Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sholem Aleichem Documentary Film In Cinemas

Filmmaker Joseph Dorman (Arguing the World) has made an epic documentary on the great Sholem Aleichem, the Yiddish writer whose stories became the basis of the legendary musical Fiddler on the Roof. Through intelligent and inventive use of narration, readings of his works, archival photos and film clips, the film brings to life the world in which Sholem Aleichem lived and observed, a traditional Jewish world on the cusp of modernity. It transports the viewer from Solomon Rabinowitz’s birth in 1859 to a fairly well-to-do family, through to his years of financial difficulties and his emergence as a giant of Yiddish literature. Also features interviews with contemporary leaders of the Yiddish cultural world, as well as Sholem Aleichem’s granddaughter. (TJFF)
Although this outstanding documentary film was shown at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF) last May, it has just arrived in Los Angeles.  I went to see it the day after it opened.  I loved it

The documentary had many intense moments, especially about the progroms in Russia which were very difficult to watch.  It also had some light touches that were delightful.

One clip of  note:
Sholem Aleichem's mother died when he was 13 years old.
It was the custom for a man to remarry immediately
At first, his father hid the children from his new wife - there were 12 kids
He farmed them out to relatives and slowly brought each one back.
When they were all back home, the stepmother was not too happy.
Sholem Aleichem collected all the stepmother's Yiddish curses.
Some examples were given, but translated into English. 
They were a riot, but alas, lost their "bite" in translation.
And another:
The character Menachem Mendel believed in a supreme being  and accepted the existence of the progroms and hardships.  But he still argued, "why? We don't deserve this."

This was contrasted with other religons, where they believe in a supreme being and they just accept the hardships as the way it is.

Jews accept, but like to argue
Ha, so that's why I am like I am.

T r a d i t i o n

If the film comes your way, I highly recommend it.


If you would like to read a detailed review in the New York Times, click here

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