I’m the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, a story that I constantly tell. My mother arrived in America from Germany in 1938 at the age of seventeen. Her parents and grandparents remained in Germany and were murdered by the Nazis. To her dying day, my mother blamed Jews less assimilated than she as the reason Hitler hated the Jews.
In his new movie The Fabelmans, Stephen Spielberg takes a different approach. He blames no one and just keeps going on. He embraces his Jewishness and sets his sites on becoming a filmmaker. He leaves behind the baggage many others can’t and concentrates on making a notable life.
The audience views how his family is comfortable with the strands of Jewishness that provide the background for his upbringing. They have no trouble being the only people on their block who don’t decorate their homes with lights at Christmastime. They light the Channukah candles instead.
When Sammy (Stephen Spielberg) is faced with antisemitism in high school, he cleverly circulates the problem in a way that does not harm others. He doesn’t punch back or kill; he tells the truth and as a result brings around some of those who hate him because he’s Jewish to realize why they have these feelings and why they need to think differently.
It's a message to the rest of us that maybe whining is not the best approach. Maybe setting an example and being proud of one’s ancestry is better especially if it highlights what is good in life.
There are many levels to The Fabelmans that go beyond the fact that Sammy is Jewish, and that’s the point. By Sammy focusing on his craft rather than on his roots, he pursues his dreams. He doesn’t dwell on the stereotypes that enter his development although we see them when his long-lost cousin (Judd Hirsch) visits the family and when the jocks at his Northern California high school physically attack him.
How appropriate for Mr. Spielberg to address this subject at a time when antisemitism is on the rise throughout the world. Why, he asks, are you going to accuse him of an act performed by his ancestors that occurred two thousand years ago?
This is personal for me. I have always been afraid of my shadow when it comes to my Jewishness unlike many of my peers who are proud of their heritage maybe to a fault. This movie comes at a time when Mr. Spielberg has said that the only way to confront antisemitism is to tell stories that will make the public better understand the Jewish legacy that he mentions in the movie started 5,000 years ago.
Most of us will never be as rich and famous as Stephen Spielberg but I believe it’s incumbent upon all of us to continually keep telling our stories in a positive way and to figure out, as Mr. Spielberg does, ways to reveal the weaknesses of others’ arguments against us. I’m working on changing my own mother’s complaints and figuring out new ways to approach the problem.
Watch for An American Family, Mimi Pockross's latest book soon to be published.