Shalom Life | April 28, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Adam Zucker’s ‘The Return’ Explores Jewish Culture in Modern Poland

The New York based documentarian seeks to dispel common myths perpetuated by North Americans about Judaism in Poland.

By: Anthony Marcusa

Published: April 23rd, 2013 in Culture » Film » Interviews

Imagine being Jewish. Imagine wanting to express your faith and revel in your culture. Now imagine having no idea how to do that, and no place to start.

This is the unique reality in Poland today, where among a new generation, teenagers and young adults are slowly learning that they are in fact Jewish, but have no foundation from which to proceed. Many grew up Catholic, without access to their Jewish lineage, with an ancestry that either left Poland or has died. It is the subject of filmmaker Adam Zucker’s documentary The Return, a project that follows the lives of four young women who are both Jewish and live in Poland today, a combination that is quite an oddity.

His first trip to Poland in 2009 proved rather telling. Seeking to understand a renewed Jewish spirit in Poland, Zucker encountered two instances in Warsaw and Krakow that compelled him. In both cities he met a small Jewish community looking to socialize and celebrate, but was unable to do so simply because they knew not of Jewish history, customs, or experiences.

“I was meeting people that really wanted to be Jewish and had no idea what that meant,” he explained during a phone interview from his home in New York City. “They were, they discovered, Jewish, and that meant something. They just didn’t have access to go about doing anything.”

“It shocked me. People really wanted to do something and didn’t know what to do, it was really profound and very moving.”

As the Jewish community was small, it became relatively easy to meet Jews and share stories. Continued trips to Poland earned Zucker the trust of those he wanted to document, all of whom ended up being women. “There were interesting, compelling, dynamic men, but I met many more women that fit that description, and it didn’t seem like a coincidence” he explains. “Traditionally, it’s fair to say, in Judaism men have had the power positions, and so a focus on women would be more interesting.”

Zucker immediately realized a few evident truths that are contrary to beliefs in North America, and while he tells the stories of the young women, he sought to dispel myths that were instantly proved wrong. Through firsthand experience, he argues Poland is not in fact one of the most anti-Semitic places in the world, that there are indeed Jews living in Poland, and that the country’s relationship with Judaism exists beyond just being a cemetery for those killed during the Holocaust.

“American Jews are fairly uninformed about what is going on in Poland, and they have a very fixed image, locked into what happened from 1939, and for reason,” he says. “These mythologies I too had more or less in my head,” but they are very clearly wrong, as Zucker understood right away.

“Ultimately it’s a film about what it means to be Jewish in Poland.”

It’s also a film that has yet to be finished. Having wrapped nearly all of the shooting (there is perhaps one more quick trip left), Zucker has taken to the online fundraising group Kickstarter to supplement the cost for editing and post production. With just under two weeks to go as this writing, Zucker has eclipsed the two-thirds marker and looks to achieve enough backing to make a film he looks forward to showing to a North American audience. Four years in the works, his film that is one about people, as opposed to ideas, is nearing completion at a curious time, just as Poland observes the 70th commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, one of the holiest days of the year.

Find out more about The Return here or contribute to the film’s Kickstarter here.

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