Executive Reads: Helen Zukerman

Helen Zukerman is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, presenting its 21st Festival from April 11-21. She has seen the Festival evolve from its first year and 34 films at the Bloor Cinema with 7500 attendees, to this one which will have 108 films from 18 countries at five venues and thousands of people. She is often amazed by the fact that Jewish content films are being made in countries like Norway, Macedonia, or Uruguay. This year, they previewed over 508 films before choosing their final program. Growing up in Montreal and not being able to go to the movies until she was 16 (as this was the law back then), she became an avid reader from very young. So it is with great difficulty that she has selected three recent and one vintage book as being outstanding in their influence…

Hope: A Tragedy by Sholom Auslander
I guess because of my involvement in the Film Festival, and having shown films about Anne Frank and her story, it was a merry-go-round ride for me and this novel. A couple, wanting to move out of NYC, buy a house in suburban New York State, only to find Anne Frank living in their attic. A foul-mouthed, selfish squatter that orders people around and whose most outstanding line to the owner of the house is “blow me.” As hysterically implausible as that sounds, it worked for me. Auslander is the epitome of irreverence in his work. Foreskin’s Lament (his first) should have been an “omen” of what was to follow. His irreverence justifies, to me, some of the controversial films we show because he makes me believe that there are people like him who will appreciate those films.

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge
The Brain and its functions have always intrigued me. Since I’m now in my sixties, I see brain changes in myself that sometimes trouble me. This book was comforting because not only was it readable, but it was good to know that brains of any age can accommodate change and “rewire” themselves. It made me try to brush my teeth with my left hand instead of my right hand. It took about 10 days but it worked! 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Laks by Rebecca Skloot
I cannot tell you how fascinating I found this story to be, thinking about this poor, black woman in the southern U.S. whose Hila cells are being used today in labs across the world. My niece, who is a researcher at Sick Kids Hospital, never knew the story about the Hila cells she is using today. It amazes me how far we have come and yet how close we are to our history. 

And finally, I just could not leave out this book, a children’s book. When I had my own children, we would go to the libraries in Toronto each Saturday and they would take out as many books as was allowed. The best bedtime story I would read was… 

The Camel who Took a Walk by Jack Tworkov
No matter how many times I read it to the girls, I would always roar with laughter as the end approached. Whenever you have a tiger, monkey, squirrel and a bird making a plan to take down a camel, you’ve got a problem. Because life rarely goes according to plans…