About Abigail Hirsch

I am a film producer and CEO of AskAbigail Productions. Currently working on a documentary film/musical theatre production about the life and times of Moshe Kraus, a musical child prodigy and a legendary cantor/hazzan/Jewish prayer leader whose life spans the history of Jews in the twentieth century.

OPPENHEIMER: What is his story?

I felt compelled to watch Oppenheimer because of all the buzz. We all know that Robert Oppenheimer was the creator of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, finally defeating the relentless WWll Japanese attack on the US at Pearl Harbour and the invasion of China and other far east countries.

Over the first two hours of the film, Oppenheimer one gets glimpses of the painstaking and unpredictable process of scientific inquiry and the many players, institutions and financial resources involved in such an endeavour. The film’s last hour is taken up by the political machinations that affected Openheimer’s life after 1954.

From watching the film, it was tough to assess who Oppenheimer was. Was he a Communist and passed secrets to the USSR? What was his extra-marital affair about? How does it affect him when his mistress commits suicide? His face throughout is challenging to read. I must admit that I found it hard to understand the film, so I researched online.

JNS editor-in-chief Jonathan Tobin speaks with historian Harvey Klehr, author of several books on Soviet spies in the US and shares the reality of intense soviet interest in spying on the Manhattan Project from the 1930s onward. Starting at 16:28, Harvey Klehr (*1) reports on the efforts of the Soviets to penetrate the Manhattan Project.

There were many members of the communist party in America before WWll. Apparently, at the Berkkley University lab, many of Oppenheimer’s students were members of the communist party. It was not illegal, and many of Oppenheimers’ friends and relatives, including his wife, were known members of the Communist party. Some of them did have contact with intelligence forces in the university. The FBI knew all this when Oppenheimer was chosen to lead the lab. It is also known from wiretaps that once Oppenheimer was named to head the project, he distanced himself from the Communists, and the Soviets were never able to get him to cooperate. However, there were two spies inside the Manhattan Project. One of them is Ted Hall, a brilliant young graduate student who may not have been a party member. He was not “recruited” but “volunteered” to spy for the Soviets. He later confessed and was sent to jail. The other one, Ted Fuchs, a British double agent, later became known to the FBI. Still, he never revealed, and the FBI could never prosecute him because the evidence would have betrayed US intelligence secrets.

As for the truth about the third hour of the movie, the best description I found about what the actual motivations were behind the secret trial that eventually removed Oppenheimer’s security clearance in 1954 is fully revealed in an Article initially published in the September 1977 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 33, No. 7, page 12. It is much more complicated than the personal jealousy and treachery implied in the movie. The attack on Oppenheimer came partly from the newly elected president Eisenhower, who wanted to show that the Democrats had been soft on the Communists along with Roy Cohn, the treacherous head of the FBI’s obsessions and the hidden conflicts between Oppenheimer and some of the players in the atomic project. (*2)

In an opinion piece in the NY Times, (*3) Kai Bird, author of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the book on which Oppenheimer the movie is based, writes as follows.

Sadly, Oppenheimer’s life story is relevant to our current political predicaments. Oppenheimer was destroyed by a political movement characterized by rank know-nothing, anti-intellectual, xenophobic demagogues. The witch-hunters of that season are the direct ancestors of our current political actors of a specific paranoid style…Oppenheimer did not regret what he did at Los Alamos; he understood that you cannot stop curious human beings from discovering the physical world around them. One cannot halt the scientific quest, nor can one un-invent the atomic bomb but it is up to each and every one of us to ensure that our current technologies are integrated by our leaders into a sustainable and humane civilization.

Yom Kippur confronts us with the fragility of man in the face of the viccisissitudes of both man made and natural disasters. These three historic movies, Golda, Shttl and Oppenheimer, remind us that a human being’s insight is limited in contrast with God’s gaze who sees all and judges each of us every year on this day. This is one of the main themes of Yom Kippur as expressed in this hymn: 

You (God) remember all the workings of the universe

And you note all the creatures of this world

All events and mysteries are revealed to you

Because there is nothing forgotten before Your Holy Throne

Or hidden from your gaze.  

Yishai Rebo, the popular Israeli singer has just posted a new chant of these Hebrew prayer verses: Hebrew transliteration, Ata zocher below *4



But as humans we are all subject to the vicissitudes of human failings.

The Yom Kippur service repeats many times that these three things alone have the potential to allay the evil of any harsh decrees that may befall us – 

Teshuva/desire to change, tefila/asking for our needs, and tzedaka/deeds of charity and kindness – 

Yom Kippur is the day designated for us to confront this reality by sharing our private struggles before our God and praying to be remembered for life and for goodness in the coming year. 

Here is the haunting Yom Kippur refrain sung by Cantor Gideon Zelermayer and the Shaar Hashomayim Montreal Synagogue choir: * from the standard Yom Kippur prayerbook.

