Last night, close to one hundred friends and supporters of JEM gathered at the Jewish Children’s Museum Theatre to watch JEM’s newest endeavor: The Early Years, Volume IV.
The event was billed as “a thank you for all those who made the film happen.” In the audience were interviewees and their families; members of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and others who assisted with research, JEM’s funding partners, along with the film’s producers and editors.
Through a combination of interviews, documents, narrations, and recreations, the filmmakers shed light on an era in the Rebbe’s life about which very little is widely known. The film brings to light first-person testimony recounting the events in the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s lives during their escape from Paris to Vichy and then to Nice, during the Nazi occupation of France and the rule of their puppets, Petain’s “Vichy Government.”
Exploring the recently-discovered documents, the film tells the story of how the Rebbe and Rebbetzin finally obtained visas to come to the US, finally bringing them to the shores of the United States.
At the intermission, Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin, JEM’s Director, spoke about the My Encounter with the Rebbe nterview project and of JEM’s plans for the project in the coming years. Shmotkin went on to say how the project has inspired so much excitement from JEM’s viewers, and of the critical need to focus more time and effort to collect the thousands of testimonies of those who met and been inspired by the Rebbe.
In the name of the assembled, he thanked the film’s producer, Rabbi Yechiel Cagen and its editor Yanky Ascher who, through the film, succeeded to tell a complex story in an enchantingly beautiful way.
At the end of the film, the assemblage received a rare treat. Reproductions of documents from the film were on view. With special thanks to Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, the Rebbe’s actual handwritten Reshimos binder was displayed. The small book was open to a page written by the Rebbe in Vichy, France during the period covered by the new film – expounding on Parshas Chukas – Shabbos Shuva, 1940.
Among the guests were some of the interviewees from the film, including Rabbi Leibel Posner, Professor Joseph Sungolowsky and Mrs. Hadassa Carlebach.
Most in the audience agreed that the newest film is the best in the series date, but there were differences of opinion as to its most moving moments: Some viewers held that the tension as the Rebbe and Rebbetzin await US visas while the Nazis closed in was most compelling, while others described their most moving moment as the description of Rabbi Mendel and Sheina Horenstein’s fate.
Some thought that the most interesting were the first-hand descriptions of the Rebbe’s arrival at 770, while others felt that the re-enactment of a letter from the Rebbetzin to her father the Frierdiker Rebbe in the midst of the tempest was the most telling.
For the majority of us who are not steeped in the history of the Rebbe’s early life, the film pulls back one more layer of the story – in a masterful way – teaching us that we still have much to learn, and it leaves us thirsting for more.
The Early Years Volume IV is approximately 75 Minutes long with additional 15 minutes of bonus footage. Subtitled in English, Hebrew, French, Russian, the DVD has just been released and is now available.
It can be ordered at JemStore.com.