Can a priest be Jewish? That’s one of the many questions raised by the new
documentary, Torn, which will be screened tonight at the Jerusalem Cinematheque
The film, which was directed by Ronit Kertsner, tells the
compelling and moving story of Jakub Weksler, a Polish-Catholic priest who has
moved to Israel and wants to make aliya. Born Jewish in 1943, his parents
managed to convince a Polish family to take him in and adopt him. His biological
parents were murdered in the Holocaust and no relative came back for him after
the war, so he grew up thinking he was Romauld Waskinel. You may have heard
stories like this before, but this one is different, because Weksler, who was a
devout Catholic, became a priest. But in his thirties, when he learned of his
Jewish identity, he struggled to figure out his place in the world, eventually
coming to the conclusion that he could never repudiate his Jewish identity.
Appalled by the anti-Semitism of the Catholic Church in Poland, he decided, in
his mid-sixties, that he must come to Israel.
At this point, things got
While Weksler wanted to live in Israel and learn
Hebrew on a religious kibbutz, he also could not deny his Catholic faith.
Churches in Israel did not want to take him in because he was Jewish, and he
searched hard for a religious Jewish community that would allow him to attend
church on Sundays.
Formally requesting to be granted citizenship under
the Law of Return, he entered the Kafkaesque labyrinth of the Israeli
Director Kertsner met him while filming a previous
documentary, The Secret, about Poles who learn as adults that they are
When she decided, ten years after the completion of that film, to
check on what her subjects were up to, she learned that Weksler was planning to
move to Israel and she reconnected with him.
“His story is a true tragedy
in that there can be no good solution,” says Kertsner, who, along with Weksler
and others who participated in the film, will be present at the screening to
take questions from the audience.
Although many believe that anyone born
Jewish can get citizenship here based on the Law of Return, Kertsner explains
that a provision in the law forbids citizenship to anyone who has chosen to
practice another religion, without choosing to abandon the other faith when
BUT FOR the painfully honest Weksler, his Catholic identity
is critical to who he is. A respected member of the priesthood, he taught
philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin and had a comfortable,
established life there.
“There’s no question that in many ways, he would
have been happier if he had stayed there. He was a very respected and beloved
teacher,” says Kertsner. “But he couldn’t do that.”
After a struggle, in
which he was helped by his friend, Nina, who lives in Israel and has a similar
background to his, he found a place at Sde Eliahu, a religious kibbutz with an
ulpan, where he lived for about a year. Even there, however, the kibbutz leaders
were not comfortable with the idea that Weksler would attend church, although
they said he could worship privately in his room.
Making a film about him
during this difficult period of his life wasn’t simple, says
“It was good for him in a way to participate in the film, but
there were many times when he didn’t want to be filmed. There were things that
he didn’t want to tell us. Paradoxically, he flowered in front of the camera. .
. When he would talk to me, it would bring up his story and all its pain over
again. It was a tough experience.”
In spite of his pain, she says, “It
was important for him that people hear his story. People ask him to speak all
the time. Sometimes he’s happy and sometimes he breaks out crying.”
disagreement the director had with her subject was over the title of the
“We have between us not exactly an argument. He says he is not
torn. He says he lives in peace with the his two identities. I say that people
see him from outside as torn.”
In spite of the pain he has experienced
upon learning of his two identities and all the difficulties involved in making
a new life in Israel, “He told me that for the first time, living on the
kibbutz, it was the first time in his life he feels secure.
All his life
in Poland he didn’t feel safe all his life in Poland, even though he didn’t know
exactly why. . . But he said he feels more at home on the kibbutz and in
Jerusalem than he ever did before.”
Recently, Kertsner says, Weksler has
found himself through working at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, where he works on
“It’s as if he’s piecing together the parts of his own
puzzle,” she says.
“And it’s the only place in Israel that accepts both
his identities completely.”