Monday Morning at the Movies – The Bookshop

I confess. I went to the movies on a Monday morning.

The Jerusalem Cinemateque is the home of several film festivals and is a place for movie lovers to gather and enjoy film. One of the major differences between the Cinemateque and a regular movie theater is that you will be shushed and chastised if you don’t observe proper movie-watching etiquette (they only recently allowed food in the theaters!).

You can buy a yearly membership and go to as many movies as you like throughout the year and get discounts on festival entrance fees. They have lectures and special screenings. Once I saw a new John Turturro movie followed by a Q&A with John Turturro. They screened The Karate Kid on a big screen on the lawn. I sat through all three Matrix movies in one night (ok, that was a mistake on my part)

This summer, on Monday mornings, they are screening several different movies and this week was The Bookshop. It was 10 NIS and I had missed the last showings at other theaters. It just so happened that I could arrange my schedule that morning, so at 11am I was in the theater.

The Bookshop stars Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, and Patricia Clarkson, and is rather gray and melancholy. It’s well-cast, well-acted, and well-done. But if you are not in the right mood, you won’t appreciate the small village Britishness of it.

Short review: Cautious thumbs up. Be in the right mood.

Long review: Below the trailer. Some spoilers.


“It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it.”

Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) 2:21

A British movie in the middle of the day brought out many British people and a variety of other English-speakers. The theater was surprisingly full. I heard English from all corners. But the interesting thing was that after the movie, it was the Hebrew-speakers congregating in the foyer to discuss the film.

“Such courage!”

“How could she stand up against the whole town?”

The grande dame of the village was a horrible, petty woman. She decided that there would be no bookstore in that old house and that was it. A younger woman decides to stand up for her right to have a bookstore. And the widower on the hill who rarely steps out of his house is re-inspired.

All the makings of a Hollywood Hero’s Journey. And this movie is definitely not that.

And yet.

I was reminded of the line from Ethics of the Fathers. Emily Mortimer’s character begins the work. She decides to try to open the closed minds of the villagers. Cue Sisyphus.

And it is the child who carries on the work – I won’t give away the ending (you probably won’t guess the final act).

From there to here, we see a lot of the dirty underbelly of an English village: gossip, us versus you, the smile to your face while stabbing you in the back, and power plays.

Like the Hero’s Journey, this too is a universal story, except that it’s not one that we like to tell; it’s a little too close to real life, and frankly, it’s sad. But that’s why that last moment in the film reminds you that you have to start the task even if you don’t finish it in your lifetime. Someone else will continue it in the next generation.

I’m a huge Anglophile and I love all the actors. I’m glad I saw it. But this is not a movie for everyone.


I saw Black Panther last night in IMAX 3D. I love a superhero movie! With no spoilers, I can tell you that this movie is for EVERYONE. The message is simple:

Be who you are.
Remember where you came from.
And, most importantly, be a light unto the nations.

There is plenty of digital ink out there about what this movie means, how important it is in society right now, how empowering it is, and how universal the appeal is. It is all of those things and more. Instead of a trailer, here’s a little featurette about the warriors of Wakanda.

When I left the theater I was struck by the popularity of superhero movies in recent years and I was reminded that during the Great Depression people in the US went to movies and listened to radio plays to keep their spirits up. Through the years since then, people have turned to these kinds of hero stories when the world seemed to be a dark and scary place.

Joseph Campbell wrote about the Hero’s Journey pattern in many of humanity’s stories and many people have translated his thoughts into a self-actualizing phenomenon to show people that they can be the hero in their own stories.

Today the world is again (or still?) in crisis: corrupt politicians, lack of leadership, economic instability, refugees, war or threats of war. As I typed that list, I realized that these crises could be in any country. I was thinking about Israel, but it might just as easily be anywhere else.  So it’s no wonder that I would rather sit in a darkened movie theater and be inspired by a hero who reminds us that courage is defined by your ability to go forward even after you fall and even if you are afraid.

Today’s superheroes are often imperfect. Long gone are the days of good is good and evil is evil. Black Panther is a great example of this. The beloved father and the ancestors made a huge mistake and it is the villain who points it out and tries to right the wrong. The hero is heroic because he accepts the lesson and moves forward in a positive way.

It’s not that the real world is lacking heroes. We see them every day. They are the quiet ones standing between danger and innocents under attack. They are first responders who go toward danger and keep calm when chaos is all around. They are people who see something and say something. They are the ones who give a word of encouragement to someone who needs it. They are the people who lift others up to join in success. They are the helpers and the givers. And yes, they are also imperfect.

Hero seems like a weighty title, but it doesn’t have to be. If we can all be heroes in our own stories, then perhaps we can also take a page from the superhero movies coming out these days: the world is in crisis and it’s up to us to save it.

Use your gifts to make the world around you better.
If your gift is very powerful, use it to do great good.
Every day you can choose to do good.
And remember, no one expects perfection.


“Living in a Film”

Real life is overwhelmingly busy right now and the news is just crazy, so I’ll do what I do best and turn to fantasy.  My fantasy world exists in Korean dramas.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I really, really enjoy Korean dramas (k-drama for short).  So this post will seem like it is completely out of left field, except that I’ve titled it using Israeli slang:  חי בסרט (hay b’seret), which means “living in a film (or movie).”  Usually it refers to someone being a drama queen and having everything be overly dramatic all the time, but I’m going to use it literally.

*cultural note:  If you’ve never seen a k-drama, you can just as easily substitute rom-com, but k-dramas have some special features that adapt really well to my life in Israel.

My life is a (failed) k-drama.

