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Congregation B’nai Avraham in Brooklyn Heights hopes to lure neighbors into a dialogue about Jewish history and culture — as well as contemporary issues facing the community — with a film festival.

Set to run on consecutive Saturday evenings from Nov. 25 through Dec. 9, the “Brooklyn Heights Jewish Film Festival” will feature screenings of three recent documentaries: “Resisting Forces,” “A Cantor’s Tale” and “Protocols of Zion.”

“This was a great way to explore themes of Jewish culture and identity to people who may ordinarily not enter a synagogue,” said Simcha Weinstein, coordinator of the festival and a rabbi with a degree in film history.

The series is scheduled to open with a screening of “Resisting Forces,” Renee Sanders’s 2001 film about how members of the Jewish Council of Enschede, a Dutch city near the German border, risked their lives to save one-third of its Jewish population during the Holocaust. The documentary is a very personal work for Sanders, whose grandfather, Gerard Sanders, was one of those who sacrificed his life so that others might live.

“I am a documentary filmmaker from Amsterdam ... and I am in New York quite often because I have made a number of films of Dutch-Jewish history, and people seem to be very interested to see my work because most people here in the United States hardly know anything about Dutch-Jewish history,” Sanders told GO Brooklyn in a phone interview Monday. “They only know about Anne Frank and that’s about it.”

Sanders said she heard about the upcoming film festival during a recent visit to Congregation B’nai Avraham. After talking to the rabbi there, she was convinced her film would make an appropriate addition to the line-up.

“People need to distinguish things for themselves; they need to distinguish between good and evil and have the courage to make their own decisions at some point,” she said.

The second film in the series will be the Brooklyn premiere of “A Cantor’s Tale,” Erik Greenberg Anjou’s feature-length look at “hazzanut” or Jewish liturgical music, as well as the contributions of the Brooklyn-born cantor Jacob Mendelson. Jackie Mason, Alan Dershowitz, ben-Zion Miller, Mati Lazar and Alberto Mizrahi all appear in the film.

“We’ve been very blessed with the movie,” Anjou told GO Brooklyn. “The movie has done extraordinarily well, particularly in the Jewish world. It has played at between 55 and 60 film festivals, so it is kind of one of the hottest movies on that circuit. Each community has its special niche and its special thing to offer.”

So, what does Anjou (pictured above with cantor Mendelson) want audiences to take away from the film?

“For those who aren’t familiar with cantorial music, [the film gives] a heightened appreciation of classical, Ashkenazic cantorial music,” Anjou said. “I would also like to see the wall between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism lowered a little bit. There seems to be a lot of antipathy from one side to the next. Really, the only way the Jewish people are going to survive in full strength is if everybody gets along.

“Part of that means doing something really difficult — going against rabbinic law,” continued the filmmaker. “There is a rabbinic prohibition that basically frowns upon the woman’s voice leading prayer. One of the only ways cantorial music will survive is if women can become carriers of the tradition. That’s going to call for a real revolution of people’s attitudes and outlooks.”

The final screening in the series will be Marc Levin’s “Protocols of Zion,” a searing look at the rise in anti-Semitism since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Inspired by Levin’s own confrontation with an Egyptian cab driver who claimed Jews were warned not to go to work at the World Trade Center on 9-11, the 2005 film features interviews with Arab-Americans, black nationalists, Christian evangelists and white supremacists in an effort to get at the root of the hatred.

In keeping with the festival’s mission to spark conversation, Sanders is confirmed to speak after the screening of her film and
Anjou will take questions after the showing of his film.

“It is very important to have the filmmakers in attendance,” Weinstein observed. “It adds credibility and excitement to the screenings.”


“The Brooklyn Heights Jewish Film Festival” takes place on Saturdays, from Nov. 25 through Dec. 9 at 8 pm, at Congregation B’nai Avraham (117 Remsen St. between Clinton and Henry streets in Brooklyn Heights). Admission is $5. For more information, contact Simcha Weinstein, (718) 596-4840, ext. 15.

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