Tag: Meaning from Movies

Twilight: Jews, Vampires and You

When the movie means so much, find meaning in the movie.

My colleague, Rabbi Joshua Haberman, challenged by a Bat Mitzvah who wanted to speak about the movie Twilight, took up the challenge, studied and spoke about the Jewish lessons in this teen movie phenomenon. I confess that while I have seen 3 movies this vacation (my goal is a solid 5), Twilight has not been at the top of my list.

His Bat Mitzvah student Sophie’s own commentary is here.

Rabbi Haberman in his blog On One Foot writes:

…immediately I saw Edward Cullen, the “good” vampire here, as the embodiment of the Jewish ideal of self restraint. Pirke Avot considers the true hero to be the one who can control his own urges. For Edward to manange to overcome his innate bloodthirst and not devour Bella is akin to a human choosing to stop breathing and a feat no less spectacular than the way Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav used to act.

Further, he comments on the Jewish notions of good and evil:

Judaism’s notion of the good and evil inclinations (the yetzer ha tov and yetzer ha ra) fit well into the world of “Twilight.” I collected some sources and compared them to quotes from the book in my service handout. You can see some of the sources in an interesting article at MyJewishLearning.com. According to tradition, we are born with an inclination to do evil, but it is only at the onset of adolescence, bar mitzvah, that our inclination to do good sets in. Perfect timing for Bella and Edward (although Edward’s inclination to do good has developed quite a bit more).

Milk: Another Jewish Boy Working for Social Justice

My wife and I saw Milk earlier this month, a poignant film about Harvey Milk, gay rights activist, politician, martyr. Each of us recalled elements of the story: Orange County-born wife remembered the havoc state Sen. John Briggs caused; I remember Anita Bryant’s joyous, musical homophobia. Both nauseated us.

Watching the movie, one could not be but energized by Milk’s skillful marrying of passion, political activism, realpolitik balanced with values… by his ability to give hope to countless who needed hope.

Yet again, we find a Jew whose life, informed by the story of our people, steps into the forefront of an important social movement. From slavery to freedom, degradation to hope. Sure, Milk was a secular Jew, but, according to his nephew, his life was informed by our Jewish story:

As the Jewish Journal reports:

… Stuart Milk explains, that concern for the underdog stemmed from his uncle’s understanding of basic Jewish principles.

“He was 15 at the end of World II, and I can definitely say that he was deeply affected by the Holocaust,” Stuart Milk says. “So, yes, the Jewish sensitivity to civil rights absolutely had an impact on Harvey. In fact, he was the one who told me about how much support Jewish organizations and Jewish individuals gave to minorities. He often said that Jews feel they cannot allow another group to suffer discrimination, if for no other reason than that they might be on that list someday.”

“Furthermore,” he says, “Harvey was the first to tell me that in addition to the Star of David, which Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany, there were pink triangles that gays had to wear, and that almost a million gays were put to death.”

Rabbi Sharon Brous on Religulous: “Defying Despair: Why I Believe”

Have you seen the movie Religulous by Bill Maher? My colleague Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar (a social activist, highly spiritual, conservative-ish synagogue community) responded to Maher’s movie on Kol Nidre. She said:

I recently heard Bill Maher speak about his new film, Religulous (a made up word that combines religion and ridiculous), which offers a blistering attack on religion and the religious life. He argues that faith necessarily means a lack of critical thinking, that “to be religious at all is to be an extremist, [because] it is to be extremely irrational.” I understand his critique of religion. I understand the problems inherent in the notion of an all-powerful God in a world of brokenness and pain, of poverty and disease. I understand the damage that religious faith has wrought, the bigotry, close-mindedness and narrowness that is so closely identified with religious communities and ideology. I understand why smart, discerning people might reject religion so fiercely.

Later Rabbi Brous, acknowledging that there were plenty who misused religion for their own abusive purposes, says, nevertheless:

So here’s what I — a person of faith, an Exodus Jew — say to Bill Maher: Guess what? The God you mock is not my God. My God does not tell people to blow up buildings, oppress women, or even build gas pipelines. My God tells us to treat all people with dignity and love. My God does not advocate for the war in Iraq, or any other brutal conflict that separates people from their loved ones and treats human beings like “collateral damage.” No, the God I love demands that we pursue every possible path toward peace. My God does not make children sick, but gives them and their parents comfort and strength as they struggle with illness. Belief in my God does not free human beings to defer responsibility, it demands of us that we take responsibility. As the great Rev. William Sloane Coffin:

“It’s clear to me… that almost every square inch of the Earth’s surface is soaked with the tears and blood of the innocent, [but] it is not God’s doing. It’s our doing. That’s human malpractice. Don’t chalk it up to God. Every time people… lift their eyes to heaven and say, ‘God, how could you let this happen?’ it’s well to remember that exactly at that moment God is asking exactly the same question of us: ‘How could you let this happen?’ So [we] have to take responsibility.”

That most of the terrible heartache in the world is perpetrated by people — and often people who cloak themselves in religion — is a great travesty and a bruise on our shared humanity. But that is no reason not to believe. It is, rather, a reason to challenge, to reinvent. To search deeply within our traditions for the ikar, the sacred essence that is truly at the heart of our faith that compels us to engage one another not with condescension and brutality, but with respect and compassion.

Read Rabbi Sharon Brous’ complete Yom Kippur Kol Nidre sermon here. And thanks to Rabbi Eric Berk for bringing this wonderful sermon to my attention.

“Happiness is Real only When Shared”, Alexander Supertramp

Last night, we watched Into the Wild, Sean Penn’s beautiful movie. Writes Rolling Stone:

Sean Penn has molded one of the best movies of a bustling fall out of Jon Krakauer’s best-selling Into the Wild. Krakauer told the true story of Chris McCandless, an honors grad from Emory University who walked into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992 to find himself outside the confines of estranged family, well-meaning friends and any governing impulse besides his own questing heart. If you read the book and pegged Chris as a wacko narcissist who died out of arrogance and stupidity, then Penn’s film version is not for you. If, like Penn, you mourn Chris’ tragedy and his judgment errors but also exult in his journey and its spirit of moral inquiry, then this beautiful, wrenching film will take a piece out of you.

Among other things, it is a beautiful meditation which juxtaposes the impulse for solitude with the human need for companionship. The conflict is one with which most of us can identify. Critic Roger Ebert captures it nicely:

For those who have read Thoreau’s Walden, there comes a time, maybe only lasting a few hours or a day, when the notion of living alone in a tiny cabin beside a pond and planting some beans seems strangely seductive.

For the Jew, character Alexander Supertramp (nee real life person Chris McCandless) resolves the apparent conflict as he concludes “Happiness is real only when shared.” Our rabbinic teachers came to a similar conclusion, Al tifrosh min hatzibur – do not separate yourself from the community. Whether with simcha (joy) or tsuris (sadness/problems), the community provides us with the means to heighten the joy or handle the adversity.

The communal impulse that Alexander Supertramp discovered, Congregation Or Ami enshrines: Happiness is real only when shared. Our (new, yet still in process) vision statement begins: At Or Ami people matter… We recognize the need and purpose of community. Our core values capture this impulse for companionship. We list among them:

  • Joy/Simcha: We celebrate life through word and song because we believe that life is filled with blessing.
  • Caring Community/Henaynu (we are here): We endeavor to be there for people through their joyous moments and their sad times.

Enough. Into the Wild is a great movie. Go see it.