Category Archives: Judaica

Books and movies of interest to the Jewish community

“A QUIET HEART”— Seeking Anonymity and Solitide

“A Quiet Heart”

Seeking Anonymity and Solitude

Amos Lassen

Jerusalem today is a city that is increasingly dominated by religious fanaticism, Naomi Sarid (Ania Bukstein), a secular young woman seeks refuge from the pressure of her life as a concert pianist. She is overwhelmed by the expectations of her parents and her colleagues in Tel Aviv and seeks anonymity and solitude in Jerusalem. Despite her intentions to stay alone, however, Naomi quickly makes two unexpected connections, one with a musically gifted Ultra-Orthodox young boy who lives in her building and the other with Fabrizio (Giorgio Lupano), a charismatic Italian monk and organist. While these relationships allow Naomi to reconnect with her love of music and sense of meaning, they also make her a target in her new community. She faces escalating isolation and violence and Naomi has to learn to use music as a bridge to overcome towering religious barriers.

The film is set on the fault line between religious conservatives and secular liberals in contemporary Israel and has a great deal of emotional bite and drama. Already a domestic award-winner, writer-director Eitan Anner has directed strong performances and timely themes.

Escaping her native Tel Aviv to start a new life in Jerusalem, Naomi rents a threadbare apartment in a high-rise housing project in Kiryat Yovel, a hillside suburb that is dominated by hard-line Orthodox Jews. Her religious neighbors see her with suspicion. Naomi is alarmed to discover that Simcha (Lior Lifshitz), a mute preteen boy from an Orthodox family in the next building, has a habit of climbing in through her fifth-floor window to play a battered piano left behind by the previous tenant. She begins giving him lessons on how to play the piano.

In between working at her day job, Naomi faces constant passive-aggressive scrutiny from her neighbors, while a hostile traffic warden (Uri Gottlieb) gives her costly parking tickets on a daily basis. Her only escape is trying to rediscover her love of music, which starts to return after she hears the pipe organ played at a nearby Catholic monastery by a handsome Italian monk, Brother Fabrizio.

It soon becomes clear that Naomi’s peace of mind is likely to be assaulted by external pressures such as the open animosity from some of her neighbors, who consider a young secular woman living on her own as immoral in their close knit community. One young woman, an activist who is part of a group which is trying to stop the ultra-religious from taking over the neighborhood claims that his a war and the only connections that Naomi she manages to achieve are due to passion for music.

It is Simcha who holds the key to the truth about what happened to the previous tenant. Her other emotional link is with a charismatic Italian monk, Fabrizio (Giorgio Lupano), who agrees to teach her to play the pipe organ. The mutual attraction between the two is played out in intimate duets, shared glances and, just when it means most, a chaste kiss to the hand.

The connection with Fabrizio is a rare moment of harmony in a world which seems increasingly discordant as Naomi finds herself the target of a hate campaign.

Naomi’s hesitant friendship with Fabrizio is mildly flirtatious but never sexual. Even so, faceless neighborhood gossips use this to brand her as a “whore” and a “missionary,” demanding that she leave the area by using anonymous threats and increasingly stark warnings. Fearing reprisals, Simcha’s mother cancels the boy’s informal piano lessons with Naomi. There is evidence that seems to suggest the previous tenant in her apartment was driven to suicide by similar harassment tactics, or even murdered outright.

The drama is about the evils of intolerance. Director Anner succeeds in conveying a repressive, claustrophobic air of creeping unease and latent violence. Naomi’s housing block exudes a chilling, almost hostile mood and writer-director Anner has crafted a piece that is very symbolic of the subject of the coexistence of different religions, a topic inherently important to Israel, and especially Jerusalem. The film answer to this is that it takes courage from a brave individual to stand up against intolerance.

