Category Archives: Family friendly

The Nutty Professor (1963), directed by Jerry Lewis

nutty professor posterIn high school, I was not a very serious student, so it was unsettling for me when I entered Yeshiva University as a freshman and found myself in a class with very bright students who masterfully controlled the ebb and flow of class discussion. Because of my low opinion of my own academic background, I rarely raised my hand when I had a question and rarely contributed to class discussion. It was a case of low self-esteem that had ripple effects. Because I thought little of my own intellect, some of my professors thought the same of me. Because of my non-participation, they thought I was not capable of adding to the discussion, and so they didn’t call on me. It took me a couple of years to overcome this feeling of intellectual inferiority; but when I did, things changed for me and in my teachers’ evaluation of me as well.

Self-esteem is what The Nutty Professor is all about. Professor Julius Kelp is a shy, socially inept teacher, whose classroom experiments often end in disaster. When a bully humiliates him, he is motivated to join a fitness club in the hopes of overcoming his lack of style and poise. It does not work. However, in the recesses of his chemistry lab, he is able to concoct a potion that transforms him, albeit for a short time, into the suave lady’s man known as Buddy Love.

As Buddy Love, he has the confidence to pursue a relationship with Stella Purdy, an attractive student of his. Stella is repelled by Buddy’s arrogance but finds him attractive in a strange sort of way, suspecting that beneath his pompous and crude persona rests a person of genuine worth.

Complications ensue when the mystery concoction wears off at inopportune times, leaving Julius conflicted and confused. Eventually Julius comes to the realization that he has to be himself in order to become a whole human being.

Accepting himself as he is, he finally declares: “ I don’t want to be something that I’m not. I didn’t like being someone else. You might as well like yourself. Just think about all the time you’re going to have to spend with you. And if you don’t think too much of yourself, how do you expect others to?” It is a simple statement, but full of wisdom as Julius embarks on a new stage of his life with Stella, who now sees him as a genuine and likeable human being.

Self-esteem is a major focus of the works of Rabbi Abraham Twerski, a psychiatrist specializing in problems of addiction. He defines self-esteem as “a true and accurate awareness of one’s skills, capabilities and limitations.” If the awareness is not rooted in reality, then one is living a delusion. Twerski believes that a great many psychological problems are due to low self-esteem in which a person devalues himself. He possesses a negative self-image, which leads him to accomplish little and feel downcast most of the time.

A positive self-image grows where a person feels he has value. The Bible tells man he is created in God’s image, which implicitly means he has value. God does not command us to succeed in everything we do; rather He simply wants us to live a life of godliness as prescribed by the commandments in the Bible.

The Jewish institution of the minyan, the required ten men needed for public prayer, drives this point home. Nine great wise men cannot enable public prayer. You need a tenth, and how much wisdom he possesses is not part of the equation. Everyone counts. No matter how low on the status scale, you are still capable of making things happen, of enabling the community to thrive. The Nutty Professor reminds us to be ourselves, to understand that everyone matters, and to continually nurture our self-esteem.

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Big Miracle (2012), directed by Ken Kwapis

big miracle posterWhen I moved to Israel, I had trouble understanding the political system here. Unlike the United States, there are many, not just two, political parties jockeying for power. In the recent elections, I saw first hand the implications of this multi-party system. Every party has its own agenda and pushes it strongly. However, when there is a crisis and one issue dominates everyone’s thinking, then the smaller parties promote the larger party in order to insure that the issue driven by crisis is resolved for benefit of the entire nation. Crisis brings everyone together, even if in ordinary circumstances they would not agree on anything.

The notion that crisis brings people of different viewpoints together is at the heart of Big Miracle, a family film about the extraordinary rescue of whales who, as they make their 5000 mile annual migration, are trapped because of rapidly forming ice in the Artic that blocks their route to the open sea.

