Thursday, June 05, 2008
PBS airs two films on Israel, the Jewish people
PBS on WETA in Washington 26 aired two related films about Judaism. Both films were elongated by pledge funding appeals (with phone-bank volunteers), maintaining that this is the major source of money for non-profit film-making that usually does not have advertisers, but sometimes does have corporate sponsors. (Note that National Geographic sometimes makes films in conjunction with established Hollywood companies.)
"Visions of Israel" (90 min) offered spectacular aerial views of modern Israel. The most colorful part might have been the Dead Sea, 1300 feet below sea level, with odd coloration in some areas of evaporation, which has caused a 3 foot drop per year since the 1970s. Some pristine areas of Biblical times, such as the Spring of David, or the St. George Monastery built into the cliffsides of a canyon were shown. The stark and rocky Negev desert was shown traversed by a modern highway. The modern port of Haifa, capital city of Tel Aviv with the Parliament, and of course Jerusalem were shown in detail. Jerusalem photography showed the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the cantilever Chords Bridge. The story of the siege of Masada (subject of a musical cantata by Marvin David Levy) was told along with the spectacular views. This would have made a great film for Imax. The second melody from Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony was played a lot in the music score.
The second film was “The Jewish People: A Story of Survival,” produced and directed by Andrew Goldberg. The film starts in ancient times with the Exodus and moves through the Old Testament quickly to Roman times. The Talmud is discussed, as an intellectual body of religious writings that tends to encourage intellectual introspection and truth-seeking. Until the 4th Century, Judaism was a “legal” religion in cosmopolitan Rome, until it turned officially “Christian.” At that time the Diaspora occurred, with the spread into areas of Europe. The Jewish people generally tried to assimilate into their communities while retaining their religious customs. Gradually, anti-Semitism increased, somewhat based on the idea that the Jews had been responsible for the Crucifixion. But if so, that seems to be based on the (anti-individualist) idea that one is responsible for the acts of one’s ancestors, and that descendants of someone who was wronged can make claims on other blood family members. At the same time, many European communities had found the Jewish populations of economic “value”. Since in those times Christians could not charge each other interest (as Muslims cannot today), they turned to the Jews for lending, a fact that would stir great resentment later in history. Jews were victimized in the Crusades, even though they were carried out against Islam (still a source of major grievance today in radical Islam). European rulers gradually started chasing the Jews and expropriating or confiscating their resources. The Jewish people began to move east, into the “Pale of Settlement” in areas like Poland and eventually Russia. Communism did not work well for Judaism as it had expected. The film covers World War II and the Nazi Holocaust only briefly. The idea of returning to a Jewish homeland in the Holy Lands had been proposed in the 19th Century, but in 1948 the modern Jewish state of Israel was recognized in a political sense.
Professor Alan Dershowitz spoke often. He referred to the faith as one that people want to return to. Another professor noted that in many communities, families had tried to live in the same city for many generations, and children often felt deep geographical roots with family, despite the migrations over history.
Much of the film consisted of stills and artwork. Music of Mahler (the Adagietto of the Fifth Symphony, and some passages from the Sixth) was played a lot. Mahler converted “partially” to Catholicism.
A six-hour film aired earlier this year on PBS was "The Jewish Americans" (2007, PBS, dir. David Grubin, narr. Liev Schrieber).