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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat


A Life Apart: Hasidism in America
Directed by Menachem Daum, Oren Rudavsky
First Run Features 12/98 DVD/VHS Special Interest Film
95 minutes

The founder of Hasidism, the Bal Shem Tov (1700-1760), saw it as a spiritual revival movement within Judaism based on prayer, joy, and charity. He emphasized the sanctity of all of life. In this informative and edifying documentary narrated by Leonard Nimoy and Sarah Jessica Parker, co-directors Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky trace the history of this separatist sect following its post-Holocaust exodus from Europe to the United States. Known for their distinctive black clothing, beards, and eschewing of popular culture, the Hasidim savor their separatism and strong ties to synagogue, family, and community.

Professor Arthur Hertzberg comments on the ways in which these religious people have found meaning and security within their tradition. A young woman who has left the Hasidic community criticizes the restrictions she felt. A black man living in the same neighborhood with some Hasidim comments on their "spiritual arrogance." But most of A Life Apart celebrates the durability of these pious people whose lives are built upon "the worship of the Lord" and the transmission of their values from one generation to the next. Two of the most memorable scenes feature a young boy's first day of school where he experiences the sweetness of learning and a festive wedding where an elderly Rebbe dances ecstatically.

Purchase: First Run Features 1-800-229-8575


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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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