One Family’s Story of Jewish Life and Rebirth in the Shadow of the Shoah

August 19, 2022 | Karen Lehrman Bloch
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Directed by Steve Brand, the 1984 film Kaddish tells the story of Yossi Klein Halevi, his father the Hungarian Holocaust survivor Zoltan Klein, his mother Breindy, and his experience growing up in Brooklyn in the shadow of the Shoah. The film has recently been remastered and rereleased, and was screened last week by Mosaic along with an interview with Klein Halevi. Karen Lehrman Bloch writes in her review:

Kaddish . . . is an intimately powerful documentary about the effects of the Holocaust on its first- and second-generation survivors, [which] movingly contemplates how trauma is passed down from parent to child.

At first, Zoltan didn’t see the point of bringing Jewish children into the world. But Breindy insisted. Three years later, Yossi was born. As with many survivors, having a family helped Zoltan reintegrate into society. But while other survivors did not talk about it openly, Zoltan wanted his son to be “emotionally prepared.” For many coming of age in the 1950s and 60s, the postwar years were a time of stability and calm, but Yossi’s childhood was dominated by his father’s belief that the Shoah could recur at any time.

As a child, Yossi and his friends organized civil-defense units, planning escape routes through Borough Park’s sewer systems. In the sixth grade, Yossi became a writer and activist, forming a Zionist discussion group and joining the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry. He led student delegations to confront Jewish establishment organizations in New York and eventually the Ovir—the Soviet migrations office—in Moscow.

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