Why did you decide to make "Hiding and Seeking"?
I don't know if you had a chance to see my previous film that I did with Oren Rudavsky, which was called "A Life Apart: Hasidism in America." We made the film in '97, and it was on PBS and it was nominated for an Emmy. It was a pretty good film.
My parents' grandparents were Hasidim. My parents were Holocaust survivors who came to the United States after the war. I grew up in a very Hasidic environment. Once we came to Brooklyn from Schenectady, my father immersed us in a very closed Hasidic world. But in a way, the Holocaust was all around us. The schools, the yeshivas we went to, were named after towns that were destroyed in the Holocaust. And all my classmates were children of survivors and my teachers were survivors themselves. And the Holocaust just permeated everything about my growing up, though in school it was rarely discussed. Actually it was never discussed: it was like a third rail, you touch it and you die. There was no way of explaining it satisfactorily.
Generationally, that was appropriate. American Jews avoided talking about the Holocaust for a long time afterward to their children
Yeah, and especially in that part of the Jewish world that I was part of growing up, which was the Hasidic portion of it. Nowadays, I'm very disturbed by the yeshivas that my children and grandchildren attend, they are dealing with the Holocaust, but they're explaining it as God's punishment and displeasure with the Jews for abandoning tradition and faith. This is something that, had I come home from school and told this to my parents, they would have been horrified. The schools wouldn't have had the audacity to say something like this while the survivors were still able to voice an opinion. But now that that generation has largely moved on, the ultra-Orthodox yeshivas have resorted to this simplistic explanation of the Holocaust.
Can you say what that simplistic explanation is?
It's the traditional explanation for all the unexplainable tragedies. That it was the traditions that had governed Judaism for so many centuries were broken down and people were moving more and more toward enlightenment and laxity in observance, and trying to become like the goyim [gentiles], and abandoning tradition. And God expressed his displeasure through the Holocaust. This is the traditional explanation: because of our sins, we have been exiled from our land. But this explanation didn't fly well, it was never mentioned when I was a child. I've got to tell my parents, my pious father who, even if he wanted to sin, he wouldn't even know how to begin to sin. You tell him that he died because of sins? Now I'm very troubled that this is the explanation that has become sort of standard in the yeshiva world.
But I grew up in this world, and part of that thinking was "Thank God God made us Jews rather than goyim." And clearly the whole outside world was connected to what had happened to the Jews in Europe during World War II. That was like the personification of the goyim. You know, some goyim are more overt, some hide their hostilities, but basically we were raised with the sensation that goyim are dangerous, goyim are at heart murderous, anti-Semitic, and we've just got to keep our heads below their radar screens, so to speak. It was really only much, much later, when I started stepping out of that closed world and encountered really exemplary people who were Catholics, non-Jews, whatever, that I realized the extent to which we had been misinformed, and sheltered from the fact that there is decency among all people, and there is villainy--there are saints and sinners among all of us.
Moving outside the yeshiva world
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