A Life Apart - Hasidism in America Image Loading...

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  • A Life Apart: Hasidism in America

    (New York Post article) By MICHAEL MEDVED

    HAVE you ever wondered about some bearded, black-suited, otherworldly figure encountered on the street or the subway?

    In a series of beautifully shot, startlingly intimate interviews, the stunning documentary "A Life Apart: Hasidism in America" presents a series of Hasidic families and individuals, definitively demystifying a segment of Orthodox Judaism that previously appeared impenetrable to outsiders.

    With insightful narration read by Leonard Nimoy and Sarah Jessica Parker, the film goes back to the origins of Hasidism as an emotional, 18th-century protest against the scholarly rationalism of the reigning Jewish establishment. It focuses special attention on the handful of charismatic leaders who, after the devastation of the Holocaust, achieved the near-miraculous reconstitution of Eastern European Hasidic dynasties in New York.

    Even the most skeptical viewers will be moved by visions of joyously improbable mass gatherings of Hasidim, including the lighting (in a snowstorm!) of a huge menorah at the onetime center of anti-Semitic atheism in Moscow's Red Square, or the aged, ecstatic Bobover Rebbe dancing at the Brooklyn wedding of his great-granddaughter.

    "A Life Apart" -- at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater -- is, however, more than a sentimental celebration of Hasidic survival, since it includes many comments from critics of this strain in Judaism.

    As might be expected from a 96-minute treatment of a vast subject, the movie also features some glaring omissions, with little hint of the messianic claims of many followers of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, and no mention that the Lithuanian misnagdim (Orthodox opponents of Hasidism) similarly rebuilt their own flourishing communities and rabbinic seminaries in America.

    After viewing this important documentary, secular Americans might well ask if their own sacrifices (for the sake of money, adventure, unpredictability or fun) could be similarly justified.

    Copyright ©1997, N.Y.P. Holdings Inc.

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