Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival 2019: The Rabbi Goes West

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The Rabbi Goes West/Photo courtesy of Gerald Peary and Amy Geller

It’s a long way from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to Bozeman, Montana. The 4th largest state in area, Montana is one of the least populous, and to put it simply – there are not very many Jews living in Montana. Yet Rabbi Chaim Bruk is there, with a house full of people under his snow-covered roof, happily announcing: “We’re lighting menorahs in Bozeman, Montana.” Warm, articulate and energetic, the young Rabbi and his wife Chavie are among the thousands of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries reaching out to Jews worldwide, wherever Jews may be found. Co-directed by Gerald Peary and Amy Geller, The Rabbi Goes West follows Rabbi Bruk as he pursues his goal of placing a mezuzah on the door of every Jewish home in Montana, and along the way, present a thoughtful, entertaining, and nuanced perspective on life as a Jew in Montana, and contemporary Judaism.

Footage of the charismatic Rabbi Bruk at home and in the community is augmented by a plethora of interviews with Montana residents and rabbis, reflecting a diversity of opinions. Raising issues of co-existence, belief, conflict, discrimination, persecution, tolerance and acceptance, the thought-provoking documentary offers a balanced view of a complex situation. Lively, colorful, and tightly edited, The Rabbi Goes West is certain to generate interest and conversation. The documentary will be shown at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, with a screening on Tuesday, December 24, 2019.

Outgoing and warm, Rabbi Bruk presents a “come as you are” approach to Judaism, welcoming all Jews, regardless of their knowledge, practice or belief. It sounds fun and inviting, with events like “scotch & sushi Sukkot” parties. For some Bozeman residents, Chabad offers a way to connect to their Judaism. Others feel differently. The Chabad Center is not the lone Jewish outpost in the region. Rabbi Francine Roston, Rabbi Emeritus Ed Stafman, Rabbi Emeritus Allen Secher all express their concerns about the proselytizing aspect of Chabad: the lack of respect for boundaries – coming to people’s homes uninvited, and approaching Jews who are already affiliated with a congregation and rabbi. As Secher expresses it with Yiddish flair: “Chaim, hab rahmones, leave him alone.”

The opinions of the local residents are many and varied; Peary and Geller bring many voices into this conversation. Inevitably, the conversation is not always harmonious. Yet the strength of this film is Geller and Peary’s ability to refrain from commentary or judgement, and with no hidden agenda driving to a foregone conclusion, allow the large cast of very genial, intelligent, and articulate participants to express their views candidly and freely, creating an intriguing, polyphonic, dynamic portrait.

The Rabbi Goes West

USA 2019 | 78 minutes | English | Hebrew subtitles

Directed by Amy Geller and Gerald Peary; Written by Gerald Peary; Produced by Amy Geller; Cinematography: David Reeder; Editing: David Reeder, Lucia Small; Music by Rob Jaret.

Tickets may be ordered online from the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival website.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for your wonderful review and for writing so eloquently about the film. Not sure if you remember me, but I was as the Artistic Director of the Boston Jewish Film Festival for a few years from 2012-2014. While I was there, I became of fan of your site. It’s wonderful to reconnect now! I wish we were going to be Jerusalem with the film so that we could meet up.

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