Open Up our Eyes

Part of Judaism’s daily morning liturgy includes a blessing that thanks God for “opening the eyes of the blind.”  It’s recited by everyone regardless of whether you’re actually, technically, literally blind, or have 20/20 vision. It’s a reminder that we can walk through life with eyes wide open and still not really “see.”

Today I taught a class for 5th graders. It’s a class I teach on a monthly basis. The yearlong course has 1 simple goal: to deepen our understanding. To deepen our understanding of one another, of Jewish tradition, of life in general, and, perhaps most importantly, our self-understanding.

The idea that we don’t automatically arrive at a place of deep self-understanding  is fairly obvious for adults, but it can be a bit counterintuitive for kids.

We started class with a “get to know you” game to which one student responded, “But we already know each other.”

As we debriefed together at the end of class I asked the student if she still held to her claim that they already know each other. She and others started to realize that just because they’ve been in school together for six years, just because they know some things about one another, there’s much that they actually don’t know about one another. Just because our eyes are open doesn’t mean we actually “see.”

In that same debrief another student made the point that sometimes she feels that other people know her better than she knows herself. It was a really “insightful” comment and something I know resonates with most, if not all, of us. Just as having open eyes doesn’t equate with truly “seeing,” sometimes our own eyes aren’t the best vehicle for showing us what’s going on inside of ourselves. Together we can help one another see.

God came up during class today as well. One student expressed his belief that, according to the Torah, God sees everything. His comment reminded me of one of my favorite films, Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors (see the clip below, NB: it’s kind of a heavy moment in the film and not necessarily suitable for kids). Part of God’s godliness is that God isn’t limited to a single, finite, human perspective.

Insofar as I have a clearly formulated idea of God I think that the idea that God has infinite perspective  is a key for me. The beautiful flip side is that our human perspective is inherently single, finite, and (duh) human. For the most part we see with our eyes and our eyes alone. The eye is undeniably a miraculous organ, but it is definitely limited in terms of what it can take in. When we let others help us to see ourselves and our world more clearly we actually transcend our naturally limited human-ness. Bringing this line of thought to it’s conclusion, our collective seeing and sighting is a way that human beings can, together, draw nearer to God.

 

The Value of Interfaith Dialogue

A remarkable week ended on a remarkable note at The Davis Academy Middle School. We hosted 150 students from The Marist School for a day of interfaith dialogue and relationship building.

It has been a remarkable week. The Jewish community commemorated Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day). As Americans we watched in horror as the Boston Marathon bombing took place. As human beings we grieved for the loss of life in West, Texas. It has been a remarkable week.

Since coming to The Davis Academy I have dreamed of creating a context wherein our students could meaningfully explore matters of faith with peers of different faith backgrounds. Several years ago I was invited to be a guest lecturer at The Marist School, a local Catholic middle and high school. Eventually I found a counterpart at Marist, and we assembled a team of educators who were motivated to bring our 7th grade students together. Today we had the privilege of hosting these students and many of their outstanding faculty.

The goals of our interfaith dialogue program at this point are threefold: 1) to build relationships based on mutual respect between adolescents of different faith backgrounds, 2) to teach students how to engage in intentional dialogue on matters of faith, and 3) to partner in faith-based community service. Today we made great strides in actualizing goals 1 and 2.

Davis Academy 7th graders gathered in our gymnasium a few moments before the Marist students arrived. We had been preparing for their visit for several weeks. For example, we asked our students what kinds of questions they thought Marist students might have for their Davis counterparts. We also asked them what questions they had for their Marist counterparts. We also brainstormed different things we hoped to share with our guests and also reviewed what it means to be welcoming and gracious hosts. The energy in the room was palpable.

The centerpieces of today’s program were twofold: 1) we broke into small groups, facilitated by faculty members, to do, “I’ve always wondered.” Students  from both schools had the chance to ask and answer one another’s questions in a safe and respectful environment. When we reflected with our Davis students later in the day they identified this is a highlight. Topics ranged from: kashrut to Santa Claus, Lent to belief in God, Jewish ritual clothing to the Gospels and much more. Without fail, faculty members who facilitated the groups reported great conversations, active listening, and mutual respect. One teacher characterized the meeting in Buberian terms: I-Thou.

