Author Archives: Amy Stone

The Lilith Blog

December 9, 2020 by

“The Occupation is a Worse Virus,” and More from The Other Israel Film Festival


New York has more than enough Jewish gathering points, so what’s lost and what, if anything, is gained when the city’s 14th annual Other Israel Film Festival from the Marlene Meyerson JCC goes virtual?

The main advantage is the joy of being able to stream the festival, which ends Dec. 11, throughout the US. It’s not too late to binge the festival’s features, documentaries, shorts at The festival Q&As with filmmakers are numerous and streamed post-event. Select breakout sessions with other viewers are a virtual substitute for those film discussions on line outside the ladies room. (Remember those days?)

And there’s the intrusive intimacy of Zoom – is that Carole Zabar partially hidden by pillows during a Q&A question? Long time filmmaker Lilly Rivlin’s brown cardigan is hanging from the knob of a partially opened closet door behind her. A bedroom is at least a break from cable commentators’ living room bookshelves.

Carole Zabar’s founding vision was a film festival showing the “Other Israel” – minorities, women, Palestinians not part of the Zionist dream or Israel propaganda.

This year’s selection of films feels more freewheeling. There’s the shock of the Other America in “ ‘Til Kingdom Come,” a documentary showing the unholy alliance between Zionist Jews and Evangelicals raising millions of dollars for Israel. The Kentucky Bible belt poverty is so unbelievable that Yael Eckstein, daughter of Yechiel Eckstein, founder of  Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews, wonders if people actually live in the falling down houses. 

Another departure for the OIFF, “Kings of Capital Hill” documents the power of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the Israel lobby. Women made both these films, and what an achievement that it’s no big deal.

I’d like to say “My Dearest Enemy,” a woman made and woman financed feature about a Jewish and a Palestinian girl reunited after 25 years, is a must see. Alas, the film, directed, produced and written by Tzipi Trope and financed in part by Itzili Charney (founder of the Leon Charney Resolution Center), is not as good as the two women’s Q&A. Their passionate session is moderated by JCC film center director Isaac Zablocki from the empty bar of Gazala’s, the Upper West Side Druze restaurant kept going by festival participant Gazala Halabi. Watch the streaming Q&A for the chemistry between the two women and Trope’s just-do-it determination. “Making a documentary, I just go to my car, shoot film myself, and get a shlepper to edit for bubkas.” She says, “We’re in a virus. The Occupation is an even worse virus. It’ll kill a lot more people.” Her message: “We need to develop a vision for the future. We have to find the Martin Bubers of our vision.”

So who will be our Martin Buber?

I’m not nominating the mayor of Ramallah, but “Mayor” is certainly my pick so far of this year’s OIFF. American director David Osit’s prize-winning film of Musa Hadid, the Christian mayor in the historically Christian Ramallah, makes you want to end the Occupation now. Hadid’s up against the impossible – running a city without a country. He does it in a suit, with dignity and stays on message: “This is our city, our land.” He controls the Christmas celebration but not the police.

Israeli soldiers arrive for a surprise night attack of tear gas in front of the classy, glassy city hall by the Café de la Paix then pose for selfies in front of the plaza’s Christmas trees. It’s absurd; it’s wrenching; it’s immoral. The mayor wipes tear gas from the eyes of an injured journalist then pulls Osit out the next morning to film the new doors he’s gotten installed at a local school. One sign of progress –the women students from Birzeit University are told by the mayor that involvement in municipal government is the most worthwhile thing to do. Watch the streaming Q&A with the director and go to Film Forum to screen “Mayor”

And we can reach out from our Covid cocoon to support repairing the world NOW. The OIFF site includes the NIF (New Israel Fund) action guide for each film and the festival’s sponsors are numerous. To support life as we knew it pre-Covid, renting “Mayor” from Film Forum helps keep a beloved temple of movies alive. Ordering a meal from Gazala’s helps keep one fine woman-run restaurant in business.


The Lilith Blog

March 14, 2020 by

Rachel Cowan’s Last Year– ‘Dying Doesn’t Feel Like What I’m Doing’

None of us has died. No matter how close we’ve been to those who have died, it wasn’t us. Death is still a second-hand experience until you’re the one.  

So when a loving friend and filmmaker recorded the last 15 months in the life of mindfulness teacher and rabbi Rachel Cowan, I wanted to learn what wisdom came to her with a diagnosis of brain cancer. 

