Cast, Story District Presents: God Loves you? True Stories about Faith and Sexuality

When James Ayers left Columbus, Ohio, in 1992 for his dream job at Proctor & Gamble, he was on a path. It just didn’t lead where he expected. When his politics began to clash with corporate America, he gave up selling fat-free Pringles and Cover Girl makeup to Midwestern girls and chose another path—backpacking through Southeast Asia. Eventually, he landed in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria, ready to save the world. Two years later, he joined an international NGO and spent the next decade working in global public health in countries all around the world. In 2012, the NGO brought James to Washington, DC, where he has been following the path that led him here tonight.



Speaker, Avalon

Peter Beicken is Professor of German Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, and teaches Modern Austrian and German literature, culture and film focusing on Expressionism, the Weimar Republic, Exile, and contemporary literature and culture including GDR-Studies. He has published several books on Ingeborg Bachmann, Franz Kafka, and Anna Seghers, film studies, including Wim Wenders. Other publications focus on Ilse Aichinger, Walter Benjamin, Georg Büchner, Paul Celan, Marie-Luise Fleisser, Franz Fühmann, and Christa Wolf.


Director/Producer, Eva Hesse

Marcie Bergleiter has been engaged with researching and writing about Eva Hesse for a number of years, including authoring the play “Meditations: Eva Hesse” which was produced at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica in 2010. Also directed the short film “Eva Hesse, Walking the Edge” on commission for the Hamburger Kunsthalle for their retrospetive of the artist in 2014.

Her book From Word to Image: Storyboarding and the Filmmaking Process is a bestseller and she is recipient of numerous grants including an NEA project grant, a Durfee Foundation award and multiple grants from the Foundation for Arts Resources. As a designer and production illustrator she has worked with Bill Condon, Jennifer Warren, Alex Cox, Paul Bogart and Jonathon Wacks. Previously, was Director of Design and Pre-Visualization for Graduate Film at Art Center College of Design and was the Founding Director of the Integrated Learning Program at Otis College of Art.


Director, The Good Son

Shirly Berkovitz was born in 1977 in Tel Aviv, Israel. After graduating film studies at the Beit Berl Arts College she directed and produced her first short film Blocked (2004) which participated at the Haifa Int’l Film Festival. Her first feature documentary 100% (2005) was screened at the Docaviv- Documentary Film Festival, Haifa Cinematheque as part of the social equality project and was broadcasted in the Israeli Channel 2. In 2009 she released The Way Up which was screened at the Docaviv Film Festival, won an Honorable Mention at the TLVFest GLBT Film Festival, broadcasted in Channel Yes Docu and is nominated to the 2010 Israeli Academy awards.

Souria pic


Speaker, Partner with the Enemy

Souria Bishara is an NIF (New Israel Fund) 2015-16 Human Rights Law Fellow. She is a Palestinian-Israeli Lawyer. She studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2002) and economics at the University of Haifa (2006). Souria joined the fellowship after more than 10 years of service in the public sector. She worked as a senior assistant to the legal advisor of the Israeli Ministry of Communications and for the past 8 years in the Israel Antitrust Authority (AAI) legal department, where she served as a team leader in charge of the Energy, Transportation, Ports and Environment sectors.

As an Israeli-Palestinian woman – one of a small number employed by the government –  Souria’s experience in the public sector generally and within government agencies more specifically inevitably touched on elements beyond the professional; she encountered cultural, political, and gender dimensions, which played a dominant role  in shaping her desire to pursue her studies in human rights law.

NIF’s Law Fellowship invests in young Israeli lawyers to study civil rights law in the US and practice in Israel. Its more than the 50 alumni form the core of the civil rights bar in Israel. The fellows represent some of Israel’s best and brightest, committed to strengthening Israeli democracy for all its inhabitants.


Speaker, Black Jews: The Roots of the Olive Tree

Michael Brenner is the Seymour and Lillian Abensohn Chair in Israel Studies and directs AU’s Center for Israel Studies. He received his PhD at Columbia University and taught previously at Indiana and Brandeis Universities. Since 1997 he has been Professor of Jewish History and Culture at the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich. He had visiting appointments at numerous universities, including Haifa, Paris, Budapest, Stanford, Berkeley, and Johns Hopkins. Professor Brenner is an elected fellow of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, the American Academy for Jewish Research and the Accademia Nazionale Virgiliana in Mantua. He is the International President of the Leo Baeck Institute and serves on many academic boards, including the Association for Israel Studies, the Israel Institute, the DAAD Center of the University of Haifa and is board chair of the Franz Rosenzweig Research Center of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


Cast, Story District Presents: God Loves you? True Stories about Faith and Sexuality

Alex Brewer, originally from Boston by way of Chicago, has a soul forged in New England and tempered by the Midwest.  He is rounding out his third year in DC and is equally thrilled and petrified to be performing on Story District’s stage for the first time. When not working as a consultant by day, you can find him either paging through a murder mystery, feeding his insatiable appetite for pop culture, or bopping around DC’s burbs in search of a new adventure.


