Archive for December, 2008

Miracle Of Lights

December 26, 2008

Notes from Director/Rhonda Moskowitz:

I’m here as a guest at the house of Philip’s family, one of the family’s in our film, TESHUVA, in order to film the celebration of  Hanukkah, a holiday that commerates a light that was supposed to last for only one day that ended up lasting for eight. (This is an unusual circumstance in itself. Most filmmakers do not stay with their film subjects, but both the film and the people in it are unique.)

I can’t help but think now here is a family who has been through and is still going through such incredibly tough times that their light, metaphorically speaking, should have gone out a long time ago or at least have become dim. 

Two family members are incarcerated, (one is on Death Row), another has hepatitis C, and one household just lost their home due to foreclosure and has to move in one month.  This would crush the average person. But this family is far from average.

I’ve been staying at their house for four days, and their light is burning brightly…

Rosol, the matriarch,  is hosting her annual Hanukkah party with beautiful, hand crafted 50 year old decorations, and an expansive and breathtaking floor-to-ceiling wall of gifts that has to be seen to be believed. Rosol’s sister Myra, who lived here in Rosol’s household, passed away last April. This will be the first Hanukkah celebration without her.

I hope the family members who are incarcerated and whose light has dimmed, are inspired by Hanukkah to reach within themselves and let it shine. We all have a divine light inside of us, even if we’ve lost our way and have been in the dark. It is up to us to find it, nurture it  and to keep it burning brightly.

I know this family has, which under the circumstances, is a miracle.

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Gail (“There but for the Grace of God go I…”)

December 16, 2008

When I first met Gail, her twenty-three year old daughter, Dana,was incarcerated, one month away from giving birth to her second child, her other daughter, Michele, was one week out of rehab, and her son, Max, was soon to graduate from 8th grade at his Jewish day school. Talk about stress! Dana had also attended Jewish day school. My own daughter went to Jewish day school and Gail and her children could be any “typical” middle class Jewish family. I look at Dana and hope and pray that what happened to her never happens to my daughter. I look at Gail, and think “There but for the grace of God go I.” This scares the hell out of me.  

 

Dana’s Oxycontin addiction shattered her life and her family’s, and our film is documenting their struggles.  I’m deeply touched and extremely grateful that Gail and her wonderful family have opened up their lives to us as filmmakers. Gail could not have been more warm and welcoming to us from the moment we met her and she continues to be this way.

 

The birth of Dana’s baby was a mixed blessing. On one hand, a brand new beautiful baby granddaughter came into this world.  On the other hand, she was born in a prison hospital. We’re all one step away from our lives falling apart. Addiction can happen to anyone.

 

I love Gail, Michele, Max and Dana. Their struggles could be any of our struggles. I hope our film, TESHUVA (RETURN) will take away the shame and stigma of addiction and also of incarcerated Jews. “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Squandered Lives

December 9, 2008

Notes From Director, Rhonda Moskowitz

 

It breaks my heart to think that Martin, one the people in my film, has been sitting on Death Row for almost two and a half decades. When he was 19, he was a troubled young man on drugs and brutally took a life. My heart breaks for the victim’s family, (the young woman he murdered was only 26 years old), for the young woman’s life who was lost, for her unrealized potential, for Martin’s unrealized potential. Loved ones can never fully recover when someone takes a life. I’ve never met the victim’s family and can’t imagine their suffering, but I’m filming Martin’s family and they suffer a lot.

 

Martin’s mother, Myra,  died unexpectedly last spring. Death Row officials were going to allow Martin to attend her funeral, however Martin declined. Martin would have had to attend his mother’s funeral flanked by two armed guards with his wrists and ankles in shackles.  “I don’t want to be a trained bear on a leash,” he said. “I want my mother to have a funeral with dignity.”

 

This would have been the first time in decades Martin would have seen many of his family members. His mother’s funeral would also have helped him process his mother’s death. (She and her sister, Rosol, visited him on Death Row over the years.)  Interesting how you can find humanity in the souls of people who have committed unspeakable acts.

 

Martin’s first cousin, Philip, and  Dana, the mother of Philip’s three year old son, have great humanity and potential. They’re 20 years younger than Martin. I hope drug addiction doesn’t get the better of them.  I hope they, too,  don’t squander their lives.

 

A Little Soul Cleansing

December 2, 2008

Some thoughts from Producer/Director, Rhonda Moskowitz

 

I read with horror about the Black Friday stampede of 2,000 shoppers at a Long Island, New York Walmart that killed a 34 year old employee, Jdimytai  Damour. Tension built as people waited for hours to buy merchandise at bargain prices.  When the doors opened the crowd rushed in and a life was extinguished.  And for what?  A flat screen TV? A computer?  A camera?  To save a few bucks?  

 

Meanwhile, on Plum Island in Massachusetts, 79 year old widow, Geri Buzzotta’s ocean front house was deemed unsafe and demolished the night before Thanksgiving so it wouldn’t fall into the sea.  A couple of days later, she returned to the wreckage that was once her home.  After seventy-nine years of living and 57 years of marriage, all that Geri Buzzotta could salvage was a shoe, two spoons, a necklace and a green heart-shaped piece of glass. “Everything else was taken away, but love never dies,” was her remarkable reaction.

 

I think about how some of my film subjects live with only the bare basics in their prison cells. When they were arrested, cell phones, computers, cameras, nice clothes and whatever other stuff they possessed were suddenly taken away from them. Stuff they’ll only get back if or when they’re released.  

 

Famous ascetics such as Siddhartha Guatama, (Buddha) and Henry David Thoreau consciously chose paths to enlightenment by living basic lives and casting off material goods.  Solzhenitsyn’s semi-autobiographical, but fictional Ivan Denisovich  successfully transcended his harsh prison surroundings.

 

Living a life of forced austerity is part of the punishment prisoners face for their crimes. I hope the prisoners in my film Teshuva (Return) will use their lack of stuff wisely and take advantage of their spartan existence to cleanse their souls. Their incarceration could be blessings in disguise.

 

The prisoners lives could teach us all a lesson. We have gone astray, not by having committed crimes, but with our passionate embrace of materialism.  Perhaps we could make positive use of our disasterous economy and make some fundamental changes in our own lives.  After all, we can all use a little soul cleansing.