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Menachem Daum, Filmmaker Who Explored the World of Hasidim, Dies at 77

Menachem Daum, Filmmaker Who Explored the World of Hasidim, Dies at 77


Menachem Daum, a filmmaker who co-produced a groundbreaking 1997 documentary that illuminated the cloistered world of America’s Hasidim, died on Jan. 7 in a hospital close to his house in Borough Park, Brooklyn. He was 77.

His loss of life was confirmed by Eva Fogelman, a good friend and the creator of a e-book about Christian rescuers of Jews through the Holocaust. She stated Mr. Daum had been handled for congestive coronary heart failure.

What made the documentary, “A Life Apart: Hasidism in America,” so placing was Mr. Daum’s capacity to get individuals who scorn films and tv units to sit down on digital camera for revealing interviews, permitting him to chronicle their mores and rituals. The ensuing movie supplied a posh portrait of a non secular group often depicted as somber and impenetrable; right here it supplied scenes of Hasidim joyfully dancing.

That achievement was not a given. Mr. Daum, although ultra-Orthodox, was not Hasidic himself. And though he had earlier made a movie about caregivers for the aged, he was scarcely a seasoned filmmaker.

But he was nicely versed within the Torah, the Talmud and the intricacies of Orthodox Jewish observance. He spoke Yiddish — the Hasidic lingua franca — and lived in a Hasidic neighborhood. He teamed with an skilled filmmaker, Oren Rudavsky, the son of a Reform rabbi, to supply and direct the documentary.

The Hasidic motion was based within the 18th century in Eastern Europe by a rabbi often called the Baal Shem Tov, who felt that Judaism had overemphasized mental qualities to the detriment of religious fervor and sincerity.

Mr. Rudavsky stated in an interview that he believed “A Life Apart” was the primary feature-length documentary launched in American theaters that explored Hasidism.

The movie, narrated by Leonard Nimoy and Sarah Jessica Parker, premiered on the Walter Reade Theater in Manhattan and in Los Angeles. It later ran for 5 months on the Quad Cinema in Manhattan and was proven on PBS tv.

“‘A Life Apart’ enlivens its historical past and evaluation with surprisingly tender household scenes, with evocations of the Hasidic world’s deep mysticism, and with a number of the neighborhood’s most colorfully quaint options, like formal matchmaking,” Janet Maslin wrote in her evaluation in The New York Times.

Mr. Daum’s friendships and his familiarity along with his neighborhood had been the important thing to unlocking the reclusive Hasidic world, whose members intentionally wall themselves off socially from the secular world to keep away from its temptations and to maintain their lifestyle, spurning even school educations and education within the professions.

“If I placed on a hat, I seem like I belong much more than I do,” Mr. Daum advised The Times earlier than the movie’s premiere. “I might guarantee them that this movie wouldn’t mock or exploit them.”

The movie supplied important views. A Hasidic lady laments what she sees as her second-class standing, and a Black parks worker in Brooklyn condemns what he says is the aloofness and “religious vanity” of the Hasidim he has encountered.

Annette Insdorf, a professor of movie at Columbia University, stated in an e-mail that “A Life Apart” “supplied a riveting introduction to the historical past of Hasidic life, in addition to its enduring vibrancy.”

The movie, she added, “opened my eyes to the Hasidic sense that each one issues will be sacred — together with intercourse — with an emphasis on prayer, pleasure and neighborhood.”

In his second movie with Mr. Rudavsky, “Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust” (2004), Mr. Daum tried to leaven his two grown sons’ scorn for non-Jews. Accompanied by a digital camera crew, he took them to Poland to fulfill the household of the Roman Catholic couple who had saved the lifetime of their maternal grandfather, Chaim Federman, through the Holocaust by hiding him and his two brothers in a dugout beneath piles of hay in a barn. An encounter with a member of that household, Honorata Matuszezyk Mucha — who had risked her life, as had her dad and mom, to shelter and feed the three brothers — left the Daum household visibly moved.

