increasingly drawn towards the secular world which has always been closed to her.
Suspicious and angry in the face of Rebecca’s increasingly rebellious behavior, her rigid father reacts by trying to arrange a marriage for her to an older widower with children of his own. Rebecca’s mother and aunt are appalled at his uncompromising reaction, but dare not defy the authority of the man of the house. After Rebecca runs away from home , the family is forced to question its firmly-held beliefs and values. Apples From the Desert is a timeless exploration of the explosive results of tradition clashing with modernity, and of the chasm that exists between generations. Adapted from the short story by Savyon Liebrecht.
Community Partners: Anshai Torah, Simcah Kosher Catering & Event Design


Tickets Trailer Extras
Wednesday, September 16, 2015 – 7 pm
Part 1 of double feature: plays directly Before Aya (below).
Studio Movie Grill, Spring Valley Rd
Central Expressway, Dallas
Narrative, drama, romance
Length: 62 minutes
Original Title: Haahayot Cahana
Director: Amichai Greenberg
Vice-Versa”Can we leave past sins behind? Our sages say we can.” These words by the headmaster of the yeshiva introduce this moving story of the relationship between a dedicated yeshiva student, Yochai, and terminally-ill 18-year-old Ayelet. When Ayelet is diagnosed with advanced bone cancer, she stubbornly refuses treatment. Her desperate father asks Yochai to become her spiritual mentor with the hope that he can persuade her to seek medical help. Ayelet is amused by what she perceives as Yochai’s geekiness, but fascinated by his attempts to forge a deep relationship with God. Yochai, for his part, is mesmerized by Ayelet’s beauty and grace, and totally overwhelmed by being in such close proximity to a woman for the first time in his life.
Finding himself deeply attracted to Ayelet, Yochai faces the most difficult decision of his life – whether to leave the yeshiva or abandon his new-found love. Based on the controversial novel by Yehoshua Greenberg, Vice Versa is brilliantly directed by his brother, Amichai, who also wrote the screenplay. The quiet scenes throughout the movie are pregnant with meaning, and the sparse dialogue manages to illuminate the deep emotions stirring beneath the surface. It is a credit to the director that he succeeds in tackling the moral dilemma at the heart of this love story with delicacy and deep respect. This film is ultimately a poem to the holy nature of love.
Community Partner: The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas
TALK BACK following the screening of Vice Versa; Rabbi Adam Roffman of Congregation Shearith Israel will lead a discussion.


Tickets Trailer Extras
Wednesday, September 16, 2015 – 8 pm
Part 2 of double feature: plays directly after Vice-Versa (above).
Studio Movie Grill, Spring Valley Rd
Central Expressway, Dallas
Won Best Short Feature Film at 2013 Israeli Academy Awards (Ophir Awards); nominated for Best Short Film, Live Action at 2015 Academy Awards (U.S.)
Length: 40 minutes
Director: Mihal Brezis & Oded Binnum
AyaThis exquisitely crafted and understated short begins at Ben Gurion Airport. While waiting for her husband’s arrival, Aya reluctantly agrees to a chauffeur’s request to hold his sign for him while he runs out to move his car. When the passenger, Thomas Overby, arrives, he mistakenly believes Aya to be his assigned driver, and on a crazy impulse she goes along with the charade, proceeding to drive him to Jerusalem. Gradually, an awkward rapport develops between the stiff and guarded Danish musician, and the adventurous, melancholy Aya, and a romantic tension between the two strangers builds. Where, on earth, will this flirtatious encounter lead? This intriguing short film has all the ingredients for a delicious full-length movie!

Paradise Cruise

Tickets Trailer Extras
Saturday, September 19, 2015 – 9 pm
Angelika Film Center, Plano
Selected awards & festivals: Brooklyn Film Festival (winner of Best New Director for Matan Guggenheim); International Film Festival Manheim-Heidelberg; Paris Israel Film Festival (Audience Awards Winner); Rome Independent Film Festival; Uruguay International Film Festival; Aubagne International Film Festival (Best Actor Award)
Narrative, drama
Length: 101 minutes
Director: Matan Guggenheim
Paradise CruiseDora is a mysterious French photographer, obsessed with photographing the funerals of Israeli soldiers killed in the line of duty. Yossi is a rebellious former Israeli soldier haunted by vague memories from his past. When the two meet, sparks fly as passion ignites between them, and their torrid relationship frees them temporarily from the memories that haunt them. They have an unspoken agreement never to discuss their past for fear it will shatter their newfound oasis of tranquility and joy. But can they escape reality forever, and will their love survive the test that awaits them? This intriguing thriller leaves the audience guessing up until its very last moments.
Community Partner: Adat Chaverim
The Outrageous Sophie Tucker
Tickets Trailer Extras
Sunday, September 20, 2015 – 12 pm
Studio Movie Grill, Spring Valley Rd
Central Expressway, Dallas
The film has played to sold-out audiences in every single film festival screening; “Hugely enjoyable. Will prompt an outburst of Sophiemania.” – The Toronto Star
Length: 96 minutes
Director: William Gazecki
The Outrageous Sophie TuckerThis dazzling documentary tells the rags-to-riches story of the legendary performer Sophie Tucker, who ruled the world of vaudeville, Broadway, radio, and television for much of the 20th century. Sophie Kalish Abuza climbed her way from waitressing in her family’s Hartford kosher restaurant to become a glamorous, international star. Her larger-than-life personality, bawdiness, uninhibited sexuality, and willingness to celebrate her ample girth made her a unique entertainer. This “last of the red-hot mamas” pioneered the way for megastars such as Lady Gaga and Madonna.
But it was her genius for self-promotion that made her a living legend. Her list of friends was endless and included such figures as Al Capone, with whom she played cards, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Queen of England, with whom she had lunch. Anecdotes told by the likes of Tony Bennett and Barbara Walters reveal the charismatic woman behind the extravagant costumes and racy lyrics. Sophie’s early recordings provide the saucy soundtrack that is a nostalgic reminder of the brazen belle from Hartford who never forgot her immigrant Jewish roots.
Community Partners: 3 Stars Jewish Cinema, Dallas Jewish Historical Society

