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'Between Two Worlds': New Film Explores Jewish American Identity and the Fate of Israel

"Between Two Worlds" takes us on a journey of the increasingly contentious factions within the American-Jewish community.

Time is running out. Israelis know that. So do American Jews. If Israel refuses to cease building settlements in the West Bank, the newly unified Palestinian government will ask the UN General Assembly to ratify it as a new and sovereign state in September. Only Israel and the United States are expected to vote against the adoption of this resolution.

What then? Israel will no long be occupying "territories." It will be in violation of international law by occupying a sovereign state. As my late uncle would have said, "This can't be good for the Jews."

Such a vote is hardly the best way to create a two-state solution. Yet this just may happen, deepening world opinion against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and causing rippling consequences that may endanger the very existence of Israel as a sovereign nation.

Jewish voices from the left have been trying to prevent this for decades. Tikkun Magazine just celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. J Street, a relatively new Jewish-American organization that seeks a fair and just negotiated peace agreement, attracted over 2,000 participants in early March to its second national conference in Washington D.C.

Shortly after, in April, I spoke at a conference at New York University about women's liberation and Jewish identity. Many of the panelists revealed how early and contemporary feminists were deeply critical of Israel policies and how much they desired Israel to live up to the very ideals that propelled them into the civil rights, anti-war, and women's movements.

Yet silently standing in the middle of that auditorium was the perennial 900-pound elephant--in this instance, Israel. Some women saw any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic; others viewed such dissent as a continuation of their long-held values. That the conference didn't explode into warring factions was testimony, I think, to our maturity and age. Been there; no one wanted to do that again.

Since time truly is running out, Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman's new film, Between Two Worlds, couldn't be more timely. They are well-known and highly respected for their investigative documentaries, among them Thirst, an exposé of the privatization of water. They have earned a stellar reputation for making documentaries that speak powerfully to audiences who didn't know they cared about an issue before the film was screened.

Between Two Worlds takes us on a journey of the increasingly contentious factions within the American-Jewish community. For each person who passionately wants the Israeli occupation to end, they present someone who remembers the terrorist acts they have suffered at the hands of Palestinians.

The film opens with the Jewish Film Festival, founded by Deborah Kaufman in 1981, and an annual cinematic treat for people living in the Bay Area. In recent years, the festival has drawn 35,000 people to its many Israeli, American, and foreign films that deal with Jewish themes. In 2009, however, the festival screened the film Rachel, about the young Rachel Corrie who was killed by a bulldozer as she protested the destruction of Palestinian homes. The festival was no longer a community; it was now at war with itself. The audience became contentious. Outside, people picketed the festival without having seen the film. Dissent about Israel was now, according to them, prohibited.

It was hardly the first time that the festival had screened a film critical of the Israeli occupation. But this time the American-Jewish community was deeply divided. The festival director was subjected to what he called "Internet rage"; Jews spoke bitterly about "us" and "them," both groups Jewish Americans. The chilling effect was palpable, not only at the festival but across the country.

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