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:
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.”
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,
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 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.