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Rafting to Bombay

Distributed by Docs for Education, 10a Holland St., Afulla, Israel 18371; fax: 972-3-5291726
Produced by Erez Laufer Films
Directed by Erez Laufer
DVD, color and b&w, 70 min.
Sr. High-General Adult
Asian Studies, Biography, Holocaust Genocide Studies, Jewish Studies, World War II

Reviewed by Rebecca Adler Schiff, College of Staten Island, City University of New York

Date Entered: 10/4/2012

Rafting to Bombay tells the story of the unexpected safe haven the family of Nahum Laufer found in Bombay, India, during World War II, the family having escaped death at the hands of the Nazis by making a circuitous journey to that far eastern city. The route to Bombay took mother and five year old Nahum, sometime in 1940, from Poland to Italy where they met up with Nahumís father, and then on to Turkey. Unable to obtain permission to go to Palestine, the family made its way to Iraq by crossing the Tigris River on rafts furnished by Kurdish boatmen (hence the filmís titleóthe unusual rafts kept afloat by submerged inflated sheepskins). With Baghdad at the time awash in pro-Nazi sentiment, the Laufers, equipped with British visas, boarded a ship bound for Bombay, where they found refuge. Itís Nahumís son, director Erez Laufer, who persuades his father, mother, and sister, in Fall 2008, to undertake a trip to India to visit the neighborhood where Nahum and his parents spent seven years before emigrating to Israel, and to have the journey filmed. Spliced into the film is footage that Erez, as a student filmmaker, shot twenty years earlier of his grandmother, now deceased, recounting the familyís life in Poland before the war and the tenuous journey she and Nahum undertook to evade the Nazi clutches. The overlap of footage of the present and vintage footage narrating the escape from Europe would alone have made a worthwhile film. As it happened, the Laufers had the morbid good fortune, for themselves and for the film, to arrive in Bombay, now Mumbai, at the moment of the infamous November 2008 terrorist attack that left hundreds dead and the city crazed with fear for the two days it took to subdue the perpetrators. Scenes of the legendary Taj Mahal Hotel, flames coming out of nearly every window, brilliantly painfully light up the screen. A singular target of the perpetrators was Chabad House, an Orthodox Jewish house of welcome for resident and visiting Jews. The rabbi in charge and his wife, acquaintances of a childhood friend Nahum meets up with in Mumbai, are summarily kidnapped, brutally tortured, and murdered. The Laufer familyís story thus intersects with one of the worst terrorist attacks in the history of India. The horrific history underlying the film thus acquires an unanticipated dimension unavailable to the film as originally conceived -- tragedy experienced in present real time that raises the film a powerful emotional knotch. A viewer cannot fail to be moved.