Zoe’s shock at finding out men can be rabbis, too
Jewish Telegraph, December 2009
ACTRESS Zoe Lister-Jones grew up thinking only women could be rabbis.
The 27-year-old, who stars as an Orthodox Jewish woman in new film Arranged, told the Jewish Telegraph: “I grew up in a Conservative Egalitarian Congregation. I was raised in a kosher home, went to synagogue every Saturday and attended Hebrew school twice a week.
“So I had a fairly religious upbringing in that sense, but it was pretty new age, spiritually driven, and feminist. Our rabbi was a woman and when the shul got a new rabbi many years later who was a man, I said to my mother, ‘I didn’t know men could be rabbis’.”
In Arranged, Zoe stars as Rochel Meshenberg who befriends Muslim Nasira Khaldi, played by Francis Benhamou.
The film is based loosely on the experiences of Yuta Silverman, of Brooklyn, who was executive producer.
“I was very fortunate to have Yuta on set every day,” Zoe said. “I was essentially playing her, so that made my job a lot easier in terms of character study.
“She’s an amazing character. A real revolutionary in a community where women don’t spearhead many projects, especially in the arts. She’s hysterically funny and fearless.”
Zoe is the daughter of Canadian-born video artist Ardele Lister, and photographer and media artist Bill Jones.
She graduated with honours from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.
Zoe, who starred alongside Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck in State of Play, is also a musician.
She has performed with the rock band Maxi Geil and her debut solo CD was called Skip the Kiss.
Her latest film, Breaking Upwards, features a soundtrack written and performed by Zoe.
“It’s available for download on iTunes, so please take a listen,” she said.
Zoe wrote and performed the one-woman, ten-character show Co-dependence is a Four Letter Word.
Arranged is set in the Orthodox areas of Brooklyn, close to where Zoe grew up.
“My mother would take me to that neighbourhood quite often to buy kosher meat or fresh challah,” she said.
“It’s really like entering a different universe out there, which is daunting for a non-Orthodox Jew, but it’s a special place for that reason.”
She added: “People really love this movie. It was made on a tiny budget in 17 days and it has had this amazing life so far.
“I have so many people stop me on the street or write to me on Facebook from all over the world “I have had a few Orthodox men friend me on Facebook if that’s any indication on the reaction from that community.”
Zoe — who has visited Israel once for a cousin’s barmitzvah — hopes Arranged will bring the Jewish and Muslim communities closer together.
She said: “The divide between Jews and Muslims is one of the most tragic in history.
“What’s wonderful about Arranged is that it really highlights how many cultural similarities there are between the two communities without getting bogged down by the politics of it all.”
Zoe says she has never been a victim of antisemitism, but she has noticed “a growing trend of antisemitism in the world, especially in instances like this past year’s Toronto Film Festival and Edinburgh Film Festival.
“Those were both places where Israeli filmmakers were the victims of prejudice, which in my mind is antisemitism, since so many people are unable to distinguish a country’s leadership from its citizens. It’s really reprehensible.