Movies & Torah: Who Knew!!!

The Oscar’s are coming up, and everyone seems to have an opinion on who this year’s winners should be. Turns out, Boulder’s own legendary Jewish community educator Morah Yehudis Fishman isn’t just a Torah scholar, but she’s a movie buff as well. Before Yehudis gives a talk at the Boulder JCC on Monday, March 11 at 7 p.m. on her new book “Garden of Time,” (Deuteronomy Press) we had the chance to tap into some of her Hollywood wisdom before the March 10th Oscar ceremony.

Q: What was your favorite movie from last year?

Yehudis: I thought many of them were very good. Of course “Oppenheimer” was the most successfully ambitious, momentous and well done (and it didn’t hurt that it featured nominated for best supporting actor Robert Downey Jr., my choice for preeminent  comeback actor of the century! And a shtikel Jewish to boot). However my personal favorite was “The Holdovers.” I have a soft spot for lots of teacher-student movies.

Q: When did you first get interested in movies?

Yehudis: As a baby, I must have cried a long time. My mother was crippled and my father was deaf. He couldn’t hear me cry and my mother couldn’t get to me too fast. As I waited for them, I looked for someone to talk to, which is how I found God. Raised in a rather unstimulating welfare home, I tried to color my visionary longings with the larger-than-life personalities of the Hebrew Bible –  as well as movie characters. And so, Torah and movies became the staples of my spiritual and imaginative life from an early age.

Q: You are a lover of both Torah and Hollywood. Do you think they have anything in common?

Yehudis: I think both Torah and movies can provide us with both theoretical and practical advice about how to make the most meaningful choices at each stage of our lives. In fact, that is what I hoped to do with my book, “Garden of Time. “We can learn so much from other people’s choices, both positive and negative, and that can help us in our own personal journeys.

Q: Are there any movies you love that you think offer valuable life lessons?

Yehudis: Yes! I think of a scene in the movie “Patch Addams,” so wonderfully acted by the unique deceased actor, Robin Williams. At the end of the movie, he is ready to give up on life, when out of nowhere, a butterfly appears, practically bringing him back to life. What is it about a butterfly that represents an almost magical resurgence of will and determination to live the best life possible? Perhaps it is because the butterfly itself has experienced a rebirth from its own cocoon where it has been ensconced for three days without any source of physical nourishment to sustain it. Also, one of the theological issues that has preoccupied me all my life is the question of predestination vs. free choice. There are a few movies that come to mind expressing this theme. One is “The Truman Show,” a movie of a man who thought he was living a normal life until he realized that he had actually been programmed on a TV show to perform every moment of his life according to a precise script! The other was “The Adjustment Bureau,” where there are a group of heavenly beings who severely limit the choices a person can make in life.

Q: Are there any movie echos in your own life?

Yehudis: I realize I have a kind of Fiddler type of dialogue with God. I ask God, “Do you love me (enough to protect me from danger)?” The answer I get from the Shechina, the Divine Presence, is, “For seventy-five plus years, I have rescued you and brought you back to a healthy life, and you still need to ask me.” So thank you, Fiddler, for providing me with a ready image to keep me calm and trusting!

Q: Do you have a favorite movie quote?

Yehudis: I have two. One comes from a film that a close friend made me watch, just to get to the one line that I did love, though I’m not sure if it was worth seeing the entire movie. It was from a Steven Segal film that I don’t recall the name. In the movie, the hero was knocking a bully down over and over, till finally the last time, Segal cries out: ‘How long does it take to change the essence of a man?’  The other memorable quote comes from “Superman 2,” which I had to watch several times to make sure I heard it right.  In this movie, Superman dived over Niagara Falls to rescue a boy. An elderly woman leans over and whispers above the torrent of water, ‘What a nice man; he must be Jewish!’

Q: Finally, what can readers expect from your new book “Garden of Time?”

Yehudis: The book is an exploration of Lubavitcher Rebbe’s famous challenge to make our own birthdays more meaningful. I wrote one hundred essays, one for each of the first hundred years of a person’s life, dealing with the spiritual challenges of aging, our changing roles and relationships, and the spiritual numerology that hides behind each and every age.

About Lori Dube

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