Thursday, May 25, 2006
is the most deeply powerful, deeply affecting movie I have ever seen.
I am astounded that Crash received the award for Best Picture.
It makes the Academy Awards into a joke.
Spielberg is absolutely brilliant. The colors in which the movie is shot, the contrasts between the rich colors of the kitchen-store and gourmet meals as opposed to tense situations, the soundtrack, and the acting...astonishing.
Eric Bana...is astounding in this performance.
Avner is one of the most human characters ever relayed to the silver screen. His thoughts, his emotions, his reactions, and the subtlety of his characterization is remarkable. The scenes themselves are so subtle. This is not an over-the-top action movie; it is not high-minded and condescending or patronizing either. This movie asks questions.
I don't see how anyone could be upset that Spielberg compared the Palestinian terrorists to the Israelis. His comparison did not assign blame, unless it was assigned to everyone. It simply raised questions, difficult, disturbing questions. Everyone was human, no one was made into a caricature, an exaggeration, some black-and-white person. Everyone was three-dimensional. This movie is dark in tone, but it is definitely not anti-Israel, anti-Zionism, or pro-Intifada.
The scene that I found most chilling and most compelling was when Avner feels he's being hunted. He checks every room, looks under the bed for a bomb, disassembles his telephone, gouges open his television set, and slits his mattress. Then, still exhausted and soul-weary, he sleeps in the closet. There is a close-up of his face, and his expression is terrifying because he is so weary, his eyes red-rimmed and saddened, pain reflecting from his expression. When will this end?
I don't have the words to explain how much this movie moved me.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
When this blog starts upsetting people for no good cause, then it's not fulfilling its purpose.
I've left up the posts that people may find important/ the ones people most commonly search for. I thank you for your kindness and your patience as readers.
I'm not sure what I'll do next. I might read but not comment. I might create a different blog. Who knows? One thing's for sure- this one is done.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Oprah, Rwanda and Clemantine
If you watch Oprah, you may be interested in watching the show on May 24 or 25th.
That's when Oprah will speak to various essay winners.
Including Clemantine Wamariya, who goes to New Trier now but formerly attended my school.
Recently, I mentioned her story in a comment on DovBear's blog.
My transcript of her story (which may contain some inaccuracies) based on a speech she gave to my school last year, is available here. I don't know what she will be speaking about on Oprah's show, but no matter what it may be (I don't know how much time will be devoted to her), I believe it will be worthwhile. Her speech to me- to my school- was extremely powerful.
Below is her story (a reposting from my other blog.)
This is about the Rwanda genocide.
This is about the girl who goes to my school who survived.
Her name was Clementine. She was six years old at the time, and lived in Rwanda, where everything was beautiful, was wonderful. She was happy and her family was happy. There was no difference between the Tutsis and the Hutus, or at least, none that she could see. She went to kindergarten with all the other children, and together they played. Her mother always invited these children over to their house; it turned into a day-care center, really, after school. Her mother was the soul of kindness, always desiring to help other people- oh, they don't have salt, go give them salt, etc. Give them this and give them that.
Clementine describes her parents as being beautiful, wonderful parents. This is not a description teenagers often tender about those who care for them. She describes her mother, extremely spiritual, very Christian, a great believer in God.
And then, suddenly, overnight, everything changed.
This didn't happen long ago. This happened in 1994, when we were all alive.
Her mother came to her room, panicking, weeping. She clutched Clementine's hand, and her sister's hand, and said that they had to pray. "But why, mother, why?" Clementine kept on asking. What was going on? Her mother told her the president was being shot and tomorrow they were all going to die. But why?
Simply because they were Tutsis. They lived the Tutsi life, for though her father was of mixed blood, he was a rich man, and since he was rich, he was a Tutsi. Her mother was a Tutsi. And therefore they were Tutsis. They prayed, and that night everything changed. The three housekeepers, people she had trusted, left them that night. Left them because otherwise they would die.
Her father owned a taxicab company, and was very wealthy and well-known. Her mother was the soul of kindness. But everyone turned against them.
They hid for one, no, two, weeks. Hid in the house, eating off the food they had, starving. Then a friend of her father's came over and said he could only take the girls, it would be bad if he took the boys, because then they would kill him, but he could take the girls. Clementine's brother told her to think that everything was a movie; they were in a movie.
Clementine and her sister were sneaked into a car, hiding under piles of luggage. They drove swiftly, and all along was the stench and smell of the dead, even in the car, even though the windows were up, there was the smell of the corpses rotting away in the street. They were going to their grandparents, because they assumed that they wouldn't kill them. How could they kill them? They were too old. They got there, and found the rest of their aunts, uncles, cousins with them. They stayed there for a while.
They played different games, the children, to take their minds off what was happening.
Then one night her grandmother woke Clementine and her sister up. She screamed, "Get out, get out!" They jumped out the window, Clementine still remembers the little pants and sandals she was wearing. They ran, ran to the forest in the dark, and hiding in the dark forest they remained. Her grandparents and everyone else in that house- her aunts, her uncles- were all killed. Then she saw the house burning, and smelled the scorching bodies. She and her sister sat in the forest and watched them burn.
They walked. They walked for two days, these two children, one six and the other perhaps sixteen, at the oldest? There was no food, and no water, they were exhausted and hunted. They had to be quiet lest they attract attention. They finally came to a church and decided they would stop to rest in the church for a little while, because surely nobody would dare defile the church.
They opened the door and there were bodies; it was all piled high with bodies, and the confused six-year-old girl simply looked at the bodies. It was supposed to be a movie, her brother had said, but there were no cameras she could see; it was unreal, why was it happening. She wanted to die, she didn't want to live, she wanted to go back and burn with her grandparents in the house...
They hid in a corner of the church because they heard something; they heard footsteps. A man came into the church and asked whether everyone was dead, whether there was anyone left to finish off. He walked through the church; he looked straight at them. An overwhelming feeling came over Clementine, and she wanted to scream, I don't want to die, I don't want to die. Her sister told her to be quiet, otherwise he would see them. So she prayed...Did he seem them? Did he not? They do not know. He walked away, he walked out of the church, he did not kill them.
They stayed there maybe 20 minutes, how was it he did not kill them? They had to move, they had to leave before they were found, and so they left, and then her sister, after they crawled- walked some more, saw a sign, signifying the river that was the border between Rwanda and another place, where they could be safe. But the river was rushing, and fast, and there was no way they could swim it. Some men were in a boat, and they asked who these kids were, and the older sister had warned Clementine to be quiet and pretend she was deaf, so she answered they were walking to their aunt's house. The men allowed them to get in the boat.
Then...then...when they were in the middle of the river, one of the men lifted Clementine and pushed her into the lake. Pushed her in, a six-year-old, so that she would drown in the lake. She doesn't remember what happened; she only remembers awakening with her sister holding her hand, in the middle of the lake. Somehow, somehow, they were so cold, so cold, but they got to the other side, and walked some more, until they saw mango trees and they began to eat...starving, they fell upon them and tried to gorge themselves on mangoes.
They heard someone coming, and her brother had taught Clementine to climb, so she climbed the mango tree, and so did her sister. They remained there and looked down, where a family was walking. They didn't notice them, but then a little boy saw them and started screaming that there were people in the tree. They came down out of the tree and explained they were refugees to the family, who were living in the middle of nowhere in a little mud-grass-hut. They stayed with those people for a long time, there was no technology, they learned to care for themselves...Clementine remembers cooking over open fires, etc.
They then went to refugee camp, which was the worst experience in her life...being there with Hutus who had killed the Tutsis, being there amidst the death from all different causes, the death from disease or lack of shelter or hunger. Pure death. She shut her mouth and would not talk at all in the refugee camp, for two years she did not talk except to her sister, and then only with anger.
They went to many countries, to the Congo and many other places, and finally there was a kind of sponsorship through an immigration program that allowed her to get to the USA- a church or family needed to sponsor her here, and a church sponsored her, she lives with a member of the church. For a long time she believed she was all alone, had grown up alone, everything, everything had been taken from her.
But then, in the USA, one day they met a woman who knew her aunt, and had her aunt's phonenumber, and they found out her aunt was still alive. And a miracle- her parents, too, were alive, different, torn, having lost everything, leading a very different life, but alive. They had more children, too....they are still in Rwanda. Clementine has not returned to Rwanda, as of yet, she cannot in some ways.
But it was what she said later, when people asked her questions, that made the biggest impression on me. People asked her what made her survive, when she so wanted to die, when she truly hated her life. And she said, and this is her story and her life, not what you ought to do, but simply what she said- it was God. Her mother had taught her prayer and spirituality and God, and she believed in Him. She believes that He has a plan for her, the good and the bad, a master plan that is there for her. And someone asked her how she could believe in God after all she had been through, and she said that it had been very hard, and sometimes she asked herself how it was possible, but that she answered herself by showing her all the miracles- how was it she was alive? How was it the man in the church didn't see her? How did she survive the raging river, the currents that could have killed her in the lake? How did her parents survive? God is with her, He will always be with her...
And then she said that sometimes she hears us Americans says, " I have so much homework, I hate my life." And she said that although she understands what we mean, she wants us to remember that there are some who DO hate their lives, who suffer and feel pain and want to die. There is now a genocide going on in Sudan, and she feels that pain. And she wants, more than anything, simply to obliviate the difference betwen the Hutus and Tutsis and whoever else, because they are all people, and they all suffer, and nothing like this should ever happen...
And then...and then she stated something unbelievable. Not in a tone of confidence or pride, but someone asked her whether she had forgiven. She said it was a hard thing to forgive, you do not see someone kill your grandparents and forgive them. You do not remember corpses and forgive. But she said that she had forgiven, had fought so that she might forgive, and with that forgiveness had freed herself. Before she could not talk about it, but now she can. She can tell us of the spirituality of the good people who helped her, the Churches and her mother and prayer and God. She can tell us of the horror. She can tell us everything.
This is not my story to tell, but since I believe Clementine truly desires to end hatred, I think I can only help by typing this and allowing you, too, to see what she sees, and know what she knows. To see the strength that she had so that she might survive, that she might retain belief in God.
Today I saw a holy person. Perhaps I saw the holiest person I know.
And she is not a Jew.
And that is okay. Because she doesn't need to be a Jew to tell a story of such terrible grace and beauty, such magnified power, as to make me shudder, make me tremble.
Today I saw a holy person.
I pray that you might see her, too.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
The Next World
Not too long ago, DPChallenge hosted a challenge for digital photographers- the subject being the Afterlife. It was very interesting to see the different takes and views people had, and how they were able to express these beliefs through the medium of photograpy. The picture above won the blue ribbon for the challenge; it was the one that comforted or interested the most people. In some measure, this may just have been because of the technical skill or innovative setup, however, I think that the idea expressed- the reunion of the family unit- is what mainly drew viewers toward the picture.
I started thinking about the afterlife/ Olam HaBa/ the next world after this challenge. What is the Jewish view on the world to come? Do we even really know?
From here, it seems we do not:
- R. Hiyya b. Abba said in R. Johanan's name: All the prophets prophesied [all the good things] only in respect of the Messianic era; but as for the world to come 'the eye hath not seen, O Lord, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.'18
On the other hand, there are certain themes, motifs and ideas that are repeated and represented in terms of the world to come. I don't profess to understand them, but I thought I would represent them here.
- There will be three groups on the Day of Judgment: one of thoroughly righteous people, one of thoroughly wicked people and one of people in between. The first group will be immediately inscribed for everlasting life; the second group will be doomed in Gehinnom [Hell], as it says, "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence" [Daniel 12:2], the third will go down to Gehinnom and squeal and rise again, as it says, "And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried. They shall call on My name and I will answer them" [Zechariah 13:9]... [Babylonian Talmud, tractate Rosh Hashanah 16b-17a]
- The school of Hillel suggested a more merciful view, in which the middle group are sent directly to Gan Eden (Heaven) instead of Gehinnom after death. Rabbi Hanina added that all who go down to Gehinnom will go up again, except adulterers, those who put their fellows to shame in public, and those who call their fellows by an obnoxious name [Babylonian Talmud, tractate Baba Metzia 58b]. Source here
- All the good deeds which Israel does in this world will bear testimony unto them in the world to come, as it is said, Let them bring their witnesses that they may be justified; let them hear and say it is truth. Let them bring their witnesses that they may be justified — that is Israel; let them hear and say it is truth — these are the idolaters.
- R. Samuel b. Nahmani in the name of R. Jonathan also said: Every good deed that one does in this world precedes him and walks in front of him in the world to come, as it is said: And thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.5 Likewise, every transgression that one commits clasps him and leads him on the day of judgment, as it is said, They clasp him in the course of their way.6 R. Eleazar said: It is tied on to him like a dog, as it is said, He hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, to be with her;7 [it is to say that] to lie by her in this world, [would mean for him] to be with her in the world to come.
A. The Shining Face
- (and I'm certain that the Little Midrash Says brings up an idea, somewhere, stating that one's face shines in accordance to one's learning- the brightest have radiant faces like the sun, the next like the moon, then there are those who glow like the light of the menorah...and hence one can tell one's level of learning from one's face.) I'm not sure if this is the source for that, but...
R. Judah, son of R. Simeon, expounded: He who emaciates25 his face for the sake of the study of the Torah in this world,26 the Holy One, blessed be He, will make his lustre shine in the next, as it is written, His countenance shall be as the Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.27
B. The Leviathan
- Likewise, Leviathan the slant serpent and Leviathan the tortuous serpent he created male and female; and had they mated with one another they would have destroyed the whole world.19 What [then] did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He castrated the male and killed the female preserving it in salt for the righteous in the world to come; for it is written: And he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.20
and also stated here,
- Rabbah said in the name of R. Johanan: The Holy One, blessed be He, will in time to come make a banquet for the righteous from the flesh of Leviathan; for it is said: Companions will make a banquet of it.11 Kerah12 must mean a banquet; for it is said: And he prepared for them a great banquet13 and they ate and drank.14 Companions must mean scholars,15 for it is said: Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken for thy voice; cause me to hear it.16 The rest [of Leviathan] will be distributed and sold out in the markets of Jerusalem...
C. The Crowns
- A favourite saying of Rab was: [The future world is not like this world.]19 In the future world there is no eating nor drinking nor propagation nor business nor jealousy nor hatred nor competition, but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads feasting on the brightness of the divine presence, as it says, And they beheld God, and did eat and drink.20
D. Golden Three-Legged Tables
- Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa's wife said to him, "For how much longer are we to continue to suffer so much?" When he asked her what they should do, (she replied), "Pray to God for mercy that He provide us with something."
Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa davened for mercy and something like the palm of a hand miraculously appeared, and he was given one golden leg of a table. He (others have the version she) saw in a dream that in the future world, the righteous people are eating at golden tables that have three legs, whereas Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was eating at a table with only two legs. He said, "Are you content that everyone else is eating at a complete (three-legged) table, while we eat at a defective (missing a leg) table?"
She said to him, "What shall we do?"
"Let us pray for mercy that they should take it back."
He prayed for mercy, and they took it back...
- R. Abbahu also said: Solomon was asked: Who has a place in the future world? He answered: He to whom are applied the words, and before his elders shall be glory.7 A similar remark was made by Joseph the son of R. Joshua. He had been ill and fell in a trance. [After he recovered], his father said to him: 'What vision did you have?' He replied, 'I saw a world upside down, the upper below and the lower above.'8 He said to him: 'You saw a well regulated world.' [He asked further]: 'In what condition did you see us [students]?' He replied: 'As our esteem is here, so it is there. I also [he continued] heard them saying, Happy he who comes here in full possession of his learning. I also heard them saying, No creature can attain to the place [in heaven] assigned to the martyrs of the [Roman] Government.' Who are these? Shall I say R. Akiba and his comrades?9 Had they no other merit but this? Obviously even without this [they would have attained this rank]. What is meant therefore must be the martyrs of Lud.10
3. Punishments (while there's an entire discussion simply about Gehinnom and its purpose, and about those who have no portion in the world to come, here are some explicit punishments)
- What I decreed for myself. Every day my ashes are collected and sentence is passed on me and I am burnt and my ashes are scattered over the seven seas.
- He replied: With boiling hot semen.2
C. Sinners of Israel
- What is your punishment? They replied: With boiling hot excrement, since a Master has said: Whoever mocks at the words of the Sages is punished with boiling hot excrement.
All of these are from Gittin 57 (which has the very fascinating story of Onkeles communing with the dead)
4. The Dead and Our World
Are the dead cognizant of humans? There is a an extensive debate about this in Berakoth, beginning in Chapter 3, 18a. It starts with:
- R. Hiyya and R. Jonathan were once walking about in a cemetery, and the blue fringe of R. Jonathan was trailing on the ground. Said R. Hiyya to him: Lift it up, so that they [the dead] should not say: Tomorrow they are coming to join us and now they are insulting us! He said to him: Do they know so much? Is it not written, But the dead know not anything?19
They continue through various dreams (money hidden in forgotten places, children 'forgetting their learning' and wondering how their parents would respond, the story of the two girls, one buried in a shroud of matted reeds, whose discussions help out a pious man until they learn their words are being 'heard" in the world below...) and each "proof" brought is subject to argument, so it cannot conclusively be said the dead are cognizant of the living.
Relating back to the topic that brought on my curiousity about this subject- namely, the DPChallenge pictures- there was another evocative photograph that I personally connected to Ecclesiastes/ Koheles, even though the quote was taken from the New Testament.
"For what is your life? It is even a vapour," by mpeters
The above picture and this picture were my favorites.
What about you? What do you think of the afterlife/ the next world? Which picture do you find compelling?