Touching Hearts in Tel Aviv

In the summer of 2017 Eyal Datz, a media person from Bohemian, avant garde Tel Aviv precincts, proposed to do a film on the Sanz-Klausenberg Rebbe, ztz”l, for Israeli television to be broadcast on Israel’s April 2018 Yom Hashoah (Holocaust and Heroism Memorial Day). The film, titled אסתיר פניי debuted on Yom Hashoah (April 12,2018) and can be seen on Youtube  (see below) The title Astir Pannai is from Devarim 31:17-18, I will hide My face

Eyal Datz was coming from left field (double entendre intended),and he was not among “anshe shlomenu” i.e., not one of us but rather a product of secular Tel Aviv culture. He had two strikes against his project:(1) A TV antenna is anathema among haredim; (2) Many rabbinical thinkers consider the timing and conceptual underpinnings of the Israeli Yom Hashoah problematic.

Why Eyal Datz wanted to make the film, and how the ten months spent filming caused him to reconsider his preconceptions and stereotypes, I describe in an article about the film in the current issue of AMI Magazine .

My cover story also contains an interview with Eyal Datz where he details the obstacles during filming and how this die-hard Tel Avivian came away with a new appreciation for the world of chassidut and Torah

My husband and I live in Kiryat Sanz Netanya among the Sanz Hassidim. We consider ourselves fellow travelers, not card-carrying Sanzers. I myself was ambivalent when Eyal proposed interviewing my husband who knew the Klausenberger Rebbe because he had been drafted in 1980 to head the Department of Surgery in Laniado Hospital, Sanz Medical Center.

I was also asked to be filmed while giving a presentation about the history of Kiryat Sanz to the girls in the orphanage Bayit vTikvah House of Hope Children’s Home, established decades ago by the Klausenberger Rebbe, I had deep reservations. Might this turn out to be one more haredi-bashing film? Our neighbor, Menachem Look, who plays a major role in the documentary, explained why he was willing to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt. Menachem Look has a singing group that performs at weddings and other simchas.

“The film proposes to document the life of the Klausenberger Rebbe. His wife and eleven children were murdered in the Churban, yet he went on to rebuild his family, rehabilitate thousands of survivors, found Laniado Hospital, build an orphanage, establish a Beit Avot, the Mifal Hashas, and a dozen other projects. If the film is about the Rebbe, then something good must come of it.”

The controversy has long simmered over whether and how to cooperate in marking new Israeli holidays like Yom Hashoah. In the same issue of AMI as the article about the Klausenberger Rebbe, Rav Moshe Taub discusses the halachic and hashkafic arguments against Yom Hashoah. The haredi Litvishe daily Yated Neeman marked Yom Hashoah by publishing an editorial against marking Yom Hashoah.

The film is mostly in Hebrew. An English version is in the works. Some people succeeded in watching it on youtube with automatic English or Hebrew subtitles by pressing the bottom-right icons on the screen.

One source of anxiety was the filmmaker’s intention to ask the participants about delicate subjects like emunah and theodicy, topics often skirted by the haredi media. Bottom line – Sanz Hassidim undertook a risky venture. Whether the gamble was justified, you can judge by watching the film  and reading the article.

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via

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11 Responses

  1. David F says:

    I didn’t have a chance to watch the entire film, but just spent about 30 minutes on it. One of my favorite parts is finally meeting Mrs. Schmidt and her wonderful husband [if only through the film]. Whatever I did see is absolutely inspiring and beautiful.

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Our family met Mrs Schmidt years ago when our children were in seminary. Anything written by Mrs Schmidt is worth your reading time. You might even get to spend Shabbos in Netanya with the Schmidts.