Film Subject, Raise the Roof

Laura Brown is Co-founder and Director of Handshouse Studio, Inc. and faculty of sculpture at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She earned a BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design and a MFA from University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


Film Subject, Raise the Roof

Rick Brown is Co-Founder and President of Handshouse Studio, Inc. He is a Professor of Sculpture at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. He received a Master of Architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design, a Master of Fine Arts from Washington University School of Fine Arts, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Georgia.


Cast, Story District Presents: God Loves you? True Stories about Faith and Sexuality

Mike Boyd is Founder/Principal at Nice Work Company, a boutique marketing and communications firm in Washington, DC. After holding several senior-level marketing positions in the media and television industry, Mike launched his new venture in 2007 to apply his entertainment marketing skills toward building successful nonprofits. He has been an active member of the Story District community since 2008 and served on the Board of Directors from 2009-2014.


Director, Compared to What? The Improbable Life of Barney Frank

Sheila Canavan produced the feature-length documentary Knee Deep, which has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Maysles Brothers Award for Best Documentary Film. Her film credits include Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter’s Journey and Yosemite, The Fate of Heaven. She is also a nationally-known attorney in consumer law and predatory lending fraud, specializing in financial abuse of the elderly. She served a three-year term on the Federal Reserve Board’s Consumer Advisory Council, which advises the Board on its responsibilities under the Consumer Credit Protection Act.


Director, Compared to What? The Improbable Life of Barney Frank

Michael Chandler is an Academy-Award nominated filmmaker, working in non-fiction and fiction film. Knee Deep won four Best Documentary Awards, including the prestigious Maysles Brothers Award, and aired on PBS Independent Lens. Forgotten Fires, on the burning by Ku Klux Klansmen of Black churches in South Carolina, also aired on PBS. Bill Moyers said about it: “If we wanted a real dialog about race in America, we’d start with this film.” Michael wrote and edited the documentaries Freedom on My Mind (Academy Award Nomination, Sundance Grand Jury Prize), Yosemite: The Fate of Heaven (Emmy), and Can’t It Be Anyone Else? (Christopher Humanitarian Award, ACE Award), edited Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter’s Journey (Academy Nomination) and The Squires of San Quentin (Academy Nomination), and was consulting editor and co-writer on The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (Academy Nomination). He has produced and directed documentaries for the PBS series Frontline, including Blackout, The Future of War, and Secrets of the SAT, which won First Prize in Broadcast Journalism from the Education Writer’s Association. Michael has also edited feature films, including Never Cry Wolf, Mishima, and Amadeus, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.


Moderator, Compared to What? The Improbable Life of Barney Frank

Bob Cusack serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Hill newspaper/TheHill.com. Bob has been reporting on policy and politics in the nation’s capital since 1995. He joined The Hill as Business and Lobbying Editor in 2003, became the newspaper’s Managing Editor a year later and was tapped as Editor-in-Chief in 2014. He regularly appears on news networks as a non-partisan political analyst and has won five awards from the National Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. Bob is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and has appeared in commercials, feature films and television shows, including HBO’s “Veep” in 2014.


Speaker, Raise the Roof

Rachel Debuque is profession artist who received her MFA degree at The University of Georgia. She has exhibited extensively including, New York, Taiwan, Croatia, and Philadelphia. She was an artist in residence at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art’s residency program and a Southern Constellations fellow at the Elsewhere Living Museum. She currently lives in Washington D.C. and is an assistant professor at George Mason University.


Writer/Director, Baba Joon

Yuval Delshad is an Israeli film director of Iranian descent. He became famous in 2015 for directing Baba Joon, “the first Persian-language Israeli film”. The film was screened in the Contemporary World Cinema section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. At the 2015 Ophir Awards, the film won the award for the Best Film. After these initial successes, the film became Israel’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards. Delshad was born into a Persian Jews family.


Producer, The Record Man

Debra Egber is part of a documentary production company based in South Florida established by her and her husband, Mitchell Egber. They are passionate about the craft of storytelling and shining a light on the people, places and events that have transformed our culture.


Producer, The Record Man

Mitchell Egber is part of a documentary production company based in South Florida established by him and his wife, Debra Egber. They are passionate about the craft of storytelling and shining a light on the people, places and events that have transformed our culture.


Writer, Woody: The Biography

David Evanier has published eight books and has received the Aga Khan Fiction Prize and the McGinnis-Ritchie Short Fiction Award. He was the founding editor of the literary magazine, Event, and the former fiction editor of The Paris Review.


