Last week’s JEM Foundation Gala at the TWA Hotel featured many highlights, but the emotional high-point of the evening was the screening of a searing film about the story of four young orphans whom the Rebbe “adopted” and cared for.
In 770 of the early 1990s, they were known as “the Scharf children,” and at every public event they were no more than several feet from the Rebbe, who showered them with attention. Today, each of them serve in the Chabad-Lubavitch network, Mrs. Rochel Tenenboim as an emissary — shlucha — in Destin, Florida, and her three brothers, Rabbis Mendel, Shmuel Chaim and Sholom, as Chasidic mentors in yeshivahs in the Midwestern United States. They’ve retold individual stories to their students on more than one occasion, but the larger story remained with each of them, too private to share in full.
In 2020, Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin, JEM’s Executive Director, embarked on a “personal project,” to learn the family’s full story, and to share it in a befitting way. Recognizing that it would be a sensitive and time-consuming project, he sought and received financial backing from Eli and Shterny Steinmetz of Pomona, New York and Josh and Robyn Goldhirsch of Melbourne, Australia.
He reached out to the oldest two brothers, who eventually appeared in the film.
“I didn’t want to tell my story so publicly,” says Rabbi Mendel. “It is just too incredibly personal. But over my years working with young students, I’ve seen how my story affects others. At some point, my brother Shmuel Chaim and I agreed that our story is not really our own. As difficult as it may be impart, we have no right to keep it to ourselves.
“The kindness the Rebbe showered upon us,” he continues, “comes together with the responsibility to share with every young Chosid today how much the Rebbe loves and cares for each of them.”
Filming began in middle of the covid shutdowns, and the first two interviews were conducted remotely. Local cinematographers in Detroit and Chicago set up cameras, lighting and audio recording gear, and Rabbi Shmotkin conducted the hours-long interviews via Zoom. Once Covid restrictions were lifted, subsequent interviews were conducted in-person.
Many tears were shed as the rabbis shared their saddest memories; the uplifting experiences that followed led to moments of joy.
A long post-production process followed. With the JEM Foundation Gala appropriately planned for the day before Gimmel Tamuz, the time was right for the film’s release.
The dinner’s Artistic Director, Ronen Peled Hadad of Aranen Creative, suggested that the world-class composer and musician Naor Carmi be invited to perform the accompanying soundtrack live on stage. Carmi launched headlong into the project. As it turned out, Carmi had already been working with JEM for several months to create new soundtracks for the Living Torah films.
If the Scharf brothers’ intent was to help others recognize the Rebbe’s personal affection for every Jew, the message was not lost. “In the process of writing the music,” says Carmi, “I watched the film dozens of times, and each time it touched me more deeply than before. That’s because, in a way, we are all orphans. And the Rebbe uplifts and encourages each of us, just as he did these children.”
The resulting original composition, written especially for the film, employs authentic Chasidic melodies to support the film’s key moments.
At the JEM Foundation event, the screening was followed by Rabbi Shmuel Chaim live on stage, sharing his perspective as a parent and educator on JEM’s vital mission.
The full eleven-minute film will be coming soon.