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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review March 18, 2009 / 22 Adar 5769

Life as more than the Sum of its Moments

By Dodi-Lee Hecht


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The messages of two recent movies, Valkyrie and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, deserve contemplation

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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Movies are often well encapsulated by their taglines. Thus, I submit to you two:


One: Many saw evil. They dared to stop it.

Two: Life isn't measured in minutes, but in moments.


At first glance it might be possible to argue that both statements reflect a similar philosophy, a "seize the day" view of life. However, it is what one does when that day is seized that etches the chasm between these two movies.

The first is Valkyrie, one of a collection of Holocaust films to grace the screen over the last few months. It is the story of individuals, so frightened by the legacy being wrought for their people that they, at great risk to their lives and the lives of their families, tried to do what many of us still dream of: kill Hitler. The movie unfolds as if to tease us with possibility, but we all know the ending.

The second is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the visually stunning, fairy tale offspring of an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story and modern movie magic. It is the story of individuals who learn — some too late, some too early and some, in perfect Goldilocks fashion, at just the right moment — that life can happen out of order and we just have to make the most of it. Oh, and that there's no such thing as too late. Or too early.

Benjamin Button is meant to teach us to accept life, to go with the twists and turns of it, to let go of our inhibitions and fears and just sway to the quirky beat. The rhythm of the movie enforces this notion: it meanders — slow and steady — through the moments of Benjamin's life, never frantic or anxious, always calm. Even in the worst moments — death, war, lost love — the movie's focus, like Benjamin's, is on the good, the peaceful, the new beginnings borne of any ending.

In contrast, the rhythm of Valkyrie is frenetic. There is no acceptance here. In each scene, frantic movement reigns supreme. This movie reeks of desperation and despair. The main characters of this movie are driven, not by the promise of new beginnings but by the chance to mitigate the horrors of the present.

And so we are faced with two roads. One is lined by roses and promises that, at any point along the path, if you find yourself embroiled in some unwanted murkiness, you have the power to wipe away the past, as a child would sleep from his eyes, and start fresh. The other is lined with points of no return and warns you that, at any point, if you find yourself similarly embroiled, you must struggle to escape — for that is what the righteous must do — but do not think that you will ever truly escape the scars of that detour. It is, in my mind, the difference between Catholic Confession and Jewish Teshuva, repentance.

Teshuva is the internalization of the sin. The confessional part of this process is meant to establish recognition: this is my sin. Confession becomes an act of possessiveness, not absolution. It binds the person to the crime in a very potent way. And, as if that was difficult enough, then comes the hard part. After one admits ownership of the sin, one must begin the long process of repairing the damage. Notice the choice of words: damage is repaired but not undone. What is done cannot be undone. One can only not do it again. And one only knows not to do it again because one will forever bear the scars of that sin. It is said that a Ba'al Teshuva, a master of repentance, stands where a Tzadik, a truly righteous person, never will. To master repentance, to restructure one's life entirely, to switch paths so absolutely, is a near-impossible and great accomplishment, but one who does so will still never stand where the sinless man stands. Even if they end up on the same road after a while, where they started is still with them.

Valkyrie is a movie about repentance. It is a movie about flaws and those choices we make that cannot be erased. It is a movie about what to do next, after one realizes that life has taken an awful wrong turn. The men who tried to kill Hitler, many of them probably voted for him. All of them, I would speculate, knew the exact moment when they could have, quite possibly, changed the course of history, before the war started, before the killings started. None of them did. And so they planned an assassination — not to absolve them or Germany of the crimes already committed but to stop the flow of blood before it continued, to change the future, because they could not change the past. And because the futility of that made them angry enough to act.

There is a scene in Benjamin Button that plays over and over in my mind. Benjamin narrates a string of disparate events showing, first implicitly and then explicitly, how each discrete moment combined to cause tragedy. The point of it being that life is unpredictable and we should accept that. There is no placement of fault in the narration, no Dylan Thomas - esque "rage against the dying light." There is only a shrug, a slight hint of melancholy and the tranquility of one who has learned to "go with the flow" of a random universe.

This is unacceptable to me.

Just such a collection of random circumstances conspired to cause the assassination attempt in Valkyrie to fail. And, even if no one is to blame, I will not accept it. It is a travesty and I will cry and wail and curse the weather, if need be. It is that anger that will lead a man to act. To shout out one final thing as the firing squad takes his life, to stand tall in death or run to die just one moment before the man one calls mentor. These are not futile acts, although they would be seen as such in the world of Benjamin Button. In that world, life is a series of new chances but in the real world, and especially, in a world borne from the ashes of the Holocaust, life is one long chance that we get to work on from the moment we are born until the moment we die. If you dent it in your youth, you must fix it in your old age.

I think we are meant to age and not de-age to remind us of this. Our wrinkles and scars and echoes of broken bones, scraped knees, first fights, first falls — these are with us all the way. We cannot erase them and we cannot erase the choices we make. We can only pick up the consequences, the mistakes, the sins, the wrong turns, put them over our shoulders and carry them with us. We cannot make up lost time. We cannot redirect the current. But we do have the choice whether or not to fight it. Life is not about the minutes or the moments — it is a singular reality, not a collection if disconnected pieces. And it is about what we do about that.

Sometimes I wish life were like Benjamin Button wants it to be. I wish nothing I did yesterday mattered today. But, on the other hand, I kind of like that it does. Because that means what I do today affects tomorrow. It is a terrible responsibility, a painful weight on my soul. It is what makes us Godlike. It is what allowed German soldiers, in the twilight of WWII, to throw their fate in with a plan from which there was no return. Because if all they would have been thinking of were the moments then they would have closed their eyes, shook their heads, kissed their wives and played catch with their children. But they didn't because they knew moments are only useful as building blocks, each moment an opportunity to make a life better.

It is only by a life in totality that we measure the mettle of a man.

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Dodi-Lee Hecht is a third year law student at Columbia Law School in New York City. She is an alumna of Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women where she graduated summa cum laude with a major in mathematics and a minor in philosophy. A frequent contributor to Nishma, Dodi-Lee's column, "The Corner of Hollywood and Sinai", is now entering its fifth year. .

© 2009, Dodi-Lee Hecht