HIDING AND SEEKING: FAITH AND TOLERANCE AFTER THE HOLOCAUST (director/writer/producer: Menachem Daum & Oren Rudavsky; cinematographer: Oren Rudavsky; editor: Zelda Greenstein; music: John Zorn/Shlomo Carlebach; cast: Menachem Daum, Rifka Daum, Tzvi Dovid Daum, Akiva Daum; Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Martin Dornbaum; First Run Features; 2004-USA-in English, Yiddish, and Polish with English subtitles)
“Tackles the significant questions of religious intolerance and of all religions in danger of being hijacked by extremists.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Menachem Daum’s intimate Holocaust themed documentary done as a home movie tackles the significant questions of religious intolerance and how all religions are in danger of being hijacked by extremists. It does so in a no frills straightforward manner by showing real people interacting and searching for answers in an agonizingly honest and moving way. Filmed in Jerusalem, Brooklyn and Poland, the film’s focus is on Menachem Daum and his family and his attempt to heal the bitter wounds of the past by stopping the mistrust and hatred passed on through the generations. Menachem has for over twenty-five years been interviewing Holocaust survivors like his parents, in an attempt to understand why most of them kept their faith despite God’s silence to their crisis. After being born in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany, his family in 1951 came to America. After a brief stay in Schenectady, New York, the family moved to a Brooklyn Hasidic neighborhood in Boro Park, as the father feared his children would melt into America without a Jewish education and be assimilated into the gentile world. In Brooklyn, upon his father’s insistence, he went to the yeshiva to become a Torah scholar, but as a young man Menachem transferred to Brooklyn College and was surprised to find in the secular environment how concerned the other students were about helping the world become a better place–after being brainwashed into believing the outside world was only a hostile place. After marrying the kosher butcher’s daughter, Rifka, whose father was also a survivor, they remained in Brooklyn and educated their children in the yeshiva.
Directors Daum and Rudavsky, who made the critically acclaimed A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, commented, “A Life Apart was our attempt to humanize Haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) for outsiders. Hiding and Seeking is our attempt to humanize outsiders to the Haredim.”
The film opens as Menachem’s married sons, living in Israel, Tzvi Dovid and Akiva, both receiving an insular Orthodox Jewish education and seeing no need to make contact with the gentile world, argue with their religious but more worldly father about the need for contact with the gentiles. The sons echo the sentiments of Menachem’s elderly father to not trust the gentiles, that if they had their way–most would kill the Jews again. The father after coming in contact with the teachings of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who proclaimed that there is one God and all are brothers and sisters, has come to the conclusion that religion isn’t worthwhile if it doesn’t teach that there’s godliness in every human being.
To broaden his sons narrow-minded views, he takes them in 1989 on an emotionally charged trek to Poland–where his father’s family perished and his father-in-law survived only because he hid with his two brothers for 28 months in a pit covered by a board and hay in a farmer’s barn. His sons correctly point out that many of the Poles were anti-Semitic and helped the Nazis–a reason so many Jews perished. The father agrees with this assessment, but also points out there are a few good and heroic Poles who risked their lives to save Jews and it’s vital to meet them while they are still alive.
In one of the films many touching moments, Rifka tells the heroic farmer’s decent wife Honorota Mucha: “Whoever saves one life, saves the whole world.” Viewing this film when such hatred against the Jews is once again on the rise, with one Palestinian suicide bomber after another, it becomes even more urgent not to hate all people who are different but to open up a dialogue to overcome this irrational hatred and to help stem these calls to violence that challenge all humanity.
Menachem is sympathetic to Holocaust survivors and their attempt to pass on their faith to future generations. He also understands that it is time to build bridges rather than barriers between all people. This simple and obvious message has nevertheless met with resistance not only from the extremists but even from his well-meaning moderate sons, which might even make an optimist shudder a little in fright at what obstacles there are to get people to connect with those of a different faith.
The highlight of the family journey comes when they meet the heroic WW11 Polish farm family and learn that they took the risk, when no one else in the community would, out of pity and hoping for compensation–mixed reasons for sure, but very real ones. The family expresses disappointment that Rifka’s father and his two brothers never sent a postcard in all the following years to at least let them know that they were alive. But the honest responses on both sides when confronted with their actions were deeply affecting and tell a lot about the human condition, and the phone exchange that connects the ailing survivor with his aging savior proved to be a very touching moment of closure.
Even though there are floods of Holocaust films, perhaps too many as some suggest, but that still doesn’t take away from the necessity or importance of this earnest humanitarian endeavor. It would be too bad if we learned nothing about that disaster, as the Holocaust remains as a ready made lesson that has universal truths for all mankind and its lessons are all the more powerful because we still have the faces to put in front of the camera to attest to the events of those days.
REVIEWED ON 1/25/2004 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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