“To the Ends of the Earth: A Portrait of Jewish San Diego”by Jacqueline Bull February 26, 2018
February enjoyed a number of thought-provoking, funny and intriguing films during the San Diego Jewish film festival. And in addition to the films centering Israel, this year there were a few featuring San Diego. “To the Ends of the Earth: A Portrait of Jewish San Diego” partnered with the San Diego History Center to tell the story of our community. Portrait seems like an apt metaphor because the film doesn’t purport itself to say that it is the story of San Diego, but looking at the history of the community from the very beginning in 1850 to present day.
The documentary is told in numerous interviews that range from descendents from early Jewish pioneers, academics, artists and rabbis. Documentaries sink or swim on editing and how it uses interview and primary sources to tell a cohesive narrative; in this regard, the film has excellent pace and energy. The use of historical photos and even a reading of a diary of an early Jewish resident add color and give tremendous amount of historical perspective to the story of San Diego. The narrative of the film follows through the trials of getting the railroad to connect to San Diego, building colleges with Jewish professors and into the arrival of the Navy.
Turning to the present, one of the groups featured was the Jewish nonprofit and community-focused farm, Coastal Roots Farm. The president of Coastal Roots Farm, Daron Joffe, stressed the importance of connecting back to Jewish agrarian roots while also making positive changes in the food system for the future. Joffe alludes to climate change and creating a sustainable food system, but the documentary does not dive into this further. This is one of the only parts of the documentary that talks about the present or the future of Jewish San Diego with any specificity or detail. The film goes through nuanced tellings of the timeline of how the city grew and does it very well. Having more interest to tell the stories of the younger generations that are active in leading the community today could have matched the richness and excitement to how the past is portrayed.
Watching the documentary, we’re reminded about the mythology of California and the ‘Wild West.’ The story of San Diego is presented as a deeply American story as well, as so many people from South Africa, Mexico, all over Europe and the U.S. sought California for a better life, to come enjoy the sun, to be freer, to forge their own path outside of the social rules and expectations from wherever they came from. In many ways, San Diego can feel like a new city, but this film reminds us that cities are not made overnight and are built with passion and love. Hometown audiences surely walk away from a screening with a feeling of pride. Α