Documenting One of the Many Faiths in Harlem

For 75 years, the Ethiopian Hebrew congregation known as the Commandment Keepers has claimed Harlem as their place of worship. Currently located at 1 West 123rd Street, the Commandment Keepers are the focus of Marlaine Glicksman’s documentary, which will be shown January 21 at Walter Reade Theater as part of the New
York Jewish Film Festival.

Combining archival footage and interviews, Glicksman’s film presents a fascinating portrait of this congregation’s sojourn from its beginnings to the present day. Presented as a work-in-progress, The Commandment Keepers employs a textured narrative—one encompassing many stories. It’s the story of Marcus Garvey’s black nationalist influence on those who founded the Harlem synagogue. It’s a biblical story about the adherence to the commandments in Deuteronomy; the story of Exodus seen
as one about the history of black people;and the special religious significance of
Ethiopia as expressed in Psalms 68:31: “Ethiopia shall stretch forth its hands to
God.” It’s a story about a congregation whose faith has been challenged by some
in the African-American community and by those within the white Orthodox rabbinical community. It’s a story about persecution and perseverance.

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