Monday, February 23, 2009

In Memory of Moses

Almost lost in the 2009 Oscar Telecast was the mention of the passing of one of Hollywood's great icons, Charlton Heston. Maybe it was because of his politics or his affiliation with the NRA that he received scant applause. Be that as it may, Heston became the face of both science fiction and the Bible in the 1950's and 60's.
In his rendition of Moses in Cecil B DeMille's The Ten Commandments, Heston created a character from Jewish antiquity in a way that was proud, strong, and decisive. This in a time when modern Jews were either relegated to secondary characters on screen at best, or were totally removed altogether. The Communist scare was in full swing in the U.S. and in Hollywood, and the only Jews allowed to be portrayed were those from long ago. At the same time, Israel had only been in existence for eight years while the Holocaust still fresh in Jewish minds. Jews were moving en mass to the suburbs, and as a result of all of this we were at a crossroads in terms of our Jewish identities.
So to see our hero so boldly portrayed, if slightly over the top, helped us to feel a sense of pride in ourselves and our ancestry we had not felt for two thousand years. There have been other actors to play Moses on the big and little screen since, like Sir Ben Kingsley, Mel Brooks and others, but there will always be a special place at least in my heart for Heston's. Plus you can watch him on television every year right around Passover part those seas one more time. Farewell Moses, we'll miss you.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


I have often turned to movie critics to help me ascertain whether or not a movie is worth both the time and the money. This has becoming increasingly important to me not just because of the rise in cost of movie tickets, but also because of how much babysitters now charge. Sadly, an evening out is not as cheap as it used to be.
One of the critics I tend to lean upon is Roger Ebert of "thumbs up / thumbs down" fame. I like Ebert in part because he tends to review a movie by placing it in context of both what the movie is and how it relates to movies of similar goals. For example if a movie tries to be a romantic comedy, how does it compare with the likes of When Harry Met Sally? Or if it is a mindless comedy, is it funny like Animal House or Airplane or Clerks? I have found critics who review movies in this vein tend to give a more honest review than those who review them based on their own expectations or even their own egos rather than based on the merits of the movie.
But as much as I enjoy these reviews, what has always fascinated me are the responses to these reviews. Almost universally, if someone dislikes a review, they write responses filled with passion not against the review, but instead against the critic. To them the critic is an evil figure for not liking the movie as much as the individual did. Or the critic is incompetent because they liked a movie they should not have. People take it very personally when they are at odds with a movie critic.
The reason why I mention this is because one of the main roles we have as Jews is to serve as societal critics. We have acquired this tradition from our prophets and sages who compel us to pursue justice by righting the wrongs in society. A prophet is usually the last person people want to see because the prophet will generally tell people what they are doing wrong.
I think part of the reason for the long tragic history of Jewish suffering is due to this notion of Jews as critics. We are a living reminder of the world not as it is, but as to how it ought to be. This means our existence can make others feel both guilty and uncomfortable. However, rather than dealing with these emotions, they instead attack the messenger; much in the same way a critic is vilified.
So I encourage you, next time you hear someone say something you do not like, think to yourself: is it the person delivering the message, the message, or how the message makes you feel about yourself. For in the end, the critic’s message much like the teachings of Judaism can only be received by those truly willing to listen.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Jewish Ritual Life

Here are some of my previous posts about a variety of Jewish rituals and ritual life:

Shabbat Candles
Chevrei Kaddisha
Kever Avot
Tisha B'Av and Tu' B'Av
Counting the Omer
Jewish Names

More to come - Stay Tuned