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New Samaritans 200?

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Distributed by Alden Films, Box 449, Clarksburg, NJ 08510; 732.462.3522
Produced by Mark Mejerson and Tanya Kisilevsky
Directed by Alexander Shabataev, Sergey Grankin & Efim Kuchuk
DVD, color, 88 min.



Sr. High - Adult
Area Studies, Israel

Date Entered: 03/14/2008

Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

Remember the Good Samaritan of the Bible? Then, Samaritans were a sizable group of people sharing the Holy Land with the Jews. Today’s Samaritans are a tiny group that has lived for thousands of years near Mount Gerizim, their holy mountain, located near Nablus on Israel’s West Bank. Their population numbers fewer than 700, a large percentage of whom are handicapped, most likely because of a long held, strictly enforced policy of marrying solely within the sect. This documentary tells the story of the marriages of two Samaritan men to outsiders, Shura from Kherson, Ukraine and Lena from Omsk, Russia. Their marriages were sanctioned by the High Priests as a means of keeping the community alive and rebuilding its health.

Samaritan High Priest Shalom, who dies during the making of the documentary, displays a handwritten genealogical record of his community beginning with Adam and Eve, and continuing in an unbroken line to the 21st century. The Samaritans are not Jews, but they follow the Jewish Torah (Five Books of Moses), accept the Biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as their ancestors, and revere Joseph and Moses as their most important historic figures. Jesus, whom they believe lived 2,000 years after Moses, is not worshipped. Although the New Testament story assumes enmity between Jews and Samaritans, the people in the documentary are under Palestinian rule, but speak Hebrew, and hope for a permanent peace between Arabs and Jews.

A wedding, a funeral, and a worship service on the mountain portray rites that could well have been practiced in Biblical times, including the sacrifice of lambs at Passover. The forehead of each Samaritan man is daubed with the sacrificial blood. The men pray wearing simple white robes, the High Priest is wrapped in a prayer shawl that looks like a Jewish “talit,” and a Torah scroll written in ancient Hebrew is read, although it has three rollers instead of two.

The meetings of the two couples—Yair and Shura, and Rajaiy and Lena—are shown with great sensitivity. The prospective husbands visit the young women’s homes, listen to the parents discuss their feelings about the matches, and, later, make follow-up visits. As the partners express their feelings from very personal perspectives, viewers perceive their different frames of reference and the effort needed to overcome barriers to mutual understanding and happiness.

Technically, the piece is well filmed and edited, with good, readable subtitles. The story proceeds apace, but the filmmakers take time to show close-ups of each person, enabling viewers to see the play of emotions on their faces and in the body language captured by the camera. New Samaritans introduces this little-known ethnic group beautifully, and is a valuable enrichment for academic coursework about Israel and/or Biblical studies. It is suitable for students from senior high school and beyond, as well as for interested adults. Recommended.