Culture, Mishegas, Religion

Avadim hayinu… ata b'nei horin?

At work, I’ve gotten the reputation of being one of the more technology-minded folks in the building. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m an early adopter, or a digital native, or simply younger than the rest of the folks around, but I tend to get called into meetings to help brainstorm how the interwebs might help or hinder any given project. Lately, I’ve been part of an ad hoc team convened by our marketing department to consider how we could better use social networking tools to publicize community programs and generate leads for our academic programs. (Being part of this team has lead to my late adoption of twitter… if anyone wants to watch me take my fumbling first steps, you can follow me here.)
Thinking more critically about how the college can engage with the community online has heightened my awareness of how others are using technology in interesting ways. Today, my attention was grabbed by Rhonda Moskowitz, a filmmaker working on a documentary about Jews in prison. She describes her film thus:

Modern-day Jewish prisoners are a hidden and ostracized segment of our nation’s Jews. Many people in our society aren’t even aware of their existence. It’s a startling concept and one that’s difficult for people to face, especially Jews.
TESHUVA (RETURN) brings the subject of Jewish prisoners into public awareness and humanizes Jews who have gone astray. We can learn a lot about ourselves by studying the lives of others. Viewers may be surprised to discover that the film’s subjects, Dana and Phil, despite having committed crimes, are more like themselves than they realize.

As one might imagine, financing an independent documentary about anything these days is difficult. Financing an independent documentary about a subgroup within a minority community — and a subgroup that community is unlikely to want on display — is an uphill struggle. So, like many other independent artists, Rhonda has taken to the internet to raise money for her film.
However, Rhonda hasn’t simply set up a virtual pushke and hoped for the best. Rather, Rhonda has set up a blog which offers fascinating insights into her process and the stories she’s hoping to tell.
This week, Rhonda shared two captivating film clips of Passover seders taking place inside prisons. How does one celebrate freedom behind bars? Follow the link to find out. And then read on for thoughts on Hanukkah on Death Row, what the families of prisoners go through, and more.

2 thoughts on “Avadim hayinu… ata b'nei horin?

  1. I’m really glad you see the value in bringing to light this hidden population of our nation’s Jews. Jews can no longer be ostriches. There’s so much to learn from Jews who are locked up. Toda Raba for your comments and insights.
    I’ve been fortunate to have raised funding to film the three prisoners in “Teshuva (Return)” and their respective family members five times. However, I need to go back to film a few more times before the end of 2009. Pending funding, we have a three times Emmy-award winning editor on board. I hope to finish post production by summer, 2010. Readers of this blog can help.
    I was emboldened to do more outreach by Scott Kirsner, a pioneering journalist and author who writes about the digital age. His latest book, “Friends, Fans & Followers: Buiding an Audience and Creative Career in the Digital Age,” is written for filmmakers, musicians, artists and writers, but should be read by any person or organization who wants to use the internet for outreach. Scott interviews people in the arts who have used the internet in pioneering and creative ways. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s filled with useful and practical information. (Note: I’m the founding member of a Boston group of documentary filmmakers, “Connect the Docs,” and a few months ago, Scott Kirsner gave a terrific presentation on this topic to my group.)
    I’m extremely grateful to the two Jewish families and their family members who are and have been prisoners, who have opened up their lives and have the courage to be in the film. They are each amazing in their own way. I’m just the messenger and it is an extremely profound, mind-expanding and humbling experience to film them.

  2. This is a really promising film. Rhonda has a powerful story here, and I can’t wait to see more. Thanks for posting the links.

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