The second centerpiece was Kabbalat Shabbat. Since the program was held at The Davis Academy on a Friday morning we felt that we should share a central part of our community’s identity: Kabbalat Shabbat. Almost 1/2 of the grade volunteered to help lead Kabbalat Shabbat. Marist students were given the option of wearing kippot and most chose to do so, and also took them home as a memento of their visit. Davis students shared what Shabbat means to them, we took out our Torah scroll, and recited the Shabbat blessings.  At the end, Marist’s priest and I joined together in offering the Priestly Benediction to a group of Marist and Davis students who were celebrating their birthdays. We all shared challah and grape juice and made promises to reunite in the Fall.

Today the city of Watertown is under siege. Today is also the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing as well as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. For The Davis Academy and the Marist School, today is the beginning of a friendship that we hope will change the world one teenager at a time.

Revenge of the Sith= An Allegory for Sukkot

After noting the many High Holy Day themes running through Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi curiosity led me to review Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, to see whether the Jedi thing was a fluke or not. In reviewing my viewing notes a fascinating pattern emerged. I’ll leave it to you to determine whether it’s fate or coincidence, but I’m fairly certain that Revenge of the Sith is secretly all about the festival of Sukkot. In addition to approximately 150 quotes from the film to support my claim, I leave you with this data point: Revenge of the Sith is Episode III in the Star Wars saga. Sukkot is the 3rd holiday in the month of Tishrei. Pretty compelling evidence, eh?

 

If you’re still not convinced feel free to scroll through the litany of quotes that follows. In the meantime, Chag Sameach and happy Sukkah building!!!

 

Our Awesome Davis Academy Middle School 2012/5773 Sukkah: Just Built, Not Yet Decorated!!

 

Sukkot is known as “zman simchteinu” or the “Season of rejoicing”…

“This is where the fun begins.” – Anakin

Upon seeing a typical Sukkah one might comment…

“Nothing too fancy.” – Obi-Wan

In the event that Sukkah building goes awry…

“Standby. Reverse thrusters.” – Anakin

In the unfortunate event of a hammer (or God forbid power tool) mishap while Sukkah building…

“I’m hit.” – Obi-Wan

When duct tape won’t make your Sukkah viable…

“We’re running out of tricks here.” – Obi-Wan

Nail guns and Sukkahs—they shouldn’t mix…

“Hold you’re fire you’re not helping here.” – Obi-Wan

When the guy who can’t change a light bulb decides to build a temporary dwelling place…

“I agree, bad idea.” – Anakin

Overheard, stubborn husband to reasonable wife, when wife suggests consulting instructions that came with Sukkah kit…

“Get out of here, there’s nothing more you can do.” – Obi-Wan

Upon building an inadequate Sukkah…

“I’m sorry master.” – Anakin

“Oh I have a bad feeling about this.” – Obi-Wan

Upon considering an invitation to attend a Sukkah building party…

“I sense a trap. Next move? Spring the trap!” – Anakin and Obi-Wan

Upon helping a friend build his/her Sukkah…

“Wait for orders.” – Obi-Wan

Upon abandoning a Sukkah building project prematurely…

“Did you press the stop button?” – Obi-Wan

Upon seeing a Sukkah with multiple doors…

“There’s more than one way out of here.” Anakin

Upon spending a little too much time in the Sukkah…

“I don’t want to get out, I want to get moving.” – Obi-Wan

Upon  analyzing a Sukkah that isn’t structurally sound…

“Always on the move.” – Obi-Wan

Upon visiting a Sukkah that, for some inexplicable reason, has a mirror and then looking in said mirror only to be surprised to see oneself…

“Oh it’s you!” – Obi-Wan

Upon explaining Sukkot to an alien from Mars (spoken from the perspective of the alien)…

“What was that all about?” – Anakin

Upon incorporating notes from last year’s near perfect, albeit somewhat lonely, Sukkah building experience…

“This time we will do it together.” – Obi-Wan

Upon receiving the feedback, “Maybe we should’ve ordered the Sukkah kit rather than building our own…”

“I was about to say that.” – Anakin

Commonly heard excuses for avoding Sukkah building…

“I don’t want to make a mess of things… “ Count Dooku

Upon building one’s first Sukkah…

“I’ve been looking forward to this.” – Count Dooku

Upon completing P90X with the goal of becoming a more vigorous Sukkah builder…  

“My powers have doubled since the last time we met.” – Anakin

Advice to one who might think they’ve got the best Sukkah in the ‘chood….

