Edlavitch DCJCC Responds With Artistic Programs to the Israel-Hamas War

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A performance of Nefesh Mountain at the Edlavitch DCJCC. Photo credit: Aryeh Schwartz Photography

From the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the empty Shabbat table for 200 set on the museum’s plaza (and replicated around the world) to Israeli singer Eyal Golan’s anthemic popular reworking of “Am Yisrael Chai,” to Israeli hip hop star Subliminal’s rap with Hatzel, “Zeh Aleinu” (“It’s On Us”), to Israeli-Ukrainian artist Zoya Cherkassky’s “Guernica”-inspired canvas “Art of War,” the people of Israel have been processing their grief and trauma in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre with and through art.

Since shortly after Oct. 7, the Edlavitch DCJCC in Washington, D.C., has also focused on programming music, film, photography and other arts that both respond to the aftereffects of the attack and current war, and facilitate communal gathering in the hopes of promoting healing.

“We have focused on our strength and what we do best, which is using the arts as a medium for inviting people to bear witness and to heal,” said Yael Luttwak, the artistic director of JxJ, EDCJCC’s film and music festival. “The arts have always been about storytelling … and we use the arts as the medium to do this.”

The ripped-from-the-headlines documentary “Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre” told the events of the largest music festival attack in history through video testimony of survivors and their family members, along with footage shot by festival attendees and perpetrators. Luttwak, a filmmaker herself, termed the hour-long film “exceptional,” noting, “When you have exceptional art, then people feel comfortable. It’s an opportunity to educate and to bear witness.”

Why Art Matters in Times of Crisis

EDCJCC Executive Director Jennifer Zwilling explained that “as a community center, we convene people and hold space. The other thing that Edlavitch DC-JCC is great at is arts. That said, we’re a community center. We convene people and hold space. And we had a lot of opportunities in recent months to use art as a means to both gather community, but also as a space to bear witness and to [promote] healing.”

Other artistic events responding to the situation in Israel include a photography exhibit on the first and second floors of the 16th and Q Street, NW, building titled “Humans of Israel: 7th of October.”

Created in the tradition of the popular website and book “Humans of New York” by Brandon Stanton, Israeli photojournalist Erez Kaganovitz collected photo portraits and stories from a wide swath of Israeli people in the aftermath of the massacre. Their portraits tell one story and a pamphlet for viewers to delve more deeply, if they choose, fleshes out that story with personal narratives.

Zwilling found herself particularly moved in October by an EDCJCC performance of Nefesh Mountain, a New York-based Jewish bluegrass band. “They performed songs of hope and healing, and it was this cathartic moment for people to be together in community. While Nefesh Mountain [singers] are not Israeli, this was what people needed: to be together. The music felt like it was a healing experience. The commentary of the musicians as they sang was very moving for people.”

Forthcoming, Luttwak, JxJ’s artistic director, noted will be additional artistic programming that reflects the ongoing crisis in Israel. The festival, which runs from May 9-19, booked the majority of films and artists prior to Oct. 7 and the ensuing war, yet select screenings and concerts reflect the current crisis in Israel.

One, the award-winning short film “Single Light” by Israeli filmmaker Shaylee Atary Winner, is a 29-minute drama about the aftermath of a young woman’s sexual assault in a Tel Aviv
parking lot.

As devastating as the film is, Winner’s personal story is more so. Winner’s husband, filmmaker Yahav Winner, was murdered on Oct. 7 at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, where the couple lived with their infant daughter. She reported that Yahav was shot in the head while attempting to block the door to their home. Shaylee and her newborn hid for 26 hours.

Prior to the May 9 festival opening night film “Seven Blessings,” Shaylee Atary Winner will receive the JxJ Emerging Filmmaker Award and her movie, “Single Light,” will screen.

“I had already programmed this film before Oct. 7,” Luttwak said, “because it was one of the strongest pieces of filmmaking I had viewed in the last year. Of course, now it has the additional power of Shaylee’s story. Shaylee will continue to have, I believe, a very important career. She and Yahav were working on a feature film together. She will continue that work.”

“The power of her personal story is undeniable,” Luttwak said. “It’s inescapable, but it’s the power of her art that is timeless.”

Lisa Traiger is Washington Jewish Week’s arts correspondent.

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