Coping with Life and Lentils, Ushpizin Style
I didn’t like lentils until my mom told me Jesus ate them. After that, I was hooked. Sure, they literally taste like dirt, but that doesn’t matter when you have a short film playing out in your mind every time you take a bite. As I chewed and swallowed, my eight-year-old mind would sit me on a wall where Jerusalem sprawled out behind me, and Jesus and I would be chilling out, eating lentils together. For me, lentils no longer just fed me, they transported me.
That is why lentils are the perfect food to complement the 2005 Israeli film Ushpizin.
Not only is the film one of the first to be made by an orthodox Jew, but it is also one of the first to provide viewers such an intimate glimpse into Hasidic lifestyle and culture. Ushpizin transports viewers into the Jewish Community of Breslov in Jersusalem where we follow the lives of Moshe and Malli Bellanga, an impoverished couple struggling to make ends meet and preparing for the Jewish holiday Sukkot. After an anonymous donor leaves money on their doorstep for the holiday, the couple is again surprised by the unannounced visit of Moshe’s old friends, who in turn reveal unsavory fragments of their personalities, as well as Moshe’s past.
The film partly reflects the experiences of the screen writer, Shuli Rand, who had himself been a professional stage actor until he returned to Jewish orthodoxy. He also starred in the film along with his on-screen and off-screen wife, Michal Bat-Sheva Rand, who volunteered to act in it because Jewish law forbade him from hiring an actress.
Shuli Rand’s superb writing along with Gidi Dar’s extraordinary direction successfully and thoughtfully entwine the humorous and dramatic elements of the couple’s experiences. This, along with the commendable acting, especially by first-time actor Michal Bat-Sheva Rand, combine to form an argument for an omniscient and omnipotent higher power that is as eloquent as it is compelling.
So, bust out some lentils and some instant Netflix and allow yourself to be transported into the beguiling world of Ushpizin. Remember: even if you feel like faith in a higher being is blissful (or painfully unblissful) ignorance, come along for the ride anyway. You don’t have to agree with their mode of transportation to see the beauty in their journey.