By Claire Salinas
As a past president of Beth Shalom Synagogue, Ara Rubyan enjoys the richness of the Baton Rouge Jewish community. But he’s not content with keeping it to himself.
Starting Wednesday, the annual Baton Rouge Jewish Film Festival will share this rich culture with the city. Rubyan, his wife Julie and his mother-in-law, Paula Hoffman, have co-chaired the festival since its first run in 2006.
Past festival projects have ranged from “Fiddler on the Roof” sing along at the Manship Theatre, lectures by noted Jewish educator Ron Wolfon, and sending local school teachers to Washington, D.C., to learn about Holocaust Education. Proceeds from the event will go toward enhancing understanding of Jewish history and education.
“It’s very similar to the uniqueness of Louisiana, which is more than just a geographic location. There is the food, the music, the way of life, the traditions and the history. Jewish culture is like that and that’s what we’re showcasing in all the films.”
This year’s festival will open with “The Sturgeon Queens,” a documentary about a Jewish family who have owned and run a fish shop, Russ & Daughters, on the lower Eastside of New York for the past century. Festival goers can get the authentic experience with a small sampling of Russ & Daughters pickled herring served in the lobby before the film.
A Q&A with Louisiana native Susan Rosenbaum will follow the film. Rosenbaum, who now resides in New York City, leads The Enthusiastic Gourmet food tour, which features Russ & Daughters.
The process for choosing the films is very stringent, with Rubyan and his co-chairs ensuring that the films they show are among the best in representations of Jewish culture. According to Rubyan, for every film that gets picked, five or 10 don’t make the cut.
This year’s lineup includes a mix of films ranging from serious to the more lighthearted side.
“’Hitler’s Children’ is a documentary about the children of Hitler’s high command. It explores how they deal with the fact that their parents were monsters. We’re showing that on Thursday night,” Rubyan said. “We’re showing a film on Saturday called ‘The Wonders.’ It’s a feature film from Israel that’s like ‘Chinatown’ meets ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ it’s a very unusual and beautiful film.”
Rubyan hopes the festival will remind people that Jewish culture isn’t about just the religion; it’s a way of life.
“It’s very similar to the uniqueness of Louisiana, which is more than just a geographic location. There is the food, the music, the way of life, the traditions and the history. Jewish culture is like that and that’s what we’re showcasing in all the films. We’ve found most people are pleasantly surprised by that.”
Rubyan wants everyone to attend opening night to get a glimpse of what the festival is all about.
“We want to give everyone a personal invitation to come out. Come on opening night and you’ll see trailers for all of the films,” said Rubyan. “Take a chance, get out of the house, you’ll get hooked.”
This year, the festival is offering coupons for a free pair of tickets to anyone who emails Rubyan at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line, “I’m in.”
Tickets can be purchased for $8.50 per person online at manshiptheatre.org or at the Manship Theatre box office. The Baton Rouge Jewish Film Festival will take place Jan. 14 – 18 at the Manship Theatre and is open to the public.
For more information, visit the Festival website.