Baton Rouge Jewish Film Festival 2009
Festival returns for third year
By PATRICK RILLS
Jan 23, 2009
The main feature of Wednesday night was “Circumcise Me,” a documentary chronicling the conversion of a Hassidic Jew stand-up comedian. Yisrael Campbell didn’t always have a four-corner beard, a Jerusalem address, and a Hebrew name. He was born Chris Campbell, a Philadelphia native and Catholic son of an ex-nun. Campbell is surprisingly hilarious for someone that looks like they should be teaching the Torah in a community center not telling jokes in a bar. It’s his transformation that is precisely the reason why “Circumcise Me” is so enthralling.
Campbell was once an outsider looking in, much like many in the audience who attended the screening Wednesday night. He approached the Jewish faith with the skepticism of someone who had never taken religion seriously, and that is the source of most of his comedy.
However, between the jokes is something more profound. Campbell’s fascination with the religion lies in his conversion pledge of “casting his lot in with the Jewish people,” and most of the movie is spent exploring this idea. Even as a convert, Yisrael is accepted into a tight-knit Jewish community after moving to Israel, and as Campbell suggests, it’s this binding sense of community that allows Jews to prevail in dire situations.
Campbell doesn’t waste words with his to-the-point approach and the film is short because of it, but it is also what makes the film work. The documentary style introduces us to the major players in Campbell’s life and gets the audience invested in his relatable story of a man looking for answers from something greater. He doesn’t need a somber recreation of a Holocaust story to show the great resilience and faith of the Jewish people, and that makes the film’s presentation that much more refreshing.