Lesson Plan: Menachem's Challenge

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  • Consider the role that religion and memory play in the way people create their "universe of obligation"
  • Explore how religion can play both a positive and a negative role within society
  • Explore how historical narratives impact our present choices and decision making

ESTIMATED TIME NEEDED: 2 class periods (includes time to watch the first 2 segments of the film in class)


View Segment 1, Menachem's Challenge (Approximate film location: minute 0 - 32:20)

This section is filled with many statements that help to illuminate the worldview of the characters in the film. As you watch the film with your students, have them capture some of the words that strike them in their notebooks. Later you may choose to return to these quotations. Have your students choose one quotation that stood out for them. It may be one with which they agree, disagree, or are even troubled by. You may have students explain their reasons for selecting the quotation in their journals and share them with partners.

After watching this segment allow time and space for students to react personally to the film. Invite students to write a response to one or more of the following questions in their journals or notebooks:

  • How does religion shape the way the people in the film view their "universe of obligation"?
  • When Menachem confronts the Rabbi about his intolerant lecture, how does the Rabbi try to justify his actions? How might you respond to him?
  • What do you think Menachem's motivation was for taking his sons to Poland?
  • Why do you think that Menachem's father-in-law does not want him and his family to go back to Poland?

Invite students to share their responses with another member of the class. You may choose to open up these conversations to the whole class.

In this segment of the film we see several instances in which people show intolerance towards "the other." What circumstances might create a feeling of distrust and fear of "the other"? Has there ever been a time in your life in which you found yourself reacting in a similar way?


  1. Ask your students, "What is the challenge that Menachem faces? How does he address it? And, what are the potential consequences of his approach?"
  2. Have students create an identity chart for Menachem Daum. Identity charts are a tool that many Facing History teachers use in the classroom to give students an opportunity to look at the various aspects of their identity — from membership in various groups, to hobbies and interests, to relationships with family, friends and community. Here is an identity chart that one student made in a Facing History and Ourselves class.

    In the chart students create for Menachem Daum, include both the words that they think Menachem would apply to himself as well as those that the students would add themselves. As they create this chart, have them consider what factors in Menachem's life helped shape his identity. For more background information on Menachem, invite students to read his introductory letter in the POV Discussion Guide (PDF) for Hiding and Seeking.

  3. Menachem states at the beginning of the film, "The thing about religion is that it is so malleable. You can shape it into whichever direction you choose. And I believe that better no religion than a religion that does not see godliness in every human being." Invite the class to reflect on the meaning of this quotation. What is their reaction to it?

    Since September 11th, 2001, issues about religion and religious tolerance have been in the headlines. How do you learn about traditions other than your own? How are Menachem's comments similar to the sentiments of Sudanese Islamic scholar, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im? Na'im says:

    There is no such thing as Christianity or Judaism in the abstract... Islam and Christianity and Judaism are what the believers make of them. They are what the believers believe and do... Religion is a resource, a powerful, profound resource that most people appreciate. But what they make of it — what moral, political and economic actions they take — is the responsibility of the believers as they struggle with the scriptural or theological discourse.
    (Quoted in "Islam and the Modern World" by Christopher Reardon. Ford Foundation Report, winter 2002, p. 22.)

    What is Menachem's worldview as compared to his sons'?

  4. In the film, Menachem shares the story of his first trip to Poland in which he traveled with Shlomo Carlebach, a Rabbi and prominent songwriter who had a great influence on Menachem's worldview. The film includes footage of a performance in Warsaw for an almost entirely non-Jewish audience in which Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach sings the following words, "I want you to know my beautiful friends don't ever give up on the world. Don't ever give up on any human being. Because we are all of God's image. Every one of us is so holy. Everyone of us has the capacity to be so good." Invite students to think about Menachem's words on religion and think about how his words connect to what Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach is saying to his audience.
  5. Ask students to create an identity chart for themselves. Does their chart include religious and cultural affiliations? How do religion and culture influence the way they see the world? Before students share their responses to this personal question, remind them that while some of them may have strong religious beliefs, others may not be religious at all. This discussion is not intended for students to teach each other about their religion; rather it is to help them recognize that religious and cultural ideas impact the way people view their relationship to society.


View Segment 2, The Journey through Poland (Approximate film location: minute 32:20 - 67:27)

After watching this segment, allow time and space for students to react personally to the film. Invite students to write a response to one or more of the following questions in their journals or notebooks:

  • What scene stood out most for you? Why?
  • What additional information do we learn about the Daum family in viewing this segment?
  • Do you see changes in any of the characters as a result of the trip in general, meeting the Mucha family and learning more about their past?
  • What do you think motivates some people to act courageously (risking their own lives and the lives of their families), when others stand by?

Invite students to share their responses with another member of the class. You may choose to open up these conversations to the whole class.


  1. In the segment in which Menachem and his family begin their journey in Poland, Menachem shares the following thoughts off-camera: "I don't know if my sons fully understand what I am trying to convey to them. I don't want them to change their way of life. I don't want them to change their ritual observance. I don't want to undermine their faith, not at all. I like the way they are living their lives. But what I am trying to do is to expand their consciousness." What does Menachem mean when he says that he wants to expand his sons' consciousness? Ask students if they think that after viewing the second segment of the film Menachem has achieved his goal? If so, where do you see evidence of that?
  2. One of the reasons Menachem took this trip with his sons was because he was concerned about their attitude toward non-Jews. Ask your students what they would like to say to the sons at this point in the film. What questions might they ask? What could you do if you feared that somebody close to you was becoming intolerant?
  3. For some people there are pivotal moments in their lives that cause them to make a shift in their thinking or their behavior. Ask students to write in their journal about a moment — an idea, an event, or a lesson — in their life where this has happened. You may invite students to share this moment with another person or open this question up to class discussion.
  4. Ask students to choose one of the people in the film and consider, "What meaning do they make of their past?"
  • Menachem Daum
  • Akiva and Tzvi Dovid Daum
  • Rifka Daum
  • Honorata Mucha
  • The Muchas' granddaughter
  • Kamila (the Polish historian)

You may choose to expand upon the second activity in the segment by asking your students to write an imaginary dialogue with one of these characters based upon what they know about them from the film.