UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Rosh Hashanah

Canadian documentary paints an unsentimental portrait of a Jewish holiday

By Chelsea Temple Jones

Rosh Hashanah: The Day of Judgment
Directed by Barry Lank
Lank/Beach Productions
VisionTV: Sept. 21, 10 p.m. EST

Remember documentary parodies on The Simpsons? They begin with the host turning away from his activity and greeting viewers with enthusiasm as artificial as plastic: “Hi, I’m Troy McClure. You may remember me from such educational films as . . . .”

Such films as Rosh Hashanah: The Day of Judgment, perhaps? Well, not quite. But it’s a close call when a Jazz FM radio host wraps up the weather forecast, removes his headphones, turns toward the camera and heartily says, “It’s the Jewish New Year. I’m Ralph Benmergui. I’m a family man. . . .”

The rest of the film unfolds as a model educational guide to Rosh Hashanah, the holiday marking the Day of Judgment, the beginning of the Jewish New Year.

Though Rosh Hashanah is the day when Jews around the world gather to pray, sing and hear the earthy herald of the shofar, the film isn’t a romantic lament. Instead, Rosh Hashanah is laced with colourful characters, hopping from downtown Winnipeg to the historic Junction Synagogue in Toronto,  from bakers and bridal shop owners to lawyers and academics. There’s even an appearance by Larry Thomas, affectionately known as “The Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld.

Viewers get a quick tour of Rideau Bakery in downtown Ottawa. Here, the owner stocks up on raisins and honey for people to put on savoury pastries that represent hope for a sweet year ahead. Nods of affirmation follow from the kosher inspector making his daily rounds.

These neighbourly characters offer depth and testimony. Some describe the longest Jewish service of the year as a new beginning, an annual spiritual renewal dating back to paganism. The holiday connects people with their own histories and with Jewish history through deep introspection, reflection and forethought. University student Leslie Emery best articulates it: “Nobody’s perfect, but we can always do better and we can try to live our lives in a way that heals the world.”

The film paints a picture of Rosh Hashanah that is both unsentimental and uncritical, making it a tame addition to a church library. Its approach is formulaic because, well, the formula works. Ultimately, though, this documentary is the stuff of channel surfing; if you want to learn more about Rosh Hashanah, just put down the remote and watch it.

Chelsea Temple Jones is a freelance writer in Toronto.


Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.

World

June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image