by Rabbi Marc Friedman
THE TWO MOVIES THAT WON THE OSCAR
THIS YEAR 5758
How many of you watched the Oscars this year?
How many of you watched to the very end?
Really? The next time somebody complains that our services were too long, I
will remind you of how long that show was.
What struck me, as I watched a small part of it, was Billy Crystal's line:
How things have changed..last year Washington was complaining that there was too
much sex in Hollywood...this year it is the other way around..
And the other thing that struck me was that two movies won an Academy Award this
year that on the surface seem to have nothing whatsoever in common.
One was a movie that everyone seems to have seen...and the other was a movie that
hardly anybody has seen, and yet, I believe that these two movies, taken together,
represent the flip side of the same coin, and that these two movies, taken together,
have much to say to each other. And to us.
The first movie, the one that everybody but me seems to have seen is "Titanic".
I haven't gone to see it for two reasons..one is that there is no suspense, I
already know how it ends.
And two...any movie that is over 3 hours long...I will have to wait until I retire
before I have time to see it.
The other movie was "The Long Way Home" which won the Oscar as "Best Documentary
of the Year".
It is a movie, produced by the Weisenthal Center in Los Angeles, that tells the
story of those Holocaust survivors, who somehow made their way to Palestine, and
rebuilt their lives after the war.
What is the connection between these two movies?
I think it is: "Titanic" tells the story of a ship, that everyone thought was
indestructable ... that was destroyed,
And "The Long Way Home" tells the story of a people that everyone thought was
destroyed, that turned out to be indestructable.
The question that intruiges me is: Why did the Titanic sink and why did
the Jewish people survive when everyone would have predicted that it would be
the other way around?
My guess is that the reason the Titanic sank...is because those who made it,
and those who sailed it, were overconfident...they were convinced that they
had built something so marvelous, so magnificent, that it could never be
Whereas the Jewish people felt the other way around...they felt that they were
on the very edge of destruction, they felt that they had been almost almost
wiped off the face of the earth, and therefore, if they did not take desperate
measures, they would not survive.
There are now a whole slew of books out, about the Titanic...for some reason,
people seem to be fascinated with the story....
And in one of these books, there is a picture....I didn't buy the book but I
browsed through it in the bookstore, and I saw a remarkable picture. On the day
that the ship set sail, there was a banner on it, and the banner said; in large
letters..."even G-d can't sink this ship". That's arrogance, that is
overconfidence, that is what the Greeks calls hubris, that is what the Jews
call chutspa. The people who built the Titanic, and the people who sailed it,
were so smug, so arrogant, so sure of the invincibility of what they had made,
that they sailed straight into destruction...
Whereas the Jews have learned to sail through the storm waters of history,
carefully, and cautiously, and with full awareness that at any given moment,
the flood waters of hatred or the storms of anti-Semitism may sweep over
There was a great scholar, who taught at Brandeis university, named Shimon
Ravidowitz, who wrote an essay that deserves reading and rereading. The name
of the essay is "The Ever Dying People" and the thesis of the essay is that, in
every generation, the leaders of the Jewish people felt that we are the last
generation...that it is almost over now...that, either because of anti-Semitism
from the outside or because of assimilation and atrophy on the inside, we
Jews are just about finished... and because they felt that way, they did
whatever had to be done, to keep the ship of Jewish destiny afloat...at least for
one more generation.
If the Titanic was sunk, because of the overconfidence of its builders, the
Jewish people have survived because of the determination of its leaders..
That is what "The Long Journey Home" is all about...it is the story of a people
that has been counted out, the shards, the broken people, the wounded and the
maimed, physically and spiritually, who came out of the concentration
camps ... barely alive .... who crawled onto those illegal boats, and filled
them, beyond capacity, and sailed thru the British blockade, and got to Palestine.
And there, began life over again, and rebuilt themselves, and rebuilt the land,
did so, even though everyone else thought they were finished, theirs is one of
the great stories of human resilience in all of history,
If the lesson of the Titanic is: al tivtichu bindivim, biven adam she eyn lo
tishua...do not put your trust in people, for they are only human, the lesson
of "The Long Journey Home is": put your trust in people ... for if they have
courage and determination, they can accomplish the superhuman.