“Twice the pride, double the fall. “ – Count Dooku

Upon encountering novice Sukkah builders…

“I sense great fear in you.” – Count Dooku

Upon doing whatever it takes to get this Sukkah finished…

“You have hate, you have anger but you don’t use them.” – Count Dooku

The wise Jew questions the wisdom of building a Sukkah the day after Yom Kippur…

“I shouldn’t.” – Anakin

The ultimate rationale for all mitzvot…

“Do it!” – Chancellor Palpatine

Self talk, upon completion only….

“You did well.” –  Chancellor Palpatine

Upon cheating in one’s completion of the Sukkah…

“I shouldn’t have done that, it’s not the Jedi way.” – Anakin

Upon rededicating oneself to Sukkah building after a particularly traumatic Sukkot the year prior…

“It is only natural. He cut off your arm, you wanted revenge. “ – Chancellor Palpatine

Freud’s Sukkah…

“Remember what you told me about your mother?” – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon recognizing that Tishrei has too many holidays…

“There’s no time.” – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon ascribing a gender to your Sukkah and then assessing it’s value…

“He seems to be alright.” – Anakin

Upon casting one’s lot with one’s Sukkah…

“His fate will be the same as ours.” – Anakin

Upon completely missing the point of Sukkot…

“The elevator’s not working.” – Anakin

Upon Sukkah building getting really out of hand…

“Fire the emergency booster engines.” – General Grievous

“Easy. We’re in a bit of a situation here.” – Anakin

Upon building a Sukkah with no roof…

“Did I miss something?” – Obi-Wan

Upon building a Sukkah only in time for Thanksgiving…

“Too late! Jump.” – Obi-Wan

Upon setting out to build a Sukkah and ending up with a tent…

“Wait a minute. How did this happen? We’re smarter than this!” – Obi-Wan

Life lesson, not Sukkot specific but definitely apropos…

“I say: patience.” – Anakin

Upon using improvisational support material to insure the structural integrity of one’s Sukkah…

“See: no problem.” – Anakin

Upon watching one’s Sukkah slowly lean to the left threatening imminent collapse…

 “Do you have a plan B?” – Obi-Wan

Upon inviting a mediator to supervise the Sukkah building…

“Ah yes, the negotiator!” – General Grievous

Upon inviting an Ancient Israelite to ensure that your Sukkah conforms with the Sukkot of Ancient Israelites…

“I was expecting someone with your reputation to be a little older!” – General Grievous

Upon inviting Henry Houdini or David Blaine to your Sukkah and then sealing all exits…

“This time you won’t escape.” – Obi-Wan

Upon contracting overly ambitious Sukkah building assistants…

“Stay at your stations. “ – General Grievous

Upon building a Sukkah while on a Carribean cruise…

“Time to abandon ship!” – General Grievous

Upon building a Sukkah with a cockpit…

“Under the circumstances I’d say the ability to pilot this thing is irrelevant.” – Anakin

Upon building a virtual Sukkah…

“We lost something.” – Anakin

Upon building a Sukkah with only one wall and no roof…

“Not to worry. We are still flying half a ship.” – Obi-Wan

Upon building a Sukkah that gradually rolls downhill…

“Keep us level. “- Anakin

Upon building a Sukkah in unseasonably warm weather…

“We’re coming in too hot.” – Anakin

Upon landing a helicopter on top of an unusually sturdy Sukkah…

“Another happy landing.” – Obi-Wan

Upon deciding to publish a calendar called, “Dudes in Sukkahs…”

“Someone needs to be the poster boy.” -Obi-Wan

Upon transforming one’s Sukkah building tribulations into a tall tale…

“It couldn’t possibly be as bad as all that.” – C-3PO

Upon skipping a year of Sukkot…

“It feels like we’ve been apart for a lifetime. “ – Anakin

Upon hiring professionals to build one’s Sukkah and then taking the credit…

“I’m tired of all this deception.” – Anakin

Upon dismissing Sukkot as “Not as important as the rest of the Holy Days…”

