Movie Review: Blinded by the Light

“Hey! What’s with these softball topics?” you might be asking.

It’s the holidays, Israel doesn’t have a government, everything in the world is happening so fast my head is spinning, and, to be honest, not a single panicky headline has affected my day-to-day life. What’s a girl to do but go to the movies?

Short review

It’s a sweet coming-of-age movie: a Pakistani teen in Luton (UK) is inspired by the music of Bruce Springsteen to chase his dreams. It’s a universal story, but if you grew up in the 1980s, well, it’ll be a trip down memory lane (cassettes, LPs, music, and “fashion”).

Two Thumbs Up!

 

Long review

I wasn’t sure I wanted to see this movie, but it was the backstory for the making of the movie that drew me in. The movie is based on a memoir written by Sarfraz Manzoor called Greetings from Bury Park. Long story short: Bruce read the book, liked it, gave the green light to make the movie, and let them use his music for free.

In one interview, Sarfraz says that the movie works because of what the audience brings to their understanding of it. And that was exactly my experience with this film. My dad gave me the cassette of Born in the USA. I didn’t grow up in an industrial town, and I went to an extremely white high school where most people’s parents were doctors, lawyers, well-off somebody or others who had probably never heard the words “laid off” or “factory closing” in their lives. But Bruce’s lyrics were powerful and told familiar stories.

“My Hometown” always struck a chord with me.

A dad drives with his child through town saying “this is your hometown.” “Your hometown” isn’t a place, it’s a feeling of nostalgia, connection, who you are in the depth of your soul.

This was probably also the time I developed my warped sense of humor .

Seeing the movie in an Israeli theater was an interesting experience. In the movie, the main character’s father tells him to “follow the Jews! They are a successful people!” Laughs throughout the audience, of course. And when the main character confesses to liking the music of Bruce Springsteen, his father asks if Springsteen is a Jew. More laughs from the audience. I’m pretty sure most other audiences wouldn’t have picked up on those lines in quite the same way – it was an “only in Israel” moment.

Having gone to high school in the 1980s, seeing the clothes, set, music, and everything else, was fun. Here too, though, I brought my own experience to the film. I wasn’t a visible minority (immigrant Jew isn’t tattooed on my forehead), but watching a sixteen-year-old Pakistani with his turban-wearing Sikh friend in a mostly white high school in Thatcher’s UK with neo-Nazis marching through the neighborhood reminded me that I felt different from my peers in those days. My friends didn’t care, but I found out later I was shunned by the popular kids because of it. Luckily for me, I couldn’t have cared less because like the main character, I planned to get out as soon as possible.

The main character’s struggle against his father and all he represents is the main story. In one scene, we see that in this traditional household, all money earned is given to the father to help pay the bills. Later the father is laid off and everyone has to work harder. How will our main character spread his wings and fly if he is chained to the nest where every life choice is determined by his father? The details might be different, but it is a universal story of a younger generation in conflict with the traditions of an older generation.

You also have the question of where “home” is. For an older immigrant who remembers the old country, home might be there. But for a younger immigrant who knows no other place, home is here, but echoes of a home come from there. It’s doubly confusing if your neighbors tell you to “go home” when you thought you already were home.

This movie adds to the conversation about today’s political climate. Unfortunately, it reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun and history does repeat itself. And yet, if a Pakistani kid in Luton can be inspired by the songs of a white guy from New Jersey maybe, just maybe, we can also be reminded that in these kinds of universal stories we can find our humanity, learn from history, and make our little corners of the world better.

For me personally, I got a chance to remember my dad who introduced me to The Boss, remember with fondness my high school years, and happily know that my “Glory Days” were still ahead of me.

 

2 Stories for Yom Kippur: Unexpected Bus Magic

I don’t know how it is where you are, but in Israel most buses have several places where seats face each other. I’m not sure if there is a special name for them. Quad-seats? There are usually two quad-seats in the front reserved for the elderly, and in the newer bus designs, there are several more in the back.

This past week I saw two episodes of Unexpected Magic. (To be honest, I wanted to write something optimistic. I mean, sheesh, are we going to have a government in Israel or a third election in a year? But I digress.)

