The Road to Buenos Aires

by Editor on 17/02/2024
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LAID TO REST / DESCANSANDO

From the streets of Buenos Aires all the way to Punta del Este Jewish Film Festival with Ricardo Ceppi and Max Berliner in search of long lost buried stories.
🎬 #worldpremiere 📣 @festivalespde

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LTR: Listo para PDEJFF 2024

by Editor on 16/02/2024

Unveiling shadows of a bygone era, a photojournalist stumbles upon a mysterious reel of photos. Who is the enigmatic woman captured within its frames? As layers of secrecy unravel, suppressed tales of taboo emerge from Buenos Aires’ cobblestone streets, hinting at the city’s perilous past. Within La Boca’s historic port neighborhood, the struggles of women, notably within the Jewish community, come to light: Rosa, lured by love, embarked on a journey with her groom from Poland to Argentina in 1899; Perla, seeking job opportunities, ventured to Buenos Aires. As whispers of courage and resistance resound, distant memories resurface: actor Max Berliner recalls his childhood in the brothel-strewn Once neighborhood, while actress Shifra Lerer reminisces about her role in a forgotten Yiddish play about a Jewish prostitute that once stirred controversy in the Yiddish press and theaters. But who was Raquel, the fearless voice that dared to challenge the clandestine world of Jewish sex trafficking in 1930? With a raw, gritty camera style and an unscripted, reportage-like montage, the documentary “Laid to Rest” endeavors to give voice to women who dared to defy their fate, echoing the historic fight against exploitation within the Jewish community. Chronicled in salvaged women’s aid archives, buried headlines of Yiddish newspapers, and in the silent remains of the secluded old Jewish cemetery, these stories shed light on the enduring struggle against the historic sex trade, serving as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. As the echoes of the buried past reverberate in the present, the film resurrects a forgotten history that was never laid to rest, showcasing the power of a marginalized community in confronting ongoing universal concerns of global sex trafficking.

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¡Vamos Laid to Rest!

by Editor on 16/02/2024

Laid to Rest will be exhibited on Tuesday, February 20th at 7:15 pm (Uruguayan time) in the Official Documentary Competition and with free entrance / admission, as all the exhibitions and activities in this 21st Punta del Este Jewish Film Festival.

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Resting on my laurel

by Editor on 12/02/2024

¡Laid to Rest selected to the 21st PDEJFF!

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From Shadows to Spotlight

by Editor on 1/12/2023

Reclaiming buried stories, ‘Laid to Rest’ documentary triumphs over challenges to share jewish sex trade narratives. Coming Soon! Stay tuned!

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A Journey of Resilience

by Editor on 1/11/2023

‘Laid to Rest’ overcomes hurdles as it digs deep into the Buried Stories of the Jewish Sex Trade. Stay tuned!

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World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

by Editor on 30/07/2023
2023 theme: “Reach every victim of trafficking, leave no one behind” Photo:UNODC

July 30 marks the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, and was was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution A/RES/68/192. “Leave no one behind” is the central, transformative promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.

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When Menashe Skulnik came to Buenos Aires

by Editor on 16/09/2021

Yiddish archives expert Zachary Baker reads from Yiddish actor Menashe Skulnik’s memoir about his visit 1928 memorable visit to Buenos Aires.

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The Buried Story of Malka Abraham

by Editor on 19/11/2019

A former prostitute from Buenos Aires who moved to Tucuman and amassed her wealth as a money lender, Malka Abraham was murdered in 1957. Her last will to bequest her fortune to the Jewish community school and to be granted a proper burial in the Jewish cemetery, stirred up a heated controversy which divided the community.

In his interview, reading from his book The New Ethnic Studies in Latin America, Prof. Raanan Rein recaps her story for the Laid to Rest documentary project.

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Laid to Rest: Connecting Communities

by Editor on 19/11/2019

Last week I screened my film-in-progress “Laid to Rest” by invitation to a roomful of members and guests of B’nai Jeshurun synagogue in Manhattan’s Upper West. 

I couldn’t think of a better place to have the first public presentation of my latest work. The strong ties to Rabbi Marshall Meyer and to his legacy of social consciousness, are at the core of my film. Internationally recognized as a human rights activist, Rabbi Meyer worked in Argentina from 1958 to 1984 where he founded the Conservative Jewish movement at Templo Libertad. After two decades of civil rights and community work in Argentina during the “Dirty War”, Rabbi Meyer returned to the US to lead the B’nai Jeshurun community.

