The Fire Within
A documentary film by Lorry Salcedo Mitrani
Film available from www.ruthfilms.com.
Reviewed by Vivienne Roumani-Denn
We struggle with who we are, where we came from, where we belong – or perhaps where ‘the other’ belongs. Sometimes it simply boils down to geography: where we or our ancestors were born is what determines the color of our skin, the language we speak, and the customs and traditions that we cherish. Location, location, location.
The rubber rush, not the gold rush, drove people like Victor Edery from Morocco to Iquitos, in Amazonian Peru. Sephardic Jewish men came to the region seeking their fortunes, and some married local women and settled down. Some became successful, typically as businessmen supporting rubber harvesting, and they tried to maintain a Jewish community that, by the late twentieth century, was mostly represented by communal memories and a Jewish cemetery. Then a resurgence of Jewish identity developed, enhanced by the concerns of one of the community patriarchs, outside contacts, and an awareness of the Land of Israel.
In this beautifully filmed documentary, with scenes moving between Amazonian Peru and Israel, we see the struggle for identity of this group of Jewish descendents. The traditional Ashkenazi community in Lima, on the other side of the Andes, simply rejected them as non-Jews, but others were supportive in teaching Hebrew and Jewish traditions and law in preparation for conversion. Their commitment and desire to live as Jews is inspirational. Two groups successfully completed rigorous conversions, supervised by a Conservative rabbi, and some have made aliyah and moved to Israel, where they have established productive lives.
This film belongs in every Jewish Film Festival, and it should be shown in Jewish schools. Our children deserve to know about their diverse cultural inheritance and the strength of identity.
Filmmaker, The Last Jews of Libya