  2. lacosta says:

    i find the line in Ami— The film, aimed mainly but not exclusively at non-observant audiences — interesting , because , as shows like Srugim, Katmandu,Shtissel, and Shababnikim show , what is being aimed at hilonim in Israel is increasingly followed [often avidly] by many haredim in Israel and Chu’l who supposedly ”don’t watch TV”

  3. PMO says:

    I heard it said once: What is the definition of ” an orphaned generation”? The answer is : a generation that never saw the great Torah scholars and “those that serve G-d with all their might” עובד אלוקים. Thus were the Rebbe’s that survived the Holocaust.

  4. Reuven Ungar says:

    Mrs. Schmidt a profound thanks for sharing this. I believe that the gambit was well worth it. Very inspiring- am Yisrael chai!
    Full disclosure: several of our children were born in Laniado Hospital (which offers excellent care to all with meticulous adherence to halacha).

  5. dr. bill says:

    the divrei chaim apparently lives on in the rabbeim of Klausenberg. my late father davened as a teenager by the oldest grandson of the divrei chaim and received a haunting bracha from the divrei chaim’s youngest son, the zhilyner rebbe, days before he was murdered by the Nazis. the divrei chaim’s appreciation of the challenges of then (19th century) modern life permeates his teshuvot.

    Fifty+ years ago, i remember going to klausenberg in williamsburg to buy matzot for pesach. given my non-hasidic attire the woman in the office inquired if i knew her son. she was the mother of Jay, from Jay and the Americans.

    i met up a month ago with residents of kiryat sanz who came to celebrate at my sister’s granddaughter’s wedding and were intrigued by the many stories and halakhic insights from the divrei chaim I conveyed. the kallah’s father, my nephew, does work for a medical enterprise in netanyah and they came to participate. the chasidim watched intently as two hesder RY had berachot under the chuppah and a rabbanit addressed chatan ve’kallah.

    scenes like that are a harbinger of geulah.

    Beautiful documentary – kol hakavod

  6. Chavy Levy says:

    Your article in the ami is amazing! Thank you!

  7. miriam grossman says:

    This is a most inspiring, beautiful documentary with universal appeal. I hope it will be seen far and wide, and get the attention it deserves. I read your AMI article after seeing the film, but now I plan to see the film again; it will be an even more meaningful experience having the insights provided by your excellent interview. I am so pleased you got to the nitty gritty and questioned Mr. Datz about sensitive topics, getting him to share his personal and spiritual reaction to his research about the Rebbe and to the Chasidim he met. Thank you Shira Schmidt for your work – keep it coming!

  8. benjamin s wolfson says:

    The movie was moving. The filmmaker did an unbelievable job. Out of the ashes an unconquerable spirit arose and reshaped the world that one man’s madness tried to destroy. You feel that spirit in the people in the film.
    You article arouses curiosity which drew me to seeing the film. Well done.
    One personal comment: The Rebbi said that Aushwitz will not make balai’ teshuvah. He is right w/one exception. It was the “Holocaust” that caused me to think. I have an article in this weeks (April 28, ’18) Mishpacha Magazine about an old man, a survivor, I met in a bank in Boro Park and told him how I came to Yiddishkeit.

  9. Shira Schmidt says:

    Thank you all for your encouraging comments. Kudos go to the person who made the film, Eyal Datz, and to his team which included Lily Yudinsky,
    a top-notch archival-visual researcher, who scoured the existing archives in Israel and elsewhere. Among Lily Yudinsky’s finds were many previously unknown items. The most sensational is a photo of the Rebbe speaking to U.S. military personnel in the Feldafing DP camp in the fall of 1945, draped in a tallis against a surreal backdrop of a Jewish Communists holding a flag. Other discoveries during the research process included a rare home movie about the city of Klausenberg in 1942. Lily praised the haredi Holocaust center, Ganzach Kiddush Hashem in Bene Brak, that yielded testimonies from Jews who were with the Rebbe in the concentration and DP camps. Eyal is interested in be present at screenings of the film in the U.S. and elsewhere, and to answer questions ([email protected]).

  10. Denise says:

    Thanks Shira for this inspiring movie …. Your life is an amazing story!

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