LGBTQ film series highlights diversity within Jewish life

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Justin Fair
Justin Fair (The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore)

Beth Am Synagogue is partnering with the JCC of Greater Baltimore to bring its Jewish LGBT Film Series to the community.

Scheduled to run from December to March, the online series will feature “I Was Not Born A Mistake” on Dec. 27; “Aimée & Jaguar” on Jan. 17; “Kissing Jessica Stein” on Feb. 21 and “The Sign for Love” on March 14.


“The idea with the film series was that we wanted to create an intimate, affirming setting for international Jewish film,” said Justin Fair, a lay leader at Beth Am and the film series’ organizer. Fair added that the series’ organizers wanted a setting “where we could foster discussion within the community at large and give folks an opportunity to see the diversity of characters within the Jewish tradition.”

Still image from “I Was Not Born A Mistake”
Still image from “I Was Not Born A Mistake” (Rachel Rusinek and Eyal Ben Moshe)

“It’s an exciting partnership with the JCC that started with a grant proposal from JPride,” said Jamie Aaron, a Beth Am program coordinator. “It really reflects our long history of series and events and dialogue that offers this understanding … of our Jewish engagement.”

Fair explained that the idea for the film series came to him after attending a JPride event at the Jewish Museum of Maryland featuring a transgender comedian, where he learned of JPride’s Neely Tal Snyder grant. Approaching Aaron and Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg, Fair’s idea for a film series was quickly embraced, leading him to send in an application for the grant.

Fair joined several other community members to form a six-person committee that met online every few weeks to determine what films could and should be part of the series, he said. Among the committee’s concerns were the questions of if a film was part of the public domain and, if not, could the committee get permission to show it.

Registration for the series can be done online, Fair said, adding that messages would be sent to registrants a few weeks before a film’s screening with details on how participants can pay to see it, if necessary. After the showing of each film, Fair explained, there will be either a director’s talk back or a community conversation.

Still image from “I Was Not Born A Mistake”
Still image from “I Was Not Born A Mistake” (Rachel Rusinek and Eyal Ben Moshe)

Aaron added that, when the grant application was originally being written in 2019, it was assumed that this film series would be held in person. They envisioned a group of perhaps 30 people coming together at Beth Am. While that could not happen, she expressed that the series’ digital nature has its advantages.

“The intimate setting is your sofa,” Aaron said, “and it feels more intimate but at the same time we can engage a wider audience as well.”

Fair stated that he was particularly looking forward to “The Sign for Love” in March. Fair described the film as being “about a gay Israeli man who is deaf,” and his “becoming a father and understanding what that means, and trying to balance out his family’s expectations of him with what he himself wants.”

Fair added that the films “Aimee & Jaguar” and “Kissing Jessica Stein” both focused on female characters, with the former focusing on a pair of lesbians in World War II-era Germany, while the latter film entails a comedy featuring a bisexual character.

“Identifying as LGBT requires courage and patience,” Fair said. “For many
folks in our community and in our families, they mistakenly think that being LGBT is a choice. It is not a choice, but to live is a choice.

“Recognizing that we are choosing to live and to be honest,” Fair continued, “that is of utmost importance. And our religion encourages that.”

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