The Rabbi Goes West
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The Rabbi Goes West

For more 2020 AJFF previews, visit atlantajewishtimes.timesofisrael.com/two-decades-in-the-making/

“The Rabbi Goes West” was financed by a Kickstarter campaign. In trying to raise funds, the filmmakers, Gerald Peary and Amy Geller, wrote in their pitch, “Our documentary asks: How can we talk with an open heart to those who seem our political and religious opposites? This unique, complex portrait of a Chasidic rabbi in the new West will resonate with people across the country and even around the world.” They went on to say: “We are as disturbed as everyone – liberal, moderate, conservative – by the incredible divisions in America today.

“‘The Rabbi Goes West’ asks for tolerance and acceptance for a diversity of religious thinking. Through the lens of a camera, we as liberal, secular Jews from Massachusetts, strive for connection with Montana’s observant Jewish community.”

Having watched the documentary, I can attest to the fact that the filmmakers achieved their goals – no small feat in these contentious times. I admit that my husband and I are members of Congregation Beth Tefillah, a Chabad synagogue, so I have some first-hand knowledge of much of what’s covered in the film. Still, I marveled at the filmmakers’ balanced and nuanced handling of Orthodox Judaism and its various strictures.

Although the Reform and Conservative rabbis interviewed for the film occasionally express disdain for the “new kids on the block,” Rabbi Chaim and rebbetzin Chavie Bruk of Chabad, they ultimately can’t object to the end goal of connecting Jews – unaffiliated or not – with Judaism.

Despite differences of opinion regarding Rabbi Bruk’s methods for achieving his goals and even, perhaps, his politics, at the end of the day they’re all simply Jews seeking community in Montana.

In a nutshell, “The Rabbi Goes West” is about a charismatic Chabadnik from Brooklyn who uproots himself and his family from all that’s familiar and moves to the Wild West. The Bruks’ mission might be to change Jews, by asking them to do more mitzvahs, but, not surprisingly, the power of Big Sky country changes them, too.

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