Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Margaret Mead ’14: The Return
are those who use the term “right of return” as a holy mantra, but if it were
ever granted to the Jewish diaspora in every country that ever dispossessed
their Jewish citizenry, nearly all of Europe and the Middle East would face serious
legal implications. However, at least one nation would readily welcome them
back. That would be Poland, which has embraced its Jewish history in recent
years, even though its Jewish population remains small. Nevertheless, there are
a significant number of Poles who belatedly learned of their families’ secret
Jewish heritage in the post-Communist era. In very different ways, four such
women will chose to embrace their Jewish roots in Adam Zucker’s The Return (trailer here), which screens
during the American Museum of Natural History’s 2014 Margaret Mead Film Festival.
the National Socialist occupation, anyone whose family was the smallest part
Jewish had every reason to keep it secret. The circumstances were somewhat less
dire under Communism, but it is important to remember the atheistic Party
periodically launched its own anti-Semitic campaigns. However, in a modern
Poland shaped by Walesa and Wajda, attitudes are dramatically different. In one
scene, we see a long abandoned provincial synagogue with the words “Jews, we
miss you” scrawled across it, in a weird but affecting graffiti tribute.
and her boyfriend are scouting that building, hoping they can repurpose it into
some sort nonprofit that will serve both the local town and pay tribute to
those who once worshipped there. However, their future is uncertain, because
they both feel the lure of Bushwick, Brooklyn (there’s no accounting for taste).
In fact, all four women profiled share a common dilemma. Do they stay in Poland
to rebuild the Jewish community or do they go abroad for the sake of their
families and careers? Both Kasia, a leftwing activist, and Maria (who alone
among Zucker’s subjects was born and bred Orthodox) find the grass is greener
in Israel, either for academic research or raising children. Similarly, Katka,
a Slovakian Orthodox convert, will debate where she should pursue her studies.
of the great ironies of Return is the
sort of ambiguous state Kasia and those whose mothers were not Jewish find
themselves in. While not technically considered Jewish, they would have been
more than Jewish enough to be persecuted under the previous regimes. It is a
thorny question that the Kasia and Katka resolve in their own ways.
Together with films like 100 Voices: a Journey Home, Return
presents a more complete portrait of the tolerant, modern day Poland that deeply
mourns its Jewry lost to National Socialism and further repressed by Soviet
Socialism. It even has some celebrity cachet, thanks to Matisyahu, whose
performance at the Krakow JCC clearly held a great deal of personal
significance for the performer. However, the film’s POV figures are maybe not
as consistently riveting as one might hope. Nonetheless, it is a laudably optimistic film that offers a lot of
helpful context and food for thought. Respectfully recommended, The Return screens this Saturday (10/25),
as part of this year’s Margaret Mead Film Festival.
Labels: Documentary, Margaret Mead '14