Who are your heroes? What are their stories?
A baseball player who inspired a people.
A female television star who pioneered a new media.
A band of fighters who defied a dictator. A philanthropist who built schools.
A Native American activist who became a hero to his people. A union leader who organized millions.
The Ciesla Foundation produces and distributes award-winning films about strong and important, but often unknown, Jewish heroes. Its mission is to educate and inform audiences about social and public interest issues of the past and present through storytelling and film making. Check out our films, below!
Pissed Off (Coming soon)
A documentary short film, titled Pissed Off, will explore the underpublicized struggles faced by female lawmakers in Congress who advocated for equal access to restroom facilities in their place of work, the United States Capitol.
The Spy Behind Home Plate (2019)
From the streets of Newark to five major league teams during baseball’s Golden Age to his secret life spying for the OSS during WWII, The Spy Behind Home Plate is Moe Berg’s improbable story told with rare historical footage and revealing interviews with family and an All-Star roster from the worlds of history, sports and spy craft.
Rosenwald is a documentary on the incredible story of how businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald joined with Booker T. Washington and African-American communities in the South to build over 5,500 schools for educating African-American youth during the early part of the 20th century. This historical partnership as well as the modern-day attempts to maintain or reconfigure the schools is a great dramatic story, yet too little known.
Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg! (2009)
Aviva Kempner’s Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg looks at the life and career of Gertrude Berg, the creator, writer and star of The Goldbergs, a popular 1930s radio show that was subsequently a weekly TV program. Berg pioneered the family-based sitcom format that has proven to be television’s most durable and popular genre. More remarkably, she did it by presenting America with an outwardly Jewish family that wore its immigrant heritage on its sleeve. The film also examines the stand Berg took against McCarthyism when she refused to fire her long-time co-star Philip Loeb – who resigned to prevent the cancellation of the show and later committed suicide.
Casuse (Work in progress)
In keeping with The Ciesla Foundation’s tradition of bringing to the forefront the stories of lesser known heroes, Casuse is the story of Larry Casuse, a young Native American activist and inspiration to his peers. Growing up in Gallup, New Mexico, he witnessed the rampant alcoholism, racism and poverty imposed upon his Navajo people. Attending the University of New Mexico, Casuse worked hard to organize his fellow students and fight to improve the lives of his tribe. Frustrated by his inability to affect change through the system and influenced by the tumultuous political climate of the early 70’s, Casuse kidnapped the Mayor of Gallup to publicly expose the hypocrisy of the establishment. He died in a shootout on March 1, 1973. He is considered a hero to his people.
For more information on Casuse please contact http://www.CasuseFilmProject.org.
Today I Vote for My Joey (2003)
Today I Vote for My Joey is a tragic comedy about the 2000 Presidential Elections in Palm Beach County. The twenty minute short depicts a group of older, feisty Jews and a Haitian nurse going to vote proudly for the first Jewish Vice-Presidential candidate, Senator Joe Lieberman. Their day is ruined when they find they mistakenly voted for their nemesis, Pat Buchanan. Also addressed are the issues of voting rights in our democracy, especially for those denied them in “the old country” and Haiti. Starring Lillian Adams, Eve Brenner, Larry Gelman, Rowena King, Eve Sigall and Roberta Wallach. Edited by Steve Kemper (Face Off and Windtalkers) and shot by David Waldman.
In the 1930s Jewish mothers would ask their sons: “What kind of day did Hank have?” Hank Greenberg, the Detroit Tigers slugger who came close to breaking Babe Ruth’s homerun record, was baseball’s first Jewish star. Tall (6’4″), handsome, and uncommonly good-natured, Greenberg was a secular Jew from the Bronx who became “the baseball Moses,” an icon for everyone from Walter Matthau (“I joined the Beverly Hills tennis club to eat lunch with him. I don’t even play tennis”) to Alan Dershowitz (“I thought he’d become the first Jewish president”). Aviva Kempner’s loving tribute is chock full of wonderful archival footage from the ’30s and ’40s and interviews with a self-effacing Greenberg and many of his Tiger teammates. Plus Mandy Patinkin’s rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” — in Yiddish!
Partisans of Vilna(1986)
Partisans of Vilna is a feature-length documentary film that explores Jewish resistance during World War II. It recounts the untold tale of the moral dilemmas facing Jewish youth who organized an underground resistance in the Vilna ghetto, and fought as partisans in the woods against the Nazis. The film features 40 interviews in Hebrew, Yiddish and English, with the former partisans in Israel, New York City, Montreal and Vilna, interspersed with rare archival footage from 1939-1944.
A Documentary Short on Achieving Potty Parity in Congress
Pissed Off, directed by Aviva Kempner, is a documentary short exploring the underpublicized struggles faced by female lawmakers in Congress who advocated for equal access to restroom facilities in their workplace, the United States Capitol. From its inception, Congress excluded women, both in participation and plumbing. The misogyny faced by women in government is a story that can be told through their fight to install a simple bathroom.
While the original 1793 building plans for the Capitol included men’s restrooms that were easily accessible to the House and Senate chambers, women’s restrooms never even graced a blueprint. For close to two centuries, female Representatives and Senators were exiled by exclusionary architecture. Women had to leave their respective chambers when “nature called.” They could choose between either using tourist restrooms close to the House and Senate chambers, or the private, but further-away, lounges for lawmakers’ wives. The lengthy walks – or sometimes jogs – to these remote locations subjected them to any combination of long lines, inundations by lobbyists, and the risk of missing an important debate, or even a major vote.
Headlines in 1977 reported the would-be historic plans to finally construct a women’s restroom, but the much-needed renovation never materialized. It wasn’t until 1992, “The Year of the Woman,” that saw more women win elections than ever before, that the Senate Majority leader finally requested the construction of a women’s restroom just off the Senate floor. Thanks to the efforts of Senators Barbara Mikulski, Nancy Landon Kassebaum, Carol Moseley Braun, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray, the bathroom opened for business in 1993. The restroom was expanded from two stalls to four stalls in 2013, when a record 20 women served in the Senate.
On the House side, the struggle for equal facilities began in 1962, when female Members of the House pressed for the establishment of a women’s-only lounge on the Capitol’s first floor. That year, H-235 was dedicated as a powder room and lounge for female members, and included the only women’s restroom on the premises. This sole women’s restroom was not accessible from the chamber, unlike the men’s restroom, located right outside of the House floor. Thanks to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representatives Donna Edwards, Rosa DeLauro and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the geographic bathroom parity became a reality in 2011 when a women’s restroom opened outside the House floor.
In 2019, with a rising number of women being elected to the House and Senate, the architecture in Congress will finally have to match reality. And these struggles go far beyond bathroom equality. For example, Senator Tammy Duckworth, a war veteran and a double-amputee who gave birth in office, motivated the Senate to change their rules so that she can bring her baby on the Senate floor. As a tribute to the ongoing fight for equality, Pissed Off will be released in August 2020, just in time for the 100-year anniversary of women winning the right to vote in America.
Aviva Kempner, Director
Marian Sears Hunter, Editor
Alison J. Richards and Connie Coopersmith, Associate Producers