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Worcester’s Beth Israel offers racial justice film series

Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester, Massachusetts will present a series of film screenings dealing with issues of race, including some focusing on the relationship between Black and Jewish communities in the United States. These films, which will be screened once a month February through June, are a project of the synagogue’s Racial Justice Initiative (RJI). For over a year, the RJI has been meeting, reading, attending events, and offering opportunities to the congregation to learn and discuss both historical and current issues of racial justice. They are now extending the conversation to the larger community with this series of films. 

All films will be screened at Congregation Beth Israel, 15 Jamesbury Drive, in Worcester on the third Sunday of the month, starting with “Shared Legacies” on Feb. 19.  The program will begin at 6 p.m. with a light supper (kosher dairy).  Then the film will be shown and followed up with a facilitated discussion.  The movies – both documentaries and feature films – have been chosen to represent a broad range of ideas and concerns about racial justice.  

“The film series will give us an opportunity to reach out to others in the community and have some meaningful conversations,” said Howard Alfred of the RJI.

The series is being funded by a generous grant from the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts.  It is open to all and there is no charge.

Film schedule:

Feb. 19, 6 p.m.

Shared Legacies, directed by Shari Rogers, 2021. A documentary on the collaboration of Black and Jewish Americans during the Civil Rights Era.  The film is both a testament to the power of working together and a call to action to renew this historic collaboration during the current time of racial and antisemitic hatred.  

March 19, 6 p.m.

The Hate U Give, directed by George Tillman, Jr., 2018. Based on the young adult novel by Angie Thomas, this feature film tells the story of a teenage African American girl who is witness to the murder of a black man by a policeman.  With echoes of many other police shootings of black men, this film explores themes of contemporary racial tension and struggle in a story that feels true to life.  

April 16, 6 p.m.

Rosenwald, directed by Aviva Kempner, 2015. A documentary about Julius Rosenwald, businessman and philanthropist who partnered with Booker T. Washington to build high quality schools for African American children throughout the Jim Crow south.  From 1915 to 1932, 660,000 rural southern African-American students attended Rosenwald schools.  The film also discusses the Rosenwald Fellowships, given to gifted African Americans in a variety of fields throughout the Great Depression and the 1940s. Recipients of Rosenwald Fellowships included many who would become household names: Marian Anderson, Ralph Bunche, W. E. B. DuBois, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Gordon Parks, James Baldwin.  

May 21, 6 p.m.

James’ Journey to Jerusalem, directed by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, 2003.  An Israeli feature film (in Hebrew, with English subtitles) that explores exploitation of African visitors and immigrants to Israel.  James is a Christian from a fictional African country who goes to Israel on a pilgrimage to visit Jerusalem on behalf of his church community and falls prey to abuse both by the government and an exploitative employer and whose character is deeply affected by the experience.  

June 18, 6 p.m.

Blacks and Jews, directed by Deborah Kauman and Alan Snitow, 1997.  This documentary looks at several conflicts between Black and Jewish communities in the United States from the point of view of both Black and Jewish activists. From the Crown Heights riots to “blockbusting” in Chicago to a highly publicized incident when Black teens laughed during a screening of Schindler’s List, this film tries to go beyond the hype and increase understanding of how the tensions arose and were stoked by media reports.  Features commentary by Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Cornel West, Clayborne Carson and others. 

For more information, call (508) 756-6204.

MAIN PHOTO: A Screenshot from “Shared Legacies”

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