H.I. Jew Positive
Since the end of communism in Poland about three decades ago, thousands of Polish Catholics have discovered their Jewish roots. Ronit Kertsner’s documentary, H.I. Jew Positive, explores this phenomenon through the lives of four Polish citizens.
Now available on the ChaiFlicks streaming platform, it unfolds over a 15-year period from 1998 to 2013. Kertsner’s interviewees are three adults, Malgosia, Agnieska and Leshek, and the son of Malgosia, whose name is Lukash.
This illuminating film begins on a rather jarring note. A young man identified by only his Jewish-sounding surname, Zilberfenig, says he was asked if he is Jewish. Unable to answer the question, he went to his mother. “Yes, I think your father was a Jew,” she replied. “And if you want to, you can be a Jew.” To which Zilberfenig sardonically said, “Yes, I’m H.I Jew Positive,” as if he had contracted a venereal disease.
From this point onward, the film focuses on Catholics who have discovered the Jewish dimension of their ancestry.
Agnieska, raised as a Catholic, was a high school student when she found out her grandmother was Jewish. Feeling Jewish, she stopped eating pork. Yet she told none of her friends about her discovery.
In 2008, when she was in her mid-30s, she went to Israel, hoping to find a suitable Jewish husband. Having come up short, she returned to Warsaw. In 2010, still unmarried and without a partner, she gave birth to a girl, whom she is raising in the Jewish faith and tradition.
Malgosia, too, was a Catholic until she stumbled upon her Jewish ancestry. Her husband-to-be, hailing from an antisemitic family, asked her if she was Jewish before agreeing to marry her. She dismissed his pointed question with three words: “Of course not.”
They had two children before their divorce, one of whom, Lukash, remained in her custody. Lukash was five years old when he appeared in this film for the first time. Malgosia enrolled him in a Jewish school after he was subjected to an antisemitic taunt. He learned the Hebrew alphabet, and at 13, he had his bar mitzvah. Only his closest friends know he’s Jewish. He hopes to be a politician.
Leshek, the offspring of a mixed marriage, embraced Judaism and became involved in Warsaw’s Jewish community. His father, Janusz, denied his Jewish ancestry and declined to be interviewed, being afraid of publicizing his Jewish ancestry. When he died in 2011, he was buried in a Christian cemetery, his headstone marked with a cross.
Leshek stands in front of it silently, apparently trying to make sense of his father’s apparent fear and/or self-hatred.
H.I. Jew Positive avoids making editorial judgments, but it is implicitly clear what Kertsner thinks of Jews like Leshek’s late father.