What happens if, over the course of a lifetime, one suffers something akin to cognitive dissonance in regards to their identity, if all that was accepted as self melts away to reveal bitter truths formed by absence, time and history. Ronit Kertsner's non-fiction portrait Torn immerses the viewer in the unfortunate case of Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel, a Polish Catholic priest whose Jewish origins, as well as his biological parent's cruel fate during the Nazi era, was revealed to him in adulthood, long after entering the ministry.
When he was a small child, Weksler-Waszkinel's mother delivered him into the hands of a gentile couple right as the Nazi's began transporting Jewish families out of the ghettos and into the camps; she begged them to take him as their own. Raised by this adoptive family, he grew up to deeply embrace the Catholic faith, entering the priesthood as a serious proponent of the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Kertsner catches Weksler-Waszkinel just as he's made the decision to leave his church and immigrate to Israel. The priest cites rampant antisemitism within the Polish Catholic church, often springing from the pulpit, as one reason why he must leave. His central motivation, though, is the strong pull that he feels to connect to his family's roots in Judaism and, yet, there is still the sizable commitment that he's made to his life-long faith. Weksler-Waszkinel confesses that, if given the opportunity, he would love to act as an intermediary between the two faith systems.
We watch as he sets up an interview with an entrance committee at a kibbutz in Israel, as a means of gaining eligibility for citizenship under the law of return. He admits during the meeting that he desires to practice Judaism six days a week on the kibbutz while taking leave on the seventh day to join a Catholic congregation for services. The idea doesn't fly with committee; one member later tells Kertsner that they're not interested in "building bridges."
It's difficult to watch as Weksler-Waszkinel processes the restrictions handed down by the committee in front of the camera. One gets the feeling that it's a kind of disappointment that he'll have to continue to endure as he seeks a resolution to his unique situation. It's also plain to see that there are no easy answers. Torn is a complex and heartbreaking exploration of identity, personal pain and, as one empathetic interview subject points out, a historical event that led to an unexpected conflict visited upon the soul of a man, stretched between two worlds, while never belonging fully to either one.
Torn will play as a part of the 20th Jewish Film Festival at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Tues., April 17th at 7pm. More info about the festival available here.
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