Feature Stories

Beyond falafel: Documentary filmmaker explores the “Faces of Israel"

Creator and director Amy Beth Oppenheimer will bring the program to The Conservative Synagogue in Westport on Sunday, Mar. 25, 10 a.m.

By Cindy Mindell ~

In 1948, David Ben Gurion declared Israel a “Jewish state,” that was “based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”
Today, what does it mean to be a Jewish state? What happens when Israel’s dual identity as a modern democracy based on ancient Jewish comes into conflict?
These are the questions at the heart of “Faces of Israel,” a documentary film that explore is the current hot-button issues debated on the Israeli street and in the Knesset. Through a series of interviews with Israelis across the religious and ethnic spectrum, the film looks at the role the chief rabbinate plays in Israeli lives.
Creator and director Amy Beth Oppenheimer will bring the program to The Conservative Synagogue in Westport on Sunday, Mar. 25, 10 a.m.
“When I was growing up, there was a prevalence of two types of Israel programming: politics, and falafel and Israeli music, and not a lot in between,” says the New Jersey native. “I saw a lot of fellow college students getting turned off to Israel and I wanted to offer something new, something in-between.”
As an undergraduate studying abroad at Haifa University in 2006, Oppenheimer was exposed to discussions exploring the very nature of Israeli society. “I heard people trying to figure out what kind of country Israel was; what it wanted to become,” she says. “I wanted to bring these Israeli voices to the American Jewish community.”
At the time, as now, there was much discussion around Israeli pluralism and the place of the chief rabbinate, Oppenheimer says, a debate that engaged citizens from all denominational backgrounds.
Rather than write a traditional academic thesis, Oppenheimer opted for a camera, and began interviewing any Israeli who would talk with her about the topic of marriage in the Jewish state. After completing the film, she realized that it could serve more effectively as a catalyst to discussion. The resulting film, “Faces of Israel,” debuted in 2009 and is regularly updated to reflect current events and issues.
The traveling program allows Oppenheimer to keep tabs on how American Jews think and talk about Israel. For example, most college-age audiences want to discuss the issue of civil unions in Israel – currently available only to non-Jews – and how the policies of the chief rabbinate affect religious pluralism.
With younger audiences, Oppenheimer explores the relationship between church and state in various countries around the world
and then holds Israel up to the same lens, discussing the definitions and implications of the state’s “Jewish identity.”
Oppenheimer keeps “Faces of Israel” relevant through regular trips to Israel. She
was last there a year ago, leading a Birthright trip for Israel Outdoors. At that time, the conversion bill and its impact were at the forefront of Israeli public debate, leading to marriage campaigns to legalize civil unions that are ongoing.

For reservations or more information: carol@tcs-westport.org / (203) 454-4673.

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