Ex-Detroiter Aviva Kempner Produces Documentary on Julius Rosenwald of Sears

September 24, 2015, 4:20 PM by  Allan Lengel

Aviva Kempner, a Detroiter turned D.C. resident, has dedicated much of her filmmaking career to creating documentaries about unsung Jewish heroes.

In 2000, she released the fillm, "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg," a documentary about Detroit Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg. Nine years later, her film "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg," hit the screen. That was about Gertrude Berg, who starred in the radio show, The Goldbergs, that later became a hit TV sitcom.

Now comes her latest, "Rosenwald," a documentary about businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, part owner and leader of Sears, Roebuck and Company. But what Kempner's film focuses on is the story of how Rosenwald joined with African-American communities in the South to build schools for blacks during the early part of the 20th century. 

The film includes interviews with civil rights leaders, historians and Rosenwald family members.

Daniel M. Gold of The New York Times writes:

If Rosenwald is not well known today, that is partly because of his belief that foundations should not be self-perpetuating; the Rosenwald Fund closed in 1948, 16 years after his death. All the more reason, then, to thank Ms. Kempner for this rich and fascinating biography.

In a phone interview, Kempner tells Deadline Detroit that she became interested in the subject 12 years ago when she heard Julian Bond talk at the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center about blacks and Jews and Julius Rosenwald. 

"The most common comment I get is, 'how come we never heard of this man?'" Kempner says.

Kempner is showing the films in the Detroit area, starting this week. 

  • Tonight (Thursday): Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor at 8 p.m. Kempner answer questions afterward. (She attended undergrad and grad school at UM and worked at the theater while in grad school.)
  • Sept. 30: Michigan Theater at 9:30 p.m. 
  • Friday: 11:30 a.m., 2,  4:40, 7 and 9:45 p.m. at the Riviera Cinema, 30170  Grand River Ave., Farmington Hills.
  • Saturday: Riveria Cinema at 2 p.m.,  4:40  and 7 pm. showings. Kempner will answer questions afterward.
  • Oct. 2: Showings at the Maple Theater, 4135 W Maple Rd, Bloomfield Township. 

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