“Don’t say things like that.” – Padme

Upon approaching Sukkah building with appropriate humility and deference…

“Are you alright? You’re trembling! What’s going on?” – Anakin

Upon completing one’s Sukkah in the face of profound and legitimate skepticism…

“Something wonderful has happened.” – Padme

Upon wondering what one’s Sukkah will look like on Simchat Torah…

“We’re not gonna worry about anything right now. This is a happy moment. The happiest moment of my life.” – Anakin

Upon vowing to complete one’s Sukkah…

“It will be done, my lord.” – General Grievous

Upon thinking one’s Sukkah is the most beautiful Sukkah ever built…

“So love has blinded you?” – Padme

Upon scaling back one’s grandiose vision for the Sukkah…

“That’s not exactly what I meant.” – Anakin

Upon attributing emotions to one’s Sukkah and then “checking in” with it out of concern for its well being…

“What’s bothering you?” – Padme

Upon acknowledging that you’re not a general contractor…

“How long is it going take for us to be honest with each other?” – Padme

Upon waking up to find that one’s Sukkah still hasn’t been built…

“It was only a dream.” – Anakin

Upon rejecting the assistance of a capable yet opinionated builder…

“We don’t need his help.” – Anakin

Upon having vague notions about what this year’s Sukkot may entail…

“Premonitions. Premonitions.” – Yoda

Upon referring to someone who probably shouldn’t be messing around with power tools…

“Yourself, you speak of, or someone you know.” – Yoda

Upon getting ahead of oneself in terms of Sukkah integrity…

“Careful you must be when sensing the future.” – Yoda

A meditation for taking down one’s Sukkah…

“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not, miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is.“ – Yoda

“Train youself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” – Yoda

Upon completing one’s Sukkah only in time for the first night of Chanukkah…

“I’m sorry, I was held up. I have no excuse.” –  Anakin

Upon reflecting on the building of a Sukkah in North America…

“All of this is unusual and it’s making me feel uneasy.” – Obi-Wan

Upon recruiting an able bodied child to help with Sukkah building…

“I need your help, son.” – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon being overly praised for one’s Sukkah building ability…

“Me? A master? I’m overwhelmed sir.” – Anakin

Upon assisting the average shul-yid in his/her Sukkah building…

“They need you more than you know.” – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon granting a friend provisional status as a Sukkah building colleague…

“You’re on this council but we do not grant you the rank of master.” – Mace Windu

Upon building a disgraceful Sukkah…

“Forgive me, master.” – Anakin

Upon receiving an invitation to a Sukkot party…

“Go, I will.” – Yoda

Upon receiving a Sukkah kit with building instructions in ancient Aramaic…

“What kind of nonsense is this?” – Anakin

Upon requesting that an evaluation one’s Sukkah building track record not be placed in one’s personnel file…

“This assignment is not to be on record.” – Obi-Wan

Upon viewing a Sukkah that seems inexplicably amiss…

“Something is out of place.” – Obi-Wan

Upon asking a klutz to oversee one’s Sukkah building…

“Why are you asking this of me?” – Anakin

Upon turning to a Jewish male who hasn’t yet reached the age of Bar Mitzvah to build one’s Sukkah for you…

“I don’t think the boy can handle it.” – Mace Windu

Upon leaving one’s Sukkah standing year round…

“He will not let me down. He never has.” – Obi-Wan

Sukkot/ relationship advice…

“Don’t shut me out. Let me help you.” – Padme

Upon agreeing to build a Sukkah when one can’t even walk and chew gum at the same time…

“They asked you to do something that makes you feel dishonest didn’t they?” – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon seeing a Sukkah that leaves one speechless (regardless of the reason)…

“I don’t know what to say.” – Anakin

Upon contemplating doing electrical work in one’s Sukkah…

“Remember back to your early teachings: all who gain power are afraid to lose it.” – Chancellor Palpatine

“Power! Unlimited power!” – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon giving critical feedback when viewing a neighbor’s Sukkah…

“Good is a point of view.” – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon wondering if one is up for the task of Sukkah building…