On the Eve of Rosh Hashana

The #15 bus is crammed with people and their suitcases. Everyone needs to catch the last bus to wherever they’re going for the long holiday. After squeezing my way through the crowds, I find some breathing room at the back and a good place to stand. A few stops later, a seat opens up, and I’m all set.

At the next stop, a kid – 17-18 years old – gets on, and he looks rough. Not dirty exactly, but massively torn jeans, pierced nose, hair shaved on the sides of his head in a kind of messy, flat, dishwater blonde mohawk. He asks the older lady if he could sit by the window, but she points to her giant suitcase taking up two seats facing each other, plus her and another guy in the quad-seat. What could she do? He mumbles, “Why did you even put it there?” I can hear he has a slight Russian accent (maybe Ukrainian). I hope this isn’t the start of something unpleasant.

I see this kid take the suitcase – one-handed – from its perch on two seats, everyone shuffles around and the suitcase is now in the aisle. He takes his seat, pulls out the handle of the suitcase, and sticks his arm through it so it won’t roll away. Then he pulls out a pair of Chinese Medicine Balls and starts a calming clockwise rotation.

chinese medicine balls

I know what they are because I have a set too

The lady asks what they are and he answers that they are a tool to help him stop smoking.

“Oh, but you’re so young! It’s good that you’re stopping now.”

“Yeah, I have this great doctor and he recommended them. They help a lot.”

And the conversation continues from there for a good ten minutes until the end of the ride. He was quite respectful and she was genuinely curious.  It was the best way to ride into Rosh Hashana – the New Year.

And yes, he took her giant suitcase off the bus for her.

Morning Commute

The morning commute is filled with people ignoring each other by being deeply interested in their phones. This morning, there is a woman in the quad-seat at the back of the bus on her own. No one would sit next to her. She looks hostile, and at one point, she jumps out of her seat to open the window and use her newspaper to swat the seats in front of her.

At one stop, as the bus gets more crowded, a woman makes a move to sit in the nearly empty quad-seat, gives the woman sitting there one look, and moves to another seat.

Everyone gives the hostile woman and this quad-seat a wide berth. Mentally ill? Drugs? We don’t know and all we are interested in is our phones.

Then a Haredi lady gets on the bus trying to wrangle two kids (they look like twins about 3-4 years old), she has a baby in a carriage that needs to get strapped into the carriage area. And all this has to happen on a moving bus.

The only seats available are in the quad-seat.

She hasn’t seen all that happened before, so she directs her kids to the back-facing seats. And the woman everyone has avoided carefully picks up each kid and puts them into the seats. When the slightly stressed mother carrying her infant comes to join her kids, the woman moves to the window seat, shuts her eyes and leans hard into the window. But the Haredi mother thanks her, blesses her, and tells her what a big help she is. The poor woman, who is probably not well, has a hard time with this, but knows she did the right thing.

What I Learned

If you look, you’ll find beautiful things happening all around you. You just have to pay attention and celebrate the Unexpected Magic that presents itself to you.

Headlines are just click bait. What really matters is the everyday encounters that remind us the world is not all that bad.

And that is a great way to start the Jewish New Year! May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life!

Shana Tova u’Metuka!

With the Jewish New Year just around the corner (it starts Sunday night!), I try to be a little reflective and think about how next year could be better.

Israel doesn’t seem to have a government. The US has its stuff going on. I even turned to the news in the UK and while it wasn’t any better than anywhere else, I find the British accent, dry humor, and lack of emotion kind of calming.

Then I dove into a YouTube vortex of stand-up comedy and reminded myself that headlines are only headlines and in day-to-day life, we can always choose to see the good.

And with that …

Wishing you all a Shana Tova u’Metuka!

May the next year be full of good health, many joyful events,

and more fish heads than fish tails!
(I’m paraphrasing)

May the good in your life be as abundant as the seeds of a pomegranate!
(that someone else lovingly peeled and broke up for you)

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End of Summer Roundup

I had an incredibly busy summer with approximately a zillion editing projects. Working with other people’s voices unfortunately affects my own voice. You could say I had a kind of laryngitis of my own writing voice – along with a lack of time, inclination, inspiration, and energy.

Baby steps to find my way back to the blog…

Elections

Israel just had its second election in five months. Seriously, America, you gotta up your game! What is the deal with a nearly two-year campaign to elect one person?

