by Carolyn Jacobson
We welcome Aviva Kempner, a longtime DC resident, to Forest Hills. The documentary filmmaker arrived in June of 2011 from the hinterlands of Jenifer Street in Chevy Chase. She brings to our neighborhood an activist spirit and a talent for documentaries about Jewish heroes and trendsetters — famous and not. Her best-known works are “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” and “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg.”
Aviva is a huge supporter of living in the District, and bubbles with enthusiasm about finally arriving in Forest Hills. Her brother, sister-in-law and nieces once lived on Linnean. She has had her eyes on this street ever since. And Forest Hills is very reminiscent of the neighborhood where she grew up: Sherwood Forest, Detroit. “Similar feel, old houses, wide streets, lots of green, great areas for walking,” says Aviva.
A child of a Holocaust survivor and a US Army officer, Aviva was born in Berlin, Germany after World War II. She came to DC to go to law school, but ended up focusing instead on her creative talents to raise awareness of little-known Jewish heroes and social justice issues. In 1981, she founded The Ciesla Foundation to facilitate the production and distribution of films that educate the public on social issues of the past and present. Her first project was “Partisans of Vilna,” a documentary on Jewish resistance against the Nazis.
“I believe that I have been put on this earth to make films to counter negative stereotypes and give credit to Jewish heroes,” Aviva says.
Gertrude Berg, the star of “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg,” was a perfect actress to counter the stereotype of a Jewish mother being portrayed in a “horribly domineering way,” says Aviva, who wanted to show “this prominent, obviously Jewish, actress as a warm, caring mother” who also fought sexism and McCarthyism.
Her particular focus in her film on baseball legend Hank Greenberg was on anti-Semitism and portraying an “un-nebbishy” Jewish man. Aviva is reviving “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” in DVD format. She is adding two additional hours of interviews including more of the Levin brothers (Senator Carl and Congressman Sander), Walter Matthau, and a phone interview with Ted Williams.
Aviva says she has always wanted to create a film focused on another -ism: racism. Her latest film, “The Rosenwald Schools,” came out of hearing former NAACP chairman Julian Bond speak about these schools. A businessman and philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald joined with African-American communities in the South to build schools for them during the early part of the 20th century. The film will be completed and set for release once it reaches its fundraising goal.
[quote_right]”I believe that I have been put on this earth to make films to counter negative stereotypes and give credit to Jewish heroes”[/quote_right]Aviva has two other projects in the works: “Casuse,” the story of Larry Casuse, a young Native American activist and inspiration to his peers; and “Samuel Gompers: America’s First Labor Leader,” a documentary film that explores immigrant and labor history, and the leadership Samuel Gompers provided for the American Federation of Labor.
We hope that Forest Hills lives up to the dreams and aspirations of our new neighbor. For more information about Aviva’s projects and ways we can support her work, please visit The Ciesla Foundation’s site.