Feb 17, 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.


Anonymous said...

What an absolutely fascinating film that sounds. Given the issues surrounding validity of conversions these days, it's certainly food for thought (especially as there doesn't seem to be a community standard, any more)....


D said...

As someone who is the middle of my own process of slowly converting, I'm sure that I could relate to much in the film. I know that my level of obsevances will never be the equal of some. I know that there will be those who will always question me and wonder I did not go as far in my conversion as others(such as yourself). Who knows what may happen after my conversion is formalized? I may take up more observences.

I have done what I can to make my peace with this the best I can. Only Hashem will be able to fully know the content of my heart.

Elka said...

I did see this movie over a year ago and the main thing I remember thinking is that he was doing this for survival. I can't blame him for not ever having a ceremony. If he spoke up and wanted a conversion he may have been sent back to Ethiopia. Is he a Jew? In this case as far as the outside world is concerned he is, because they don't know his "truth." They may question his Judaism but it is out of racism more than any factual basis. If he considers himself a Jew and the outside world considers himself a Jew then really, there is no issue. I also highly recommend this movie, probably my second favorite Israeli film after "The Secrets."

Anonymous said...

I did like this film when I saw it. And had this same discussion with Rabbi Awesome as well. He compares it to having a green card or becoming a naturalized citizen and says that living the life and feeling Jewish is NOT enough. You have to make the commitment which is, of coyrse, the brit milah. Which is where Anth is in the process at the moment (although finding the mohel is proving daunting...)

gavriel said...

I saw this movie in a theater 2 years ago, and it was my favorite movie of that year. It touched so many issues surrounding identity (race/adoption/religion/exile/society) there was something in it for anyone who has not lived on the same family farm for 20 generations.. ;-)

But I do know what you mean - I almost wished the father had allowed the rabbis to proceed with their forced "safety-conversion" which they applied wholesale to many Ethiopians.

R' Daniel said...

Ths reminds me of what many Jews did in the aftermath of the Holocaust or during the Holocaust- they converted to Catholicism in order to spare their lives. All in all, a very interesting film. I particularly enjoyed the bifurcation of inner and external obligations felt by the protagonist.

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