by Nolan Lebovitz
We are a storytelling people. There is no doubt about it. Comedic, dramatic or tragic, we are a people that enjoys an entertaining beginning, middle and end.
So it is easy to understand why Passover, a holiday with a dictated script, translates so well to contemporary times. No matter how observant your Seder (or Passover meal) is, most Jews gather around a dinner table and read a story about G-d, Moses and our redemption. The characters are so gripping that Hollywood has visited it several times: The Ten Commandments in 1956, The Prince of Egypt in 1998 and the upcoming Exodus: Gods and Kings.
The narrative of the Exodus experience drives our entire Jewish calendar. On Passover we celebrate the Exodus from Egypt. On Shavuot, we mark our arrival to Mount Sinai in the desert and the revelation of Torah. On Sukkot, we commemorate our travels by constructing our own Sukkah (or hut).
On the other hand, the High Holiday experience offers little or no connection to that narrative at all. Its themes of creation and repentance are very universal. Most of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is spent praying to G-d. No character arc. No script. It’s just you as an individual, or as part of a community, standing before G-d.
The obvious question seems to me: In this buddy film of you and G-d, who would you cast as G-d?
As silly as this question may seem, I believe it’s the key to understanding your High Holiday experience. Are you imagining a Game of Thrones G-d or an American President G-d? Do you imagine a young invincible Chris Pine or an old wise George Burns? Or is it just the voice of Orson Welles? Do you seek to hear a distant voice or does the voice emanate from deep within?
While you will notice that most of the prayers in the Machzor (High Holiday Prayer Book) are all in the plural because we pray as a Jewish people, I believe the experience of repentance and transformation must be accomplished individually as well.
I have spent much of the last eighteen months writing, directing and producing my upcoming documentary Roadmap Genesis. I have grown and changed through this journey. I am a different filmmaker and a different person than I was before I started. I am a different filmmaker and a different person than I was before I started Rabbinical school, before I moved to Israel for a year, before I had children, before I got married, etc. And yet the prayers of the Machzor always remain the same.
I love the set nature of the prayers. The set prayers are like an unchanging magnifying glass I hold up to my soul each year. The joy and the pain, the gratitude and the heartache, all of it is revealed to G-d.
Therefore, I have begun to ask how do I get to better know this G-d who knows me?
And also is George Clooney technically available in late September?
Shanah Tovah U’Metukah… Healthy and Happy 5775!Tags: Documentarian, High Holidays, Hollywood, Judaism, Nolan Lebovitz, Roadmap Genesis, Writer-Director