Adam Carlson, a TV newsman working in Barrow, Alaska, would like warmer climes and a broader marketplace for his talents, but destiny gives him an opportunity to pursue a great human interest story just when his commitment to being in Barrow is flagging. When he reports on the local news about the plight of the trapped whales, the story is picked up and featured on the national networks. His ex-girlfriend, Rachel Kramer, an avid environmentalist working for Greenpeace, encourages Adam to enlist the aid of everyone to save the whales both because it is the right thing to do and because it is good public relations to participate in the rescue effort. Representatives from oil companies who want to drill in wilderness areas and environmentalists, normally hostile enemies, join ranks to save the whales. Moreover, journalists of competing entities descend on Barrow to witness the rescue attempt and to write about a story that is mesmerizing people around the world.

Soon a working coalition forms between the local Alaskan whale hunters, environmental advocates, and the oil drilling companies. Even the American and Russian militaries join to free the trapped whales. Each employs a different strategy to rescue the whales, but all strategies are coordinated with one another.

The Midrash tells us that when the Jews first came to Egypt, they were twelve tribes who saw themselves possessing a common destiny as articulated by their father Jacob. Once there, however, factions developed over time; and as the slavery of the Jews progressed, there was more friction between the people. Only when the punitive decrees of Pharoah intensified did they become more unified. Adversity drove them together, until finally at Sinai, the unity of Israel was restored as they accepted the Torah as one, unified nation. A common goal took disparate elements of a nation and melded then into one people.

This reality of working for a common purpose is what underpins the miracle in Big Miracle. It is a familiar case of different interest groups leaving their personal baggage at home because of a desire to fulfill a larger purpose that transcends the individual.

This is an important insight to keep in mind when building bridges between people and institutions. A focus on the big issues that connect people enables one to accomplish a lot more than one individual could. An illustrative example is the requirement in Jewish law for the presence of ten men for communal Jewish prayer to take place. There is no requirement that the ten men think alike or practice their faith in identical ways. All they have to do to reach God is to stand together as one.

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On a Clear Day (2005), directed by Gaby Dellal

on a clear day posterAs a rabbi and as a father, the saddest funerals at which I have officiated or attended are those for a child. The loss of a child goes against expectation. Kids are supposed to survive parents and when a child dies, hope for the future dies as well. It is a profound loss and recovery is hard. I sense that when I talk to parents who have lost a child, they are still grieving inwardly. Life has gone on, but the pain lingers.

The loss of a child haunts Frank Redmond, the central character in On a Clear Day, an emotionally moving narrative of loss, acceptance, and reconciliation. When he loses his job as a veteran Glasgow shipbuilder after many years, he is adrift professionally and mentally. Freed from work that has occupied him for many years, his mind often wanders to the fateful day when his son drowned. Rob, his surviving son, does not fully grasp his father’s grief and disappointment and interprets his father’s withdrawal as an indication that his father in some way holds him accountable for his brother’s death. In truth, Frank holds himself responsible for the tragedy that took place while they all were swimming in the ocean. In spite of possessing a loving wife, a devoted son, and sweet grandchildren, dysfunction rules on the home front. His life is empty and devoid of meaning, leaving Frank depressed and inwardly angry at the world and at himself.

A casual conversation with friends gives Frank an idea that piques his curiosity and focuses his attention and energy; namely to swim across the English Channel. Already a serious recreational swimmer, he sees this swim as a goal that will give his life some purpose and boost his self-confidence, especially after being released from his shipbuilding job.

Enlisting the aid of friends, he trains arduously to prepare himself for the crossing. Without revealing his plans to his wife or son, he rents a boat and tests the waters literally and figuratively. Over the course of his secret training, he strains his relationship with his wife and falls into intense arguments with his son.

Frank, indeed, has problems: loss of job, loss of a child, loss of self-esteem. None of this is easy, but the approach of Jewish tradition to such challenges can be helpful. Lori Palatnik, a noted Jewish educator and self-help guru, wisely observes that her belief that God is in charge of the world gets her through almost anything. She writes: “It means that God is sending me this so that I can grow. It prevents me from blaming others, including myself. It frames a situation not as something overwhelming that is impossible to solve, but as a puzzle that can be worked out, and the process of working it out is where real growth takes place. Words are powerful; as soon as you reframe from ‘problem’ to ‘opportunity,’ you pull down the covers, get out of bed, pull up your boot straps and rise to the occasion. No one wants problems, but who doesn’t want opportunities?”