To be fair, while we can have an election really quickly, the result does leave something to be desired. There’s not much use in analysis right now since we don’t have a coalition and if one can’t be formed, we’ll have yet another election. Yay?

Am I Disloyal

I really wanted to write when this hit the news cycle, but it took me a while to process this one because as a citizen of two countries, I’m the poster child for “dual loyalty.”

When I vote in Israel, I vote as an Israeli. I think about what is good for Israel. When I vote in US elections, I vote as an American. I think about what is good for the United States. It’s weird to me to vote for a US president who is “good for Israel.” It would also be weird to me to choose a party in Israel that is “good for the United States.” I expect the US president to think about the United States and its citizens before he or she thinks about what’s good for other countries. I expect the prime minister of Israel to think about what’s good for Israel and its citizens before he or she thinks about what’s good for other countries. It’s a pretty strict compartmentalization, but for me that’s the only way to think about how to use my voting power.

Does that make me disloyal? Not to my own principles and values.

Fiction Illuminates Reality

I did manage to take a few breaks (no spoilers).

Beforeigners

Along with my love of Korean drama, I really enjoy Nordic Noir (think Girl with Dragon Tattoo and the original The Bridge). This short series has a paranormal twist: people from the past appear in the bay in Oslo. A short time in the future, many more of these “beforeigners” have arrived and there are huge populations of, for lack of a better term, “Norwegians” from the Stone Age, the age of Vikings, and the 19th century. Many don’t understand modern ways and live in the streets. They cook on open fires in parks. Some don’t believe in a Christian god. Graffiti shows up: “Norway for Nowaday People!”

In short, this show is able to show any horror that a refugee or immigrant might face without any backlash from any group. All the “foreigners” are from the exact same area, only a different time. There are a few scenes showing that beforeigners are picked up out of the water and taken to tent camps. They are scared, confused, and some lost their memories. They have nothing but the clothes on their backs. They are quarantined, drugged, sent to classes to help them adjust. Workplaces are openly prejudiced against beforeigners.

Illumination: It is a default response to reject the Other – someone different from us. To elevate ourselves, we have to acknowledge it and not pretend that there is some rationalization for “us” vs “them.” Build connections and find commonality. And then we can create a better future with everyone in it.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

I have to be careful here to avoid spoilers. (By the way: 2 Thumbs up!)

Villain: “The truth is what I say it is!”

Whoa Nelly! He’s the villain because he’s forcing his worldview on everyone else. I think we see that a lot in our online culture. We also see it in the many truths of multiple narratives. There may be a truth there, but it is not the only truth.

Illumination: What we learn through the movie is that you have to retain a sense of self to see through the illusion that others project onto you and the world around you. The key, of course, is to remember that yours too is not the only truth. (P.S. This will make more sense if you stay through to the end of the credits!)

Commitment

From here, I want to get back to a regular writing practice. I’ve missed it.

Less screen time. More real world.

Sometimes it’s good to get out of the computer and into the world. Last week’s adventure was a cruise: Rome – Corfu – Dubrovnik – Kotor – Split – Ravenna – Venice.

But first I have to vent. Europe is seriously overrun by tourists. And it’s awful.

Before my first trip to Europe, I read a book by Rick Steves called Europe through the Back Door. He described his travel philosophy: Go to Europe and live as much a like a local as possible. Meet people. Learn a few words of the local language and learn a little history. Have an open mind about doing things differently. He advocated travelling independently. (He has since sold out and now organizes tours.)

When I travel, I do my best to follow this philosophy whether I’m travelling independently or in a group. I am a curious person in someone else’s home country. I came to learn and experience.

There is also the problem of Things You Must See as if travelling is checking things off list. For instance, when in Rome, you must see Trevi Fountain. Here’s what it looks like. You can’t even get near it. But everyone is checking it off their list.

 

The nearby architectural wonder of Michelangelo’s Spanish Steps? How romantic! You’re in everyone’s pictures! Check!

After my initial shock and dismay, I decided I would have a good time. And I did!

Corfu, Greece

I’d been to Corfu before (see here) and I wanted to say hello to Moshe, the head of the Jewish community in Corfu. I’m happy to report that in the back alleys of Corfu, you can still find a little piece of Israel.

