|Directed by:||Monica Haim||Rating:||TV-14|
|Release Date:||2005||Running Time:||60 mins.|
|More Info:||Awake Zion Official Website||Category:||America|
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About the Film:
Rastas have dreadlocks, Jews have side-curls. Despite their many differences, members of the two religions share quite a lot. Awake Zion, which the Village Voice called “humorous, sometimes mind-blowing,” is a deeper look into this connection.
After spending forty years wandering through the desert it seems possible that the original Israelites were more than suntanned. One theory about what happened to the ten lost tribes of Israel holds that some of them ended up in Ethiopia, which also happens to be the birthplace of Rastafarianism. Exploring the similarities between these superficially very different cultures, Awake Zion, a documentary that the Village Voice called “humorous, sometimes mind blowing,” explains why Hasidic reggae singer “Matisyahu’s ‘wah-wah-ya’s are a shade away from reggae’s ‘whio-yio-yoi’s.”
“It blew my mind,” Brooklyn-based reggae DJ Super Dane exclaims, upon hearing Hasidic reggae singer Matisyahu’s music for the first time, “because I pass Jewish people every day and I thought they couldn’t relate to my life — I thought they couldn’t listen to my music.”
Rastafarianism is a religion that grew out of Africa and flourished in Jamaica, emphasizing, among other things, dreadlocks and marijuana. But it’s easy to understand how director Monica Haim initially saw a connection between the two groups. Reggae music references the Israelites and figures from the Old Testament — especially the Queen of Sheba and the musical king David. Both Jews and Rastas quote Psalms and worship in a tabernacle, and the Rasta’s sun symbol with six points looks a lot like the Jews’ Star of David.
“You’re born into it. You learn it. You read it,” Haim says of both. The only difference is that, in Judaism, you “definitely don’t smoke it.”
With a soundtrack that demands a gentle head bob, Awake Zion raises an important question: “if we’re both identifying with the same things, are we not then identifying with one another?” Haim takes a respectful and inquisitive tone as she travels from Jamaica to Israel, interviewing Rastafarians and rabbis whose explanations of their practices and beliefs sound strikingly similar. They might look different, but Jews and Rastas both trace their roots back to the Old Testament, speak of truth, love and Zion, and have integrated their beliefs into their daily practices. By highlighting these commonalities, the documentary recognizes the foolishness of prejudice and acknowledges a universal human experience.
Awake Zion also raises surprising and controversial questions that undermine a traditional approach to the Old Testament.
“Did King Solomon have dreadlocks, too?” Haim asks an old Rasta. He smiles slowly and nods — of course. Haim turns to the Old Testament and finds a passage relevant to another Biblical figure, Samson, declaring “all the days of his vow of Naziriteship there shall no razor come upon his head.” Later, a Rasta asserts that “the first plant to grow on King Solomon’s grave was herb,” meaning marijuana. They cite Ezekiel 34:29, which reads “And I will raise up for them a plant of renown.” These twists on traditional interpretations of Biblical passages shed light on the notion of Jews as the only People of the Book.
But rather than arguing for a reevaluation of our relationship to the Bible, Awake Zion is about recognizing the bonds we have, albeit unknowingly, with a seemingly different people, and embracing each other in a jammin’ spirit of oneness.
When Haim takes a group of Rastas to a synagogue for the first time, one of them confides to her that he was annoyed that the Rasta’s sun symbol, which looks like the Star of David, was being used in this foreign house of worship. But when Haim explains to him that the Star of David is a Jewish symbol, too, the Rasta is shocked. “So both of us are the same!?” he asks. Surprise melts into affection, and, stroking Haim’s shoulder, he starts to chant, “Blessed. Blessed. Blessed.”