A Life Apart - Hasidism in America A Hasidic Boy


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  • A background note from Menachem Daum, co-producer and co-director of A Life Apart

    "This film tells the story of my parent's generation of Hasidic Holocaust survivors. They did not allow themselves to be deterred by their unanswered questions and unresolved crisis of faith. They resisted the compelling pressures to "Americanize". They just felt they had to keep the story going, they had to perpetuate a way of life which had meant so much to their parents and grandparents.

    Our family came to America in May of 1951. Upon arrival we were "adopted" by a very kind American-Jewish family, the Dubbs. They had been recruited by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society as volunteers to help us "refugees" get settled in America. They took us to Schenectady, New York where they got us a nice apartment and arranged a good job for my father. He was making $50 a week of which he was able to save $10. Mrs. Dubb took me to the Riverside Public School and registered me in the first grade as "Martin". She told me it would be much easier for people to pronounce than Menachem. The Dubbs helped us get a TV set so we could learn English. Our TV was such a novelty at the time that many of our neighbors would come over to watch Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. All was going well.

    One day some of my classmates asked me to join them that evening "trick or treating". I looked forward with excitement to joining my friends in this new and exciting ritual. My father came home and said I couldn't join them, that I was Jewish and Jewish children didn't trick or treat. Until then our Jewishness had meant little to me. I was bewildered by my father's refusal and stormed out onto our stoop. I sat there with tears in my eyes watching my friends delighting in their costumes and bags of goodies.

    I think at that moment my father realized that if he stayed in Schenectady any longer his children would get swallowed up by America. Almost immediately he moved us to Brooklyn, registered my brother and I in a Hasidic yeshiva and started praying in a small Hasidic synagogue. Gradually, he resumed Hasidic practices he had largely discarded since the Holocaust. He took a job as a textile machine operator and from his meager salary scraped together our yeshiva tuition. He was never able to save $10 a week again.

    My mother went along with him despite her skepticism. She told me how she had prayed the entire first night she came to Aushwitz. She was certain God would immediately destroy this evil place. Morning came and the chimneys were still smoking. She decided then and there she would give God a piece of her mind when she met Him in heavenly judgment. Nonetheless, she outwardly conformed to the Hasidic standards of observance my father was re-introducing into our home. Before her death, as her mind was being eroded by Alzheimer's Disease, she believed every day was the Sabbath. Her greatest fear was that is she might, God forbid, forget to light the Sabbath candles or recite the Sabbath prayers."

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