On December 8th, the Magnes Museum, a collection focused on Jewish art and life, hosted the Bay Area Book Fair. Just a few blocks from Berkeley High, Mira Z. Amiras took the stage to present her book Malka’s Notebook, and the accompanying film, The Day Before Creation.
The presentation included a viewing of the film, and an interview with Amiras. Dev Noily, Senior Rabbi at Kehilla Community Synagogue interviewed Amiras about the book and its significance and inspiration.
According to Noily, he was asked by his friend Scott Gelfand, the Chief Operating Officer of the Bay Area Book Festival to be the interviewer. “I fell in love with the book,” Noily said, “I was very excited to have the opportunity to talk to her [Amiras]”
Noily also spoke of the uniqueness of this book, especially the fact that the book is centered around the Hebrew alphabet. “Hebrew letters are different than English letters in that they have this aliveness, and this power to them.” Noily explained, “I’ve never seen anybody write a book like this about that. I’ve seen scholarly books, mystical books and other kinds of books, but not a book like this.”
One attendee at the presentation was Amiras’ son, Michael Zussman. According to Zussman, one of the most captivating things about the film was the detail. “It’s the type of film that you need to see over and over again to see all the detail that’s in there” Zussman described, “Every time I look at it, or read it, or look at it with my kids, different things pop out at me… Every time I see it, new things emerge.”
Gelfand pointed out the importance of the perspective that it showed, with the main character being a young woman on a quest for knowledge. “As a father with two daughters, it was powerful for me to have the daughter’s voice.” Gelfand shared.
During the interview, Amira’s spoke of the resemblance between the characters and people in her life. Zussman talked more about the characters, explaining where he finds similarities. “Both Malka and the daughter in the book seem like my mother and sister Reyna and they’re both loosely based on both.” Zussman explained.
Zussman also talked about the prominence of many images in the book in his childhood. He described how the book felt familiar and contained many images that he had grown up with. “There are photos in our house… there’s designs and art on the walls that look just like the art that’s in the movie and the book.” Zussman said, “For me it’s about the imagery, and of course her [Malka’s] father looks a lot like her [Amiras’] father. He sounds entirely different… but the mustache and the way he presents himself looks like him.”
According to the presentation, Amiras’ father was also incredibly important in the creation of the museum. The event was held on the 100th anniversary of the birth of her father, Seymour Fromer, cofounder of the Magnes Museum. “Her father created the beginnings of what has now become a very important institution for collecting and archiving and studying all kinds of Jewish material.” Noily said, “For her to be able to do this event here is very, very special.”
What I wanted to do was to make a movie to honor my dad after he died. Amiras said during the presentation, “it was a different movie when we started, we actually started this movie thirty years ago. At that time it was just some students wanted to do a student project and they worked on it for three years and I think the hard drive crashed or something… Starting again, Malka appeared . it became a different movie. But it’s still for my dad, and this is the hundredth anniversary of his birth.”