Herbert J. Cohen
Herbert J. Cohen

Kosher Movies: The Ice Road

When I pray daily in Israel, I have several options for synagogue services. For example, I usually go in the morning to the 6:15 service. If I sleep later, I can go to a service at 7:15, 7:30, or 8:15. I also have options for the afternoon and evening prayer services. I have a mission to pray, but if I do not necessarily fulfill the mission at one specific time and location, I can do it at another time and location. The mission is the same, but I am the beneficiary of technical redundancy, a term I was introduced to in The Ice Road. With regard to prayer times, it means that I have multiple options to accomplish the same task. In The Ice Road, it has a much different real life application.

The film opens with a diamond mine collapsing in Manitoba, a remote region of northern Canada. Twenty-six miners are trapped inside the mine with a finite supply of air. A rescue effort is launched. The company sends three large trucks with huge wellheads to the accident site to repair the damage and rescue the miners. But there are challenges. There is a limited window of 30 hours to reach the mine and getting there requires traveling on an ice road in April when the ice is beginning to melt. The expectation on the part of the company is that all the trucks will not make it. Therefore, three trucks are sent with the hope that at least one will make it; hence, the term technical redundancy. Send three trucks with exactly the same cargoes and, hopefully, one will arrive in time.

Mike McCann and his brother Gurty are employed by a trucking company to lead this treacherous rescue mission. They drive one truck. Tantoo, an experienced female driver whose brother is trapped in the mine, drives another truck. The third truck is driven by Jim Goldenrod, a trucking company executive, who knows many of the families of the trapped miners.

We soon learn that Mike, in fact, has a checkered employment record. Moreover, his brother Gurty, although a superb mechanic, is a war veteran mentally challenged from PTSD syndrome. The bottom line: they are qualified but jobless and, therefore, available. Indeed, it is difficult to find experienced truckers in the cold northern regions of Canada in the spring, a time when most truckers are on vacation.

Mike demonstrates his driving skills on treacherous icy roads to Goldenrod and Gurty shows his mechanical know-how to him as well. Not having a pool of seasoned drivers, Goldenrod hires Mike and Gurty for the rescue mission.

Despite thawing waters, cracking ice, unstable bridges, and unforeseen sabotage, Mike and Gurty persevere over the icy terrain, determined to reach the men in time.

In addition to being a thriller, The Ice Road raises the question of how much risk one should take when it is part of one’s job. Judaism has something to say about this. In general, we are required to take care of our bodies and protect ourselves from harm. It is a balancing act in real life. I know people who are so cautious that they miss out on much in life. Others act recklessly and needlessly place themselves in danger.

Judaism recognizes that earning a livelihood is a mitigating factor in permitting risky behavior. Dr. Daniel Eisenberg, a radiologist and expert on Jewish medical ethics writes: “The Talmud argues that one may take risks to earn a living that would not otherwise be permitted. Someone has to paint the bridge, build the skyscraper, and dive for pearls. So long as the risk stays within reasonable parameters, such activities are permitted as professions. The exact degree of risk in any endeavor always remains hazy. And the overarching rule is the obligation to protect one’s health. Judaism considers these and other factors, employing a systematic approach to assessing danger and the circumstances of the individual who wishes to take the risk.”

Mike McCann decides to take the risk. At first he does so because he needs the money. In the end, he does it because he wants to save lives. Altruism triumphs over self-interest.

About the Author
Originally from Mt. Vernon, New York, Herbert J. Cohen served in the pulpit rabbinate in Atlanta at the beginning of his career. After six years, he moved into the educational rabbinate and served for 23 years as Principal of Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. In 2010, he and his wife came on aliyah to Israel. His latest book, published by Urim Publishers, is "Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema." He may be reached at rabbihjco@msn.com.
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