Theater / Film
Two documentaries at the Miami Jewish Film Festival dive into family struggles in search for self
Genie Milgrom, brought up in a Catholic Cuban family, searches for her Jewish roots in the movie “Between the Stone and the Flower,” a documentary making its world premiere at the Miami Jewish Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of the Miami Jewish Film Festival)
There was always something tugging inside the heart and mind of Genie Milgrom. At the crux of this tug of war was religion.
Born in Havana, Cuba, raised in Miami, and currently living in Pinecrest, Milgrom says she had been having an “existential crisis” her whole life.
Milgrom’s story of how she decided to covert to Judaism after growing up in a family of Cuban Catholics – not to mention her own Roman Catholic schooling – caused turmoil within her circle of relatives and friends. Her experience is documented in the film “Between the Stone and the Flower: The Duality of the Conversos,” directed by Roberto Otero.
The hour-long made-in-Miami documentary makes its world premiere at the Miami Jewish Film Festival at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 14 at The Hub at Temple Beth Am, Pinecrest; it plays again at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18 at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU, Miami Beach.
Larry King Jr. had an existential crisis of his own. The son of CNN television personality Larry King, he knew who his father was but didn’t forge a relationship with him until he was in his 30s and his famous father was in his early 60s.
The short 13-minute film, Lisa Melmed’s “When Larry Met Larry,” is part of the online streaming segment of the Miami Jewish Film Festival. It becomes available for viewing on Friday, Jan. 12 at 9 a.m. and can be seen through Thursday, Feb. 4, as part of the festival’s “Short Block: Documentary.”
The elder King, who died at age 87 on Jan. 23, 2021, weeks after he was admitted to the hospital with COVID-19, was a Miami figure when his son was born in November of 1961. The year before, King had conducted his first celebrity interview while at WIOD-AM. Singer Bobby Darin was performing at a Miami Beach hotel. King spotted him and, as the story goes, did the interview on the spot from a booth at Pumpernik’s, a deli at Collins Avenue and 67th Street. The spontaneous “get” would be a bellwether for the fame that was to come for the man who would become a television legend.
King Jr. remembers growing up and listening to the dad he had not yet met while the announcer was calling a Miami Dolphins game at the Orange Bowl.
“I was a youngster on the 25-yard line on the Dolphins side. But I could see him up there and hear him on the transistor radio that I was listening to and it was like I was at the game with him. Wildly enough, years later, when I got closer to my dad, (owner) Stephen Ross invited both of us to a game and we spent a whole day there together at the new stadium,” says King Jr.
King was married eight times to seven women. He married King Jr.’s mother, Annette Kaye, in 1961, and though the two had a child together, the marriage didn’t last, and they divorced the same year. King Jr. remembers being about 9, 10 or 11 years old, “right in that window sometime in the early ‘70s and I was questioning my mother: ‘Why doesn’t he call or why isn’t he here?’ She made a point to coach me and tell me that his career was taking off, plus he had already been married three times by then.”
His mother told him that the issue was that King didn’t have time for a son and “being there for you is not where he is right now, and that there would be another day and time for that. And I had to trust in the fact that my mom was giving me the best advice,” says King Jr., who was born in Miami and now at 63 is living in Tampa.
Milgrom had her own family estrangements, but she had to move forward in committing to her Jewish roots. “I knew that I had left behind me a wake of not happiness . . . My family wasn’t happy, my friends weren’t happy, my previous life wasn’t happy, my ex wasn’t happy, my grandparents weren’t happy.” But as she was steeped in her conversion to Judaism, she says she remembers feeling, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing. I am where I need to be.”
For King Jr., the beginning of the relationship with his father was bittersweet. When his mother learned she had inoperable brain cancer, she wrote to her former husband. “By this time, my father had been married seven times.” In the letter, which King Jr. didn’t know about at the time, Kaye wrote, “This kid doesn’t want anything from you. I don’t want anything from you, other than that before I go, I just want to know that you’ll recognize (him) and be there. He just wants to know his dad.’ And, you know, my dad came through . . .,” says King Jr.
He recalls that when the two met it was an immediate friendship. “We had a bond through sports and our personalities . . . the first time we sat down, it was funny, our mannerisms were even similar.”
He remembers when King almost died from a heart attack in 1986. “I don’t know what would have happened because I always would have wondered if I had never talked to him,” he says.
