In a time where there has been an increase of misunderstandings between Secular Jews and Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Israeli filmmaker Gidi Dar and Israeli actor Shuli Rand have re-teamed to try to break down the layers of tensions between these communities through a simple story told on film. The result of their latest partnership is the acclaimed and award winning dramatic film called “Ushpizin.”
“Ushpizin” is truly a one-of-a-kind film. It is one of the first films aimed at a general audience to have the backing of the Haredi or Ultra-Orthodox community in Israel and was the first film to be shot in the Ultra-Orthodox community of Meah Shearim in Jerusalem. For those of you who have been to Jerusalem and have visited this community, you will understand that I am in awe that Gidi Dar got permission to shoot a film there and obtained Rabbi Shalom Arush’s blessing to make the film. It is also the first film that stipulates that it cannot be shown on Shabbat.
The film itself contains a simple story of faith and dealing with conflicts and compromises that are part of anyone’s life. At the center of the film are Moshe and Mali, a childless couple who live in Jerusalem’s Meah Shearim. Moshe and Mali have been married for five years, but find themselves in need of a few miracles. In particular, they have no money to pay for their rent, food, and a proper Succoth holiday (the etrog, lulav, and Succoth building).
Moshe and Mali’s prayers are answered through a generous last minute school donation of $1,000. With this money, Moshe and Mali are able to pay their rent and have a proper Succoth holiday. However, their prayers come at a cost. Yossef, an escaped convict and old acquaintance of Moshe, stops by with a friend just before the Succoth holiday begins.
According to tradition, it is a mitzvah to host guests or have visitors on the Succoth holiday. In Aramaic, the term for guests is ushpizin. Moshe and Mali are happy to fulfill this mitzvah, but, at the same time, these guests bring out conflict and tension between Moshe and Mali. Specifically, Moshe must confront his past and decide whether or not to fall back into his old habits and ways or continue on his newly righteous path as a ba’al teshuva.
Shuli Rand, who wrote the film as well as stars as Moshe, based part of the story on his own life. Shuli was a well-known Israeli actor. His wife, Michal Bat-Sheva Rand, who plays Mali in the film, was also a well-known playwright, director, and actress. Ten years ago they decided to quit the business and became baalei teshuva. They now identify themselves with the Braslever Chasidim and have six children.
Using his experiences, Shuli was able to craft a film story set in the tone of a Sholom Aleichem story. Audiences who view the film will gain an insight into the Ultra-Orthodox community from an insider’s point of view. They will hopefully gain understanding into this community and the universal themes of love, faith in G-d and the teachings of Torah (Bible), and the understanding that one can learn from past mistakes in order to make choices that will impact one’s future.
Take the time and visit this film when it arrives in your town in time for the Succoth Holiday!