Exodus and Operation Exodus: Resounding in Head and Heart

I was writing a completely different blog post this morning, but a funny thing happened on the way to my deadline. I was doing paperwork and needed some kind of undertone or background noise — those of you who work from home will know what I mean. (You are also probably like me — very grateful that people can't see me when they call as I take "business casual" to extremes on some busy days.)


I was flipping through the cable channels and found the movie Exodus a few minutes into its running time. I was sure I knew this movie by heart and that I could let it play in the background as I went about my tasks. Wrong. I found myself watching as if I had never seen it before. For a film that has long been written off as hopelessly idealistic and old-fashioned, the extent to which it addresses current issues amazed and, to some degree, depressed me. 


It's all there, questions that are, sometimes shockingly, still being asked: why do we need a Jewish homeland, what did the declaration of a Jewish State mean to the Arab population, how can Israel live in peace? Yes, the dialogue is stilted, the characters are stereotypical in many respects, and the musical score melodramatically yanks at the heartstrings.


But in the real world in which we live, we are still trying to address the complicated issues that have faced Israel since the days of the halutzim, the pioneers who arrived to transform the swamps and deserts. My heart did swell and I did get teary during the declaration of partition scene; it's a response as ingrained as breathing to me, born nine years after the birth of the modern State of Israel and a Young Judaean through and through. Watching Exodus again, through the lens of my Zionism and my understanding of the things that have changed since the movie's 1960 debut was an unexpected but fascinating experience. Watching a young Paul Newman wasn't too bad either, I must admit!


So, I was intending to write about the amazing current day story of the renewal of Jewish life in Europe, from Great Britain through Western and Central Europe and in the former Soviet republics. I saw a little of this for myself when I was in Budapest and Prague this summer. I learned even more last week at the JDC Ambassador's Circle gathering sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in New York. We heard the stories of young people who are living meaningful and rich Jewish lives in places we wouldn't have thought possible 20 years ago: Poland, Hungary, Russia. If you want to learn more, check out JDC Ambassador's Circle on Facebook or at jdcambassadorscircle.blogspot.com to read some of these stories for yourself.  


We are observing the 20th anniversary of Operation Exodus, the freedom from tyranny and the aliyah of hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews. What we are seeing is that there is a vibrant life emerging for many of those who remained. I continue to believe that for all of us living outside of Israel, whether in MetroWest, Minsk, or Madrid, we are free to be Jewish precisely because there is a strong Jewish State. Which is why, I guess, Exodus the movie, and the story of Operation Exodus, both resound in my head and heart.


Rent Exodus over the holiday break. I'd love to know what you think!



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