One of my Torah teachers once told me to see adversity in life as the back of a tapestry. The travails that we encounter are represented by the knots and clumps on the back of the tapestry. On the front, however, is a work of art, which is what is visible from the aspect of eternity. In God’s eyes, it all makes sense, but from our human perspective it is incomprehensible.

Frank, like all men, has no ultimate understanding of the tragedy in his life, but through supportive friends, he becomes more accepting of life’s twists and turns, and moves forward towards a family who has been yearning for his love and acceptance. On a Clear Day beckons us to accept the rain and focus on the clear day ahead.

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Remember the Titans (2000), directed by Boaz Yakin

remember the titans posterIt was in the 1950s. I was attending a public junior high public school in Mt. Vernon, New York. There were two high schools in town, Edison and Davis. Edison focused on vocational training and Davis focused on getting kids into college. Most blacks went to Edison and most whites to Davis. But it was a time of civil unrest throughout the United States, and there was a drive to create one large Mt. Vernon high school that would be more fully integrated. Nationally, there was a movement to change the stereotypical view of blacks as low achievers and encourage more blacks to attend university.

My junior high was predominantly black. My childhood neighborhood changed once low income housing for the area was built. Whites moved away in droves and I was the only white kid on my block. My parents could not afford to move even if they wanted to, so I developed friendships with the black kids in my school. Many had exotic names and I was fascinated by their distinct personalities. I remember with fondness Linwood Lee, gentle and soft spoken, Wendell Tyree, strong and boisterous, and Quentin Pair, a thoughtful and brainy young man.

It is with this background that I watched Remember the Titans, a rousing and inspirational sports film with a subtext of racial tension, a tension that influenced what happened on the football field in Alexandria, Virginia in 1971. T. C. Williams High School has just been integrated and the favorite to become the new coach of the team, Bill Yoast, is passed over to allow Herman Boone, a successful black coach, to take charge of the football program. In spite of his initial disappointment, Yoast stays on to become Boone’s assistant so that the boys he worked with for so long can fulfill their athletic and scholastic potential.

During training camp and the football season, the players work with one another, get to know one another, and, in most cases, finally accept one another for who they are, not for what they may or may not represent. What matters is performance, not race, and the boys bond during a challenging season in which they are tested both on and off the field. Ultimately they understand that welcoming the stranger, the one who looks different, into your midst brings godliness into the community, for all men are images of the Divine.

The Bible is filled with references encouraging us, and even mandating us, to be kind to the stranger, to the outsider who is different. It is connected to the Jewish experience in Egypt, about which Exodus states: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Moreover, there is a classic adage in the Talmud that “we are all responsible for one another.” This emerges from the basic notion that we all are created in God’s image and we are all part of one cosmic family. We are all brothers regardless of the color of our skin.

The Kabbalists write that the commandment ‘love your neighbor as yourself” has mystical meaning numerically. The phrase “as yourself” in Hebrew is the numerical equivalent of the word Elohim, one of the names of God. This numerical equivalency indicates that when you love your neighbor, you are in essence manifesting your love of God.

Interestingly, we see that the Biblical story of Abraham stresses the priority of being nice to the stranger over praying to God. Abraham interrupts his prayers when three strangers come to the door of his tent, for welcoming the stranger takes precedence over conversing with God.

Remember the Titans, based on a true story, reminds us that great things can happen when we approach a situation without the baggage of prejudice and old memory tapes, when we welcome the stranger in our midst to the family of man.

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), directed by Ben Stiller

secret life of walter mitty posterThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a film with two essential messages, and I had to think a long time before choosing which aspect of the movie I wanted to write about. One message is to live life to the max. Make every day a masterpiece by participating in life, not just observing it. Another message is to value the work of every day because ultimately greatness comes through hard work, perseverance, and a daily dedication to perfection. I chose to amplify that message for this review.

