Class is in session as two movie mensches launch “FilmShul”

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Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

Celebrating and honoring the massive contribution of Jews in Hollywood is at the heart of FilmShul, one of the more unique offerings for the Jewish community to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s is finding audiences across the country.

What is FilmShul?

FilmShul is a one-of-a-kind informative, entertaining virtual presentation offering a look at the history, role and impact Jews have played across all aspects of entertainment. But it is designed specifically for synagogue groups, Jewish Community Centers, libraries and other community organizations.

Each FilmShul presentation is curated and presented by noted film and pop culture historians Irv Slifkin and Laurence Lerman.

FilmShul is all about movies, movies and more movies. You know what movies we’re talking about–funny ones like “The Producers” and “Broadway Danny Rose;” romances like “Crossing Delancey” and “Goodbye, Columbus;” musicals like “Funny Girl,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Cabaret;” classic dramas like “The Pawnbroker,” “Crossfire” and “Gentleman’s Agreement.” And so many, many more, from 1927’s “The Jazz Singer” with Al Jolson to last year’s “An American Pickle” with Seth Rogen.

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FilmShul also focuses on the history and role of Jews in various entertainment genres, with which they have been involved since the earliest days. The Jewish people were trailblazers in all mediums–vaudeville, theater, radio, movies, television and video–and their stamp has remained indelible throughout the decades.

The role of FilmShul is to reflect on, and relate to, the American Jewish experience so audiences will not only be informed and entertained, but also recognize the valuable contributions made by entertainment innovators of the Jewish faith.

The FilmShul movie mensches

Laurence Lerman

The love of movies and popular culture is engrained in the friendship and professional partnership of Slifkin and Lerman. This pair of nice, middle-aged Jewish guys who write, review and talk about movies a whole helluva a lot, have been professional colleagues and friends for nearly 30 years. They’re a pair of “movie mensches.”

Over the last five years, both have done a lot of university teaching of on film and popular culture.

“During the pandemic, all of Irv’s lectures became interactive and were on Zoom, and I attended many of them,” said Lerman. “And that is when I came up with the idea of doing a more targeted look at the Jewish American experience in film and popular culture.”

Irv Slifkin

The two believed there was an audience out there looking for an informed, intelligent and prideful look at the Jewish contribution. Lerman had done some sessions for synagogues in person, but with the rise in Zoom technology, he and Slifkin decided to focus on Jews through Zoom. By the end of 2020, they began the conversation and launched in the March of 2021.

The courses

In creating their curriculum, the pair set out to focus on Jews in popular culture, not just in film. To do so included creating courses on the early days of Hollywood, a look at the career of Mel Brooks and Jews on television and in film, both on and off the screen.

“We’ve been basically having these discussions for more than 30 years, so creating the curriculum was sort of automatic,” said Lerman.

There are more than a dozen courses currently available, including

  • In the beginning– Looks at the birth of the American film industry primarily started by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe
  • Straight out of Brooklyn– Offers background on the borough and surveys the biggest Jewish names to emerge from there
  • Funny girls– Celebrates the indispensable Jewish women who have captured the screen with their attitudes, intelligence and proud Jewish wit.

Among the most requested are “Funny Girls,” and “Brooklyn.”

“The goal is to entertain and educate, but even I am still learning,” said Slifkin. “I know nothing about Brooklyn, so each time Laurence does this topic, I learn a lot.”

New courses are added frequently and often tie in with current entertainment events. A Spielberg lecture was created to coincide with the launch of “West Side Story.” “From the Catskills with Love” was inspired by the three-episode Catskills arc on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

FilmShul now

Developed during the lockdown and people’s desire to communicate in any way they could, FilmShul is finding that even though the world has more or less reopened, the audience for this content and on the Zoom platform has not waned.

“The fact we have been around 13-14 months, and have done presentations all over the country, and now that COVID is lightening up, people are still excited to be taking courses,” said Lerman.  “We think we’re here to stay.”

The Zoom presentations are done live complete with stills, film clips and the always ripe potential for Slifkin and Lerman to get into heated film squabbles in front of an online audience. Each session runs for approximately 1¼ hours. The first 60 minutes features Slifkin and Lerman offering an overview of the week’s theme, placing it into a historical and Hollywood context and then talking about the movies that best represent the topic.

How does FilmShul work on Zoom?

Any organization wishing to participate simply needs to schedule and host one or more FilmShul courses. After the Zoom session is scheduled, the host organization serves as the Zoom host and invites its members to attend (no more than 50 screens, please) and makes Slifkin and Lerman co-hosts. Attendees will receive a Zoom invitation, and then they sign on at the scheduled time and enjoy.