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Rabbi Allan Finkel

 
RESPONSE BY RABBI ALLAN FINKEL RE: THE FILM MA NISHMA MB, AND RESPONSE BY CINDY BASS TO RABBI FINKEL AND OTHERS

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March 16 and 17, 2022

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[The  below exchange is based on the following articles:

https://www.winnipegjewishreview.com/article_detail.cfm?id=7552&sec=1&title=LETTER_FROM_BRADLEY_POLLOCK_REGARDING_THE_FILM_MA_NISHMA_MB,__AND_RESPONSE_FROM_THE_JEWISH_HERITAGE_CENTRE

 

RESPONSE BY RABBI ALLAN FINKEL REGARDING THE FILM MA NISHMA MB

March 15, 2022

I have been noticing with interest the various responses to the Mah Nishmah Winnipeg film in the Winnipeg Jewish Review and would like to offer my thoughts, as someone who participated in the documentary.

 

I happened to be approached by the two filmmakers very early in the project. I was one of their first interviews, and I took the opportunity to “interview” them in turn. I found their approach to be fascinating – and currently misunderstood – and I was delighted to get involved.

 

What I have come to understand as a rabbi is that there is a generation of Jews – millennials, and Gens X, Y and Z – who have not grown up in structured Jewish homes or in our education system or in our synagogues, who have many and arguably far too many sources of information available to them, invariably online. But at the core, they – exactly like the film makers themselves – have a curiosity about their own Judaism and a surprising self-awareness of the limitations of their understandings. As I spoke with those two young film makers, they were on a laudable journey of exploration and self-exploration, intending to collect “snapshots’ without pre-judgment or preplanning to help them on their way.

 

What I have also come to understand as a rabbi is the importance of the middle word in the documentary’s title. Nishmah, standing alone, means “we shall listen” and it is the core skill of great teachers: to find out first where people are at, and then to go to where they are at the start of our engagement. Frankly, yelling or trashing them at a distance for what they say or know or think or have learned so far (when they differ from our beliefs) is exactly the wrong approach.

 

I wish to make it clear, in my engagement with the film makers, that I found them to be wonderful people, curious about their relationship with Judaism, with no “agenda” or secret ties to anti-Israel or anti-Jewish organizations. Nor did I see or sense that in any of the participants in the film.

 

So, I look at this documentary as a gift, an unusually open insight into how new generations of Jews are accessing their understandings of Judaism, community and Israel. So many of our Jewish community institutions have looked at this demographic, wringing our hands and wondering where they are at and what we might do. We now have a starting point.

 

Frankly, I’d like to listen more to them, because that is where and how we will build the bridges we so desperately need if we want to transition our Judaism in a meaningful way to the next generation and the next and the next.

 

B’shalom,

Rabbi Allan Finkel

 

RESPONSE  BY CINDY BASS TO RABBI FINKEL AND OTHERS RE: THE FILM MA NISHMA

March 16, 2022

I saw the film Ma Nishma MB and this letter is meant to be a  response to the  letters of, Rabbi Finkel, Ellery Broder, Jewish Heritage Centre and Bradley Pollock

 

I interpret Rabbi Finkel’s letter to suggest in essence that because the filmmakers belong to the next generation, and were on a “laudable journey” of self exploration, it is best that their film not be criticized to any real degree in the press in relation to the way Israel was portrayed in the film. That means that when an interviewee in her 30s in the film compares Palestinian refugees in the 1948 war to Jews during the Holocaust and that is unrebutted (as outlined in Ellery Broder’s letter), those of us who are disturbed by the comparison  are supposed to be muted or silent about this.

 

In my view, the film was very unbalanced in the way it portrayed Israel. We must remember that this film was first screened at the Gimli Film Festival, before a general audience and may continue to be screened before general audiences in the future. Do we want non-Jews to learn that it is appropriate to compare 1948 Arab Refugees to Jews in the Holocaust, and by extension to compare Israel to the Nazis ?  (Note it is very reasonable to infer this latter comparison from  Lasha’s words as outlined in point one of Ellery’s letter). I don’t want non-Jews to learn this,  which is why I don’t see this film as “ a gift.” 
 

Similarly, since the filmmakers belong to the next generation, many of their peers may see this film. Do we want to teach young people in the Jewish community that it is appropriate to make the above comparisons? Or is it a moment when we want to educate our young people that it is not at all appropriate to compare Jews in  the Holocaust to Arab refugees in the 1948 war. Similarly, for example, do we want to educate our young people  that Israel is to blame solely for the conflict, or do we want to educate them that the Palestinians also bear  responsibility for the current state of affairs ? Further, if this film helps to persuade some  young people, for example, that Birthright is really Birthwrong, what will we have achieved?  Will this lengthen our life span as a Jewish community? I highly doubt that.

 

I do not believe that either Bradley Pollock or Ellery Broder set out to “trash” the filmmakers, but rather to have a serious discussion on the points made in the film pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, by looking at what was included in the film and what wasn’t. Surely, filmmakers, even youthful ones, can be scrutinized for the messaging that they put out in the public forum, and the impact that it has. 
 

There were aspects of the history about Jews in Manitoba in the film that I did enjoy. However, in my view, it is also acceptable to question why a film meant to portray the history of the Jewish community of Manitoba  did not cover the subject of the long history of pro-Zionist activity in our community. Omitting such history does a disservice to our community, which has had many Zionist organizations here for  many decades.

 

I am in total agreement with the many fine  points raised by Bradley Pollock and Ellery Broder in their respective letters. While I understand Rabbi Finkel thinks it is important to “listen” to the filmmakers, I hope he will also take care to listen to those who were pained by the unbalanced way Israel was portrayed in the film they made. As Ellery and Bradley pointed out, there was a slippery slope in the film of anti-Israel bias. After viewing the film, I have wondered whether  Zionism in Winnipeg is fading and withering away. 

 
 
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