Torn

A true story about a Catholic priest whose world is suddenly turned completely upside down at his mother’s deathbed.

By Peggy Bowes

Imagine that you are a Catholic priest in your 30s whose world is suddenly turned completely upside down at your mother’s deathbed.

Such was the case with Father Romuald Waszkinel when he discovered that his real name was Jacob Weksler and that his parents were Jews who had given him up to his Catholic Polish neighbors in order to save him from the Holocaust. “Torn” is an apt title for a fascinating documentary about his experience, featured in Manhattan’s “The Other Israel Film Festival.”

The film explores the dilemma faced by Fr. Weksler-Waszkinel as he tries to navigate the feelings of confusion and anxiety brought on by this identity crisis. For years, Fr. Waszkinel continues his work as a priest but is angered by anti-Semitic sentiments exhibited by Catholics in Poland, which he compares to “people smoking under a sign that says ‘No Smoking.’” Nearing retirement in his mid-60s, Fr. Waszkinel feels compelled to move to Israel and immerse himself in the Jewish culture and faith. He hopes to live in one of the monasteries in Israel, but none will accept him. Changing tactics, he attempts to enter a kibbutz (Jewish community) and asks to leave every Sunday to celebrate Mass. The kibbutz leaders refuse his request. Distressed, Fr. Waszkinel declares, “I can deny everything, but not Jesus!”

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He finally agrees to their conditions and moves to Israel to join the kibbutz. Catholics will no doubt be scratching their heads, thinking that to give up saying Mass is essentially to deny Jesus. I felt torn about this myself until I talked to the director of the film, Ronit Kertsner. She brings empathy to the priest’s dilemma as she, too, discovered in her 30s that her adoptive parents had lied to her about her true identity. Ronit muses, “Suddenly I had no idea who I was, which is ridiculous. Nothing had changed. I was married, I had two daughters, my life was theoretically fine. Somehow I just got completely disconnected from my past. I guess this is what’s called an identity crisis. A psychologist told me that your identity is like a woven tapestry. Sometimes one strand gets torn, and the whole thing falls apart.”

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