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DVD Review: Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh

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It is 1944. A group of young Jewish volunteers from Palestine are parachuted into Yugoslavia to join with the partisans, relay information to the British, and do what they can to rescue European Jews. Not long after their arrival, one of the group, a 22-year-old young woman, leaves for recently occupied Hungary, her native country, to do what she can to help Jews there and especially to find her mother.

Before she crosses the border, she gives a piece of paper to one of her comrades who is staying behind, and asks him to bring it back to Palestine for her. Fearing he is vulnerable and in a hurry to get back to the partisans, he throws the note away, but soon thinks better of it, and returns to search for the paper. It takes him an hour, but he finds it. He opens the paper, and what he finds is a poem—a poem called "Blessed is the Match."

The courageous young woman is Hannah Senesh. Almost immediately she was captured by the authorities, beaten and imprisoned. Some few days before Hungary was liberated, she was executed. The theme of the poem she was so intent on sending to the world is that even in darkness, one match can bring light, one person can make change. It is a poem that expresses an abiding faith in humanity and a hope for the future. Hannah Senesh was just such a match. Her story is told in the docudrama Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh now available on DVD.

Modern reenactments of scenes from her life are supplemented by period newsreel footage, family photographs, readings from her letters, poems, and diaries, and commentary by scholars, family members, and contemporaries to provide a richly rewarding portrait of this remarkable young woman. Like many well off Hungarian Jewish families, hers took its religion lightly, assimilating happily with the larger society. Indeed it was not until she began experiencing anti-Semitic treatment in her school that she began to take her Judaism more seriously, becoming more and more committed as the Nazis began to spread their hate mongering through Europe. Eventually, she turned to Zionism, studied Hebrew, and after graduation from high school applied for an immigrant visa to Palestine to study at an agricultural school. When her mother objected that she was wasting her talents, she countered that Jews had enough artists and intellectuals, what they needed were laborers and farmers.

She was an idealist, and the ideal she espoused was the Zionist ideal preached by Theodore Herzl. Jews needed a land of their own like every other people on earth. Anti-Semitism was a direct result of the Diaspora; too often Jews were resented merely because they were outsiders. They were seen as intruders. If they had a land of their own, there would be no reason for them to be scattered all over the map, and the land they sought was the land they considered their Biblical birthright, Palestine. The Nazi killing machine was an absolute reinforcement of their reasoning.

Although Hannah Senesh may not be a household name in gentile communities, to Israelis and Jews all over the world she is a major heroic figure. The names she is most often associated with are Anne Frank and Joan of Arc. Anne Frank, because like Anne she start keeping a diary as a young teen; and like Anne's diary, Hannah's gave an honest glimpse into the emotional life of a young girl growing up in world that was changing its values right before her eyes. Moreover, she looked at the world with the eye of a poet. Joan of Arc, because like the French saint she was a stubborn fighter for what she believed; and like Joan, Hannah refused to compromise.

The film was directed by Roberta Grossman, and stars Joan Allen as the voice of Hannah's mother, Catherine, who does most of the narration. Alona Tal does the voice of Hannah. On screen Catherine is played by Marcella Nohynkova and Hannah by Meri Roth. Commentaries are provided by historians like Michael Berenbaum and Sir Martin Gilbert, political figures like Shimon Peres, as well as living family members like Hannah's two nephews. In the end the viewer gets a compelling comprehensive picture of Hannah, her personal side and her pubic face.

The DVD includes deleted scenes, the trailer, and a behind the scenes photo gallery.

Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh Is the story of how a fairly ordinary young girl grows into a remarkable young woman as her world explodes around her. It is an eloquent testimony to the strength of the human spirit.

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