Messianic Jews featured in new documentary

TORONTO-A secular Jewish documentary film that tries to take an objective look at Messianic Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah had its world premiere May 3 at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival.

Playing to a packed theatre, The Chosen People was introduced by producer Igal Hecht and co-producer Ron Furman. It received an enthusiastic reception and will now go to the Vancouver Jewish film festival for its second public showing.

For almost a year Hecht filmed the services, leaders and members of City of David Messianic Synagogue in the Jewish neighborhood of Thornhill, immediately north of Toronto. Messianic Rabbi Jeff Forman leads the congregation. The sympathetic portraits of Messianic believers, particularly two sisters, Nikki and Roanne Socchet, break some of the most strongly held misconceptions about Messianic Jews.

Messianic Jews are shown to be intelligent, well-educated Jewish adults and include those who have had orthodox Jewish schooling. Their devotion to the Jewish Scriptures and the genuine quality of their faith cannot be easily dismissed. Israeli Messianic Jews are also presented showing that the Messianic movement is becoming more strongly rooted.

Sensitive depictions of Messianic Jews are balanced by opening and closing comments from a Toronto rabbi who emphasizes that there is no room in Judaism for Jesus or a faith that accepts him as Messiah. Extensive arguments come from anti-missionary representatives of Jews for Judaism, who emphasize that Messianic Jews represent a "spiritual holocaust" against the Jewish people.

A candid episode shows the street corner witness of a Jews for Jesus missionary worker who is dismissed by an elderly Jewish woman. "You're not Jewish," the elderly woman taunts the missionary. Before she walks away, the woman demands, "Why do you have to convert Jews? Why don't you convert the Muslims?" This segment got loud approval from the premiere audience.

Nevertheless, Hecht has faced criticism in the Jewish media from Jews for Judaism, whose Canadian leader, Rabbi Michael Skobac, told the Canadian Jewish News that the film did not equally present the issues. "We get 13 minutes, they get 47," he told a reporter. "If the movie is exploring both sides, it doesn't do it in a balanced way."

Hecht, 26, was born in Israel, moved to Canada at age 11 and grew up in the Toronto neighborhood where City of David is located. He founded the film's production company, Chutzpa Productions, in 1999. He is an instructor in video editing and film history at the Seneca College School of Communication Arts in Toronto.

Hecht is candid about the ease with which he might have demonized Messianic Jews to the Jewish community. However, he stresses that his goals were to retain objectivity.

"I understand the fear of the community," says Hecht. "There are 12.9 million Jews in the world and the Jewish community is the only one that is decreasing.

"I'm not saying whether or not it's legitimate," he says. "Let the community decide once they see a more human face of Messianic Judaism."

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