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Former Clevelander chases family demons in new film

"I knew that the film would open us up to one another."
- Marcia Rock, filmmaker

By MARILYN H. KARFELD Staff Reporter

This week, Shaker Heights resident Manny Rock will finally get to watch "Dancing with My Father," his daughter's intimate documentary about her family, her marriage and their relationship.

He's going to be pleased.

Despite its analytical and sometimes critical tone, "Dancing With My Father" is above all a daughter's expression of love for the first man in her life. After probing, often painful interviews, New York filmmaker Marsha Rock concludes that her father erected a wall to protect himself, not to shut out his children.

Rock's brother, Howard, supported the making of the film from the beginning. But her sister, Elaine Gluck of Pepper Pike, thought it would not only put the underside of their family's life on display, but also would hurt their father.

While admitting she never really knew her father before she began the project, Rock says, "I knew that the film would open us up to one another."

As the filming of "Dancing" progressed, Gluck agreed the documentary changed the family dynamics and for the better. "One day Elaine called me up and said, 'I'm so glad you did this. I waited 54 years to hear Dad say, 'I love you,'" Rock says.

Being so open about her shattered marriage and her family demons was the only way "that people will believe me or identify with me," says Rock, who directs the broadcast journalism program at New York University. "Only through honesty could I bring my family along."

This month she presented "Dancing" at a psychotherapy symposium in Washington, D.C., and she expects to distribute the film to colleges and universities.

Several of Rock's previous documentaries, including "McSorley's New York," which won an Emmy, have chronicled the Irish in Northern Ireland and as immigrants in New York. "I was adopted by the Irish," she says. "I got to know them better than my own Jewish background."

Her latest documentary rekindled her interest in her own heritage.

Visiting the Woodland Ave. neighborhood, her father's childhood synagogue, which is now a church, and the scrap steel business started by her grandfather, Rock began to feel far more connected to the Jewish people and her past.

"My father made me go to Cleveland Hebrew Schools four days a week," says Rock, who was confirmed at Park Synagogue. While she loved the songs, the traditional way of teaching the Chumash (Five Books of Moses), which focused solely on translation, held no interest for her. "I hated it."

But when she visited the tiny Slovakian village where her grandmother was one of only a few Jews among 300 Catholics, Rock says she identified with the struggle Jews have had, living as outsiders.

Today there are few signs that Jews once lived in the Eastern European village. "It hurt me so profoundly," says Rock. "I had all this renewed respect for the trauma of the immigrant experience and how they survived, how they held their culture together."