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From Oy to Joy at Miami Jewish Film Festival

Two films screening at the upcoming 15th CAJE Miami Jewish Film Festival have revealed a connection between two individuals who have never met. Rabbi Terry Bookman is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Am, one of South Florida’s largest Reform congregations. Wendy Kout is an LA filmmaker and screenwriter, who was raised in Miami, and was one of the first members of Temple Beth Am’s religious school. Both are involved in films about journeys: ‘The Lost Tribe” documents a deeply personal quest for religious identity, while the other, “Dorfman,” is a fictional tale of self-awareness and finding romance.

The filmmaker and the rabbi will meet during the nine-day festival (January 21 – 29) presented by the Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education, that uses the genre of film to educate and explore religious issues, expose prejudice and encourage tolerance, and find humor in over-the-top Jewish stereotypes. Festival attendees are in for an emotional ride when award-winning domestic and international filmmakers present intense dramas, thought-provoking documentaries, and heart-warming tales that range from unmasking hidden family truths and embracing one’s heritage, to discovering love in all the wrong places.

“The variety of the films shown combined with the presence of special guest directors and screenwriters, make our festival unique,” said Ellen Wedner Director of the MJFF. “The post-film discussions should be enlightening with input from these special guests. Another exciting element is the addition of musical performances that highlight songs heard in two of the films. “

In the making of “ The Lost Sephardic Tribes of Latin America,” Rabbi Bookman travelled to Loja, Ecuador, at the request of a person he had helped to convert. He was told about residents of Loja, who believed that they were descendants of Sephardic Jews who fled Spain in 1492 during the Inquisition. Upon their arrival in South America, many of these immigrants had assimilated by converting to Christianity. Yet remarkably, in the privacy of their homes, they still practiced certain rituals that were clearly identified with Judaism. For example, they continued to observe the Sabbath and wash the dead before burial. Five centuries later these descendants still own Judaic objects that had been passed down from generation to generation.

“Today there are over a half-million people, just in El Oro and Loja who have names of Jewish origin,” explained Rabbi Bookman. Many of these people speak Ladino, a language that is a mixture of Spanish and Hebrew. Rabbi Bookman, who is interviewed in the film, is a special guest at the screening along with filmmaker Yaron Avitov.

Immortalizing Ladino songs that her father once collected is the foundation of the story of internationally acclaimed singer Yasmin Levy’s rise to fame. The Israeli film “LADINO: 500 YEARS YOUNG” follows Yitzhak Levy, who chose to dedicate his life to recording and documenting the old Ladino songs before they became extinct. Yasmin’s father died when she was just one year old, and she knows him only through his music. Following the film Next@19th (137 NE 19th Street, Miami) turns up the volume at their downtown venue with an exclusively Ladino performance by chanteuse Susana Behar, whose songs pay tribute to this energetic Spanish-Judeo sound.

Academy Award®-nominated director Josh Waletzky (Partisans of Vilna, Image Before My Eyes) incorporates insightful family interviews and their unique mission to share Yiddish with the world in the film, “ When Our Bubbas & Zaddes Were Young.” Attracting a new generation to Yiddish song, the dynamic Schaechter Sisters, accompanied by their father, musical director Binyumen Schaechter, bring to life to a disappearing language.

Family relationships are explored in several of the films, and one is “Dorfman,” featuring Elliot Gould as Deb Dorfman’s widowed father. Deb is single, socially inept, and lives at home in the suburbs where she cares for her emotionally needy father. By day, she works as an accountant at her brother’s agency where she serves as his workhorse, confidante and scapegoat. The story weaves her encounter with a “misleading man” on her road to learning how to love her self, and to begin to be able to love another. Film writer Wendy Kout and Producer Len Hill are special guests.

It’s one big happy family…calamity, when the British comedy Reuniting the Rubins opens the Miami Jewish Film Festival. An up-tight lawyer, Lenny Rubins, (Timothy Spall – The King's Speech), has to put his dream retirement on hold when his ailing mother (Honor Blackman – Goldfinger) emotionally blackmails him into reuniting his estranged children for a Jewish holiday. Each of the adult children embodies a Jewish stereotype, but endearing traits prevail in this charming film.

The festival closes after a full day of film at the Intracoastal Cinema, on Sunday, Jan. 29, with the award-winning Israeli feature Mabul, directed by Guy Nattiv. It is the story of a dysfunctional family - the mother is a gifted day care director in a troubled marriage to a crop duster. They have two sons; one is a young man with special needs. As Yoni prepares for his Bar Mitzvah, his autistic older brother, Tomer unexpectedly returns home, and forces the entire family to cope with their problems and his presence.

Films are screened at the Cosford Cinema, Coral Gables, Intracoastal Cinema, North Miami Beach and the Regal Cinema south Beach 18, Miami Beach. For complete movie listings and to purchase tickets log on to or call 1-888-585-FILM.

Tickets for the CAJE Miami Jewish Film, except for opening and closing nights, are $11 General admission; $9 seniors /students; $7 Film Society members. A $136 Fast Pass provides entry into all films. Film Society members receive discounts on tickets and fast passes and advance festival ordering. For Film Society Memberships, order on line at


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