"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel" (originally published in 1996) is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

Want to see some of the best films of recent years? Just scroll down to "best films" to find listings of my recommendations.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mekimi -- From Secular to Religious

Mekimi, a five-part TV drama mini-series, produced by the Drama Department of the Israeli cable TV company, HOT, and directed by Ram Nahari, is currently being broadcast in Israel.   A particularly compelling series, it is an adaptation of the 2007 bestselling autobiographical book by Noa Yaron Dayan about her own spiritual journey and how she and her husband made the transition from secular to ultra-orthodox (Bratslav).  
The title is a reference to a verse from Psalms -- 
מְקִימִי מֵעָפָר דָּל מֵאַשְׁפֹּת יָרִים אֶבְיוֹן
Raising me up from the dust, from the garbage pile God will raise the needy. (Psalms 113:7)

In the first episode, Alma is the star of a children's TV program.  She's attractive, well-known, and successful.  It's Purim time in the mid-90s, and a Jewish terrorist (Baruch Goldstein) has just murdered dozens of Muslims at prayer in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.   The crew of Alma's TV show have to decide if their show should go on as usual.  This is a commonly debated issue in Israeli life and often you can hear political leaders insisting that we must not give in to terrorism by letting it rule our lives.  But after Alma does the show, filled with farce and trivial Purim humor, things just don't seem right for her.  She begins to unravel, realizing how much she is removed from her profession, and how much she hates the materialism and immorality of her Tel Aviv lifestyle.
Her new flat-mate, Ben, is a filmmaker who calls himself an anarchist.  They become attracted to each other, talking about existential issues and about meaning in life.  When they witness the death of a young woman from a drug overdose at a trance party in the SInai desert, they are both strongly affected.  Already at the end of the first episode and into the second, it is clear that Ben is moving from one extreme to the other --from ultra-secularism to ultra-orthodoxy.  Considerably distraught, Alma watches as an outsider as he is changing his entire life.  

On the one hand, this TV series reflects the fact that Israelis find ultra-orthodoxy to be so compelling and so supposedly authentic.  On the other, it shows a simplistic view of Judaism.  Either you are anarchist or  ultra-orthodox. Unfortunately, this only perpetuates worn-out stereotypes that apparently still persist , and it leaves no room for nuanced complex and sophisticated views of religion in Israeli society.

Notwithstanding these issues, Mekimi is filled with compassion and beautifully adapted.   It tells the story of two young people -- they are not extraordinary by any means, but their devotion to each other and their personal journey are all of interest.   

You can view the first episode at the HOT website (in Hebrew with Hebrew subtitles).

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