Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein: Insight talks to leading speaker and broadcaster on Judaism

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Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein is a long-standing friend of the Insight Festival. He was on our original steering group and has helped to make the Festival grow.

Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein: interview

Rabbi Y Y is a media savvy leader from the Orthodox tradition: having broadcast regularly in the UK, he now lives in New York. His speaking tours take him around the USA, France, Belgium, Gibraltar, South Africa and Israel. The UK’s Independent newspaper once described him as ‘being among five people in Britain to turn to for advice.’ Here is a discussion Insight had with Rabbi Y Y about film.

Insight: There are many famous Jews in the film industry. Does it follow that the Jewish faith is generally well represented on screen?

Rabbi YY

Rabbi Y Y: No. Despite having a preponderance of film studios owned by Jews, early Hollywood was extremely reluctant to portray Jews following their faith on the screen. Interpretations of Jewish stories and the Jewish religion were almost unknown. Judaism is still rarely portrayed in mainstream cinema and, when it is, it often suffers from inaccuracy or kitsch.

InsightThe Insight festival encourages ‘films exploring faith’. Would you want to encourage Jews to make films about Judaism, or use their insights on religion to look at other faiths?

Rabbi Y Y: Very much so. Obviously, those closest to any subject are likely to be able to tell its story best. Still, whatever that story is, other stories in the same category are more easily understood by those who already have a basic understating of a faith and how it works.

InsightReligion: a force for good or harm?

Rabbi Y Y: Both, of course. That’s why films that can explore and reveal the positive sides of various religions are so vital. The religious narrative and portraiture must not be in the hands of those whose brush stokes slash and gouge the canvas. There are many sensitive, good artists out there who can paint accurate and beautiful pictures instead.

InsightWhat has been the most successful interpretation of the Jewish faith on film?

Rabbi Y Y: There is a film called Ushpizin. The two stars play a Hassidic Jewish couple, which they actually are off-screen. The story is consequently very true and well told.

InsightWhich quality would make a Jewish film brilliant?

Rabbi Y Y: Film and television tend to focus on stereotypes. On one of my own early television appearances, I heard a cameraman complain when I walked on stage, ‘Where’s the long black beard?’ An audience needs familiar landmarks to feel that they won’t get lost. There is no reason why a Jewish film cannot maintain classic Jewish imagery or ideas and yet bring them to a contemporary setting to deliver a contemporary message. So wit, irony, poignancy, humour and Chutzpah, can and should be there. Above all, of course, a cracking good story.

InsightThe winning films at the Insight Film Festival may make us laugh, cry and think. Will these films do anything else?

Rabbi Y Y: They take us on a voyage of discovery where we see strange events and concepts that often –  surprisingly – start to appear familiar after a while. They make us think and abolish preconceptions about Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and all the rest of us – especially for the people that make up the audience who watch Insight’s entries at the Festival.

Product links: Ushpizin and books by Rabbi Y Y (UK only)

Film: Giddi Dar, Ushpizin DVD (2004), Shuli Rand, Michal Bat-Sheva Rand

Books: Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein, On The Derech (2010), Kindle, ebook; Dancing Through Time (2010), Kindle, ebook; That’s Life! (2010), Kindle, ebook; US publication onlyThe Little Book for Big Worries: Dealing with Serious Illness (2012), Israel Bookshop Publications, hardback

Note: These links lead to product pages at Amazon.co.uk. Six per cent of any sales made via this link is paid to the Insight Film Festival.

Insight’s guest interview policy

The Insight Film Festival publishes interviews on our blog from guests of interest on an ad hoc basis. The Festival is delighted to publish a range of interview pieces on the themes of film and faith, and other subjects, but the personal views expressed in such articles do not reflect the views and opinions of the Insight Film Festival itself, which is an organisation that comprises individuals of many different faiths and none, all of whom have their own personal views and opinions on films, faith and other subjects.