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The very Jewish and Orthodox town of Monsey, NY, doesn't seem like the kind of place where two brothers would gamble their savings in order to make an underground, independent movie. Yet that is exactly what happened, as first time filmmakers Mendy and Yakov Kirsh have recently completed their Yiddish-language movie A Gesheft ("The Deal").
Billed as the first Yiddish film in 60 years, the movie was quietly released in December 2005 - just in time for Hannukah - and features a cast of first-time, native Yiddish speaking actors from the community in Monsey. As released on DVD the film has both English and Hebrew subtitles.
"There is a lot of demand for entertainment around here," explains director Yakov Kirsh, speaking by phone with the sound of children playing in the background. "I was just looking to see what could be done about it and I figured [making a film] could be done. It's easy in a way - there's no competition."
Telling the story of two men who grow up together but take divergent paths - one becomes a Rabbi and the other becomes a flamboyant wheeler dealer - the film caters to Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sensitivities by having an all-male cast and by using the story to teach good behavior, ethics and Jewish ideals.
A Gesheft still features traditional movie fare like high-speed car chases, break-ins, bribery and an auto smash-up towards the end. The movie also has several unique touches: there is a small, non-speaking woman's part but it is played by a man, and the few English lines in the film are subtitled in Yiddish.
"It's probably the first Orthodox Yiddish movie ever," explains Kirsh. Prior to World War II there was a thriving Yiddish movie industry but it mostly catered to secular, emancipated Yiddish speakers. After the Holocaust Yiddish remained in daily use only as the language of the ultra-Orthodox, a community that traditionally shuns outside influences and that has been slow to embrace, if at all, television and movies. More and more Haredi households now have computers that can play DVDs, however.
The DVD of A Gesheft, which so far has been available for purchase only in a few Judaica shops in the East Coast and online through www.mostlymusic.com, have in just a few months sold more than 1,500 copies, and the Kirsh brothers have already made back half of their investment in the project. There has also been a lot of interest from the non-religious community, indicating that the film may have an appeal beyond its target audience.
"It's a Yiddish, a cultural thing," says Kirsh, realizing that many American Jews feel a deep nostalgic connection to the mamaloshen, or mother-tongue as Yiddish is affectionately referred to. "There's a lot of curiosity about the frum [religious] community."
The Kirsh brothers and their company Kosher Entertainment Productions are promoting their movie slowly through word-of-mouth and the Internet, but they plan to submit the film to various US film festivals. They are also working on getting the movie shown in Israel.
Could all this be the beginnings of a new entertainment empire in the Jewish world? "I have nothing in mind for a new film, but if it works out [financially] then we will work on another one," says Yaakov Kirsh, who still holds down his day job as a real estate agent. "But I am very busy as it is."
For more info and trailers: http://www.agesheft.com.
To order A Gesheft: