Rock the Shul

Contrary to the narrow Biblical definition embraced by Israel’s Orthodox rabbinate — or the ethnocentrism of assimilated Americans descended from the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe and Russia — there are many kinds of Jews. Much of the fun of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival derives from discovering pockets of ethnic identity, cultural observance, and religious practice far from the beaten path. An extended Ethiopian family tries to reconcile its traditions and values with those of its adopted country in the vibrant Israeli drama Zrubavel, while a Moscow tyke rescued from a postwar transport finds protection amid a loving clan of rural iconoclasts in the splendid Kazakh saga The Gift to Stalin. Another important aspect of the festival’s allure is its extraordinary willingness to showcase unapologetically controversial works, typically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This year’s lightning rods include Rachel, an investigation into the death and life of peace activist Rachel Corrie in Gaza in 2003; and Yoav Shamir’s Defamation, a piercing look at the pitfalls of seeing anti-Semitism everywhere from one of Israel’s most important documentary filmmakers. Rock the boat, rock the casbah, rock the shul — nu, a little exercise never hurt anybody.

The SFJFF continues at multiple venues around the Bay Area through Aug. 10.
July 23-30, 2009

 
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