Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Spark Among the Ashes , A Bar Mitzvah in Poland

    Truth is stranger than fiction and some things you just can't make up. So goes this documentary that I just watched on Amazon Prime called A SPARK AMONG THE ASHES: A BAR MITZVAH IN POLAND .
     The film is the result of a Jewish  group who had visited Poland in the mid- 1980's fulfilling a request of an elderly Holocaust survivor named Maria Yakobovitz. When the Jewish   group including Mike Gladstein  visited her community they asked what they could give them , Maria Yakobovitz said that they did not need money but she wanted to see a bar mitzvah in her synagogue. Somehow they found a boy named Eric Strom from Stamford , Connecticut who was willing to have his bar mitzvah in Krakow,  Poland. In the film they show step by step the planning and the story of what happened at the bar mitzvah.
       Eric and his family were reform Jews who in 1985 had a woman rabbi at their synagogue. I did not realize that there were women rabbis in 1985. Anyway, as the event became more publicized a rabbi in Brooklyn , Rabbi Elbaum,  became upset that a reform woman rabbi would be performing this bar mitzvah in Poland, a place where no bar mitzvah had occurred in so long. There was a lot of controversy leading up to the bar mitzvah , but it did happen . The service ended up being led by the orthodox rabbi, the men and women sat in separate sections,   the boy was able to read his Torah portion. The reform rabbi even managed to give her speech. Rabbi Elbaum was interviewed as well in the film which was quite interesting. Though he did not mince words about his feelings for reform Judaism , he did concede that he felt that Eric  did a good job and that he has a good heart.
      I found this documentary hard to watch at times because there were so many sides to the story and I sympathized with everybody. The Stroms took their two children and their parents to Poland for the bar mitzvah of their son to fulfill the wish of a holocaust survivor that they never met. Maria Yakobovitz had probably been orthodox before the war, but by 1985 likely was less so. The Stroms went to a reform temple that happened to have a woman rabbi who did seem to be respectful of those who were orthodox . The orthodox Jews who were upset that they were going to have a reform bar mitzvah had hoped that if there would be a bar mitzvah again in Poland felt that it was a shame that it would not be an orthodox one.
         In the end the bar mitzvah occurred fairly smoothly. Maria Yakubovitz was so happy . I am certain that the Stroms will never forget this bar mitzvah.
         I would love to see an update on the Stroms . I feel like this documentary was the ultimate Jewish reality show. We could use a reunion film or perhaps an epilogue.
          Though this film was a bit like a reality show, it really was quite amazing. A Jewish family had a bar mitzvah for their son in Krakow in 1985 to fulfill a request of an elderly holocaust survivor that they had never met. There are some amazing Jewish people.



Garnel Ironheart said...

It's interesting to note how history moves in ways no one could predict. About the same time as this story came out, National Geographic did a piece on "The Last Jews of Poland". The detail I remember most was that there was barely a minyan in Krakow and surrounding areas and the only guy who could lead services had converted to Catholicism after the war but still came out to lead because he felt it was important for the others!

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