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 dwelling in Borough Park, Brooklyn. He was 77.
His loss of life was confirmed by Eva Fogelman, a pal and the writer of a ebook about Christian rescuers of Jews throughout the Holocaust. She mentioned Mr. Daum had been handled for congestive coronary heart failure.
What made the documentary, “A Life Aside: Hasidism in America,” so placing was Mr. Daum’s skill to get individuals who scorn motion pictures and tv units to sit down on digicam for revealing interviews, permitting him to chronicle their mores and rituals. The ensuing movie supplied a posh portrait of a spiritual group normally depicted as somber and impenetrable.
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.
However he was effectively 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 provide and direct a documentary that introduced a posh portrait of a spiritual group normally depicted as somber and impenetrable — for instance, it included scenes of Hasidim joyfully dancing.
The Hasidic motion was based within the 18th century in Jap Europe by a rabbi referred to as the Baal Shem Tov, who felt that Judaism had overemphasized mental qualities to the detriment of non secular fervor and sincerity.
Mr. Rudavsky mentioned in an interview that he believed “A Life Aside” 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 Aside’ enlivens its historical past and evaluation with surprisingly tender household scenes, with evocations of the Hasidic world’s deep mysticism, and with among the group’s most colorfully quaint options, like formal matchmaking,” Janet Maslin wrote in her evaluation in The New York Instances.
Mr. Daum’s friendships and his familiarity together with his neighborhood have 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 faculty educations and education within the professions.
“If I placed on a hat, I appear like I belong much more than I do,” Mr. Daum advised The Instances earlier than the movie’s premiere. “I may guarantee them that this movie wouldn’t mock or exploit them.”
The movie was not a piece of puffery; it additionally supplied vital 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 “non secular vanity” of the Hasidim he has encountered.
Annette Insdorf, a professor of movie at Columbia College, mentioned in an electronic mail that “A Life Aside” “offered 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 every one issues might be sacred — together with intercourse — with an emphasis on prayer, pleasure and group.”
In his second movie with Mr. Rudavsky, “Hiding and Searching for: Religion and Tolerance After the Holocaust” (2004), Mr. Daum tried to leaven his two grown sons’ scorn for non-Jews. Accompanied by a digicam crew, he took them to Poland to satisfy the household of the Roman Catholic couple who had saved the lifetime of their maternal grandfather, Chaim Federman, throughout the Holocaust by hiding him and his two brothers in a dugout beneath piles of hay in a barn. The encounter with 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 last 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. However Mr. Daum’s youthful son, Akiva, whereas admitting that he “realized there’s some superb individuals on the earth,” maintains that the Muchas and Mrs. Mucha’s dad and mom have been “exceptions to the rule.”
“The overall rule of thumb was, to eliminate the Jew is the very best factor to do,” he says, “and so they’d in all probability do it once more.”
Dr. Insdorf mentioned “Hiding and Searching for” demonstrated that Mr. Daum was “a humanist for whom documentaries will not be 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. Each 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 relations. They married within the camp, and once they had a son, they named him Menachem, which suggests comforter or consoler in Hebrew.
“Apparently, they hoped I would be capable of restore some happiness of their lives,” Mr. Daum advised Faith 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 mentioned in “Hiding and Searching for.”
The household immigrated to the US in 1951 and was settled by HIAS (initially the Hebrew Immigrant Help Society) in Schenectady, N.Y., the place Menachem fleetingly took the American title Martin. When he requested if he may patch collectively a Halloween costume, his father turned involved in regards to the Gentile influences on him in a metropolis that lacked yeshivas and 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. However he realized that the lifetime of a Talmudic scholar was not for him, and he began night lessons at Brooklyn Faculty.
“I had been led to imagine that there was little of worth to be realized from outsiders,” he says in “Hiding and Searching for.” “I found this to be unfaithful. The individuals I met struck me as extraordinarily moral, and nearly non secular of their efforts to make the world a greater place.”
In 1978, he obtained a doctorate in academic psychology from Fordham College. His dissertation was on growing old, and for the following 25 years he labored as a analysis gerontologist for New York Metropolis’s Division of Getting old and the Brookdale Middle on Getting old at Hunter Faculty.
In line with Ms. Fogelman, when Mr. Daum needed to look after his mom after she was recognized with Alzheimer’s illness, he found that there have been 35 million Individuals caring for older individuals. Intrigued by the visible energy of filmmaking, he made his first documentary, “In Care of: Households 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 concentrate on the Hasidic group.
To help his household whereas making his specialised movies, Mr. Daum usually shot movies of weddings and bar mitzvahs.
Along with 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.
On the finish of “Hiding and Searching for,” Mr. Daum observes: “There was once a Jewish custom referred to as a Tsava. Whenever 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 a very powerful values that you simply needed them to dwell 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.”