By COLlive reporter
“Excuse me, are you Jewish?”
It is that simple, straightforward, and even audacious question that transformed an instant encounter on the streets of New York, Tel Aviv and Paris into a life-long journey toward Torah and Mitzvos.
That single question, which often is followed up with, “Would you like to put on Tefillin?”, is heard from young yeshiva students and Chassidim of all ages. Over time, that question has become synonymous with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement and the Rebbe’s global outreach network.
As the question is increasingly being asked by individuals beyond Chabad who are following the Rebbe’s inspiration, the production team of JEM (Jewish Educational Media) in New York is exploring the story behind this global campaign.
“The Tefillin campaign was initiated by the Rebbe on the eve of the Six Day War of 1967, when Israel was deep in crisis,” Rabbi Yitzchak Tsap, JEM’s director of content, relates.
“Surrounded by Arab armies threatening their annihilation, the Jews felt hopeless and abandoned. In this sea of despair, the Rebbe stood up as a voice of calm, radiating faith and confidence. His voice echoed across the ocean onto Israeli radio and newspapers, assuring Israel’s victory, in the merit of the commandment of Tefillin.”
Launching a new campaign, the Rebbe instructed that every Jewish man, no matter his level of affiliation or professed involvement in Judaism, should be encouraged and helped to put on Tefillin. He called on Jews to take to the streets the world over, and specifically in the Holy Land. And so they set out, Tefillin in hand.
Sure enough, the miracles of the Six Day War and liberation of Jerusalem will never be forgotten. And the Tefillin campaign has only continued to pick up speed.
“Now, little more than 50 years later, there is hardly a Jew on the planet who has not been approached to lay Tefillin,” says senior researcher Rabbi Choli Mishulovin.
To honor 50 years of the campaign, JEM began to work on ‘Armed,’ a new full-length film documenting this story. “The launch of the campaign was a watershed moment in Jewish life in the twentieth century,” explained Eli Sapochkinsky, JEM’s production director. “In time it came to define Chabad in the eyes of the world. We just had to produce a film on it.”
JEM set out to create a short video, not unlike many of the other films and clips they produced in the past. But once the project began, it expanded dramatically. “The stories, the footage of the Six Day War and the liberation of the Western Wall we gathered, and the first-hand accounts of the tremendous impact of the campaign were too powerful to ignore,” says Rabbi Shmuli Hurwitz, JEM’s content editor. “This was a story that deserved exploration, attention, and above all – to be told in its entirety.”
So “Armed” began to take shape. A riveting, emotional and unprecedented cinematic experience, ‘Armed’ grabs you as it tells the fascinating story of the launch of the international Tefillin campaign, the producers said.
It will feature never-before-seen historic film, newly-recorded interviews with those on the front lines during the dramatic early days of the project, and newly-discovered and restored scenes of Jerusalem in the days after its liberation. “In all, the film is a dramatic, yet heartwarming blend of the past, present and future,” JEM said.
Currently, the film is one-third complete. Determined that the story see the light of day, the film crew launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary funds to produce the film in all its glory.
“We are determined to produce this film. It is emotional, inspiring and dramatic, and we cannot let it go untold,” says Yossi Chayo, who is spearheading the ‘Armed’ Kickstarter campaign. “Its messages of Jewish unity, regardless of affiliation, faith, and love for the Land of Israel, must be shared. That way, we too will learn and be inspired.”
Watch the JEM production team explain the documentary in this new trailer video.