`My Dear Clara'
Canadian documentary is one of
33 productions illuminating the rich diversity
of the global Jewish experience at 12th annual
New York Jewish Film Festival.
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RUTH E. GRUBER
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
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Tara Greenspan and Chaim
Blum met and married in
Warsaw one year before the
outbreak of World War II.
They were ordinary people, but they
were caught up in extraordinary times.
War, politics and legal red tape
turned their personal romance into an
epic love story that survived the
Holocaust, spanned three continents,
changed Canadian law and endured
for nearly six decades.
The couple's nephew, Montreal film-
maker Garry Beitel, has now brought
their story to the screen in My Dear
Clara, a moving and mesmerizing docu-
mentary that packs the power of a box-
office blockbuster into only 44 minutes.
The film will be shown on the clos-
ing night of the 12th annual New York
Jewish Film Festival, which runs Jan.
12-23 at the Walter Reade Theatre at
Lincoln Center in Manhattan.
This year's festival, under the aus-
pices of the Jewish Museum and the -
Film Society of Lincoln Center, fea-
tures almost three dozen films — set
everywhere from Kenya and South
Africa to Australia and the American
South — that reflect a pervasive drive
to define and understand issues of
modern Jewish identity and culture.
The themes and genres of these
films are wide-ranging, from Nowhere
in Africa, a story of a family seeking
refuge from Nazi Germany in Kenya,
to Israeli director Amos Gitai's Kedma,
set during Israel's 1948 war for inde-
pendence, to The Joel Files, examining
the history of rock star Billy Joel's
family in pre-World War II Germany.
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My Dear Clara is a love story, says
Beitel, that also teaches a lot about
Chaim was a Warsaw plumber,
Clara a secretary from Montreal. Both
were active in Communist politics.
They met, fell in love and married
after a whirlwind romance when Clara
was on a trip to Poland to visit rela-
tives in 1938.
Clara went back to Canada shortly
after the wedding, under the mistaken
impression that she would be able to
send for Chaim and arrange for his
immigration on her return.
Canadian law, in fact, allowed men
to bring over their foreign-born wives,
but it barred women the same right to
bring over their foreign-born husbands.
It was nine years before Clara and
Chaim were reunited in 1947; they
remained together until Chaim's death
Throughout their long separation
before, during and after World War II,
Clara tirelessly lobbied for a change in
Canada's discriminatory immigration
"One gets brave when one has noth-
ing to lose," she wrote to Canadian
Prime Minister William Mackenzie
King in a letter that finally helped get
the law changed.
Chaim, meanwhile, along with his
sister — who would become Garry
Beitel's mother — fled eastward after
the war broke out. Like many Polish
Jews, he survived the war in the Soviet
Union, working as a coal miner in the
Ural Mountains and then as a brigade
leader in a sugar factory in Uzbekistan.
My Dear Clara is based on recently
discovered personal material including
nearly 100 love letters that Chaim
wrote — in close-spaced Yiddish — to
Clara during their enforced separation.
"This is a story that I grew up
with," Beitel said in an interview.
"I always imagined that it would
make a wonderful feature film shot on
location in Canada, Europe and Russia
— a passionate love story told amidst
the backdrop of the Second World War.
"But as a documentary filmmaker, I
couldn't imagine how I could possibly
tell such an epic story until my aunt
died in 1998 and I discovered several
boxes of love letters; family photos and
official correspondence," he said.
'As I started to translate these won-