“AIDA’S SECRETS”— Reuniting Brothers

“Aida’s Secrets”

Reuniting Brothers

Amos Lassen

Director Alon Schwarz brings us his debut feature film, “Aida’s Secrets”, a story that reunites two long lost brothers after 60 years of being apart. From the first scene it is heartbreaker and it grips all the way through to its heart-warming end. This is a personal for the director (his own Uncle is at the center of the film) and he explores emotional, historic and universal themes here. This is a documentary that seems like a feature film because the story is so gripping, the research so excellent and the film is so skillful.

One brother grew up in Israel, the other grew up in Winnipeg. For 65 years they did not know of one another’s existence. The film chronicles the reunion of these two long-lost brothers, both born in the Bergen-Belsen displaced person camp after World War II. Director Schwarz shares that there is a third brother who lives in Toronto.

Izak was born in 1945 in the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp, and sent for adoption to Israel. His birth mother, Aida, had moved to Canada but went to Israel to visit Isak many times after reconnecting with him when he was 11 years old. However, she did conceal certain information. A few years ago, Izak discovered through documents from the Bergen-Belsen camp that he had a brother known as Shep in the camp. Izak’s nephew Alon, a filmmaker went to My Heritage, an organization that specializes in using technology to reveal family history. He tracked down Shep Shell (who was born in the camp in 1946, and originally named Szepsyl Szewelewicz).

Collaborating with his brother and frequent partner, co-director Shaul Schwarz, Alon decided to investigate family history and make a movie about it as well. This is the story of a splintered family is both disturbing and heartening. It’s a complex mixture of drama, intrigue, secrets, lies and tearful reunions that span seven decades, stretching from a refugee camp in the war-torn Europe of the 1940s to a nursing home in Quebec, where two of Aida’s sons visit their mother near the end of her life. As they visit, they try to pry secrets out of her.

In the list of persons residing in Bergen-Belsen in August 1947 there was a family of four. The father, Grisza/Grisha/Gregorgz Szewelewicz, born in Poland, served in the Russian Army and wound up in Auschwicz-Birkenau in 1943 before landing in the Bergen-Belsen camp for displaced persons. He was by all accounts charming, attractive and far from monogamous. The mother, Aida Szewelewicz, was born in Poland in 1925. After several years in the anything-goes postwar atmosphere of the DP camp, Aida split up with Grisha and wound up in Canada.

Izak was sent away for adoption. Shep and Grisha landed in Winnipeg. Apparently Aida did not know where Shep was. Decades later, DNA evidence revealed that Grisha was the biological father of Shep, but not Izak.

We have quite an emotional climax when the two brothers finally meet in Canada. Together they visit Aida at the nursing home in Quebec, where she spent her last years. All seems overwhelming for Shep, who is blind, and has not been in touch with his mother for 65 years. Izak has difficult job of introducing his mother to Shep.

Shep compares this experience to winning an Olympic medal and he should know how that feels because ran the marathon for Canada in the 1988 para-Olympics in Seoul. He has no words to describe his feelings not just about meeting his brother but also finding his birth mother.

The reconciliation closes a circle and gives both brothers peace of mind. But Aida goes blank when the question of a third brother comes up. Either she does not remember or she isn’t telling.

The third and youngest brother was born in Montreal on April 3, 1949. George Zasadsinska was the name on his birth certificate, but that name was changed when he was adopted. The man who was once named George is confronted with a choice. Does he step forward now and meet or does he remain anonymous?

“Family History of Fear” by Agata Tuszynska— Revisiting the Past

Tuszynska, Agata. “Family History of Fear: A Memoir”, Anchor Books, 2017.

