Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The heart is in Jerusalem
Time of Favor is an Israeli film that explores the politics within a particular Zionist settlement or "Yeshiva" run by the conservative, charismatic Rabbi Meltzer. There is a certain hierarchy in place within the community as demonstrated in the relationship between two friends, Menachem and Pini. In a rivalry that recalls the classic play, Cyrano de Bergerac, both compete for the affection of Michal, the lovely daughter of the powerful Rabbi Meltzer. Though Pini is respected as the most intelligent, promising member of the Yeshiva, and favored by the rabbi himself as a match for his daughter, his friend Menachem, a brawny commander in the IDF, steals Michal's heart. The emergent feud between these men escalates until Pini, in an attempt to prove that he too possesses bravery and physical strength, attempts a suicide bombing on a mosque in Jerusalem that results in his death, sans victory. That the lives of these three young people are placed in jeopardy over the lofty idealism of Rabbi Meltzer's radical, Zionist leanings is a testament to a recurring theme that we have discussed from literature and film in this part of the world -- namely, the unwavering willingness of the older generation to sacrifice its youth in the name of an ancient and incendiary cause.
Michal, with much disdain, repeats her father's mantra to Menachem, "The land of Israel is bought with pain." She goes on to say that the more pain her father experiences and witnesses, the more worth he assigns to this mission. Throughout the film, we witness, along with members of the IDF and other residents of the Yeshiva, the rabbi's impassioned speeches in the name of the cause. "We abhor the word 'war,'" he says. "Killing is not our job." Yet, the purpose of his boisterous sermons is to instill pride and a sense of duty in his followers. He encourages them to remember, "The dead lion is more alive than the living dog." Much like the leaders of the suicide bombing operation that we viewed in Paradise Now, Rabbi Meltzer encourages his soldiers and students with great fervor from within a fortress built of words and shiny ideas. He succeeds his father who waxed poetic on the notion of "The Third Temple." In a conflict as lengthy and convoluted as that between Palestine and Israel has become, ideology as high-minded as Rabbi Meltzer's seems inevitable. How else can generation after defeated generation justify the hopeless situation which they offer their children as inheritance? It is the young and strong who must sacrifice their lives while their superiors in religion and politics make the decisions. Subtly, Time of Favor makes light of this injustice. Near the end of the film, after Pini's death in his failed suicide bombing attempt, Rabbi Meltzer is escorted away from the scene. He protests, insisting that his presence is necessary as the soldiers' spiritual leader. Ultimately, however, words and ideas are of no use. What's done is done, and the defeated rabbi must step aside so that others may clean up the mess left behind by the mis-execution of his very vision.
**Image: An artist's depiction of the sacred Third Temple.