Walter Mitty works for Life magazine and is in charge of cataloging its large storehouse of photo negatives, a seemingly boring job in which Walter takes pride, knowing that he is working with great photographers whose pictures are potentially life-transforming to the viewer. We learn that in the past Walter had an adventurous streak, but when his father died at a young age, Walter was forced to abandon his dreams and get a job to support his family. Therein lies the emotional core of the film. Walter lives a very mundane outward existence, but lives an imaginative inner life, daydreaming of scenarios in which he imagines that he is a man of decision and action. Hence, the title of the film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Mitty for many years has worked with famed photojournalist Sean O’Connell, and Sean sends him negatives of his latest works including a photo that he thinks will be fitting for Life’s final print edition before it re-emerges as a strictly online publication. But there is a problem. The negative is missing from the contact sheet he sent Walter and Sean cannot be found to clarify the whereabouts of the missing negative. Walter then embarks on a real-life adventure trying to locate Sean. His travels take him to Greenland and Iceland, with a series of hair-raising and hilarious encounters.

An air of mystery surrounds both Sean and the missing negative. It becomes clear that Sean, an idiosyncratic artist, values individualism, but he also values the contribution of the little guys in the company who work ceaselessly to see that his work is seen as he sees it: a thing of beauty and meaning that transcends the moment.

The Ethics of the Fathers reminds us that “every man has his hour.” The artist may be in the limelight but those who work laboriously behind the scenes also deserve recognition for their contributions. Both have their hour in the sun. Moreover, in Judaism there is the notion that every person has his unique mission in the world. When Jacob on his deathbed gives his blessing to each of his twelve sons, the blessing reflects the unique personality of each one. They are parts of one united family, but they fulfill their destinies in their own special ways. A classic example is the symbiotic relationship between the brothers Yisachar and Zebulon. Yisachar is charged with devoting his life to the study and teaching of Torah; Zebulon is charged with providing the financial support which underpins that holy work. Both are necessary for the ultimate destiny of the Jewish nation to be secured.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a paean to the average man who labors diligently in his job each and every day. The public accolades may never come to him, but this does not devalue the work that is being done. In his own special way, his contribution behind the scenes may be more important than the one for whom he works. Let us praise the quiet ones who abide by the unwritten rules of excellence.

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The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), directed by Gabriele Muccino

pursuit of happyness posterThere was a time in my life when I was in a very poor cash position. I went to relatives and friends and asked for help, and they all assisted me. I told all of them that I would repay their loans and in a couple of years I did. A few people forgave the loan but most did not, but I was happy to pay them back now that my financial situation had improved. It is no fun to be heavily in debt, and I identified easily with the emotional stress of Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness, an inspirational film about a man with very bad financial luck who manages to turn his life around because of sheer hard work and unswerving commitment to a goal.

The story begins in 1981 in San Francisco where salesman Chris Gardner purchases a large number of portable bone-density scanners to sell to doctors. But there is a problem. The machines are very expensive and do not reveal much more than standard x-ray machines. The result: few machines are sold and Chris goes into deep debt. The financial stress causes a rift between Chris and his wife. Eventually, as their economic situation deteriorates more and more, his wife Linda wants out of the marriage. Chris insists on keeping their 5-year old son with him in spite of his wife’s pleas. The fact that Chris’s own father walked out on him is a memory tape that haunts Chris, and he does not want to follow in his father’s footsteps when it comes to his own son.

In the course of trying to sell his scanners, he by chance meets Jay Twistle, a manager for the stock brokerage firm of Dean Witter Reynolds. Fascinated by the glamour of the job of stock broker, he applies for an internship at the company. In a serendipitous cab ride that he shares with Twistle, Chris impresses him with his facility for solving a Rubik’s Cube puzzle and Twistle accepts Chris for the internship.

As Chris tries his best to turn the internship into a real job with pay, he encounters a surfeit of impediments. Police arrest him for unpaid parking tickets. His bank account is garnished by the IRS for unpaid income tax. He is evicted from his home because of overdue rent, forcing him and his son to sleep in the subway for a short time and then to live in a facility for the homeless.

Because of these pressures, Chris is forced to utilize every available free moment to make phone contacts and set up sales calls for stock purchases. He even defies protocol by seeking out high value customers even though he is an intern. Moreover, he does not want to reveal his disadvantaged situation to anyone at the firm for fear it will jeopardize his chances for the coveted paid position at Dean Witter.