Revisiting the Past

Amos Lassen

Many family histories include a tragedy in the past and this so true of those who lived in Poland during World War II. Because of this family histories do not share all of the events. Sometimes the passage if events dull the pain. In the case of Agata Tuszyńska, one of Poland’s most admired poets and cultural historians, the times has come that she is ready to share the stories she heard from her mother about her secret past. In those stories we read of the underground Home Army, the tragedy of the Warsaw Uprising and the civil war against the Communists. This is a powerful memoir about growing up after the Second World War in Communist Poland as a blonde, blue-eyed, and Catholic girl. It was not until she was

nineteen years old and living in Warsaw when her mother told her the truth—that she was Jewish—and began to tell her stories of the family’s secret past in Poland. Tuszyńska, who grew up in a country filled with anti-Semitism, rarely heard the word “Jew” (only from her Polish Catholic father, and then, always in derision) and she became unhinged, ashamed, and humiliated. She skillfully erased the truth within herself, refusing to admit the existence of her other half.

When Tuszyńska investigated her past, she began to write of her journey to uncover her family’s history during World War II. Her mother, at age eight, and her grandmother entered the Warsaw Ghetto for two years where conditions grew more desperate. Her mother escaped just before the uprising, and lived “hidden on the other side.” She writes of her grandfather, one of five thousand Polish soldiers taken prisoner in 1939, who later became Poland’s most famous radio sports announcer. She writes of her relatives and their mysterious pasts, as she tries to make sense of the hatred of Jews in her country. She shares her discoveries and her willingness to accept a radically different definition of self, reading the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer who opened up for her a world of Polish Jewry.

Here is a book of discovery and acceptance and an insightful portrait of Polish Jewish life, from before and after Hitler’s Third Reich.

Tuszynska grew up in a relatively privileged home during the 1950s and 1960s. Her father was a well-known radio broadcaster and provided her and her family with a higher status than the norm, even though her parents’ marriage actually ended when she was a child. After the war, most of the Jewish survivors immigrated after the war, but a small minority remained, assimilated and the younger generations, are mostly unaware of its heritage.

This is a fascinating look at the interconnections between what had been a wealthy Jewish family with its less prosperous Polish Catholic in-laws. Young Poles were brought up to believe that Communism was leading their country to a great future.

About seventy percent of the Jews in the world today have Polish roots. Until the 1920’s, Poland had the largest Jewish community in the world. Today it barely exists at all. This, of course, is due to the Holocaust and the mass emigration of its survivors. There is another part of the story— that of the Jews who survived and continued their lives in Poland as assimilated Poles, either repressing or denying their Jewish identity.

 

Tuszyńska reveals each branch of her family tree, both Polish and Jewish giving us an intimate, highly personal picture of life in Poland through the upheavals of the twentieth century. When she learned of her Jewish identity, Tuszyńska, like her mother had almost all her life, chose to hide it.

The revelation had no adverse impact on any of her personal relationships with other Poles. There is a great deal of interesting information here including the account of her grandmother’s tragic death, while living under the protection of righteous Poles in the Praga district of Warsaw in the closing days of the war and the heroism of her Polish uncle Oleś, a bigamist with two Jewish wives (and who lived to be 100). I had reached a point when I could no longer read about the Holocaust and then I took a chance and read this and everything changed.

We know how most books about the Holocaust end and even though we can never let it happen again, there is only so much pain we are able to take. It took a good writer like Agata Tuszynska to show mw how much I had been missing.

 

 

“NATASHA”— The Immigration Experience

“Natasha”

The Immigration Experience

Amos Lassen

Mark Berman (Alex Ozerov ) is a 16-year-old and lives in Toronto who is spending his summer reading Nietzsche and selling pot His mother, Bella, (Deanna Dezmari) gives him a task: when his uncle Fima remarries, Mark’s supposed to look after his new step cousin, 14-year-old Natasha (Sasha K. Gordon), who doesn’t speak any English.

Mark at first was annoyed by his mother’s request but he soon starts to fall for Natasha, and they begin a forbidden relationship. Directed and written by

David Bezmozgis, “Natasha” is a stunning film.  Mark and Natasha obviously can’t ever have the relationship they want making this heartbreaking to watch. We know it cannot end well and seeing the inevitable happen is incredibly difficult and moving.

