Miami Jewish Film Festival Turns Sweet Sixteen

Hava Naglia Chairs- LRWhat better way to celebrate a Jewish occasion than to dance the hora? The 16th CAJE Miami Jewish Film Festival opens at the Colony Theater on Saturday, January 26th, with the film Hava Naglia (The Movie) that unlocks the history and mystery of the magical song played when dancing the hora. The music and the dance have become synonymous. Prior to opening night, on Tuesday, Jan. 22nd, festival organizers invite the community to the MAR – JCC in North Miami Beach, to “Miami’s Largest Hora Happening.” As a community people will celebrate the festival’s “Sweet Sixteen” and dance to the classic tune that has become an integral part of Jewish culture.

The Jewish Film Festival runs from Jan. 26 – Feb 4th, and Ellen Wedner, Festival Director, has created a movie lineup with something to appeal to every age, from a toe-tapping documentary to a feature about finding common ground in a culturally diverse and racially charged community. A richly diverse cultural representation – Ethiopian, Israeli, Russian, Dutch, Cuban, German, and Argentinean – define the films scheduled for the Frank Theaters at Intracoastal Mall. Some of the films included in this unique melting pot are:

400 Miles to Freedom, a powerful documentary by co-director Avishai Mekonen, who breaks his 20-year silence about the brutal kidnapping he endured as a child in Sudan during his community’s exodus out of Africa, and in so doing explores issues of immigration and racial diversity in Judaism today.

Off White Lies is a charming Israeli film about a father, his daughter and a con game. Libby, an introverted yet sharp-witted teenager, is sent to live with her father, Shaul, in Israel. Her arrival coincides with the outbreak of the second Lebanon war. Libby quickly discovers that her Dad, is an infantile eccentric, and that he is “in-between apartments”. Shaul’s has a creative plan to put a roof over their heads. They pose as refugees from the bombarded Northern region of Israel, and are taken in by a well-off family in Jerusalem. Finally, in a “normal” household, Shaul and Libby begin to build their father-daughter relationship, but their false identities can’t last forever.

Special guest, filmmaker Yassel Inglesias, attends the screening of his documentary The Chosen Island. In the film, he explores both the history of Sephardim in Cuba and their indelible part of the country’s social fabric. Through interviews with members of the Cuban Sephardic Jewish community, viewers experience the rediscovery and revival of Jewish life there, and listen in as the film raises questions about faith, resilience, strength, and survival. The filmmaker and Festival Director lead a discussion following the screening.

Kaddish for a Friend tells the heartwarming story of two very different people from opposite sides of a conflict. Surrounded by memories from his past, Alexander, a Russian Jew and World War II veteran, lives alone in the apartment above Ali, a 14-year-old who, with his family, recently moved to Germany from Lebanon. As Ali struggles to fit in, he falls in with a group of young Arab troublemakers. In an attempt to impress his new friends, Ali is caught in an act of racial hatred. What happens next is a surprise to everyone, but no one more than Alexander and Ali.

The song is instantly recognizable. Hava Nagila (The Movie) opens the festival and has an encore performance on Monday, Feb.4th at the Frank Theaters. The film is a joyful romp through the history, mystery and meaning of a ubiquitous party song that has its roots in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, and has found a cultural re-boot with performances by Harry Belefonte, Connie Francis, Glen Campbell, Elvis and even The Muppets.

The festival closes with the coming of age film, Letters for Jenny (Cartas Para Jenny). Opening with a bittersweet Bat Mitzvah celebration, Jenny enters her teenage years after losing her mother to a terminal illness. Her father gives her a series of letters left behind by her late mother to be opened at key moments in her life. When confronted by an unexpected crisis, she turns to the letters for direction. The story follows Jenny from Argentina to Israel, where she reconnects with her Jewish identity and rediscovers her ability to love.

The festival runs from Saturday, January 26 through February 4. For complete movie listings and to purchase tickets log on to or call 1-888-585-FILM

Tickets for the Miami Jewish Film Festival, except for opening and closing nights, are $12.50 General Admission; $10.50 Seniors /Students; $8.50 Film Society members. A $160 Fast Pass provides entry into all films. Film Society members receive discounts on tickets and fast passes and advance festival ordering. For Film Society Memberships, fast passes and tickets, order on line at

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