Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gates of Freedom

We're down to crunch time before Passover, and like my daughter, Anna, says in her recent post, I'm a nervous wreck. If you saw my kitchen, and the mess scattered everywhere, you'd understand why. There are piles of papers which appear to proliferate right before my eyes, and boxes of leavened products which must be dispensed with in the remaining hours. Our water heater blew this morning in the downstairs kitchen; it almost felt as if the Red Sea had come to us! 

Pesakh, or Passover, commemorates the Israelites' escape from enslavement in Egypt. Jewish people throughout the world remember the importance of the event by eating special foods linked to the bitterness of bondage. We dwell on what it means to be liberated, beyond the Biblical event, during our Seder. This year, for the Haggadah, or narrative, each participant will have at his or her place setting Chaim Stern's "The Gates of Freedom". It is a beautiful book filled with wisdom from the sages. One Chassidic message particularly meaningful to me:
You cannot be redeemed until you see your own flaws, and try to correct them. We can be redeemed only to the extent to which we see ourselves. 
For it is all too easy to point out faults in others without recognizing the same faults in ourselves. My daughter Sarah reminds me that what we see in others is most often our own reflection.

Last Friday evening, I attended the SIFF theater (in association with Seattle Jewish Film Festival) for the presentation of: "Harlan—In the Shadow of Jew Süss" directed by Felix Moeller. Veit Harlan was one of Germany's most notorious filmmakers, having collaborated with the Nazis in the making of anti-Semitic propaganda films, including Jew Süss, which was required to be watched by every S.S. member. Mr. Moeller's candid documentary focuses on the shadow Veit Harlan cast on his children and descendants, and the stigma they have had to endure throughout three generations. While a few of Harlan's descendants (he was married three times) converted or married into Judaism, the most poignant interview and perspective was that of Thomas Harlan, the first born. Left with intense shame for the actions and unrepentant attitude of his father Veit Harlan, Thomas has led a life of relentless activism in support of Jewish victims, and others who have been demonized and oppressed. Certainly, he has loved his father, but Thomas Harlan has been the most vocal critic of his father's work.

In my opinion, Moeller's documentary "Harlan—In the Shadow of Jew Süss," is an excellent film for Passover. Besides dealing with the universal theme of guilt and responsibility, this film, though not explicitly, commemorates the Miracle of the First Born.

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