TORN BETWEEN WORLDS

The Hebrew word shalom means “hello,” “goodbye” and “peace.” It comes from shalem, which means wholeness. When we feel whole, we experience shalom—peace. When we don’t, our inner conflicts can have grave consequences for ourselves and those around us. This theme ran through the four movies Carolyn and I recently saw at the Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco.

A Tale of Love and Darkness by the Israeli-born American actress Natalie Portman is based on the autobiographical novel by Amos Oz (nee Klausner; Oz means strength in Hebrew). Oz’s parents came separately to Israel from Eastern Europe in the 1930s and met in Jerusalem. His mother, well educated and from a once-wealthy family, could not cope with the challenging life in Israel before and after independence. She became increasingly depressed and committed suicide. Interestingly, Jerusalem is equated with the biblical city of Shalem along with the Canaanite priest Melchizedek—about whom I write in God’s Others—mentioned in Genesis 14:18. In 1967, Jerusalem was reunited by the Israeli military. Yet it remains culturally divided between West (Jews) and East (Arabs).

Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You focuses on the hit TV shows Lear created from the the late 1960s through the ‘80s. The controversial but highly rated “All in the Family” featured Carroll O’Connor as the right-wing, irascible Archie Bunker and Jean Stapleton as his beleaguered but loving wife Edith. Hunkered down in his Queens home, Archie resists the whirlwind of social and cultural changes in America. He feels lost in a time warp, hence the title music “Those Were the Days” with its brilliant line, “Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.” Which we could not. Yes, Archie is a racist and a misogynist. Still, there’s something lovable about him because he cannot conceal his basic humanity.

The Writer is an Israeli TV series created by Sayed Kashua. Its protagonist Kateb (Yousef Sweid) mirrors Sayed as the creator of the actual Israeli hit show Arab Labor. Kateb reveals Sayed’s feeling of dislocation—an Israeli Arab sympathetic to the Palestinians but a thoroughly modern resident of Jewish West Jerusalem. Ultimately, Kateb takes a teaching position in the United States. Kashua has been at the University of Illinois for two years and is applying for his green card.

For the Love of Spock tracks the development of the character Dr. Spock in the famed “Star Trek” TV series and movies. It also profiles Leonard Nimoy, the actor who brought Spock to life. Spock—whose famed hand salute is the sign of the priestly blessing given by descendants of the kohanim (priests) during Yom Kippur and observed by the young Nimoy in his Boston synagogue—is half-Vulcan, half-human. Spock’s cold logic typifies his Vulcan self, but echoing Archie Bunker, he periodically reveals his human emotions. Nimoy himself suffered a dichotomy. Most Trekkies saw him only as Spock and didn’t know about his other acting work or concede that Nimoy was a person in his own right.

The Jewish Film Festival runs through this weekend in San Rafael and Berkeley. It’s worth attending. It’s also worth looking at any of the films through the lens of human beings torn between worlds. To a great extent, this represents the human condition—as does the search for shalem.

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