King Solomon in his classic Proverbs tells us that “seven times the righteous will fall, yet they will rise again.” It is a message of hope in the face of adversity, to stay focused even when things fall apart. We all have friends who, when faced with possible failure in reaching their professional goals, give up hope. For example, I know of many young, promising teachers who leave education because of their initial difficulties in the field. I also know some who weather the storm and leave meaningful legacies in their respective institutions.

Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness comprehends the value of perseverance in the face of adversity. His story inspires us to be steadfast even in the face of enormous obstacles.

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We Bought a Zoo (2011), directed by Cameron Crowe

we bought a zoo posterCoping with loss is complicated. When I lost my wife in 1989, my world fell apart. I could not understand it then nor can I can understand it now. How God in His wisdom could end the life of such a beautiful soul was totally beyond my ken. Yet this is what happened and that is what my family had to deal with. It was extremely helpful to have my children present to support me and for me to support them in this time of darkness. To a large degree, the love between the surviving spouse and the children helps one to deal with the overwhelming sadness.

I was reminded of this complicated adjustment period as I watched We Bought a Zoo, an emotionally rich film about Benjamin Mee, a widower still mourning the death of his wife. Emotionally exhausted with managing his kids and dealing with school discipline issues with his 14-year-old son Dylan, he decides to begin his life again by purchasing a new home in a rural area. But there is one problem. The house comes with a zoo, and the person who buys the house also has to accept responsibility for the zoo. Ben’s brother counsels him against the purchase, but Ben disregards his advice and buys it anyway when he sees how much Rosie, his 7-year-old daughter, is infatuated with the idea of owning a zoo and playing with the animals.

Together with Kelly Foster, the attractive and sensitive head of the zoo staff, they start renovating the zoo with the goal of opening it to the public. The task is monumental and requires strict compliance with the law to pass an inspection from the authorities. Expenses mount and the project is in danger of failing, but they find creative solutions.

Ben and his son Dylan are not on the same page with regard to the zoo enterprise, and eventually a heated argument between the two crystallizes the different perspectives of spouse and child on how each responds to loss. The father wants to survive emotionally and be a good parent, but he realizes he needs the support of his older son to help rear his young daughter. He cannot do it alone.

When Ben, in frustration, yells at Dylan, Dylan asks why he is yelling at him. Ben responds: “Because I’m your father and I’m the only one you’ve got! And the line of people in this world who really care about you ends here! So stop moping around this place, man! Do something! You just sit here and feel sorry for yourself, man! Help me with your sister! Help me, damn it!” When Dylan starts crying, his dad tearfully says: “I’m sorry that your mother got sick when she did. Believe me. I’m sorry that you didn’t get more of a childhood, man. That’s just how that one went. But we live here with a seven-year-old girl who still believes in the Easter Bunny. What are we gonna do?” At that moment, Dylan sees the pain and frustration of this father, and there is reconciliation.

Jewish tradition provides a pattern for dealing with loss. The mourning period is divided into three stages. The most intense time is the seven-day period after death, when friends and family visit to comfort the mourner. The second stage is the first thirty days after the death when the family begins to integrate the loss and function normally while still under the shadow of tragedy. The third stage is a year after the death when the anniversary of the loved one’s passing is marked by the lighting of candles and the recital of prayers in the synagogue.

Every year after that, there is a yearly ritual marking the anniversary of the day of death when candles are lit, prayers are said, and the person is remembered. The end goal is not to forget the loved one. The goal is to move on with life, but at the same time to treasure the memory.

This grief cycle is reflected in the final scene of We Bought a Zoo. Ben brings his children to the restaurant where he first met his wife and shares with his kids his first encounter with her. It is a tender and happy moment, which reminds us that dealing with loss does not mean forgetting; rather it means integrating the memory into our minds and hearts so that the loved one who is gone is still with us to comfort us and to inspire us.

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Friendly Persuasion (1956), directed by William Wyler

friendly persuation posterIn my career as a synagogue rabbi and day school principal, I have encountered people who hold extremist views. In my first years in the rabbinate, I myself tended to view community conflicts as issues that could be addressed either as right or wrong. There was no middle ground. As I got older and wiser, I saw that there was lots of grey and it was silly of me to see things only in stark black and white terms. I remember hearing Rabbi Norman Lamm, President of Yeshiva University, give a talk on what he called “radical moderation.” In an age of increased religious polarization, it was refreshing to hear a more balanced and nuanced approach to a problem. Now that I am living in Israel, a beautiful land filled with extreme ideologies of all sorts, Rabbi Lamm’s words resonate even more.