“Is it possible to learn this power?” – Anakin

Upon seeing a Sukkah in need of repair…

“Act on this we must.” – Yoda

Upon deciding to salvage a Sukkah from imminent destruction…

“Quickly and decisively we should proceed. “ – Yoda

“Ki va moed” in Yoda speak…

“Now the time is.” – Yoda

“Ki va moed” in Palpatine speak…

“The time has come.” – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon making the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of one’s Sukkahs structural integrity…

“Hold me.” – Padme

Sukkot and emotional intelligence…

“Search your feelings.” – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon entering a suspicious Sukkah…

“I know they don’t trust you.” – Anakin

Sukkot and moral relativism…

“The Sith and the Jedi are the same in almost every way. “ -Chancellor Palpatine

Upon commencing a Sukkah building process without a guarantee of success…

“It may turn out just to be a wild man’s chase.” – Obi-Wan

Upon failing to build a Sukkah that’s as good as one’s mentor’s Sukkah…

“Master, I’ve disappointed you. I haven’t been very appreciative of your training. I’ve been arrogant and I apologize.” – Anakin

Upon taking down one’s Sukkah (likely in November)….

“Goodbye old friend.” – Obi-Wan

Upon keeping one’s Sukkah standing well into winter…

“When have I ever let you down?” – Commander Cody

Upon entering a multi-floor, multi-room Sukkah complex…

“I feel lost.” – Anakin

Upon discovering an unanticipated solution to one’s seemingly insurmountable existential Sukkah building difficulty…

“I’ve found a way to save you.” – Anakin

Upon entering a Sukkah in Arkansas…

“What brings you to our remote sanctuary?” – Tion Medon

Upon making small talk with a Sukkah…

“Hello there!” – Obi-Wan

Upon playing chess while in the Sukkah…

“Your move.” – Obi-Wan

Upon assuming that one needn’t build one’s own Sukkah…

“To a dark place this line of thought will carry us. Great care we must take.” – Yoda

Upon wondering how long it will take to build one’s Sukkah…

“I wish I knew.” – Anakin

Upon questioning why we have so many holidays in such a short period of time…

“If one is to understand the great mystery, one must study all of its aspects.” – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon encountering one’s limits in Sukkah building…

“I will quickly discover the truth of all this.” – Anakin

Wise council to the person of unwavering certitude (aka advice to a chutzpadik Sukkah builder)…

“For your own good stay out of this affair.” – Mace Windu

When Sukkot and the Holy Days come early…

“I must say you’re here sooner than expected.” – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon seeing a Sukkah full of ushpizin…

“You’re fulfilling your destiny.” – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon inviting a good friend to build a Sukkah with you…

“If we work together I know we can discover the secret.” – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon attributing a Torah like status to the Sukkah building instruction manua…

“I pledge myself to your teachings.” – Anakin

Upon resorting to spoken word commands in building one’s Sukkah…

“Rise.” – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon building a Sukkah without delving into the existential truths of the matter…

“Do what must be done… Do not hesitate. Show no mercy. “ – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon pledging to do better next Sukkot…

“Wait for me until I return. Things will be different I promise. Please, wait for me. “ – Anakin

Upon putting one’s Sukkah in the garage until next year…

“Take care my little friend.” C-3PO

Upon encountering an unexpected technical difficulty in Sukkah construction…

“I feel so… helpless.” – C-3PO

Upon sending a Sukkot evite…

“Heard from no one, have we.” – Yoda

Upon expecting a call from one’s rabbi to see if one has successfully built one’s Sukkah…

“Have we had any contact from the temple?” – Obi-Wan

Upon entering Sukkot without doing one’s homework…

“A little more knowledge might light our way.” – Yoda

Upon encountering a beautifully built Sukkah in the middle of nowhere…

“Who could’ve done this?” Obi-Wan

Upon publically committing to building a Sukkah…

“I assure you, my resolve has never been stronger.” – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon asking for candid feedback regarding one’s Sukkah…

“I must know the truth, master.” – Obi-Wan

Upon witnessing a particularly unfortunate Sukkah build…

“I can’t watch any more.” – Obi-Wan

Upon being asked to view an invisible Sukkah…

“I don’t know where to look.” – Obi-Wan

Upon sitting in a structurally unsound Sukkah that one has built oneself as a point of pride…