Musician, Gary Lucas’ Fleischerei

Joe Fiedler‘s trombone virtuosity and arrangement skills are renowned, and he’s played with everyone from Celia Cruz and Eddie Palmieri to the Mingus Big Band and Fast ‘N’ Bulbous—he’s currently the music director of “Sesame Street”, and leads his own band Big Sackbut. He’s played on 100’s of albums, 6 as a leader.


Speaker, Encirclements

Danielle Flicker is the shlicha at JCCGW. She helps create interesting and interactive programming and expand Israel-centric education and activities.

In addition to the activities with the JCCGW, every Sunday she serves as the troop leader of the Israeli Scouts Troop, Gilad.

She is 22 years old and originally from Kfar Yona, a small town next to Netanya, Israel. In her formative years, she was involved with the Israeli Scouts and took part in delegations to several states across the United States. Three years ago, she represented her country as a young emissary in Cincinnati, Ohio where she lived for a year, developed programs and met thousands of people of all ages in an effort to help make Israel less of a distant country or ideal and more realistic and accessible to everyone.

During subsequent IDF service, Danielle was given a commission in the Education Force and spent two years in Jerusalem. Her responsibilities were to educate the IDF soldiers, lead weekly tours of various important sites and to expand their knowledge of the country and the world.


Subject, Compared to What? The Improbable Life of Barney Frank

Barney Frank is an American politician who served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts. He served as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and was a leading co-sponsor of the 2010 Dodd–Frank Act, a sweeping reform of the U.S. financial industry. Frank, a resident of Newton, Massachusetts, is considered the most prominent gay politician in the United States. Frank worked at length on the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act, which was passed in 2008.


Director, The Hebrew Superhero, Library of Congress Lunchtime Talks

Asaf Galay has directed and written a number of award-winning documentaries for Israeli television. These include series on Israeli humor (In the Jewish Land, 2005); the history of Tel Aviv-Jaffa (Tel Aviv-Jaffa, 2007); the life and influence of the Zionist hero Joseph Trumpeldor (When the Lion Asked Twice, 2008); and the Israeli national poet Natan Alterman (Sentimentality Allowed, 2012).


Musician, Gary Lucas’ Fleischerei

Rob Garcia is a strong presence in the New York and international jazz scene as a sideman and bandleader. He has performed and/or recorded with bandleaders such as Wynton Marsalis, Joseph Jarman, Anat Cohen, Sam Newsome, Judi Silvano, Woody Allen, Howard Alden, Lynne Arriale, Brad Shepik, John Benitez, John Bunch, Dena DeRose, Chris Cheek, Daniel Kelly, and Vince Giordano. Rob has also collaborated with other top musicians such as: Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, Diana Krall, Myra Melford, Dave Binney, Ben Monder, Donny McCaslin, Marty Erhlich, Mark Helias, Jerome Richardson, Reggie Workman, Bob Berg, Dave Kikoski, Mike Formanek, Bill McHenry, Gary Versace, Loren Stillman, John Hebert, Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson, Howard Johnson, Sonny Fortune, Bruce Barth, Wycliffe Gordon, Warren Vache, Ted Nash, and Chris Potter, among others. He has played on over 40 albums including grammy winners.


Director, Black Jews: The Roots of the Olive Tree

Laurence Gavron was born in France where she worked as a director and journalist for the TV show “Cinéma, Cinémas” in the 80s.

She has directed a number of documentaries such as Typisch Eddie (about Eddie Constantine), some short films (Seven women, seven sins and Fin de soirée), then has started working a lot in Sénégal, making documentary films about artists and  musicians. She is living is Sénégal since 2002. She has also written several novels and one book about John Cassavetes.


Director, Work in Progress: The Mamboniks

Alexis Gillespie is an independent producer in Washington, D.C. A Haverford College graduate, Gillespie has been a reporter and producer for public radio since 1988. He’s produced hundreds of features and documentaries for NPR and PRI on music, history and culture. His programs include A Kind and Just Parent, the story of the Nation’s first juvenile court in Chicago; The Blue Lake, which chronicled the decades-long battle of the Taos Pueblo of New Mexico to reclaim its sacred lake; and Intipuca, D.C., the story of a village in El Salvador whose residents created new lives for themselves in Washington, DC in the wake of a civil war.

He’s won two Peabody Awards for his series on American music history Let the Good Times Roll (2004) and Whole Lotta Shakin’(2007). He was also a producer with the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History on the series Jazz Singers and Black Radio: Telling It Like It Was, which in 1998 won a Peabody and a silver baton from the duPont-Columbia Awards.

sasha gordon


Actress, Natasha

Sasha K. Gordon was born and raised in Odessa, Ukraine and moved to the U.S. at the age of 16.  She holds a degree in Marketing and Finance from Fordham University and attends Bruce Ornstein Acting Workshop.



