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A tap on the door of Jewish tolerance

June 04, 2004|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

When Rifka Daum returned home from a lecture given by a rabbi several years ago, her husband, New York filmmaker Menachem Daum, could not believe what she had to report. He bought an audiotape of the rabbi's speech to hear for himself the searing message that "while a Jew has to have respect for every human being ... at the same time Jews have to make the reckoning we have with the Gentiles and implant in ourselves and our children hatred to them."

Later, Daum saw the rabbi on the street and confronted him about the speech, and he admitted that he had no source for this teaching. But because he felt "the Gentile world is penetrating and seeping into our community and destroying the holy souls of our children" it was his "obligation to build an impenetrable barrier" to keep this from happening.

The incident galvanized Daum's belief that Orthodox Jews' increasing insularity was fueling religious intolerance and led to the making of the heartfelt and deeply moving "Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust," which he co-directed with Oren Rudavsky. It is part of an intended trilogy, along with the 1997 documentary "A Life Apart: Hasidism in America" and a planned third film focusing on Israel.

"Hiding and Seeking" begins with Daum visiting his two grown sons, Tzvi Dovid and Akiva, in Jerusalem, where they live with their families and are full-time yeshiva scholars. After years of frustration trying to change his community, and after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the elder Daum decided that the least he could do was to try to influence his own family. "My children and grandchildren are growing up at a time when every religion is in danger of being hijacked by extremists," Daum says in introducing the film.

The son of Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the U.S. in 1951, Menachem Daum was raised in an Orthodox community. His own spiritual path was forged between his father's unwavering faith and his mother's skepticism. He fears that his sons' studies will blind them to the dangers of narrow-mindedness and sets out to show them a piece of their own history.

Tzvi Dovid and Akiva are respectful, though unconvinced, of their father's more liberal views and agree to accompany their parents on a trip to Poland despite their own belief that disassociation from non-Jews is the safest approach to the world.

Rifka Daum's father and two uncles were given safe haven by a Gentile family in a barn for 28 months until the end of World War II. The journey on which she and her husband take their family revisits Jewish life in Poland nearly 60 years earlier, evidence of which has mostly been wiped away. But like the ruins of the synagogue in the small town where the family lived, traces of that life survive, resulting in an amazing story of two families linked by a courageous act under the harshest of circumstances.

A deeply personal film, "Hiding and Seeking" explores the greater effects of the Holocaust on faith, not only in God but in other people, while revealing a single family's tale of survival.

And even though Tzvi Dovid and Akiva are clearly stirred by the encounter, their worldview shifts only slightly. Menachem Daum is not discouraged, however. He refers to an old Jewish tradition whereby parents would pass down a document, a sort of ethical will, to their children. With the experience of making this film and what he has shared with his sons and grandchildren, Daum hopes that he has planted a seed of optimism that may take years to take hold but ultimately will have an effect.


'Hiding and Seeking'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Subject matter may interest older teens and above

A First Run Features release. Writers-producers-directors Menachem Daum, Oren Rudavsky. Cinematographer Oren Rudavsky. Editor Zelda Greenstein. Music John Zorn; concert music by Shlomo Carlebach. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. In English and Hebrew and Polish with English subtitles.

Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.

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