Monday, December 14, 2020

Movie with Abe: Shalom Taiwan

Shalom Taiwan
Directed by Walter Tejblum
Released December 18, 2020

Fostering a community requires a number of different things. An effective leader must have a vision and be engaging, able to communicate what it is that they want to build to others so that they can understand and be willing to buy in to the idea. Arguably less important is finding a space in which to gather, though depending on the type of activities that will be held, that may be key. Even if all participants consider themselves volunteers, there is still one thing that is typically crucial to enduring success: sufficient funding.

Rabbi Aaron (Fabian Rosenthal) serves as the rabbi of a small synagogue in Buenos Aires. The lender he borrowed money from years earlier to pay the synagogue’s bills demands repayment, and Rabbi Aaron finds every door to him in Argentina and the United States closed. Out of options, he decides to travel to Taiwan, where he has heard that there is plenty of money and people who are more than willing to write a check. When he arrives, he finds a different culture that will require him to consider what really matters as he makes an appeal for the work that has come to define him.

This film smartly doesn’t waste any time in trying to define or explain any aspects of Jewish observance or tradition, which may prove less accessible to some viewers but allows for a focus instead on what Rabbi Aaron needs to do in order to secure a future for his community. There are others with a vested interest in his actions, including his wife, who seeks support from him at home, his loyal assistant at the synagogue, and the lender, who is already drawing up plans for the shopping mall he will build once everything in his way has been auctioned off. Through all this, it’s Rabbi Aaron’s spirit and dedication that drives this film.

Following a fundraiser going from place to place asking people for money might not be the most objectively interesting premise for a movie, but it works very well here. Rabbi Aaron is passionate about what he does but not immune to disappointment and frustration. Watching him travel through Taiwan and open himself up to simply taking in his surroundings is affirming and heartwarming, and Rosenthal’s genuine and non-showy performance is a big part of that. There is a gentle simplicity to both his character and this film that make them inviting and endearing.


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