I was raised Jewish.
My family is Jewish. Cultural, New York Jews in every sense. Reform Jews– meaning while we honored and observed the big holidays and my siblings and I took part in Bar or Bat-Mitzvahs, it was a very “modernized” version of Judaism. We didn’t observe Shabbat. We only attended temple during the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We certainly did not keep kosher.
Our Judaism seemed to be less about faith and more about tradition and community. To this day, my extended family still gets together on these holidays, but more for the occasion of sharing each other’s company.
So, yes, I was raised Jewish. Am Jewish. Will always be Jewish. But when I think of faith, when I dwell on what inspires me and provides context and understanding into the depth of humanity, I am inevitably brought back to one thing.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson shares a similar sentiment about his relationship with the cosmos. As he once beautifully said, “I wanted to become an Astrophysicist not because I chose it. In a way, the universe chose me… I was called by the universe. I had no choice in the matter. I became a student of the universe with the ambition of one day being one of its participants.”
Any artist feels a similar inclination. They have to. It’s essential. This can be frustrating, heartbreaking work. What’s the point of subjecting yourself to the agony if you don’t feel an almost spiritual devotion?
There’s something that exists almost outside of you. A feeling that you’ve somehow been miraculously chosen to be an observer of humanity and fortunate enough to provide testament to its existence.
It’s a lifelong engagement. You have no choice in the matter.
That’s how it was for me with cinema.
I knew at a very young, impressionable age that this was going to be an important component of my life. From the moment I learned to read by looking up movie times with my late grandmother, this was simply a fact.
Cinema called me. Jim Henson and his Muppets. The Marx Brothers. Walt Disney. Humphrey Bogart. Steven Spielberg. Charlie Chaplin. Richard Linklater. Andrei Tarkovsky. Robert Bresson. A Planet of the Apes. A Twilight Zone.
They all called me, inviting me to participate.
Director Steven Soderbergh once shared, “… We are a species that’s driven by narrative. Art is storytelling, and we need to tell stories to pass along ideas and information, and to try and make sense out of all this chaos.”
I’ve been trying to make sense out of all this chaos since I was a little kid. These stories offered a universe to escape into and provided a lens to better contextualize my world from. Some people look to their religion for guidance and understanding when their lives lack clarity. I put on Casablanca.
When I watch a particularly beautiful film, I can almost feel the filmmaker trying to communicate directly to me. They reach out through their work, almost desperate to share their experience.
They whisper, “Hey kid, you’re not going through it alone.”
To know that same piece is resonating with hundreds of thousands of others in the world—that there are strangers I have never met who are experiencing a similar transformation—I’m left astounded.
As a filmmaker, I feel fortunate that I am able to contribute another verse to our collective narrative. I can take a step back and bask in the awe and wonder that I am a participant in this magical, shared journey.