Monday, July 4, 2011

Jews In The Hood recently published a delightful excerpt from Michael Levy's new book, KOSHER CHINESE: Living, Teaching, and Eating With China's Other Billion entitled "So A Jew Goes To China...." Not only does Levy's writing strive to show how people in non-Western cultures have often been misled and misinformed about Jews and Jewish culture, it details some of the challenges facing a Western Jew attempting to teach Chinese students who have no idea that their source materials may be crippled by lies and distortions.

Two documentaries scheduled to be screened at the 31st San Francisco Jewish Film Festival delve into how a  child receives a proper education. In one film, members of the Bene Israel near Bombay are shown trying to help educate the Jews in their community while planning to leave India so that they can relocate to Israel (where their own children can receive a better Jewish education). In the other, a most unusual school in Tel Aviv caters to all kinds of ex-pat children who live in the neighborhood. Together, these films offer a fascinating contrast.

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For years, Jews have embraced each other while saying "Next year in the Holy Land!" I don't doubt most of them would be fascinated by Next Year in Bombay, a 55-minute documentary written and directed by Jonas Parient√© and Mathias Mangin that focuses on a 2,000-year-old community of Jews living near Bombay.

Although Indian Jews have rarely faced anti-Semitism, most of them moved to Israel in the 1950s. Today, barely 4,000 members of the Bene Israel still reside in and around Bombay. Surrounded by a population of nearly 130 million Muslims and 25 million Christians, the latest generation of Indian Jews is rapidly diminishing in numbers. Some wonder whether the creation of the state of Israel eventually became an unintentional threat to Indian Jewish culture.

The film's protagonists are Sharon and Sharona Galsulkar, two Indian Jews who were trained in a yeshiva in Jerusalem and have worked tirelessly to provide Jews in India with a richer cultural life. However, with their children reaching school age, the couple has decided that they can no longer remain in India and must head for Israel in order to provide their offspring with better educational  opportunities.

Sharon and Sharona Galsulkar

One of the most interesting segments in the film occurs when Sharon travels to Andra Pradesh, offering his guidance and practical advice to the spiritual leaders of remote communities of Indian Jews. In one location, he visits a community where many of the women work in the fields all day picking bright, hot, red Indian peppers.

Next Year In Bombay gives new meaning to the concept of the Jewish diaspora. Western audiences who view the film will be quite surprised to see a beautiful synagogue seemingly in the middle of nowhere (as well as a community of impoverished agricultural field workers who nevertheless take great care to observe the Sabbath). Besides, how often do you see Jewish children playing near a water buffalo?

Next Year In Bombay will be screened on Thursday afternoon, July 28 at 1:30 p.m. at the Castro Theatre (click here to order tickets). Here's the trailer:

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An Academy Award-winning documentary about Tel Aviv’s Bialik-Rogozin SchoolStrangers No More shows the true meaning of "No Child Left Behind." A K-12 public school that serves adolescents from 48 countries, many of its students come from broken families. Some refugees have seen their parents murdered or gone without an education for many years.

Directed by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon, Strangers No More offers the perfect tool with which to educate American conservatives who have been indoctrinated into believing that teachers are greedy whores with easy jobs.

Barely 40 minutes in length, Strangers No More easily disarms viewers who think that public education is a joke. Although the school has received strong funding from several Jewish-American foundations based in Los Angeles, many of those nonprofits were severely hurt by the Bernie Madoff scandal. While the kids are great (and their backstories occasionally frightful), the school's teachers and principal remain focused on helping each student acclimate to their new surroundings.

Most of the school's 750 students come from Israel’s poorest families. In order to maintain a stable environment for children whose hard-working parents are unavailable to take care of them in the afternoon, the school stays open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Occasionally, when parents are refused work visas, the children are forced to leave the school.

Strangers No More not only demonstrates why every child should be entitled to an education, it also shows  how teachers must often fill a painful void left by parents who have been murdered in civil wars or died of hunger. This touching documentary will be shown on Saturday, July 23 at 12:00 noon at the Castro Theatre (click here to order tickets). Here's the trailer:

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