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Dear Mr. Waldman recreates Holocaust trauma

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Jenya Dodina and Rami Heuberger in Dear Mr. Waldman.

Hanan Peled’s nostalgia-drenched movie, Dear Mr. Waldman, recreates a simpler, more innocent time in Israel when the wounds of the Holocaust were still fresh and raw.

The 86-minute 2006 film, set in Tel Aviv in 1962, is scheduled to be screened by the Toronto Jewish Film Society on Nov. 4 at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the JCC’s Al Green Theatre.

The plot is straightforward. Moshe Waldman (Rami Heuberger), a printer, is haunted by memories of the Holocaust. His wife, Rivka (Jenya Dodina), is a survivor, too, but she lives in the present and wants to move on.

Moshe’s trauma is piqued by a story in a local newspaper about a U.S. government official, Jack Waldman, who has been appointed as an adviser to the president, John F. Kennedy. Claiming that Waldman is his long-lost son, Moshe writes him a letter.

At this juncture, the film takes a detour, leaving the Waldman matter aside momentarily.

Froyeke (Doval’e Glickman), Moshe’s flamboyant partner, drives up in a shiny new Studebaker sedan, urging him to buy an apartment in Holon, an up-and-coming suburb of Tel Aviv.

Moshe and Rivka would certainly appreciate a bigger flat. Theirs is so cramped that their two boys can hear them making love at night.

Peled’s references to a new car and the promise of better living conditions underscore the austerity that framed the lives of most Israelis in the early 1960s. So when Moshe brings home a new washing machine one fine day, the device is treated like a gift from the gods.

Amid these events, Hilik (Ido Port), their precocious 10-year-old son, learns about the birds and the bees from a girl his age.

In what seems like a miraculous development, Moshe receives a letter from Waldman in which he writes that he jumped off a train bound for a Nazi concentration camp in Poland and thereby saved himself from certain death.

Moshe is elated. His son is alive! Or is he?

Peled weaves together these disparate strands into a beautiful cinematic tapestry, making Dear Mr. Waldman a film well worth watching.

An accompanying animated short by Anne Marie Fleming, I Was A Child Of Holocaust Survivors, is based on Bernice Eisenstein’s graphic novel.

This poignant 15-minute movie, a National Film Board of Canada production, unfolds in Toronto and is about the mingling of memory and pain in a Jewish immigrant family touched by the scars of a great tragedy.

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