Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

Stories in the sky and on the screen

Hundreds of engineers and their families gathered in the Israel Aerospace Industries cafeteria in Yehud to watch a live feed of the launch of the Beresheet spacecraft on February 22, 2019. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel) 
Hundreds of engineers and their families gathered in the Israel Aerospace Industries cafeteria in Yehud to watch a live feed of the launch of the Beresheet spacecraft on February 22, 2019. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel) 

In the beginning on the first day, G-D created heaven and earth. And one day this past week, Israel’s first moon-bound spacecraft, Beresheet (i.e., “in the beginning” or Genesis) was launched from earth into the skies above. In both instances, the idea of exploring the unknown goes hand-in-hand with learning from wherever our adventures take us.

In this case, the spacecraft, “barely the size of a washing machine, will circle Earth in ever bigger loops until it’s captured by lunar gravity and goes into orbit around the moon instead.” Here, Israel shot for the moon…and should be there in about eight weeks.

Meanwhile, back on earth, Israel was made proud when Israeli director Guy Nattiv who had shot for the stars, won the Oscar for his live action short, Skin. In digging under the surface to address the topic of white supremacists in America, Nattiv, who is developing a full-length film of the same name, imparts a lesson for us all. As Nattiv pointed out in his acceptance speech, bigotry is alive and well.

Storytelling is once way to reach people; it is the individual spirits which reach people’s hearts and can change the direction for their minds. This understanding is also the anti-thesis of grouping people into categories and using labels to discount them. As I pointed out in one blog called Us vs Them, it is also one of the reasons I love Humans of New York. When we see stories of people from backgrounds very different from our own, we can understand how similar we actually really are. We all have the same feelings.

I think that is one of the reasons my husband and I, like a number of friends, find ourselves taken with the Israeli series Shtisel on Netflix. It too looks past the outside to see what is on the inside. So while we are taking a look into the insular haredi community that is often all too easy to lump together as a sea of black hats, we are also very much engaged with protagonist, Akiva Shtisel, and his family. Complex emotions produced by personal relationships happen everywhere.

This week, we also saw two movies during the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival that engaged the audience with very different haredi leads. Outback Rabbis follows two Chabad rabbis as they travel through more remote areas in Australia trying to locate Jewish people. While the findings were scarce, the trek was beautiful. (And, as an aside, we learned that more Holocaust survivors moved to Australia than anywhere else…but that they tended to hide their identity and background.)

In To Dust, a hasid played by Géza Röhrig turns to a community college biology professor played by Matthew Broderick, to help him understand what is happening to his late wife’s body as she lies in the ground. Weaving humor into what would otherwise be a morbid and sad tale, the characters draw us into the world they live in, helping the viewer understand what not everyone should intuitively know: No one is a two dimensional character. Nor does anyone’s religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, let alone ability level or any other characteristic solely define who he or she is.

To me, this is as clear as the moon is in the sky and as important as day is to night.

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Lawn Guyland, Wendy lived in Jerusalem for over a decade submerged in Israeli culture; she has been soaked in Southern life in metro Atlanta since returning to the U.S. in 2003. Recently remarried, this Ashkenazi mom of three Mizrahi sons, 26, 23 and 19, splits her time between managing knowledge in corporate America, pursuing a dual masters in public administration and integrated global communications, blogging, relentlessly Facebooking, once-in-a-while veejaying, enjoying the arts and digging out of the post-move carton chaos of her and her husband's melded household.
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