Birthright at the Bottom

Birthright at the Bottom

By Maya Eldar
Kol Hazman
March 7, 2008

Eyes Wide Open provides a lot of food for thought regarding American Jews and ourselves.

The south is being bombed, Gaza is on fire, people are demonstrating in the streets and everyone has an agenda they would like to discuss with whoever will lend an ear. In the midst of this chaos, which looks like it will never end, Jerusalem temporarily turned into an island of sanity(don't get enthusiastic, everything is possible here). During these sane moments, I found myself going to the Israeli premiere of Eyes Wide Open written by Stuart Schoffman and directed by Paula Weiman-Kelman. A quick glance at the invitation proved that this wasn't for laughs: this was a serious movie that set out to examine some unsolved issues and explore the prejudices and insights of American Jews visiting Israel.

The Cinematheque's main hall was filled to the brim, mainly with English speakers, probably because the films, the reception, the speeches and panel discussion following were all in English, which is my mother tongue but certainly not the local language. Greetings were presented by Lia Van Leer, who honored us with her presence and remarked how happy she was to be there. Ilan De Vries, General Director of the Cinematheque, said a few words about "the complex relationship between American Jews and Israel, especially in recent years." After that, the screening began and in the background we heard Nathan Alterman's song Siyum in the popular version sung by Arik Einstein "Don't wear glasses, sad or happy - look with eyes wide open." After that, we saw archive footage of the November 29 vote and the dancing in the streets of the city.

The camera moves suddenly to 2006, to a birthright group traveling from New York to Israel, and we see the Americans' deliberating whether to come to Israel or not, why to come, why not to come, etc. The interviewees have everything; they really lack nothing, but they are expressing a desire to connect to the Jew within themselves, and it seems they are lacking one of the ingredients in the recipe of personal and individual wholeness, an ingredient that seems to exist only in the Holy Land. The brave and beautiful get on the plane for a few weeks of joyful intoxication, which includes sightseeing at the pace of an Energizer bunny, tree-planting, eating in the markets, Kabbalat Shabbat ceremonies, and if possible, volunteer work in the community.

The camera follows American young women that came to demonstrate against the Security Fence, to protest the injustices and to support the stranded Palestinians. They have the right to. The very candid script cause many locals in the room to move nervously in their chairs, because, for crying out loud, who are you to go on about the situation, when you have no clue as to what is going on here? Then we went on to another person who made a direct comparison between Europe sixty years ago and Israel today. She was joined by some other people who said they really don't understand why Israel needs a strong army, and I was personally blown away by the tourist that said that we really don't need the State of Israel. Comic relief came in the form of an American Jew that hasn't visited Israel for years , and the moment he landed, the Second Lebanese War broke out. As a result of his indecision and fears, he took a plane back home before he managed to fulfill most of his goals.

It was disturbing to see and think about the absolute rift between Jews living in Israel and American Jews. R', a veteran immigrant to Israel, who became aware of the rash I was developing, tried to comfort me by saying that those that participated in the film are those that still take an interest and support in some way, in comparison to the huge, silent numbers that do not come, do not support and certainly do not put a quarter in the Keren Kayemet boxes.

Following the screening, Weiman-Kelman thanked everyone, especially producer Jon Lopatin, and said "I tried to understand the fundamental connection between American Jews and Israel, and what American Jews expect from this relationship. During the process, I made this film, in the hope that it will serve as a springboard for a candid and open discussion about the emotional and social bond between American Jews and Israel.

For dessert, there was a respectable panel, including Colette Avital, who spoke about the alienation and rift between the two communities; Eliezer Yaari, who said that "in this dialogue, we have to take ed to justify ourselves all the time; Yossi Klein Halevi observed that "60 years after the Holocaust, there are Jews who are uncomfortable with strength." And scriptwriter Schoffman stressed that "Israel is the ultimate text that has no substitute" A lot of questions. No answers. Maybe in the next film.

Once You Visit Israel, Everything Looks Different