South Bays Jewish film festival expands

Something is different about the San Jose Jewish Film Festival this year: It’s not just for San Jose anymore.

In fact, the festival has changed its name, doubled its scope and spread north to include Palo Alto. Meet the 17th annual Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival.

“We certainly did make some big steps,” says Executive Director Mark Levine. “Our festival has grown dramatically.”

Running from Oct. 26 to Nov. 19, the four-week festival offers 21 screenings of features, documentaries and shorts from the United States, Israel, Canada, Mexico, England and Germany.

All screenings take place at the Camera 12 Cinemas in San Jose and, for the first time, at the Cubberly Community Center Theater in Palo Alto. “We fully expect to see people from the Peninsula, Palo Alto and points north,” says Levine.

The festival opens Oct. 26 with “Yiddish Theater: A Love Story,” a paean to New York’s Yiddish theater scene. Other selections include the French film “A Secret”; “Fugitive Pieces,” a Holocaust drama from Canada; and the acclaimed Israeli spy thriller “The Debt.”

The latter is one of the festival’s several Israeli films, which always attract crowds, according to Levine. Other Israeli fare on the lineup includes “The Champagne Spy,” about an Israeli undercover agent in Egypt; “The Bubble,” an adults-only story of an Arab-Israeli gay love affair; and “The Secrets.”

Levine says the emphasis on Israeli cinema makes sense, considering the high quality of films coming out of Israel, and the large Israeli community living in the South Bay.

“I can go to the local Safeway and hear up to four or five groups of Israelis,” says Levine, a Sunnyvale resident. “You hear Hebrew all over the place. As we looked at our growth, we asked ourselves, ‘What is our value add?’

“It’s to bring as many Israeli films as we can. The audience is hungry for them and the quality of the movies is unsurpassed.”

Branching out a bit, the festival is throwing in some live music. Following a Nov. 13 screening at the Cubberly Theater of “Ladino: 500 Years Young” — a documentary about an Israeli singer working to keep the Sephardic-Ladino music traditions alive — singer Kat Parra and her band, the Sephardic Music Experience, will perform.

And just to keep things local, on Nov. 2 the festival will screen “Refusenik,” a documentary about the Soviet Jewry movement featuring interviews with Bay Area activists Maury Schapira and David Waksberg (now the executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education). Both will appear at a post-screening Q&A.

A festival volunteer before joining the staff, Levine is proud of his event’s emergence as one of the region’s major cultural events. He says last year’s festival drew more than 5,000 people.

“We made the decision that we couldn’t keep it the way it is,” Levine says. “We were growing too fast and requiring too much from our volunteers. So we either scaled back or moved forward. That includes year-round programming and a part-time executive director.”

The festival also incorporated as a nonprofit. It remains a major program of the Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center for now, but becomes independent next year. Even then, however, it will retain some ties to the JCC and to Palo Alto’s Albert S. Schultz Jewish Community Center.

Booking top-quality films is the primary reason the festival has grown, according to Levine. He says this year is no different, with the very discriminating selection committee sifting through nearly 80 movies before settling on the final lineup.

“This is a group of people who love movies,” Levine says. “We’re a tough crowd.”

How to get tickets

Information about the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival, including a complete listing of films, can be found at

Films will be screened at the Camera 12 Cinemas, 201 S. Second Street, San Jose. Four films will be screened on three consecutive Thursday evenings at Cubberly Community Center Theater, 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

Tickets can be purchased from the Web site or by calling (800) 838-3006.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.