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Dubrovnik, Croatia

At the moment, this medieval UNESCO World Heritage town is best known as “King’s Landing” (and sometimes Qarth). I walked the city walls (expensive, but worth it!).

Kotor, Montenegro

I knew nothing about Kotor before this trip. What a lovely surprise! I hiked 1,350 stairs to get to fort above the city (expensive, but worth the view and the sense of accomplishment!). Also, the city is dedicated to taking care of all the cats that live there. Yeah, it’s my kind of medieval UNESCO World Heritage walled town. (That cat just came up to me and sat down under my legs.)

Split, Croatia

This town grew up around and into a Roman palace. Everything seems to be both modern and ancient at the same time. It’s not quite as picturesque as some of the other places, but it feels more like a city to live in rather than a city to look at. It’s also a filming location, and it had the best nerd/geek store serving all your fantastical needs from Game of Thrones to Harry Potter to the Lord of the Rings and more.

Ravenna and Venice, Italy

By now we were tired, so we stayed on the ship in Ravenna. The city was an hour away by bus and it had Byzantine mosaics and Dante’s tomb. Pass.

Venice was freezing cold and hailing, so ciao, Venezia!

Synagogues

To be honest, I was a little sad about this. Corfu, Dubrovnik, and Split have beautiful synagogues with almost no Jewish communities. Corfu’s synagogue wasn’t open, but you can see it in the original article I mentioned above.

Dubrovnik

Split

Next on the agenda: Kiev and Odessa. Stay tuned!

One step forward, one step back

Two big things happened in Israel:

  1. Israel landed a spacecraft on the moon! (Not what you were expecting first, right?)
  2. Israel had an election

Unfortunately, neither was perfectly executed.

Israel is the fourth country to land a craft on the moon (the seventh to orbit the moon). Just that is praiseworthy and we should be really proud! But “land” is sort of a stretch; it crashed to the surface.

The craft was called “Beresheet” – “In the beginning,” also the name of the first book of the Torah – so we can look forward to more attempts. The main picture making the rounds on social media was the arrivals board of Ben Gurion Airport listing the arrival time on the moon as if it was one of the many flights coming in.

The craft managed to provide a selfie just before crashing (a note about camera use and driving?).

Beresheet moon selfieFrom the moon

SOURCE

Along with the Israeli flag, the Hebrew says: “The People of Israel Live.” Beresheet came back on line after the crash to provide another selfie. ON. THE. MOON!

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We also had an election. We can be proud that we’re still a democracy and we only have to deal with awful political campaigns for 3-4 months and we’re done. We need another month for the “winner” to form a coalition and then we get back to the business of running the country.

The “winner” is Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) for his fifth term. I put winner in quotation marks because the next largest party “lost” by an extremely slim margin: Likud 26.45%, Blue and White 26.11%, with fewer votes cast than in the last election. But it was enough to push Likud to 36 seats in the 120-seat Knesset and Blue and White (a coalition party itself) to 35.  Netanyahu needs to put together a coalition of at least 61 Knesset votes and there are enough parties that lean to the right to do it. However, they include religious parties that will have their own demands. Some suggest that Likud and Blue and White (center-right) could come together to have no special interests in the coalition.

Here’s where I think Israel crashed. Netanyahu and his family are under investigation for corruption and he’s come out swinging against the media using Trumpian terminology (witch hunt, fake news, leftist conspiracy, etc.) I’m going to leave aside fake social media bots, vote challenges and recounts by hand, cameras in certain voting locations, and the fact that there were more parties in the race than I have ever seen before – 43 – so every vote for parties that didn’t pass the 3.25% threshold is a lost vote. Rather, I’d like to highlight a few “coincidences.” Perhaps it was a well-timed coincidence that the US recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Perhaps another well-timed coincidence was Russia brokering the return of a soldier’s body to his family. He had been missing for 37 years. Plus we had the anticipated moon landing (a couple of days after the election). The logic is that nobody but Netanyahu could pull all that off – certainly not the political newbies in the other parties – because he’s good friends with Trump and Putin. And look how “good they are for Israel.”

Are all these excellent gifts given for free? Is it because we’re just so awesome and have suffered for millennia? We probably won’t know the true costs for a long time.

As an optimist, I’d like to see the glass as half-full: Israel landed on the moon and has a more or less functional democracy. But there’s plenty of room for improvement.