Sunday, November 27, 2005


In keeping with last night's theme, I spent tonight watching Ushpizin, a lovely little movie, full of chen. I'm not going to write about it because so many others have so well (was I the last person on the planet to see this movie?), but I do want to recommend that people watch this on DVD so that they can see the section about how the movie was made -- which is almost as interesting as the movie itself. There's a lot on there about the process of main actor Shuli Rand's chazarah bitshuvah and his considerations making this movie; the rare relationship and interaction between the religious and secular members of the crew, and the dialogue that the movie became for them; and the religious extras who were all the real thing, turning up on the set in their real clothes. In one of the most interesting clips, Michal Rand (Shuli's wife in real life and the main female character) is having a massive fight with one of the other haredi actors, over whether the way they wanted him to play a certain scene was a chillul hashem or not; in the background, the haredi extras start dancing in a circle and singing so that they're doing something better with their time than standing around watching the fight. Gold.
Incidentally, I also want to point out that while so many critics of the movie wrote about it "putting a human face on the haredi world," "showing haredim in their day to day lives," to me this was more specific than that -- part of its charm was the way it so accurately portrayed a very specific kind of Israeli ba'al teshuvah, who comes from a real arsi (how do you translate that?) background and who still shows signs of their previous life. Most obviously, lots of the vocabulary and expressions used by Shuli and his wife were clearly from their non-religious days, but it was also something about the wife's personality (not to mention the scene where she smoked the cigarette, or kicked the 'ushpizin') and the relative ease with which they related to their secular guests. The fact that the ushpizin turn up from Shuli Rand's previous life is not just a gimmick to get the plot moving; this movie is as much about humanizing the strange creature that is the Israeli ba'al teshuvah -- who, in a country which is dominated by a harsh religious-secular divide is often regarded as completely alien by his/her secular peers -- as it is about humanizing the wider "haredi community." In short, there's an Israeli context and nuance here that I wonder if some people, even some committed religious Jews in the diaspora are missing.

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