When Menachem Daum hears a rabbi in the States urging hatred of Gentiles, he orders an audiotape of the lecture. Armed with the cassette, Daum sets off for Israel to play it for his two grown sons, Tzvi Dovid and Akiva, who are studying the Torah and raising families there.
“My children and grandchildren are growing up at a time when every religion is in danger of being hijacked by extremists,” Daum says. “I’ve come to Israel to alert them to this danger. I just hope it’s not too late.”
That’s the beginning of “Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust,” the latest entry in PBS’ long-running P.O.V. series. “Hiding and Seeking” premieres Aug. 30 on local PBS stations. (Click here for times and channels.)
Daum taught the Talmud to his sons when they were younger, but now he thinks their perspectives have become too radical and their positioning too insular. When Daum arrives in Israel and meets with Tzvi and Akiva—in one of the documentary’s best scenes—they argue and discuss their opinions of history after listening to the tape Daum brought.
The sons offer that the rabbi is indeed an extremist, yet there’s no arguing with historical fact. Tzvi, for example, says he’d rather have no relationship with Gentiles than an antagonistic one, which is what he sees history revealing.
Daum refuses to let that be the final word, saying there are good and bad goyim, and that they’re alive on account of the good—because both sets of their grandparents were Holocaust survivors. But Akiva says the bad always win.
“How do you know that what’s delaying the Messiah isn’t what I’m talking about?” asks Daum.
What an eye-opening, honest, elemental kind of conversation these men have, and rest assured that in virtually no popular Cineplex will you find such intellectual, spiritual and emotional stimulation as what “Hiding and Seeking” can offer.
Menachem Daum, whose first name means “consoler” or “comforter,” is the genuine article, and on his shoulders this documentary finds its best point of view.
In addition to being the story’s on-camera driving force, Daum co-directed the 86-minute documentary with Oren Rudavsky. It took the Grand Prix at the 2004 Warsaw International Jewish Film Festival.
In fact, much of the film takes place in Poland, where Daum and his wife, Rifka, take their two sons in an effort to trace the family’s history, which included both mistreatment and aid at the hands of Poles. Daum, who traveled to Poland years ago and made at least a kind of peace with what happened there, hopes his sons will find godliness in the goyim and modify their outlook.
They meet up with Kamila, a young woman in Zdunska Wola, who has been researching Jewish stories in the hometown of Daum’s family. Kamila helps the Daums reconnect with places of their ancestors, though the sons aren’t buying it.
When Daum wants to say a prayer at a place of familial importance and sacredness, Akiva says, “I think this is nuts.”
Daum, however, will not be denied or deterred, and he launches the quest to find any remnants of the Polish family who hid Rifka’s father and his two brothers during World War II. At this point, “Hiding and Seeking” becomes a bit of mystery and treasure hunt, with rising anticipation about finding clues to the past—and possible future.
The Daums travel down gravel roads, talking to villagers who buzz with names and stories and locales. Everyone begins merging memories with landscapes until an old man named Wojciech Mucha appears. Does he know anything? What about his wife, Honorata?
Does anyone remember Rifka’s father, Chaim Federman, who hid from the Germans with his brothers under piles of hay? What do Tzvi and Akiva think of all this? Is their father still nuts, or are they all on holy ground where goyim farm?
The filmmakers weave primary footage and brief interviews with family photos and home movies, as well as some historical footage. Daum himself does most of the voice-over, though he features less and less as the documentary proceeds, which is too bad.
Daum’s scenes with his sons are priceless, as are those of him with his elderly father, Moshe, whose failing health prevents him from returning “home,” he says, to Poland.
Daum, for his part, doesn’t consider the Polish land of his birth home. “I’m a wandering Jew,” he tells Rifka.
Wandering, perhaps, but bold and courageous with family and stranger alike. His point of view deserves an audience.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: Unrated.
Co-Directors/Producers: Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky
Cast: Menachem Daum; Rifka Daum; Tzvi Dovid Daum; Akiva Daum; Moshe Yosef Daum.
The movie’s P.O.V. Web site is here.
Click here to find a show time in your area.