I admit that my younger self used to mock the Oscars and scoff at how self-important Hollywood actors and producers believed themselves to be. But I have changed my opinion. I think I was wrong, and I don’t make fun of the Oscars anymore. Films can be a powerful force for change, give voice to the voiceless, educate millions and make a significant impact for good. I am not saying that all films are valuable. But they are all powerful.
I have been asked why I chose to end my eight-year career as an educational consultant and become the President of Jerusalem U, an organization that makes films.
I am a champion of the critical importance of quality teachers and the impact of sustained, excellent teaching on a child’s life. Just ask my colleagues; an ill-equipped teacher can bring me to tears, and a child suffering in school elicits the mama bear in me and makes me want to move mountains to make schools better. I am a devoted student of Parker Palmer and Ron Berger. I listen to the podcast Two Teachers on a Train and I have recommended Kirsten Olsen’s book Wounded by School countless times, because I know that teachers can make or break a child.
The stakes are high and our world depends on our children. And they depend on us. I will forever remain unwaveringly passionate about advocating for children and doing everything we can to create the best nurturing educational environments. I am as fired up about our collective need to move our world of education forward as I have ever been.
So why films? And why now?
Here’s the thing. Films are one of the most powerful educational tools that exist in our world.
Films are visceral. They are soulful. They are intellectual. They have the potential to touch us deep inside our hearts. While films will never replace quality teachers, a powerful film can accomplish something that is rare in a typical classroom experience, and a film in the hands of a good teacher is magical.
Films develop our perspective and push us to challenge our paradigms and mental models. They draw us into the lives and stories of characters, and we are temporarily suspended in an alternate, immersive reality that evokes our widest range of emotions. We might laugh, cry, feel scared, get angry or feel all of these emotions at once. Films inspire and transform. We walk out of a film a different person than when we walk in, and that’s because a film is an experience. There is nothing more educationally powerful than an experience.
Films change us.
Films can change our world because they are far reaching. A film has the unique capacity to make an impact on endless numbers of viewers. And that’s why, for me, the time is now.
Maybe I am being sentimental. Maybe it’s a byproduct of this phase in my life and my recent aliyah. It doesn’t matter. What I know for sure is that there is a palpable urgency that motivates me. It is not a prophet of doom or fatalist kind of urgency.
Our world is flawed and wounded and honestly, kind of crazy. Last week was gut-wrenching. Though I try to push it out of my mind, last week was a tragic and painful reminder of the evil that exists to hurt and destroy the Jewish people and deny us our birthright, the land of Israel. Last week chipped away at my sense of security and of being able to believe my children are safe once I tuck them into their beds at night.
But the urgency I feel and the urgency that motivates me is one of optimism. I know we are powerful and capable of driving change. My urgency is about quieting the insanity and bringing more light to our world — and specifically, to ourselves as a Jewish people.
Walking to work every day through the alleys of the Old City in Jerusalem, I feel the cobblestone streets beneath my sandaled feet. I hear the sound of different nations and I see the wide-eyed tourists enraptured by the mystery of this city, and I wonder. Do they know about Israel’s history? Do they believe in Israel’s right to exist and thrive? Do they understand the historical truths about Israel’s sovereignty? Do they recognize the barrage of media bias, flooding the news outlets and skewing even a rational person’s ability to see things clearly? I think that not nearly enough people know.
It’s hard to live here and not be filled with a sense of responsibility to contribute and to Do Something. It’s hard to live here and not want to help make the case for Israel and tell Israel’s story. The world needs to know, and every Jew deserves a chance to be informed, know the truth, and be filled with pride. And that’s what the films at Jerusalem U seek to achieve.
I know that we can be stronger as a nation inside and outside of our land, and that it’s in our hands to make that happen. Our enemies are real. There is no time to waste for the Jewish people to be strengthened and better informed.
And there is no time to waste to help every Jew understand how they are an important character in what would be the greatest film ever, the story of the Jewish people. Our children are counting on us to make their world better, and as Hollywood as this might sound, films can help us do just that.