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The Lilith Blog

January 16, 2020 by

Return to the Garden of the Finzi-Continis

GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS 42020 marks the 50th anniversary of Vittorio De Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. It’s the tale of an elite Jewish family sequestered behind the walls of their Ferrara estate, ignoring the cascade of Jewish restrictions in Mussolini’s Italy until too late. Back in 1972, the film changed my life.Now I’m reliving it just in time for anniversary screenings at the New York Jewish Film Festival (Jan. 26 and 27):   partnership of the Jewish Museum and Film at Lincoln Center, now through Jan. 28. 

When I saw the film with my parents at the New Rochelle art film theater on Main Street, I identified with the protagonists, the aristocratic Finzi-Continis, at play on their tennis court, in their gated garden. When they, too, get deported along with the poorer Jews, I thought, “if I’m ever going to be taken away for being Jewish, I want to know what Jewish is.” So I moved to Israel. And it changed my life.  

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The Lilith Blog

December 5, 2019 by

Women’s Narratives on Film Create Something Far from a Feel-Good Zionist Experience

The Other Israel Film Festival is not meant to be a feel good Zionist experience. In its 13th year at Manhattan’s Marlene Meyerson JCC, the eight days of films about minorities and women opened with “Advocate,” the documentary on crusading lawyer Lea Tsemel. After nearly 50 years, no longer a foul-mouthed babe in micro minis, Tsemel’s still defending Palestinian political prisoners. She sardonically jokes that she’s never won a case, but continues to play her advantages as a woman and a Jew. The festival closed with the even darker narrative “Screwdriver.” It’s the relentlessly hopeless tale of a West Bank man welcomed back as a hero by the media, his friends and family after years in an Israeli prison, taking the rap for an attempted murder. His loving family, opportunity for employment, and attractiveness to women can’t save him.

The mid-November festival was punctuated by Gaza rockets fired deep into Israel, Benny Gantz unable to form a cabinet, and the U.S. reversing its 40-year-policy, giving Israel the go-ahead on settlements in the West Bank.

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The Lilith Blog

November 13, 2019 by

Our Reviewer’s Picks at the Other Israel Film Festival


Women directors are no longer a big deal, so take note of these four women-
made films worth seeing no matter who made them. Check the OIFF website for
additional films and events.

Breaking Bread (Director Beth Hawk; JCC Sunday, Nov 17, 4:30 pm) At last, food as the bridge to understanding in a film
festival that’s hungry for hope. Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel was first Muslim Arab to
win Israel’s Master Chef competition. The microbiologist from an Arab town in
northern Israel is using her food festival for social change.

Border of Pain (Director Ruth Walk; international premiere JCC Wednesday,
Nov. 20, 6:15 pm) Food and medicine, two ways
to break down walls. The sturdy, head-covered Gaza and West Bank women
determined to get permission to enter Israel for life-saving hospital care. The
Israeli doctors and volunteers who are part of an elaborate health care
bureaucracy knitting together Israel and Palestinian Authority ministries. And the
amazing Dalia Bassa, health coordinator for Israel’s civil administration. Blonde
hair, pink shirt, driving from border crossings to hospitals, her cell phone never
stops ringing.


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The Lilith Blog

November 8, 2019 by

The New Documentary Featuring Golda Meir’s Off-the-Record Interview

At DOC NYC film festival —

“Golda” Meir  – starring a long buried Israel TV interview

and how the film changed an Israeli Black Panther leader

 by Amy Stone

My viewing companion came away from “Golda” visibly shaken, saying “Golda Meir was a hero. How could they show an off-the-record interview? Can’t they let her rest in peace?”

Photo Credit: Saar Yaakov GPO

Photo Credit: Saar Yaakov GPO

The new documentary “Golda” – international premiere Nov. 10 at DOC NYC film festival– makes the conflict clear from the get go: Israel’s only woman prime minister (from 1969-74) changed the course of Middle East and global history. In America, she is known as the iconic grandmother of Israel. But in Israel she remains a controversial figure, excoriated for the loss of life in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

What’s new is the never-before-seen footage of an off-the-record conversation with Golda, which took place following a 1978 Israel Television interview when the cameras kept rolling. Over numerous unfiltered cigarettes (Israel TV would not have shown images of her smoking), Golda Meir talked frankly. The two younger male journalists assured her the footage would not be aired.

