Thank You Rebbe is a short film inspired by true events happened in the Chicago downtown Chabad community.
Initially it was supposed to be a tribute from a friend to another. Only in a second moment it evolved into a project of public interest.
Synopsis. A Ba'Al Teshuva (a secular Jew that turns to embrace Orthodox Judaism) walks into a Chabad House to write a letter to the Rebbe OBM. Key moments of a life time unfold with an upbeat narrative. A man and woman are able to fill with meaning and joy every day, despite unfair challenges and pain.
It was produced in July 2016 and has received a warm welcome in the film festival circuit being selected and screened at the Glendale International Film Festival in Los Angeles, at the Chelsea Film Festival in New York, the Pembroke Taparelli Arts and Film Festival in Santa Monica, and the Malibu Film Festival. It also won the 2021 Best Jewish Film award at the Cannes World Film Festival - Remember the Future competition.
Disclaimer. This film does not pretend to present an accurate description of religious life. It is a narrative fiction and a tribute inspired by true events.
About the project.
The Chicago downtown Chabad House
A special thank you to Rabbi Meir Chai Benhiyoun and to all the Chabad downtown community on Dearborn Pkwy.
An amazing community and an extraordinary Rabbi. A place and a community that make good things happen and inspired me to write, produce and direct the short film 'Thank You Rebbe'. May you always encounter success in all your initiatives.
The author's story: why it became more than a project.
The life events narrated in this short film belong to a couple close friends to the author. But as soon as the author pledged to his friend to write and produce a short film to honor their story, the project became a life saver for the author himself. Below an old post from the official Facebook page that explains what are the events that link the author to the Chabad community and why this project became a life saver to hold on to in difficult times.
Facebook post of April 16, 2016
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY...
A couple of days ago I was sharing some thoughts about 'Thank You Rebbe' together with this friend of mine, who lived the real life events that inspired the short film. While I was expecting a feedback on the script he told me instead… “You know what Dan?.. Also the Making of this short film is a story to share"... I learned to follow advice, especially from wise friends… So… Here it goes…
In 2009 my wife and I moved to Chicago from Italy. From a business point of view… Not a good year. But what can I say? The opportunity came at that time for us, so we took it. My wife transferred her PhD in the US and I was granted a temporary work permit. During the first two years we learned to love the city and we met a wonderful community of people at the downtown Chabad house.
As we were facing our day to day challenges, just like everyone else did, one day our Rabbi asked us if we ever wrote a letter to the Rebbe OBM… No, never. Well… Let’s write it then! He explained us what that meant, and what was the most proper and respectful way to write it. So it happened that my wife and I, sat at a table writing down our letters to the Rebbe. I guess we wrote more or less the same things. We asked for health and prosperity to be able to build our family. As after two years of living on savings, my wife’s Italian researcher salary and my temporary work permit (which didn’t allow me to continue my career in the US like I was hoping for) things were starting to get pretty tight. And our idea of building our family was starting to be challenged by too many uncertainties.
So we wrote the letters, gave them to our Rabbi that brought them to the Ohel. We thanked him and then continued as usual with our daily lives.
After just a couple of weeks, my wife meets a person that was on a long time search to hire someone with her very specific skills. And this happened in the next room from the one she wrote the letter! We were truly amazed. She actually landed a job that was able to create that stability allowing us to plan a family. The pitfall of this, was that I had to give up my temporary work permit. In order for us to have that stability, I was being asked to give up, at least for a limited period of time, on my dreams and hopes of continuing my career as creative professional in the US. Not for months, for years. But my wife and I always think as a team… And I knew what our priorities where. So yes, I waived my permit to work, in order to let her take the job. Months passed quickly and after a year our daughter was born, Miriam Chaya.
In this exact period of time, these friends of ours went through all the events that inspired me to write the ‘Thank You Rebbe’ short film.
We were also blessed with the opportunity to move into a bigger house, with more space, where to grow our family. And our daughter was now 'old' enough to go to a daycare. This gave me the necessary time to start ‘working’ on some creative projects again. I began to write the script ‘Thank You Rebbe’. But my work permit still seemed to be far away from coming back… We wrote two letters, not one. Haven’t I been heard? Maybe I wrote the letter in a wrong way, maybe I was not as worthy, or maybe just .. this is life?
Then… One day I go to the doctor, as I was having a progressively growing back pain. I had to take tests as this back pain was hard to be explained. I was then diagnosed with cancer at the bone marrow, follicular lymphoma. That day, was with no doubt one of the worst days of my life.
This first doctor, had the merit of being available for the technical exam that led to the lab diagnose. The Rebbe says that you should always consult at least three doctors, one of which referred by a friend. So we did. I was starting to have pain in many of my bones. By the time we met the second doctor I already went through PET scans, MRIs, X-rays, countless number of blood works… The first doctor wanted to ‘wait and watch’ before starting any treatment… He was not connecting my pain with the lymphoma, as he explained to me that follicular lymphoma shows symptoms such as night sweats, loss of weight, swelling on the neck, armpit… I didn’t have any of those signs…
The second doctor was very good and was referred to us by an amazing French gentlemen. A friend of ours that we met at this Chabad House. This doctor, connected the multiple glowing areas of my PET scan with the locations of the pain I was describing. He told us that there could be also more than one kind of lymphoma at the same time. Some are more aggressive and do cause pain. So finally we went to the third doctor. I brought my test results to his office. After only two hours his secretary called me back to schedule an appointment, immediately. He didn’t lose time discovering, thanks to a second bone marrow biopsy, the presence of an aggressive form of lymphoma, a Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma. Chemotherapy was not only necessary, but was to be started as soon as possible.
In fact, just 4 days earlier was the second night of Passover. And once I got back home from the Seder I literally fell on my knees, not being able even to lay in a bed as much as my bones were hurting me.
Next week it’s Passover again. After almost 20 months of pain, diagnosis, treatment, and dealing with side effects, I will be able to celebrate together with my 3 year-old daughter, my wife and our friends. After all, it seems my letter was took into consideration… As doctors agree, at the time I wrote that letter, I was probably already sick and I just didn’t know it. Everything turned out to be the best way it could be. During the months of the chemotherapy, I did continue to develop the concepts and script of Thank You Rebbe. And my final version is completely different from the first one I began to write, when I still didn't know that the toughest challenge was still waiting in front of me.
Today I'm in remission, side effects are totally gone, I finally completed the script of the short film, I’m casting this coming week, connecting to valid film-making professionals in the area, and my creative career.. is back.
Well… This was the STORY BEHIND THE STORY of ‘Thank You Rebbe’. A short film that I hope to be able to complete in the best of ways, that I truly care about and that I hope you will enjoy. Thank you!
writer & filmmaker
Carmel, CA USA