Top Flicks for Jewish Chicks

topflicksforchicks

A guide to the best films being aired on TJC for and about Jewish women.

by Margi Rauchut

From polygamy in Israel to Norwegian women being used to produce Nazi offspring during World War II, a number of films about women’s issues are airing on The Jewish Channel (TJC). We asked TJC staff writer Margi Rauchut to list and describe some of the best films for and about Jewish women. Below is the list she sent, which includes astonishing stories of heartbreak, courage, and inspiration.

Queen of the Mountain

There are Jewish women who deserve more attention than they’ve been given. Queen of the Mountain tells the story of a middle-class Jewish mother from Brooklyn who defied society’s expectations of women and overcame her own handicap to pursue her dream and pave the way for future female archaeologists. Described by friends as having “bull dog tenacity,” Theresa Goell, the movie’s focus, made one of the biggest archaeological discoveries of the century by digging beneath the Sanctuary of Nemrud Dagh in 1947. But, for a woman, success can be complicated; no one can have everything. The film touches on the fact that those who worked for Goell called her “mother,” but her relationship with her son was estranged.

Thunder in Guyana

Though she was a Jewish woman elected president of a South American country, Janet Rosenberg Jagan, the subject of Thunder in Guyana, is surprisingly overlooked. Jagan’s inspiring story proves that a determined woman can carve out any kind of life she wants for herself. Despite her typical upbringing in a Jewish, suburban, Chicago neighborhood, the beautiful and adventurous girl went on to live a very atypical life that eventually won her the presidency in Guyana and the overwhelming admiration of the Guyanese people. After spending more than 50 years working to improve the lives of the nation’s poor laboring class, Jagan’s supporters (and Jagan herself) came to see her not as an American Jew, but as a full-blooded Guyanese. Thunder explores how Jagan’s own experiences of anti-Semitism allowed her to sympathize with the oppressed Guyanese and touches on the sexism she faced as a female in the limelight.

Cover Up: Norway’s Nazi Secret

A far less admirable story is found in Cover Up: Norway’s Nazi Secret, a documentary that exposes what happened to the women and children of Hitler’s eugenics movement after the war was over. Shocking testimonies tell how naive, impressionable young women fell prey to the Nazi plan, called “Lebensborn,” or “fountain of youth,” in which Nazi officers romanced local women while stationed abroad, in order to father children and further grow the Nazi gene pool. These women suffered egregious abuse from their own government and townspeople. At one point, a survivor says that she and other Norwegian girls were seduced by Nazi men because they had attractive uniforms and threw good parties. But once the war was over, these new mothers were raped and tortured by their neighbors for sleeping with the enemy, as the government stood idly by. Now, decades later, the women and their children are speaking out about what they suffered and demanding compensation in a lawsuit against the government.

Women for Sale

Israel’s sex trade is covered thoroughly in Women for Sale. The shocking documentary investigates why women are drawn to the sex trade, intimately profiling Russian women who’ve moved to Israel to work in brothels or on the beach. The women were born into poverty and insist that they’ve become prostitutes because it pays better than any other job they’d be qualified for. But it quickly becomes evident that they’re not making that much money; rather, it’s something else that’s keeping them in the job.

Sister Wife

Also set in Israel, Sister Wife takes a look at the Hebrew-Israelite community made up of African Americans who left their ghetto neighborhoods in the 1960s to live in the Promised Land according to the Law of the Torah, which they believe encourages polygamy. The unsettling documentary presents the argument for polygamy and attempts to explain why women have submitted to the practice. Sister Wife follows a couple, who, after 21 years of marriage, decide to take on another wife. The first wife is initially excited and happy that her husband is getting something he very much wants. But when the wedding day finally arrives and reality sets in, the look on her face says it all as she sits in the crowd and watches as her friends and family congratulate her husband as he caresses another woman, who, at 21, is barely as old as their marriage.

You Don’t Say

Is it better for a woman to pursue her dreams by abandoning her roots or to accept and conform to the unpleasant realities of the life that surrounds her? The feature film You Don’t Say takes a realistic look at middle-class life in contemporary Israel. The movie’s protagonist, Tami, can’t fake a smile as she suffers criticism from her husband and friends for “letting herself go.” Unlike the other women in her life, she’s no longer interested in dieting, gossiping, and remembering to dye her hair. But she’s not happy, either. Realizing that it’s the seemingly insignificant moments that shape a life, the drama unravels naturally as the moralistic protagonist moves from lunch with a friend to a backyard barbeque to the long, silent ride home, where everything comes to a head.
Timbrels and Torahs

A much more optimistic look at women’s lives, Timbrels and Torahs is a documentary film about a new ritual for Jewish women celebrating their sixtieth birthdays. One group of feminist friends decided that their religion was missing a ceremony for aging women. So, in their battle against sexism and ageism, they decided to take the matter into their own hands and created the “Simchat Hochma,” or “Celebration of Wisdom.” Instead of slowing down and silently slipping into old age, they have embraced the last chapters of their lives with vitality and have acknowledged the wisdom that has come from their years of experience. The highly personalized ceremony gives them an opportunity to reflect and celebrate their pasts, presents, and newly considered futures.

About the Author

Margi Rauchut
Margi Rauchut is a staff writer for The Jewish Channel and www.TJCtv.com. She has also written for L Magazine and Sound Fix.

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