The Schmooze

The Cantor Who Was Actually Jesus

It’s not giving anything away to say that Lifetime’s new movie “Twist of Faith” ends with its mismatched romantic leads back together, embracing on the threshold of her home. Nor does it reveal anything to note that Music and the Power of Song connect Toni Braxton’s Black Gospel singer with David Julian Hirsh’s doubting, erstwhile cantor. And it certainly doesn’t spoil the movie to mention that “Twist of Faith,” which Lifetime calls an “interfaith love story,” begins with the horrific murder of the cantor’s wife and children on an ordinary bus, on an ordinary day, in an indeterminate part of Orthodox New York. This is a Lifetime movie: love conquers all and violence expresses the persistent vulnerability of women. None of this makes watching “Twist of Faith” any less surreal.

It’s the misnomer “interfaith” that makes “Twist of Faith” mildly uncomfortable. We’re used to seeing intermarriages on TV and in movies. It’s almost easier to count the number of times that the Jewish hero ends up with a Jewish woman than it is to count the times he ends up with the American gentile woman; the former is so infrequent.

But we’re used to watching intermarriages and inter-dating with couples that are only residually or ethnically Jewish. They eat bagels and lox, drop a few Yiddish words, and otherwise go about their lives. For that matter, their spouses are only residually or ethnically Christian: they sit down for Easter dinner and drink cocktails with their meals. Their lives are inherently secular. Chrismukkah for all!

What’s strange is that “Twist of Faith” is a story about believers, religious doubters, and those who care passionately about God. It’s a story about trying to interpret God’s will, and how we comprehend human suffering. In some ways it’s one of the most admirable attempts to talk about faith and piety ever seen on screen, and it is respectful to Judaism as a religion. Yet it’s also uncomfortably Christian: the only person who can heal the Jew’s suffering is the righteous Gospel singer, and the only community that embraces him as a full servant of God is the Black church. The cantor is only the object in a story about Christian mercy, the recipient of other people’s acts of kindness. Also: he is possibly Jesus.

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The Cantor Who Was Actually Jesus

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