return to Home page    Cleveland and the Freeing of Soviet Jewry     

Involvement in the Soviet Jewry Movement — by Louis Rosenblum
Projects: Before Our Eyes movie film

Projects: Movie Before Our Eyes

In the fall of 1966 we set out to create an up-to-date film on the historic and present day problems of Jews in the USSR, a film that could be used as a springboard for public discussion, an educational aid in schools, or a television feature. Our project was completed the summer of 1968. The professional production team — all but one being volunteers — consisted of Mort Epstein, artistic director; Art Laufman (head of the Motion Picture Section, NASA Lewis Research Center), camera and sound; Ernie Walker, (NASA LeRC), camera. To complete the roster, I (a non-pro) took on the job of producer. I was able to enlist the help of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to provide comments on Soviet Jewry. Rabbi Heschel, one of the most significant thinkers of our time and a civil rights activist, was then Professor of Ethics at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. We filmed Heschel’s section of the movie on location at JTS. Finally, Dorothy Silver, a distinguished Cleveland actor, lent her voice for the voice-over sections of the film. The JCFC provided a grant of funds to cover the cost of film, processing and travel.

Rabbi Heschel during filming
Photo by Mort Epstein

Dorothy Silver

We titled the 13˝-minute, 16mm, color, sound film, Before Our Eyes, after Rabbi Heschel’s remark in the movie, ”Before our eyes a people and a culture are being made to vanish.” The CCSA rented, or sold outright, copies of the movie. By far organizations or individuals chose to rent. Between 1968 and 1978, there were about 450 rentals. Several copies were sold: a half dozen to the South African Jewish community and a couple each to Jewish organizations in Canada and England.

Setting up for a take: left to right - Lou Rosenblum, Art Laufman, Ernie Walker.
Photo by Mort Epstein

The movie theme photo

Filming in the USSR, in the 60s, was not an option. So, casting was done close to home and the filming was in Cleveland and New York. This photo, the theme shot for Before Our Eyes, was taken in the home of Charles and Elizabeth Hoffman in Rocky River, a suburb west of Cleveland. We brought in props like the samovar and the Chagall portrait of a rabbi.

Four members of Cleveland’s Beth Israel-The West Temple were enlisted to model “a Soviet Jewish family.” They are, from left to right: Ed Ault who owned an electrical fixture business in Parma Heights, my daughter, Miriam who was then in high school, Bob Hoffman, also in high school, and Alice Mark, a social worker who lived in Berea.

The photographer was a pro, John Szilagyi, Mort Epstein's business partner. John did the photo shooting and production pro bono.

How authentic was the photo? At least one Cleveland Jewish organization thought it was the real McCoy. In the late 1990's the Jewish Family Service Association ran a large ad in the Cleveland Jewish News that featured it as a typical Russian immigrant family aided by their organization.


On September 1, 2020 the Western Reserve Historical Society added the film "Before Our Eyes" to its digital archive. 

To view the movie, click here.

next >  Projects: Leadership Conferences


© 2007 Louis Rosenblum

Top of Page       Continue      Table of Contents      CJH Home