Film to tell story of ‘Youth’ poet

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 2, 1999

&uot;Youth is not a time of life. It is a state of mind. It is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees. It is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.&uot; So begins &uot;Youth,&uot; a poem one-time Natchez resident Samuel Ullman wrote at the turn of the century. According to those who knew him and those who study his life, the poem is like the man – optimistic and full of life.

That is what inspired filmmaker Judy Shaifer to make a documentary on Ullman’s life. She and her crew were in town this week filming footage for the documentary, to be titled &uot;Youth.&uot;

Shaifer decided to make the film more than two years ago, when she Ullman’s relatives and heard his story. &uot;He was a man who made a difference to Judaism, his family and his community,&uot;&160;said Shaifer, who lives near San Francisco.

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After serving in the Civil War, Ullman (1840-1924) and David Laub started a mercantile business in downtown Natchez in about 1878. He operated the business until 1884, when he moved to Birmingham, Ala.

In both places, he was an active supporter of education, serving on both school boards, and helped promote Reform Judaism. He was also a poet, and in 1920 his children published a book of his poems, including &uot;Youth.&uot;

Since then, &uot;Youth&uot;&160;has been translated worldwide, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur was even said to have kept a copy with him at all times.

When a Japanese businessman saw the poem in MacArthur’s office, he translated it to Japanese. The country fell in love with Ullman’s words, and &uot;Youth&uot; clubs still exist in Japan today.

On Friday, Shaifer and her crew talked with Dr. Thomas Gandy, whose collection of photos of turn-of-the-century Natchez people and places includes pictures of Ullman and a store he once operated downtown. Gandy also frequently talks to visiting Elderhostel groups about Ullman’s life.

&uot;I give a copy of the poem to everybody in Elderhostel,&uot;&160;Gandy said. &uot;In it, he’s basically saying ‘You can be old at 20 or young at 60 or 70. It’s a state of mind’.&uot;

While in Natchez, Shaifer will also visit and film Temple B’Nai Israel, which Ullman was instrumental in building in 1872, as well as the burial sites of Ullman’s parents.

Jonas Rosenfield, a grandson of Ullman’s from Los Angeles, and Mayer Newfield, a first cousin from Birmingham, are also in Natchez to assist the crew.

Newfield remembers Ullman as a respected man who believed in education and in fairness to and equality for all people.

&uot;We’re here to show our family’s support for this film,&uot;&160;Rosenfield added. &uot;I think it’s wonderful.&uot;

Shaifer hopes the film will be finished by summer 2000, in time for San Francisco’s Jewish Film Festival. From there, she hopes other festivals will choose to show the film as well.