Meet the Chair of the Miami Jewish Film Festival: Barbara Black Goldfarb

Posted on 04/23/2021 @ 08:00 AM

Tags: Miami Jewish Film Festival

Barbara is no stranger to CAJE and Federation, serving as a Past Chair of both organizations.
As a member of Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus, where her son Sammy went to day school, the mission of CAJE is one that is close to her heart. Barbara believes there is nothing more important than creating the next generation of Jews, and CAJE touches all ages and stages of Jewish life with all of its different programs.
Barbara has been married to Rob for over 25 years and has 3 children—Sammy, Ian and Jess. 
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your upbringing, and your Jewish education.
I grew up in Portland, Maine, in a family with a strong Jewish identity but not much ritual practice. My parents were both actively involved in the Jewish community through the Jewish Home for the Aged, Federation and Jewish Family Services. My mother was my guiding light and mentor. Graduating from law school at the age of 21, she was one of the first women accepted into the Maine and Massachusetts bar. A lifetime advocate for women, children and the elderly, she was a proud member of the National Council of Jewish Women’s National Board.
My strong Jewish identity can be traced to my days at Camp Naomi, which was in its day a very popular overnight Jewish summer camp for girls in Raymond, Maine. It was many years later that I realized that the camp was kosher and Orthodox, even though we attended in Friday night and Saturday Shabbat services and had no structured activities on Saturdays during the day. I loved my camp experience. I made friends I am still in touch with until this day. Camp is what really lit a spark in me about Judaism, because (I confess embarrassingly) that I was a Hebrew School dropout.
When did you come to Miami and how did you get involved here?
I moved to Miami in 1984, and didn’t know a soul. So my mother (of blessed memory) suggested that I take part in a UJA national Jewish singles trip that was taking people from Broward and Miami-Dade to Israel. Incidentally, Debbie Brodie-Weiss, CAJE’s current Director of Development, was the lead professional on my bus! (It was her first job.)
After that trip, I returned to Miami and got involved at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation‘s Young Leadership division (now called The Network). And for the past nearly 40 years, Federation and community building has been my passion and an integral part of my life.
How did you get interested in Jewish education?
When I was young and unmarried, I must admit Jewish education wasn’t really on my radar. But once our son Sammy was born in 1997, I knew that I wanted him to have a Jewish day school education. Acutely aware of my own lack of Jewish knowledge, I wanted him to be what Jacob Solomon always refers to as “synagogue savvy,” which included a strong background of Jewish learning and identity. Fortunately, my husband Rob agreed.
It was important to me that Sammy be confident, knowledgeable and proficient in any Jewish environment, so that’s why I became involved in Beth Torah’s early childhood and day school programs. I suddenly went from my status of ‘former Hebrew School dropout’ to Hochberg Day School Chair. 
That’s when I met and got to know Rabbi Efrat Zarren-Zohar, now the Executive Director of CAJE. Her son, Matan, was also enrolled at Hochberg and I invited her to sit on the Day School Board as well. Very naturally, we became dear friends and our relationship became a catalyst for my own personal Jewish education.
We would sit together at Mo’s Deli almost weekly and study the parsha (weekly Torah portion) or Pirkei Avot or some other text, looking for how it related to my volunteer work as a Jewish leader. At the same time, I’d also go to Rabbi Farber (Beth Torah’s emeritus rabbi) and Rabbi Schiff (of blessed memory, Federation’s Chaplain emeritus) so I could infuse more Jewish content into my speeches.
How were you able to bring Jewish text study into your volunteer work?
I found it very inspiring to study Jewish leaders of the past and analyze the challenges they faced and how they overcame them. For example, we would look at Nachshon ben Aminadav, who was a prince of the tribe of Judah and the brother-in-law of Aaron, the high priest. At the shore of the Red Sea, the Israelites were trapped between the waters and the Egyptians who regretted letting them go free and were pursuing them. Everyone was paralyzed with fear and unable to move. But Nachshon had faith that somehow the waters would part and so he waded into the water. Then the sea split and the people were able to escape. From this I saw that sometimes leaders have to take a leap forward and have faith that things will work out.
How did you get involved with CAJE?
After I finished as Chair of the Board of Federation, my friend and mentor Saby Behar suggested that I become Chair of CAJE following him. I believe, as he does, that there is nothing more important for the community than Jewish education, and that’s what CAJE is all about.
CAJE used to be primarily associated with Day Schools and the March of the Living. But when Saby helped to reformulate CAJE’s mission statement, Jewish identity was included and that broadened the focus of the organization.
How did you come to chair the Miami Jewish Film Festival and what is your goal for it?
After serving as CAJE Chair, in time, the Miami Jewish Film Festival chair position became open. I’ve loved film my whole life. Every weekend before the pandemic, I would go to the movies by myself, with a friend, or with my husband Rob. So this was a natural fit.
The Miami Jewish Film Festival is, of course, all about film, but it’s also about building Jewish identity and Jewish community through the medium of cinema. It’s a place where people of every level of observance or no level can join together in an entertaining community environment and have lots to discuss afterwards. At the Festival, we feel Jewish unity naturally.
I love that we partner with the German Consulate and have a group of movies in this year’s Festival intensive about Building Bridges with the African American community. Films are a great way to understand your own culture and other peoples’ cultures. We find out our differences and our similarities. We learn to respect one another.
The Festival showcases all aspects of Jewish identity and teaches Jews and others about the complexity of the Jewish experience. I love that our Jewish community is so diverse, just like our great city of Miami. And that the Festival is another great way to showcase our culture within the Jewish community and beyond.
It’s absolutely remarkable to me that our Miami Jewish Film Festival is the largest in the world. Not Chicago, not Los Angeles, not even New York City! I think it’s fantastic that we are the place where directors want to showcase their work, because we have generous donors offering cash prizes to artists who are often struggling to bring their vision to life.
Because of Igor Shteyrenberg, our amazing Executive Director, the Miami Jewish Film Festival is doing so much to elevate the film industry. His hard work, creativity, and tech savvy has transformed the Jewish cultural arts in this community. He’s made wonderful partnerships with the University of Miami Miller Center, the Holocaust Memorial, the Miami Beach JCC and so many other groups. He’s become a resource on film for our entire community—a kind of central address for film. I also have to acknowledge the great work of his professional staff, our incredible Executive Committee, and Board. 
What do you want your legacy to be?
My life is not about me. It’s about building this community for the next generation of young people so they can understand the importance of being Jewish. We want young Jews to find pride in this remarkable heritage that we have all inherited. In every leadership role, I hope to mentor others to feel about Judaism as I do, to open our tent just a little wider to include more people. We Jews should be a light to the nations, as our prophetic texts tell us. That is our mission, and I’m thrilled to be actively engaged in making that vision a reality.
Barbara-- Todah Rabbah for your service to CAJE and the Jewish community of Miami!