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Amanda Silva Ryan
2019 Omaha Jewish Film Festival committee member

We have all heard the classic story of Romeo and Juliet. Two young lovers are torn apart due to familial discord, all to end tragically. Leona is not that story. This film, directed by Isaac Cherem and starring Mexican actress Naian González Norvind depicts the coming of age love story of Leona, a young Jewish woman living in Mexico City. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, Leona must navigate the waters of exploring her sexuality while maintaining the marriage customs of her Syrian Jewish family. As friends and family continue down traditional paths, Leona is challenged when she meets and falls in love with a non-Jewish young man.

This type of story is all too familiar to many young Jews. How does one continue to hold the minhagim (customs) of their community, while flirting with the world around them? The World Jewish Congress estimates that Mexico is home to around 40,000 to 50,000 Jews making it the fourteenth largest Jewish community in the world.

While those numbers seem decent, dating in such a small pool, is quite challenging. Further, many of those communities are very traditional, as is represented in Leona by her observant Jewish family. Leona must explain kashrut and Shabbat to her new lover and friends. She fields shidduch calls (matchmaking calls) while exploring different parts of Mexico City outside of her affluent neighborhood.

Leona is torn between the world of her family, and the possibility of a new world. Ultimately, she must make a decision. Does she risk being cut off from her family to remain with her partner or would she rather have experienced a brief yet powerful romance never knowing what that future could have been? In Spanish we say, “La familial lo es todo” – “the family is everything.” But will Leona choose family or love?

Leona is showing at the Marcus Village Pointe Cinema on Monday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. as part of the 2019 Omaha Jewish Film Festival. See the article on page 5 for more details.