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the HOLY Ili; I N aka 1 Ai gge , .; 111 oi It .11 ;71 Educating Mendy BY BARBARA BELEJACK The Holy Land Directed By Eitan Gorlin Do you believe in fate? Do you believe in God? Where does God live? For one brief moment the two young protagonists of The Holy Land walk hand in hand, gambol ing through Jerusalem and posing life’s big questions. If we didn’t know better we’d say that they were just an ordinary young couple spending their JuniorYear Abroad, taking in a bit of Biblical antiquity to round out a nice liberal arts edua troubled yeshiva student from the Israeli hinterland whose rabbi has ordered him to take a brief hiatus so that he can “get it out of his system.” Sasha a prostitute from Ukraine who thinks she will work for a few months, go back home, fall in love, marry a nice boy, and forget “it” ever happened. In making the film, first-time director Eitan Gorlin has borrowed liberally from the Bible, the Buddha, and his own experience. Born in Washington, D.C., he was raised an Orthodox Jew and graduated from an all-male yeshiva steeped in the centuries-old tradition of Eastern Europe. After graduation he traveled to Israel, where he lived off and on for several years and through several incarnationsas a serious yeshiva student, a partisan of radical Zionist settlers, a soldier in the Israeli Army, and a bartender in a legendary Jerusalem bar called Mike’s Place. Filled with the flotsam and jetsam of the hippie trail and the Holy Land pilgrimagesnot to mention local Arab and Jewish patrons sitting side by sideMike’s Place inspired Gorlin to write a novella and make a film. Alas, the bar no longer exists; it was bombed this spring. The novella is still unpublished. The Holy Land opens with what have become all-too-familiar images of generic violence in Israel and the West Bank. Sirens wail, protestors torch an Israeli flag. We hear a voiceover of a woman speaking English with a heavy Eastern European accent. “My mother told me not to come to Israel,” she says. “That the only reason Jews bring Russians to Israel is to do dirty jobs that Arabs won’t do because of the fighting.” Later we learn that the voice belongs to Sasha, superbly portrayed by Semel, an Israeli actress who does not speak ously taken classes at the Meryl Streep School of Foreign Accent Acquisition. Men in the Middle East, she continues “are primitive and stupid. They treat women like dogs. Worse than dogs.” As far as she’s concerned, they can all kill each other, Arabs and Jews alike. Meanwhile, back in the hinterland, 20-year-old Mendy is moody and distracted. The son of an ultra-orthodox rabbi and an American woman, he can’t concentrate on his rabbinical studies. As the family prepares for their Shabbat meal, he’s busy in the bathroom with a Hebrew porn magazine. When he’s supposed to be studying the Torah, he’s reading Hermann Hesse. His rabbi takes him to task, then quotes from an obscure passage of the Talmud and suggests that he go to another town “and visit a harlot,” the remedy proscribed for “extreme cases.” Mendy quickly takes him up on his offer. At the Love Boat, a Tel Aviv strip bar, the painfully shy young man meets Sasha. After a brief attempt at awkward small talkSo, do you like working here?he enjoys an even more brief, yet sufficiently successful, 30-second encounter. He later meets Mike \(Saul mer war photographer who barrels about Israel dressed in standard-issue flak jackets, boasting that he owns “the craziest bar east of Sarajevowhere I’d be right now if it weren’t for those flicking peacekeepers.” Like its real-life counterpart, the bar is called Mike’s Place and is located in Jerusalem. For reasons not immediately apparent, Mike takes to the young man. He invites him to Jerusalem, gives him a job as a bartender, suggests ways to get to know Sashahis own personal favoriteand pays her to be Mendy’s surprise “present.” It turns out that Mendy’s innocent faceand more importantly his Hassidic curlsare quite useful in Mike’s sideline business, which is smuggling dope. No one thinks to ask any questions when they see Mendy on the road. Hooked by Sasha and the crowd at Mike’s Place, Mendy tells his parents that he’s off to study at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, hoping that it will help him to get back his “spark” for religious training. “We’re so happy you can share your problems with us,” his father intones as his mother beams. “In Jerusalem you feel God everywhere, in 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9/12/03