When I use the term “failed,” I don’t mean it in a negative way.  It’s just that the k-drama set-up is all there and then . . . nothing happens.  So if you’ll follow my logic here: my regular life is quite uneventful but fully set up for something fantastical.  And that is a lot better than following the news and seeing what’s going on in the “real” world, which feels like someone took a page from // insert name of your favorite TV show of intrigue//.

Heroines in k-dramas often live in rooftop apartments with a great view.

I live in a rooftop apartment with a great view. (Rooftop is not to be confused with penthouse.  A rooftop apartment means that it’s a possibly illegal addition to the building and they are tiny.)

rooftopK-drama rooftop

Heroines in k-dramas often work a lot of part-time jobs and have joie de vivre.

I work on a wide variety of projects and have a lot of joie de vivre.

The cast of most, if not all, k-dramas wear coats in the house during the winter.

I’ve already explained the cold in Jerusalem, and I find I often wear my coat in the house.  (Their sets aren’t heated and they have many more coats than I do, but I think I wear my coat inside in part because my dad wore his coat in the house too.)

heirs22   heirs
Coats inside.

rihannaLyrics to Rihanna’s song “Umbrella” (this may be more familiar some readers)

Scene: Outside.  On a street corner.  Waiting for the light to change in the pouring rain.

I approached the corner thankful that I had remembered to bring my big umbrella.  I saw him standing there and the rain really started coming down just as we realized that we had a full cycle to wait before the light changed.

He was very tall, thin, wearing a well-fitting suit, but no overcoat or hat to protect his bald (shaved?) head.  I noticed that his shoulders were already wet from the rain.

As he stepped back away from the curb to avoid getting splashed, I stepped forward and shared my giant umbrella.  (Cue music!)

The top of my head was several inches below his shoulder, so I had to lift my umbrella quite high.  He was surprised as he looked down at me, and mumbled something about not minding the rain so much – but he still stayed under my umbrella.

We commented on how long the traffic cycle was until our crosswalk sign would turn green.  But mostly it was just traffic noise and the plopping of rain on the umbrella.  (Erm, awk-ward!)

Then the light changed and since his legs were so much longer than mine, he reached the other side before I did – without the shelter of my umbrella.  He wished me a “Shabbat shalom u’mevurach” (a peaceful and blessed Sabbath).

He went his way and I went mine.

And then . . . nothing.  Absolutely nothing happened.  (Unless, we have a time jump to 5 years later . . .)

umbrellaThis is not my meme.  It was just out there on the internet.

This interlude is an absolutely 100% true thing that happened to me last week.  The set up was all there and then #kdramafail.

How is it Passover already?

It happens every year.  I know Passover is coming.  I see the introduction of Passover foods at the supermarket and then, BAM, it’s already here.  Passover is in a week, but people have already started and finished their major cleaning and are stocking up on Passover foods.

“Cleaning for Passover” means a lot of things to a lot of different people.  If you keep kosher, then “cleaning for Passover” means that you have cleaned all traces of bread, leavening, and any of the other forbidden grains out of your home.  Often that entails moving large appliances and being shocked at how much dirt and grime is under there, so then “cleaning for Passover” turns into a major spring cleaning effort.

Then once the house is “clean for Passover” you can’t bring any bread products into your house until after Passover.  If you’re like me, the idea of not eating bread makes me crave baguettes, sandwiches, cake, and every other flour-based product on the market.  I’m sure people manage to not eat bread (Atkin’s Diet anyone?), but around Passover, I can’t think of anything I want to eat except bread.

No bread

Some years I clean for Passover and others I don’t.  Interestingly, I found that if I don’t clean for Passover, I tend to have more ants in and around the house.  I imagine that our ancestors noticed that they had fewer bugs if they did some spring cleaning and the cleaning frenzy was conveniently timed around Passover when they weren’t supposed to have any bread products around anyway.  Coincidence?

Some thinkers take the idea of leavening into the spiritual realm.  What is bread if not substance filled with air?  How does a person who is puffed up with himself or herself appear to others?  Passover cleaning can also be done within to rid yourself of arrogance.

Another spiritual avenue gets to the heart of who you are as a person.  At first Moses didn’t have courage.  After he killed the slave master, he ran away to the desert.  He could have had a fine life, but then a burning bush spoke to him (and was not consumed).  If a burning bush tells you to go to Pharaoh to demand that he free the people of Israel, are you going to do it?  If you have a speech impediment (Moses did), do you think to yourself, “yeah, I’ll just clearly tell Pharaoh what’s what.”  Luckily, Moses had a brother (Aaron) who was willing to stand up with him and demand freedom, but Moses himself (and Aaron) had to have the courage and faith to do what needed to be done.

Standing on the shores of the Red Sea, the people of Israel bitterly complained.  They had Pharaoh’s army chasing them and the sea in front of them.  They wailed that it would be better to be slaves than die out here.  Moses assured them that the path would open before them, but they had to see it with their own eyes.  So the sea parted and they went forward.  But was it enough?  No.  After all they saw and experienced, they still felt the need for a golden calf so that they could have physical thing to worship.  Forty years in the desert would be enough time to raise up a new generation who only knew freedom, who would be courageous, and who would have faith.


The Exodus is a Hero’s Journey for Moses as well as for the nation of Israelites.  We can be inspired and re-inspired by the story.  Each year we have the opportunity to find something new.  Are we going to find courage within ourselves?  Will we demand to see everything with our own eyes before we have faith in something?  Will we be courageous and free and then fill ourselves with our own arrogance about how fabulously enlightened we are?

In the meanwhile, I think I’ll move my refrigerator and clean underneath it.  I hope not to find anything new there, but perhaps I’ll find something that I lost in the past year.  Ah, well, that will be a spiritual story for another day.