POUGHKEEPSIE, NY— The Vassar Religion Department will screen the feature-length documentary film Leap of Faith, about four different families with members who converted to Judaism with no prior Jewish ancestry or experience, on Monday, December 6, at 5:00pm in Rockefeller Hall, room 200. The screening is free and open to the public and will be followed by a panel discussion with two converts to Judaism: Rabbi Carol Levithan, director of education, JCC of Manhattan; and Agnes Veto, Skirball Judaic Studies Program, New York University. The panel discussion will be moderated by Vassar religion professor Marc Michael Epstein.
Produced and directed by Antony Benjamin and Stephen Friedman, Leap of Faith takes an in-depth look at the dramatic and difficult spiritual journey converts must make to reach a wholly new, often radically different system of belief and practice of worship. The film follows four families through a religious conversion from Gentile to Orthodox Jew and features former Messianic Jews in Colorado, a recent bat mitzvah whose admission to a Jewish high school is challenged, a single mother and U.S. Army reservist whose 10-year-old son is deeply conflicted over religious and filial allegiances, and a motivated Trinidadian nanny in New York.
Leap of Faith was an official selection of the New York Jewish Film Festival, Boston Jewish Film Festival, Atlanta Jewish Festival, Berlin Jewish Film Festival, Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, and the Sarasota Film Festival. The filmmakers also worked together on the six-part television documentary “Breakthrough,” about psychodrama therapy participants.
About the Moderator and Panel Participants
Marc Michael Epstein (moderator) has taught at Vassar since 1992, and is currently professor of religion and Jewish studies. He is a graduate of Oberlin College, received his PhD at Yale University, and did much of his graduate research at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has written on various topics in visual and material culture produced by, for, and about Jews, most notably in his first book, Dreams of Subversion in Medieval Jewish Art and Literature (Penn State Press, 1997). His most recent book is the forthcoming The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative, and Religious Imagination (Yale University Press, 2010).
Ágnes (Ági) Veto (panelist) grew up in Budapest, where she undertook the study of Hebrew and Aramaic, and earned an undergraduate degree in biblical and Jewish Studies from Eotvos Lorand University. She received an advanced degree in Jewish Studies from the London University School of Oriental and African Studies and spent a year at Oxford Postgraduate Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. She spent two years in Paris at the Sorbonne, at both the Institute Catholique and École Practique Des Hauts Études, as student, translator, and teacher of English, and has studied Talmud at the Pardes Institute, a co-educational yeshivah in Jerusalem. Veto earned an M.A. in Jewish Studies at the Rothberg Graduate School of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and a further M.A. at New York University, where she also teaches, and is currently completing a PhD in Jewish Studies with an emphasis on Talmud and Rabbinic literature.
Rabbi Carol Levithan (panelist) is the director of education of the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan.
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Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.