Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1698-1760), known as the Ba’al Shem Tov, is one of the most beloved and celebrated figures in Jewish history, but also one of the most elusive. Today, Jews all over the world, and even many non-Jews, revere him as the founder of the Hasidic movement, and as a model of piety and mystical spirituality. But many also find it difficult to say why he is so important to them, and to characterize his unique contribution to Jewish spirituality. Thus, A Fire in the Forest, a new documentary on the life and legacy of the Ba’al Shem Tov, sets itself the task of answering these basic questions, exploring how the Ba’al Shem Tov’s teachings can be applied to our lives today.
To do this, I traveled with filmmakers as their guide on this journey around the world, talking to leading rabbis, scholars and teachers of Hasidism, traveling to the graves of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s spiritual heirs, and to his own prayer-house and grave in the town of Mezhibozh in the Ukraine. Through stories and historical information, interviews with today’s most important teachers and on-location footage, A Fire in the Forest shows us how the legacy of the Ba’al Shem Tov is still very much alive in our day and relevant to our daily lives.
The film, which I narrate, also includes interviews with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Dr. Susannah Heschel, Rabbi Arthur Green, Rabbi Mimi Feigelson, Dr. Ada Rapaport-Albert, Grand Rabbi Yitzhak Aharon Korff and many others.