If you’re sure you have a clear picture of the “white” Jews in Israel, you’re probably wrong. Ashkenaz, a pithy but panoramic view, will show why. The documentary upends preconceived notions and exposes contradictions inherent in crafting one definition of Jewish ethnicity.
Berkeley native (and Israeli immigrant) Rachel Leah Jones, its director-producer, flits from experts and scholars to just plain folks while illustrating that Ashkenazim are hard to pinpoint. They are, she shows, much broader-based than their Rhineland beginnings and subsequent migration to Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine might indicate.
Indeed, she focuses on the blurring. The Ashkenazim she introduces us to include dark-skinned Jews, kibbutzniks, soldiers, sociologists—a you-name-it-we’ve-got-it collage. The film, peppered as well with the views of Mizrahim and with evocative lyrics by a pub singer, probes the notion that the Ashkenazim are “the Establishment” and others “the troublemakers.” It touches on architecture and neighborhoods, “white” and “black,” superiority and inferiority.
In an almost Talmudic cinematic exercise, Ashkenaz connects apparently unconnected dots—ranging from an Ashkenazi Identity Movement that emphasizes universality to citizens who appear to spit out the word “Ashkenazim.” It is, in short, a fascinating study in diversity within a single word.