The 18th annual Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival is a celebration of “chai.”

As in the Hebrew word for “life,” not the type of tea.

To commemorate the spiritually significant anniversary — the word chai is formed by the eighth and 10th letters of the Hebrew alphabet and, as a result, the number 18 has achieved reverence within Judaism — admission to every screening, Thursday through Jan.27, will be free.

“All you need to invest now is the time and your curiosity,” says festival director Joshua Abbey. “And I can assure anyone who likes great cinema they will not be disappointed.”

The free admission, Abbey says, is the latest effort to bridge the gap between the local Jewish community and the rest of Las Vegas. “The festival is supposed to serve as an educational outreach to the broader community, to help people learn more about Jewish life, culture, history and Israel — and the Holocaust, of course.”

To achieve that, this year’s fest also is broadening its scope, and its potential audience, through a variety of partnerships.

Nevada Ballet Theatre and the Consulate General of Switzerland are hosting the screening of “Breath Made Visible,” a documentary about dancer Anna Halprin, at 1 p.m. Sunday at the festival’s homebase, the Adelson Educational Campus, 9700 Hillpointe Road.

“Shalom Bollywood,” a documentary shining a light on Indian cinema’s early leading ladies, many of whom were Jewish, will be shown at 1 p.m. Jan. 20 at Windmill Library, 7060 W. Windmill Lane, where local East Indians host many of their events.

“It’s going to be a really fun mashup between the Jewish and East Indian communities for a very special film,” Abbey says.

Not surprisingly, Abbey is most excited about the festival’s closing film, “Balabustas.”

Begun in 2005 as a documentation of influential local Jewish women as part of the Las Vegas centennial celebration, Abbey, an American Film Institute graduate, condensed the footage he directed into the documentary that will premiere at 1 p.m. Jan. 27 at the Adelson campus.

“Balabustas,” taken from the Yiddish term for good homemakers, profiles a dozen women. Six of them — including former U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, philanthropist Faye Steinberg and Abbey’s mother, artist Rita Deanin Abbey — will be in attendance.

“This chai anniversary is just an opportunity to spread goodwill for the new year,” Abbey says, “and allow people to get greater insight and understand some of the dynamics that are driving some of the challenges with “anti-Semitism on the rise.”

As part of the celebration of life, this year’s festival will be dedicated to the 11 victims of the Oct. 27 mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life or L’Simcha Congregation.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson, who is an executive producer of the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

The movies

Admission to all screenings is free. For more information, see the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival website at

“The Museum”

7 p.m. Thursday, Century Theatres at the South Point

An intimate portrait of Israel’s most important cultural institution.

“Who Will Write Our History”

7 p.m. Saturday, Adelson Educational Campus, 9700 Hillpointe Road

A look at the clandestine group of journalists and scholars from the Warsaw Ghetto who battled Nazi propaganda.

“Breath Made Visible”

1 p.m. Sunday, Adelson campus

A celebration of the career of American modern dance pioneer Anna Halprin.

“Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel”

1 p.m. Sunday, Adelson campus

Israel’s national baseball team debuts in the World Baseball Classic.

“First Cousin Once Removed”

7 p.m. Jan. 19, Adelson campus

Poet Edwin Honig battles Alzheimer’s disease.

“Shalom Bollywood”

1 p.m. Jan. 20, Windmill Library, 7060 W. Windmill Lane

The little-known story of the prominence of India’s Jewish community in building the nation’s film industry.

“Working Woman”

7 p.m. Jan. 26, Adelson campus

A woman enters the Jerusalem workforce to support her family only to be sexually harassed by her boss.


7 p.m. Jan. 27, Adelson campus

Interviews with Jewish women who helped shape the development of Las Vegas.