What’s Playing?

I’m going to add a new feature to my blogging…since music and film are such a huge part of my life (music in particular – it’s how I communicate best), I’m going to start doing a “what’s playing” column every week. Every once in a while I might post a song I’m working on myself. This week, I’m going to talk about a documentary I watched – it’s called Defamation. Filmmaker Yoav Shamir decided to go on a couple of different journeys into the world of anti-Semitism and he made a film about it.

The most noticeable thing in the beginning is that he is Israeli. I understand some Hebrew, but when someone is speaking it rapid-fire I do need the subtitles. He first shows his introduction to the Anti-Defamation League, or the ADL, in Manhattan and discusses the activist group’s $70M budget. Next, he joins a group of Israeli Jews in high school preparing for a trip to Poland to see Auschwitz. According to Shamir, thousands now take this trip every year. He particularly points out the discussion about anti-Semitism that the students are told they will experience in Poland. There is quite a bit of that – including an Israeli secret service guard who is to travel with them in an effort to keep them safe.

Perhaps in an effort to keep the viewer’s attention, Shamir jumps back and forth between his trip with the students to Poland and his exploration of New York with the ADL. The tactic does work. He tries to find an active case of anti-Semitism that the ADL can have him follow, and in the course of that search he finds a bus from a Yeshiva (Jewish religious school) pelted with rocks by two black youths. He goes to that neighborhood and talks to some of the adults there and hears some pretty astounding views about Jews – all of which are explained not as anti-Semitism, but as open ignorance. Then he switches back to the Poland excursion and the kids are visiting a small holocaust memorial in Mejdanik; the memorial evokes no emotion and Shamir shows some of the students questioning why they aren’t feeling anything emotional about the experience yet.

Shamir speaks to multiple rabbis, at least two of which question whether anti-Semitism is as prevalent as some people claim. He also talks to a few Israelis who ask the same question. Then…he talks to Norman Finkelstein.

The son of survivors of Shoah (that is how the Jews refer to the Holocaust), Finkelstein is well-known to the ADL and is all but loathed by many American Jews and, indeed, many Israelis as well. He is by far the most vehement supporter of the Palestinians on this side of the Atlantic. Dubbing the blockade of Gaza “apartheid” and Israeli incursions into neighboring countries crimes against humanity, Finkelstein is one of the few who can make my blood go from zero to boiling in six seconds flat. Throughout much of the documentary, when he speaks, Finkelstein is pretty civil – at least until the end.

What is interesting is that when he gets back to the students, they’re gossiping about an incident with a few locals. A snarky comment from the locals has, by the end of the day, taken on a life of its own and Shamir points out that the students have begun to add to the tale. It’s an interesting point he tries to make: some Israelis, particularly the younger ones, sometimes believe that the entire world is out to get them. In some sense they may be correct, but like any persecuted group, sometimes they take it overboard and Shamir artfully points that out in the film.

In the end, Finkelstein shows his true colors and bites Shamir’s head off with a rant about how evil Israel is. I won’t quote it here, but I have to admire Shamir for trying to keep the conversation going despite Finkelstein’s open hostility. I don’t agree with all of his beliefs but it is a very interesting film and I would recommend it to anyone who follows the situation in Israel.

Now, what’s playing in my stereo? As I’ve said, I communicate best through music. Here lately I’ve watched some of the tragedies around the world and in my own back yard and wondered what’s going on. I’m an EMT trying to get through paramedic school; I often go on calls that don’t have happy endings. The song I’ve been listening to today conveys quite well how I feel about my role in all of it. On nearly every shift I go on at least one call that I walk away from feeling helpless, as though I did nothing of value and there was no real reason to be there. But once in a while, someone reminds me that even when the outcome is tragic, giving up would be far worse. Jewel’s “Hands” is a long-time favorite of mine and today it took on a whole new meaning to me.