Hello, folks! It's Monday, and you know what that means... today's the day when I bring you a movie that I found streaming on Netflix that inspired or interested me in some way. Today will be a double-header, two for the price of one, back to back features, two very special films I would recommend you watch together. Or, at least, consecutively.
Sounds interesting, right? You meet Rochel, an Orthodox Jew, on her first day at a new job teaching in a public school in New York. I identified with her character right away because 1) she has a name nobody can pronounce, and 2) she is set apart from her contemporaries by her dress, mannerisms, and culture. Rochel is assigned an aide for her classroom to help assist her students who have disabilities, and the teacher assigned to co-teach with her is (bum bum bummm...) Nasira, a young Muslim woman. The women strike up a friendship after a student makes the comment, "You're a Jew and she's a Muslim. Aren't you, like, supposed to hate each other?"
Rochel and Nasira find that they have much more in common than they initially thought: They are both separated from the other teachers and staff in the school because of their devout adherence to their religious beliefs. They both come from cultures where their families are extremely tight-knit (in fact, they both still live at home). Neither of them really know at first how to relate across cultural boundaries. They are both experiencing prompting at home to enter into arranged marriages, and both find the process extremely uncomfortable, as neither have had much contact with the male sex outside of immediate family.
This film could very easily become preachy, sanctimonious, or sappy. Instead, it stays true to the characters and the cultures they come from, opening the door for the viewer into a world not many have experienced. As a TCK, I identified with the two main characters' experiences of trying to assimilate into mainstream America for the first time. I also love the delicacy with which Rochel and Nasira's characters were painted, giving faces with personality to what had previously been nameless stereotypes.
The movie made me curious about life as an American Orthodox Jew, which is why I watched the second film:
'A Life Apart' is an in depth view of the history and modern day life of American Hasidic Jews (did you know Hasidic and Orthodox Judaism are two different sects?). Netflix says, "It took seven years to make this intriguing documentary about the world of the Hasidim, who exist in an insular universe (one that few outsiders ever get to see) and uncompromisingly adhere to Jewish ritual. Leonard Nimoy and Sarah Jessica Parker narrate this illuminating look at a people who speak Yiddish and dress distinctively yet cherish family, community and a life of meaning that coincides with most Americans' core principles."
This movie is a little dry (don't watch on a night you're looking for pure entertainment and mind candy), but a very thorough and, in my opinion, interesting, look inside the culture of Hasidic Jews. I found that I could relate with the Hasidic lifestyle, as it parallels in many ways with the third-world culture I grew up in - the role of women in the society, family structure, and the undercurrent of tension between 'old' and 'new' ways of thinking. This one will be sure to stay with you long after you watch it.