A Poignant Israeli Comedy about Gangsters-Turned-Do-Gooders

June 26 2018

In the recent Israeli film Maktub, two hardened criminals, after narrowly surviving a suicide bombing, decide to make their lives worthwhile by helping others. To accomplish this, they sneak notes from the Western Wall and then set out to fulfill the wishes of their prayerful authors. Liel Leibovitz, comparing the movie with both It’s a Wonderful Life and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, writes in his review:

[T]he movie’s real pleasures lie beyond its sweet plot and exuberant spirit. As soon as [the two protagonists], Chuma and Steve, embark on their cherubic undertaking, they come across a thicket of theological complications. Does God truly help those who help themselves? Were the rabbis right when they taught that nothing could withstand the force of our will? Or are some things simply beyond our control, the best of intentions be damned? Helping a nebbishy accountant get a raise is one thing—all it takes is dangling his meaty boss out a window and presto!—but how to help a woman unable to conceive? And how do two vigorous men accustomed to getting their way—or else—come to terms with those intractable things they haven’t the power to change?

These are not only the questions that trouble kindhearted thugs. They bedevil parents, too, eager to protect their children and yet mindful that none of us can shield our loved ones from the rain that inevitably falls down on every life. Chuma and Steve learn that lesson the hard way: emulating the Heavenly Father by making wishes come true is one thing, but being earthly dads to real children is a task of a very different order. And when real children appear on the scene—including a sweet and soulful boy who may or may not be Steve’s—the two are forced to go where no [Quentin] Tarantino character has gone before: into the parental realm of deep bonds and emotional commitment. . . .

Steve and Chuma’s real challenge. . . isn’t just to make a few wishes come true or even to learn how to be better men and better fathers. It’s to understand that most profound and baffling of all rabbinic exhortations: everything is foreordained, and permission is given. It means, as the two lovable mobsters learn, that the divine plan is good and great, but it’s not much use to you unless you believe it and act on it.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Film, Israeli culture, Judaism, Western Wall

The Evidence of BDS Anti-Semitism Speaks for Itself

Oct. 18 2019

Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs recently released a lengthy report titled Behind the Mask, documenting the varieties of naked anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery employed by the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the Jewish state (BDS). Drawn largely but not exclusively from Internet sources, its examples range from a tweet by a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (the “world would be soooo much better without jews man”), to an enormous inflated pig bearing a star of David and floating behind the stage as the rock musician Roger Waters performs, to accusations by an influential anti-Israel blogger that Israel is poisoning Palestinian wells. Cary Nelson sums up the report’s conclusions and their implications, all of which give the lie to the disingenuous claim that critics of BDS are trying to brand “legitimate criticism of Israel” as anti-Semitic.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, BDS, Roger Waters, Social media