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Wednesday 18th October 2017
Culture

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

Ensemble (Together) is a short film (17 minutes) by Parisian director Mohamed Fekrane is based on a true story.  Set in Nazi-occupied Paris, it tells how Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit, the imam of the Grand Mosque of Paris saved the lives of Jewish children.

Ensemble (Film)

It sets Judaism and Islam in a fascinating context that is probably unknown to, and certainly widely misunderstood by most non-Muslims, and indeed by many Muslims.  The Talmud states: “If you save one life, it’s as if you have saved the world.”  This sentiment is echoed in the Qur’an: “Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world.“

In June 1942, a group of children escape from a Nazi orphanage and disperse through the streets of Paris.  One young boy, Isaac, runs into the mosque in the middle of evening prayers, calls out “Please, help me!” and collapses on the floor.  The imam and his brothers revive the boy, and he tells them of the escape, and that there are more children out there.  Activating his contacts in the Resistance and a network of people in Paris, Ben Ghabrit arranges for all of the escaped children to be safely transferred to the mosque.  They are registered at the mosque, given Arabic names, taught the songs and stories and everything that young Muslim children learn.

Unable to locate the escaped children, and tipped off that they might be hiding there, the Nazis enter the mosque and demand to see who’s in charge.  Ben Ghabrit leads them to the children to continue their lessons.  The officer grabs Isaac from the children and demands to know his name.  “Abu Bakar, sir” is the reply.  Asked why he has blond hair and blue eyes, the boy replies: “I’m from Kabylia.”  Another Nazi grabs a young boy and puts a gun to his head.  The officer says to the boy who calls himself Abu Bakar that his friend will be in trouble if he doesn’t tell the truth.  He demands to know if he is a Jew. “I’m a Muslim” is the reply.  His eyes show a deep sense of conviction and wisdom beyond his years of the gravity of the situation.

Ben Ghabrit is Ensemble (Film)taken away by the Nazis for interrogation.  He is beaten, but refuses to yield to their punishment and insists that the children are Muslims.  Whilst he is being questioned, the brothers in the mosque put into place the emergency plans they had discussed.  Working with colleagues in the Resistance, they send the children away, to be housed with Muslim families in North Africa, where the children are taken in as orphans.

The Nazis return Ben Ghabrit to the mosque.  He has promised to tell them everything, in return for being allowed to pray one last time.  When he learns that the children are safe, he raises his head to the sky and says: “Thank God.”  After praying with his brothers, he is taken away again by the Nazis.

“Those who have been spared will never understand how it feels to live in fear,” says Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit.

There are inconsistencies in the numbers, but there is no denying that he saved many innocent lives.  Saving one is the whole world.

I discussed the film with a couple of Jewish friends to get their take.  They thought it was a very powerful story of desperation and salvation, and they agreed that the lives of the children were of paramount importance.  The method of saving them may have been controversial, but they were alive.

This is a beautiful, thought-provoking film that explores a dark period in the history of mankind, and it shines a bright torch on the brave actions of one man.  Watch it!


Trailer


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David Horne is the Co-Founder and CFO of Alchemiya Media.  He trained as a Chartered Accountant and has many years experience in the media industry, including 3 years as a Finance Director with the BBC and 8 years as CFO of two companies listed on the London Stock Exchange.  A non-Muslim, he fasted with the rest of the Alchemiya team for the entire month of Ramadan last summer and wrote several blog posts about the experience.

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