Director/Writer/Actress, The Setup

Leah Gottfried started acting at a young age appearing in various films, commercials and stage productions. At age 17, she explored a newfound interest in working behind the scenes and wrote and directed her first short film. Since then Leah has produced the feature film Operation: Candlelight and founded Dignity Entertainment, a production company dedicated to creating meaningful visual content.

Leah co-wrote, directed and acted in the short film “The Setup” and is currently continuing the story as a series called “Soon By You” about 6 young Orthodox Jews living the single life in NYC. She was the first student to major in Film Studies at Yeshiva University.


Writer/Director, Miriam Beerman: Expressing the Chaos

Jonathan Gruber has been directing award-winning documentary films, commercials, and videos for more than 20 years. He loves creating evocative images and telling nuanced stories whether for a 30-second advertisement or a two-hour feature.


Speaker, Drawing Against Oblivion

Marion Hussong is a Professor of Literature and the Carol Rittner Professor of Holocaust & Genocide Studies at Stockton University.

Born and raised in Austria, Marion Hussong earned a Ph.D. in German Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. She publishes extensively on German and Austrian literature in the aftermath of the Holocaust,. At Stockton University, she teaches literature courses on the Holocaust and other genocides, as well as a seminar on National Socialist art and propaganda.

Marion Hussong is the daughter of Manfred Bockelmann’s late brother John, and has been involved with he uncle’s  “Drawing Against Oblivion” project for several years. She translated the subtitles for the documentary and coordinated the film shoot at Stockton University.  In fall 2016, the Stockton University art gallery will show fifty of Manfred Bockelmann’s children’s portraits, along with a special screening of the “Drawing Against Oblivion” documentary. Marion Hussong serves as the executive curator of this exhibition project.

Matthew Jeffs


Film Subject, Raise the Roof

As an undergraduate attending the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2007, Matthew Jeffs was introduced to Laura and Rick Brown and their organization Handshouse Studio. After receiving his BFA he helped lead workshops throughout Poland over several years that culminated in the recreation of the Gwozdziec Synagogue roof for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. He has continued to work with Handshouse on a variety of projects and his relationship with the organization continues to grow. The common belief that a better world is possible through the creation of objects and intense collaborative effort finds its way into his own artistic practice.

rob Jost


Musician, Gary Lucas’ Fleischerei

Bassist Rob Jost is one of NYC’s most sought out musicians, having performed with Bjork, Imogen Heap, Jesse Harris, the Saturday Night Live band, and the Sesame Street Band. He is also a volunteer French horn instructor at youth camps in Haiti. He is a verbal pun master.


Cast, Story District Presents: God Loves you? True Stories about Faith and Sexuality

Robin Katcher is described, in her own Blade personal ad-of-the-week circa 1999, as “curvaceous, loquacious, and vivacious.” Raised in New York by her Jewish immigrant family, she comes to her love of story genetically.  Robin is honored to finally go beyond obsessively listening to storytelling podcasts and grace the Speakeasy stage for the first time.  She is ridiculously happy to be married to Tonya and mom to Evie, the invincible toddler.  Professionally, Robin is a consultant who partners with nonprofit justice leaders, organizations and networks to help them as they, basically, save the world.


Cast, Story District Presents: God Loves you? True Stories about Faith and Sexuality

For over twenty years, Molly Kelly has been helping nonprofit organizations develop digital solutions to communicate their mission, reach monetary goals, and create real world impact. She works as Senior Director, Digital Services as Zuri Group and is the driving force behind peer-to-peer fundraising tools for the American Heart Association, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the newly released Amplfiy on the Engaging Networks platform. Molly is also a playwright, storyteller and performer who has told stories on the Story District stage since 2008 and has performed at Baltimore’s Stoop Stories, Story League and in the Bay Area at The Vent, Fireside, WordUp and The Moth.


Writer/Director, Look at us Now, Mother!

Gayle Kirschenbaum is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker/TV producer and speaker. Called the “Nora Ephron of documentaries”, Gayle has turned the camera on herself in her most recently completed feature documentary, LOOK AT US NOW, MOTHER! about the transformation of a highly charged mother/daughter relationship fromMommie Dearest to Dear Mom. This is the “larger version” of her humorous film, MY NOSE, in which we follow her mother’s relentless campaign to get her to have a nose job. Prior to this film, Kirschenbaum made a poignant and wacky film with her dog about the human/canine bond called A DOG’S LIFE: A DOGAMENTARY, which premiered on HBO. She created several reality shows that premiered on TLC and Discovery Health, and co-created Judgment Day that also aired on HBO. Kirschenbaum is a member of the Producer’s Guild of America, New York Women in Film and Television, Film Fatales and is a judge for the Emmys. She has been featured widely in the media including New York Times, NBC’s Today Show, Miami Herald, Washington Post, and Ladies Home Journal.


