Sholem Aleichem in Russia and Ukraine: A Message from Kroll Film Fund Grantee, Joseph Dorman
As the key supporters of Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness, – the people who made the film possible – I wanted to let you all know about a State Department sponsored trip with the film to Kyiv, Lviv and Moscow from which I just returned. Former US Ambassador to Ukraine, John Tefft had seen and liked the film and in
vited me to be part of their ongoing program in public diplomacy and cultural exchange.
While I was excited to return with the film to Ukraine, where of course Sholem Aleichem lived, and to visit Russia, which, even during darkest Soviet times, continued to teach Sholem Aleichem in public school, I was unprepared for just how moving the trip would be. The depth of response from the Jewish and even non-Jewish communities in these three cities was somewhat overwhelming. I know most of you have travelled there and met with members of the Jewish community so you’ll know to what I am referring.
I showed the film to film school and creative writing students in Kyiv and Moscow, to a Jewish congregation in Kyiv and in open screenings in all three cities. Afterward, in each location, I was besieged by young people, sometimes a half or a quarter Jewish with tales of lost Jewish roots in their families, of targeted murders and hidden Jewish identities, all of whom were now desperate to learn about and reclaim their Jewish identity and past and felt spurred on to do so even more so after seeing the film.
The yearning and interest was so palpable it has convinced me that I need to return to the Former Soviet Union again, both to read Sholem Aleichem stories with young and old alike, to take the film to other cities there, and to initiate the early stages of a new documentary film project focusing on the lost and recovered identities of these young people, a natural follow up of sorts to the Sholem Aleichem film.
So thanks again to you all for helping me to make the film possible. Meanwhile, we’re in the midst of completing a series of lesson plans around the film to get it to high school students across the country. It already has had a strong university-based distribution which continues to grow. While our strong success in theaters (and soon to be streaming on Netflix!) is gratifying, I want you all to know that I’m working to give the film a lasting legacy, made possible by your generosity.