Thursday, April 05, 2007


Documentary focuses on preserving culture
By China Reevers
April 2nd, 2007

American culture often times places importance on youth and disregards the value of the elderly. Zypora Spaisman was an old woman set in her ways, driven by her love for Yiddish culture and Yiddish theater, and demonstrates just how valuable something old can be.

"Yiddish Theater: A Love Story," shown March 24 at the East Lansing Film Festival, is a documentary following Spaisman as she works tirelessly to preserve what many see as a dying language, but which is her life.

She is an actress, and has been acting for 42 years when we meet her. Her life is devoted to Yiddish theater. Spaisman and other actors are performing in the play "Green Fields," a show that dates back to 1916, and is due to close on the last night of Hanukkah. The Mazer Theater can't let the play run any longer because the play is costing the venue money.

The cameras follow Spaisman, and the other members of the play, as they struggle to keep the play from closing. Each and every day the performers would go on stage for crowds that might have fewer than 40 people, but performed each time as if was a full house. For Spaisman, Yiddish theater was her life.

"Everything I do is Yiddish," she said.

It was her personal mission to keep alive a culture so many had attempted to destroy. According to the film, there are four reasons for the decline of Yiddish language and culture among Jews: the Holocaust, assimilation into American culture, the execution of Yiddish writers by former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Israel's choice to make Hebrew the more valued language.

Spaisman said continually throughout the film she would never retire. She felt to "retire was a death sentence." It is her spunk and tenacity that drives this film. Her intensity for her culture serves as a reminder to respect heritage and tradition.

The themes of respecting what is old and living life to the fullest play together and pull the audience in. It is a film that is for everyone and anyone. It is not just an old woman's story, but the story of how important life is and how beautiful it can be.

This film is very raw and very real and even the background, New York, is displayed in a fashion not seen in many movies. It is not the landmarks that are highlighted, but the common streets and the gritty subways. The scenery complements the theme, suggesting longevity that is often forgotten and overlooked.

Zypora Spaisman is a woman who teaches more than just Yiddish theater, but also the necessity to fight and dream and believe until the end - and that is a lesson everyone can learn.

"Regarding Sarah" was the short film preceding "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story" at the festival, and also had a strong message about the value of life for the elderly. Sarah is a woman who finds herself in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease and is afraid of what losing her memory means. To counter the disease, Sarah begins recording every minute of every day so she may remember what she has done. The recording becomes an obsession as she buys multiple cameras, so she can tape from various angles, and other expensive equipment to better capture her life.

It's a bit absurd that an elderly woman would purchase such high-tech equipment and learn how to use editing tools, but it is the absurdity of the situation and her obsession which keeps this serious topic somewhat light and humorous.

At first, Sarah needs to record every moment for "proof of reality," but finds there is more reality in just living each day without working to capture it.

This short film was perfect with "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story," because both films are about the quality of life, and how life is only worth living when fully experienced.

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