Thursday, February 18, 2010

Movies Are Us: "Live and Become"

Monday night, a bunch of second and third year Hebrew students gathered in a dank room of a campus building to watch our scheduled Hebrew-language film, T'chiyeh v't'hiyeh (תחיה ותהיה). My transliteration is probably horrible, but it's the best I can do for now. Here is the film's synopsis, according to Wikipedia:
Live and Become or Va, Vis et Deviens is a 2005 film about an Ethiopian Christian boy who disguises himself as an Ethiopian Jew in order to escape famine and emigrates to Israel.
The film, which has won a ton of awards, is incredibly emotionally. The young boy in the film is sent off by his Christian mother from a refugee camp with a Jewish woman. The boy gets to Israel and is told what his new name will be and who is parents and grandparents were. He's angry, torn, and inevitably is adopted by a secular Jewish-Israeli family. Throughout his life, he wants/needs to tell others that he isn't truly Jewish, but it never comes up and/or he can't tell anyone. He says, "I'm not Jewish, but I feel Jewish." I won't ruin the movie for you, but there's a wedding, a reunion, and more. The movie is completely emotional with ups and downs, a child torn between his Christian past and mother still in Sudan and his Jewish life with his new Jewish family in Israel.

The movie is fashioned around the struggle of the Ethiopian immigrant to Israel and the struggle of being an oleh from a completely different world with a completely different way of life. The story is compounded by the fact that the child isn't Jewish by birth and only he knows this truth. He becomes good friends with a rabbi that also emigrated from Ethiopia, and this rabbi tries to guide the child on the right path. His family life is tenuous, as his family is French-Israeli and his father has a specific outlook on life. But his grandfather and his mother always are there to lend an ear and provide a positive impression on things to come.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the movie -- especially coming from a convert like myself -- is that the boy, despite "feeling Jewish," never goes through the process of a brit milah, even knowing of his future simchas and knowing that he is living a fully Jewish/Israeli life. It raises a lot of really important questions as a Jew or as a potential convert to Judaism.

Is it enough to simply feel Jewish?

This goes into a much greater debate that I don't necessarily want to have here: What should conversion to Judaism comprise? Should it be enough to feel Jewish and state your dedication to Judaism? Some religions require very little, such as a simple statement about the Gd and major prophet of that religion. No learning before the fact, nothing beyond a declaration. Words, after all, are powerful. Was it enough for the boy in the movie to FEEL Jewish? Or did he really need to commit to the brit milah ceremony?

That also makes me wonder whether the movie's point was that it is enough to feel Jewish. I can't decide. Has anyone else seen this movie? What was your perception? Was the boy wrong to go through life not committing to the covenant through the means of the community standard?

Anyway, what an interesting movie. What a thought-provoking movie, at that. I highly recommend it, and I would love to hear what you all think about it, too. As well as the questions posed here.