The film follows the Torah and the diaspora of the Jewish people from the land of Judea to Bohemia, to the village of Polna in what is now called the Czech Republic. By the 1700’s, Jews accounted for one-quarter of Prague’s population, however recurring acts of antisemitism and the Holocaust decimated much of that population.
Miraculously, 1,564 Torah scrolls, including the Polna Torah, were rescued and brought to Westminster Synagogue in London for restoration. The Polna Torah finally found a home with a congregation about the same size as the last congregation of Polna.
Black Fire White Fire explores the meaning of Torah, how a Torah is made, and its sacred meaning in Judaism and to other cultures. The Torah's history is a tale of empires and regimes, pogroms and genocides. It is also a miraculous story of survival, hope, and rebirth.
Nealy conceived of the idea for Black Fire White Fire soon after she moved to Hawai’i in 1999 where she first encountered the Polna Torah at Kona Beth Shalom. Every year, the congregation says the Kaddish, the memorial prayer, for the congregation of Polna. Working with the help of her longtime partner, Keith Nealy (Keith Nealy Productions, Hawi, Hawai'i), Nealy completed editing the film in 2019. The film could not have been made without the guidance and on-screen presence of Rabbi Moshe Druin of Sofer On Site; Jeffrey Ohrenstein, Chair of the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London; and Barry Blum, M.D., President Emeritus of Kona Beth Shalom. Award-winning voiceover artist, Ed Green, narrates the film, and the film features some of the music of slack key guitar master, John Keawe.