Sunday, March 9, 2014

Punk Jews

"Convention is constricting"
Last night I had the opportunity to watch Punk Jews, a documentary about just that: In the filmmakers' words, "An emerging movement of committed Jews who are asking...what it means to be Jewish."

Though I would say that Judaism has always functioned as such a movement, this film is excellent in portraying many fascinating elements of Jewish identity, including contortionist art, punk-rock and rap music, sexual assault survival, racism, all-night parties, and Yiddish theatre revival. While not overtly Zionist, it touches on the Jewish-American connection to Israel as a metaphor for the conflicted nature of communal and individualistic self-awareness among modern Jews.

Jewish punkness is represented in the movie as a kind of rebellious spirituality. It is not so much anti-institutional or defiant of conventional Jewish norms as it is fiercely present:

For the love of an audience, the Yoga Yente dresses in a bathrobe and headscarf to perform human pretzel routines;

The writer MaNishtana - Hebrew for "What is different?" or "What has changed?" - muses over his Blackness being at once integral and inconsequential to his identity as a Jewish person;

Kal Holczle leverages the collective power of mothers to confront his insular Hasidic community around allegations of covered-up child abuse;

The Sukkos Mob pays homage to traditional Yiddish theatre by bringing religious-themed flash mobs to the commons of New York City;

among other profiled examples.

I was glad to see this film, as it reignited my appreciation for the weirdness of Judaism: its inconsistencies both beautiful and problematic, its braided approaches to truth and self-reflection, and all the people of the world who claim it as their heritage.

For anyone wishing to explore their ties to social groups, whether religious or not, I would recommend Punk Jews. Playful and sincere, the film showcases people who, guided by their love for something larger than themselves, use creativity to navigate a confusing world. Punk at its best.

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