Author Archives: Amy Stone

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February 14, 2017 by


"We Stand for Refugees," photo by Amy Stone

“We Stand for Refugees,” photo by Amy Stone

Rain, sleet, slush under foot, lower Manhattan’s tall buildings cloaked in fog.

Undeterred, hundreds of men, women and children turned out for the Day of Jewish Action for Refugees called by HIAS this past Sunday (Feb. 12).  The rally was one of some dozen across the country.

I was unprepared for my emotional response – unlike anything I felt at the Women’s March in Washington. Tears triggered by the middle-aged woman silently holding a sign with the childhood passport picture of her mother – it could have been Anne Frank. And the message: Donald Trump, This is my mom, with her swastika covered passport. Germany 1937. Would you let her in? Jewish Values. American Values. We stand up for refugees.

The rally in Battery Park was just across the harbor from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. But the anchoring landmark was Castle Clinton, where HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) welcomed Jews to America in 1881. HIAS has gone on to help settle newcomers to America regardless of where they come from or what they believe.  

In the words of HIAS VP Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, “For the first time in history, the Jewish people are not refugees. We are a free and empowered people in America and around the world. And we have a role to play – a responsibility we must live up to. We are called by our mandate to welcome the stranger and to love the stranger. In cities across the country today, Jews are holding rallies, vigils and actions. Together, we are raising our voices up to say that we must keep our doors open to people who are fleeing for their lives.” 

For more information: 

Check out these powerful images. 

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Live from the Lilith Blog

February 3, 2017 by

Film: ‘Heather Booth: Changing the World’ Don’t Despair. Organize!

Photo credit: Shira Gorelick

Photo credit: Shira Gorelick, taken at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

Filmmaker Lilly Rivlin hit it right on this one.

“Heather Booth: Changing the World”—the final film in Rivlin’s trilogy of activist Jewish women (Grace Paley, Esther Broner) premiered in New York at the Manhattan JCC just before the Trump inauguration. The documentary of a woman whose lifelong work has been organizing for progressive change ends with the date November 9, 2016 (11/9 – the eerie reversal of 9/11) filling the screen, the date of Trump’s electoral college victory. Then Trump’s face fills the screen, and we hear Booth’s voice: “We will organize. We will stand up.”

The three-year project was a collaboration between filmmaker Rivlin (hard to believe she’s now 80) and Booth, now 71. Booth insisted that the film be a tool for organizing. And it is.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

January 11, 2017 by

Keep Your Breasts Behind Locked Doors!

Exterior of Mamava freestanding pod for “privacy for pumping or breastfeeding.”  It locks from inside, with a space larger than an airplane lavatory. Photo credit: Amy Stone.

Exterior of Mamava freestanding pod for “privacy for pumping or breastfeeding.” It locks from inside, with a space larger than an airplane lavatory. Photo credit: Amy Stone.

En route from the illy coffee concession to the Virgin America boarding gates at Newark Airport, I spied the pod. With my cascading fears of a new administration’s erosion of women’s freedoms, I felt alarm. Will women feel pressured into never breastfeeding their babies publicly? Are breasts only for grabbing in public by men newly freed from restraint by a power-tripping president-to-be? 

My bias in favor of female visibility and freedom is obvious. But I am not beyond fine-tuning. What about women from traditional backgrounds—Orthodox Jewish women, traditional Muslim women—might they welcome a privacy pod? Maybe I should slow down my rush to judgment, be a bit more sisterly.


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December 19, 2016 by

We Were Really Jewish. And Had a Christmas Tree.

Screen Shot 2016-12-19 at 2.58.06 PMIt’s been more than 65 years, but through the mists of time. I remember its smell of evergreen as if it were yesterday. 

Our apartment living room on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  A tiny blue wooden table where, to the joy of my tiny brother and me, my mother had placed a tiny Christmas tree. 

Eventually we moved to the suburbs, where we had a bigger Christmas tree with presents underneath.

