The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival can trace its roots back 148 years, before moving pictures were even a concept. It all began in 1875, when the Young Men’s Hebrew Association was founded in Philadelphia. Later, the organization would put on its first film festival after merging with the Young Women’s Hebrew Association in 1981. By 2021, after nearly half a dozen iterations, those groups rebranded as Philadelphia Jewish Film and Media (PJFM), the organization we recognize today.
In 2023, from November 11-18, the festival will premiere eight new films tackling social justice issues like abortion, the intersection of the LGBTQ community and Jewish Orthodoxy as well as the struggles of black Jews in America. Crossing genres from documentary to international features, Jewish shorts and throwback classics, all will have their place at the festival.
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Screenings will take place across the Philadelphia area. Most films will premiere at the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History, but several theaters around the Main Line like Kaiserman JCC in Wynewood, The Bryn Mawr Film Institute and the Ambler Theater will have screenings, too.
The Rugrats Movie: 25th Anniversary Screening at Kaiserman JCC on November 12 might seem an odd choice at first glance, but this revered children’s classic has a secret. Released in 1998, it was one of the first—if only—pieces of mainstream animated children’s media to represent Jewish characters, according to Philadelphia Jewish Film and Media, featuring episodes dedicated to the history of Passover and Hanukkah.
Remembering Gene Wilder, a documentary on the prolific Jewish actor featured in classics like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Young Frankenstein, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and more, will play at Bryn Mawr Film Institute at 7 p.m. on November 14. Director Ron Frank conducted intimate interviews with Mel Brooks, Carol Kane and other close friends of the late actor to bring the story of Wilder’s fascinating career to life.
Philadelphia Jewish Film and Media Fest will also be taking Rabbi on the Block to the Main Line area this fall at the Ambler Theater on November 16. It will be the second of two Philadelphia-area premieres for this documentary focused on black rabbinical student Tamar Manasseh, set in the South Side of Chicago. The founder of Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings, Manasseh’s experiences with racism and misogyny help shape her journey toward becoming an ordained rabbi.
For showtimes of Philadelphia Jewish Film and Media city-based shows, the calendar is available here.
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