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The Social Landscape Through The Lens Of Jewish Identity

2623 words - 10 pages

Within the catalogue of films concerned with the representation of the Jew, the relinquishment and transformation of identity has been a recurrent theme. Yet many such films, which demonstrate the way in which Jews have been forced to repress, deny and transform their identity in order to live flexible, unrestricted lives are much more than a reflection on Jewish identity. Beyond this, these films are ruminations on the attitudes and temperament of a society that makes such invisibility necessary. The image of the victimized Jew becomes a more universal portrait of victimization within the geographical and historical context of civil society; for, in the presence of tolerance and acceptance, the need to suppress identity becomes immaterial. This can be clearly witnessed in the current trend in Jewish cinema arising particularly from within the Jewish societies like Israeli where filmmakers have turned their sights to new victims, focusing on the disenfranchised Arab. A central concern of these Jewish films is the issue of victimization and prejudice, which precedes, and moreover, determines any discussion on personal abandonment of and struggle with identity.Cinematic inquiry into Jewish identity, and more specifically, the reconstruction and betrayal of identity is often apparent in films from countries where Jews live as a sub-culture within a wider metropolitan environment. Such movies meditate on crucial themes associated with displacement: abandonment, assimilation, and the threat to Jewish cultural and religious survival that this transformation necessitates. According to Omer Bartov, “Diaspora Jewry learned that the best way to survive as Jewish communities within an alien and often hostile Christian environment was to find some sort of accommodation with the powers in place” (239) Bartov argues that for many the Holocaust intensified the struggle over the definition of Jewish identity as denoted by religious convention. In a post-Holocaust world, Omer Bartov asks, “What sort of generation would grow up from families emptied of content and nights filled with screams of nightmares? Could one find comfort in faith or in rebellion, in loyalty to the past or in the erection of a new world…?” (246).In Pascale Bailly’s God is Great, and I Am Not, Francois, a closeted Jew living in France and the son of a Holocaust survivor, answers Bartov’s questions by following the latter approach, repressing his Jewish roots. Francois hides his Jewish identity and the attachment that he has to it is a tenuous one. When his girlfriend Michele begins to study Judaism, his resistance becomes more pronounced. To satisfy her, he reluctantly learns the prayers, adheres to the religious feasts, and wears the Yarmulke. But Michele’s increasing obsession with the Jewish rituals, which Francois has long ago spurned, creates a growing conflict within their relationship. This is amusingly played out in one scene where the lovers...

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