Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy

on August 24, 2006 by Susan Green
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Expect no mention of 1960s rabble-rouser Abbie Hoffman in “Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy,” Paul Mazurksy's fascinating documentary about Hasidic men who undertake an annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to the Ukraine. The counterculture Yippies of yesteryear staged mirthful protests, but the estimated 25,000 Jews from all over the world who flock to the town of Uman in 2005 seem to be having a blast. They pray, chant, sing, dance and experience ecstasy at the 1810 gravesite of Rabbi Nachman, whose maternal grandfather founded this exuberant branch of Judaism.

Mazursky's LA optometrist, David Miretsky, first told him about the Nachman legacy and now serves as his guide. They fly to Uman, capturing Munich's beer-drenched Octoberfest on camera during a long layover in Germany. It's the first stop on a bemused thrill ride of a nonfiction film by the 76-year-old director, the auteur behind successful features such as 1986's “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.”

A mix of historical perspectives, interviews and observations, “Yippee” examines a particularly devout segment of the Chosen People. At the all-male gathering -- women are considered “a distraction” from worship -- Yiddish is the lingua franca. Many participants speak English as well, including an Israeli comic delivering clever impersonations of well-known political figures. A ham at heart, Mazursky chimes in with an impression of TV journalist Christiane Amanpour.

He also repeatedly introduces himself as “a famous movie director,” though few of the roused rabble in Uman have ever heard of him. While always on a quest for laughs, the thoroughly secular Mazursky never mocks the spirituality of others, no matter how humorless. Luckily, they're mostly a fun-loving bunch, despite a heritage replete with solemn traditions, mysterious rituals and much suffering. “That's part of being a Jew,” he surmises. “The other is the Catskills: all the great comedians.” Starring Paul Mazursky, David Miretsky, Schmuel Levy, Rabbi Ezriel Tauber and Julian Unger. Directed by Paul Mazursky. Produced by Paul Mazursky and Jeff Kanew. No distributor set. Documentary. Not yet rated. Running time: 74 min.
Tags: documentary, Judaism, religion, worship, pilgrimage, tradition, Paul Mazursky, David Miretsky, Schmuel Levy, Rabbi Ezriel Tauber, Julian Unger, Jeff Kanew
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