“How do you reform yourself,” the playwright Motti Lerner asks, “after you’ve been broken?”
That’s the first question posed in Joseph Dorman and Oren Rudavsky’s new documentary “Colliding Dreams.” Lerner is talking about the Hebrew word tikkun, which translates roughly to “rectification” and signifies an ancient Jewish focus on the reparation of the world.
It’s an interesting note on which to introduce the film, which takes a look at the history of Zionism from its origins — a radical movement that rejected doctrine stating the Jewish people were not to build a new state until the coming of the Messiah — to its modern manifestation, equally conflicted in new and different ways. Starting off with Lerner’s explanation of tikkun, reverent in tone, might fool audiences into thinking the film would turn out to be a mouthpiece for Zionism, which has historically held the creation of the state of Israel to be an act of tikkun.
Not so. While displaying understanding for the Zionist cause and compassion for those who pursue it, Dorman and Radvsky have not flinched from reflecting the ways in which the movement has led to painful rifts as well as the desired reparation. These rifts include both the violent split between Jews and the displaced Palestinians and ideological splits, sometimes violent, within the Jewish people.
I sat down with Dorman and Rudavsky to discuss the film at Bubby’s, a busy, light-filled Tribeca restaurant. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Talya Zax: Can you tell me about the genesis of the film?
Rudavsky: I was trying to make a film about Zionism in one form or another for several years, because I come from a family of ardent Zionists, and we all have had increasingly troubled feelings about Israel. I thought, frankly, as a filmmaker, the great thing is that you get to educate yourself and learn along the way.
Dorman: We certainly shared a feeling that the debate over Israel often shed more heat than light. There was a narrow-mindedness on both sides. I think we were interested in creating a film that would enter that debate and enlarge that debate.
When I learned that Zionism was originally against liturgical dictates I was stunned. Can you tell me more about that?
Dorman: A lot of the Zionists came from religious backgrounds, and I think they traded their religiousness for socialism or Zionism or a combination of the two, because they are idealists the same way ultra-religious people are idealists about their religion. Not only did religious Jews see it as blasphemous, but say in America the assimilating Jews who wanted to be considered Jewish Americans didn’t want to have this other national identity that would interfere with their ability to assimilate.
Where do you think the continuing instinct driving Zionism comes from?
Rudavsky: I think a lot of Jews who have absolutely no religious impulse, when they go to Israel, even if they don’t speak Hebrew, a lot of them feel this thing that they’ve never felt before. It’s something about the land. It’s almost embedded in your soul, this love of rocky Jerusalem terrain.
Dorman: The first time I went to Israel I was 18. I got on a flight, not thinking much of anything, and I’ll never forget this; the moment the plane landed [it] was like an electric current shot through my body. It was so unexpected. All those things that Zionism [was] about – the having power over their own lives in the majority – were summoned into my head and heart completely unbidden. It was like a conversion experience. And I think many of us, you don’t even understand the seeds of that are inside you until you experience them.
Given the emotional connection both of you feel to Israel, was it difficult for you to make this film, which is quite objective in its treatment of all of the political and social issues surrounding the existence of the state?
Rudavsky: The revelation for me in making this film is that even though I am for a two-state solution and returning the occupied territories, even though that’s what I believe, when we met settlers – and Joe would make fun of me – but I understood the impulse. I understand where they’re coming from. It’s a strong emotional bonding with the land of the Bible. And you meet those people and you get where they’re coming from even if you don’t agree with them.
Dorman: It was at times painful but ultimately I think liberating. The first Palestinian interview I did was with a man who I deeply respect, a very sophisticated man who’s a product of Israeli education, whose close friends are Jews, but who does not believe that there should be a Jewish state because he believes it’s inherently and essentially discriminatory to Palestinians. When I was interviewing him I wanted to scream. I wanted to scream and argue. After that initial experience I interviewed more Palestinians and it became, ultimately, a liberating experience to be able to hear a completely different narrative, completely different side of the story, and not feel annihilated by it. Not feel destroyed by it. I think a lot of Jews in their defense of Israel often find it hard to hear the Palestinian point of view because it does feel in some sense annihilating.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture intern. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter, @TalyaZax
Zionist Dreams and Realities Collide in New Documentary