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Films that make us laugh and cry

02/20/2019 05:46:31 PM


Rabbi Daniel Dorsch

How is it possible to laugh and cry from the same film?
For me, watching the 40th anniversary replay of the Frisco Kid at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival was a trip down memory lane. The last time I saw the Frisco Kid was as a recording off of my Zaydee’s VCR in Edison, New Jersey. Watching as an adult, I now realize just how many of the jokes went over my head in childhood. When the synagogue president announced the drinks to celebrate the rabbi’s arrival would be paid for from “the building fund,” I had a good chuckle. The comic antics of Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford were priceless. I laughed through most of the movie.
Yet, after the movie, I began thinking about the sold-out crowd, for whom much of the witty, humorous Yiddish dialogue fell on deaf ears. Sure, when Gene Wilder used the word “shmendrick,” or Harrison Ford--who according to Adam Sandler, was “a quarter Jewish”--mispronounced an obvious Yiddish word, the audience laughed. But forty years ago, they would have unquestionably laughed at a great deal more of the dialogue. That’s when I started to cry.
Certainly, the Shoah did no favors to the longevity of Yiddish language. However, I suspect that in large part Yiddish’s disappearance comes from generational neglect. It is the same neglect once chronicled in a famous legend about the Baal Shem Tov, who would go into the woods to light a fire and sing a melody. With each subsequent generation of Chasidim, part of the ritual is forgotten: until all that is left is the story about the ritual itself.
When it comes to Judaism, I wonder just how far this generational neglect will go on. In another forty years, will film watchers no longer understand the Yiddish, but simply ask: “Why was it necessary at all for a community to hire a rabbi to go out west, when they could have just asked Google?”
This, my friends, is how it is possible to laugh and cry from the same movie.
Mon, May 20 2019 15 Iyyar 5779