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Renowned historian Judith Wechsler to receive film award

Judith Wechsler

By Cindy Mindell ~

HARTFORD – On Nov. 19, noted scholar and filmmaker Judith Wechsler will receive the fifth annual Miller Reel Jewish Woman Filmmaker Award, presented by the Charter Oak Cultural Center and co-hosted by the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies.
Wechsler’s latest film, “I Am a Memory Come Alive: Nahum N. Glatzer and the Transmission of German-Jewish Learning,” which will debut at the award ceremony, is a departure from her opus of 23 films on art and artists. It explores the life of her father, the renowned Jewish American scholar, Nahum Glatzer.

Already a noted intellectual in Germany when the Nazis took power in 1933, Glatzer and his wife Anne fled to Palestine, where they lived for five years before emigrating to the U.S. Judith was born in 1940. The family lived in Chicago, then Boston and New York, where Judith attended Crown Heights Yeshiva. Glatzer accepted a position as professor of Jewish history and philosophy at Brandeis, and the family settled in Watertown, Mass. There, Judith attended public schools and continued to study with her father, particularly in preparation for her bat mitzvah.
The Glatzer home was a traditional Jewish one, Wechsler says. The family kept kosher and observed all holidays, “with a great sense of history and ritual.”
“My father prepared me since early childhood for the Passover seder and the other holidays,” she says. “He was not dogmatic at all, and he made each holiday a very special occasion. So there was much discussion that accompanied observance.”
The Glatzer home was also one that revered learning. “My father was my inspiration as a scholar,” Wechsler says. “Both my parents were dedicated teachers and it seemed to me a calling full of challenges and rewards. Most of my parents’ friends were scholars, writers, and artists, and I was exposed to a fascinating world of European as well as Jewish culture.”

Nahum Glatzer

Wechsler went on to earn an undergraduate degree in Judaic studies and history of religion from Brandeis, inspired during her junior year abroad at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
“I heard the lectures of the great art historian, Prof. Meyer Schapiro and I decided that was what I wanted to do – history of ideas through the visual,” she says. As a senior, Wechsler took many courses in art history and was then admitted to Columbia University to study with Schapiro. Following his path, Wechsler wrote her master’s thesis on medieval art, entitled, “The Iconography of the Song of Songs in 12th- and 13th-Century Bibles,” and went on to study modern European art. She focused on the French painter Paul Cézanne, the subject of her doctoral thesis. Wechsler has taught modern European art for the last 40 years, and written a number of books on Cézanne and the 19th-century French artist and caricaturist, Honoré Daumier.
She turned to film while teaching at MIT, where she encountered the renowned designer, architect, and filmmaker Charles Eames, who invited her to make two films with him. “I loved thinking visually about art history and the possibility of revealing ways of understanding through filming and editing,” she says.
Wechsler has made 24 films – 23 on art and the most recent one about her father, a project 20 years in the making.
After Nahum Glatzer’s death in 1990, Wechsler bought a video camera and filmed a trip she and her mother took to Anne’s native city of Frankfurt am Main in Germany. Wechsler filmed interviews with people who had known her parents in their younger days, and with others who knew the worlds from which her parents had come. She also filmed interviews with former students of her father who had gone on to become major scholars.
When Anne Glatzer died in 1995, Wechsler came into possession of hundreds, if not thousands, of letters between her parents, and began translating them with Ruth Schocken, a close friend of the Glatzers. The translation project is still in progress.
While a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin in 2010, Wechsler did research at the University of Frankfurt archive and the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt. She visited Lemberg (Lviv), the city of Glatzer’s birth, and Bodenbach (Decin), where he attended Gymnasium.
Wechsler’s research assistant, Tamar Avishai, organized the translations by year and scanned and catalogued some 400 photographs and documents.
“I wanted to present my father’s voice and videos of his lectures,” she says. “Doing a film made that possible.” _This film was particularly challenging, she says. “I wanted to evoke the worlds from which my father came, in Eastern Europe and then in Frankfurt, before moving to Palestine, London, and the U.S.,” she says. “I also wanted to find a balance between his intellectual and spiritual journey and his personal life. Unlike films on art, where the image drives the picture, here it was the text above all that had primacy, and I had to find a way to present the ideas on film.”
The result, “I Am a Memory Come Alive: Nahum N. Glatzer and the Transmission of German-Jewish Learning,” echoes a line from Kafka, which Glatzer used as the title of the Kafka autobiography he wrote, composed from Kafka’s own writing. (Wechsler says that the Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis, the film’s distributor, has requested that the film be renamed “Nahum Glatzer and the German-Jewish Tradition.”)

The film will premiere on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. at the University of Hartford’s Wilde Auditorium, when Wechsler receives the fifth annual Miller Reel Jewish Woman Filmmaker Award.
For  more information call (860) 249-1207.

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