I had my first delightful taste of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival this afternoon, attending a screening of At Home in Utopia, (check out the trailer) a moving and intimate portrayal of when, in the 1920’s, Jewish communists pooled resources to build cooperatively owned apartment complexes in the Bronx. The film primarily focuses on the United Workers Cooperative Colony – lovingly referred to as “the Coops.”

I often lament how the Bay Area doesn’t really do it for me culturally as an east coast Jew, so these festivals are such a treat for me. They bring so many perspectives and ideas, and interesting conversations, especially with elders who share their stories and memories. I just love this time of year.

This movie is a must for progressive and lefty Jews. It’s an amazing amalgam of anecdotes and stories on immigration, communism, labor rights, housing, race wrapped up in this incredibly sweet and firey, passionate idealism, wrapping with politics in the best and hardest ways–from the tensions and shifts in the communist movement for Jewish communists, to the impact of the McCarthy era and more. For folks who’ve always wanted to learn more about secular Jewish life, this film is for you.

The director, Michal Goldman, also amazingly draws out how much value and honor the men showed to the Jewish women in their lives there, valuing their strength, and commenting on how wonderful it was to have such strong Jewish women in their lives (what an anomaly to hear these days, since thanks to the likes of Woody Allen and Philip Roth who’s virulent inability to deal with their masculinity being oh maybe different than WASPy guys, most of what we see in the movies around Jewish women is anything but this pride in placing “strong” next to “Jewish woman,” but rather on how they’re emasculated because Jewish women are “too” strong. Ugh. I just wanna slap ’em. Can you tell I have strong feelings about this one? ::smile::)

I was profoundly struck by this love, watching so many Jewish men praise how strong the Jewish women were in their lives, as leaders and organizers in the labor movement and more.

Some of my favorite moments in the film included anecdotes of one guy remembering how his mother spit in the face of an FBI agent who came to the Coop to interrogate her; and when a woman recalled how she was telling her teacher she wouldn’t be coming to school on May Day, and the teacher asked her, “Well, why don’t you take the Jewish holidays off?” and she looked at the teacher and said, “May Day is my Jewish holiday.”

A poignant lens on Jewish lives, the film also talked about how the Jewish communists at the Coops as being ahead of their time in actively fighting for racial justice and equality, and integrating housing. While I’ve heard many stories about what people call “Black-Jewish alliances or relations,” (which drives me nuts for a lot of reasons, including how it often erases Black Jews), this was a new bit of history for me.

The Jewish Women’s Archive has an interview with Goldman that I want to plug, taking a deeper look at “housing for singles “married to the movement,” the importance of good architecture, what Finnish socialists taught Jewish garment workers, and more…”

If you’re in the area, definitely check out the festival. Or check out a festival near you–there are definitely a handful of them around the country.