Evan and Seth’s Jewish Not-Jewish Movie Blog: The Last Jedi

by | Feb 21, 2020 | Hillel Ontario | 0 comments

Welcome to the second installment of Evan and Seth’s Jewish Not-Jewish Movie Blog! As you might remember, about once a month, Evan (Senior Jewish Educator, Hillel York)  and Seth (Chief Education & Campus Officer, Hillel Ontario) are going to take a look at a movie that has no ostensible or identifiable Jewish content and offer their commentary, as well as some Jewish texts that address one (or more!) of the movie’s themes.

This month’s movie is The Last Jedi (2017).  Some of you might be more familiar with its ultimate lead-in film, The Phantom Menace, but let’s give it a little respect and let it stand on its own today.  (Doing so also allows us to avoid talking about The Rise of Skywalker, which both of us disliked strongly, so, like, bonus.)

There’s a whole lot going on in this film. Too much, some say.  But at the core of the film are mentor/mentee and teacher/student relationships: Leia and Poe; Luke and Rey; Snoke and Kylo Ren; Holdo and Poe (even if he’s not the most willing of students).  These aspects of the movie drive both its plot and the characters’ development, providing us with a moment to reflect on the way our mentors and teachers have influenced us and how we, in turn, have influenced others when we’ve stepped into those roles.

Why We Chose This Film and What’s Jewy about It

  1. It’s available on Netflix, so it’s easier for you all to watch.
  2. The recent release of The Rise of Skywalker and the newly built Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge theme park at Hollywood Studios in Orlando has given us Star-Wars-itis!
  3. The only thing that Star Wars fans like more than Star Wars is complaining about Star Wars, so we figured this might allow us to do so!

As mentioned above, teacher/student relationships undergird much of the story in this film. Judaism, too, recognizes the significance of this dynamic. One example of this would be the multiplicity of Biblical narratives that focus on teacher/student relationships, such as the narrative of Moses and his protégé Joshua (and the associated commentaries and Midrashim). Another way that Jewish literature looks at this idea is through the legal writings that dissect this relationship with a more granular and technical approach, specifically outlining laws and customs that describe a “proper” teacher/student dynamic.

Pre-Screening Questions

Before you push play, here are some things to think about:

  1. What qualities do you look for in a mentor, and how do you go about finding one?
  2. Who are the best mentors or teachers you ever had?  The worst? What made them so good/awful?
  3. When have you served as a mentor or teacher to someone else?  What led you to take that role on?

Ready to watch the movie? Great! Go watch the movie! Now!

Jewy and Not-as-Jewy Sources

 

As you think about the film and consider the post-screening questions below, here are some fun Jewy and not-as-Jewy sources for you to think about!  We’ve chosen texts that relate to the theme of mentor/mentee relationships.

  1. Pirkei Avot 1:6

Joshua ben Perachiah used to say: “Make a teacher for yourself, and acquire a companion for yourself.

  1. Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 7a

Rabbi Chanina used to say: “I have learned much from my teachers, and even more from my friends, but from my students I have learned more than from all of them.”

  1. Analects of Confucius 7:8

The Master said: “If a student is not eager, I won’t teach him; if he is not struggling with the truth, I won’t reveal it to him. If I lift up one corner and he can’t come back with the other three, I won’t do it again.”

  1. Albert Einstein

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Post-Screening Questions

  1. Which of the students/mentors in the film do you relate best to?  Which of the teachers/mentors?
  2. Which characters’ styles of teaching and learning do you connect best with?
  3. Thinking about our first text, how do you see friendship and the teacher/student relationship play out together in the film?
  4. How do power dynamics play a role in the outcome of the various teacher/student relationships? Do the different relationships shown in the film offer diverse representations of how power affects teacher/student relationships?

Dear dedicated readers, if you’ve read this blog post this far, felicitations!  Thanks for sticking with us to the sweet, sweet end, and we hope you enjoyed the film and our attempts to find/unearth Jewiness in the most unexpected of places!  Please join us again next month, and hey, feel free to send us suggestions of films to screen.

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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