Mark seems to be inherently lazy preferring to make weekly deliveries for Rufus, his suburban Toronto drug hook-up rather than take a legit summer job. It turns out the fourteen year-old Natasha is more sexually experienced than Mark who is something of a nerd. He is a bit nebbish and she is more than a little forward. At times, Mark seems to shrink into the background as the passive Berman and we sense that the film is making a comment about hungry, aggressive first generation Russia-survivors like Natasha. Bezmozgis is giving us an intelligent and evocative portrait of immigrant life in Canada. The movie plays out on the rich backdrop of the Eastern European (primarily Russian) Jewish community in Toronto.

As Natasha and Mark fall for each other, deep secrets of Natasha’s life in Russia come to light and several family conflicts threaten the relationship. We see here the differences between the “new” immigrants (Natasha’s Mother) and those who’ve had time to establish themselves in the “New World” (Mark’s family). These contrasts are brilliantly juggled throughout the film since it is the differences which tend to provide the greatest conflict and they do so in with “old world” values which tend to creep into the proceedings.

“Natasha” is a love story within a coming-of-age tale that is as bitter as it is sweet. Visually, Bezmozgis uses simple, but dramatic and resonant shots. Darkness wends its way through this moving, romantic story and this makes the light seem brighter than it needs to be.

I understand that “Natasha” is the first film to explore the little known Russian-born Jewish subculture in Toronto that. It is where many immigrants from the late 70s to the early 90s went when fleeing anti-Semitism and other miseries. Bezmozgis was one such immigrant. He, and his family came to Toronto from Latvia when he was six-years-old The Latvian native, who arrived in Toronto with his family when he was six-years-old and has stated that some of the film is autobiographical.

“OUR FATHER”— A Story of Fatherhood

“Our Father”

A Story of Fatherhood

Amos Lassen

Ovadia Rachmim (Morris Cohen) is the strongest and most violent doorman of Tel Aviv nightclubs. He fears nothing and has never lost a fight . His biggest dream is to become a father; he and his wife Rachel (Rotem Zisman-Cohen) are trying to get pregnant for almost five years. A small time gangster named Shalom (Alon Dahan) sees great potential in Ovadia and wants him to come to work for him. Ovadia sees this as great option to start an expensive treatment for his wife. As soon as Rachel gets pregnant, he decides to stop working for Shalom but learns that it is not that easy. Ovadia needs to finance fertility treatments for his wife and reluctantly takes the job as a strong-arm collector of grey-market debts.

This is the story of decent man who is drawn into organized crime only to find that, once he has become a fully blooded member of the underworld, he can’t opt out again.

There’s an intimacy and subtlety that we see when the husband and wife share the screen (They are also husband and wife in real life). Ovadia was at first reticent to taking the job offer but soon gets a taste for the work. However, the stress takes its toll on his even temper.

Meni Yaish’s film is filled with violence and the acts Ovadia commits show him a side of himself that he has always tried to restrain, a side that enjoys his physical power and his ability to inflict pain.

Throughout the movie, we know that something awful is coming when Ovadia tries to break free from Shalom. This is also the story of the other Israelis, the ones who live in Tel Aviv but who are outside the so-called bubble, whose lives revolve around minimum-wage jobs and being overdrawn at the bank. Ovadia and Rachel are also religiously observant without being fanatical. Ovadia’s religious observance is at odds with the job he is supposed to do.

“PAST LIFE”— Two Sisters

“Past Life”

Two Sisters

Amos Lassen

“Past Life” chronicles the daring late 1970s odyssey of two sisters. Sephi (Joy Rieger) is an introverted classical musician and a scandal sheet journalist and Nana (Nelly Tagar) as they deal with a shocking wartime mystery that has cast a dark shadow on their entire lives. They begin an investigation of their father’s, Baruch Milch (Doron Tavory), activities during the Second World War.