Keynote Speaker, Community Education Day on Arab Citizens of Israel

Tziona Koenig-Yair just completed an 8-year term as the national commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in Israel. Since passing the bar in 1996, she has spent the better part of her legal career addressing equality issues from various aspects. Beginning as a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office in Tel Aviv, Tziona later worked in the legal department of the Israel Women’s Network, Israel’s foremost advocacy group for women, eventually becoming head of the legal department. In 2007, Tziona was appointed executive director of IWN and managed the organization for a year until being appointed the first national commissioner of the EEOC, establishing and creating the new government entity. Tziona was chosen in 2011 as one of the 100 most influential people in Israel by The Marker, due to her work in promoting and implementing equality in the labor market in Israel.


Director, Period. New Paragraph.

Sarah Kramer is an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker. She was the founding senior producer of NPR’s oral history project StoryCorps, as well as a reporter and producer at The New York Times and is an alumna of HBO and PBS documentaries. Her writing, radio, and documentary work have appeared on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, The New York Times, Time, HBO, and PBS. She is an adjunct professor at The New School, and is currently working on a series of short documentaries for Time about the influence of photography. Sarah lives in Brooklyn with her husband, also a journalist, and her young son.


Speaker, Drawing Against Oblivion

David Kunac, Co- Founder and Managing Director of FINAL FRAME Produktions GmbH, entered the world of moving images 20 years ago in Munich, Germany. He started in the field of editing and producing for RTL Television, Germany’s biggest private broadcasting network. After more than 10 years of News coverage around the globe David was looking for new inspiration. In 2008 David co-founded FINAL FRAME, his own production company that is well known as a boutique production company with a broad portfolio – from corporate films to documentaries. FINAL FRAME’s latest project is the award winning feature doc: DRAWING AGAINST OBLIVION. David claims: “For the first time in my life I could use my skills and talent to create something of relevance and value.


Musician, Gary Lucas’ Fleischerei

Jeff Lederer is a New York based saxophonist-clarinetist/composer/educator whose work crosses the genres of jazz, latin and creative improvised music. In 2014 he has been named in both the critics and Readers Polls of Downbeat Magazine recognizing his work on tenor and alto saxophones and clarinet.  He has worked for many years in the Matt Wilson Quartet and the grammy nominated ensembles of Bobby Sanabria and Salsa trombonist Jimmy Bosch. He has recorded for Gunther Schuller’s GM Recordings, CIMP Records, Palmetto Records and his own Little (i) Music label.  His quartet “Sunwatcher” made it’s debut in 2011 on the Jazzheads label featuring Buster Williams on bass, Jamie Saft on piano and Matt Wilson, drums.  His longstanding ensemble “Shaker n’ Bakers” performs modern jazz interpretations of the Vision songs of the Shaker religious sect and has released two recordings of Shaker music and performed at the World Festival of Sacred Music in Los Angeles.


Musician, Gary Lucas’ Fleischerei

Gary Lucas‘ career encompasses working with Leonard Bernstein and Captain Beefheart to collaborating with Jeff Buckley and John Zorn. He has released over 25 acclaimed albums in a variety of genres, and tours the world constantly. He was recently featured on the cover of Guitar Player Magazine. Rolling Stone called him “one of the best and most original guitarists in America”.


Cast, Story District Presents: God Loves you? True Stories about Faith and Sexuality

Elizabeth McCain is a grief counselor, interfaith minister, energy practitioner, and storyteller in Takoma Park, Md. Come see her one woman show, “A Lesbian Belle Tells” at The Capital Fringe Festival in July. Hear OUTrageous porch stories only a lesbian belle can tell!


Speaker, Partner with the Enemy, Enciclements, Mountain

Noa Meir is the Director of Israel Action Center at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. Prior to this position, Noa, who holds both American and Israeli citizenship, completed a one year appointment as a Jewish Agency Israel Fellow at George Washington University’s Hillel. She served three years in the Foreign Relations Department of the Israel Defense Forces as Head of the North American Desk, holding the rank of major. As a Captain, she served as a spokesperson for the IDF and as Deputy Head of the Military Strategic Information Section. Noa holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Bar Ilan University in Social Sciences and a Master’s Degree in Diplomacy and Security from Tel Aviv University. Noa is extremely passionate about Israeli advocacy, and her entire career has been focused on it, as well as on foreign relations and diplomacy.


WJFF Visionary Award Recipient, Avalon 

Armin Mueller-Stahl is a German actor, painter, writer and musician. He began acting in East Berlin in 1950, winning the GDR State Prize for his film work. By 1977, however, he was blacklisted by the communist regime due to his persistent activism in protesting government suppression of the arts. After relocating to the West in 1980, he starred in groundbreaking independent European films, such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Lola and Veronika Voss and Agnieszka Holland’sAngry Harvest. He gained major recognition stateside with two radically different characterizations: an aging Nazi war criminal in Costa-Gavras’ The Music Box and Jewish grandpa Sam Krischinsky in Barry Levinson’s Avalon. He went on to earn an Oscar® nomination for his role in Scott Hicks’ Shine and appeared in such varied work as Eastern Promises, The Game, The West Wing, The X Files and Knight of Cups.


