COMMANDMENT 613 Rabbi Kevin Hale, Torah Scribe
COMMANDMENT 613 Rabbi Kevin Hale, Torah Scribe Courtesy of Miriam Lewin

In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, New Plaza Cinema and the World Jewish Congress screened this weekend the theatrical premieres of two documentaries evoking the Holocaust and its legacy – plus the connection between the hand and the soul.

BLACK FLOWERS follows five Israelis who channel their childhood trauma during the Holocaust into their art.

COMMANDMENT 613 is about the work of Rabbi Kevin Hale, a Torah scribe who restores scrolls saved in Czechoslovakia during the Shoah, now distributed around the world.

In BLACK FLOWERS, British/Israeli director Tammy Federman illuminates the life and work of five Holocaust survivors: the sculptor Saadya Bahat, who lost his family members in the camps.

The multidisciplinary artist Tommy Brayer, who was born in the ghetto and survived due to his mother’s wit and strength. The painter Ruthi Goren, who spent her childhood in an orphanage during the war; Jenny Rozenstein, who reclaims her childhood, which was brutally taken from her, through her colorful, playful paintings; and Esther Goldman, whose embroidery work enabled her and her mother to survive the war. The film is in Hebrew and English, with English subtitles. Trailer for BLACK FLOWERS

BLACK FLOWERS has been seen at several Jewish film festivals. Filmmaker Tammy Federman says, “I’m grateful I was able to document and share these stories that hold historical value and are a testament to the ability to thrive and survive despite the most difficult of circumstances.”

In COMMANDMENT 613, American Rabbi Kevin Hale joyfully practices the sacred craft of Torah restoration, bringing new life to scrolls saved in Czechoslovakia during the Shoah. As his scribal work takes him to communities now entrusted with the scrolls, he reflects on his own path to faith and practice – and the many ways to fulfill the final commandment in the Torah: to write the scroll itself. Interviewees include Rabbi Hale, Sofer STaM; Jeffrey Ohrenstein, Chairman of the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London; concentration camp survivor Frieda Hoffman; and 10-year old Carolyn E.

COMMANDMENT 613 has touched a chord at Jewish film festivals and synagogue screenings across the country. Rachel Kadish, author of The Weight of Ink, describes it as “a beautiful and moving film, a tender tribute to the labor of preserving not only Torah scrolls, but all the lives and all the history they embody.” Jewish educator Adrian Durlester says: “This film just grabbed at me. It just hit my kishkes.” At least two dozen of the Czech scrolls, which belong to the Memorial Scrolls Trust, are on permanent loan in the New York City area, at educational institutions, museums, and synagogues.

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