When the two young women make their way to a choral choir concert being held in Berlin where at the reception afterwards, a woman confronts Sephi telling her that she is the daughter of a murderer.  The shocking incident leads to Sephi telling Nana what she heard and the two sisters go about a personal investigation to discover whether the accusation is true.

This is a coming of age tale for Sephi who has to deal with the weight of history and forge a future for herself.  Nana convinces Sephi to investigate the matter and find out whether their father was a war criminal, or it was some sort of accident. Nana, on the other hand, disagrees with her sister, but embarks on her own journey to try to understand the choices that her father had to make.

Nana was invited by Thomas Zielinski, a German conductor to perform at a concert in Warsaw. It seems that Thomas was tied  to the event that happened in the past. It just so happens that the accuser is the mother of Zielinski.

For a number of reasons (including her father’s often excessive discipline), Sephi cannot dismiss the encounter, so she shares it with her sister Nana who has not had a great relationship with her father and assumes that there is some truth in the accusation. The sisters start investigating their father’s past and when Baruch is made aware that there are inquiries being made about him, he offers to reconstruct the lost diary of the years he spent hiding in the Zielinski farm. However, the combination of the sisters’ lingering doubts and accumulated bad karma, this could bring tragic results to the Milch family.

There is significance to setting the film in 1977 should not be lost on anyone and director Nesher does not belabor the parallels between the thaw with Sadat and the efforts of Sephi Milch and Thomas Zielinski to reconcile their parents. This is a richly detailed period production that reminds us of both the good and the bad of the era.

Joy Rieger is rather remarkable as the initially naïve and submissive Sephi Milch. Her expressive face is like an open book. Nelly Tagar brings more attitude and angst as the razor-sharp but profoundly sad Milch-Kotler. Doron Tavory deftly walks a fine line as Dr. Milch, establishing his severity as a parent, but also a deep sense of his fundamentally decent but scarred psyche. It is good to see him back on the screen.

This is an emotional drama where each of us have something to learn from. It is, in a way, an educational movie that shows that pain is sometimes not caused by physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury, but by traumatic past events. We need redemption, understanding and willingness to let the past go. I have tried very hard not to write any spoilers here so if this review is, in places, somewhat incoherent that is the reason why.

“The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem” edited by Marie Luise Knott— Germany, Jewish Identity and the Holocaust

Knott, Marie Luise (editor). “The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem”, University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Germany, Jewish Identity and the Holocaust

Amos Lassen

“Few people have thought as deeply or incisively about Germany, Jewish identity, and the Holocaust as Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem”. The letters included in this book (which I have been waiting for) shows that much of that thinking was developed in dialogue, through more than twenty years of correspondence.

Arendt and Scholem first met in 1932 in Berlin and quickly bonded over their mutual admiration for and friendship with Walter Benjamin. They began exchanging letters in 1939 and their correspondence continued until 1963, when Scholem vehemently disagreed with Arendt’s coverage of the trial of Adolf Eichmann and the book that she wrote about it, “Eichmann in Jerusalem”. Their disagreement continued until Arendt’s death a dozen years later. The years of their friendship were filled with a remarkably rich bounty of letters in which they try to come to terms with being both German and Jewish, the place and legacy of Germany before and after the Holocaust, the question of what it means to be Jewish in a post-Holocaust world, and more. Almost hovering above the correspondence was Walter Benjamin whose life and tragic death show the very questions that preoccupied the pair.

This are letters and while many are valuable to the world of academia, there are also lighter moments contained within them and these include travel accounts of travels, gossipy dinner parties, and the details that make up life even in the shadow of war and loss.

In today’s world where we continue to struggle with questions of nationalism, identity, and difference, Arendt and Scholem are still regarded as crucial thinkers and their give us a way to see them, and the development of their thought from a different perspective. The book is due out in October, 2017.

 

“The Holocaust: A New History”— History’s Greatest Crime

Rees, Laurence. “The Holocaust: A New History”, Public Affairs, 2016.

