Yom Kippur in Melbourne’s lockdown

Yom Kippur in Melbourne’s lockdown

'We were telling this story from Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, [but] we could have been telling it from any number of synagogues around Australia'.

YOM Kippur in Lockdown, which will screen this Sunday afternoon prior to the start of Yom Kippur, is aimed at two different audiences, award-winning filmmaker Danny Ben-Moshe told The AJN this week.

Centred around Melbourne’s Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, the half-hour documentary follows cantor Dov Farkas as he prepares to sing the emotional Kol Nidrei prayer at a live-streamed service before the fast begins.

“We were telling this story from Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, [but] we could have been telling it from any number of synagogues around Australia of any denomination,” said Ben-Moshe, who wrote the film together with his son, emerging filmmaker Josh. 

“It’s telling the story of Yom Kippur in lockdown and that unique situation. But as well as telling that story to a broad audience, it is also very intentionally a taste of Kol Nidrei for members of the Jewish community who are obviously not going to be able to go to synagogue this year.”

Danny Ben-Moshe interviews cantor Dov Farkas for the documentary Yom Kippur in Lockdown.

Rounding out the cast are Chabad Youth’s Rabbi Moshe Kahn, a friend of Farkas’ who provides insight into the meaning of Yom Kippur, and three diverse members of the community – a cultural Jew who is an atheist, a non-Orthodox Jew who believes in God and a Holocaust survivor.

“The whole point we wanted to make is that if there is one time of year a Jew – whatever their orientation towards religion, or even belief in God or identification with the community – if there is one time of year they are going to step into a synagogue it’s going to be on Yom Kippur,” said Ben-Moshe.

In addition to exploring their feelings and insights about why they go to shule on Yom Kippur and what Kol Nidrei means to them, the film delves into Yom Kippur during the lockdown.

He said a choice was made early in production to make the Kol Nidrei prayer itself “the arc of the film”, which concludes with its haunting notes filling the empty synagogue.

Other elements of Caulfield Hebrew Congregation’s virtual Erev Yom Kippur service also form part of the film’s soundtrack.

Given the subject matter, one might assume the film is a solemn one, but not so, said Ben-Moshe.

“It’s kind of a little bit offbeat. Dov’s a very gregarious character and Luba the Holocaust survivor, she’s a very entertaining lady, so there are amusing, light, quirky moments,” he said.

“At the end of the day it’s a film. People have got to be entertained by it. 

“But also they’ll be informed by it, and also moved by it – moved by the characters, moved by the story, moved by the tone.”

Yom Kippur in Lockdown was made “ridiculously quickly”, reflected Ben-Moshe.

“It was just two weeks ago I got a call form the ABC. Normally a film like this would take a minimum of six months to put together, normally we would have six weeks in the edit. We had 12 days,” he said.

“So it was the quickest turnaround of a film I’ve made but I think it’s nice, it’s touching, it’s informative, it’s moving, it’s inspiring, it’s honest and all those kinds of characteristics you want for a film.”

Ben-Moshe has made many documentaries since establishing Identity Films in 2006, including the award-winning Code of Silence (2014) which lifted the lid on child sex abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community, Shalom Bollywood which screened at the 2017 Jewish International Film Festival and the 2018 documentary Outback Rabbis about Chabad of RARA.

The film airs at 4pm on Sunday, September 27 on ABC1 and at facebook.com/abc and will then be available on iview. At the end of the film there will be a website address for viewers to watch the full virtual service at 5.30pm.

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