My little heart was formed in a liberal shape when I was 11, 12, 13 years old by a book, a movie, and a friendship with a rabbi and his family.
One of my earlier posts was mostly about being shabbos goy for the family of the only rabbi in my hometown when I was that impressionable age. His eldest daughter and I were good friends, and I was deeply intrigued by and interested in the history, the culture and, yes, the food of this Jewish family. Aside from the fact that Etta could not eat dinner at our house (the family kept kosher), there were no differences between my friendship with her and anyone else, and it never, never occurred to me that there should be.
But it wasn’t just the Rosensweigs who shaped my liberal, progressive heart… it was reading “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Malcolm Gladwell be damned… this is the perfect book. Oh, out there somewhere there might be other books that might be put forward, other books I might agree are incredibly good nominees for the perfect book. But Harper Lee’s classic truly is. It’s perfection lies not in the words she put on paper, but in the emotions she pulls out of our hearts and the profound ideas she puts in our heads.
Many people think of “To Kill A Mockingbird” as a book about racism, which it is of course, but I think that opinion is reinforced by the brilliant movie which focused on the Tom Robinson story, leaving out so many other facets of the book. I’m not blaming the movie makers for this; they had just 2 hours to tell a story that runs three years in the book! But because of the time constraint, the story of Boo isn’t fully or, to my mind, properly fleshed out. Moreover, we don’t see how Scout and Jem change and develop from very young children to thinking people; we don’t see the role that Atticus’ brother and sister play in that development, and as Atticus’ support system; we don’t see the townspeople, their quirks and foibles, their strengths and faith; we don’t see how important Calpurnia is to the children, and to the parallel, separate and desperately unequal community in Maycomb.
Reading all those things in the book enriches the experience of Tom Robinson’s trial so we are both prepared for and devastated by the verdict. And that background, those people we find only – or fully – in the book, remind us that there are better natures amongst us, we just have to fight to bring them out, keep them out, and push back against the ugly, bitter amongst us.
But it wasn’t just the Rosensweigs and “To Kill A Mockingbird” that shaped my liberal, progressive, bleeding heart… it was Norman Jewison’s film “In The Heat of The Night”.
I lied to my parents to go see this movie for the first time (it was a special showing at high school and I wasn’t allowed to go to movies on school nights). I wasn’t a kid who lied to her parents, and I’m not sure exactly why it was I felt I had to see it but I did, and I will be forever grateful I did. I don’t know the words to express how deeply I was affected. I was angry, I was enthralled, I was shocked, I was impressed, I was… overwhelmed. I adored Sydney Poitier… and I fell in love with Norman Jewison. And this was before I knew anything about the movie industry or what directors did! I still love Norma Jewison; having a pancake breakfast with him (he has a farm that makes maple syrup) is on my bucket list. Between mouthfuls, I would tell him that I think because of him, and I am grateful for that gift.
In one of the papers I read on-line, there was a story yesterday or the day before about how a bunch of, well,let’s call them “conservatives” to be nice, are all up in arms about President Obama talking about the Trayvon Martin killing and hosting a showing of “To Kill A Mockingbird” at the White House earlier this week, and then introducing it on a US cable network this evening. They say they’re tired of him bringing up race all the time.
Seriously? Seriously?? The absurdity of this non-thinking coming from a wave of people who defend and support birthers, and believe corporations are people, and by voter i.d. laws would deny the basic tenet of democracy to as much as 20% of the US population, and suggest that women are the same thing as caterpillars is… actually quite frightening.
I have friends and even siblings who are conservative – some of them read this blog – and I think they know that I am not. But I also hope they know that I respect their right to believe what they do, lead the lives that they do. I am grateful they don’t ask me, expect me to follow their path too… as I don’t expect them to follow mine. I ask only that the paths we all take are ones of tolerance and faith and equality. We’re not at that point yet as a society and until we are, we need to read the books and see the movies and talk with the people who believe in those things, who work to make them happen.