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A Tribute to Barbara Pfeffer (1934-1999)

As a college student, I looked forward to Yom Kippur services not just for the chance to wipe the slate clean of transgressions large and small, such as those listed in my alma mater’s Animal House-themed prayer book, On Wings of Awe—”inflating font sizes on term papers,” “excessively drinking and throwing up the night before my roommate’s biology final,” and other collegiate misdeeds. I also couldn’t wait for the rare opportunity the holiday offered to spot all those people on campus who self-identified as Jewish, especially the blond-haired, stealth ones who hailed from places like Terre Haute, Ind. And despite all the cataclysmic predictions of the Jewish establishment concerning secularism and intermarriage, each year Manning Chapel was packed fuller than a Second Avenue Deli corned beef sandwich. But filmmaker Barbara Pfeffer didn’t consider kids attending High Holiday services and bagels-and-lox brunches at Krupin’s the only strong evidence of a vibrant young Jewish life: Pfeffer, who died of cancer last March, also witnessed American Judaism flourishing in the plays of Tony Kushner, the klezmer-inspired jazz beats of musician John Zorn, and the works of young painters like Elizabeth Swados. Pfeffer’s film Jewish Soul, American Beat—The Return (pictured) forcefully challenges the notion of naysayers such as former American Jewish Congress President Arthur Hertzberg (who appears in the documentary) that Judaism is static and not about “picking and choosing.” Jewish Soul will be screened with another Pfeffer film, Art & Remembrance: The Legacy of Felix Nussbaum at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29, at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW. $7.50. For reservations call (800) 494-8497. (Elissa Silverman)