I was reminded of this as I watched Friendly Persuasion, a story of a Quaker family whose belief in non-violence is tested during the American Civil War. Jess Birdwell, the patriarch of the family, is interested in worldly things even though he basically subscribes to Quaker simplicity and pacifism. His wife, Eliza, frowns upon any expression of materialism, but becomes more understanding of her husband’s perspective on life. For example, she at first is totally opposed to her husband purchasing an organ for the home; but after a conversation with him, agrees to have it in the attic as long as it is not played when company is around. It is this kind of practical family accommodation that typifies the Birdwell family, a family that has strong core beliefs but one which makes compromises in the woof and warp of daily life.

Against this background of a contemplative and at times humorous Quaker life, there is a war raging, and it affects the Birdwell household. Jess and his oldest son Josh are recruited to fight against the Confederates, but they both decline because of principle. They are categorically against killing. However, when a band of marauders is about to lay waste to their home and possibly kill their family, they are compelled to rethink the verities upon which their life is based.

The movie depicts various responses to their moral crisis. One family member sticks to his belief in non-violence no matter what. Another chooses the path of violence with limitations. Another decides that killing is sometimes justified when home and hearth are threatened. It is a painful decision for him; and while pulling the trigger, he weeps for the loss of life he is causing. The characters all maintain their core beliefs but their actions indicate a personal vision of what is required in the face of real life challenges. There are no simple answers.

Judaism believes that once there is agreement and commitment to basic principles, then we are free to shape our own individual spiritual destinies. Not everyone has to observe the law in exactly the same way as long as we accept the divinity and integrity of that revelation at Sinai. In a sense, this is what we see in Friendly Persuasion. The Quakers agree on fundamental principles, but as individuals make nuanced decisions as they encounter varied life experiences.

A similar approach is found recorded by King Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Here he writes that “wisdom is better than weapons.” War in Jewish tradition is always viewed as a last resort after other solutions to a threat are exhausted. However, when the threat persists, Judaism permits battle. It is this complex approach that reflects real-life decision-making, which is at the heart of Friendly Persuasion.

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Forever Young (1992), directed by Steve Miner

forever young posterFailure to make decisions is a decision itself. Let me share a silly story from my early childhood. My mother took me to see a Bob Hope comedy. Near the beginning of the movie, I asked if I could go out and buy some candy, and my mother said yes. I had trouble making up my mind and when I returned to the movie, I found that it was at the same scene when I exited. I was gone for over an hour and I missed the entire movie.

Indecision is the catalyst of what transpires in Forever Young, a romance with a science-fiction twist. Daniel McCormick, an air force test pilot, has trouble making up his mind. He wants to ask his girlfriend, Helen, to marry him; but he cannot summon the courage to pop the question. While he debates within himself, fate intervenes and Daniel loses the opportunity to ask Helen to be his wife. His indecision is fatal. He misses his entire life with Helen.

Daniel’s story begins in 1939 when he is courting his beloved Helen. After a brief encounter at a local diner, Helen is involved in an accident, which leaves her in a long-lasting coma. The doctors think she will never recover; so after six months, Daniel volunteers for a cryonic freezing experiment in which he will be placed in suspended animation for a year. Thus, he will be spared the pain of witnessing Helen’s death.

He wakes up 53 years later to a new world with voice mail and planes that he only dreamt about many years earlier. Daniel attempts to find his old friend, Finley, who initiated the freezing experiment. He learns that he has died, but his daughter gives Daniel her father’s journals, which detail her father’s experiment and indicate that, once unfrozen, the aging process will kick in at an accelerated rate.

Things get tense when Daniel sees his body aging quickly and, at the same time, discovers that Helen is still alive. It is a race against time to find her before he succumbs to his inexorable aging process. Love, however, conquers all in this romantic fantasy, and it is gratifying to watch what transpires when Daniel and Helen, lovers from their youth, now reunite as seniors recognizing the deep soul connection that bound them together so many years ago.

