While spending five years in Hong Kong, Terry Paule turned to movie watching as an accessible medium that helped her stay current with trends in the United States and elsewhere.
Her newfound appreciation for cinema is the catalyst behind this month's Pacific Jewish Film Festival, the county's newest weeklong venue for specialty movies. Previously, the county has supported niche film fests about Persia and Taiwan, a discontinued event in Laguna Beach that emphasized animation and the longest running in Newport Beach, which focuses on work by new filmmakers.
Paule suggested a Jewish film event at a dinner party not long after she and her husband settled in Laguna Niguel to accommodate his transfer by the Walt Disney Co. to Anaheim's Disneyland resort from general counsel in Hong Kong. While Paule joined Irvine's University Synagogue, she still hungered for nearby weekend cultural events, like those she regularly patronized while living in Los Angeles before moving abroad.
"With 80,000 Jews, you would think we could fill a house," Paule said, pointing out that the 2,000-family Jewish community of Hong Kong organized a Jewish film festival in 2001.
Paule, 53, an administrative law judge who hears unemployment and disability claims, grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich., which had a tiny Jewish community. The synagogue and its 100 families were the nucleus of her alife.
Paule recalls what she now recognizes as an undercurrent of anti-Semitism, such as the time that a kindergarten teacher asked, "Are you the immigrant's daughter?" To keep a kosher home, her parents ordered meat that was delivered by Greyhound bus.Â
"When you grow up in a community that isn't Jewish, you don't take it for granted," Paule said. "There was no federation, no JCC."
Undaunted by the prospect of creating an event from scratch, Paule believed that all Orange County lacked was a spark of inspiration. "I can do this," she told herself.
Research was hardly onerous. She went to Jewish film festivals around the country and saw in San Francisco's the model she hopes to emulate. The nation's oldest festival lures a diverse movie-going audience, many of whom are unaffiliated with any Jewish organization. She also saw films that moved her by evoking her own experiences.
"So many of the films are about the Diaspora," Paule said. "It was so different being a small minority."
As in Michigan, Paule's experience in Hong Kong was that of a minority, but with a unique twist.
She joined a Jewish community initially established by Sephardic opium dealers from India and Iraq. Their original Sephardic temple was built in 1900 in a building that became an apartment complex.
More recently, as China opened its borders and a war raged in Vietnam, Jews from France and the United States arrived. Many married non-Jews, whose children could not become b'nai mitzvah in the Orthodox shul.
In one of the world's most densely populated cities, the elders agreed to an unusual real estate deal to accommodate a Reform rabbi. Selling the upper floors of the synagogue property, the elders retained the street-level shul, two apartments for two rabbis, space for a joint-use community center and shared access to the pool and gymnasium with apartment residents. The deal generated $200 million, now held in trust for the benefit of 2,000 Jews.
Paule recalled fondly a Purim carnival in the Hong Kong JCC that was attended by Orthodox and Reform congregants. "Both came," she said. "That's what made it so rich." -- AA