Sometime last fall, one of my Mom’s friends told us about something relatively new at our local library, where you can sign up for the streaming services Kanopy and Hoopla, with your library card, and watch five movies free each month, on each service. One has more television shows (especially from Acorn TV), and the other has more art films, foreign movies, and documentaries. I don’t have Hulu or Netflix or Amazon, because they cost money, and my cable bill is already prohibitive. So I signed up for Kanopy and Hoopla right away, even though I wasn’t sure if these services would have anything of real interest to me. And then I spent hours scrolling through the options, and dropping dozens of movies and TV shows onto my watchlists. There are tons of television shows from outside of the United States on Hoopla that I’d never seen, and videos on psychological topics, and all kinds of music and history shows. Then, on Kanopy, I found a trove of movies from Israel, and the rest of the Middle East, some in Hebrew, some in English, and all new to me.
Of course, I started out with the TV shows, lots of mysteries set in Dublin and Australia and New Zealand and England. I watched on my phone while I was on the semi-recumbent bike, because each episode was the perfect length for an exercise session. There’s a show called No Offence that is absolutely addictive; a British police drama with a sense of humor and a uniquely female sensibility, including three female leads. American TV shows tend to run in seasons of twenty-two episodes, so the realization that each season of this show only had seven or eight episode was heartbreaking. But I made up for it by watching a lot of different shows.
And then I pushed myself to watch the documentaries; some of it was hard to watch, and some of it challenged my prejudices, but all of it seemed to be expanding the world I could feel comfortable in, bit by bit.
There was a documentary about Autistic kids in New Jersey, on a Special Olympics swim team, and one about a high school for the Arts in Los Angeles, and then seniors in a Jewish nursing home, and training a guide dog in Japan. It took a while for me to be willing to watch the Israel-related movies, because I was worried about what I’d find. The most difficult for me to watch, months along in the journey, was called The Settlers, about the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish settlers in the West Bank. I knew about the settlements. I knew that Orthodox Jews had started to move into the occupied territories after the 1967 war, when Israel captured land from the surrounding countries, including the West Bank territories from Jordan, but I didn’t know how much violence was involved. I didn’t know how terrible the rhetoric was. It was extremely painful to see and hear terrorist ramblings from my own people; from people I could have gone to school with, or prayed with.
This documentary was aimed at Jews, like me, who don’t know enough about the settlements and the settlers. It is not a balanced view of the overall situation in Israel, because it assumes you already have that information from other sources. It helped that before I watched The Settlers, I watched a documentary about the kibbutz movement in Israel – a utopian social experiment that helped to create the country, but has largely fizzled out, though some kibbutzim are still trying to adapt to the modern state of Israel. And then another documentary about Modern Orthodox teenagers form America spending a post high school year in Israel.
I feel like my headspace is widening with all of these shows from other countries, making me feel less isolated in my own world. TV has always been my way of researching the human condition, because I found it so hard to understand the people I saw in person as a kid. I couldn’t figure out what was going on in their heads, or in their lives, but people on TV told me so much more about themselves and their lives. Watching on a tiny screen doesn’t really change that feeling of openness, except that now I have access to even more people and even more worlds I’d never otherwise see.
I can’t promise that I will watch every difficult movie on my Watchlist, because there are too many to choose from, but I feel stronger for making the effort. Now if only they had a category for movies about dogs, or better yet, starring dogs. Cricket and Ellie would love to meet some Irish Wolfhounds, or French poodles, or Australian shepherds with authentic accents. Cricket used to have an English Bulldog friend named Rupert, but he had a distinctly American bark, and that was disappointing.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.