The movie’s closing scenes present the Daums efficiently arranging for the Muchas to be honored as “the righteous among the many nations” on the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. The initially skeptical elder son, Tzvi Dovid, enthusiastically publicizes to the clan that his household has arrange a scholarship fund for the Mucha grandchildren. But Mr. Daum’s youthful son, Akiva, whereas admitting that he “realized there’s some excellent folks on this planet,” maintains that the Muchas and Mrs. Mucha’s dad and mom had been “exceptions to the rule.”

“The common rule of thumb was, to do away with the Jew is one of the best factor to do,” he says, “and so they’d most likely do it once more.”

Dr. Insdorf stated “Hiding and Seeking” demonstrated that Mr. Daum was “a humanist for whom documentaries usually are not merely private chronicles, however a method to restore the world.”

Menachem Daum was born on Oct. 5, 1946, in a displaced individuals camp within the Bavarian city of Landsberg am Lech in what was then Allied-occupied Germany. Both his refugee dad and mom, Moshe Yosef Daum and Fela (Nussbaum) Daum, had survived German focus camps, however they every misplaced a partner and a son, in addition to numerous different kinfolk. They married within the camp, and once they had a son, they named him Menachem, which implies comforter or consoler in Hebrew.

“Apparently, they hoped I’d be capable of restore some happiness of their lives,” Mr. Daum advised Religion and Ethics Newsweekly in a 2001 interview.

His mom, although observant, remained indignant at God for standing by indifferently as her toddler son Avrohom was torn from her arms when she arrived at Auschwitz. Her husband, who belonged to the Ger sect of Hasidim, determined that people can not perceive God’s methods and that questions on God’s culpability had no solutions, Mr. Daum stated in “Hiding and Seeking.”

The household emigrated to the United States in 1951 and was settled by HIAS (initially the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) in Schenectady, N.Y., the place Menachem fleetingly took the American title Martin. When he requested if he might patch collectively a Halloween costume, his father turned involved in regards to the Gentile influences on him in a metropolis that lacked yeshivas; he quickly moved the household to Borough Park. It was a neighborhood that was absorbing lots of the remnants of Europe’s once-teeming Hasidic sects, who finally got here to be the neighborhood’s most populous group.

Menachem attended native yeshivas and, after highschool, spent 4 years in superior Talmud examine. But he realized that the lifetime of a Talmudic scholar was not for him, and he began night courses at Brooklyn College.

“I had been led to imagine that there was little of worth to be realized from outsiders,” he says in “Hiding and Seeking.” “I found this to be unfaithful. The folks I met struck me as extraordinarily moral, and nearly non secular of their efforts to make the world a greater place.”

Mr. Daum, proper, in 1997 with Oren Rudavsky, his collaborator on the documentaries “A Life Apart” and “Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust.”Credit…Moshe Friedlander/First Run Features

In 1978, he acquired a doctorate in academic psychology from Fordham University. His dissertation was on growing old, and for the subsequent 25 years he labored as a analysis gerontologist for New York City’s Department of Aging and the Brookdale Center on Aging at Hunter College.

According to Ms. Fogelman, when Mr. Daum needed to look after his mom after she was identified with Alzheimer’s illness, he found that there have been 35 million Americans caring for older folks. Intrigued by the visible energy of filmmaking, he made his first documentary, “In Care of: Families and Their Elders.”

Beguiled by the medium, he determined to make a second movie, on the tenacity of religion amongst Holocaust survivors. He sought out Mr. Rudavsky as a collaborator, and their conversations led to a give attention to the Hasidic neighborhood.

To help his household whereas making his movies, Mr. Daum typically shot movies of weddings and bar mitzvahs.

In addition to his two sons, Mr. Daum is survived by his spouse, Rifka (Federman) Daum; a daughter, Chaya Schron; a brother, Rabbi Heshy Daum; a sister, Beverly Berkowitz; and grandchildren.

At the top of “Hiding and Seeking,” Mr. Daum observes: “There was once a Jewish custom referred to as a Tsava. When you reached a sure stage in your life and also you realized you weren’t going to be round perpetually to information your youngsters, you’ll take crucial values that you just needed them to stay by and you’ll commit them to a doc, kind of like an moral will. I hope that the journey I took my sons to Poland on, in a means, I hope they see that as my Tsava to them.”

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