Thursday, August 2, 2012

Jason goes to Jewfest North--Day 12, part 1

Day 12 was broken into a couple of parts, since I had a big break in the afternoon where I had already seen two movies, so here's the first half of the day.

We start with the short, PANTA RHEI. A 17 year old Israeli boy prepares for his military exam. Shot in a verite style, it's an interesting look at how a kid who really only cares about his girlfriend and getting high isn't at all ready for military service. But he's going, whether he's ready or not.

Then the feature, 400 MILES TO FREEDOM, is an account of director Avishai Mekonen's family's journey from Ethiopia to Israel, and an examination of Jews of color around the world. First the personal story--they walked 400 miles (hence the title) and Avishai miraculously survived a kidnapping in the Sudan in order to board an Operation Moses plane and arrive in Jerusalem. There...they were welcomed but still didn't quite fit in (the funniest moment is when Avishai's mom reminisces how she thought, 'Everyone here is white. If we stay long enough will I turn white, too?') There are issues of questioning Ethiopian Jews real "Jewishness." Even though they kept the traditions in isolation for 2,500 years, there are still those who pressure them to "convert." And when they push back on the word "convert" they try to come up with a different "lighter conversion" scheme (like an "affirmation.") Might I suggest the term, "Rejewing your vows?"

Anyway, Avishai uses his and his family's personal story as a jumping off point to interview rabbis from other non-white Jewish communities. Jews are actually common all over Africa. They are more common than you think in South America (many of them not actually knowing they're descended from Jews, but they were hidden during the Inquisition, pretended to be Catholic, and immigrated to the New World.) There are even Jews in Asia, and he interviews a Korean-American rabbi.

Now, here's a little secret--one that isn't in the movie--everyone is Jewish. Mathematical models in human genealogy confirm that we're way more interconnected than we think, and it doesn't take too much in the way of mobility between populations (just a few randy explorers here and there.) So any sufficiently prolific and sufficiently ancient ancestor (like Abraham and Sarah) would in just a few thousand years see their descendants encompass the entire population of the earth (as it turns out, we're all descended from Confucius, too.) In fact, the only possible way to not be Jewish is to be completely inbred--only siblings mating with siblings, every generation, with no exceptions, for about 4,000 years. So given that, whenever I meet anyone who insists there's no way he could have any Jewish blood in him...I believe him.

Okay, on to the next show. Again, we start with a short, THE PENCIL. A scene from a pre-1939 courtyard in Bialystok where Jews and Poles lived side-by-side in harmony. A Jewish boy is supposed to be studying, but he keeps catching glances of a Gentile girl. His mom scolds him, when he gets home his dad scolds him. And eventually they take his pencil away.

Then the feature was KADDISH FOR A FRIEND. A Lebanese family moves to Berlin. There, they discover an old Jewish war veteran--Alexander--is living above them. 14-year-old Ari and his Arab friends decide to break in and wreck the place. The rest get away, but Ari is caught (or at least Alexander catches his shoe.) This is bad, as a police record could end up getting his family deported. It's also bad because a wrecked apartment could put Alexander in a nursing home. Anyway, Ari's mother forces him to help Alexander clean up, a deal that at first neither is happy with. But this is a story of unlikely friendship, and although it takes quite some time, Ari and Alex do become friends, despite the surprise and disapproval of both communities. The enemies-become-unlikely-friends story has been told often enough to become kind of cliche, but this is done with great acting and realistically enough that it's still very enjoyable.

Total Running Time: 182 minutes
My Total Minutes: 295,206
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