Speaker, In Search of Israeli Cuisine

Joan Nathan is the author of ten cookbooks including her most recent, “Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France” (Knopf), which was named one of the 10 best cookbooks of 2010 by NPR, Food and Wine, and Bon Appétit magazines.  She is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Food Arts Magazine, and Tablet Magazine.


Producer, Story District Presents: God Loves you? True Stories about Faith and Sexuality

Vijai Nathan has been performing and teaching the art of storytelling since 1997 and is bringing all her experience to the new job of managing and growing the number of businesses, nonprofits, and community organizations that are interested in developing storytelling as a powerful communication skill.


Speaker, Partner with the Enemy

Ghaith al-Omari, Senior Fellow at the Irwin Levy Family Program on the U.S.-Israel Strategic Relationship, and senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is the former executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine. Previously, he served in various positions within the Palestinian Authority, including advisor to the negotiating team during the 1999-2001 permanent-status talks.



Director and Lead Actress, A Tale of Love and Darkness

Born in Israel in 1981, actress Natalie Portman grew up on Long Island, New York, and began modeling at age 11. Her film debut was in The Professional (1994), and she was cast as Queen Amidala in the Star Wars prequels. While continuing her career, Portman earned a degree in psychology from Harvard. She then won the 2010 Best Actress Oscar for her role as a troubled dancer in Black Swan.


Film Subject, Compared to What? The Improbable Life of Barney Frank

Jim Ready is Barney Frank’s husband. Graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and Massachusetts native, he married Barney Frank in 2012. A surfer and snowboarder, as well as a carpenter and welder, Ready runs a small shop in Maine.


Speaker, Cremator

Robert Rehak is the Embassy of the Czech Republic Cultural Attaché and a published scholar of biblical history and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Before coming to Washington DC, he served at the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague and was responsible for promoting the interests of Czech citizens living abroad.


Distributor, The Light Ahead, Carvalho’s Journey, Raise the Roof

Lisa Rivo is Co-Director of The National Center for Jewish Film, the largest archive of Jewish content film in the world, outside of Israel, and the largest distributor of independent Jewish films. She oversees the Center’s programmatic, distribution and exhibition activities and co-directs NCJF’s annual Boston area film festival.

Prior to joining NCJF in 2006, she was Associate Director & Senior Writer of the African American National Biography, an encyclopedia edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. at Harvard University and published by Oxford University Press.

She has a BA in Art History from Vassar College and received a fellowship to Emory University’s Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts PhD program where she studied visual culture & film. Rivo worked at the Museum of Fine Arts and as Director of Public Information at The Institute of Contemporary Art, both in Boston.

In addition to directing nine annual film festivals, she has curated many festivals and series, sat on grant review panels, and written university textbooks.


Distributor, The Light AheadCarvalho’s Journey, Raise the Roof

Sharon Rivo, co-founder and Executive Director of National Center for Jewish Film, is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department at Brandeis University, where she teaches courses on Jewish film and Film and the Holocaust. Educated at Brandeis (class of 1961) with a graduate degree in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley, she began her career in television at WGBH-TV, Boston where she became an award winning film producer.


Writer/Director, Carvalho’s Journey, Library of Congress Lunchtime Talks

Steve Rivo has produced, directed or written projects for PBS, CNN, MTV, MSNBC, Discovery, Investigation Discovery, The Weather Channel, Court TV/TruTV and VH1, and for filmmakers Alex Gibney, Robert Redford and Ric Burns. Rivo was a producer of New York: A Documentary Film, Eugene O’Neil and Ansel Adams for PBS, senior producer of The Vice Guide To Everything, and a writer/director for the CNN series Death Row Stories. His documentaries have garnered Emmys, Du-Pont-Columbia, Peabody, IDA, Telly and Cine Golden Eagle awards. Rivo also teaches in the MFA program at Hofstra University.

SUMMER SOLSTICE - Director's still 57


Director, Summer Solstice

Michal Rogalski is a graduate of the School of Journalism and Political Science at the Warsaw University, Film and Television Direction Department at the Lodz Film School, and the film workshop, EKRAN, organized by the Wajda Studio. He won the second place in the international finals of the Hartley-Merrill Screenwriting Contest 2008 and the Main Prize of the Polish edition of Hartley-Merrill for “Summer Solstice”. He debuted in 2009 with the feature film, “The Last Action,” starring Jan Machulski, Barbara Krafftówna, Marian Kociniak, Alina Janowska, and Antoni Pawlicki. He directed numerous episodes of “Time of Honor” (Seasons 3 and 4, TVP2) and 5 seasons of “Recipe for Life” (TVN) – one of the most popular TV series in recent years.


