April 21, 2024
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Congregation Shomrei Emunah Hosts Screening Of ‘Upheaval: The Menachem Begin Story’

By Bracha Schwartz

A capacity crowd attended a recent screening of the movie “Upheaval: The Menachem Begin Story,” at Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Englewood. A documentary about Israel’s sixth prime minister, the film was introduced by executive producer Rob Schwartz.

The movie, translated into eight languages, has been shown all over the world. Before coming to Shomrei Emunah, Schwartz showed the movie in Mexico City, where he said more than 2,000 people saw the film over four days. “Upheaval” is also being shown on all El Al flights, where it is their second most watched movie.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, morah d’atrah of Shomrei Emunah and CEO of OU Kosher, met Schwartz through their mutual friend Sen. Joe Lieberman. When Schwartz told him he was bringing the movie to synagogues and schools, Genack invited him to show the film and speak at the synagogue.

Rob Schwartz talks about making the film.

Schwartz was a businessman and had been chief of staff for Lieberman when he was in the Connecticut Senate. Six years ago, Schwartz read “The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli-Leadership” by Yehuda Avner and was especially taken with the story of Menachem Begin’s leadership. He searched for a documentary to watch about his life but couldn’t find one. Without any experience in the film industry, he decided he would make the documentary. He discussed the book with Lieberman, who had also just finished reading it, and told him his idea to make the film. Lieberman didn’t tell him he was crazy. He asked how he could help.

Schwartz formed a nonprofit company, Hidden Light Institute. Lieberman’s support of the project gave Schwartz the credibility he needed to recruit a top-level board of directors. Lieberman also spoke at the first fundraising event Schwartz held for the project. Schwartz ultimately raised approximately $2 million to make and market the film. After interviewing 10 directors, he chose Jonathan Gruber, an Orthodox Jew from Silver Spring, Maryland.

Schwartz related that when people ask him why he made the movie, he answers: “How could I not tell the story of a man small in stature but who loomed so large against the canvas of Jewish and Israeli history. As an American Jew, aware of the sinister increase in antisemitism, or as Malcolm Hoenlein calls it, ‘Jew hate,’ how could I not tell the story of how Begin heard first-hand accounts of how his family was marched, 500 abreast, with his father leading them, singing Hatikvah as they were taken to a local river where they were all machine gunned to death.”

Rabbi Genack shares stories about Menachem Begin.

Genack thanked Schwartz for coming before the film started. “It’s so wonderful to see this movie and learn about this extraordinary person,” he said. He shared several stories, including one he heard from Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld. Before Begin was the prime minister, he wanted to meet the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Schonfeld drove Begin to Yeshiva University. Begin watched the Rav giving a shiur through a window in the door to the classroom for a short time. The shiur went longer than expected and he couldn’t stay. The gentleman that he was, he didn’t want to interrupt the shiur so he didn’t meet the Rav on that occasion.

On the way back from YU, Schonfeld asked Begin what made him such a “shtarkur” (strong person). Begin, who was a Brisker, said that when he was a small boy, he was walking with his father Zev, a tall man, accompanied by the dayan of Brisk, Rav Simcha Zelig Riger. A Polish officer came over to them and slapped Rav Riger in the face. In response, Zev Begin hit the officer, who then ran away. Rav Riger asked, “why are you starting up with a Polish officer?” Zev Begin replied that Kavod HaTorah made him respond. Menachem Begin told Rav Schonfeld, “At that moment, I learned you have to stand up.”

“Upheaval” is a gripping, fast-paced documentary that opens with contemporary scenes of violence against Jews, giving viewers a taste of what Begin experienced as a small boy when Hitler was closing in, and underscoring that the struggle against antisemitism continues today. The movie uses archival footage, collected from many sources in the U.S. and Israel, to show the chronology of Begin’s life and his groundbreaking accomplishments. He fought for the right of all Jews to live in their ancestral homeland and build the state of Israel. A true leader, he also took responsibility for mistakes, even if he was not directly responsible for them, when they happened on his watch. The movie’s title stems from his unprecedented upset victory to become Israel’s sixth Prime Minister in 1977, upending the dominance that the Labor Party had held since the founding of the state.

Rob Schwartz had a rapt audience as he spoke about “Upheaval.”

Context was provided by interviews with current figures including former Ambassadors Ron Dermer and Michael Oren, author Caroline Glick, and Begin’s former personal secretary Yona Klimovitski. In an email interview with the director, Gruber said he chose people to interview based on their personal connections to Begin or their expertise in talking about him. He said the team consulted with the Menachem Begin Heritage Center to confirm the accuracy of facts in the script. Schwartz also commented on their commitment to fact-checking. “I made sure there was nothing in the movie that couldn’t be sourced and proved,” he said.

Genack shared another story in a follow-up conversation with The Jewish Link that shines a light on Begin’s legacy. Begin’s son Benny, who was a member of the Knesset, was a featured speaker at an OU convention. He was introduced by the chairman of the program as a second-generation politician. Benny Begin offered a correction to that description. “I am a first-generation politician,” he said. “My father was a statesman.”

Schwartz revealed that production has started for his next film, also with Jonathan Gruber as director: a documentary about his former boss Joe Lieberman. “It’s about Senator Lieberman’s life but also about the sanctity of democracy and democratic institutions, the importance of bipartisanship and last but not least, how vitally important it is that we speak to each other with civility, even when we disagree. That’s the Lieberman brand,” he said.

Schwartz also said focus groups with educators highlighted that young people are not being taught civics, which he said is dangerous for democracy. His plan is to bring the new film to high schools throughout the U.S. along with a curriculum. Another goal of the film will be to enhance pride in young Jews about being Jewish through hearing Lieberman’s story. He grew up in a lower middle-class family and through hard work and intellect became the first Jew to be on a national ticket running for president and vice president.

Congregation Shomrei Emunah is a warm and welcoming, Modern Orthodox synagogue. With daily minyanim, shiurim and guest speakers, Shomrei Emunah guides the congregation in meeting the challenges of contemporary Jewish life according to the primacy of halacha. Facilities include a beautiful, airy sanctuary with a social hall and a spacious, landscaped backyard that can be rented for smachot and events.

Visit www.hiddenlightinstitute.org for more information about the upcoming film.

For more information about “Upheaval,” visit www.upheavalfilm.com.

For more information about the shul, visit www.shomreiemunahnj.org.


Bracha Schwartz is the special sections editor at The Jewish Link.

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