Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: The Samaritans: A Biblical People

I’m delighted to be returning for the eighth time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of thought-provoking and often difficult, complex, Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 16th Annual Other Israel Film Festival runs virtually and in-person November 3rd-10th, 2022.

The Samaritans: A Biblical People
Directed by Moshe Alafi
Ticket Information

It’s easy to think of Israel as a country containing Jews, Muslims, and Christians, but there are still other religions that lay claim to the historical land as a holy and important one. One of the most fascinating are the Samaritans, who describe themselves not as Israeli or Palestinian, but rather as their own religion of 800-something people, still existing after many years and practicing their own customs deeply rooted in tradition and only partially influenced by tensions with modernity.

Filmmaker Moshe Alafi zeroes in on a number of members of the Samaritan religion, who have their own Torah, their own Shabbat, and their own unique rituals, like a physical Passover sacrifice which has deep meaning for all involved. Prominently featured is the cantor, who plans to have his son take over for him in the future and who has his own ideas for how to keep the religion alive, as well as one man who is traveling to Ukraine, a frequent place for men to find wives who are willing to convert into the religion, which has an insular community that does not otherwise typically turn outward to welcome in new adherents.

It’s remarkably interesting to learn about the aspects of the Samaritan faith that may remind many of their own devout religions, and whose members, particularly those who have chosen to join from Ukraine, seem to know might strike an uneducated viewer as unusual. Among the most startling is a custom of unplugging refrigerators and not using air conditioning on Shabbat, something that those interviewed acknowledged is not universally observed due to the incredible heat that can become unbearable.

The honesty and openness with which the interviewees speak is refreshing, particularly because they are not intending to proselytize or to bring anyone else in to the religion. A plan to convert thousands of eager future followers in Brazil involves a caveat that they will remain separate to learn how to be proper Samaritans and not dilute the original, ever-shrinking sect. There is a pride that all featured share about something they consider fulfilling, and like any religion or culture, there are bound to be pieces that aren’t entirely ideal. This is an informative, invigorating look into a faith that has survived for centuries and faces similar challenges to so many other movements, but clearly benefits from a strong bond from its members to its defining tenets.


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