A Place Could Make You Cry Part I--Reflections on Seeing the Film Unsettled

To paraphrase Groucho Marx: before I start writing, I would like to write a few words.
The title of this blog post is a take-off on a book title by a senior rabbinic colleague, Rabbi Daniel Gordis, an American Jewish leader who made aliyah in the late 90's and started writing emails about his families experiences in an Israel at war.  He collected a number of the emails into a book, If a Place Could Make You Cry--Dispatches from an Anxious State.  It has been a while since I read the book, but the title has stayed with me.  Now that you know the literary allusion, I will skip to the incidents that provoked this post.
This week is Israel Peace Week at Amherst College.  This ambitious program was created by Amherst Israel Alliance--a new Israel-oriented student organization which was created this fall (the last group, Amherst Friends of Israel, stopped functioning when most of its leaders graduated in '10).  I have had only limited input in the programming, which was organized by student leaders and Amherst's CJP IACT Fellow, Kylie Fisher.
Even though the week is only half over, yasher koach on a great first program.

The first night brought the Consul General of Israel to New England to campus for a reception with student leaders and an informal talk.  It had a good turn-out and feedback seemed positive.n  

The second night was a showing of the film, Unsettled, and a talk by its director, Adam Hootnick.  I had not seen the film but read a few positive reviews about it.  Interestingly, the film did not make it past the first step of selections for this year's Pioneer Valley Film Festival.  
Watching the film prompted me to write this post.

I don't often cry at films, which sometimes upsets my wife.  Even if I get emotional, it usually has to be a very sad movie for me to openly cry.  Last night, while watching Unsettled, I got very emotional at a few points.  I arrived a few minutes late and sat in the back row.  I didn't realize it at first but I sat next to the filmmaker, Adam Hootnick.  The film chronicles a group of charismatic young Israelis involved in different ways in Israel'
s disengagement (pull-out) of Gaza in 2006.  Through these Israelis and their experiences (as religious and secular settlers removed from their homes, peace activists, and soldiers who worked the disengagement, we are exposed to a nation at war with itself.  While I have often thought of the individual Israeli families who were uprooted from their homes in Sinai ( for me, through Safam's powerful song Yamit), this film brings you into the living rooms and cars of those involved.  It is full of powerful, and sometimes disturbing, human moments in the midst of a historical drama that has been all but forgotten in the West--a country using 55000 soldiers and police forces to uproot a few thousand settlers that were encouraged by their country to settle in Gaza.
One scene that I spoke about during the Q&A was filmed inside the living room of one of the character's family as the soldiers come to evict them.  In contrast to some of the houses which were packed up and even partially dismantled--this home looked like a normal home.  A major and a soldier calmly knock on the door and are admitted with every courtesy.  They sit at the dining room table and talk about what is happening.  The father of the household--like all Israeli males a veteran of the IDF--tries to tell them that they could disobey orders.  When it is clear that they are there to do their job, they talk a little bit more and share the emotions of the moment.  It is clear that each side is not going to back down but they explain why they believe and act the way they do.  The soldiers demonstrate empathy and try to express that they realize how difficult it is for the family.  An elderly man sitting on a couch explains that none of them will fight or harm Israeli soldiers in any way but that they will need to be physically carried out by soldiers.  Around when it is time for the family to be removed, coffee is placed in front of the soldier and the officer.  The young soldier starts to get up to do his duty and the officer stops him by saying, "Drink first."  In the Middle East, it is very rude to refuse food or drink offered to you by a host.  This is one of the times that I cried.  Here they are about to carry a family out of their home, place them on a bus, and take them over the line out of Gaza for the last time.  At least one day before, their presence in Gaza was no longer legal.  The older officer is teaching his soldier a powerful lesson in manners--you don't forgot how to be a guest even in the middle of taking the family out of their own house.  This is one of the times that made me say out loud (before I knew who I was sitting next to):  they are all kids.  (The film does a great job at showing parts of the careful training that was given to the selected non-combat soldiers who were in the inner circle of disengagement.  A powerful part of this is when they were repeatedly warned to not look happy in any way while they were doing their job--even if they were successful at clearing a house). 

For now, I will put this blog post up since I am getting tired but their will be more to come tomorrow. 

Rabbi Bruce

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