Hasidism and Jewish Mysticism
62 minutes, 2000
Produced and Directed by Willy Lindwer
AVA Productions (Netherlands)
A co-production with
EO Television (Netherlands) and JCS Productions (Israel)
The documentary film "D'vekut" tells the fascinating story of Hasidism and Jewish Mysticism in Israel, through the personal experience of the Dutch Jewish filmmaker Willy Lindwer. The film shows unique film-footage, some of it shot with a hidden camera, of a mystical world, unknown to many. For the first time it was possible, through very close and personal contacts of the filmmaker, to penetrate the Hasidic sects in Israel. The Hasidic world of today is among the fastest growing mystical societies in the world "D'vekut" was filmed entirely on location in Israel during the period 1998-2000.
In 1992, filmmaker Willy Lindwer and his father, Berl Nuchim Lindwer, returned to the former Jewish "shtetl" of Delatyn in Ukraine. For the elder Lindwer, who had abandoned Delatyn for Amsterdam in 1930, leaving his family behind, it was an emotional homecoming. All the Jews of Delatyn, including Lindwer's family, were killed by the Nazis. Willy Lindwer told the story of that journey in his 1992 film, "
Return to My Shtetl Delatyn
The idea of making a film about Hasidism and about the world of Lindwer's past was born during the 1992 journey. Delatyn is located between the villages of Vishnitz and Satmar, in an area where Hasidism first took root and flourished. Shortly after his father's death in 1998, Willy Lindwer began his research in Israel. By sheer coincidence, the very first Hasid he met in Jerusalem's ultra-orthodox Mea Shearim quarter turned out to be Rabbi Shaya Rottenberg none other than the great-grandson of the rabbi of Delatyn, Lindwer's father's rabbi.
Coming from his secular background in the Netherlands, where ultra-orthodoxy and Jewish extremism are all but unknown, Willy Lindwer entered the world of Israeli Hasidism with a distinct advantage. As an outsider, unaffected by the religious-secular antagonism that colors daily life in Israel, he was able to view the Hasidic world without prejudice or dislike. He was receptive to its heritage and traditions.
During the making of "D'vekut", Willy Lindwer and Rabbi Shaya Rottenberg broke through the boundaries that separated them, becoming friends on a unique journey of discovery. To both Lindwer and Rabbi Rottenberg, this encounter seemed almost miraculous. It convinced the Rabbi, a member of the extreme ultra-orthodox Toldot Aharon Hasidic sect to abandon his refusal to appear in any film, and to guide Lindwer, a secular Jew from Amsterdam, into the world of Hasidism and Jewish mysticism.
"D'vekut" is the result of this unusual pairing a highly personal film that presents a story of great contrasts. It takes us into the world of the Hasidim - a world normally closed to outsiders, where cameras and television are considered anathema.
To many observers, all the so-called 'black-hats' look the same. The uninitiated often fail to note the attributes that set them apart from one another, dividing them among a variety of different, often highly contrasting, religious backgrounds. Outsiders often view all ultra-orthodox and Hasidic Jews as extremists or fundamentalists, whose extreme lifestyle and rejection of the secular world make them objects of derision. Many are angered by ultra-orthodox attempts to impose their religious laws on the secular world.
Before making his film, Lindwer, himself, knew little about the Hasidim. While making this film, he came to understand the tremendous variety of Hasidic life and above all he gained insights into the mystical roots of the Hasidic movement. He experienced meditation, spirituality and ecstasy; devotion to charismatic leaders; singing, dancing, and the power of the "nigun" (the melody) - and absolute faith in the Creator. These elements not apparent at first glance became more and more familiar to Lindwer as he entered the world of Hasidism.
"D'vekut" is the Hebrew term for mystical union, the essential element of Hasidism, the Jewish mystical movement that began in 18th century Eastern Europe, and which lives on in contemporary Israel. "D'vekut" is the story of Jewish Mysticism and Hasidism in Israel, told through the personal journey of the filmmaker. Through contacts in the Hasidic world, based upon his own Eastern European roots, Willy Lindwer to penetrate a world inaccessible to most, taking his camera into places that had never before been filmed. He spent almost two years working on this production.
Israel is the only place in the world where all 50 of the Hasidic groups once scattered throughout Eastern Europe are still represented today. Lindwer's documentary contains exclusive footage of special ceremonies and festivals - and of leading Hasidic rabbis who have never appeared on camera before. It is the first documentary is entirely produced and filmed within the Hasidic world in Jerusalem, B'nei Brak, Kiryat Sanz, Kfar Chabad and Safed.
The film "D'vekut" presents Hassidic society and its leaders - rabbis, heading their Hasidic sects as well as scholars of Kabala, Jewish mysticism and Hasidic thought. The film explores some of the main Hasidic streams, but also provides an insight into their way of life, which is strictly separated from secular society. The filmmaker was able to penetrate this closed, protected world to obtain an inside view into habits, lifestyles, and opinions.