Remember us for “Life”,(*) oh King Who Desires Life, 

and Inscribe us in the Book of Life

For your sake, Oh Living God. 









*1. JNS editor-in-chief Jonathan Tobin speaks with historian Harvey Klehr about the movie Oppenheimer and the legacy of American Communism. The story re communism starts at 16:30 min. https://youtu.be/sYCyMCR4ynA?si=fp1Wbq5uSENNd49D&t=990
*2. The Oppenheimer case: A study in the abuse of law by Harold P. Green, July 17, 2023, Published in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
*3. NY Times opinion piece by Kai Bird, author of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
*4. YouTube: Ishay Ribo & Mordechai Ben David – Ata Zocher


SHTTL has been screened and has won prizes at film festivals (*1). I was fortunate to view it at a private screening sponsored by the Montreal Holocaust Museum. According to Eric Gozlan, one of the producers, who was present at the screening, it will be released in Ukraine in October 2023 and Canada in 2024.

SHTTL is the most difficult one of the four movies, but it is also the most unforgettable. The film starts in a Ukrainian forest, recounting a Hasidic folk story and two young men eager to get somewhere on foot. They arrive at a noisy market where people seem to know them. There is a Soviet manager of some workers, lots of crosstalk, and mentions of the protagonist’s former girlfriend who is engaged to be married that weekend. There is a dreamy sequence with the protagonist’s dead mother, an encounter with his father, and a beautiful scene in a synagogue. In other words, you are drawn into a slice of life where you spend 24 hours with the characters who inhabit this tiny unknown village in Ukraine near the Polish border.

SHTTL creatively brings you into this village life before the Nazi invasion of Ukraine as an active observer. I loved the subtle hints at how the religious Jews, the more secular Jews, the Russian occupiers and the other neighbours get along or don’t get along.

Director Ady Walter explained that he left out the “e” in the word “shtetl” to signify the loss of villages like the one in the film that were wiped out by the Nazi invasion. SHTTL then becomes a memorial to those who died as the film emphasizes their tragically lost lives rather than their horrible fate. Did I mention that the film is filmed entirely in the native languages of the villagers, Ukrainian, mostly Yiddish, perhaps some Russian and German, all with English subtitles?

There is a strong Montreal connection. Two of the producers are well-known Montreal entertainment professionals: Eric Gozlan (*2), known for Beautiful Boy, StandOff, A Score to Settle, Bandit, and Joe Sisto (*3), entertainment lawyer, known for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Plane, Upside down, Brick Mansions and Erased.

The producers hope to submit this film in the foreign film category this year on behalf of Ukraine! Kudos to all who worked so diligently in creating this masterpiece of the 21st century.



*1. Shttl, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shttl
*2. Eric Gozlan, https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2480811
*3. Joe Sisto, https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2339368

BARBIE: Who is She?

Barbie was the most enjoyable movie – it has music, jokes, and a powerful message.

Barbie dolls and Ken dolls, favourite toys of little girls and boys, become animated characters with human traits. They all party gayly until the horrible idea of “death” intrudes on their magical world. For the rest of the film, girls and boys, men and women, bosses and parents, all are put under the microscope of evaluation, and they all somehow manage to “find” their “true selves”.

The film reminds me of the High Holiday synagogue pageant of Yom Kippur the Jewish Holy Day that deals with our everyday sorrows and vicissitudes. The ritualized text of the daylong service reminds us of all the calamities that can occur to anyone of us, without our consent. This day is dedicated to meditative self-reflection. Have we strayed from the straight and narrow? Have we hurt people in our lives? Are there fences which need mending? 

The process is ritualized by midnight services in synagogues during the month preceding Yom Kippur called Selichot services. Still, while the work is private and personal, the Selichot services are communal gatherings and, in Israel, often include public concerts and musical gatherings. I attended one of these concerts at Beit Avichai in Jerusalem. 


The message of our tradition is that human transformation, improvement for the better, is always possible and as close as the nose on your face! This process is called “teshuvah,” the most straightforward translation is “returning, returning to your pure soul.”

 In a world that frequently moves at an alarming pace, it is essential to find moments of peace and connection. Our annual Jewish High Holidays remind us that, like Barbie and Ken, we can all grow and evolve for the better, both individually and as a community.



On August 24, the Federation CJA, Montreal’s central Jewish community organization, kicked off its annual fundraising campaign by renting out all eight screens of the newly refurbished CineStarz Deluxe Cavendish movie theatre, to offer two screenings of Golda, starring Helen Mirren about the iconic Israeli political figure, Golda Meir.

