Many thanks to Malki Rose, Alana Bruce, Alex Kats, Keren Tuch and Seraphya Berrin! Another successful Limmud Oz Fest, and one with an extraordinary arrangement of engaging presentations and sumptuous food. There were several highlights, but high on my list was a preview screening of Evan Kleinman’s new documentary, Punk Jews (directed by Jesse Zook Mann), which explored the life and work of a handful of Jews who don’t fit into the “mainstream”. From punk-rocking Breslov Hasidim (“Moshiach Oi!”) to a Yiddish theatre group in NYC, from African-American Jews (with Ashkenazi minhagim) to an underground group that meets to rock, shmooze and boogie, the range of people that the documentary explored was fascinating.
The most touching, and perhaps most controversial, component of the film was a section that dealt with the life and work of Kal Holczler, a former Skverer Hasid and survivor of child sexual abuse. As a child, Kal grew up in New Square – a town in upstate New York, so named for the Hasidim who inhabit it. New Square is renowned for having a very organised and tightly-knit power structure, and made headlines some months ago over an arson attack that threatened the life of one of their residents. As a community that looks unkindly on those who leave it, Kal’s bravery in revisiting his former home is amazing, and the scene in which he confronted his parents about the responsibilities of a family was the most powerful scene in the film. Kal is the founder of Voices of Dignity: a not-for-profit organisation aimed at ending the cycle of sexual abuse in religious Jewish communities.
I do not want to spoil the film by relating all of its many surprises, for there was no segment that lacked a twist of some description. At times I found myself smiling and nodding my head, while at others my eyes widened and my head was still. Whenever I should be so lucky as to visit New York City again, I now know of an informal group whose location I will certainly track down…
Punk Jews will be released in 2012.