"There was something very alive in him, something alert and tuned in,” said Michal Aronzon, the director of the film The Little Things, a portrait of and collaboration with Yudale Froman, the son of the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, which details Yudale’s spiritual crisis.
The Little Things is showing at Docaviv, the Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival, on May 28, 30 and 31, at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
The film explores Yudale’s philosophical doubts about living an observant lifestyle and how his questioning ends up shaking his life to its foundation. He is not a rebel who chafes at the demands of religion, but a deep thinker who tries to understand some of the basic assumptions that underpin Jewish Orthodoxy.
His path is further complicated by the fact that his father was Rabbi Froman, a widely admired spiritual leader, who was the rabbi of the West Bank settlement Tekoa, and who tried to negotiate peace agreements with representatives of Hamas.
The movie focuses on Yudale’s friendship with the director on frequent visits he made to Tel Aviv in the years that his father was dying of cancer, and his decision to live a nonreligious lifestyle after his father’s death.
Aronzon, a former Jerusalemite who studied at the Jerusalem Sam Spiegel Film School, met Yudale when she was a counselor on an alternative roots tour for Israelis. He was 18, had finished his yeshiva studies and was trying to figure out his next move. Aronzon interviewed him for a film she was making about participants in this program, but realized that he ought to be the subject of a film himself.
“He told me his whole story, how he got from Tekoa to Tel Aviv. He went very deep, and I was impressed that he was so open. He was ready to talk. I found the questions that he was dealing with very touching. They made me remember questions I had and put aside when I was younger.”
The two had made a connection and stayed in touch. “He wanted me to be his teacher,” said Aronzon. “It was so touching, so flattering. I asked what he wanted me to teach him. He said, ‘Psychoanalysis.’ I said, I can’t teach you psychoanalysis, but I can teach you photography.”
Yudale began coming to Tel Aviv every Thursday from Tekoa for their lessons, not an easy trip in any way but one that was obviously important to him. “I started showing him how to use the camera, and he would film. He had so much curiosity, so much creativity.”
A bond developed that, in the early stages of the film, looks almost like love.
“There was affection and it was two-way,” she said. “As I told him, when you make a movie about something, you have to fall in love with the subject.” But their relationship was not a romance. “I discovered that this kind of connection brings with it so many kinds of love. There’s the love between student and teacher, parent and child, all kinds of love and intimacy.
“Yuda understood that because he came from such an exceptional family.... There are so many paradoxes about his father and their relationship. His father went to extremes, did things that were way outside the norm of what was accepted in his community,” notably contacting representatives of Hamas to try to make peace. “People called him ‘the leftist rabbi,’ but that’s not who he was.... He was a mystic, and Yuda is mystical, too.”
The 10th child in his family, Yudale remains close to his mother and siblings following his father’s death, in spite of the fact that he chose to stop wearing a kippah and living an observant life.
“They accept his path,” Aronzon said, even if they don’t approve of everything he does. In a very touching scene, he speaks to his mother not long after his father’s death, and she reminds him that he is very similar to his father in many ways. “His father was always questioning, and he is always questioning,” said Aronzon. His mother – who is just about to step into a meeting with Education Minister Naftali Bennett, as she is taking on her late husband’s role in political affairs – advises her son to live large, no matter what path he chooses.
This scene may surprise viewers, but Aronzon became familiar with the contradictions in this family through getting to know Yudale, who is now married, ironically, to a religious woman who grew up secular, and is now working in osteopathy.
“Early on, in one of our conversations, he said that it’s the little decisions we make that determine the big ones, and that really stayed with me; that’s why I used it for the title of the film. He surprised me all the time. He can give the impression of being a very disorganized guy, but he pays attention to everything. His point of view on the world always surprised me.”
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