Jewish film/TV characters may be identified by “Jewish names” but rarely are depicted living Jewish lives. Yet Jewish writers and directors often include Jewish references in their work.
Take The Mandalorian (Disney+). Part of the Disney-owned Star Wars franchise, the series was created by executive producer/writer Jon Favreau, a fellow Queensite, who was bar mitzvah. The Mandalorian provides what seem more than coincidental references to Judaism.
“It is the way.” The Mandalorian—Mando to his friends—played by Pedro Pascal is a bounty hunter from the planet Mandalore. He and fellow Mandalorians affirm their unshakable code: “It is the way.” Jewish law is Halacha—the way—from l’holech: to walk or to go. Millennia old, halacha guides all aspects of Jewish religious life.
Mando’s helmet. A helmet conceals a Mandalorian’s face and may never be removed in public. Orthodox Jewish men always wear a skullcap—kippa (Hebrew) or yarmulka (Yiddish)—women a wig or hair covering.Jews often have been abused by having their head coverings yanked off. Preceding and during the Holocaust, Nazis also publicly shaved off Jewish men’s beards. When some Mandalorians remove their helmets, Mando refuses. They call him a zealot—the term for Jews who fought the Assyrian Greeks and later the Romans.
“Not a race, a creed.” Mando states that Mandalorians have no genetic component. They are united as followers of “the way.” He himself was a foundling. Jews have been called a race. Not so. Jews come in all “colors” from people like me of Ashkenazi (European) descent to those of North Africa and the Middle East, Africa, India, Southeast Asia and China. Conversion requires no genetic component.
“You people.” A character refers to Mandalorians as “you people.” Mandalorians are viewed as a breed apart. “You people” often has been addressed to Jews, an accusation of being outsiders, an excuse to prevent Jews’ participation in national life.
Bo-Katan Kryze. This Mandalorian woman aims to retake Mandalore from ex-Empire warlords. She, two other Mandalorians and Mando board a heavily armed cargo ship loaded with weapons for Empire forces. Four against many. The Hebrew Bible’s narrative repeatedly demonstrates that Israel, a small nation, can win victories over large empires. But more is at work. In Hebrew, bo means go (also, come) and katan small. Bo katan means go small—engage in asynchronous warfare in which small forces use stealth and mobility to overcome large, more ponderous foes.
Moff Gideon. The series’ major bad guy is Moff—a title of significant rank—Gideon, played by Giancarlo Esposito. Dressed in black like the original films’ Darth Vader, Moff Gideon is a former Empire commander menacing peace-loving planets. Why Gideon? In the book of Judges, Gideon, of the tribe of Manasseh, leads 300 men in defeating a large Midianite army (shades of Bo-Katan) to demonstrate God’s power. But this Israelite hero reveals a violent side. Slights lead him to kill the men of Succoth and Penuel in the tribal territory of Gad. Moff Gideon, like Darth Vader and the biblical Gideon, represents a good man ultimately falling prey to the dark side.
Can I tell you that Jon Favreau had exactly this in mind? No. But I suspect that his Jewish background induced him to see universal themes relating to Jewish ones. This definitely informs my fiction.
Enjoyed this post? Please pass it on.