“He is in grave danger… from himself.” – Obi-Wan

Upon misplacing one’s Sukkah either before, during, or after Sukkot…

“I must find him.” – Obi-Wan

Upon doing teshuvah in a Sukkah…

“I’m so sorry.” – Obi-Wan

Upon building a one-man Sukkah…

“This is personal.” – Padme

Upon building a really great Sukkah…

“You have restored peace and justice to the galaxy. “ – Chancellor Palpatine

Upon the role of affection in ensuring structural integrity…

“Love won’t save you.” – Anakin

Upon building a UV resistant Sukkah for a fair-skinned loved one…

“I’m doing it for you. To protect you.” – Anakin

Upon encountering one’s Sukkah as if a stranger…

“I don’t know you anymore.” -Padme

Upon arriving at an irresolvable disagreement with one’s Sukkah building partner…

“You’re going down a path I can’t follow.” – Padme

Upon building one’s own Sukkah…

“You have done that yourself.” – Obi-Wan

On guilting friends into helping with Sukkah building…

“If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy.” – Obi-Wan

On selecting a Sukkah from the many Sukkot one could’ve chosen…

“You were the chosen one.” -Obi-Wan

Upon bonding with one’s Sukkah…

“You were my brother… I loved you.” – Obi-Wan

Upon encountering a structurally sound, but soulless Sukkah…

“Medically she is completely healthy, for reasons we can’t explain we are losing her.”  -GH-7 Medical Droid

 

What did one Sukkah sasy to the other Sukkah?

“Until the time is right, disappear we will.” – Yoda

 

Believe me now???? Chag Sameach!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Force of the High Holy Days

 

The High Holy Days are a time for introspection, reflection, preparation, repentance, and hopefully: transformation.

Many fans and critics have commented on the theological and spiritual content of the Star Wars trilogy and my recent viewing of Return of Jedi left me convinced that Jedi is an allegory for the High Holy Days.

Make no mistake, I understand that the Emperor of Star Wars is not the God of Israel. At the same time, taking these Jedi quotes (slightly) out of context was a lot of fun and surprisingly interesting.

Rather than offering a traditional Rosh Hashanah message, I share these reflections with you:

 

During The High Holy Days we  cling to God…

“I’m locked on to the strongest power source.” Lando

“Father, I won’t leave you.” Luke Skywaker 

“Greetings exalted one, allow me to introduce myself.” Luke Skywalker

 

During The High Holy Days we try to see ourselves and our world more clearly…

“You’ll pay the price for your lack of vision.” Emperor

 

We embrace our humanity…

“It is against my programming to impersonate a deity.” C3PO

 

We drop the pretenses…

“Help me take this mask off.” Vader

 

We imagine how we might appear in God’s eyes…

“He is most displeased with your apparent lack of efforts.” Vader

 

We dedicate ourselves to living more perfect lives…

“That’s the last mistake you’ll ever make.” Luke Skywalker

 

We meditate on the passage of time… 

“Twilight is upon me, and soon light must fall.” Yoda

 

We draw on our vast spiritual resources…

“No more training you require, already know you, that which you need.” Yoda

 

We try to purify our hearts, souls, and minds…

“Beware anger, fear, agression, the dark side are they.” Yoda

 

We embrace our limited perspective…

“Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” Obiwan

 

We stir the sleeper from his slumber…

“Hey, you awake?” Leia

 

We acknowledge life’s detours…

“I got a little sidetracked. It’s not my fault.” Solo

 

We contemplate the theology of reward and punishment…

 “You serve your master well and you will be rewarded.” Luke Sykwaker

 

We explore our untapped potential…

“Let’s see what this piece of junk can do.” Solo

 

We wonder how it can almost be Rosh Hashanah again…

“Here we go again.” C3po

 

We seek to understand what God requires of us…

“What is thy bidding my master?” Vader

 

We try to get unstuck…

“Well, looks like I’m stuck here. Trouble is I don’t know where here is.” Leia

 

We contemplate the absurdity of the universe…

“Look it’s a hat, it’s not going to hurt you.” Leia

 

We listen to the yearning of our hearts…

“I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear?” Emperor

 

We phone in favors…

“Why don’t you use your divine influence and get us out of this?” Solo

 

We contemplate our place in the universe…

“It appears you are to be the main course at a banquet in my honor.” C3PO

 

We unlock our potential…

“I never knew I had it in me.” C3PO

 

We celebrate our connection to the Jewish People…

“Wonderful, we are now a part of the tribe.” C3PO

 

We reach out to loved ones…

“I can save him. I can turn him back to the good side. I have to try.” Luke

 

We remember and ask God to remember…

“It is the name of your true self. You’ve only forgotten.” Luke

 

We fight our spiritual battles…

“I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate.” Luke

 

We count the days until Rosh Hashanah…

“Proceed with the countdown.”

