Visiting Professor: Rami Kimchi
by Zev Horowitz, Fall 2014
Dr. Rami Kimchi always gets a good laugh in Korean restaurants.
“They see my name on the credit card and assume I’m named after the vegetable side dish. It’s the equivalent of someone going into an Israeli restaurant with the name ‘Mr. Hummus,’” he jokes.
An established and prize-winning filmmaker and scholar, Kimchi (pronounced “kim-khee”) is originally from Israel and served as a visiting professor at UC San Diego last quarter. Through the Judaic Studies Department at UCSD, Kimchi taught two courses about the relationship between Jewish texts and Israeli culture.
His classes, “Love and Desire in Hebrew Literature” and “Zionism and Peace in New Israeli Cinema,” both relied heavily on comparing literary and cinematic works in order to comprehensively explore and contextualize the main topics of the lectures.
Professor Kimchi’s teaching stint at UC San Diego was his third at an American university. Kimchi previously taught at Tulane University and the University of Michigan — where he also earned his Ph.D. Kimchi also holds a Bachelors degree in Film and Television from Tel Aviv University and a DEA in Jewish civilization from Paris University.
Both of his Fall Quarter courses, particularly the Israeli cinema class, evaluated literature and film as artistic works within a Jewish context.
Kimchi has recently published a book on the roots of the Israeli “Bourekas” film genre in Yiddish Classical Literature.
“Israeli culture tends to negate, neglect and even deny its Jewish roots,” Kimchi said. “It’s important to realize, while studying these topics, that Hebrew Culture was not born without Jewish pre- Zionist cultures.
Kimchi himself has produced and directed five films to date. His first, a short fiction called Galia’s Wedding (1986) took home First Prize for Short Fiction at the 1987 Jerusalem International Film Festival. His unprecedented success with a film that was an adaptation of a story by A B Yehoshua, the most prominent Sephardi writer of our time, he says, inspired him to explore his own Sephardic Jewish heritage through films.
“The history of Sephardim in the last two centuries is an often unexplored topic,” Kimchi says. “I felt a sort of responsibility to commit time to exploring that narrative through film.”
Kimchi’s next three films chronicled, for Israeli national TV channels, stories of his family within the context of the greater Sephardic Jewish narrative.
"I made a Documentary trilogy about my nuclear family", he says, "I think it's the only family of four in the world which has had a documentary trilogy made about it".
His most recent film, The Night of Fools (2014), recounts the story of a World War II-era Jewish community in an Algierian uprising against pro-Nazi belligerents.
The film is actually so recent, Kimchi says, it was only completed two days before he got onto the plane for San Diego.
The Night of Fools had first screening at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, in November and was screened before a lively crowd over 50 students, faculty and community members at UCSD on December 4 at an event sponsored by the Judaic Studies Program.
San Diego audiences are also able to view the film on February 2015 at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival .
Kimchi hopes that The Night of Fools will not be his last venture into filmmaking.
“The story that the film tells has the materials that major Hollywood films are made from,” he says smiling, before adding that Hollywood film producers should “give me a call.”