2 movies: “Fill the Void” & “Hava Nagila”


I don’t usually see 2 movies in a weekend, but the opportunity came up to see  two  which will probably not be widely distributed.    Both had gotten  good critical reviews, and both are  directed by Jewish  women.  Aside from that, and being about  Jewish subjects, they have nothing in common.

To most of the world, we are all Jews: odd, funny, good with money, and hard to fathom why we haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior…yet we assimilate so readily into mainstream America and  inter marrying at an alarming rate.  We  do this because we see no advantage to remaining Jewish in terms if cultural practices. Yet, we  continue to be curious about ourselves as an ‘other’.

First, I want to address Fill the Void, by Rama Burshtein. Burshtein is an enigma herself, being raised secular, in Israel,and becoming a Haredi/ultra Orthodox Jew, along with her husband, who was also raised  secular.  Most Americans don’t understand the  great social divide between the secular and religious in Israel.  It is deep, as  large a chasm as the divide between  Jews and Moslems/Palestinians. The secular  resent the  ultra religious  for shirking military service and their spending time  in prayer rather than supporting their many children, and of course, the  religious  don’t regard the secular Jews as being  Jewish at all, even though they are economically  supported by the secular.

What I  find  difficult is  the notion that a secular woman would choose a life of—not so much subservience to men—but one of so many  physical and social constraints.  The viewer will get some of the gist of this in  Fill the Void.  The main plot of this very well scripted and edited film is that  of the choice a  young girl has to make when her sister dies in childbirth.  She is going to have an arranged marriage.   She is already prepared for this.  She wants to do the right thing and make everyone happy, but  she clearly has been put in a bad position.  Meanwhile, there are several subplots deftly handled by Burshtein.  I found the ending abrupt, but no matter.  It’s a very  entertaining and compelling movie.

You will  remain with questions, however.  If this family is of a rabbi’s, how  do they get their money?  What do all these religious men do?  Not to stereotype, but we in the Jewish community know that the religious men are either bankers or jewelers, for the most part.

Hava Nagila was directed and produced by Roberta Grossman.  This documentary  is about the song that  celebrates  joyfulness;  where it came from (the  Ukraine, apparently), and how it became so popular that even  famous singing  goyem (non Jews) made it  part of their  performing repertoire.  Oh yes:  Harry Belafonte, Glen Campbell, and Connie Francis are among the celebrities interviewed.  Director Grossman does a fantastic job of telling the story and editing the interviews, which include  ethnomusicologists.  She has fantastic footage  of these  formerly famous singers—and others, and the film is edited  extremely well.

I urge any interested in good stories, good films without violence, music, and culture to  rent these from Netflix.

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