November 16, 2012 | 7:27 am
Posted Adi Halfon
Three years ago, Polish director Michal Tkaczynski was standing with a friend outside the Marriott Hotel in Warsaw. "There was an Orthodox-Jewish guy who had come outside for a smoke. My friend asked me if I knew who he was. I thought him just an ordinary Orthodox Jew, but I was wrong. My friend told me that this Orthodox Jew standing next to us used to be an anti-Semitic, racist and violent hooligan, radical fan of the Legia Warszawa football club," Tkaczynski recalls. He decided to make a documentary about this Jewish man. "The Moon Is Jewish" is a movie about Pavel - a racist football hooligan, who discovered that he is actually Jewish and went on to become an Orthodox Jew, who grows his beard, keeps kosher, and wears Hasidic clothes.
Tkaczynski explains, "After World War II, and after many years of communism, the Jewish identity of Pavel's family was erased. They assimilated into the Catholic environment, and began acting accordingly - going to church etc."
Pavel, as he appears in the movie, is a person searching for identity. "He is definitely an extreme character," Tkaczynski admits, "his brothers, for example, didn't make a big deal out of discovering their Jewish roots." When Pavel was a football fan, he went all the way, to become more than an ordinary football fan - and when he discovered Judaism, again he went beyond becoming an ordinary Jew. As Pavel himself says in the movie, "I don't want to be a dime-a-dozen Jew, I want to do something meaningful." This meaning, a meaning, plays an important role in Pavel's life, and in the movie. Pavel's search is not just for an identity, but also for meaning. Just like in Viktor Frankl's book "Man's Search for Meaning", Pavel is looking for something that can fill his simple life, as he described it, with content. First he finds it in being an extreme football fan. Later, he finds this content in Judaism. It is something done for one self, but also for future generations: finding some "truths" about life and teaching them to the children.
In the movie, football hooligans want their children to also be fans of their team. As a Jew, Pavel wants his kids to grow up as good Jews - he sends his son to a yeshiva in the USA, and he forbids his daughter to leave the house wearing a short skirt.
But what is a good Jew? Do you have to be religious and orthodox in order to be a good Jew? Would Pavel still be a Jew if he did not become orthodox? The movie does not answer this question.
"In every faith there are more devoted religious people and less religious people." explains Tkaczynski. "I personally think that the religious ones are better people. They are trying to help others, trying to make the world a better place. Pavel amends his behavior and path from being a hooligan. Also, the movie takes a look at current Jewish life in Poland, which is a subject not many people really know."
In one scene we see Pavel, with his long beard and black Hasidic clothes, in the empty stands of the football stadium. This image creates a dissonance, by putting an Orthodox Jew in a place where he supposedly does not belong. However, during the movie many similarities between these two distant worlds are exposed. In both cases, it took Pavel a long time to graduate the long and slow process of becoming a member of the group; they both offer a community closed to the outside; and both hooliganism and the orthodox way of life Pavel chose do not allow for compromise. Pavel moved from one uncompromising way of life to another. Unfortunately, the film does not try to find out whether there is another way, a way of compromise.
Tkaczynski, during interviews with people from the Jewish community in Poland, emphasizes the obvious difference between hooligans and the Orthodox Jewish way of life. That being, naturally, the purpose of each of them. Hooligans harm people, religion fixes - that is the focus. While football hooligans spread hatred, Pavel as an Orthodox Jew, tries to avoid it. He even teaches his children not to use the word "hate". Pavel looks for a way in which he can work for the common good of Jews in Warsaw, so he helps Jewish restaurants to set up kosher kitchens.
Despite his good efforts, he also ends up harming people. Pavel's mother is not happy with the fact that her son and grandson are Orthodox. She is not happy with the fact that he did not attend his father's funeral, because it was in a Catholic church. Is Pavel intolerant of his mother's beliefs, or is she intolerant of the path he chose? Is it possible to fix the world without causing any more harm? Tkaczynski has an answer. "Generally, I think it is possible. But in Pavel's case I am not optimistic, since his family doesn't care about Judaism and his brothers are skinheads. They were not happy with the film."
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