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The Lilith Blog

March 8, 2019 by

When Women Make Holocaust Movies—And Take On God, Moses & Exodus

Just when you thought no unexplored nook or cranny remains for any more Holocaust films, along come two challenging documentaries by women directors and two good tries, also by women filmmakers.

All four – three documentaries and one docudrama — were screened at the 2019 New York Jewish Film Festival, presented in January by the Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which had far better representation of female filmmakers than in previous years,

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The Lilith Blog

January 15, 2019 by

The Women’s March 2019: Muslim and Jewish Women Navigate the Waters

Side by side in prayer, Muslim women (front), Jewish women (back) at Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom national conference. Photo: Amy Stone

Side by side in prayer, Muslim women (front), Jewish women (back) at Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom national conference.
Photo: Amy Stone

The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is a North American grassroots organization bringing Muslim and Jewish women together to get to know one other and together stand up to hatred. Yet despite its mission, the organization is not getting involved with the competing Women’s Marches being held in New York (two of dozens of marches around the country) this Saturday, January 19.

Not shying away from inflammatory issues, back in November, SOSS members at their 5th annual national conference got the challenge from co-founder and sister-in-chief Sheryl Olitzky, just after the murder of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh: “America is on fire. Are you ready to be the firefighters?”

In the all-is-right-in-America autumn splendor of a college campus, some 600 women, some in hijab, a few in yarmulkas, had come together at the conference of the only American organization of Jewish and Muslim women and teenage girls. Galvanized by Trump’s incendiary pandering to racism, SOSS membership has more than tripled since the 2016 election. After the Pittsburgh killings, SOSS provided some comfort. Black paper strips for all were the conference equivalent of the cut black ribbon worn by Jewish mourners. We mourned the 11 Jews murdered at Tree of Life synagogue and the two African Americans gunned down six days later at a Kentucky supermarket when the white killer couldn’t get into a black church.

Edina Lekovic, a founder of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, based in L.A., told  the assembled groups, “I’ve been here too many times – Muslim, Latino, LGBTQ, African American. Too many times, we’ve come together to grieve.” Quoting the Quran: “Surely with hardship comes ease.” But then this woman with the elaborately braided head covering put a new spin on it: “I used to think it meant, ‘First hardship, then ease.’” But then the subtler understanding: “It’s not sequential. Surely with the hardship, within the hardship is the ease.” Her message: “It’s time to go deeper. Neither fight nor flight but reconciliation and justice.”

What does that mean for Lekovic as an American Muslim? “Not just by marching in the streets but sharing the hard stuff, sitting together in living rooms, going deeper.”

That’s a bedrock principle of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. For instance, the group has a directive: don’t try to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict till you’ve known each other for at least a year and built friendships that, hopefully, will humanize seemingly intractable political positions.

And now, a new test case: the dangers for Muslim and Jewish women of taking positions on the competing women’s marches with all their attendant drama. 

At least in New York City, there will be two simultaneous events:

1 ) Women’s March Alliance, with a march organized by the same group that did the first two New York City marches, is assembling at Central Park West and 72nd Street at 10 AM, stepping off after a rally at 11 AM. Their home page states: “We do not support any organization or person that is anti-Semitic, anti-gay, anti-woman, or does not support equal rights for every human. We welcome any and all people who want to raise women’s voices through education and activism.”

2) Women’s March Inc. NYC, an offshoot of the 2017 national march in D.C., will join with the New York Immigration Coalition for a rally at Foley Square, across from the federal courthouse, from 10 to 2 on Saturday. Their home page states: “The Women’s Unity Rally in NYC will highlight the leadership of Black women, immigrant women and women of color as part of the national #WomensWave, and in response to the Trump Administration’s continued assault on immigrant communities and communities of color.”

Reading about these dueling events, I feel I’ve just sustained a punch to the gut. I wonder: is a mass movement of women of all religious beliefs, colors, ages, sexuality and classes, standing up against our racist, misogynist administration, being threatened by corrosive politics? Why come to a city that already has a locally organized women’s march and start your own instead of working to bring more women of all colors and beliefs into the local march?

At least for this New York Jew, the locally organized march rallying at Columbus Circle then marching down Sixth Avenue is the one I’m going with. I’m gritting my teeth at the idea of women’s unity being threatened when we’re perilously close to losing our rights, including our rights to our own bodies. I don’t think boycotting the Women’s March or the competing rally is the answer. Judging by online comments, most women seem unaware of the competing marches or are frustrated and confused.

