'Body and Soul: The State of the Jewish Nation': Film Review

Body and Soul Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Bridge Strategic Communications

Body and Soul Still - H 2015

This concise, informative documentary makes its passionate case with compelling scholarship

Gloria Z. Greenfield's documentary chronicles the historical connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel

Chronicling the historical connections between the Jewish people in the land now known as Israel from ancient times to the present day, Gloria Z. Greenfield's documentary packs a lot of information into its brief running time. Clearly designed to refute the still pervasive arguments employed by anti-Zionists worldwide, Body and Soul: The State of the Jewish Nation delivers its passionate case with convincing cogency and a wealth of scholarly information. Currently playing a theatrical engagement at NYC's Cinema Village, the film is destined for a long life in ancillary outlets.

Featuring commentary by some three dozen historians, academics, religious leaders, political scientists and other experts—yes, the ubiquitous Alan Dershowitz among them—the film details in chronological fashion how Jews have inhabited the area off-and-on for some 3,000 years. It begins with commentary by Harvard professor Ruth Wisse, who notes that when the Jewish homeland was officially established in 1948 it was "a miracle of truly biblical proportions."

It then flashes back three millennia, with British rabbi Jonathan Sacks declaring that "Jewish identity is born in the land of Israel." Citing biblical and extra-biblical texts and archaeological evidence, a gallery of figures provides evidence of the repeated inhabitation and exile of the Jewish people in the region, detailing such harrowing episodes as when the Crusaders killed or executed all of the Jews in Jerusalem. Even then, there was a significant Jewish presence in other Palestinian areas.

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Skipping across the centuries with a breathless pace, the film soon arrives at the late 19th century, when a new era of Zionism was spurred by the pogroms occurring throughout Russia. As one commentator puts it, "It was no longer the idealistic pilgrimage of the few; it was the practical necessity of the many."

Later, we learn that the largest emigration of Jews to the area actually occurred in the 1980s and '90s, during the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Along the way, the documentary also touches on many other tangential issues, such as the influx of Ethiopian Jews into the area. Detroit's Rev. DeeDee Coleman, who witnessed the events, marvels, "I had never seen black Jews before…they looked like me!"

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There are times when the film's dense impartation of information becomes slightly overwhelming. And other than Dershowitz's vociferous argument rebutting the claims made by Yassir Arafat, little attention is paid to dissenting viewpoints.

But despite its unfortunate one-sided approach to its subject, Body and Soul represents a vital cinematic addition to Jewish scholarship.

Production: Doc Emet
Director/producer: Gloria Z. Greenfield
Director of photography: Richard Chisolm
Editor: David Gorssbach
Composer: Sharon Farber

Not rated 64 min.