A Borrowed Identity (aka Dancing Arabs)

Tickets Trailer Extras
Thursday, September 24, 2015 – 7 pm
Studio Movie Grill, Spring Valley Rd
Central Expressway, Dallas
Recipient of four 2014 Israeli Academy Awards (Ophir) nominations (Best Actor, Supporting Actor, Art Direction, and Sound)
Narrative, drama
Length: 105 minutes
Director: Eran Riklis
A Borrowed IdentityEyad is an Israeli-Arab teenager who is accepted as the only Arab student into a prestigious Jerusalem boarding school. A shy and sensitive genius, Eyad has a hard time pronouncing Hebrew and finding his social identity in this alien environment. In contrast, he finds ready acceptance as a participant in a volunteer program, where he provides companionship to Yonatan – a punk Israeli kid with Muscular Dystrophy. Yonatan’s mother, Edna, embraces Eyad as part of her family in gratitude for the caring and devotion he provides her seriously handicapped son.
As he gradually becomes accepted and respected by his peers for his bright intellect, Eyad forms a romantic relationship with Naomi, a fellow Israeli student. The two are obliged to keep their relationship secret, knowing that both sets of parents would strongly disapprove. As Eyad comes to recognize that he will never be fully accepted into Israeli society at large, he decides to pass himself off as Jewish. This film is the riveting story of a young Arab-Israeli straggling two worlds and attempting to reconcile them.
This movie is based on the semi-autobiographical novel Dancing Arabs by Sayed Kashua. Kashua is recognized as one of Israel’s great contemporary writers and is the creator of the award-winning comedy series, Arab Labor, the first season of which was shown at our 2011 festival. The director of A Borrowed Identity, Eran Riklis, is well known to our audiences as the acclaimed director of Lemon Tree and The Syrian Bride, both of which were hits at previous Dallas JCC Film Festivals.
Community Partner: Temple Emanuel
TALK BACK following the screening; Gil Elan, President and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, will discuss the film and take questions.

Serial (Bad) Weddings

Tickets Trailer Extras
Saturday, September 26, 2015 – 9 pm
Angelika Film Center, Plano
Won Best Screenplay at Lumiere Awards, France 2015; nominated for Best European Film for 2015 Goya Awards.
Narrative, romantic-comedy
Length: 94 minutes
Director: Philippe de Chauveron
Serial (Bad) WeddingsThe tranquil and traditional Catholic life of well-to-do Claude Verneuil and his wife, Marie, is turned upside-down when three of their four lovely daughters marry, in turn, an Arab, a Jew, and an Asian. They keep asking what such a refined and tolerant couple as themselves could possibly have done to deserve this punishment. Meanwhile, the sons-in-law are having an equally hard time accepting one another’s strange customs and beliefs.
The efforts of the wives and mother to diffuse the ongoing conflicts and overcome their cultural and religious prejudices appear to be succeeding when the fourth daughter announces that she plans to marry. The Verneuils are ecstatic to hear that their future son-in-law is Catholic, but their joy turns to shock when they discover that he is an African from the Ivory Coast! All now agree that this marriage will shatter the family’s hard-won harmony, and desperate schemes to prevent it are hatched.
SERIAL (BAD) WEDDINGS is a zany and unabashedly politically incorrect romantic comedy that pokes fun at cultural stereotypes. This hilarious movie was a breakout hit in France, with three million tickets sold in the first ten days!
Community Partners: Congregation Beth Torah’s Chai Lights, Men’s Club, and Sisterhood; Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education & Tolerance

The Farewell Party

Tickets Trailer Extras
Wednesday, September 30, 2015 – 7 pm
Studio Movie Grill, Spring Valley Rd
Central Expressway, Dallas
Winner of four 2014 Israeli Academy (Ophir) Awards (Best Actor, Cinematography, Sound, Makeup), and recipient of ten nominations (Best Film, Actress, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Director, Screenplay, Art Direction, Editing, Music, and Casting).
Narrative, comedy-drama
Length: 89 minutes
Director: Sharon Maymon & Tal Granit
The Farewell PartyDevoted elderly couple Levana and Yehezkel are devastated to learn their dear friend Max is dying of a terrible illness. An amateur inventor, Yehezkel decides to construct a device that lets patients take matters into their own hands by self-administering a fatal dose of drugs. He enlists the support of Daniel, a retired veterinarian experienced in putting animals to sleep, and former cop Rafi, who he hopes will keep them out of trouble with the law. As rumors about the self-euthanasia machine leak out in the senior community, and as more and more people ask for their help, the friends are faced with thorny ethical questions and emotionally complicated choices.
Showcasing some of Israel’s top acting veterans, The Farewell Party has been extolled by critics for embracing a challenging subject with a skillful balance of compassion, laughter and a healthy dose of audaciousness. Ultimately, this black comedy is a tribute to friendship and love.
TALK BACK following the screening; Dr. David Patterson, Hillel A. Feinberg Chair in Holocaust Studies, Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas will discuss the film and take questions.

Film list
  • Blue Tattoo: Dina’s Story, Joe’s Song
  • Is that You?
  • The Last Mentsch
  • Apples from the Desert
  • Vice-Versa
  • Aya
  • Paradise Cruise
  • The Outrageous Sophie Tucker
  • A Borrowed Identity (aka Dancing Arabs)
  • Serial (Bad) Weddings
  • The Farewell Party


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