|Directed by:||Gilad Goldschmidt||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||2005||Running Time:||48 mins.|
|Language:||Hebrew (English Subtitles)||Genre:||Drama|
|More Info:||The Jewish Exponent||Category:||Feature Film|
Everything seems to be perfect for a smart yeshiva student who’s engaged to a beautiful, religious girl — until a package arrives with his deceased mother’s belongings and turns his world upside down. Engaging and thought-provoking, A Green Chariot follows Yair through an identity crisis that forces him to reexamine the life he’s chosen.
“Why would a gentile keep Shabbat? Is he crazy!?” one of Yair’s classmates asks, bringing up one of the many questions Yair must answer when he finds out his mother wasn’t technically Jewish.
Yair was born Sasha, a secular Russian Jew whose parents immigrated to Israel. But after his teenage years, he changed his name, refused to speak Russian, enrolled in yeshiva, and embraced the life of an Orthodox Jew. After dropping his Russian friends and losing touch with his father, Yair slowly forgot about his old life – until, out of nowhere, a package arrives that forces him to revisit his past.
At first Yair is touched to receive his mother’s old music box, which has a green chariot on the cover. But opening the box releases a world of confusion, when he finds a gold cross inside. In a moment of devastation, Yair realizes that if his mother wasn’t Jewish then he’s not Jewish, and the Orthodox life that he’s been living is a lie.
Not everyone sees things the way Yair does, though. “Your mother was a Jew. A Jew!” Yair’s father insists when confronted. He tells Yair that his mother wore a gold Star of David around her neck when it was dangerous to do so and sent for a moyl from Moscow to circumcise her son. Yair’s grandmother may have been a Christian, his father admits, but as far as he is concerned, his late wife was a Jew. “What’s important is what’s on the inside,” Yair’s father says, “you don’t have to be a genius to see what you really are.”
But if he wants to consider himself a Jew in the eyes of the law, Yair realizes he’s going to need more than his father’s insistence. Bitterly, he meets with rabbis and answers questions for his official conversion. He passes the verbal test, but when it comes time to dunk in the mikvah, he is struck by the ridiculousness of his situation, and it all is too much for the young man to handle. “You should be happy. You’re getting a new soul, a new Jewish soul,” the rabbi tells him, but Yair is unconvinced. He snaps back that he likes his soul the way it is! And if dipping in water will suddenly, magically turn him into a Jew – after years of studying and praying and practicing the commandments has kept him a gentile – then maybe he doesn’t want to be a Jew!
Then there’s also the matter of his fiancé to contend with. Surely, despite her love for him, she wouldn’t marry a non-Jew. This point is made clearly in one of the film’s most piercing scenes while, at the height of Yair’s confusion, he’s celebrating Shabbat his with fiancé’s family. Her parents are aware of his Christian lineage, but have agreed not to say anything to avoid making him feel uncomfortable. Yet, when Yair opens the wine and politely fills each person’s glass, their hesitance to drink is a clear sign of their true feelings – Jewish law prohibits a Jew from drinking wine that has been handled by a non-Jew, and his future-in-laws hesitance to drink shows Yair exactly where he stands. It’s hard not to sympathize with the distraught young man as the film questions the line between dutiful observance of the religious laws and exclusionary religious practice.
Confused about his own identity and feeling rejected by his Orthodox community, Yair runs back to his father’s home and calls up his Russian ex-girlfriend, who takes him to a party with all his old friends. Smoking and drinking and eating what he pleases, Yair decides that if he is in fact a gentile he might as well enjoy the perks.
At the end of the night, he’s alone with his ex-girlfriend. Unbuttoning her blouse, he whispers, “I’m a gentile. Gentiles are allowed.” But even if Yair is confused, she’s not.
“Sometimes you have to go away to return,” she says, “Return to yourself.”
At the heart of A Green Chariot is the realization that you can’t move forward without grappling with your past. Instead of choosing one and ignoring the other, Yair has to accept that he is both Yair and Sasha, and that, in both Hebrew and Russian, he can still tell his fiancé that he loves her.