CJA is part of the tradition of philanthropic communal care dating to biblical times with the mandate “to feed the hungry and clothe the poor.” In Montreal, this organization celebrated its centennial in 2017. On the homepage of their website, they have an incredible video launching this year’s #StandUpCampaign, #Standup for our vulnerable, #Standup against antisemitism and #StandUp for Jewish identity. (*1)

The film Golda had me on the edge of my seat as it depicted the horrible situation Israeli citizens and soldiers found themselves in going out to a war launched by Egypt and Syria and the tacit support of Jordan on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in 1973. With the army and reserves poorly prepared for the attack, Israel was in an existential crisis, with the lives of six million Israelis threatened with total annihilation.

The film focuses on Meir’s leadership during the war. She was the Prime Minister of Israel and the designated commander-in-chief. An archive recently released from the battle gives a glimpse of the atrocities of the event.

The war started on Saturday, but by the time we got [to the Golan], it was early morning on Sunday. And what we entered was a very difficult scene of utter chaos. Burnt tanks, tens of casualties and people screaming for help. (*2)

Serious losses were incurred on all sides – 2,688 Israeli soldiers killed, 7,700 for Egypt and 3,500 for Syria. (*3)

Ultimately, Israel received the needed supplies and could advance to Damascus in Syria and invade Egypt in the south. Thus, the attacking armies were the ones suing for a ceasefire.

Golda resigned shortly after the war, and for a long time, many blamed her personally and wondered whether her being a woman or her age influenced the poor preparedness and the losses incurred.

This movie depicts Golda’s reality as much more complicated than anyone knew. It shows her secretly undergoing cancer treatment, taking over the media response from General Moshe Dayan to bolster the public’s spirits when she felt he was failing and sending the wrong message, and dealing with the geopolitics of the US reluctance to provide arms to Israel. In brief, this movie focuses on Meir’s compassion, intelligence, and committed leadership and service to her country under very challenging circumstances.

The essence of Golda is revealed in her empathy towards those in her immediate circle and her holding the line almost single-handedly when the going got tough. We can learn much about her leadership, especially her motto to always put the needs of the state and the people ahead of her own. She successfully guided her nation through a trying moment, and we all owe her an outstanding debt of gratitude.

Watching Helen Mirren portray the dilemmas of this complicated personality is well worth the cost of this ticket. Her face practically opens the movie and speaks volumes without uttering a word. She deserves an Oscar for this performance!


1. Federation CJA video #standupcampaign
2. Archives of the Yom Kippur War
3. The Yom Kippur War: Background & Overview, “serious losses were incurred on both sides – 2,688 Israeli soldiers killed, 7.700 for Egypt and 3,500 for Syria” (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/background-and-overview-yom-kippur-war)


Jerusalem-style Purim celebrations!

Anywhere in the world, Purim is observed on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar. However, it is celebrated a day later in Jerusalem because Jerusalem falls under the rules connected to a “walled city” in our holy books.

And so, on Wednesday evening and Thursday, March 6 and 7, costumes, parades, festive meals and parties occurred around Jerusalem.

Non-Jews, often compare Purim to Mardi Gras or Halloween because of its connection to dressing in costume and boundless merriment. But it is pretty different. It is a profoundly spiritual and meaningful Jewish holiday with material and spiritual components.

Most people are aware of the material aspects. It is celebrated by young and old with enthusiasm and delight, the wearing of costumes, performing ad-hoc plays, exchanging gifts of food, shelach-manot/the sending of portions, and all this is followed by a festive family meal, a seudah, in the late afternoon before the end of the holiday.

The spiritual aspect is connected to the Hebrew reading of the Megillah, which tells the story of Purim. Women have a special connection to Purim as listening to the main text of Purim, the Megillah, is one of the few commandments incumbents on women, and of course, the heroine of the text, Queen Esther, is a woman.

The Megillah can be chanted in synagogues or private homes and is repeated many times so that everyone can conveniently participate in listening to the chanting.

This year I attended the evening Megillah reading at Simhat Shlomo, my previous Yeshiva in Nahlaot, close to the Jerusalem open-air market, the shuk. The shuk was wild, with all the stalls open, selling their usual wares, Purim masks, and goodies. And restaurants blaring music and people jostling and dancing into the night. Here is a small insight into the festivities as you enter the shuk.

Some merriment intruded on a cell phone service store at a Jerusalem mall where I happened to be.Purim celebration inside the mall in Jerusalem I also took some videos inside the Yeshiva at the time of the megillah reading. So here we are, getting into the spirit of Purim.

We were all gathered, men, women and children, waiting for our megillah reader, Rabbi Leibish Hundert, and amusing ourselves with stories and singing.

Megillah reading at Simhat Shlomo_Photo 4 Megillah reading at Simhat Shlomo_Photo 3 Megillah reading at Simhat Shlomo_Photo 2 Megillah reading at Simhat Shlomo_Photo 1

And then Leibish began the megillah reading.

In the afternoon, I was invited to join my nephew, niece, and their family to join their friends and have a shared seudah.

shared seudah

If you are interested in more Purim Torah, I refer you to my previous blog on What Purim Can Teach Us Today.