Thursday, December 29, 2005

Ushpizin: A Review


I recently saw Ushpizin, a movie about a Hasidic couple in Jerusalem. I thought it was outstanding. The actors who play the couple are married in real life, and their on-screen relationship has a sense of reality to it that you rarely see in movies. (It's also refreshing to see a movie with an overweight, female romantic lead.) Ushpizin gives you a feeling of what it must be like to really believe in the Breslov tradition of Judaism. The protagonists see God's hand in every event in their lives and, since it's a fictional world, even us atheists can perhaps see God's hand in their lives. (Indeed works of fiction often take place in worlds with much more evidence for Divine Intervention than I believe we see in our own -- fiction wouldn't be compelling without some order and meaning to things, while reality simply is what it is. However, that's a topic for another post.)

Watching the movie, I got to experience a different kind of Judaism from the modern Orthodoxy in which I was raised. Even when I was religious, I would never have thought that eating fish would make one likely to have a son, that God was purposely testing me with a difficult situation, or that if I prayed hard enough, God would intervene directly in my life. Mine was a more abstract monotheism, more suited to my world than to this movie's. I can barely imagine what it would be like to be constantly looking for signs from God. If I get in a car accident, should I worry that God's warning me? If I'm narrowly missed by a car, was it God looking out for me? When an escaped prisoner shows up at my door, has God sent him to me?

Such a life would be very interesting, and it has a kind of beauty. It also seems like it would be pretty exhausting, emotionally.

11 comments:

Laura said...

Sounds like an interesting movie. I like to glimpse into other worlds for a while. Makes it easier to understand where others are coming from.

Kyaroko said...

The way you described it is EXACTLY the way that I was raised by my Evavangelical Christian mother, and the way she still views God as being present in the details of her life. Any hardship that she encounters she deals with it by saying cheerfully "I believe that God is testing me and I've got to get through this!" An annoying coworker was a "blessing from God because God is reminding me how much I need him to cope every day!" She goes broke at the end of the month and can't afford to pay for her car insurance (after giving a good chunk of her paycheck to her church, aka "god") and asks her parents, my grandparents for money and then praises the Lord for providing. God helps her find her car in the big mall parking lot and starts it in cold weather. God wakes her up early in the morning so she can pray. God tells her to walk slowly on the ice so she doesn't slip and fall.
God I'm getting annoyed just writing this. I don't think I can see this movie. I'll pull my hair out.

Stacey said...

I planned on seeing Ushpizin this weekend, but it only played here in Dallas for 2 weeks and poof...it is gone!

I have heard that this couple does nothing to help themselves. Instead, they just pray. One of the things that gets me about God is the impracticality of the whole concept. It just doesn't work for me.

BTA said...

"Even when I was religious, I would never have thought that eating fish would make one likely to have a son, that God was purposely testing me with a difficult situation, or that if I prayed hard enough, God would intervene directly in my life."

Isn't that amazing!? Very insightful post. I think that kind of thought is the ikkar of being a religious Jew. Everything else is really just faking it.

And of course, unless you live in mea shearim in a screenplay, it's nearly impossible to believe that way any more, without a healthy dose of schiztophrenia...

I've heard more than one rabbi say "oy, if we only had the simple faith of our bubbes and zaydes."

It's true- emunah pshuta- can't be religious without it, can't be rational with it.

And, btw- that kind of thinking is probably what 99% of BT's think at first. They become incredibly "aware" of every little thing. As a new BT, I remember listening to a Rav Frand cd in the car and he said "if you aren't asking God for every little thing, like 'please let me get to the appointment on time,'" you really aren't working on emunah."

It's true. But, that's also why the CD is on the trash heap somewhere.

And also, when more than a few BT guys learn a little about the moshiach concept, they at least for a moment think "hey, that could be me..." Makes me cringe to remember...

Jewish Atheist said...

Interesting, BTA. I was assuming they believed in such a personal and active God because they were Breslovers, but you're right, a lot of it is probably the fact that they're ba'alei teshuvah as well. I'd love to see a movie about the same couple in thirty years and see how their faith has matured/changed.

secularhumanist said...

you know, this way of thinking permeates other chassidic groups as well. last summer, three young satmar (i believe) chassidim were killed in a car accident and soon after fliers went up in williamsburg suggesting that the deaths could be seen as a sign from God that women in the community need to dress more mdestly. i am not sure whether the masses believe this way, but the rabbanim continue to use such reasoning when terrible things happen. the satmar rebbe even believed that the holocaust and jewish persecution was brought on directly by the zionists as punishment for their efforts to establish a jewish state.

asher said...

Jewish thinking is permeated with this type of idea. In the talmud someplace it says "For every blade of grass there is an angel who says 'grow, grow'" The idea is to see God's work in everything. I understand Spinoza was excommunicated for saying God was in everything..but I never understood philosophy very well.

asher said...

Jewish thinking is permeated with this type of idea. In the talmud someplace it says "For every blade of grass there is an angel who says 'grow, grow'" The idea is to see God's work in everything. I understand Spinoza was excommunicated for saying God was in everything..but I never understood philosophy very well.

asher said...

It also reminds me of the scene in that movie "Oh God". John Denver meets George Burns who claims to be God. After some convincing Denver acknowledges that he is the presence of the Almighty. He asks Burns many questions but my favorite is, "Is there a Devine Plan for the world?" and Burns matter-of-factly says, "No..it's mostly luck."

DNA said...

I've done the life. Not so exhausting; he's a good god after all.

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie and it made me laugh repeatedly. The one feeling that came through was that essentially those weirdo clothed hssidim are just about the same as all of us. It makes me view hassidim less suspiciously.