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December 1, 2016 by

Carole Zabar—The Woman Behind the Other Israel Film Festival

Carole Zabar at home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, walking distance from the Other Israel Film Festival at the JCC Manhattan and Zabar’s.  Photo credit: Amy Stone

Carole Zabar at home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, walking distance from the Other Israel Film Festival at the JCC Manhattan and Zabar’s.
Photo credit: Amy Stone

It takes one brainy person devoted to Israel, fluent in Hebrew, with a bachelor’s and master’s from Hebrew University, and a belief in the power of film to have the confidence to create the Other Israel Film Festival. What’s becoming a New York institution began as 100 percent Carole Zabar’s baby.

When the OIFF opens Thursday night, Dec. 1, at the JCC Manhattan, it will mark the 10th year of Carole Zabar’s vision – a festival that shows Israel’s minorities, including tensions between Jews and Arabs, in features, shorts, documentaries, Israeli TV shows.

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November 25, 2016 by

Ruth Gruber – Unstoppable to 105

Gruber head shot JOAN ROTH

Photo of Ruth Gruber by Joan Roth

One of the last things Ruth Gruber did, slowed but unstoppable at 105, was to vote for Hillary Clinton. To observe the obvious, born in 1911, before women had the right to vote, she didn’t live long enough to see a woman president of the U.S. But she did help bend the arc of history with her camera, her words, and her passion for justice – most dramatically, by involving herself in Jewish rescue.

Ruth Gruber’s funeral, Sunday, November 20, filled B’nai Jeshurun synagogue on New York’s Upper West Side, near her long-time home on Central Park West, the twin towered, art deco Eldorado. (“El Dorado”—the legendary city of gold—seems an appropriate departure point for a fearless and adventurous woman.)

At the funeral, friends, family, and Rabbi Sally Priesand (America’s first ordained woman rabbi and the rabbi who officiated at Gruber’s second marriage) drew plenty of inspiration from Gruber’s life. In references to the current politics of fear, Gruber’s rescue of refugees was singled out as a challenge to all of us.

If this indefatigable woman had a role model, she or he went unnamed.

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June 2, 2016 by

Shiva for Film Force Ronit Elkabetz

Ronit Elkabetz, Israeli film star, writer and director in her last film, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.”

Ronit Elkabetz, Israeli film star, writer and director in her last film, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.”

Ronit Elkabetz is gone.

The Israeli film star, writer and director is dead at 51, from cancer that she concealed till the end. Following her death on April 19, her body lay in state at the Tel Aviv Cinamatheque, showcase for independent and controversial film. 

In what turned out to be her final film, just last year Americans saw Elkabetz as the long-suffering wife in “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.” The grinding depiction of a woman’s years’ long struggle against her unyielding husband and an Israeli religious court to grant her a gett, a writ of divorce, was the final film in the trilogy starring Elkabetz as Viviane Amsalem. Loosely based on the unhappy marriage of her Moroccan-born parents, Elkabetz co-wrote and co-directed the trilogy with her brother Shlomi, starting with “To Take a Wife” in 2004, then “Shiva” in 2008. The sister-brother collaboration was intense. As she described writing “Gett,” they’d hole up in a hotel room, cut off from the world, and create the film. On the set, they were in total sync. 

“Gett,” Israel’s 2015 Oscar entry for best foreign-language film, ignited major protests in Israel, where civil marriage and divorce do not exist.

As Elkabetz told the Israeli newspaper Maariv back in 2010, “I am not here to get pleasure from acting. As much as it may sound bombastic, I would like to make a change.”

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Feminists In Focus, Live from the Lilith Blog

March 1, 2016 by

What Does a Star Do After Winning the Academy Award for Best Actress?


Natalie Portman in "A Tale of Love and Darkness."

Natalie Portman in “A Tale of Love and Darkness.”

What does a star do after winning the Academy Award for Best Actress?

In a relatively short time, Natalie Portman went from her Oscar win for ”Black Swan” in 2011 to starring in, directing and co-writing the film version of Amos Oz’s autobiographical novel “A Tale of Love and Darkness” (2015). 

Her personal appearance, along with a crowd of paparazzi, brought a red-carpet buzz to the closing night of the 25th Anniversary New York Jewish Film Festival in January.

For those of us who track the successes for women in film, what a tour de force. Portman, who was born in Jerusalem and has dual US-Israeli citizenship, certainly did it her way.  She had major control over the script, which she insisted be in Hebrew with English subtitles. She stars as Fania, Oz’s mother, who came to Mandate Palestine with romantic ideas from her privileged childhood in Poland. With a disappointing marriage in a harsh reality, she pours out her passion and gift for storytelling on young Amos. 

