When I left Allentown after graduating high school in 1998, my friends and I who were leaving for college swore, “We’ll never be back!” Twelve years later, after college, a career, moving to New York City and Israel, getting married, and having three kids, I was desperate for my mom’s help. We moved into her basement on the south side near Mack Boulevard. Two years later, the video production company my husband and I started in Israel is still thriving (he drives a few times a week to New York City to shoot commercials), and we’re actually even liking it here. We’re very involved in the Jewish community – we’re active in the synagogue and the JCC, and our children are at the Jewish Day School. Now that I’m an adult living in the place where I grew up, I can see what my mother lacked as a new immigrant herself that I am lucky to have here: community. In spring this year, a new client, Harry Moskoff, came to us asking us to write a concept for a film. He’d been researching the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant for years, and had written a research paper on it. He wanted his findings to be known to a wider audience, and asked us to write a story around his theory. My husband Shmuel and I sat outside of the Starbacks at the Promenade shops in Center Valley sipping on lattes and discussing The Hunger Games when the idea came to us for the film. A short, sci-fi movie about finding the Ark of the Covenant. Kind of a noir version of Indiana Jones. Moskoff loved it, and asked us to produce it. At first we had in mind to fly to Israel to film there. But we wanted the politics removed from the film. And the budget didn’t really cover that kind of trip. We looked into locations in New York, since most of the cast and crew we had in mind to hire live there. But some of our crew were backing out of the project because they had bigger. better opportunities in NYC. We just couldn’t compete. We were hearing so much about joblessness and tough times here in the Lehigh Valley, we figured, let’s hire people here! Why should New York have all the fun? We hired a local wedding planner to help us with organizing the production, and she had plenty of local hot spots to direct us to. We ended up shooting the film in three locations: The No. 9 Mine in Lansford, the
Silk Mill in Easton, and under the 8th St. Bridge in Allentown. We couldn’t have found better locations or friendlier people anywhere else. At the No. 9 Mine volunteers stayed with us till the wee hours of the night conducting the train into and out of the mine, helping us with electricity, and even providing and operating a fog machine that we needed for the ethereal scenes in the chamber of the ark. At the Silk Mill, someone from the Easton Redevelopment Authority was always on hand to show us the different nooks and crannies of the space, shine a flashlight into the darkness (there’s no electricity there!) and chase the geese from the river away when they got too noisy and their honking was getting picked up by the microphones. We were so happy we kept it local. Not only were we bringing business where it’s needed – hiring local catering, getting interns from local
colleges, putting our crew up in local hotels, etc. – but we were able to sleep in our own beds every night after each 16- or 18-hour day. On top of that, since we live near my mother, she was able to pick the kids up after school and have them sleep at her house while we were on set. What I’ve learned from leaving my hometown of Allentown for college, then New York, then Israel, and then coming back, is that it takes time to build a community, no matter where you are. But you have to build it, and work on it, and take the time to make friends. Even if you move here in your 30’s and you’re busy with kids and work and life. Great people live in this valley. But friendships take time to grow. It’s worth it to stick it out, to invite the people you see every day for dinner or a playdate on the weekend. But you can’t always have your head turning around looking over at the last place you lived in – you’ll miss all the good stuff here. On the set of a film you become very close with people, very quickly. The days are long, intense, and often stressful. I’m happy to report that I’ve made some new, good friends in this process. And I don’t even have to think of New York the next time we need a makeup artist or costume designer.
Margelit Hoffman lives with her husband Shmuel and kids on the west end of Allentown. Their company, Hoffman Productions, Inc., is producing, with Moskoff Media, Ltd., The A.R.K. Report, a short sci-fi film about finding the Ark of the Covenant. Look out for it in film festivals in 2013.