I’m making this choice in part because of the D.C. march’s problematic leadership that reportedly excluded Jews from the early organizing two years ago and still seems to wobble on whether it supports outspoken anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan. (As of January 14, the march’s leadership has expanded to include at least three Jewish women of color among the 23 women on the steering committee.)

My pre-Sisterhood self would have jumped in, criticizing the D.C. march leaders for excluding Jews from the original leadership then reportedly trying to move in on the local New York leadership. 

But wait. I have decided to tread carefully. Jews and Muslims from our Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Civil Rights Bus Trip  are coming to New York City for the Women’s March and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Some of my Muslim sisters may support the D.C. march, its local presence, and its leaders, including co-president Tamika Mallory and national march co-chair Linda Sarsour, an American Muslim of Palestinian descent. The D.C. leadership has publicly reaffirmed a welcoming stance towards Jews. Personally? I’m feeling different strokes for different folks.

And now, a new coalition of  Jewish Women of Color is weighing in. The group, led by Yavilah McCoy, among others, is asking all Jewish women to march (wherever we are, including in the “official” Washington, D.C. march). We are being called to join as allies under the banner and hashtag #JWOCMarching, signifying that Jewish women of color are living their lives at the intersection of racism and anti-Semitism. McCoy and longtime feminist and social justice activist Shifra Bronznick, writing in the Forward, encouraged all Jewish women to join the official Women’s March to stand up for our rights.

Back to the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. Fortunately the organizer of our New York Sisterhood gathering is, literally, a rocket scientist. She’s laid out our personal options with precision: 1) Participate in the locally organized New York march. 2) Participate in the D.C.-linked New York rally. 3) Feel free not to participate in either. 

Returning to Edina Lekovic’s “Neither fight nor flight,” all of us – Muslims and Jews – will be sitting down together after the march to talk about the tough issues we’ve restrained ourselves from struggling with online.

But wait – there’s more. Rev. Cathy Bristow, an interfaith minister whose mission is “relanguaging” the conversation around race and gender, came to my aid. Her advice: “Don’t say ‘competing marches’. The two marches are not competing. Women are not one concentric circle. There’s racism within that circle.” And then, her additional insight: “If there are two competing marches and you think there should be one, go with the other march.” In other words, lean in to your discomfort. 

I am shaken out of my position. To my amazement, I think I’ll go to the Foley Square rally. And then, another breakthrough: I’ll go to both.

Wish all of us luck. Or maybe even pray for us. 




The Lilith Blog

November 19, 2018 by

A Final “Shoah” Installment Tells Women’s Stories

What’s left for filmmaker Claude Lanzmann to tell us about the Shoah? At his death at 92 this past July, with rare honors at Les Invalides in Paris, he had gone from teenage fighter in the French resistance to the tireless creator of “Shoah,” its 9-plus hours of interviews followed by feature-length spinoffs.

Much of Lanzmann’s work concentrates on men’s stories. Now women are getting the last words. And the telling is in the details.  Would these stories have the same impact if they were not part of the Lanzmann canon? I think not. But he showed us a different way of looking at the Shoah. As historian Deborah Lipstadt says, Lanzmann was trying to instill modesty of judgment. We don’t know what we’d do in their place.

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The Lilith Blog

July 5, 2018 by

Muslim and Jewish Women on a Southern Civil Rights Road Trip

Reaching across the aisle – Cyndy Wyatt (left) and Dorene Alama discovered they both attended the same Catholic school in upstate New York. Cyndy, now living in Stowe, Vt., converted to Judaism. Dorene, in Charlotte, N.C., converted to Islam. Photo credit: Amy Stone

Reaching across the aisle – Cyndy Wyatt (left) and Dorene Alama discovered they
both attended the same Catholic school in upstate New York. Cyndy, now living in
Stowe, Vt., converted to Judaism. Dorene, in Charlotte, N.C., converted to Islam.
Photo: Amy Stone

Back in April, a busload of white and brown Jewish and Muslim women, some in hijab, headed south along the civil rights trail from Georgia to Alabama to Tennessee. What could go wrong?

We’re riding with Brenda, a third-generation female bus driver from Asheville, North Carolina, and Todd, our African-American civil rights expert. We’re a world away from the 1961 Freedom Riders aboard Greyhound buses attacked by violent mobs for attempting to integrate southern bus terminals. But this is also far from a Disneyland outing. We’re in the Trump era of hate with his Muslim ban and war on immigrants.

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