Producer, Story District Presents: God Loves you? True Stories about Faith and Sexuality

Amy Saidman, Artistic Executive Director of Story District, has been the driving force behind the growth of storytelling as a performance genre in Washington, DC and regionally. Called DC’s “matriarch of storytelling”, she’s been running Story District’s programs, telling stories, hosting, inventing new ways to present storytelling, building relationships with other local arts groups, and spreading the gospel since 2001. She began coaching and teaching storytelling in 2006 and, along with the Story District teaching staff, has developed a curriculum and pedagogy for teaching the art of storytelling  that includes more than five different classes at different levels and customized trainings for corporate, government, and nonprofit clients.


Director, Arabic Movie

Eyal Sagui Bizawe has an MA in Cultural Studies from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He lectures at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, at Sapir College in Sderot and Minshar School of Art in Tel Aviv. His Column “Relevant” is published in the Gallery supplement of the Haaretz daily newspaper. Eyal is also a researcher and content editor for television and documentary projects since 2001, including: Arabesque (documentary show, Channel 1 in Arabic, 2001); The New Israelis (Briza,2002); Israeli Sex (documentary series, channel 8, 2003) Blonde (documentary series, Channel 8, 2004); Maktub (documentary film, channel 2, 2006), The Food of the Earth (documentary series, Channel 8, 2008). Director of 2 short films for cultural program Intimate Report on Channel 2. Arabic Movie (2015) is his debut film.


Actress, The Setup

Originally from Maryland, Sara Scur always had a passion for film, which drove her to move New York five years ago to pursue acting. Sara graduated from the New York Conservatory for Dramatic arts and since then has been pursuing acting full time. Before meeting Leah, Sara has worked on a few short films, and is excited to continue this project!


Speaker, Raise the Roof, The Record Man

Nina Gilden Seavey is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and a nearly 30-year veteran of the documentary world. Seavey is the director of The Documentary Center in the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, which she founded in 1990. She concurrently serves as the Co-Director of the Center for Innovative Media. She holds the academic rank of full Research Professor of History and Media and Public Affairs with appointments both in the Department of History and in the School of Media and Public Affairs in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences at GW.


Producer, Eva Hesse

Karen Shapiro has produced film, television, theatre and music. Her films include the Academy Award winning “Violet”, the film festival hit “Beat the Drum”, the romantic comedy “The Neighbor” and the drama, “The Low Life”. She produced many television movies including the Emmy Award winning “Other Mothers” and “Between Mother and Daughter”, winner of the Humanitas Award.  Karen was the Senior Producer on the reality series’ “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Arrest and Trial”.  Two of her documentaries, “Awake and Sing” and “Together As One” were part of the Liberation ’95 concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of Nazi-occupied Europe.


Keynote Speaker, Community Education Day on Arab Citizens of Israel

Rabbi Sid Schwarz has been a congregational rabbi, a social entrepreneur, the CEO of several non-profits and an author. Currently, Sid serves as a senior fellow at Clal: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership where he directs the Clergy Leadership Incubator (CLI) program which trains rabbis across the denominational spectrum to be visionary spiritual leaders with the skills to transform American synagogues. He is also deeply involved in interfaith work with a particular emphasis on co-existence efforts in the Middle East. Sid has also been instrumental in the 2012 launch of the René Cassin Fellowship Program which he now directs.


Moderator, Carvalho’s Journey, The Record Man

Joshua Speiser is currently the Program and Operations Manager of The Documentary Center at George Washington University. He has a wealth of experience in the film and higher education fields including three years as Public Relations and Events Manager and then five years as Director of Communications in the College of Arts and Sciences at Georgetown University. He also served for four years as the Assistant Director of the Washington Jewish Film Festival and was the Volunteer Manager of the SILVERDOCS (now AFIDOCS) Film Festival. He has produced documentaries of his own and is highly active in the film community in and around Washington, DC.


Speaker, Kli Zemer

Director of the Gratz College Holocaust and Genocide Studies Program, Dr. Michael C. Steinlauf holds an M.A. in Literature from Columbia University and a doctorate in Judaic Studies from Brandeis University. He is the author of Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust (1997), which examines how the experience of witnessing the Holocaust shaped Polish history and consciousness in the half century after World War II. He was a contributing editor to the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, published by Yale University Press in 2008, and the editor of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, v. 16 (2003), the first collection of studies focusing on Jewish popular culture in Poland and its contemporary afterlife. He is currently at work on a study of the Yiddish writer and activist Y. L. Peretz.


Musician, Gary Lucas’ Fleischerei

Just nominated for a 2015 Tony Sward for Best Actress in the hit Broadway comedy “Hand to God”, Sarah Stiles‘ lovely presence has also graced Broadway stages in “Avenue Q” and “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever”, and she was critically acclaimed as Little Red Riding Hood in Shakespeare in the Park’s production of “Into the Woods”.


