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Twenty-one years ago, the Seattle Jewish Film Festival began as a program of the American Jewish Committee as a way to illustrate its mission and concerns. Founding chair Deborah Rosen has been involved since the beginning, bringing her passion, vision, and determination to an event that started with a handful of films in the tiny Grand Illusion Cinema and now sells 7,500 tickets annually for 30 to 35 movies over nine days.

Her vision and her work — she’s done everything from taking tickets to fundraising — will be publicly acknowledged when she receives the festival’s first REAL Difference award at the opening of the festival on Sunday, April 3. An educator who cofounded and operated Basic Education Tutors for 27 years, Rosen is pleased to be honored alongside Aviva Kempner.

The festival creates “a powerful way to bring Jewish communities together,” across the spectrum of affiliation, Rosen says, to “enjoy, learn, and be inspired.” She credits many festival chairs, donors, and community partners with building the festival to what it is today, particularly founding director Nancy Vineberg, who helped make it “something really big.”

In 2009, the festival moved to the Stroum Jewish Community Center, another organization Rosen cares about deeply. (Her husband, Doug, is a past president.)

“She is a combination of being the smartest woman I know and the greatest networker I know,” Pamela Lavitt, SJCC cultural arts and SJFF director, says of Rosen. She has “the grace and gravitas to inspire people.”

L’chaim!

The 2016 Seattle Jewish Film Festival, which runs April 2–10, celebrates its 21st year with the theme “Drinking Up the Culture.” Raise your glass to these five hot films!

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1. DOUGH

Comedy/Drama (UK)

An old Jewish baker in London’s East End hires a teenage Muslim refugee from Darfur, Sudan, to help salvage his failing business. After the boy accidentally drops his stash of marijuana into the dough, the challah flies off the shelves. Superb acting and wry humor leaven this moving story of unlikely friendship.

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2. IN SEARCH OF ISRAELI CUISINE

Documentary (USA)

It’s not just hummus and falafel anymore. This is a visual and cinematic feast showcasing one of the most dynamic and diverse food scenes in the world. The film says as much about sociology and the flowering of cultures as it does about gastronomy. Warning: don’t watch hungry.

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3. ORIENTED

Documentary (USA, UK)

A searching documentary about three gay Palestinian friends in Tel Aviv as they struggle with the complications of national and sexual identity during the 2014 Gaza war. One lives with his Jewish boyfriend; another faces coming out to his family; a third is an ardent Palestinian nationalist. A nuanced look at contemporary life in Israel.

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4. THE KIND WORDS (HAMILIM HATAVOT)

Drama (Israel, Canada)

In the wake of their mother’s death, three Jewish Israeli siblings discover that their biological father was a Muslim and set out on a journey across France to find him. A highly entertaining film with terrific performances and a smart script. Nominated for Best Film at the 2015 Ophir Awards (Israel’s Academy Awards).

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5. RABIN IN HIS OWN WORDS

Documentary (Israel)

The story of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, told entirely in his own voice. Through rare archival footage, home movies, and private letters, Rabin’s personal and professional dramas — from his pre-state childhood to the moment his life abruptly ended — are movingly revealed. Powerful and timely, released during the 20th-anniversary year of Rabin’s death. 

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