The Savannah Jewish Federation is hosting the Savannah Jewish Cultural Arts Festival throughout the month of March. There is something to see and do for everyone in the community.
For nearly 20 years, the festival was mostly a film festival, but now it has grown from a two-week film festival into a multifaceted cultural event.
“We took the opportunity post COVID to reinvision and reimagine what the festival looks like. We live in Savannah's artsy cultural town, and we wanted to still have films, but also include other Jewish culture,” said Jamie Richman, chief operating officer of the Savannah Jewish Federation and Jewish Educational Alliance.
The expansion now includes art, comedy, music and food. The festival kicked off on March 1 with a screening of the film “Four Winters” and an art reception that featured a wide range of artists from different backgrounds, the majority of whom were local Jewish artists.
“That is the theme of the JEA. We want the community to participate and be a part of the things we have going on here,” said Katie Griffith, arts and ideas coordinator.
Throughout the month, more comedies, dramas, documentaries, and shorts highlighting music, baseball, fashion, history, romance, social justice and the search for identity will be featured than ever before in past years.
“We still have a variety of film components throughout the course of the festival. ‘Four Winters’ opened the festival. Then we have ‘The Barn’ and so many others that are about history and culture,” said Richman.
Each week, two intriguing shorts will be shown, and a loaf of Israeli-style challah bread will be provided.
Every Thursday at 12:30 PM is the Food for Thought lunch series which will feature a “Film for Thought” theme and includes the documentary, “The Barn,” which takes viewers on a very personal journey with Karl Shapiro, a Holocaust survivor, and his teenage granddaughter, filmmaker and Holocaust remembrance storyteller Rachel Kastner-Tamler, as they travel to Poland to be reunited with the woman who saved his life over 70 years ago.
“Holocaust education is very important and core to what we do at the Savannah Jewish Federation. Come back next month in April and we will have many Holocaust remembrance events,” said Richman.
While focusing on some serious subjects, there will be many other moments that are fun and full of laughter.
“We want this festival to be a more well-rounded representation of the Jewish experience and Jewish culture. It means laughing together. Jewish comedy is a big thing, and I think it's important to create a community that laughs, eats, sings and has joy together,” said Richman.
On March 9 at 7 p.m., Front Porch Improv will host a performance by Baby Tosh. Paul, as the artist is also known, delivers piano and vocal performances blending classical and jazz. He specializes in Sinatra, 1970’s New York Jewish singer songwriters, and some light opera, as well as his own compositions, which can be found on iTunes and Spotify under artist “Baby Tosh.”
March speakers include Rabbi Gelman, who will discuss Jewish theater; Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace archivist, Alison Beckelhymer, who will share information about the Jewish roots of the Girl Scouts; and creative force, Zelda Refsman, who will explore the art of Jewish living with guests.
Community connections and partnerships were instrumental in bringing some aspects of the festival to the community at large. This is something the festival organizers are happy to see expand.
“I invited different community partners to come in to participate with us. I wanted a good representation of what we are here in this building at the Jewish Educational Alliance and all the programming that we have,” said Griffith.
Each Sunday, a community partnership event has been planned. The first Sunday was the JEA Camp Purim Carnival with Loop it Up. Upcoming events include PJ Library’s Picklin’ Picnic with the Savannah Tree Foundation on March 12, and the Easy Like Sunday Morning cycle ride with Bike Walk Savannah as well as the JEA Open House on March 19. Rounding out this lively month of Sundays is an exclusive Jewish Comedy Night at Front Porch Improv on March 26.
“We’re showing all these different aspects that are available right here for people. Arts, education, the environment, all those things that are so important to everyone, not just our Jewish community,” said Griffith.
Other happenings include the Jewish Authors Panel hosted by Jessica Leigh Lebos, the 10th annual JEA Preschool Art Bash, cooking classes, workshops, and more in partnership with multiple community organizations and businesses such as SCAD, E. Shaver Starland Bookshop, Foxy Loxy, Starland Yard and the Savannah Music Festival.
Visit Savannah Jewish Federation website savj.org/sjcaf for a full calendar of events.