|Directed by:||Janis Plotkin||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||1999||Running Time:||42 mins|
|More Info:||Chayes production site's overview of the film||Category:||America|
Jews are playing a major role in the growth of Buddhism as the fastest-growing religion in America. More than 30% of non-Asian Buddhists are Jews – and many have become leaders in the spiritual movement. Narrated by Sharon Stone, the Oscar-nominated film Jews and Buddhism: Belief Amended, Faith Revealed explores this growing phenomenon.
“You read the Bible and God smote this and destroyed that and this person sinned and they got a plague and this person didn’t sin but they also got a plague—there’s so much of that going on,” one woman says. “It’s a very angry, vengeful God, so you have to look beyond all that to get to the heart of spirituality; whereas, in Buddhism there’s just none of that. It’s just right there in the present moment.”
More and more believers are adding Buddhist branches to their Jewish roots. Jews and Buddhism compiles interviews and archival footage of prominent Jewish, Buddhist, and Jewish-Buddhist personalities — including the Dalai Lama, David Ben Gurion, Allen Ginsberg, Rabbi Allen Lew, Sylvia Boorstein, and many others — to investigate why Jews are attracted to this ancient tradition, how the two faiths overlap, and whether or not this growing trend threatens to swallow up God’s chosen people.
The influence of Buddhism is profoundly changing what it means to worship at synagogue. Rabbi Allen Lew explains that in his synagogue he leads his followers in meditation before prayer services four times a week. He believes that Buddhist practices can open spiritual doors to enhance Jewish tradition.
But why are such changes necessary? The documentary explores what’s made Jewish Americans dissatisfied with the faith they inherited and explains Buddhism’s appeal. “I never found a place of being contemplative in the Judaism that I grew up in,” an artist explains of why she was drawn to Buddhism, “So I’m Jewish…but there’s no way I can live in a Jewish world.”
Beat poet Allen Ginsberg – who considered himself a non-theistic Jew – also found solace in Eastern religion. A leader in the counterculture movement, Ginsberg explored Buddhist meditation and belief and expressed his spiritual discontent in his poetry. “Jerusalem’s hated walls, I couldn’t get over the holy side and weep where I was supposed to by history,” he wrote cynically about his trip to Israel in the poem “Angkor Wat,” continuing, “Returning home at last, years later as prophesied, is this the way I’m supposed to feel?”
In response to the growing Jewbu trend, the Dalai Lama met with Jewish leaders to have a dialogue and search for answers through each other. Strangely enough, while these meetings strengthened the affinity between Jews and Buddhists, they created a painful divide among the Jewish participants in the dialogue, who understood the assimilation of their faith with Buddhist practice differently from each other. For those who saw Buddhism as an enhancement to their own Jewish practice, the realization that Jews might totally abandon their Judaism to live as Buddhists was an unsettling reality.
In truth, Judaism and Buddhism are not complementary ideologies that always fit snugly inside one another. The film points to the fact that the ancient traditions have profound, unavoidable differences. For one thing, most Jews believe in one God, and Buddhists believe in no God.
But Jews and Buddhism leaves room to accept that an agile mind can learn from anything, and that an open heart recognizes the relevance of another’s faith. In a remarkable archival television interview, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion and his old friend, the Buddhist former Prime Minister of Burma, discuss religion. Before they begin, the Prime Minister from Burma blurts out, “How is your wife? How is Mrs. Ben Gurion?” His question is full of genuine interest and sets the tone of their debate, an understanding that their religious differences are trumped by something more important — their personal, human connection.