PALM SPRINGS — In late March, the Palm Springs Jewish Film Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary. The festival screened 16 narrative features, documentaries, and short films from the United States, Israel, Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Colombia. The wide range of representation shows that Jewish stories continue to resonate across the world. 

Thematically, many films united in their exploration of aging and intergenerational relationships, the preservation of Jewish traditions, and the lingering trauma of the Holocaust. Somber themes were balanced with dark humor, heartfelt moments, and fantasy sequences. Though I was raised a Conservative jew and am well educated in my culture’s history, I learned more than ever about the Beta Israel community of Ethiopian Jews (Exodus 91, 2022), Jews in the American frontier (Jews of the Wild West, 2022), and WWII refugees who sought safety in South America (My Neighbor Adolph, 2022). 

Many times, however, the films’ nuance suffered at the hands of blunt dialogue; the importance of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust was rarely spoken about obliquely, and the specter of the Nazis, living and dead, was often the source of conflict. But perhaps it is better to openly admonish this great evil than to bury it in subtlety. This way, the viewers, especially non-Jewish audiences, will never forget the horrors of the past.

Below are some highlights of the 10th annual Palm Springs Jewish Film Festival. Many of these films can be found on VOD and streaming platforms. Supporting these independent filmmakers as your mitzvah of the day.

Exodus 91: The untold story of Operation Solomon

Though Micah Smith’s feature about Ethiopian Jews is a documentary, it blurs the genre by combining archival footage with scripted dramatization. The story follows Israeli diplomat Asher Naim’s efforts to get the Beta Israel, an African community of 15,000 Jews who had been settled in Ethiopia for centuries, to Israel, obstinately for their protection during a civil war. Naim, a proud Zionist, finds that his government has put up more barriers than accommodations for the immigration process, forcing him to confront deep-seated racism in Israeli culture. Smith inserts footage from modern protests in Israel to show that discrimination against the Beta Israel is still a point of contention for the displaced community. Though Smith ultimately depicts Naim as a hero, he raises questions about what should define a home: ancestral land, or the physical place one has inhabited for generations.

Exodus 91: The untold story of Operation Solomon is not currently streaming. Learn more about the film here.

Jews of the Wild West

Amanda Marshall Kinsey explores Jewish prospectors, merchants, and ranchers in her feature length documentary. Though we don’t associate westward expansion with Jewish communities, Kinsey’s hometown of Denver was ultimately the nexus of Jewish life west of the Mississippi, and drove her curiosity about Jewish history in the region. Kinsey breaks up the film into short segments on notable Jewish pioneers, from Broncho Bill, the first cowboy film star, to Levi Strauss, the king of denim. Anti-Semitism, though present, was less intense on the frontier, which is what led so many Jews and other marginalized people to plant roots there. While I was hoping to learn more about places like the Jewish Pioneers Memorial in Tombstone’s famed boot hill graveyard, Kinsey elects to tell stories about individuals instead of broad trends.

Still from Amanda Marshall Kinsey, Jews of the Wild West (2022) (courtesy Electric Yolk Media)

Jews of the Wild West is currently touring, and also available Video on Demand.


Intergenerational relationships was a big theme throughout many of the films, and the comedy iMordecai leaned into the technological gulf between Boomers, their Millennial children, and the digital natives of Generation Z. Academy Award nominee Judd Hirsch plays the titular Mordecai, a holocaust survivor who gets his first iPhone. The device grants him new independence and through a digitally infinite catalog of Klezmer music, unlocks childhood memories. A frustrating subplot about a Zoomers’ secret Nazi SS grandfather causes irreconcilable issues in the script, but Hirsch’s performance is charming enough to power through the problems and deliver laughs. This is a film adult children should watch with their luddite parents.

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iMordecai arrives on Video on Demand on April 11.

My Neighbor Adolf

My favorite film of the festival was Leonid Prudovsky’s tale of a reclusive Holocaust survivor, now settled in South America, who suspects that his new neighbor may be Adolf Hitler. The absurd premise derives from a real conspiracy theory that claims Hitler survived the war and defected to Argentina. Prudovsky treats the dark comedy with surprising realism and sentimentality. Our protagonist Mr. Pulsky, portrayed excellently by Scottish actor David Hayman, convincingly gets us to believe in his paranoia. In his covert mission to reveal his neighbor’s true identity, the two neighbors become unlikely friends through games of chess, and an unexpected twist makes this relationship even more complicated. 

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My Neighbor Adolf’s release date is to be announced.

Simchas and Sorrows

Very few films in the festival were told from a young person’s point of view, but Simchas and Sorrows delivered this narrative by centering on millennial hipsters in Brooklyn who are balancing their interfaith relationship. Director and star Genevieve Adams, who based the film on her own experience converting to Judaism for marriage, channels the energy of series like HBO’s Girls as she accepts a wedding proposal in her underwear and consults a quirky, tattooed rabbi (played by Hari Nef) about the conversion process. Simchas and Sorrows could greatly benefit from tighter editing and a deeper exploration of its own theme. Only briefly does Adams bring up the dwindling numbers of endogamous marriages and practicing Jewish millennials. The film does, however, touch on a controversial sentiment some Jews have towards “token conversions,” when one member joins the tribe, but still insists on celebrating their original religion’s customs (Christmas, mostly). At the end of the day, Simchas and Sorrows is a typical rom-com, proving that even love is stronger than tradition.

Still from Genevieve Adams, Simchas and Sorrows (2022) (courtesy Term Paper Productions)

Simchas and Sorrows is streaming on all major Video on Demand platforms.

Renée Reizman lives in Los Angeles, where she is a research-based interdisciplinary artist and writer who examines cultural aesthetics and their relationship between urbanization, law, and technology....