A mission from God

A mission from God

Ruby Namdar on why “Maktub” matters

A scene from Maktub; above, a poster for the film.
A scene from Maktub; above, a poster for the film.

Maktub means fate in Arabic (and thus in Israeli slang).

It is also the title of a comic movie, featuring two Israeli television comedy stars, that tells the story of two crooks who survive a suicide bombing and decide to act as if they were angels, fulfilling prayers they find at the Kotel.

At first glance, it seems like a genre or two removed from Ruby Namdar’s tale of a middle-aged professor having a spiritual crisis.

So why is it Mr. Namdar will introduce the film in Closter next week?

As he plans to explain, both Maktub and his novel, “The Ruined House,” reflect “a certain renaissance in Jewish themes in Israeli culture,” he said.

“Until 20 years ago, most of Israeli literature and cinema was very secular. Being religious or traditional made you marginal. Religious and traditional themes marginalized works of art and cinema.

“In the last 20 years, something interesting happened in Israeli culture. More and more attention is being paid to the Jewish cultural roots of Israeli culture, roots that were really severed by the first and second and third generations of Zionism. The Talmud was rediscovered. Religious writing was rediscovered.

“Slowly but surely, more people from religious groups and more people of Middle Eastern or even Ashkenazi traditional background started creating mainstream, important, good work that was painted with very clear traditional Jewish cultures. That’s not something you could see when I was growing up.

“Maktub is a crime comedy painted with very strong Jewish colors. It’s funny and cute and it has various elements you would never see in an Israeli film even ten years ago,” he said.

One simple example: The presence of mezuzahs on doors.

“Check out Israeli cinema,” Mr. Namdar said. “There’s no mezuzot on doors. It’s striking to the eye.

“There’s a lot more. The characters go to the Kotel. They take out the pieces of paper that people wrote and they try to become angels who fulfill people’s wishes. They speak of themselves as doing God’s work. It’s a little bit like the “Blues Brothers” — I think there’s an influence there. But it’s even less ironic than in the “Blues Brothers.” Saying this in an Israeli film is new.

“One of the protagonists — a criminal! — tells the other guy, ‘We had meat for lunch, how can we talk about cheese now?’ These are very important signs of a deep change in Israeli culture that I welcome. We’re reconnecting with our Jewishness and bringing it into the mainstream culture and making it part of Israeli identity.”

What: Screening of “Maktub” with an introduction by author Ruby Namdar
When: Sunday, March 18, 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Where: Temple Emanu-El of Closter, 180 Piermont Road, Closter
How much: $12 JCC members/$14 nonmembers in advance at jccotp.org/israeli-center-adults ; $17 at the door

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