The first interview I filmed in Buenos Aires back in 2009 was with Argentine Rabbi Sergio Bergman of the Congregacion Israelita, also known as Templo Libertad and the first synagogue in Argentina founded in 1862. Rabbi Bergman stated the significance of Templo Libertad as the location where the decree to expel the clandestine organizations of Jewish sex traffickers was signed in 1901. 

The documentary film Laid to Rest uncovers a forgotten story of Jewish sex trafficking in Argentina between the 1880’s and the 1930’s. The unifying principle of this documentary is to give voice to the unknown and forgotten victims of sex trafficking and to highlight the various ways that a struggling small community of immigrants was able to utilize in its fight against a powerful trafficking organization. It draws parallels between the historical struggle of a Jewish immigrant community and today’s global sex trafficking problem. This film seeks to inform and educate on how a community fought back religiously and culturally, and prevailed. 

I first learned about the topic in 2003 during a visit to my husband’s family in Argentina. I was asked what I was working on. At that time, I was working on my film Past Forward on intergenerational transmission of Holocaust childhood memories, which I filmed in the US, Israel and the Ukraine. They asked, “why won’t you do something about here?” When I asked if there was anything interesting, they responded “las polacas”. Of course, then they had to explain that this was a derogatory term for “las prostitutas judías” which was simple enough to understand, even for non-Spanish speakers. 

In the pre-Google era, there wasn’t much information out there and almost nothing on the Internet. In 2009 I was awarded a Scholar-in-Residence grant from the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute to start pre-production research for a documentary film on the topic of the historic Jewish sex trade. Since, as a resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, I have completed the production of this film as part of my general interest` and work on themes of culture and identity, gender and community action. 

While making this movie I faced a few challenges from the get go:

How do I tell a story that nobody wants told and nobody wants to tell? 

How do I overcome the reluctance of the community to expose a shameful taboo?

How do I construct a cinematic story when no audiovisual evidence remained? 

Even today sex trade and trafficking are obscure, not easily tracked, documented, or reported in mass media.

Next came storytelling style and editorial choices:

This type of story lends itself better to fiction than to documentary, since fiction is used to fill gaps in historical documentation and visual representation. However, that didn’t stop me from uncovering original sources, including some restricted materials that are not available to the public until 2028, yet are included in my film.

Telling a story in an unscripted, non-narrated style was another editorial choice, as was the decision to avoid re-enactment or dramatized scenes. Considering that many of the locations were in areas that are ‘muy peligroso’ – dangerous, hand-held camera and raw guerilla style shoots were often the only way to obtain footage, and it fits the storyline.

So, a Rabbi, a photojournalist, a film director, a novelist, and a couple of historians and actors go into a tango bar… They are the film’s storytellers. They are not related or connected, they are from different times, places, and ages. 

They all share their personal accounts on how they coincidentally stumbled on the obscure stories of the historic Jewish sex trade, that still looms dark and heavy over the Jewish community in Argentina. Their recollections shaped the storyline and created a fast-paced vibrant mesh that speaks loudly about women that had no voice, and a tragic tale that was never laid to rest. 

The film was shot in four continents – in Argentina, USA, Israel and Europe and in four languages – Spanish, English, Hebrew, and Yiddish. The film trails the archival documentation of the historic sex trade in many archives around the world – among them the Central Archive for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem, IWO Buenos Aires, and YIVO NY, the League of Nations’ Archive in Geneva, Vienna Police Archive, London School of Economics, NYPL and Brandeis, and the Yiddish Book Center at Hampshire College. 

I filmed in Argentina between 2009 and 2010.  Three of my storytellers have since passed away:

Actor Max Berliner died last month at the young age of 100. His energy and charisma filled the screen and his numerous anecdotes brought to life ‘behind the scenes’ childhood memories of old Jewish Buenos Aires.                                                                                                                                                   

Tango and Culture expert Jose Judkovski, who said that he refused to discuss this topic until I approached him for an interview, passed in 2017. I came to talk to him about the brothel roots of the tango, but ended up with footage of his rare out of print copy of “The Trilogy of the White Trade” written in 1932 by the police commissioner who investigated cases of sex trade.

Actress Shifra Lerer died in 2012. Her interview with me must have been her last public interview. Reluctant at first, she later opened up to share recollections of herself as a 9-year old playing a role of an old sailor “with a wig and a beard glued on, and a hunchback” in the controversial 1926 Yiddish theater play about the topic of Jewish sex trafficking.

Following the screening, questions from the audience reflected the wide interest in this topic and its applicability to contemporary sex trafficking. Using community action to fight the phenomena has been critical back than as it is today. The Laid to Rest documentary gives voice to its victims as it highlights community action against the perpetrators. By doing so it brings to life a story that was never ”Laid to Rest”. 

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