Last Word: Documentarian Laurel Fairworth Tells Lesser-Known Jewish Stories

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Laurel Fairworth is a white woman with brown hair wearing dark clothes and looking slightly over her shoulder.
Laurel Fairworth | Courtesy of Laurel Fairworth

In her more than 20 years in journalism, Laurel Fairworth doesn’t remember reporting any Jewish stories or news.

That changed in 2012, when Fairworth, who made the career switch to public relations in 2000, traveled to Israel as part of a Jewish Federation mission following the death of her mother.

Though not her first choice, the Center City resident ended up visiting the Ayalon Institute Museum outside of Tel Aviv, which told the story of a hidden munitions factory under a kibbutz run by 45 Israeli teenagers. Operational 65 years ago, the factory secretly produced 2.5 million bullets to be smuggled to Jewish freedom fighters in the fight for Israeli independence. 


Fairworth became fascinated with the story of Israel’s infancy and that group that Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion credited for the survival of the young state.

“I said to the people (working at the museum), ‘Oh my God, this would make a great documentary,’” Fairworth recalled. “They kind of rolled their eyes. I couldn’t understand why.

“And it wasn’t until almost two years later when I came back with a crew, and their attitude was completely different — 360 degrees,” she continued. “And they said to me, ‘You know, hundreds of people have told us that. You were the first person that came back and did it.’” 

“Code Name: Ayalon,” produced by Fairworth and directed by Michael Lopatin, premiered at the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia in 2020, but almost three years later, Fairworth and the documentary are still getting attention.

On Feb. 5, Congregation Rodeph Shalom will host a screening of the documentary as part of IsraelConnectRS’ Israel at 75 celebration, with a question and answer with Fairworth following. Fairworth said a major broadcast network has expressed interest in airing the documentary as part of their programming on Israel’s 75th anniversary.

Since the debut of her first documentary, the 60-something journalist has wanted to dig deeper into Jewish issues. Along with fellow Philadelphian Ellen Barkann, Fairworth is producing “Blews and the Abstract Truth,” a three-party docu-series exploring Black-Jewish connections through music, sports and civil rights.

“This stuff’s more personal,” Fairworth said of her documentaries. “It was the rise of antisemitism, anti-Zionism — It just felt like this stuff is needed as the other side of the story, as an antidote.” 

Originally from Abington, Fairworth grew up attending Old York Road Temple-Beth Am, where she became bat mitzvah. 

After attending Pennsylvania State University for political science and history, Fairworth entered the public relations world and later found her passion for broadcast journalism. She worked in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Baltimore and South Florida.

A movie poster has a photo of Israeli freedom fighters with the text "Code Name: Ayalon" overlaid.
“Code Name: Alayon” was Fairworth’s first Jewish journalistic endeavor. | Courtesy of Laurel Fairworth

After two decades in the industry, she recognized the trouble people had pitching stories and brands. She founded Cachet Communications, using her journalistic sensibilities as a way to help clients catch journalists’ attention.

Shortly after she started her own business, NBC’s TODAY Show asked Fairworth to be a producer there, working on documentary shorts and special reports.

“It was kind of nice to still be with journalists, so I didn’t get rusty,” she said.

But despite a lifelong connection with Judaism, it never made its way into Fairworth’s projects. Now that Fairworth has incorporated more of her Jewish identity into her projects, she’s found a responsibility to explore the topics of identity and discrimination in unique ways, “warts and all.”

For “Blews and the Abstract Truth,” Fairworth and Barkann worked to assemble a diverse production team that resembled the subjects of the documentary series. Working with Black creators, Fairworth found how diverse perspectives enhanced the content of her research and reporting.

“We’re not coming into it with an ax to grind or a particular side. We’re letting the story speak to us,” she said. “But I think the best way to make sure I cover all angles is to have … a team who represents what the film is about.”

In a world of increased antisemitism, Fairworth hopes her documentaries provide “food for thought” and begin a conversation among viewers, ultimately leading to behavior changes to address or intervene in hatred.

“What can one person do about it? Not a whole lot,” Fairworth said. “But if everybody does something? This is my something.”

srogelberg@midatlanticmedia.com

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