History’s Greatest Crime

Amos Lassen

Laurence Rees has spent twenty-five years meeting the survivors and perpetrators of the Third Reich and the Holocaust and has written this sweeping history that combines this testimony with the latest academic research to investigate how history’s greatest crime was possible. Rees maintains that while hatred of the Jews was at the epicenter of Nazi thinking, it is impossible to fully understand the Holocaust without considering Nazi plans to kill millions of non-Jews as well. He shows that there was no single overarching blueprint for the Holocaust but that rather a series of escalations compounded into the horror. “Though Hitler was most responsible for what happened, the blame is widespread, Rees reminds us, and the effects are enduring”.

Presented chronologically this is an authoritative account of that while being extremely readable. This was history’s darkest moment.

The Nazis ultimately wanted every Jew to die and they were a racist regime that believed that some human beings simply did not deserve to live–not because of what they had done, but because of who they were. I can hear some of you saying that what do we need another history of the Holocaust and I join you in that question. Rees show us why in his presentation that is built on new scholarship and interviews giving us a compelling, highly readable explanation of how and why the Holocaust happened, drawing on recent scholarship and impressively incorporating moving and harrowing interviews with victims as well as chilling accounts by the perpetrators. Rees wonderfully explains the origins and grotesque mentality of the Holocaust as how it developed.

Perhaps the most important achievement of Rees is his “relentless juxtaposing of the ostensibly civilized, educated, and self-avowed ethical men deciding what they deem best for their country with the ineffable suffering they inflict on those they perceive as their ideological and racial enemies”. I quickly discovered that this is not just another book about the Holocaust since it literally raises the dead historically. It the interviews of those who survived, we also hear the voices of those who did not and it is to them that the book is addressed. What we really see is the thin line between a civilized world and a genocidal one. In only five years, the Nazis went from some 3% percent electoral support to becoming Germany’s largest party. Rees shows that the logistics of murdering millions of innocent people were worked out by highly educated party officials in calm and amiable atmosphere over lunch and cognac. To me that makes it all the more horrible.

If we think about a Holocaust today and combine what was with destructive power nuclear weapons, “recrudescence of nativism, and proliferation of ‘alternative facts’ we [will] realize why “The Holocaust: A New History” is such an important and timely book”.

“THE WEDDING PLAN”— Marriage

“The Wedding Plan” (“Laavor et hakir”)

Marriage

Amos Lassen

In the Hasidic community, marriage is the most important thing in a woman’s life even though she has little to say about the man she marries. In fact, it seems that marriage is to provide social acceptance and companionship and it does not seem that love has anything to do with it. There are marriage brokers for those who need help in finding the right mate and director Rama Burshtein show us here what we need to know about marriage in an insular community.

Michal (Noa Koler) became religious over a decade ago and is about to get married in a month to Gidi (Erez Drigues). However, Gidi suddenly breaks it off sending Michal into an existential crisis. She is determined to get married and she even books Shimi’s (Amos Tamam) catering hall and this means that she has just twenty-two days to find a husband. Michal contacts a marriage broker and has many dates, but as the big day approaches she begins to doubt her faith. You see Hasidic Jews expect God to provide them with a spouse.

This is an Israeli romantic comedy that focuses on an ultra-orthodox Jewish woman’s search for love through her unwavering faith in God. Michal is a 30-something Hasidic Jew who is increasingly frustrated by the aspects of life that she feels excluded from without a husband. Her community pities women over twenty-years-old who are not married and within the Hasidic community there is great respect placed upon companionship, love, children.

When the film begins we Michal in conversation with Hulda (Odelia Moreh-Matalon), a homeopathic practitioner who uses fish innards and bread dough to accent her consultations. Michal’s presence is immediately felt as we see her frustration of being single. Michal decides enough is enough and so she books a wedding hall for the eighth day of Chanukah and places her faith in God to send her a husband. Michal goes on comical dates with unsuitable bachelors, bares her soul to her sisters and then realizes that the man of her dreams was under her nose all along.

