For many, life on Martha’s Vineyard revolves around the beaches. But those seeking a little more stimulation than the sand under their feet should look no further than the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center’s Summer Institute. Every year the Summer Institute presents a variety of films and speakers and this year’s series begins this weekend.
On Sunday night the documentary Hava Nagila opens up the film series. The movie explores the history of the quintessential bar mitzvah song and takes a deeper look at Jewish cultural identity as a whole. According to the Summer Institute’s film consultant, Kate Feiffer, each film in the series will address themes of Jewish or, in some cases, Israeli culture.
“What distinguishes this particular series is that it’s the Island’s only Jewish film festival,” Ms. Feiffer said. “I cast a wide net while screening films. The connection to Judaism had to be there in some capacity, be it the story or even just a Jewish actor.”
After spending most of the winter screening films, Ms. Feiffer assembled a list to present to the rest of the Summer Institute advisory committee. Once she had presented her initial selection, the advisory committee reviewed her list and made revisions of its own.
And although she was able to pre-screen the majority of the films that were selected, Ms. Feiffer said that one film remains a relative mystery. Fill the Void, a film about birth and death in an Orthodox Hasidic community, did not release copies for pre-screening.
Ms. Feiffer said that her goal in selecting the films and her goal in presenting the film series as a whole was to get people talking. She said she hopes that the themes presented by the films foster a continuing conversation about Jewish culture and tradition.
Each film will also feature a special presentation, be it a guest speaker or, in the case of Hava Nagila, a celebration with live klezmer music and refreshments. Films are screened at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center in Vineyard Haven.
The Summer Institute’s speaker series begins on Thursday, July 11, with a presentation by Arthur Caplan, one of the nation’s foremost bioethicists. Mr. Caplan was the founder of the division of bioethics at New York University’s Langhorne Medical Center and he also serves as the ethics advisor on synthetic biology for the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency. His presentation, called Would You Want to Know?, will address the ethics of genetic and neurological risk testing.
According to Gerri Alpert, chairperson of the Summer Institute, the selection process for speakers begins shortly after the previous summer’s series ends. The committee meets to submit and discuss ideas for potential speakers. Unlike the film series, the speaker series does not follow a distinct theme. Instead, Ms. Alpert said that it seeks to address a variety of pertinent topics, from arts to the economy.
“We’re trying to address the most current and important issues facing the American people,” she said. “This summer we’re talking a lot about the economy and income inequality.”
When it comes to selecting the speakers, Ms. Alpert said that she doesn’t have any particular agenda, nor does she wish to convince the listener of any particular viewpoint. Instead, she seeks to inform and she said she hopes people leave the events feeling as though they’ve learned something new. Coming up later in the summer are Lawrence O’Donnell and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.
“I want people to come away feeling that they are enriched in some way as a result of these programs,” Ms. Alpert said. “Not that it has changed their views, but that it has informed their views.”
For a complete list of films and speakers, visit mvsummerinstitute.com.