Sunday, May 21, 2006

postheadericon Ushpizin (Hebrew movie) 2004

I had the good fortune to watch "Ushpizin"(meaning Holy guests),a truly heart-warming Israeli comedy, and I have come away with the greatest respect for the Hasidic Jews and the good and holy lives they are intent on leading.

Here is the synopsis from Odeon Films:

Moshe (Shuli Rand) and Mali (Michal Bat-Sheva Rand), a poor and childless Orthodox couple, find themselves penniless on the eve of the Jewish holy day of Succoth (the temporary dwellings religious Jews stay in during the festival to commemorate the time of the Exodus, and remind the devout that this life, too, is temporary.) They pray for assistance from the Lord and the impossible happens : Moshe and Mali are the beneficiaries of an unexpected charitable donation. God has taken pity on them, or so it seems, until two escaped convicts show up on their doorstep. Worried the visitors may be messengers of God, the couple follow the custom of receiving guests for the holy day and extend their hospitality. They soon learn God works in mysterious ways as their faith is put to the ultimate test when the convicts bring chaos into their gentle community. Offering an authentic and unique look at the inside of the Orthodox Jewish world, Ushpizin, is a heart-warming and humourous drama exploring the powers faith.

According to, this movie was groundbreaking in its sympathetic insider depiction of Jewish ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem and it represents the first collaborative effort between Israel's religious and secular communities (Critically acclaimed Israeli actor Shuli Rand, who gave up his wildly successful career to return to religion nine years ago, wrote the script and plays Moshe). The ultra-orthodox don't go to the movies, let alone participate in productions, but Shuli Rand's participation in the movie, with the agreement of his rabbi, meant us having an authenitc look at the Hasidic Jews. Stipulations on release included no screenings on the Sabbath; many religious Jews illegally downloaded the movie from the web rather than go to the cinema at all, leading to a rabbinical e-plea that all felonious perps should send money to the production company as compensation.

I have always been fascinated by the Haredi or Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Sure, there are other groups in the world that hem their members in with many restrictions, like the Hutterites and Mennonites in North America, and then, there's Iran and the Wahabi sect of Saudi Arabia, but what makes the Haredi Jews so unique is they are carrying on their fierce cultural war right in the midst of secular life, in busy metropolitans like Jerusalem, New York and Tel Aviv. Also, their numbers are growing rapidly because of their high birth rate and the extremely low drop-out rate among their children. Although I'd like to be open-minded about their beliefs, from what I have read, so much of their thinking is based on nothing superstition. Also, according to Bronwyn Drainie's book "My Jerusalem" many of them are obsessed with a form of "knowledge" known as gematria, which is an elaborate number game played with the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet.

This is a review in progress...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

postheadericon Have you eaten mangoes naked?

It is raining here today, I'm afraid. But, I hail it as a welcome relief from the very warm days we have been having oft late. I don't mind that it is warm but it seemed much too warm for so early in the season. I heard somewhere that this summer is going to be merciless - news like that makes me want to go Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggh!

Now, in India we atleast have something that compensates for the long, humid summers - it's a shiny, warm-to-the-touch golden-orange oval ball of delight that fits comfortably into one's palm. Its skin is as smooth as a baby's bottom and its fragrance is sweet and mild (unlike a baby's bottom, :)). I'm sure you've guessed what it is I am referring to - it's the King of Fruits, the Mango! We were in Brampton (the abode of a large majority of Ontario's Sikh community) last night and we saw a vendor selling mangoes @ 6 for $18 . We grabbed them and I had my first mango of the season for dessert! I have so many "mango memories" as a child. Mango being such an intrinsic part of summer, it's hard to separate the two. It's a pity my kids won't ever experience a mango summer.

When Mango season arrives in India, there are suddenly big globs of orange splashes all over the place! The grocery store across the road from our house became the abode of "Maaza" which is a popular bottled mango juice and for the privilege he allowed the walls of his shop to be painted with the yellow hues of the "Maaza" bottle. Elsewhere, the big double-decker BEST buses were also spruced up with orange, green or yellow paint depending on which mango drink they were advertising. A trip to the market had one stepping into an ocean of yellow and orange with every fruit vendor displaying neatly arranged mangoes prominently at his stall. The city restaurants also get caught up with this mango frenzy and many of them host Mango Festivals or lock up their chefs overnight to come up with an original recipe featuring this king of all fruit. I exaggerate, ofcourse, but there is this mad urge to get creative and competitive with his wonderful gift from nature.

(pic courtesy:

When we were kids we'd have mango for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We'd eat them cubed, sliced, suck the pulp straight out of the fruit with our mouths, or as "aamras" (a pulpy juice that mom would make) with puris to scoop them up with; we'd eat them anyway we got them. There was no stopping us, little Mango monsters that we were! Mango gluttony, however, did produce what is known as "mango boils" - little puss-filled eruptions all over the body. But that was just a small price to pay for the joy of slurping those juicy mangoes.

(making aamras: courtesy thebigdurian's photos as flickr

I can go on and on singing a paean to mangoes, but unless you try the nectar, or should I say ambrosia, of one of those Alphonso mangoes you might never fully imagine my obsession with them. However, if you haven't had enough, feel free to read the wonderful NYTimes article on Mango Mania in India.

In closing, all I have to say is that the theologians of the Bible probably got their fruits mixed up - I feel certain in my gut that Eve tempted Adam with the mango.
Monday, May 08, 2006

postheadericon Shhh, don't Look Now, I'm Changing!!!

Trying to acquire a new look for my blog - I will be back, don't go anywhere!