This week I’ll tell you about The Bund, Utopia for Real, the TV documentary we produced in 1997, exactly 100 years after the Bund was created.
A secret Jewish workers’ movement, the Bund or also written as BUND (Yiddish: בונד, cognate to German: Bund, ‘union’) was established in November 1897 in a small shack in the Russian town of Vilna. From thirteen men it had grown within a few years into an open and proud worldwide organization with hundreds of thousands of men and women. They lived in East and West Europe, in Central, South, and North America, and even in Australia. Together with non-Jewish workers’ organizations which were emerging all over the world, they fought for workers’ rights and for humane social conditions. Believing that the ‘Jewish problem’ should be solved all over the world, and NOT by emigrating to Palestine, the Bundists joined forces with local workers organizations and indeed, together they did achieve a lot.
Still, the struggle for human rights, as we know too well, continues.
David against Goliath
The Bund, Utopia for Real was the first – and only documentary that we didn’t initiate. We were asked by Annet Betsalel, at the time the chief editor of the Joodse Omroep, to make the documentary. As soon as we started the research, we realized how important this story is, and immediately agreed, gladly. The message of the BUND was – and still is – the message that we try to bring across with all our projects: promoting dignity, freedom, equal rights, the individual versus the establishment, David against Goliath.
This documentary was filmed in the Netherlands, UK, and Israel – where former members of the Bund lived and were still active.
As usual in such a project – the budget was very limited, so in the UK the three of us, Annet, Izzy, and I, stayed at a friends’ home. On the morning of the first day of the shoot, I woke up more tired than when I went to sleep, and in fact, felt that I simply couldn’t get out of bed. Our alarmed friends summoned a doctor right away and his verdict was ‘Streptococcus’. For the entire week of filming, I stayed in bed, got antibiotics, and recovered just in time for our flight back home.
And so it happened that Annet and Izzy managed the production all by themselves – and perfectly. The material they shot in England was beautiful and very touching. The eldest Bund member alive then, 86-year-old Mayer Bogdanski, by his own admission the last of the Bundists, became the hero of the documentary. With much fury, he talked about the reasons why he was angry with clergy and rulers of all types and how the BUND gave his life purpose and meaning.
Bundists rejection of Zionism
From its beginning, the Bund activities also focused on bringing the world’s culture and social ideas to the Jews who till then were living in forced isolation and self-imposed aloofness.
Yiddish, the mother tongue of the European Jews, barred them from contemporary ideas and world literature. This led the Bundists to translate many literary works and even Shakespeare into Yiddish. Yiddish Newspapers, weeklies, and dailies were becoming a platform not only for political and social ideas but also for new literary works by young Yiddish writers. Theater groups, music bands, authors, and lecturers toured the Jewish communities and brought with them new ideas.
Mayer Bogdanski, though by occupation a tailor, has professionally composed during his long life some 300 Yiddish songs in the spirit of the Bund.
Nowadays there’re still small groups of Bundists all over the world. There’s a Bund group in Israel, too, even though its members are not Zionists. At the Tel Aviv clubhouse, we filmed the “Arbeter-Ring”, the Israeli Bund choir. Funnily, these sequences were filmed ‘with remote control’ by a crew of the Israeli Educational Television, our co-production partner.
Music was a leitmotiv in this documentary and here in Amsterdam, we filmed the Dutch choir, “Haimisj Zain”, singing the BUND’s hymn while floating on the Amstel, holding white umbrellas. This semi-surrealistic image became the symbol-image of the documentary, a symbol of continued hope-against-hope for a better world.
And so, in the spirit of brotherly love and cooperation, The BUND, Utopia for Real is now available for you to watch, for free!
What do you think? Were the Bundists right in their rejection of Zionism?
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Stichting Rainbow is celebrating this year its 25th anniversary, 25 years of social and cultural activities.
As part of the celebrations, I’m happy to share with you all the unknown stories about our projects – and the impact they created on people’s lives.
I’m Erga Netz, the initiator and director of Stichting Rainbow. In our early projects, I was the producer and editor and later became the director, too.
You can read all about the foundation, its mission, and projects.
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Stichting Rainbow is now headed by a board of 3 Israelis who live in the Netherlands:
Nir Geva, Gilad Nezer, and Yankale Bader, and our activities in the past years focused on Israeli cultural and societal activities for the Israeli, Dutch Jews, and the general Dutch public.
In the coming weeks, I will reveal more background stories of our projects.
I know, I know – I promised to tell you this time about The Promising Past of Television, the video installation we did in honor of Hans Snoek’s husband, Erik de Vries, the Dutch TV pioneer – but I’m still searching for the videos… It will come!
Thank you for participating in our celebrations and if you have any questions – I’ll be happy to answer them and tell you more!
cover photo: a scene out of the documentary: The Dutch Yiddish choir singing the Bund’s hymn, while floating on the water.