 

We strip away the veneer… 

“Your overconfidence is your weakness.” Luke

 

We let ourselves be vulnerable…

“You are unwise to lower your defenses.” Vader

 

We reveal our truest selves…

“You cannot hide forever.” Vader

 

 

Shanah Tovah! May the Force be with us all in 5774!!

 

 

Kaddish for a Friend

Recently I accompanied a group of 7th and 8th graders from The Davis Academy to see the film Kaddish for a Friend at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. I want to share a bit about the experience because I think it’s worth emulating. First, here’s an official description of the film:

                 Russian Jewish WWII veteran and Palestinian teen form an unlikely friendship in the tragicomic KADDISH FOR A FRIEND, a stirring debut by Moscow-born German filmmaker Leo Khasin. Growing up in a Lebanese refugee camp, 14-year-old Ali (Neil Belakhdar) has learned to hate Jews before escaping with his family and relocating to public housing in Berlin’s Kreuzberg quarter. He tries to gain acceptance among his Arab peers by targeting an elderly Russian Jew, Alexander (Ryszard Ronczewski), vandalizing the old man’s apartment and defacing the walls with anti-Semitic graffiti. Threatened with deportation, the teen is forced to apologize, sparking a feisty relationship with Alexander, which evolves from mutual distrust to codependence. Based on actual events and embodying the spirit of building bridges of understanding, KADDISH FOR A FRIEND unfolds with gritty realism and a light touch.

Takeways:

1) Support your local Jewish film festival. We are blessed to live in a city with a world-class Jewish film festival. If the same is true for you, then I strongly suggest finding a way to expose your students not only to Jewish cinema, but to the Jewish Film Festival itself. First, cinema is an incredibly powerful artistic medium. Everyone loves a good movie, and many enjoy the experience of sitting in a darkened theater and watching a film on the big screen. Going to the film festival (rather than simply screening a film on campus) has a few additional benefits: a) you get to watch a film with other patrons of the film festival. It’s important for kids to know that lots of different types of people (not just Jews) appreciate films with engaging Jewish content; b) you get to impress upon the kids that Judaism isn’t only something that happens at school or shul but through all sorts of different types of cultural events and institutions– many of our kids had never heard of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and many were asking where they could learn more about it; c) it says a lot about your school if you’re willing to invest the time and energy to bring a group of students to your local Jewish film festival. The other patrons in the theater were very happy to have a group of middle school students watching a film with them and were very curious to know more about our school, curriculum, and students. I know our students were suprised that they were greeted with such interest and enthusiasm.

     If you do go to the film festival, here are a couple of pointers:

      1. Buy tickets early, they tend to sell out.

      2. request an advance copy of the film prior so you can pre-screen it. Many foreign films don’t have ratings and there’s often mature content. Best not to get surprised!

      3.   Ask if you can arrange a panel discussion in the theater at the conclusion of the film. This gives students a chance to debrief the film while it’s fresh in their minds and also allows you to engage community leaders. We had a panel of community rabbis and it was absolutely awesome.

2) Show more movies. I’ll admit it, I’m partial to cinema as an artistic medium. I think it’s incredibly powerful to see the human face blown up on a screen. In a short amount of time a good film can change a viewer’s outlook and even their life. Films are particularly good at creating empathy and conveying different points of view. I’m fairly certain that ten years from now there will be students who remember seeing Kaddish for a Friend because of the impression it made. I’d never say that film is more powerful than literature or even visual art, but I do feel that it has the unique advantage of being a genre that is very accessible to different kinds of learners. Whereas it might take days or weeks to read a compelling novel, a film can tell an equally complex and memorable story in 90 minutes give or take.

If anyone wants additional info about Jewish cinema (beyond The Frisco Kid) or has experience sharing film with their students I’d love to hear from you!