By Tamar Runyan
For their first directing project together, filmmaking couple Ido and Yael Zand chose to shoot from experience. Having traveled all over the world, there was one constant that the Israelis came across in their various journeys: the local Chabad House.
“The beauty is that at each Chabad House, it doesn’t matter what you look like, what you wear, what your background is,” said Ido Zand, whose passport bears stamps to India and other Asian nations, as well as countries throughout South America. “Every Jew feels at home.”
That Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries would leave their communities behind and set out to reach Jews – whether expatriate residents, local-born natives or backpacking tourists – in exotic locales was so fascinating to the Zands, they decided to explore the phenomenon by documenting the move of Rabbi Menachem and Rachel Hartman, who opened the first Chabad House in Vietnam in 2006.
“It interested us who these people were,” said Zand, who lives in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim. “Who are these people who leave their [former] lives for this kind of mission?”
The new 53-minute documentary, “Gut Shabes Vietnam,” will air just after Rosh Hashanah, and again just after Shabbat, this week on the Israeli HOT cable channel 8. Filmed over a period of four months, the film presents the last few weeks of the Hartmans’ residing in Jerusalem and the initial establishment of their Chabad House in Ho Chi Minh City.
“They were there when we were packing and preparing for the move,” said Menachem Hartman. “And they escorted us when we left Israel: they filmed the flight, the arrival, the whole process.
“It was very, very natural,” he continued. “There was no script.”
Since their arrival, the Hartmans have led a Torah dedication ceremony, numerous holiday services and parties, and coordinated special services in Hanoi. This year, they expect about 200 people to join them for Rosh Hashanah services.
In the promo for the film, which can be seen on the Internet, the Hartmans are seen waiting for their shipping container to arrive just before Rosh Hashanah. Rachel Hartman is nervous that their kosher food supplies are dwindling, and they’re running out of formula for their baby Levi. They search for kosher products in a supermarket, only to leave with an empty shopping cart. By chance, some visiting kosher supervisors from Brussels take them to another market to point out which are the kosher fish species.
(The container ended up arriving three hours before the start of the High Holidays.)
“We were amazed by the people and their families,” said Zand. “We didn’t know that being an emissary is for life. We didn’t understand the dedication and the difficulty that they go through in moving to a new country and leaving everything.”