At Sundance, Jewish attendees gather for solidarity, advocacy and cholent

One Tel Aviv resident put together a last-minute event to raise the issue of the hostages still held in Gaza; at a ‘Shabbat Lounge,’ visitors could dine on traditional fare

For 13 years, Inbal Baum has been running a Tel Aviv-based food tour company called Delicious Israel, which guides visitors through the markets and streets of her city. Baum moved to Park City, Utah, in 2021, to run a spinoff of that company, a corporate food events business, but felt isolated from the country she still considers her home, especially after Oct. 7. But at one event — on “a super freezing-cold night in the middle” of this week’s Sundance Film Festival — she felt connected, Baum told eJewishPhilanthropy

Sundance, which opened last Thursday and runs through Sunday, is an annual who’s who of established and up-and-coming film talent, with Hollywood celebrities and producers descending on Park City, Utah, mixing with cinephiles, journalists and myriad creative types at parties and independent movie screenings. During this year’s festival, the specter of Oct. 7 floated through its few Jewish-themed events — some on the official schedule, some not. These included a Shabbat program, panels about Jewish representation and a Friday night solidarity event, created to amplify participants’ awareness of the hostages, that several Sundance attendees called “special” and “absolutely beautiful.” In these spaces, Jews, Israelis and their allies could gather safely.

“It genuinely felt like coming home in a very unusual setting,” Baum told eJP about the solidarity event featuring influencers and family members of the Oct. 7 hostages. Although many of the stories were “tear-inducing, moving, tragic and harsh, hearing the reality about the families, the hostages and survivors,” she said, the presence of Jewish community was moving.

Israeli-American musician Rami Matan Even-Esh, better known by his rapper moniker Kosha Dillz, attended various Jewish events — as well as a pro-Palestinian protest — where he tried to address the demonstrators until law enforcement asked him to leave.

Even-Esh came to Park City for the festival despite Sundance’s rejection of his short film “It Doesn’t Have to Be So Serious” — a dark comedy about Jewish trauma, especially Holocaust trauma, and how to deal with it, he told eJP. He “had some nice meetings with people” who had been interested in his work, especially his “Bring Our Family Home” online series, which he’s trying to produce for television. 

The Friday night solidarity event started with a spontaneous request. Discovering that a friend’s friend routinely held large parties at Sundance in a warehouse-type space, Tel Aviv resident and digital strategist Jacob Shwirtz told eJP that he asked if the party-makers would be open to holding an event beforehand that would “bring the agenda of the hostages to the forefront and keep it top of mind as one of the cultural high points of the Hollywood calendar.” 

A “yes” made the idea a reality, with Shwirtz “rallying, hustling and talking to anyone and everyone,” he said, adding that he encountered “a lot of people wanting to do good and rallying around this idea.”

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum sent a delegation to speak at the event. Birthright Israel, the Maccabee Task Force, the Israel on Campus Coalition (through Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies) and others provided basic funding. Through a network of media influencers, he reached out to Caroline D’Amore, Daniel-Ryan Spaulding and Israeli YouTuber Ashley Waxman Bakshi, and connected to actress Emmanuelle Chriqui, all of whom have used their platforms to speak in support of Israel, the hostages and their families, as well as Jews worldwide.

Baum, who connected event organizers with the local Park City community, said it’s a feeling of what she calls “the ‘b’yachadness’ [togetherness] of not having to explain who you are.”

“The feeling is incredible when, across the world from Israel, you can gather in a group like this [at the solidarity event] and it feels so secure and so at home,” she said. 

The standing-room-only crowd of more than 250 people, some Sundance attendees and other visitors, was an opportunity to show support. Because it wasn’t walkable from Sundance venues, it was “a real commitment to be there,” Shwirtz said, “and people did it. It was heartwarming and amazing.”

Cholent-n-Chill: Shabbat Lounge

Many Shabbat-observant Jews and their friends found themselves taking advantage of the hospitality at the Shabbat Lounge, for inspiration, relaxation and a spiritual lift, along with warm refreshments — a welcome respite from the freezing temperatures. Presented by Shabbat Tent, executive produced by JConnect, Pico Shul and the Alevy Family Foundation, and produced by MarVista Entertainment, the lounge promised a chill environment where people could drink cocktails, eat cholent and other Shabbat foods and socialize, from Friday night candle lighting through Saturday night’s musical Havdalah event. On Sunday, the space was used for two events centering on Jewish and Israeli film. 

Filmmakers as media fighters

On Sunday morning, journalist Malina Saval moderated a discussion with Allison Josephs, founder of Jew in the City, and Israeli actor, writer and advocate Noa Tishby on the subject of “Sects, Lies and Videotape: Debunking Deadly Tropes About Jews and Israel in TV, Film and Media.” The wide-ranging conversation included a discussion about the need for Jews to be included in efforts of diversity, equity and inclusion, and the importance of presenting Jewish stories in an authentic light, especially with the flood of antisemitic incidents since the massacre. The session closed with a movie trailer that had been making its rounds on the internet promising “the horror movie of the year that isn’t a movie at all” — the trailer shows footage from Oct. 7, assembled by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, and has been screened in U.S. theaters. 

Tishby, in particular, enthralled the audience, Saval told eJP.

“Noa has emerged as the Queen Esther of our time,” Saval said. “People were enthralled by her, asking for pictures and thanking her for her advocacy,” Saval continued. “To have Noa come to Utah was a big thrill for them.” 

The Jewish Filmmakers Network hosted “Filmmakers Against Antisemitism,” a gathering of 55 Jewish filmmakers and friends of the community who were inspired to take action following Oct. 7, network founder Marcus Freed told eJP.  The event featured Aaron Erol Ozlevi, a Turkish movie director who fled Turkey because of antisemitism, and Lance Kramer, whose new film-in-progress documents the story of his relative Liat Beinin Atzili, who was taken hostage on Oct. 7 and released the following month and whose husband, Aviv Atzili, was murdered.

“We are fighting an army of antisemitic propaganda across social media and traditional media, and now is the time to channel creativity to fight antisemitism,” Freed, also a writer and actor, said. Whatever the medium, he added, “now is the age for storytellers. We need to use our skills to put our efforts into creating positive pro-Jewish and pro-Israel content.”

Another event, “Conversation: The Impact of October 7th on Israeli Cinema,” drew attendees of all generations to learn about how the massacres have already affected the Israeli film industry.

“We saw an incredible range of highly motivated creatives who are ready to use their honed skills to fight against all of the Jew hatred, whether it is using humor, real news or hard-hitting facts,” Freed said, adding, “it has opened up possibilities for collaborations across the USA and beyond.”