Michal’s character is genuine and engaging and Koler portrays her with wonderful conviction and tenacity. At first, we think that this is a film about societal values but it is also about faith and belief.

“MENASHE”— The Nature of Faith, The Price of Parenthood

“Menashe”

The Nature of Faith; The Price of Parenthood

Amos Lassen

Menashe (Menashe Lustig) is a Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn who’s trying to hold onto his son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski). Menashe, though, isn’t just trying to keep the boy out of the hands of his late wife’s brother, Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus); he’s also trying to assert a level of individuality away from the rest of his Orthodox community. He’s been a widower for about a year and isn’t in a hurry to get married again anytime soon. This is the story of a man grappling with the possibility that the Hasidic tradition that requires his son to be raised in a household with both a mother and a father may not fit into the life he wishes to live. He shows his rebelliouness in his refusing to wear the hat and jacket required by his faith, but it is even more felt in that he does not wants to raise Rieven in an environment as loveless as the arranged marriage that led to the boy’s birth.

Director Joshua Z. Weinstein sees that Menashe is also to blame for his own troubles. He gets into arguments with his boss at the local supermarket at which he slaves away, he pleads with his landlord to give him more time to pay rent, and he generally acts in a hapless manner that implies he can barely take care of himself despite his prideful claims to the contrary. Menashe’s struggles are his own flailing attempts to live by himself for the first time in his life and he feels some guilt over his wife’s death, even if he didn’t truly love her.

Basically, Menashe is a man-child and this explains, why he relates to his son so easily. Rieven is also wise beyond his years. He’s able to accept his father’s flaws more easily than anyone else in their community, even after the boy acknowledges that everyone else is right about how his dead mother was so poorly treated by Menashe. We see the father-son relationship in offhand scenes of Menashe teaching Rieven the Torah in a playful manner in a library, and Rieven enjoying ice cream that his father bought him. Their love for each other lets us see that Menashe wants to do right by his son. loving rapport helps to establish the one thing that endears viewers to Menashe, for all his clumsiness: his attempts to do right by his son.

We see a subculture rarely seen on screen and we see it almost completely at face value without any needlessly elaboration upon the customs of the ultra-orthodox Jewish community and there are no heavy theological inquiries. We find the common humanity in the characters, and in the sense that the film inspires of discovering something universal in a culturally specific environment. This makes us think about the story’s tradition-versus-modernity themes.

Menashe Lustig , by Daniel Bergeron. Indiewire. 2017. Must be licensed through Getty Contour. No PR/No Release on file

In one scene Eizik says that Gentiles have a more open attitude toward marriage and family and that broken homes are an extension of broken society. We see the very strong and rigid insularity of the Hasidic community in that line.

Menashe desires to stay in this community for the sake of family and we realize that we have been given a rare look into a relatively unexplored way of life through a complex character whose own struggles—to start over, to improve himself, to do right by others—come to be like our own, regardless of religious faith.

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There have been other films about the Hasidic community before but they frequently either over-romanticize the religion treat or see it as strange curiosity to be examined. This is a fresh and clear look at life in the ultra-Orthdox community in Brooklyn. We see what is happening without explanation. Weinstein simply lets us see Menashe as part of the natural fabric of his life. He does not avoid issues such as the mental “pressure” of having to remarry so soon after a spouse’s death or the position of women within the faith. He chooses to keep the father/son relationship up front and using a bit of humor to look at the deeper emotional issues. He also manages to make us feel considerable sympathy for Menashe by showing that juggling personal needs and desires within the framework of a strict religious environment is not easy. Rieven is also a strong character in his own right, as we see him grappling with the loss of one parent and the prospect of losing day-to-day contact with the other alongside the usual childhood frustrations with a dad who is less than perfect.