Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival hits a chai note in 18th year

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Though the recession has pounded most nonprofit arts institutions, Bruce Entin is breathing easy these days. The Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival, for which he serves on the executive board, has grown considerably in the last year.

As the festival celebrates its “chai” 18th season (Oct. 17-Nov. 22) it has not only expanded its venues to four theaters in and around the South Bay, it has added more films, speakers and what Entin calls “film events.”

That includes a concert and a night of stand-up comedy.

Earlier this year, the IRS awarded the festival 501(c)3 nonprofit status, permitting the SVJFF to raise more money, as well as hire an executive director and program director.

The festival also met with some luck. Opening night coincides with the official opening of Palo Alto’s glittering new Oshman Family Jewish Community Center (part of the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life).

A scene from the Argentinean film “Letters From Jenny” photos/courtesy of svjff

“Letters From Jenny,” a love story from Argentina, will be the opening night offering, to be screened at the campus’ Albert and Janet Schultz Cultural Arts Hall. Also appearing that night will be speaker Monique Balbuena, a literature professor and expert on Argentine Jewry.

And the opening night festivities will conclude with an onstage tango extravaganza performed by the JCC’s tango club (yes, they have a tango club).

Other film events include presentations from award-winning Romanian filmmaker Radu Gabrea (following the screening of his wartime epic “Gruber’s Journey”) and director Roberta Grossman following a screening of “Blessed is the Match,” her new Hannah Senesh biopic.

After the Nov. 14 screening of “Black Over White” (a documentary about Israeli musician Idan Raichel’s tour of Ethiopia), Israeli oud player Yuval Ron will lead an ensemble of Middle Eastern musicians in a concert dubbed “Desert Roots.”

And following the Nov. 22 screening of the documentary “Circumcise Me” (about a Jewish convert who undergoes not one, not two, but three brit milahs), comedian Jeff Applebaum will take the stage for a stand-up set. It’s a first for the SVJFF.

Though the festival lineup is international in scope, Entin says he and his colleagues did have a theme in mind.

Orthodox stand-up comedian Yisrael Campbell appears in “Circumcise Me.”

“We have an important focus on Israeli cinema,” he says. “That’s because of the large number of Israelis in Silicon Valley. We want to reach that audience, and beyond.”

Israeli features scheduled this year include the documentary “Sharon” (about the former prime minister), several episodes of the hit Israeli series “S’rugim,” and the 2008 documentary “Praying in Her Own Voice,” about the efforts of a group of Orthodox women to read Torah at the Western Wall.

That screening will be followed by a panel discussion led by Rabbi Melanie Aron of Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos.

Perhaps the most emotional event of the festival will take place at the screening of “Menachem and Fred.” It’s an Israeli documentary about two brothers, separated during the Holocaust and reunited years later after Fred immigrated to the United States and Menachem to Israel.

The Nov. 11 screening is being co-sponsored by SAP. Fred Raymes, one of the brothers, will be in attendance and will speak to the audience afterward.

“This goes back to our mission: to educate, entertain and stimulate discussion,” Entin says. “I think the audience will get a lot out of this event.”

That mission sometimes means programming difficult films, especially those about Israel and the Middle East. The recent controversy surrounding the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s screening of “Rachel” underscored the line Jewish film festivals walk when it comes to challenging audiences.

“In San Francisco a film event was transformed into an uncontrolled political rally,” Entin says of the July incident, at which a pro-Israel speaker was shouted down. “A festival should show films that stimulate discussion, but that discussion needs to be civil and controlled. We wouldn’t shy away from showing different sides of Israel and Jewish life, but we would avoid propaganda in either direction.”

Entin thinks the festival has a winning lineup this year, which he hopes will draw crowds and keep the SVJFF deep in the black.

“The film festival has a product,” Entin says, explaining the festival’s seemingly recession-proof strength. “People can come to the movies, and get something of value that’s very tangible.”

For a complete schedule for the 18th annual Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival, and information about tickets and venues, go to


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.