Monday, August 4th, 2008
Let’s take a trip to Munkatch in March, 1933, five minutes to midnight .
First stop: The wedding of the Rabinowitz boy to Frime Chaye Rivke Shapira – daughter of the Munkatch rebbe, Eleazer Shapira. The bride was to become the mom of the present Munkatcher and Dinover Rebbes.
Newspapers say 20,000 well-wishers gathered in the crowded streets for wedding. Horses pulled carriages. Who were the ones on bicycles? Then, the Munkatcher Rebbe makes a speech asking Jews in America to keep Shabbos. Perhaps the rebbe, who himself will soon die, sees what the rest of the Jews in this video can not; that those at this wedding who won’t be killed within the decade will likely renew their life in these blessed United States. The rebbe is speaking to the survivors and the unborn. What is there for the rebbe, father of the bride, to say, other than to hope the survivors remember Shabbos, to remember what Shabbos meant in Munkatch, once upon a yesterday.
In fact, the children of these Munkatcher chasidim, 75 years after this video, are indeed here in America. They drive up Route 17, exit on Route 42, and summer in an old Catskills hotel now named Camp Chaim V’Shulem Munkatch.
We then go cross-town, where a choir of little children is singing Hatikvah. We then visit very differernt little childre in the courtyard of a chasidic cheder; from there along the streets, meeting an outdoor book peddler and weavers.
The visit ends with an extraordinary scene of more than a hundred men and women dancing together, exhilarated, in spirited circles.
The person I enjoyed most in the video was not in the video at all – the cameraman. Who was he? He must have appreciated all the Jews of Munkatch, from the chasidim to the Zionists to the street vendors. He must have felt comfortable enough with each of these people and scenes, sensing that everyone and every moment, from wedding party to weavers, was worth preserving, if only on film.
That holy man with a camera, in his nine minutes of film, reminded me of something I’ve always loved about Jewish journalism; that we chronicle not just the leaders but the loving truth of Jewish lives. We shouldn’t have to wait, we shouldn’t need the haunting hindsight of this video, to sense the beauty of our neighborhoods, of each other. What I love about that cameraman is what I love about The Jewish Week: We’re not just the first draft of history but the first draft of a love story, no matter how it ends.