Beth Emeth Congregation’s West Valley Jewish Film Festival has been a staple not just for the synagogue, but for the Sun City community as well. According to Irene Leher, festival co-chairman, this annual event brings together many Jewish and non-Jewish area residents.
“We get a lot of visitors from our neighboring churches like Sun City West Christian Church and Advent Episcopal Church,” Leher said. “That means we’re not just thinking of our Jewish members, but for everyone who can make it, and we love having their support.”
Leher, who served as co-chairman for the past four years, said that the process for creating the three-night festival is yearlong.
“We do this at the end of every January and once the first of February comes, I start selecting films with my co-chairman, Harry Newman,” Leher said. “We sifted through hundreds and hundreds of movies this past year. It’s a hard process to pick the right movies, but the film festival is one of our most popular events.”
The West Valley Jewish Film Festival runs from Jan. 25-27 at Beth Emeth Congregation in Sun City West. This is the festival’s 15th year of operation.
Each night the congregation will show one Jewish movie that Leher thinks will bring the audience joy. Leher said that it’s difficult for many of the audience members to go out to some of the other events that are further east.
“We’re a senior community and a lot of us just can’t go out like we want to,” Leher said. “Many of us can’t really drive into Phoenix or Scottsdale, so this does give an opportunity to dress up and have a nice night out to enjoy a movie.”
The first film to be shown is “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles.” This documentary explores the creation of the famous Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” which has been an influential mainstay for more than 50 years.
Released in 2019 by Dog Green Productions, the documentary features interviews with some of the original creators of the musical, as well as other musical theater personas such as Lin-Manuel Miranda. The film works to show why the musical’s themes are so universal to so many different audiences.
The second movie — which will play on Sunday, Jan. 26 — is a romantic drama called “The Second Time Around.” The film follows Katherine and Isaac, two seniors who meet in a nursing home and develop a romantic relationship over a love for opera.
Leher said that the most exciting thing about the showing of the Sunday movie is that there will be a special treat that the audience can expect. For the first time in the festival’s history, patrons can enjoy a special kosher Italian buffet. Much of the movie features Italian opera and Milan, so Leher thought it would be a great inclusion for the audience.
“We’ll have refreshments and snacks every night, but this is the first time that we’ve done a full meal like this,” Leher said. “I think that it’s great that they not only get a movie to enjoy but also some great food.”
For the last film, the festival will play “93 Queen,” a documentary that follows the first all-female ambulance corps in New York City, Ezras Nashim. Specifically in the Chasidic enclave of Borough Park, Brooklyn, which is home to one of the largest volunteer ambulance services, Hatzalah, an Orthodox organization that banned women from its ranks.
The documentary shows the clash of patriarchal traditions and emerging feminism. It’s Leher’s favorite film of this year’s festival.
“It was so inspiring to see these women organize and do so much for their community and be so brave,” she said. “The tenacity of these women is just wonderful to see and I really think that it’s a movie that I’m really excited for everyone to see.”
Leher said that the festival is a great opportunity for people to experience the West Valley’s Jewish community.
“It’s a great, pleasant and intimate experience,” Leher said. “We’re here and we’re always trying to do a good job, so we want as many people as possible to come and participate for the festival.” JN
Tickets for the festival are on sale at $27 for all three movies and $10 for individual films in advance. Tickets are $12 at the door. Sunday’s kosher Italian buffet is an additional $18 and can only be purchased with a ticket for “The Second Time Around.” For more information, call 623-584-7210.