Meet Ashira: Jewish Cinema Buff of the Week

by Rachel Kriegsman / August 26, 2020

Ashira Beutler-Greene, a DCist at heart, grew up around the world. Through her experiences abroad, she developed an enthusiasm for how we celebrate and observe Judaism. Today, she is bringing that energy to a new project called FilmShtiebel. Read on to learn more about Ashira, her passion for the arts, and how she sees film as an intrinsically Jewish art form.

Rachel: What brought you to the DC-area and what made you stay?

Ashira: I actually took the long road back… I was born at Columbia Women’s Hospital – now a set of luxury condominiums in Foggy Bottom – then grew up in Fairfax, VA and Bucharest, Romania. For college, I made my way up to the Boston area. Then to Pittsburgh, Singapore, London, before arriving back in DC in 2015. Many rounds of informational interviews made DC look quite attractive, and I stayed because I met my husband here in 2017. We traded a balcony in Van Ness for three cats in Adams Morgan, and have been very happy with this turn of events. 

Rachel: Tell me more about that idea of teaching in a digital environment and about your latest project, FilmShtiebel. 

Ashira: FilmShtiebel is a cinematic salon focused on Jewish thought and secondary sources (rather than serving as an alternative Torah study). Each session focuses on a film, ethical issues raised in the film, and what Jewish thought has to say about them.

I have always wanted to create an environment where people from different backgrounds can participate in an enlightening activity based around a common experience. Film – and art in general – is an intrinsically Jewish medium. It is an essential part of the discursive heritage of questioning and exploring our world. Art is valuable to our community both as members of society and as individuals committed to exploring how we can contribute to its betterment. 

Jewishly, I’ve been part of a number of different communities. I have spent time in different cities and countries and have nurtured my enthusiasm for exploring the many ways people observe and celebrate our faith. I love what Lauren Landau has done with Oy the World’s a Stage and Ben Lovenheim with the Jewish Monthly Article Club, and I wanted to join the cool kids’ table. In a way, this is my version of Brian Feldman’s Wawa Shabbawa – still one of the most interesting Jewish installation art experiences I have ever attended. 

Rachel: What are you most excited for about FilmShtiebel and where do you envision it going?

Ashira: I am thrilled to have launched a successful pilot this August with the help of other members of Team Wellesley. For the next few months, I plan to explore different audiences for the program. The next iteration will be the Alternative Yom Kippur partnership with GatherDC in September, to explore their theme of Crash/Burn/Rise through a thematic film series. You may not think that watching popular films about drag queens, record stores, and baked goods will help prepare for the most reflective period of the Jewish calendar, but I aim to persuade you otherwise. 

There are many ways to collaboratively build educational programming. I plan to explore long-term funding options for this program in 2021. 

Rachel: Describe your dream DC day from start to finish. 

Ashira: Confession: I grew up in NoVa and lived in DC for 3+ years before figuring out how to get to Rock Creek Park from my apartment. The pandemic has made a walk from Adams Morgan to Georgetown not only possible but critical as a way to clear my head. If I go the urban route, I stop for an iced black tea at Valley Brook Tea. Another motivating factor for this activity is the chicken baguette sandwich at Boulangerie Christophe. Call Your Mother finally opened, too, a few blocks away! The Georgetown walk normally evolves into a multi-hour journey around the neighborhood. Once, it resulted in the discovery of the hidden fountain at Cady’s Alley. 

In the pandemic version of this day, I return home and my husband and I play with our cats. The younger two have pivoted from bubbles to the laser pointer. The elder statesman, Fred, hides comfortably away so that he can avoid the stampede. A night out in our neighborhood is likely to involve an aperitif at Retrobottega and sushi out at Perrys. We miss date night at Beau Thai and Suns Cinema

Rachel: What do you do to relax or for fun at the end of a long week?

Ashira: Challah and babka taste-testing were great mid-year projects. Many thanks to Challahs for Justice for the opportunity to contribute to the NAACP through baked goods as well.  

Rachel: Do you have a Jewish role model who inspires you?

Ashira: My parents [who met through DC Jewish Singles as a result of having attended a service that they each led!] have been extremely inspiring members of Jewish communities on multiple continents. They’ve co-led seders in Bucharest and Singapore and even created a staged play about the story of Esther. I always look forward to hearing about the film they co-sponsor for the Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival. Point of pride: I helped persuade them to sponsor Leona last year after having seen it at JxJ

Rachel: What’s at the top of your life bucket list?

Ashira: I really love Chaim Potok’s work. I would love to publish the coming-of-age novel inspired by The Chosen that I wrote a few years ago.

Rachel: If you could live anywhere else in the world for a year, where would you live and why?

Ashira: I completed my doctoral fieldwork in France. While I went into it armed with a bunch of vintage scarves ready to take on Paris, I happened to discover Lille on my final interview trip. Lille has a neat synagogue as well as an interesting structure at a nearby hotel which looks kind of like a chuppah. I also loved the train to the ch’tis [sticks], the small surrounding towns

Rachel: Anything else you’d like to share with the DC Jewish community?

Ashira: There are so many different ways to be Jewishly involved in DC. It is truly inspiring. I would encourage people to explore the different organizations and events and see what clicks. Despite being from here, I have spent a fair amount of time in spaces where I knew no one, dipping toes into different places and types of experiences when I moved back. 

Rachel: Complete this sentence – “When Jews of DC Gather…

Ashira: …They’ll be surprised to see how much they have in common. 


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