On a Saturday night in the dead of winter, crowds of moviegoers venture out in the cold air, the wind biting. It is a much-needed break in the bleakness of the year’s early months. Once inside, they feel the warmth of community, and they’re invigorated by the night’s feature: Opening Night of the Jewish & Israeli Film Festival. Hugs and laughter fill the space—friends greeting one another as the lights dim and the film rolls.
Opening night this year will be at Memorial Hall in Over-the-Rhine on Saturday, February 3. The film: Matchmaking, a sweet forbidden romance about tolerance and love. It is the first in the series of 13 films, nine in-person and four virtual, that make up the 2024 Mayerson JCC Jewish & Israeli Film Festival, which runs through February 29.
Many films in this year’s festival have received critical acclaim and awards, enabling people from all over greater Cincinnati and the region to experience thought-provoking Jewish and Israeli films from around the world.
Festival committee chair, Aaron Weiner, is excited for the lineup and hopes to bring in people from across the Jewish and broader Cincinnati community.
“I’ve been an avid supporter of the Jewish & Israeli Film Festival,” he said. “The weather isn’t great during February in Cincinnati, and this is a great opportunity to get out, be with people, and experience something moving together.”
Weiner also notes that despite being deeply involved in the Jewish community, he feels there is always more to learn, and these stories help him gain more perspective. As for those outside of the community, he hopes the Jewish and Israeli stories in these films connect with moviegoers from all backgrounds.
While the Film Festival serves as a respite during the harsh winter months, some years seem to adopt a theme. In 2021, the theme focused on how we could safely keep in touch during the pandemic. This year, the war with Israel is a uniting backdrop for how many will view the films.
“As we stand in solidarity with Israel, our festival serves as an opportunity to create conversation and engage our empathy as we uplift Jewish and Israeli voices through film and storytelling,” said Eowyn Garfinkle Plymesser, Mayerson JCC Manager of Arts & Culture.
She says our community is strengthened by storytelling and is united in purpose, this year, perhaps, more than others.
Both Weiner and Garfinkle find all the films this year to be engaging and meaningful, but there is one film that captures the significance of the war in a unique way.
There is a special feature along with the virtual film offering Jerry’s Last Mission titled The Boy, directed by Yahav Winner z”l. The director was killed after defending his family from Hamas terrorists who burst into his home on October 7, 2023.
“Viewing these films in community serves as a unique learning opportunity for attendees,” Garfinkle said. “It’s engaging and offers a chance for empathy as everyone has shared the experience of watching
the film. You really learn a lot seeing the audience’s post-film debrief – smiles of joy and tears of compassion.”
For Weiner, these films carry a special significance personally. Weiner’s father is one of the younger local Holocaust survivors at age 85, and he said it means a lot to him to know that his father’s legacy won’t be forgotten. This year, those stories of the Holocaust are told through several films like Irena’s Vow and GIADO – Holocaust in the Desert. Other films focus on many other themes such as LGBTQ+ stories, finding love, the history of vibrant American Jewish life and culture, and so much more.
Closing night’s film, in partnership with The Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center, is The Story of Annette Zelman. This film is based on actual events and tells a tale of love and resistance that plumbs the depths of human passion, prejudice, and betrayal.
These and many other thought-provoking films can be appreciated throughout the festival.
“There is not a single film I’m not looking forward to watching again,” Garfinkle said. “Whether you’re looking to fall in love, cry, laugh, or learn something new, there’s a film for every feeling, for whatever the audience is looking to experience.”
The Jewish & Israeli Film Festival runs February 3 – 29. Tickets and more information can be found HERE.