Kaye, who had remarried in 1969, was still alive when what King Jr. says the “handoff” happened. “Some of my mom’s final words to me were, ‘I gave you 33 years and your father now is there for you.’ And he was.”
Milgrom found her roots through 15 abuelas (grandmothers), which she says showed through genealogical records an unbroken maternal lineage going back to the early 1500s that proved her family was Jewish before the Spanish Inquisition. “I was able to compile all the birth, marriage, death and Inquisition documents for my family proving to important Beit dins (Jewish Courts) that the family was always Jewish via my maternal lineage.”
In her research, she discovered and subsequently visited a small Spanish village, Fermoselle, across from Mogaduro, Portugal. Milgrom says the ancestors practiced Judaism there in secret while living as Christians to avoid being killed.
“They were Crypto-Jews until the late 17th century and lived as Catholics from then on,” she says.
In the film, both of Milgrom’s children are interviewed. They talk about what it was like in the midst of their mother making the decision to convert to Judaism.
Her daughter, Nicole, remembers as a teen that “I didn’t have my mom with me on Saturdays or Friday nights . .. (because of Milgrom, now an Orthodox Jews, in Shabbat). If it was cheerleading or horseback riding. I was still doing the things normally I would do as a Catholic kid, going to church on Sundays, you know my life didn’t change, my friends didn’t change, but my relationship with my mom maybe was affected,” says Nicole. “It was tough because she wasn’t a part of my weekends. She would do the best that she could under the circumstances of her having Sabbath on Saturday. Now I feel like I have a good grasp on religion on general because I know both religions so well.”
For Milgrom’s son, Sergio, the biggest change was at the family house around food. He said he was a teenager and about to graduate from high school.
“The meals at home changed, and for me that was very dramatic. I supported her, I said, ‘Look this is your project . . . this is what you want to do, but for me it was a change.” He says there was no longer a Christmas tree, you have to eat the Kosher food . . that was a radical change. “So I had to leave the house and I had to find a place to live. That was the moment I said, ‘This is getting too complicated.’“
Milgrom says she didn’t see the interviews with her children until she saw the final cut of filmmaker Roberto Otero’s movie. She says she called her daughter after watching the clips and said: ” ‘Nikki, I felt pain in your eyes. Just in case there was pain, I want to apologize because I battled through this.’ And I did, I battled through it.”
Her work now is focusing on digitizing all the Inquisition records that contain genealogies of the Jews who were processed during the Inquisition. She knows there are more documents that can give insight into the story of the Crypto-Jews, those who were Catholic on the outside and Jewish on the inside. The Roman Catholic Church’s highest “father” has given her his support. She met with Pope Francis in June of 2023.
“We were nose to nose. We went off in a corner and spoke Spanish,” says Milgrom. He has assigned a papal emissary to collaborate with her to view texts from the Vatican’s “Secret Archives.” “Archivum Secretum,” which means “private archive’” in Latin, contains the personal records of the popes. Vatican Apostolic Archives are millions of documents that date back to over 12 centuries.
“I am planning on flying out there in February and meeting (with the emissary) in the ‘Secret Archives,’ ” says Milgrom, whose quest to connect others with their Jewish roots continues.
King Jr.’s wholeness in his identity came from a nearly three-decade relationship with his father after more than three decades estranged. The two were very involved in each other’s lives from 1994 until King’s death in 2021. “When I think about myself, I’m not the only son or daughter whose parent might not have been with them, but I hope I can be an example of how it can all come together.”
WHAT: The Miami Jewish Film Festival
WHEN: Opens Thursday, Jan. 11 through Thursday, Jan. 25.
WHERE: Screenings held Coral Gables Art Cinema, 260 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; The Hub at Temple Beth Am, 5950 SW 88th St., Pinecrest; Miami Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; Miami Theater Center, 9806 NE 2nd Ave., Miami Shores; Michael-Ann Russell JCC, 18900 NE 25th Ave., North Miami Beach; O Cinema South Beach, 1130 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; and the Miami Beach JCC, 4221 Pine Tree Drive, Miami Beach.
COST: $35, opening night; $15 general admission, $14, seniors and students; $10, virtual streaming.
INFORMATION: 305-503-5182 or miamijewishfilmfestival.org/
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