Today a friend sent me a link that made me smile: -- Ben Tap Soul, a 39-second film featuring a guy named Ben Natan tapdancing in tefillin. In part it's the incongruity that gets me, though I also think it says something subtle and valuable about prayer and fun. It's labeled as a "JIF" film -- Jewish Impact Films.
After watching that one a couple of times, I clicked over to their films index page. I didn't watch all the films, but I watched several. At the moment my two other favorites are Passover Noir (2:12 -- funnier if you don't know the "plot" going in. If it confuses you, leave a comment and I can explain) and First Person (0:59), a poem performed by Matthue Roth, artfully animated and well-spoken.
Beneath every wee movie, there's a link to "learn more" (which takes you to their learning page) and, beneath the "do more" header, a series of links to various places around the Jewish internet. The links gave me some clues about the perspectives that underpin the enterprise. Anyway, I got curious, so I delved deeper into the JIF website. The Jewish Impact Films Fellowship, I learned, "was established by leading Hollywood producers to empower the next generation of young Jewish thinkers to use creative media, specifically short internet-based films, to effectively communicate new messaging about Judaism and Israel."
Nu, what are the "new messages" they want to communicate? On their donations page, I found their mission statement, which begins "Let's face it -- public relations for the State of Israel and the Jewish People could be a lot better." On their application page they answer the question "Why are we doing this?" with "Because the Jewish world needs help," and follow that with predictable alarmism about Israel and about the incredible disappearing Jewish community. Oy.
That kind of doom-and-gloom talk frustrates me...and I'm a little annoyed by the notion that better PR is any kind of solution. How about fixing what's broken about both Israel and mainstream American Judaism? (We don't have to agree on what that is -- in fact, disagreeing about what needs fixing could lead to some fruitful and fascinating conversations -- but I'd still rather focus on solutions than on looking better.)
That said, I agree that it's valuable to "provide an entrée for thoughtful people to re-approach this vast ocean of knowledge and spirituality [e.g. Judaism] with a renewed interest." In the end, I take issue with some of JIF's premises,
but I like some of their films.