Mommy, are you okay?
What? I respond.
Are you okay? You look um…
Like a person that binge-watched several episodes of “Our Boys” in preparation for the launch of Tammy Riklis and Hagai Levi’s new book, Our Boys: The Polemics. (So far only available in Hebrew – that’s the English title Google Translate provided)
On Friday, the Facebook Algorithm Angels smiled down on me, sharing Hagai Levi’s post about a few available seats left for the book launch.
Me. Pick me.
Hagai Levi messaged back.
Okay – forty-eight hours to prepare. Enough time to read a dozen or so articles detailing the “polemics” and time to rewatch several episodes.
That’s the emotional state my daughter read in my face.
Mommy, are you okay?
No. No, I’m not.
Do you ever watch happy movies?
Why do you watch sad movies?
Is it worth feeling so depressed afterward?
As a filmmaker, I’m drawn to watching and creating socially realistic dramas. To learn about life from another’s perspective. From your perspective. From her perspective. From him. From theirs.
Tell me your story. I often ask strangers, acquaintances, friends, and family members.
Mommy, stop. You are doing it again. (Okay. Less with family members.)
Tell me your story. I’m curious.
What was it like to grow up here?
What is it like?
How does it taste?
What feelings does it arouse?
Sit. There is room at my table. Room for all of us. Enough space. We can always add a chair.
Tell me more…
I hear you.
I understand what you are saying.
You are right.
That sucks. That is awesome.
This is what my face revealed to my daughter.
My face revealed empathy.
Sadness for a mother whose sixteen-year-old son was kidnapped and brutally murdered. Frustration for a father, interrogated while fasting. The confusion of an unfamiliar language. The desire for truth. The need for justice. The clarity to see. The anguish of suppression. The intensity of voices. The choices. The options. The failure in trust. The breakdown of values. The blurring of lines. The confusion. The suffering. The dialectics. The ability to hold two truths. The inability to hold one truth.
The series, Our Boys, was ensnared in controversy from the start. The refusal to experience another’s perspective. The insistence on being right. On sides. On my way. The inability to step back from our own comfort and hear the discomfort of others.
Would you do this again?
Critics continue to as the series creator, Israeli filmmakers Hagai Levi, Joseph Cedar, and their Palestinian partner Tawfik Abu Wael.
Years later – still controversial.
Mommy, you are smiling.
So my daughter said when I picked her up from a Bat Mitzvah on the way home from the book launch.
Yes. I am happy.
So, there was a happy ending to the show. Good.
No, no happy ending.
Confused, my daughter turned away, back to her phone, filled with the smiling faces of the friends she had parted from mere minutes before.
Happy to live in a world in which artists ask questions. Challenge themselves. Society. Delve into topics no one wants to touch. Battle their demons, our demons.
Dare to challenge. To be challenged.
Five years later, still uncomfortable. Still uneasy. Still afraid. Still brave.
Look at us sitting here,
Tawfik Abu Wael said to Nisreen Alyan, seated across from him. (Spoiler alert: it was you, Nisreen, I so wanted to chat up at the after-party)
In a room full of Israelis speaking Hebrew.
You have some questions for me.
Why did you do it?
Why did you agree to be the Palestinian face of Israeli production? For the money. The prestige.
Tawfik Abu Wael laughed.
Why did you do it?
Nasrin Alyan pressed. The smile never leaving her face.
The family asked me too.
Years later. Strong, favorable, international, critical and viewer response. Conversation, on both sides, provoked. Dialogue on the street, in cafes, in living rooms. Engagement on both sides.
Still, you are perplexed. Still, you question.
Yes. I tell my daughter I am happy. I just returned from an event where we sat together.
As the Haredi consultant, Eli Bitan said,
A bunch of Mishugaim. These Chilonim.
Yes. A room full of crazies. A room full of individuals willing to question themselves, their decisions, and their choices. Able to reflect on the past. To plant seeds for tomorrow.
Collectively, engaged with an infinite mindset.
The program, based on sections of the book, centered around dialogue. One speaker, an active participant in the production across from her, an opponent, an advocate.
That title alone – is wrong. Michael Aloni is terrible at the role. I guess you did it for the money. It’s not true. Your facts are false. How dare you. You blur facts. There is no truth. What about the occupation? Are you saying prayer is terrible? That the holy woman incited terrorism. You presented the slain teenager as a victim.
Yes, Reena. I am happy.
Happy to sit in a room filled with humility. With curiosity. With humor. With generosity. With compassion. With patience. With enthusiasm. With wisdom.
Next to you a dreamer.
Seekers of justices.
הִגִּ֥יד לְךָ֛ אָדָ֖ם מַה־טּ֑וֹב וּמָֽה־יְהֹוָ֞ה דּוֹרֵ֣שׁ מִמְּךָ֗ כִּ֣י אִם־עֲשׂ֤וֹת מִשְׁפָּט֙ וְאַ֣הֲבַת חֶ֔סֶד וְהַצְנֵ֥עַ לֶ֖כֶת עִם־אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ
He has told you, O man, what is good, And what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice. And to love goodness, And to walk modestly with your God; (Micha 6:6-8)
P.S. Hagai – when can we read the book in English? In Arabic?