When Boston Jewish Film (BJF) held a screening of a documentary about the 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh for a middle school audience in Framingham last November, BJF executive director Susan Adler noted how quiet it was in the auditorium.
“You could hear a pin drop,” Adler said, noting that middle schoolers are usually more restive in an auditorium. “They were riveted.”
BJF screened the film—“Repairing the World Selected Scenes,” a shortened version of a 2020 documentary, “Repairing the World: Stories from The Tree of Life,” by director Patrice O’Neill—as part of a program for young audiences called the School Initiative to Combat Antisemitism (SITCA). Through SITCA, BJF screens films for students, often with an accompanying presentation by a speaker.
In the second week of November, Adler participated in the screening in Framingham for an audience of around 600 students from three middle schools—Cameron, Fuller and Walsh.
“To hear the kids ask, ‘Why was there a Holocaust? Do you think it will happen again?’ was so impactful,” Adler said. “The administrators were very pleased. We’ve been asked back in the spring for the high school.”
After watching the 27-minute film, students received a QR code survey with three questions. The first question asked about students’ knowledge of Jewish culture and antisemitism before seeing the film, while the second question asked about what students learned from the screening and how antisemitism impacted them. The third question asked about the future impact of lessons from the film.
“I learned that antisemitism is a much bigger problem than I thought, and it impacts me because Jewish people are my friends and I want them to be able to live in peace,” one student wrote in response.
Another student wrote, “I learned about the shooting that happened in [Pittsburgh] and it was heartbreaking to watch all the Jews being treated differently and badly.”
Jewish students were among those who responded to the survey. One wrote: “I learned how antisemitism still has a huge impact on Jews [every day]. It affects me because I’m a [Jew] and I sometimes have to face it.” A fellow student noted, “I am a Jew so I was very hurt watching the video and seeing the [antisemitic] quotes and images.”
If the content was hard to watch at times, there were also positive scenes of interfaith outreach and support during a trying time, including through the perspective of a Jewish student in Pittsburgh.
“That student, and other students in the community, say, ‘We didn’t think anyone would go to the community rally,’” Adler said. “It mushroomed into so much community support. The Muslim community reached out to the Jewish community. It channeled up to the politicians. Everyone in Pittsburgh was saying they were not going to sit back.”
It can be challenging to screen films about sensitive topics such as the Tree of Life shooting or the Holocaust for younger audiences. The films offered by SITCA tend to incorporate a young person’s perspective. For example, the World War II film “The Crossing”—screened at the Boston Jewish Film Festival in 2020—illustrates the impact of the Holocaust in Norway through Jewish child refugees fleeing the Nazis there.
“It was so compelling,” Adler said. “It showed young kids. High schoolers and middle schoolers can relate.”
“We want to be there in the community,” Adler said, “doing what we do best—convening and using film as a medium for learning and conversation.”
It sounds like the screenings are having an impact. As one Framingham student responded in the film screening survey, “I’ll be more aware and open to learning more about these actions as well as bring it up because we don’t have enough safe places to talk about this.”
Enough is enough: We’re standing up to Jew hate. Together with our community and our partners, we’ve built a plan to combat antisemitism in all its forms.