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14th Annual Virginia Peninsula Jewish Film Festival Opening Weekend, November 22 & 23

This year’s Jewish Film Festival’s opening weekend presents two movies that deal with the universal concern of identity-specifically, Jewish identity-which is rooted in common ancestry, history, and religion.

Both films feature people struggling with inner conflicts while striving to develop a sense of self  in the outer world. The Jewish Cardinal depicts a man asserting an acquired identity while retaining  the one he was born to; We Are Here follows some women and men who are trying to reconcile their past  with their present selves.

The Jewish Cardinal (France), screening at the Kimball on Saturday, 11/22/14

In 1940, at the bar mitzvah age of 13, Aaron Lustiger, the Paris-born son of Polish Jewish immigrants, chose to convert to Catholicism and was baptized Aaron Jean-Marie. He joined the priesthood, rose quickly to become Archbishop of Paris, and eventually was made a cardinal. Throughout his life, he maintained he was Jewish by birth and culture though he chose to practice Catholicism, saying he thus remained faithful to both.  Trying to balance faith, family, and heritage, his identity as a Jewish Catholic earned him friends and enemies among both groups.

Lustiger’s duality came sharply into focus in the 1980s, when nuns decided to construct a convent in  Auschwitz, where his mother perished.  A champion of interfaith dialogue, he became the mediator between the two authorities and communities. The Jewish Cardinal explores the complexity and intricacy of identity that Lustiger faced throughout his life and career.

We Are Here (Canada/Poland), screening at the Kimball on Sunday, 11/23/14

This documentary about the devastating impact of war and communism on Poland’s people, communities, and families, examines the shaky rebirth of Polish Jewish life in the shadow of the Holocaust.  We Are Here is about Jews who have chosen to stay in Poland, and are reclaiming their rightful place in a country where their ancestors were once an integral part of Polish society.

The film tells the stories of five Jews ranging from their twenties through their nineties, who are striving to redirect their lives from a painful Jewish past toward an appreciation of their religious or cultural future. We Are Here is a moving, optimistic study of Jewish revival in Poland, where Jews and non-Jews co-existed for 1,000 years.