Celebrating Jewish culture here

Two Bay Area Jewish cultural institutions are celebrating big birthdays this year. A Traveling Jewish Theatre hits the two-decade mark, and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival turns 18.

Both organizations are cultural institutions with colorful histories and loyal followings. And both, it appears, have promising futures.

ATJT is in the midst of a fund-raising campaign to complete major renovations to its playhouse that will include new seating, air-conditioning and better access for the disabled, as well as improved conditions for performers.

The film festival, which opened yesterday at San Francisco's Castro Theatre, continues to be the premiere Jewish cultural event in the Bay Area, drawing thousands of viewers every year to movies reflecting all aspects of Jewish life.

The festival, of course, has not been without controversy. This year, the inclusion of three films offering the Palestinian perspective on the Mideast conflict has some Jews up in arms.

Such films have no place at a Jewish festival, critics say, particularly the year Israel turns 50.

Past film festivals have also drawn criticism by those who disagree with what they see as a too-progressive political slant.

However, while some contest specific film choices, the festival's risk-taking is cause for pride. Some risks may fail; others are sure to provoke exciting debate and Jewish self- discovery.

ATJT is also a risk-taker. Since its inception, the troupe has created experimental pieces for the stage that not only entertain but confront the issues of our times.

Surely, audiences have not liked all ATJT's artistic choices. But thank goodness we have in our midst a Jewish theater troupe willing to go out on a limb rather than just present sure-to-please stalwarts.

We wish both institutions many years of continued success.