- Movie 1: KEEPING THE FAITH
- Clip 1: USHPIZIN (2004)
- Clip 2: THE BYSTANDER EFFECT
- Clip 3: FREEDOM 25
- Clip 4: NACHSHON AND CROSSING THE RED SEA
Movie: Keeping the Faith (2000) – A Film by Ed Norton
In this 2000 movie, directed by Ed Norton, a comedic romantic triangle is created, when childhood friends, Jake and Brian, both fall in love with the same girl, their childhood friend, Anna. But things are more complicated because Jake is Jewish and is a rabbi, while Brian is a Catholic priest.
Jake and Brian are both trying to innovate in their congregations, while Jake is also interested in becoming the senior rabbi, a position his congregation isn’t sure if he is ready for because he isn’t married. Their friendship is tested when they find themselves fighting over Anna and torn between love and their religious beliefs.
Find and watch the movie
Rent or buy the movie and watch the clip from:
31:17 minutes – 36:36 minutes
Explanation of Clip:
In this clip Jake is trying to encourage his congregants to approach their traditional prayers in new ways. He has finally decides to bring in a gospel choir to shake things up. Things appear to go well, but not all the synagogue members are happy with the innovation. The senior rabbi tries to explain to Jake that some people are very happy with the traditional ways and find comfort in them.
Watch the clip and start with the following questions:
- What are the central dilemmas or conflicts in the clip you saw?
- Do any of those dilemmas/conflicts resonate with you?
- Which characters do you find most interesting or do you have empathy with? Who is/are the hero/es?
Then move onto a discussion focused on one of the core themes:
Responsibility for Change and Tradition
The tension between tradition and change is a core question here. The movie deals with how the characters receive traditions that have been passed down for generations, and how they negotiate the balance between accepting those traditions, and finding great value in them, and changing them or finding new ways to find personal meaning. Peoplehood is activated when everyone takes responsibility to be part of something bigger. This is how you take part in the Jewish people.This clip from the movie raises several peoplehood-related themes, particularly relating to mutual responsibility. The mutual responsibility here is not to take care of other Jews, but is rather about the commitments we have to the past and to tradition.
Another, related, question is about sources of authority. As a rabbi Jake has a leadership role. He functions as an authority for his congregants, but when he starts to date the non-Jewish Anna, he realizes that he can’t be an authority any more. What balance do we look for in our lives between our own autonomy and the authority of rabbis or others?
- What demands does the Jewish past make of you? To what and who do you feel responsible? How do you respond to those demands? What responsibility do you feel to the People as a whole? If every individual, or even every community, chose for itself new rituals, what would be left to unite the Jewish People as a whole?
- What rituals, customs and behaviors (Jewish and non-Jewish) bring your family together? Have you ever tried to change them? What do you imagine would be the obstacles to making change, if any?
- What are your family memories of Shabbat or of ways in which your family came together over food and/or rest and recreation?
Many thanks to Galit Roichman for the insights and resources discussed here.
Ushpizin (2004) – A Film by Gidi Dar
A critically acclaimed Israeli film released in 2004, Ushpizin tells the story of an Orthodox Jewish couple, Moshe and Malli, in Jerusalem who are struggling financially. After praying for a miracle they receive money unexpectedly and are able to fully celebrate the week-long festival of Sukkot as they had hoped to. Moshe was not always Orthodox and has a complex past. When two ex-convicts who are connected to his past come and visit him, Malli and Moshe put their Jewish values of welcoming in visitors for Sukkot (called Ushpizin) to the test. A series of emotional trials and tribulations follow.
Watch the Clip
Cue: 30:42- 36:50
- There is a tradition of inviting in Ushpizin, translated from Aramaic as “guests” which is particular to the holiday of Sukkot. These are mystical guests, like the Jewish forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and others. It reflects the general Jewish value of hakhnassat orkhim, inviting in guests to your home. While this is an ideal to strive toward, not all of us are so generous. Was there ever a time that you had a guest in your home that you didn’t want there? How would you have handled the situation of someone showing up uninvited? Would you welcome them in? Do you think you would change your attitude because you new it was a Jewish obligation?
- Do you think welcoming guests is an important obligation to have even if we sometimes find it challenging to put it into effect? Why?
- Should the notion of welcoming guests be aimed primarily at welcoming other Jews into your home? Why do you think it would be important for Jews to help other Jewish people first? How does that square with a more universalist approach to help everybody?
For an extended activity on the topic check out Responsible for Whom?
The Bystander Effect
The clip reflects research on the psychological phenomenon that was termed the “Bystander Effect” by psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latané. It asks the questions, what happens when people find someone in need, how do they react? Do they get involved and intervene or do they become a part of the silent majority who doesn’t want to get involved? In the end, the study reveals that people are more likely to help those who “dress” like them, or taken more broadly, with whom they can identify.
Watch the Clip
- This report on the bystander effect suggests that there are two kinds of rules we all walk around with every day, “help someone in need” and “conform and do what everyone else is doing.” Think of a situation in your own life when “helping someone in need” won out, what was that experience like?
- Jewish tradition has it that “Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh b’zeh”, translated as “all Jews are responsible for one another.” Is that a meaningful concept for you? How does it play out in your life?
- The intention of “Kol Yisrael Arevim zeh b’zeh” is that other Jews are those who are “dressed” like us (e.g. those who are in our group, who we would help first.) Is that true in your own experience? Who are other people who are “dressed” like you (people in your neighborhood? Other people in your age group?)
For an extended activity on the topic check out All Jews are Responsible for One Another.
Freedom 25 – The Soviet Jewry Movement
Freedom 25 is an organization that commemorates the work that the American Jewish community undertook to free Soviet Jewry. The movement’s most memorable event was a march on the Washington DC mall in which over 250,000 American Jews attended. It was the signature moment in recent American Jewish history that reflects solidarity and unity of purpose to help Jews in distress half a world away.
Watch the Clip
For more clips on the experience of Jews in the Former Soviet Union watch these.
- Why do you think Jews were inspired to act to help save Jews from the Former Soviet Union whom they didn’t know?
- What do you know about the Soviet Jewry movement? Were you involved in the lobbying efforts, Bar/Bat Mitzvah twinning programs with refuseniks? Did you attend the March on Washington DC? Share your experiences.
For an extended activity on the topic check out Freedom 25.
Nachshon and Crossing the Red Sea
The G-dcast video, “The Story of Nachshon”, tells the story of Nachshon who had the courage to take the first step into the unknown. At the time of the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites arrived to the shores of the Red Sea, and with the Pharoah’s army behind them, found themselves in a bind. Nachshon, the Midrash relates, stepped up and had the courage to act, and led the Israelites into the sea, with the faith that the Sea would indeed part.
Watch the Clip
- When have you taken the initiative or the “first step” when you saw your community in distress? What was that experience like?
- Did you ever want to take initiative but felt something holding you back?
For an extended activity on the topic check out Nachshon and Crossing the Red Sea.