Gerald Peary is best known to Vancouverites as a regular attendant of our annual film fest, often as critic for the (late) Boston Phoenix and other newspapers, and as former curator for the Harvard Film Archive. But when he comes here this time, it will be to screen his feature film, The Rabbi Goes West.
The engaging documentary, showing October 7 and 8, follows that rarest of religious creatures, a proselytizing Jew, as bearded Brooklynite Chaim Bruk attempts to make converts in Montana, of all places.
“I wanted to make a film which put me in touch with my secular Judaism and I really like mezuzahs,” Peary says, of those little biblical blessings you often find on Jewish front-door frames. “I read on the web about this rabbi in Montana pledged to put a mezuzah on every household. I called him up and he invited me and my wife Amy Geller to come out and film him.”
The novice directors had no idea what a polarizing figure the outgoing Bruk would turn out to be. But the surprising number of Jews in the region soon hipped them to certain questionable traits, which are observed in the film, largely without judgement.
“At the time, we knew nothing about Chabad or that other rabbis would oppose him or that neo-Nazis would strike. Everything was learned in the three years of filming and editing.”
And so, do Peary and Geller want to be on the other side of the screen again?
“Of course I would like to make more films but am very skeptical, living in the U.S., where there is no government funding anywhere, federal or state.”
Maybe those trips to Canada’s West should become more frequent.