Producer, Story District Presents: God Loves you? True Stories about Faith and Sexuality

Ben Thomas is a communications and marketing professional, with extensive experience leading engagement strategies for a diverse range of political groups, non-profit organizations and private companies.  When he is not at Story District, he is probably outside or concocting a culinary adventure. Feel free to ask him about the time he got a live cheetah into the U.S. Capitol Building, why he walked 500 miles in borrowed underwear, or the night he spent on Stonewall Jackson’s grave.


Moderator, Compared to What? The Improbable Life of Barney Frank

Glenn Thrush covers Capitol Hill for Politico. Before that he spent five years with Newsday – the last three in Washington following Hillary Rodham Clinton’s highly entertaining presidential quest – with a little Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer thrown in.

For the preceding two years, he was ensconced in the basement of New York’s City Hall, where he annoyed Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He’s a veteran of Bloomberg News, former editor of City Limits, a monthly that covers low-income neighborhoods in New York, ex-editorial director of think tanks Child Welfare Watch and the Center for an Urban Future and one-time statehouse and education reporter for the late, great Birmingham (Ala.) Post-Herald.

Before his attention span was incinerated by daily journalism, he wrote lots of long stories for places like the New York Times Magazine, New York, the New York Observer, Spin, the Village Voice, Metropolis and Guitar World, where his work appeared under the byline “Glenn Thrash.”

He’s a native of Brooklyn and a graduate of Sheepshead Bay High School, Larry David’s alma mater. His mother attended Madison High School and was one of its few graduates never to run for the Senate.


Speaker, Feelings are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer

An arts journalist and critic since 1985, Lisa Traiger wrote the dance column for The Washington Post Weekend section from 1999 to 2014 and was a freelance dance critic for The Washington Post Style section from 1997-2006. As arts correspondent at the Washington Jewish Week, Traiger has reported on Jewish drum circles, Israeli folk dance, Holocaust survivors, Jewish Freedom Riders, and artists from Ben Shahn to Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim to Y Love, Anna Sokolow to Liz Lerman. She has written for Ballet Review, Dance Magazine, WashingtonianThe Forward, Moment,  Dance Studio LifeSondheim ReviewAsian WeekNew Jersey Jewish News, and Bethesda Magazine.

After earning an M.F.A. in choreography from the University of Maryland, College Park, she teaches dance appreciation at the University of Maryland and Montgomery College’s Rockville campus.


Director, Feelings Are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer

Jack Walsh is an award-winning independent filmmaker and former public television producer. During his tenure at San Francisco public television station KQED, he was Executive Producer of the series Independent View; the documentary and then one night: The Making of Dead Man Walking, and the series Season by Season that all had national PBS broadcasts. Among his independent public television credits are Producer, Hope along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay, executive producer, Girl Trouble, and Producer, Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria. His awards include two Emmys and three Golden Gate Awards from the San Francisco International Film Festival, and most recently, a Guggenheim Fellowship. His work has screened at festivals internationally in addition to being in educational and home distribution.


Producer, Raise the Roof

Cary Wolinsky began working as a photojournalist for the Boston Globe in 1968 while completing a degree in journalism at Boston University’s School of Communications. Wolinsky is known for his international, historical, scientific and cultural photographic essays published regularly in National Geographic magazine since 1977. His numerous stories include: Sichuan: Where China Changes Course, Inside the Kremlin, Australia A Harsh Awakening, New Eyes on the Oceans, Diamonds – The Real Story, and The Down Side of Being Upright. Wolinsky’s articles and photographs have been printed in publications throughout the world. In 2006, he began collaborating with his son, Yari Wolinsky, to produce  documentary films.


Director, Raise the Roof

After graduating from Bard College in 2004, Yari Wolinsky worked for John Rubin Productions, Inc. on three one-hour, PBS documentary films: Raptor Force, The Living Weapon, and Ape Genius. He has worked as director and editor on narrative and documentary films for educational, editorial, nonprofit, and commercial clients that include Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, National Geographic, PBS, AARP, Issey Miyake, Helping Hands Monkey Helpers, Life is Good, and Marriott Hotels. Wolinsky began documenting the Browns efforts to rebuild a Polish wooden synagogue in 2007.


Keynote Speaker, Community Education Day on Arab Citizens of Israel

Reem Younis, co-founder of Nazareth-based Alpha Omega a global high-tech company, is a role model for Israeli Arab entrepreneurial success in Israel and now works to support others to follow in her footsteps. Sitting on the boards of various non-profit organizations, Reem is working with business, civil society and government to create opportunities for this important part of Israeli society. Reem is an expert at the challenges of integrating Arab-Israeli citizens in the Hi-tech workforce, some of the most innovative and successful models that are in place, and how Israel’s government is investing in this area which it defined as a priority.