Followed by online conversation with the director
They Ain’t Ready for Me is the feature-length documentary about Tamar Manasseh , the African-American rabbinical student who leads the fight against senseless killings on Chicago’s South Side. Every day Tamar, the feisty, confident and attractive mother of two, sits on the corner of 75th Street and South Stewart Avenue in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. This is the ghetto, where poverty, unemployment, addiction and violence are rampant. In 2015, a young mother was shot and killed while trying to break up an argument. For Tamar, this was one senseless killing too many. Tired of waiting for politicians to do something, Tamar took the situation into her own hands. She did something simple but revolutionary – she sat down at the corner and hasn’t left since.
Every day she sits on the corner, barbecues, plays music and brings games for the children. In over four years, not one person has been killed on the block. Tamar and the organization she founded, MASK, Mothers and Men Against Senseless Killings, are proving that something can be done, the situation is not hopeless. Just by her presence on the block – talking, joking and hanging out – she makes the neighborhood’s forgotten residents believe that there are people who don’t care if they live or die. But Tamar Manasseh is more than just a concerned mother – she’s also a rabbi. Her unique background and upbringing give her a perspective that few people can claim. Both authentically Jewish and authentically black, she brings an understanding of both communities even as she struggles for acceptance in the Jewish world.
They Ain’t Ready For Me explores the challenges and motivations of this fearless community leader as she works to prevent more people from being killed by gun violence. It also shows how her Judaism informs her activism. Tamar’s complex identity and magnetic personality make her a force to be reckoned with, and she hasn’t even hit her stride yet.
The scourge of gun violence has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. After every mass shooting, people point to gun violence in Chicago as an example of how gun regulation is not working. Chicago’s gun laws, after all, are among the strictest in the country, but have one of the highest murder rates in the United States. What this argument does not address are the underlying causes of the murder in inner city Chicago – poverty, unemployment, mass incarceration, and institutionalized racism. Moreover, the threat of sending federal troops to Chicago, an idea constantly floated by national politicians who are absolutely unwilling to confront the reality on the ground, hovers over the ghetto like a dark and ominous cloud.
This film shows how Tamar Manasseh and MASK are proving every day that something can be done to reduce gun violence if the will exists. This message needs to reach a wider audience quickly. Tamar has become a well-known figure in Chicago, and she is poised to become a national figure – in the last few months, the New York Times has published four opinion pieces she has written. They Ain’t Ready For Me will play a big role in establishing her as an important voice not only for the black community, but also for an increasingly multi-ethnic America.
The film shows how Tamar addresses the challenges facing the black and Jewish worlds. The story is set in the context of the larger issues playing out in America today – increasing racial tensions, growing inequality, and a growing sense of atomization and alienation. In the Jewish world, Tamar is seen as an outsider whose identity is constantly questioned, even as her approach to fighting gun violence is praised. The paradox is that while she sees her Judaism as the source of her activism and claims many Jews as supporters, she is kept at a distance by the mainstream (white) Jewish community.
The film also illuminates how grassroots activists can step into the breach when local, state, and national institutions fail to address the basic needs of their constituents. Another important dimension of the film is its focus on a strong woman who rises to become a leader in the community. In the current social and political climate, where women are increasingly being heard and the fight for women’s rights has become a unifying force, Tamar serves as a role model and inspiration for all of us.
Director/Producer Brad Rothschild is an award-winning producer and writer with both a creative and business background. He received a Masters in International Affairs and a Masters in Business Administration, both from Columbia University. From 1995 to 1997, he was a speechwriter and communications director for the Israeli Mission to the United Nations.
Brad produced the award-winning documentary film Kinderblock 66: Return to Buchenwald. The film was screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival and at over 20 festivals in the United States and around the world. Brad directed the documentary African Exodus about the plight of Israel’s African refugees and the documentary Tree Man about the people who come to New York City every Christmas season to sell Christmas trees. Tree Man won the audience award at the St. Lawrence International Film Festival. He is currently directing a documentary about Raoul Wallenberg.