Film festival highlights Jewish journeys
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Film festival highlights Jewish journeys

Pearl Gluck’s film ‘Divan’ chronicles her efforts to retrieve a family heirloom.

In 1998, Pearl Gluck learned the power of the camera.

That year, as a Fulbright scholar, Gluck went off to Hungary to collect oral histories for her graduate thesis in European Studies for New York University. Trained as an ethnographer, Gluck said, “I learned from that experience [collecting Yiddish stories] the whole way the camera changed the dynamics” of those encounters.

“Recording stories involved a lot more than just words,” she said. “I got really turned on to the process.”

That discovery – together with a desire to reconnect with and more fully understand her chasidic roots – led to the making of “Divan,” a documentary film that tells her own spiritual story.

The movie, which will be shown on Jan. 10 at Teaneck’s Cong. Rinat Yisrael as part of a film series entitled “Jewish Spiritual Journeys,” chronicles Gluck’s efforts to retrieve a couch – but it is much more than that.

During her 1999 trip to Hungary to retrieve this turn-of-the-century family heirloom (“where esteemed rabbis once slept,” said Gluck, explaining why her family had treasured that piece of furniture), she encounters “a colorful cast of characters who provide guidance and inspiration,” according to a statement from the Teaneck Jewish Community Council, which is co-sponsoring the film series.

The filmmaker, who was raised in a chasidic home in Brooklyn but chose to lead a secular life in Manhattan, told The Jewish Standard that she made the film as a way to reconnect not only with her family and the place she came from but “with a larger side of Judaism.”

The divan in the title belonged to her great grandfather. Traveling to Hungary to retrieve it was a way “to show utter respect and love for the world from which I had come,” she said.

While Gluck would not say if her efforts to retrieve the couch resulted in her reconnecting with her family, she did say that “it’s hard to imagine that a parent wouldn’t be moved” by her efforts.

“What’s important in reconnecting,” said Gluck, “is making the effort. It’s beginning the journey, the conversation, itself and seeing where it takes you,” she said.

Her own journey took some five years. The documentary, which she started filming in 1999, opened at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2004. Gluck said she also received a good deal of help from the Sundance Festival, which mentors select filmmakers and helps them raise funds for their projects.

In making “Divan,” said Gluck, “I learned that picking up the camera is enough sometimes. I took the chance.”

“It gave me chizuk,” or strength, she said, adding that the film “was received quite well” in the chasidic community. “They’re loving it.”

The theme of “connection” plays a large role in the Teaneck film series. Bruce Prince, co-president of the council, said that the community group is partnering with the adult education committees of Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Sholom and Cong. Rinat Yisrael in what he calls “a groundbreaking new initiative” to foster dialogue.

The film series, he hopes, “will create a template for more dialogue and discussion,” he said, noting that Gluck will lead a discussion following the film.

“We’ve all gone through journeys, and we meet people at all levels [of their journey],” said Prince. “There’s commonality in our experience.”

The council leader had seen Gluck’s film in New York and thought it would be “a perfect film to start this conversation – a good spark to begin dialogue.”

The second film in the series, “The Quarrel” – to be shown in March – will also be followed by a discussion, led by Rabbi Yosef Adler, religious leader of Cong. Rinat Yisrael, and Rabbi Kenneth Berger of Cong. Beth Sholom.

For information about the film series, call Prince at (201) 692-1560 or David Jacobowitz at (347) 262-4501.

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