But where were the other women filmmakers? With two weeks of films from around the world, from countries large and small, and subject matter in all shapes and sizes, I counted six female directors of feature films to nine males. Most surprising, for shorts, only three women directors to 11 men. For retrospective picks including guest selections, only one woman director (the recently deceased Chantal Akerman) to nine men. (Not to overly weight the statistics, I counted as one the male directing team of two men.)  And surely the selection process is not biased against women. Aviva Weintraub, associate curator of the Jewish Museum, is the long-time director of the festival, which is presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Jewish Museum. Plus, women are well represented on the selection committee. 

When I asked Weintraub if there were more women directors today than 25 years ago, she said she hadn’t counted, but probably yes. Clearly this issue is beneath the radar, even as the issue of sub-par status for women and minorities comes up regularly, dragged over the carpet at this year’s Academy Awards.

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February 5, 2016 by

Warning: Miri Regev May be Harmful to Israeli Culture

8580408850_7f9741e5c1_oMiri Regev made page one of The New York Times. She’s the right-wing face of what The Times headlined as “Culture Wars Shift in Israel to Art Realm”  (Jan. 30, 2016). Make the front page of The Times and you’re well on your way to being the Israeli that we American Jews rush to love or hate.

But back in November, the Other Israel Film Festival at the JCC Manhattan beat The Times to the punch at its panel “Israel’s Freedom of Speech.” Four outspoken Ha’aretz editors and reporters along with filmmaker Mor Lushi spoke critically of Regev’s chilling effect as Netanyahu’s Minister of Sport and Culture. This divisive defender of Israel approaches culture with the same zeal she brought to her brief stint as chief press and media censor for the Israeli army, followed by IDF spokesperson during Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and the 2006 Lebanon War.

Minister of Sport and Culture since last May, Regev only joined the Likud Party in 2008, at the age of 43. She was elected to Knesset the next year, last on the Likud list of 27 candidates winning seats.

Disturbing examples of Regev’s wielding her budget for patriotic purity: She attempted to freeze funding for Haifa’s al-Midan Arab-language theater for producing a play about a Palestinian terrorist. She threatened to block state funding for the prestigious Jerusalem Film Festival unless it removed the documentary “Beyond the Fear,” on the assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

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December 28, 2015 by

“Rock in the Red Zone”: Living for Today in Sderot

sderock-slant2Not exactly a trend—but impressive—that two of the documentary directors in this past November’s Other Israel Film Festival are women who not only have several films to their credit but are also pregnant with their second child. More power to them.

Both were featured at the 9th annual Other Israel Film Festival, which is sponsored by JCC Manhattan and focuses on films critical of Israeli politics and society. Both directors’ voices are part of their films’ message that Israel can do better.

Director Laura Bialis after the Other Israel Film Festival screening of "Rock in the Red Zone." She documents hard living and hot music in the town of Sderot, half a mile from Gaza.

Director Laura Bialis after the Other Israel Film Festival screening of
“Rock in the Red Zone.” She documents hard living and hot music in the town of Sderot, half a mile from Gaza. Photo by Amy Stone.

Mor Loushy’s “Censored Voices” is carefully constructed from long-silenced interviews by soldiers right after the Six-Day War. Laura Bialis’s “Rock in the Red Zone” is the more freewheeling personal and political story of a Los Angeles filmmaker, now 42, drawn to Sderot, the neglected town near enough to Gaza to be constantly under rocket attack. As a filmmaker who’s worked in Kosovo, she’s attracted to this neglected town that produces music that’s changed the Israel music scene. As she explains in the narrative, “I’d always heard that good music comes from hard places.”

She comes. She sees. She’s hooked. The film takes shape not only as the documentation of a town shamefully neglected by Israel (in the 1950s the Ashkenazi founding fathers sent the Jews from North Africa to this benighted spot, then the Ethiopians), but also as something more personal. We’re seeing the Zionist awakening of a Southern Californian. She doesn’t say it but these Mizrachi musician guys are real men, not your twerpy American Jewish males.

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