Category Archives: Esther Arbeid

Hungry Hearts A Cinematic Gem

In the wake of the excitement from the multi-Oscar winning 2011 highly popular film, The Artist,The Toronto Jewish Film Society offers Hungry Hearts: a silent film restored in 2006 by the trio of The National Centre of Jewish Film at Brandeis UniversityThe Samuel Goldwyn Company and the British Film Institute.

Originally released in 1922, Hungry Hearts is a Hollywood adaptation of short stories by the same name written by the Jewish, Polish-American novelist Anzia Yezierska, who also wrote the screenplay. Yezierska was often called the “Sweatshop Cinderella”. Her semi-autobiographicalstories provide insight into the cost of acculturation and assimilation among Jewish immigrants, particularly Jewish women immigrants.

Hungry Hearts was made on location on the Lower East Side of New York City, it was directed by E. Mason Hopper, produced by Samuel Goldwyn and it starred Bryant WashburnHelen Ferguson and E. Alyn Warren.

The movie is a gem. It conveys the raw power of the struggle for survival by recently arrived immigrants. This bittersweet classic captures the hopes and hardships of Jewish immigrants in the urban New World in the second decade of the twentieth century.  It’s an archival treasure that features amazing on-location footage of life in the 1920s Lower East Side. This is part of the reason why the TJFS chose this movie – for the backdrop of the real city shots in the real city.

We tend to view these old Yiddish films as antiques, museum pieces, relics of a past time. So why should they interest us today? Today, every scrap of footage has to be treated like a precious artifact because they’re the only moving pictures that remain of a once vibrant, engaging and popular culture that was Jewish immigrant life in North America.

Silent films usually had live musical accompaniment. On Sunday April 29, be will be veryfortunate to have Jordan Klapman there in person to accompany the film on the baby grand piano in the Al Green Theatre. Jordan is a multi-talented pianist, accompanist, bandleader, arranger, a lecturer on popular music, and an album producer with more than thirty years’ experience in the field. This is the first time we’ve presented a silent film with live music.  Lets hope this trend sticks around, as there are so many wonderful silent movies just waiting to be rediscovered.

Shirley Kumove, Author and Co-Chair of the Toronto Jewish Film Society

Hungry Hearts will be presented by the Toronto Jewish Film Society at the Al Green Theatre on Sunday April 29 at 4:00 pm and 7:30 pm.

Tickets: $15 at the door (no advance tickets, sorry!)

$10 for ages 18 – 35 (7:30 pm show only)

Info: (416) 924-6211 x 606



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Yiddish Film Appreciation – on Purim?

On Sunday, March 20, the Toronto Jewish Film Society screened a classic Yiddish language film from the late 1930s, Green Fields.  As the program manager of this film subscription series, I made an error. I booked this film to screen in our Al Green Theatre on Purim proper: March 20. I can list the many excuses as to how this error occurred, looking back, and our policy about programming on non-High Holy Day events. But the point is, yeah, I did make a mistake. A pretty un-cool mistake for a Jewish organization.

I received a few phone calls from our Orthodox community regarding this scheduling error and apologized to each and every person, accepting full responsibility for my oversight.

Despite these phone calls, our first screening of the night (we offer two screenings of our films per evening), was packed.  It was exciting to see so many TJFS members and new faces! The vibe in there was festive and warm – we were nearly full to capacity, the energy in the theatre was fantastic and everyone was ready to hear some Yiddish.

One patron approached me and was very irritated that she had to miss her grandchildren’s Purim celebration to come to the screening. I thanked her for her feedback, and thanked her again for coming… for choosing us over a family celebration. I was a little taken aback about it, and naturally upset that I had offended some of our members.

Before we screened the film, and introduced the Chair, film critic and instructor Shlomo Schwartzberg (who introduced our featured speaker, actor Jack Newman), I got up and announced to our patient audience that I had made an error, and that it wouldn’t happen again – this is not entirely true (yikes!), as our next screening, Crossing Delancey, is on Sunday, May 1… Yom Hashoah. But the UJA community-wide commemoration is at 2:00 p.m., which gives our patrons time to attend the later screening at 7:30 p.m. if they wish. The week before May 1 is Passover and the week after is the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. I’m remembering now, May 1 was the only date I could pick for our eight-part, year-round series.

After the screening of Green Fields, I received a couple more e-mails about programming on Purim. I believe that these e mails speak to each other. Here are excerpts from both:

Email #1:

“Dear Esther,

I am really upset that I had to miss Green Fields this last Sunday. How could you schedule a film on Purim when so many families are gathering to celebrate together? Please keep ALL Jewish holidays in mind when you schedule for next year.”

Email #2:

“Dear Esther,

I was thinking about the comment about showing the film on Purim — if not this film, what film?!

How appropriate to show a Yiddish (the dying language) film on Purim to celebrate Jewish continuity and sustainability in the face of so much past destruction — could there have been a more appropriate film on a more appropriate day at a community centre that honours the Jewish presence in this city!

Doesn’t the strong representation of the audience speak for itself? — We all knew many people in that audience and it was a well informed and intelligent group, as diverse as the Jewish community — and this film event speaks to the diversity of that community and the opportunity to celebrate the spirit of Purim in many different but appropriate and respectful ways.”

Back to Email sender #1 – who received this excerpt from Email sender #2 and replied to me today,

“Dear Esther,

Thanks for your reply and for the attached email.

I can understand why the film was appropriate for Purim. But family obligations for Purim prevented me from attending — since the Purim sedudah (feast) is most often in mid- to late afternoon, and therefore makes it impossible to attend either showing. I was just so sorry to have to miss it. The first (and only time) I saw this classic was in about 1946 when I was a university student at U of T, and I was wondering how it would strike me 65 years later!”

I think my next step is to offer to send this patron a DVD of Green Fields, that I secured through the Toronto Public Library on-line booking system. I needed it for a back-up DVD and luckily did not use it. On Sunday we screened the beautifully restored 35mm print that is distributed by The National Centre for Jewish Film.

So, what have I learned from this? It’s just so true, all the training we have about conversations in our JCC and how VITAL they are. It thrills me to no end that everyone has a voice here, and I welcome them all. It’s all about discussion, the blab, the scoop, the dish – good and bad. I enjoy it all. We learn from our mistakes.

Happy Purim Everyone!

Esther out.

Esther Arbeid is the Film and Theatre Program Manager at the MNjcc.  She also creates and blasts the Culture @ the J bi-weekly e-newsletters.  Esther is mom to Bella and Charlie, wife to (acclaimed children’s author) Andrew Larsen.  She also acts in theatre projects – upcoming:  performing in The Angel Capone at  Holy Blossom’s Stage Craft Theatre Company – come see it, it will be amusing.


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