True North: The Last Minyan – A Belfast Jewish Story (1 x 60′) – Documentary that tells of the disappearing world of the Belfast Jewish community, as seen from the inside. Filmmaker Aaron Black observes the ageing community as it struggles to gather the 10 men or ‘Minyan’ needed for a prayer service.
The film explores the reasons why keeping the synagogue open and the community going is so important to those that remain. Small Jewish communities are dying all over the UK; this is the story of one of them.
Filmmaker Aaron Black, grew up in the community and had his Bar Mitzvah in Belfast, but like many of his generation stopped going to synagogue. Now, 20 years later, he goes back to where his father, Michael Black, is the residing chairman.
Services have been held in Northern Ireland since the 1860s. At its peak, the Belfast Jewish community had around 1,500 members – now it is down to less than 80.
Viewers will follow this community in its twilight years as it struggles to make the Minyan and keep a Rabbi. The film focuses on the mechanics of preserving Jewish life under difficult circumstances. At the head of the synagogue is their Rabbi. Keeping hold of a Rabbi in Belfast is an ongoing challenge, and this film shows why the community lose their acting Rabbi, and the process of finding another one.
The community is determined to ‘keep the show on the road’, and viewers will be introduced to some of its key members: the chairman, Michael Black, and Alan Matthews, who is part of the chevra kadisha (Jewish burial committee) and who also delivers the kosher food brought in from Manchester.
Both men have been brought forward to important positions of responsibility as numbers declined – something they would not have chosen if there was still a large community.
The film also travels to Manchester, London and Israel, where Jewish life is still thriving. We learn why some of the Belfast community left and what impact Northern Ireland had on their lives.
As Jewish life unfolds back in Belfast, the film reveals a close and proud community bound by their shared history and traditions. We see the effort taken and humour needed to survive.
This intimate portrait of Jewish life illuminates a world that few will know about, and offers an alternative history and take on Northern Ireland.
True North is a series of fresh, new, revelatory and uniquely personal single documentaries from BBC Northern Ireland.
Channel: BBC 1 Northern Ireland
Filmmaker: Aaron Black
TX: 10th March 2014
Source: BBC press release