ONGREGATION OHEV TZEDEK will mark the advent of the High Holy Days by showing a controversial film in the hopes of encouraging reflection and discussion.
The film is "The Believer," a disturbing story of a young Jewish man, Danny Balint, who rejects Judaism and joins the American Nazi Party. It has sparked protests among some Jews.
Danny constantly vacillates between violent anti-Semitism and love for Judaism. The film explores the complicated dynamics of self-hatred and the desire to belong.
Jewish filmmaker and screenwriter Henry Bean loosely based the film on the life of Daniel Burros, a Ku Klux Klan leader in New York who was raised Jewish. Burros committed suicide after The New York Times printed a story exposing his religious background.
Rabbi Simeon Kolko of Ohev Tzedek said the film, which is free of charge and open to the public, raises questions about religious faith and ethnic identity. It will be shown at 9 p.m. Aug. 31 at the temple.
"We want to make a statement that we not only accept the reality of questions and struggles, but we welcome that. We are a community of people that struggles together with these sort of issues, and these are universal issues that everyone struggles with," he said.
Themes of the season
The month before the High Holy Day season, which begins with Rosh Hashana on Sept. 7, is devoted to reflection and introspection, according to Rabbi Kolko. On Aug. 31, the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana, the Selichot penitential service takes place. "The Believer" will be aired before the Selichot service.
Rabbi Kolko said the Selichot service usually is preceded by a film or discussion of a serious nature. He said he hopes to stimulate a dialogue surrounding the issues that are explored in "The Believer."
Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, is the start of 10 days of penitence. The tenth and most important day is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a 24-hour period of fasting and prayer and the holiest day of the Jewish year.
Although critics have called "The Believer" a guide to being a Nazi and said it is too tolerant of Danny's anti-Semitism, Bean insists the film tries to be "observant."
Filmmaker's comments
In response to concerns that the film may be misunderstood, Bean said in a phone interview that he feels Jews will recognize it as a celebration of their religion.
"There is a long-standing tradition of Jews criticizing and arguing about Judaism. [Danny] is a guy preoccupied with the Jewish faith. He's sort of a rabbi stood on his head. The joke of the movie, I feel, is the harder he tries to be a Nazi, the more Jewish he becomes. His whole hatred of the Jews is his obsession with the Jews."
The Jewish holiday Purim is an example of the duplicity that Danny experiences, according to Bean.
Purim commemorates the escape of the Jews, with the help of Mordecai, from annihilation at the hands of Haman.
"Purim is one of two holidays during the year when Jewish men are supposed to get drunk," said Bean. "You're supposed to get drunk enough you can't tell the difference between Haman and Mordecai. Danny is that drunk."
Bean makes his directorial debut with "The Believer." He also wrote the psychological thrillers "Enemy of the State" and "Internal Affairs."
The movie won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival but had a hard time getting into theaters because of the controversy surrounding it. The film aired on Showtime in March and has been shown mainly at art theaters since then.
Rabbi Kolko said he feels the exposure the film has been getting makes it important to bring it to this area, so the community can have the opportunity to discuss the issues that are presented.

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