The J’s Social Justice Series is a conversation starter

Explore a plethora of thought-provoking films

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In A Common Goal, viewers meet three Arab players on Israel’s national soccer team. (Photo courtesy of A Common Goal.)

Two women, a Jew and a Muslim, join forces to stem the tide of hate crimes. Muslim members of the Israeli National soccer team face racism from soccer fans and the media during an important tournament. A young woman and a lawyer wage a courageous battle against the California Department of Corrections when they discover a pattern of illegal sterilizations and other injustices perpetrated primarily against women of color.

These are the compelling subjects of three of the eight films that will be featured in JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival's Social Justice Series, which will run over two weekends in January. All films will available online; some will have live discussions following the streaming window of 12:01 a.m. Fridays-11:59 p.m. Sundays.


The Social Justice Series is an integral part of JCC Chicago's year-round film program that includes its annual Jewish Film Festival in March. As the largest Jewish Community Center in North America, non-denominational and welcoming to all, the philosophy of inclusion serves as a compass for JCC Chicago--and their festival has featured dozens of films that address issues of race, religion, orientation, disabilities, differences, and mental health. "We're always looking to start conversations," said Hillary Wenk, Manager of Community Engagement, and Ilene Uhlmann, Director of Community Engagement. "Sometimes, the conversations are difficult, but how do we make the world a better place if we don't talk?"

The Social Justice Series kicks off Jan. 14-16. Among the confirmed films include Stranger/Sister , which was produced in Chicago. The story follows the Muslim and Jewish women from Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom chapters across the nation as the bonds forged in their united initiatives against white supremacy are put to the test when violence escalates in the Middle East. Accompanying this documentary will be the short subject, Growing Peace in the Middle East , which follows a New York seventh-grader's year spent documenting an Arab-Jewish hydroponics project at Sindyanna of Galilee in Israel.

Also available for streaming that weekend is the award-winning documentary Once Upon a Boy about an Israeli couple with three children, one of whom has cerebral palsy. Their differing outlooks--the wife is more positive, the husband more anxious--strain the faith, dedication, and love they have for each other as they come to St. Louis for a complex surgery to halt the spread of their son's disease.


Streaming the following weekend is A Common Goal , in which three starting players on the Israel national soccer team, each an Arab, reflect on the challenges of playing for Israel as the team prepares for the Euro 2020 Qualifying Tournament. Family In Transition , from the same director as Once Upon a Boy , is an award-winning Israeli documentary about a family dynamic thrown off balance after a father of four informs his wife that he wants to transition to becoming a woman.

Directed by Peabody and Emmy Award-winner Erika Cohn, Belly of the Beast chronicles the seven-year battle against the California Department of Corrections waged by human rights lawyer Cynthia Chandler and Kelli Dillon, who was involuntarily sterilized at the age of 24 while incarcerated at the Central California Women's Facility.


"Film is a powerful tool to inspire change, and a wonderful way to reach more people," Uhlmann said. "We look for films to share in the festival that we hope will inspire audiences to learn more [about a subject] and move them in a way that will encourage them to make a difference in their communities."

Each film is $15. Special festival pricing is available for a limited time. For a complete series line-up, visit jccfilmfest.org or contact the festival office at cjff@jccchicago.org.

Donald Liebenson is a Chicago writer who writes forVanityFair.com, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, and other outlets. 


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