As a teenager, I once heard a joke that kept me laughing for many days afterward. Here’s the joke: a man asked someone if he was a man of decision. The answer: “Well, yes and no.” The assumption behind the punch line was that while people outwardly want to be decisive, inwardly they often equivocate and don’t make up their minds.

Judaism discourages indecision. The rabbis of the Talmud grow to great lengths to get clarity, to pursue truth, to find the answers to difficult questions. They encourage clear decision-making, and often devise a calculus to arrive at a decision. For example, when faced with questions of Torah law, the Sages instruct us to choose the more stringent path; when faced with questions of Rabbinic law, they instruct us to take the more lenient position. To remain in a state of doubt when decisions need to be made is fraught with peril, for doubt will surely lead to inaction, equivocation, bad life choices, and a host of missed opportunities in life.

If one is still unsure about what decision to make, our Sages recommend speaking to someone older and wiser and getting his perspective on a situation. Judaism accepts the notion of a hierarchy of intellect and holiness. Once you identify the holy man of wisdom who represents the values in which you believe, you then ask him your query. Whatever the answer, you can feel confident that you are making the best decision possible since you have consulted the best and the brightest of men.

Forever Young is a stark reminder of the negative consequences of not being able to make a decision, and encourages us make the most of time we are allotted on this earth.

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Into the Wind (2010), directed by Ezra Holland and Steve Nash

into the wind poster A number of years ago when I was principal of a school in Atlanta, l traveled to New York for some school business. In a New York hospital was a graduate of our high school receiving treatment for a life-threatening illness. My schedule was tight and I weighed in my mind whether I would have time to visit him, finally deciding not to visit because of the difficulty in making some scheduling adjustments. A few weeks later, the student died. Twenty years later, I still feel remorse for not having paid that visit.

Jewish tradition tells us that when an opportunity for a good deed, like visiting the sick, comes your way, you should not take a pass. Rather you should do whatever it takes to do the good deed, even if means sacrificing more time or inconveniencing yourself. I was reminded of this as I watched Into the Wind, a very stirring documentary about Terry Fox, a young man who at age eighteen was diagnosed with a malignant cancer and had to have his leg amputated.

Three weeks after the operation, Terry was walking with the help of an artificial leg. He underwent months of chemotherapy at the British Columbia Cancer Control facility and watched fellow patients suffer and die from the disease. Witnessing such tragedy gave Terry a sense of purpose: he wanted to dedicate his life to funding cancer research so that other people would have hope and courage.

After reading an article about the first amputee to complete the New York City Marathon, Terry was inspired to begin a run across Canada to raise money for cancer research and cancer awareness. His Marathon of Hope began on April 12, 1980, when Fox dipped his right leg in the Atlantic Ocean.

Heavy rain, strong wind, and a snowstorm plagued the first days of his run, and few people were aware of his effort. Soon, however, more and more people learned about Terry and greeted him along the way with contributions. He became a hot news story and was interviewed on many of his stops.

Unfortunately, Terry never finished his run. Completing two-thirds of the journey across Canada in 143 days, the cancer had metastasized and new tumors were found, forcing him to end his Marathon of Hope.

Terry Fox’s story is one that reminds us of the value of time and good health. The rabbis of the Talmud comment: “If not now, when?” It is an exhortation to make the most of every available moment and not to waste an opportunity to do a good deed. My teachers impressed this life lesson on me during my college years and I have tried to actualize that message in my life. As I get older, I realize more and more the holiness of a moment. In a second, I can do something which may have a ripple effect into eternity. That is the measure of man: how he uses the gifts of time and good health that God gives him. That is the legacy of Terry Fox, who taught people to use time wisely by using it to improve oneself and the world. It was a message imbibed in the spirit of all those who knew him.

What made this film especially memorable were the comments of friends and family who knew Terry and who spoke to him in the course of his run. Their love and admiration for him were palpable. The movie was made in 2010, several years after Terry died, but the tears were still flowing when evoking his memory. His legacy is one of hope and courage in the face of adversity. His message to all of us: treasure time and use wisely the minutes that we possess.

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