Days of Awe

1995, 42 mins.

Days of Awe

The way I got interested in Hasidic rituals was actually through Vodou. One day while I was in an editing room working on Legacy of the Spirits, a film colleague walked into the room just as I was editing the sequence where Ginette, a Vodou mambo, was swinging a chicken over her head. He said, “You know Jews have a similar ritual that they do for Yom Kippur.”

For many years I asked people if they knew anything about this, and was told that it was something that religious Jews used to do but it had died out. Then in 1993 I saw a poster on the subway placed by Lubavitch Hasidim about the High Holy Days.

I called them. Did they know anything about the ritual of kapporah, the sacrificing of the chicken? They did. Could I witness it? They said they would be pleased if I did. Could I film it? They said, sure, why not.

I learned that kapporah was only one of many rituals that are performed during the Jewish month of Tishrei (religious Jews follow a lunar calendar – Tishrei occurs in autumn). Because the Lubavitch sect was very eager to help spread word about their religion, and strived to use the media to do so, they said they would be delighted if I filmed them – providing no filming was done on the Sabbath or the High Holy Days.

Days of Awe

In addition to kapporah I saw that there were many beautiful rituals that took place during this time – rituals that had to with water, palm fronds, lighting of candles, dancing.

For the rest of the month, and then for the next two years, I filmed these rituals. Because I was learning as I went, sometimes I realized that I had just missed something and had to wait an entire year for it to come around again.

While working with this sect, I became quite impressed with how dedicated they are to their religion, their way of life, their community. There are numerous prayers that must be done every day, continual holidays to be observed both within the family and the community, elaborate meals to be produced for large families, charity to be given out freely. Their lives revolve around ritual and family.