Dear JFI Friends and Family,
Religions and cultures which are dissimilar than our own often prompt preconceived ideas and opinions. Unless you’ve been given the opportunity to interact firsthand with another culture, film can be a powerful alternative to transport you into the shoes of someone truly different than yourself. With the recent popularity of the Netflix shows Unorthodox and Shtisel (SFJFF 2014, 2016) we focus our gaze into the world of Haredi Jews living in 21st century Brooklyn and Jerusalem. In this week’s program Orthodox in the Modern World, we suggest three superb films you might have missed. Each filmmaker probes unfamiliar territory yet uncovers universal truths about the human condition that remind us that no matter our differences, we’re all in this together.
Until next time.
Jay Rosenblatt, Program Director
Joshua Moore, Programmer
Margherita Ghetti, Next Wave Programmer
Menashe (SFJFF 37)
Set within the New York Hasidic community in Borough Park, Brooklyn, Menashe (SFJFF 2017) follows a kind but hapless grocery store clerk trying to maintain custody of his son after his wife passes away. Menashe has got serious tsuris (trouble); he suffers from a conflict between his community’s values and his aversion to marrying again. The rabbi believes that children should not be raised without a mother and won’t allow Menashe’s young son to live with him. Shot in secret entirely within the Hasidic community depicted in the film, and one of the only movies to be performed in Yiddish in nearly 70 years, Menashe is a warm, life-affirming look at the universal bonds between father and son that also sheds unusual light on a notoriously private community.
Brooklyn may be home to modern hipster culture, but it also remains the home of the country’s largest ultraorthodox Jewish community. This insular sect in Borough Park maintains its own set of conservative religious guidelines, including those that dictate that women never show their hair or bare legs in public or engage in physical contact with non-familial men, including shaking hands. And yet in times of medical emergencies and childbirth, it is the men of Hatzolah Emergency Medical Service who intimately care for women. In the gripping documentary 93Queen (SFJFF 2018) Rachel “Ruchie” Freier and her crew of dutiful yet revolutionary Hasidic women are ready to change this. Freier is a mother of six, a lawyer and a tornado-like force willing to put it all on the line to create the all-women’s volunteer ambulance corps group Ezras Nashim (Hebrew for “helping women”).
Paperock (JFI Online Shorts)
In the Israeli short film Paperock (JFI Online Shorts) an ultra-Orthodox young Jewish woman agrees to meet her brother, whom she has not seen in many years. When she finally lays eyes on him she understands that if she wants to reestablish the childhood bond between them she must accept his new identity.