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 Gertrude Berg and her media empire, the Peabody award-winning The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg 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.

Through insightful and revealing storytelling, interviews with key figures and wide distribution, Ciesla’s films assure worthy individuals their rightful places in history.

Meet the Founder

Aviva Kempner has been making award-winning documentaries for more than 40 years with an emphasis on rediscovering and celebrating lesser-known Jewish heroes. These include The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998, named Best Documentary by the NY Film Critics Circle, National Society of Film Critics, National Board of Review, Peabody Award, etc.), about the baseball player who faced anti-Semitism during the 1930s.

She produced Partisans of Vilna (1986), one of the first films to depict Jewish resistance during World War II. Kempner later directed Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg (2009), about TV pioneer Gertrude Berg who created the first sitcom. Kempner’s documentary Rosenwald (2015) celebrated how philanthropist Julius Rosenwald partnered with Booker T. Washington to establish over 5000 schools for African-Americans in the Jim Crow South. In 2019, she directed The Spy Behind Home Plate about baseball player and OSS spy Moe Berg.

Kempner recently co-directed and co-produced Imagining the Indians, a documentary about the movement to remove Native American names, logos, and mascots from the world of sports. She is also the co-writer and producer of Casuse, about the young Native American activist who kidnapped the Mayor of Gallup, New Mexico to draw attention to the plight of the Navajo people and to expose the hypocrisy of the establishment.

She is presently making a documentary about the award winning Hollywood screenwriter, journalist and activist Ben Hecht, who exposed the horrors of the Holocaust to the American public and helped bring survivors to a permanent Jewish home in Palestine. Kempner is also making Pissed Off, a documentary short exploring the struggles faced by female lawmakers in Congress who advocated for “potty parity” in the United States Capitol.

Kempner is the creator of The Ciesla Foundation, an educational organization, https://cieslafoundation.org/ and she launched the SEW: Sports Equality for Womenwebsite, https://sewomen.org/  to amplify the stories and voices of women in sports.

Based in Washington, DC, she created the Washington Jewish Film Festival. She is a statehood advocate for Washington, D.C., and a board member of DC Vote. Her awards include: 1996 Guggenheim Fellowship; 2000 DC Mayor’s Art Award; 2001 Women of Vision award from D.C.’s Women in Film and Video chapter; 2001 Media Arts award from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture; 2009 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s Freedom of Expression Award; Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of the District of Columbia (2018) and the Creativity Award from Moment  Magazine (2020). She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.