“Gloomy Sunday” — Finding Compelling Jewish Cinema Via Serendipity

Planning for a four-day weekend, with three days without library access, I went a little wild on Thursday scooping up DVDs. My son’s with me so I looked for films through his eyes. Several genres called out to me–a big film noir collection, 13 Assassins in the ever-popular Japanese samurai mode, Gilda with Rita Hayworth, and finally, from the German shelf, Gloomy Sunday. I had never heard of the movie, but the Holocaust themes and Budapest setting suggested this could be worth a look.

We kicked off our holiday film festival with this movie. I highly recommend it to anybody looking for a different take on Holocaust cinema. The Amazon link gives plenty of details about the film, so I’ll focus on what made it especially notable for me. First, female lead Erika Marozs├ín throws out some of the most smoldering looks ever seen in a movie — the term “bedroom eyes” must have been invented for her. She plays a waitress for a Jewish restaurant owner in Budapest, before and during the war. The character and probably the actress aren’t Jewish, but she’s integral to the plot of a movie that relentlessly moves toward the deportations from Hungary, which happened in 1944. I’ve already updated my mental list of the sexiest Jewish movies to include Gloomy Sunday on the strength of Marozs├ín’s performance.

The Holocaust aspect is compelling but not nearly as explicit as Schindler’s List and The Pianist. I found Gloomy Sunday also interesting also as a Holocaust movie set in Hungary. Other movies that came to mind are the Hungarian-language Fateless and English-language Sunshine are other movies set in Hungary, and they all deal, to differing degrees, with the lives people made after the war ended.

As an extra treat, Gloomy Sunday has a conclusion that makes rewatching earlier parts of the movie a delicious, retributionist pleasure.

 

 

Getting This Jewish Show on the Road with . . . Tim Tebow?

Given that tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, this is an ideal time to start this new blog with thoughts on — Christians and Jews. Sometimes I think I stand at the crossroads between two religious traditions with a 2,000 year history of at best uneasy coexistence and at worst, unidirectional slaughter. A news item last week showed the clash very clearly, and the uproar had a personal angle for me.

The issue involved the column titled “My Tim Tebow Problem” by Rabbi Joshua Hammerman of Stamford, Connecticut’s Temple Beth El. The column appeared first online, and then in the print edition of the New York Jewish Week. Rabbi Hammerman expressed his unease about Denver Broncos’ QB Tebow, from his missionary parents to his long-time public admissions of his Christian faith. The stunning Broncos OT victory over the Chicago Bears was the straw that broke the rabbi’s tolerant back. The column had many unintentionally classic paragraphs, and this captured the tone the best:

If Tebow wins the Super Bowl, against all odds, it will buoy his faithful, and emboldened faithful can do insane things, like burning mosques, bashing gays and indiscriminately banishing immigrants.

Rabbi Hammerman continues in that mode and closes with this thought:

Unlike some other blue-staters, I do not fear people of faith. I fear people of certainty. The worldwide struggle going on right now is not between good and evil, but between certainty and doubt. I fear people of certainty. It cuts across denominational lines: Progressive modern Orthodox Jews lie on one side of the divide, joining mainline Christians and moderate Muslims, and those on the other side are also Jews, Christians and Muslims; the people of certainty.

The column certainly caused comment, and the worst thoughts soon vanished from the column and then the column itself was yanked from the Jewish Week website. Fortunately, I bought a copy of the December 16 issue and can enjoy these thoughts in a hard copy, whenever I want. Rabbi Hammerman issued a short apology on his own blog, saying his effort to “make broad points about society and extremism” backfired. The Jewish Week issued its own apology.

I followed the controversy with some horrified fascination. In one connection, I attended services at Beth El when I lived in Stamford; in fact, it was the first synagogue I checked out when I moved there in October 2002. I attended community events where Rabbi Hammerman spoke, and I never had any problems with his comments. So, seeing somebody I sort of know getting pounded in the press made me wince. I felt for him, even if I disagreed with what he wrote.

Rabbi Hammerman’s comments also carry a certain twisted validity. He expressed, in a clunky way, what I have heard other Jewish and non-Jewish blue staters say many times. They loathe conservative Christians in terms similar to what appeared in the column. Progressive religious beliefs easily merge into the left wing of the Democratic party, mirroring a process that also happens on the right wing with the GOP. They have little empathy and barely any tolerance for the people of certainty. As in Rabbi Hammerman’s column, the certainty people can be Jewish as much as anybody. I’ve heard Jews savage the beliefs and lifestyles of Orthodox and, especially, Chasidic Jews. I can imagine them reading the column, now down the memory hole, and nodding, “That’s right, he’s speaking the truth.” He was the perfect progressive on the matter and I would have liked to see the column remain up to stimulate discussion. Apologies notwithstanding, Rabbi Hammerman voiced what he and others think about those icky Tebow types, even Jewish Tebow types.

Tying the discussion in to the upcoming book, I’ve had first-hand experiences with doubters. I dated one woman who became enraged at the very sight of Orthodox women, whose politics did not align with hers. At one event, she harangued two of them, shouting, “If you don’t believe in abortion, then YOU raise the kids people don’t want!” I remember thinking, “How can she say that? What if these women lost relatives in the Holocaust, or had infertility problems? She doesn’t know anything about them.”

Another woman, an immigrant from one of the more repressive corners of Eastern Europe, exhausted me during telephone chats with her anti-American screeds, starting with the idiot leader George Bush and working her way through the political and economic shortcomings that surrounded her. My romantic curiosity, which was considerable, crumbled under the hammerblows of her Euro-skepticism. I’m happy to report that she ultimately returned to the tolerant and thriving Eurozone and is much happier with the culture and politics. The fascist hellhole that is Amerikkka just wasn’t her kind of place.

I’ll leave it to others to analyze whether those “mainline Christians and moderate Muslims” are really such pals of progressive Jews, and why Hindus and Buddhists were excluded from the discussion. What’s the JewBu perspective on coalition building? For now, I hope the controversy leads to reflection on how Jews and Christians get along, and what factors drive Jewish blue staters of faith to lash out at others of faith who don’t stick to a very narrow range of politics and lifestyles. I’d like to think doubters and certainers can find common ground. But I’m afraid I’m a person of doubt on this matter.