Israeli-born Osnat Rosen gets verklempt discussing Greenville’s inaugural Jewish Film Festival, her brainchild and long-awaited dream. Since moving to Greenville for her husband’s job with Milliken, she’s taken great strides to educate her three children about their Jewish roots and expose the Greenville community to Jewish culture. She happily shares her journey, punctuated with a hypnotic Hebrew accent.
What was it like relocating to Greenville from Tel Aviv? >> I moved to Greenville eight years ago. I feel very strong with who I am and my heritage. I don’t feel lost. I’m Jewish. I’m Israeli. I lived in a very big, vibrant city in a tiny country. Really small. You can travel the country in a few hours. Now I’m living in small town in huge country. The options here are unbelievable. The sky is the limit. That phrase is American. It’s true. You just need to have your dedication, passion for something, and go for it.
Is it hard being Jewish, and going from a majority to a minority segment of the population? >> Being Jewish is not only a culture, it’s a faith. In Israel, you don’t need to practice Judaism actively to be a Jew. It’s all around you. Being here, Judaism is not only about prayers and going to synagogue. It’s richer than that. I was raised in a very traditional Orthodox family. But we practice more here with a kosher kitchen, and Shabbat dinners, because here I feel like if I’m not going to give that to my kids, they won’t have it anywhere else.
I want to show my heritage, to share, to celebrate, to educate.”
And you’ve become a U.S. citizen? >> The outside sounds like something very formal, just paper. Inside, I feel like I have two homes. I have two wonderful places. I couldn’t wish for more than being citizen of the U.S. and being Israeli citizen. When I’m here, I feel this is my home; when I’m there, I feel like that’s my home. When I’m here, I feel like I’m an Israeli ambassador.
What’s that like? >> Israel is a democratic island in a very crazy area. The first time someone met me, they mixed the whole Middle East up and I said, ‘Whoa, really?’ Then I started to understand that what’s obvious to me about Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, and Israel, is not obvious to others. I feel like wherever I go, I’m talking about who I am and where I’m from. I do it with all of my heart. I’m very happy when people ask questions. That means they’re really interested. I can enrich them and give them information.
You’re ready to do that with Greenville’s first-ever Jewish Film Festival. How did the idea come about? >> Atlanta has the biggest Jewish Film Festival in the country. I went there 4–5 years ago, and it was remarkable. It’s a month long, and the vibes! The venues were full. I came home, and waited for the right timing.
The idea needed to brew. >> Yes. I needed time to really get to know Greenville, to build my connections here, to build my personal skills. Two years after that, I go to the Charlotte Film Festival and saw a film that really influenced me: Rock in the Red Zone. I thought, I have to bring this to Greenville. We used the Temple [of Israel]. It was a nice screening.
You, and fellow board members Caroline Warthen and Helaine Meyers, have wrangled some heavy-hitting sponsors, including Furman and Michelin. You even got the senior minister at First Baptist Greenville, Jim Dant, to sit on your board. >> One reason: It’s unique. It’s something new. It’s not just another festival—it’s a film festival with a message. Greenville is growing. Greenville wants to be vibrant, and dynamic, and multicultural kind of place.
You’re showing three movies: Fanny’s Journey, Humor Me, and Heading Home: the Tale of Team Israel. How did you select those? >> If you choose the right movies, you can open very nice discussion, and open people’s minds to think about stuff, to talk about it later at home, with friends. These movies are highly recommended. We said for the first year, Jewish tradition—it’s not all about the Holocaust, you know? Fanny’s Journey is a French film and the audience favorite in Charlotte and Wilmington. Humor Me is in English. That is hilarious. Heading Home is in English, too, and a sport movie. They show dilemmas in life everyone can relate to, and there are some crazy, nice ideas about things that people can enjoy and laugh.
And they all peel back a layer, revealing your roots. >>
I want to show my heritage, to share, to celebrate, to educate. So, it’s really coming from who I am, and what I want to contribute to the community that I live in. This is my small contribution to Greenville. It’s a Jewish film festival, but it’s a cultural thing; it’s not a religious thing, you know? We’re opening our doors to everyone. Everyone is welcome to come and learn and enjoy.
Greenville’s inaugural Jewish Film Festival will take place Feb 28–Mar 3. For receptions, lectures, showtimes, and tickets, go to GreenvilleJewishFilmFestival.com.