A Must See Film: Jojo Rabbit

by | Feb 29, 2020 | Entertainment, Hillel Ontario | 0 comments

A new film stirring up controversy is Jojo Rabbit, a satiric comedy about Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. The thought of someone making a satire about Nazi Germany is hard to fathom, and ultimately creates feelings of discomfort. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and who had family murdered in the Holocaust, I couldn’t help but wonder what my family would think about a comedic film about their horrific experiences. However, since this film was voted People’s Choice during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, I felt that it was worth seeing.

Jojo Rabbit is by far one of the best movies I have seen in 2019, and it exceeded my expectations. It is smart, heartwarming, and intense, and it provides important lessons. The film describes the wartime experiences of a 10-year-old German boy, Jojo, who is immersed in Hitler Youth and whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler. Jojo idolizes Hitler and is indoctrinated by all the Nazi propaganda about Jews. When he discovers that his mother is hiding a Jewish teenager, Elsa, in their home, his antisemitism slowly diminishes as he learns more about her and the horrors carried out by Nazis.

Director Taika Waititi, a Jew from New Zealand, finds that happy medium between the satirical and serious. He pokes fun at the idiocy of Hitler and the Nazis, and educates the audience about the terror that the Jewish people faced during this time.

This month marks the beginning of Holocaust Education Week across many Jewish organzations. Hillel Ontario’s nine university campuses will be hosting survivors, speakers and installations with the goal of educating the public about the Holocaust, commemorating the 6 million Jews who were senselessly murdered. I encourage you to attend these events, and hear the stories of survivors and experts. I also encourage you to see Jojo Rabbit – you will be educated and moved by Jojo’s journey from ignorance and racism to compassion and empathy.

As part of our own desire to move our campus communuties towards compassion and empathy, hundreds of Hillel students across Ontario will sign a letter to Holocaust survivors, pledging to “never forget”. This letter will be presented at Liberation75 in June 2020- a conference to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of concentration camps.

Hillel is built on values of inclusivity and diversity, as well as a dedication to educating younger generations so that they remain connected to Jewish culture and community. It is important to me that we share these stories and continue these conversations with these values in mind. As Elie Wiesel said: “Only in remembering what happened to us, can the world assure that it will not happen to others.”

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2023

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2023

In their research on listening to survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides, Bronwen E. Low and Emmanuelle Sonntag note listeners’ problematic tendencies towards one of two responses.  On the one hand, they can regard the narratives as so unfamiliar and foreign that they must be pushed away as overwhelming, untouchable, and inaccessible.  On the other, the stories can be seen as familiar, to the point that the listener cannot separate their own experiences and emotional response from what they take in.

But another, preferable response exists: Roger I. Simon and Claudia Eppert talk about a “chain of testimony” and suggest that listening imposes a duty on the listener.  Listening to personal testimony at the crossroads of memory and history “imposes particular obligations on those called to receive it – obligations imbued with the exigencies of justice, compassion, and hope that define the horizon for a world yet to be realized.”  In this way, bearing witness and listening to testimony demands a number of actions and responses, including that we “transport and translate stories of past injustices beyond their moment of telling by taking these stories to another time and space where they become available to be heard or seen.”

If we take Simon and Eppert’s charge seriously, as I believe we should, those of us who have been privileged to hear the direct testimony of survivors of the Holocaust.  Their words come not just with the specific knowledge they impart or the emotional impact they have on us – sorrow, anger, fear, horror – but with a duty, an obligation of some kind.  

On many of our campuses, this week is Holocaust Education Week, and this Friday marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Given the significant number of Holocaust survivors and their descendants in Canada, the scheduled events and programs have a personal resonance for many of our students and their families, but their impact can be deep and meaningful for all of us, regardless of who we are and where we come from.  I encourage each of you to make time to participate in this week’s activities and to consider your place in the chain of testimony: what obligation does listening to narratives from the Holocaust place on you, and how do you carry those stories forward in time?

 

Weekly D’var: Shemot

Weekly D’var: Shemot

In this week’s parashah we learn the story of Moses, from his birth, through his flight from and eventual return to Egypt, to the acceptance of his role as leader of the Hebrew people.

After fleeing Egypt, for killing an Egyptian slave master, Moses was living rather peacefully as a shepherd in the land of Midian. The Torah describes for us Moses’s first interaction with G-d upon coming across a bush, “burning with a heart of fire [Exodus 3:3]”. G-d calls out to Moses and requests he take the Jewish people out of Egypt and eventually into the land of Israel. However, Moses argues with G-d, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh? Who am I that I should take the Jews out of Egypt? [Exodus 3:11]” After initially refusing four times, Moses eventually agrees to G-ds request, and as we know, the rest is history. But why was Moses so unwilling to take up the position of leader, to the extent that he would argue with G-d? And why was G-d so set on having Moses lead the Jewish people? 

Perhaps the answer can be found through the incident that led to his flight from Egypt, years earlier, when Moses, as mentioned above, killed an Egyptian slave master for beating a Hebrew slave. Immediately, he was met with opposition from some of the Hebrew slaves, “who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian? [Exodus 2:14]” Moses felt discouraged and unsure of his ability to lead. However, it seems that G-d saw in Moses, a faithful shepherd, the ability to lead his people from slavery to freedom. Very often in Tanakh, the people that are most worthy to lead are the ones who deny that they are worthy at all. Moses may not appear to be the first choice for a leadership figure, suffering from a speech impediment and lacking charisma; however, Moses possessed certain qualities that made him the ideal leader to bring the Jewish people out of Egypt. We too possess qualities that can lead us to achieve incredible success and realize our full potential. We may often feel unmotivated or unsure of our own capabilities. Instead of feeling discouraged, I believe we can look to Moses who, despite all his doubts, stepped up to the challenge and became the greatest leader in Jewish history. 

Sam Virine
VP of Jewish Life at Hillel Waterloo & Laurier

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