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Arts

The unusual second career of Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

Matthew Jacobs (left) and Rabbi Lawrence Kushner in “Your Good Friend,” being shown Sunday in the Boston Jewish Film Festival.

Dovetail Films Ltd.

Matthew Jacobs (left) and Rabbi Lawrence Kushner in “Your Good Friend,” being shown Sunday in the Boston Jewish Film Festival.

The initial forays into semiretirement by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner followed a somewhat typical path.

After 29 years leading Congregation Beth El in Sudbury, he took on a teaching position at Hebrew Union College in New York, then relocated to California to be near his three grown children, and serve as scholar-in-residence at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.

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But Kushner’s next venture was decidedly atypical. He became a movie star.

Or if not a star, at least a leading man.

Kushner plays one of two characters in “Your Good Friend,” a film that he wrote and produced with a British-born actor, director and writer, Matthew Jacobs.

The film will have its world premiere at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline as part of the two-week Boston Jewish Film Festival, with both filmmakers present for a question and answer session afterwards.

The film depicts the relationship between a rabbi and a pornographer, who become friends as they try to raise money by developing a clergy-approved porn site.

Kushner wasn’t thinking about the big screen, or even the small screen, when he started frequenting a coffee shop popular with writers in his San Francisco neighborhood a few years ago. Already the author of 19 books about Judaism, he was hoping to work on a novel.

But over the course of many cups of coffee, he became acquainted with another regular, Jacobs. The two men shared observations of their fellow coffee shop patrons, as diverse a crowd as any San Francisco neighborhood has to offer, and they agreed it looked like the premise of a TV sit-com.

Then Jacobs’ thinking took a more serious turn.

“Larry and I come from very different backgrounds,” Jacobs explained. “I have always been fascinated by the relationship between love, sex, and religion. He and I would often discuss these ideas. Eventually, I came to realize that creating a story about the unlikely friendship between a pornographer and a rabbi went beyond just the premise for a good joke. It became the story of how people who are entirely different can become friends and heal each other and change. This is something that we felt was really worth making a movie about.”

The resemblance to their real lives is no coincidence, said Kushner.

“In a sense, Matthew and I becoming friends is the foundation of what the movie is about. We have helped one another through tough times, and in so doing discovered there was much more depth to our relationship than we might have imagined possible when we first met.”

Already experienced in the typically complex and lengthy process of getting a film produced, Jacobs proposed that the two do this one a little differently. He and Kushner each contributed $1,500 – “about what we might spend on a vacation,” Jacobs said — and shot with a crew of four, rather than the crew of four times the size that Jacobs was accustomed to working with, over the course of a few days. All the dialogue was improvised, which Jacobs says means a faster filming process but far more time in the editing room.

Only a small number of friends and colleagues have viewed the film at private screenings in the Bay Area, so Kushner and Jacobs are eager to find out how a larger, public audience reacts at Sunday’s premiere.

“ ‘Your Good Friend’ is the story of how you can become friends with someone and be redeemed by that friendship even if that person is utterly unlike you,” Kushner said. “I guess our hope is that people will walk out of the movie thinking, ‘I suppose I could become friends with someone who is as unlike me as these two characters are from each other.’ ”

The Boston Jewish Film Festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, is running through Nov. 18, with screenings at a dozen area venues. For a complete schedule, go to www.bjff.org. For more information on “Your Good Friend,’’ visit www.yourgoodfriendmovie.com.

MUSICAL BEE: “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” opens Friday and runs through Nov. 17 at the Center for Arts in Natick.

The TCAN Players will be performing the award-winning Broadway musical comedy at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, as well as Nov. 14 through 16; and 2 p.m. on Sunday and Nov. 17 at the arts center, 14 Summer St. in downtown Natick.

Tickets are $22, or $20 for TCAN members; $12 for students and seniors. For tickets and more information, call 508-647-0097 or go to www.natickarts.org.

TRADING TRUTHS: True Story Theater is an improvisational ensemble of 18 actors, dancers, singers, and musicians who tell stories by improvising with each other and with audience members. Each monthly installment focuses on a different theme.

The next installment explores “Many Languages of Love,” with actors and audience members sharing stories involving all sorts of relationships, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Arlington Center, 369 Mass. Ave. in Arlington.

Tickets are $15, or $10 for seniors and students. For more information, go to www.truestorytheater.org.

MUSICAL CIRCLES: Two young up-and-coming singer/songwriters, Seth Glier and Liz Longley, perform at the Circle of Friends Coffeehouse, 262 Chestnut St. in Franklin, on Saturday at 8 p.m.

Admission is $20; doors open at 7:30 p.m. Call 508-528-2541 or visit www.circlefolk.org to purchase tickets or for more information.

WAR DIARIES: “Invasion: Diaries and Memories of War in Iraq,” based on journals kept by Marine Lieutenant Timothy McLaughlin and contributions by two journalists, writer Peter Maass and photographer Gary Knight, who crossed paths with him in the desert, is on exhibit through Nov. 20 at the Boston College Law Library, 885 Centre St. in Newton.

The multimedia display, which was conceived and designed by Knight and Maass, presents three perspectives on the invasion of Iraq from within the same unit. For more information, go to www.wardiaries.org.

Send ideas to nancyswest@gmail.com.
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