Let me tell you a story, that is so strange, that it is hard to believe ... but
it is true.
There were two brothers in America, who were very famous...Nathan and Isadore
Straus, they were multi millionaires, and they were considered among the
greatest philanthropists in this country,
The two of them, Nathan and Isadore, together with their wives, took a tour of
Europe in l9l2, they enjoyed all the cultural sites of the continent ... the
museums, the operas, the theatres, the palaces ... and then, they got the idea
of going to visit Palestine for a while. They hopped over from Europe to spend
a few days in the Holy Land, and, as happened, wherever they went, these two
philanthropists were given VIP treatment,
They were shown the holy places, and the cities, they were shown the yeshivas
and the artists colonies. They were given the royal tour, as is customary when
distinguished philanthropists visit a country. And then,after a week, Isadore
Straus and his wife said: ok, already, it is enough...how many camels and how
many yeshivas and how many hovels can you see? If you've seen one, you've seen
them all. It is time to go..
But Nathan Straus and his wife refused to leave. Somehow the sight of the Holy
Land, and the sight of so many people living there in abject poverty, took hold
of him ... and he couldn't pull himself away.
The two brothers argued: finally, Isadore said to his brother ... OK you stay
here, if you insist, we're going back to America, where we belong ... and so
Nathan Straus stayed in Palestine, and while he was there, he donated money for
the creation of a lovely city, on the shore of the Mediteranean...
And since he was the chief donor, they named the city after him ... his name in
Hebrew was Natan, so they named the city: Natanya.
And his brother, Isadore?? He went back to Europe, and got there just in time to
make the connection....and so, on April l0, l9l2, he and his wife, Ida, boarded
the Titanic in Southhampton ... and five days later, they were amongst the l500
other passengers and crewmen who went down to a watery grave.
Isadore Straus died on the Titanic.
And Nathan Straus missed the boat...
But not really ... unlike his brother, he felt that he had a rendezvous with
history ... and for the rest of his life, he lived with a sense that he had almost
died ... and that he must have been saved for a reason ... and he gave of his
means and gave of his time and gave of his energy to doing good.
I think that the lesson of these two movies is clear: If you live with smugness
and certainty and overconfidence, you end up with disaster, but if you live with
awareness, and conviction and determination, and if you live with the knowledge
that life is tough and life is dangerous, and that you are always on the edge ...
you may win out.
I think of two groups whose lives prove this truth.
I think of that motley mob that left Egypt on this day, some 3200 years ago. If
any reporters had been there to cover the story ... If CNN had been there that
day, and had seen them leave, what would they have said?? That this bedraggled
group ill equipped for desert travel, with no military experience whatsoever, which
had left so quickly that it hadn't even waited for its bread to rise, would never
make it thru the wilderness.
If Jimmy the Greek had been asked to give odds on whether this group would make it
or not, can you imagine the odds he would have given? Smart money would have said:
And 50 years ago? When those broken people, whose lives are described in "The Long
Way Home", when they swam ashore in Palestine, and defied the British police who
were looking for them, so that they could send them back to Europe....
Would anyone living then have predicted that they would not only be able to
rebuild their lives but that they would build together a state that would be the
strongest in the Middle East, that would have the best hospital between Europe and
the Far East, that would have the most highly developed computer industry East of
Silicon Valley, who would have believed it? But they did.
The Titanic sunk...and these little boats, which were barely seaworthy survived...
gleib nisht in nissim.....how can you not believe in wonders?
and so, when we sit at our seder tonight,
Let us learn from the story of what happened to Isadore Straus, not to be so
arrogant, and so overconfident, and so proud of what human beings can do...
And let us learn from the story of what happened to Nathan Straus to be proud, and
to be confident of what human beings, who have a purpose beyond themselves, and
who believe in a sacred cause, and who have the help of G-d, can do.