It’s a message ahavas Yisrael, love for a fellow Jew. It’s a call for action and a celebration of our actions. The second film by Rabbi Hanoch Teller, “Reb Elimelech and the Chasidic Legacy of Brotherhood,” is a 63-minute documentary detailing the rise of the Chassidic movement, the master Reb Elimelech M’Lizhensk and the outcome of his doctrine of seeing the good in others.
The film starts with the dizzying dance of the Chassidim in their court. A coil unfurling, moving and chanting and bringing joy into the world — a world that in this period of history (the mid 17th century) was dismal and dark for the Jews in Eastern Europe and marked by the Khmelnitsky massacres, frequent blood libels, pogroms and other strains. Chassidism, as the movie depicts, took the Jews from a state of despair to one of desire … to live and to love.
The audience is transported back in time for a riveting history lesson, led by the renowned historian and author Rabbi Berel Wein, explained by Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb, senior lecturer at Ohr Somayach (formerly from Baltimore’s Congregation Shomrei Emunah) and interspersed with stories told by Rabbi Teller himself.
The film is coming to Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion on Saturday, July 20 for a 10 p.m. showing. It is appropriate for every Jew, regardless of age or affiliation.
The Baltimore Jewish Times reached out to Rabbi Teller to learn more.
What inspired you to make this movie?
Rabbi Teller: That is the $64,000 question. … Why would I be making a film about chassidus when I am quite removed from it — not antagonistically or ideologically, but it is not the world I am coming from? The answer is that I was very keen to make a film about … loving your fellow person.
How does this message come through?
Whenever there is some kind of crisis for the Jews, the Chassidim are the first responders … always there, helping out. … This idea was passed on by the Baal Shem Tov to Reb Elimelech who said one should see his fellow person as his own child, and the way that this messages has been instilled is really inspiring. The film concludes with all of the inspiring Chassidic organizations that exist today: Hatzalah, ZAKA, Yad Sarah, Camp Simcha — it goes through so many. … It is hard to walk away without a sense that you could do more, could do something [to help].
What makes it a documentary?
Rabbi Berel Wein has a deserved reputation of being an awesome authority of Jewish history, and he weighs in on how the Baal Shem Tov got started, what was going on in Europe in the 1700s and 1800s. I pride myself on knowing history, but I never had clarity about what was going on then and why the Chassidic movement came along until I made this film. It will teach you something you didn’t know before.
It was a dark period of history?
There were regular pogroms, blood libels, numerous wars, and the leaders were always destroying Jewish property. Then there were the Shabbetai Zvi and Jacob Frank debacles. Came the Baal Shem Tov and he gave the people a reason to live.
After him, came Dov Ber of Mezeritch, but he was a cripple and couldn’t travel out to the masses. Next was Reb Elimelech. He was charismatic, exceptionally holy, and he knew the people well. Reb Elimelech transformed the community. … Chassidism became overwhelmingly the Jewish [way of] religion in Europe.
Who else will viewers hear from?
It is all the superstars of religious Jewry today: Rabbi Dr Abraham J. Twerski, [Chassidic master] Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, [musician] Avraham Fried, who made the song “Adrabba” [Reb Elimelech’s prayer] famous.
What’s a highlight?
There is a story about a bone-marrow transplant recipient, the fellow is by no means religious. He is a doctor from America, and he is taking about how thankful he was to Ezer Mizion for his life. He is telling his story and the emcee gets up and says he thinks it is appropriate to introduce his donor. You see who the donor is, [a religious man].
What else do we learn from Chassidus?
Prior to the Baal Shem Tov, it was assumed that only the scholarly could draw close to God. He preached that as long as you have sincerity and devotion, you too can be close to God.
Are there things we can learn from the modern-day Chassidic movement?
The importance of the centrality of community, the idea of a tish, partaking in a meal together, the idea of a rebbe, who can direct you when you don’t have proper knowledge yourself.
It is inherent that when you have money questions, you go to an accountant. Your car breaks down, you go to a mechanic. … For spiritual matters, if you don’t have the knowledge, you should go to someone who does.
“Reb Elimelech and the Chassidic Legacy of Brotherhood”
Saturday, July 20 at 10 p.m.
Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion
6602 Park Heights Avenue
$10 in advance; $12 at the door
Tickets may be purchased at Shabsi’s, Perns and the BJSZ shul office.
For more, contact 410-764-6810 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maayan Jaffe is JT managing editor — email@example.com