About the Foundation

Based in Washington, D.C., the Ciesla Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public, tax-exempt educational organization. Ciesla (pronounced CHESH-lä) produces documentaries that investigate non-stereotypical images of Jews in history and celebrates the untold stories of Jewish heroes. Films include Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, which details the accomplishments of pioneer Gertrude Berg and her media empire, the Peabody award-winning The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, the story of a Jewish baseball slugger who faced anti-Semitism in the ’30s and ’40s, and Partisans of Vilna, a film about Jewish resistance against the Nazis. The foundation recently released Rosenwald, a documentary on Sears head and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, who joined with Southern African American communities during the Jim Crow years to build 5,000 schools and supported major African American artists and intellectuals.

Ciesla was founded in 1979 by filmmaker Aviva Kempner, who serves as the executive director. Ciesla's films have received numerous honors and awards including top honors from the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the CINE Golden Eagle Award.



Meet the Founder

Aviva Kempner has been making independent films since 1979. A child of a Holocaust survivor and a U.S. Army officer, Ms. Kempner was born in Berlin, Germany after World War II. Her family history inspired her to direct and produce several feature-length documentary films, including Partisans of Vilna, a documentary on Jewish resistance against the Nazis. Ms. Kempner has also consulted on a documentary on Shimon Peres, the former Israeli President. She wrote narration for Promises to Keep, the Academy Award-nominated documentary on the homeless, and has written film criticism for numerous publications, including The Boston GlobeThe ForwardWashington Jewish Week and The Washington Post

Ms. Kempner is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, D.C. Mayor’s Art Award, Women of Vision Award and Media Arts Award from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. She is also the founder of the Washington Jewish Film Festival in Washington, D.C., where she resides. She continues to lecture about cinema, write film criticism and is an activist for voting rights for the District of Columbia.


Photo taken by Bruce Guthrie (bguthriephotos.com)

Photo taken by Bruce Guthrie (bguthriephotos.com)

And now from Aviva Kempner comes Rosenwald, a feature-length historical documentary about how businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald joined with Southern African American communities during the Jim Crow years to build 5,000 schools during the early part of the 20th century. This historical partnership, as well as the modern-day attempts to restore the schools, is an inspiring story of philanthropy and local self-determination. This enlightened patron also constructed key buildings in Chicago and awarded fellowship grants to a who’s who of African American intellectuals and artists of his day so that they could pursue their scholarship and art. Because of his modesty, Rosenwald’s generosity and alliances are not well-known today. Ms. Kempner is now finishing a special Rosenwald DVD package that will feature over two hours of extras and an educational packet.

She is presently working on a documentary about baseball catcher Moe Berg, who also spied for the U.S. before and during World War II. He spoke several languages, but could not hit in any of them.