Rabbi Brad Levenberg on Forgiveness
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Rabbi Brad Levenberg on Forgiveness

Rabbi Brad Levenberg is a rabbi at Temple Sinai and a board member of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.

Of all the themes of the Holy Day season – Jewish identity, tradition, faith and belief, to name just a few – perhaps, due to its sheer complexity, none lends itself more easily to the cinematic tradition than forgiveness. While we often learn at a young age the power of seeking forgiveness – we still regale our preschoolers with the lesson that they must say “I’m sorry” when the situation calls – that simplistic (and powerful) understanding of forgiveness often falls short as we approach our adult years.

Enter the wonderful world of cinema, which can present the complexities associated with seeking forgiveness (and often with an incredible score!). Consider the iconic scene in the film “Cinema Paradiso” when a boy, agonizing over his role in causing an accident that led to the maiming of his mentor, finally realizes that he needs to face his mistake and apologize to his mentor. The scene indelibly captures the journey of coming to terms with our own culpability after trying to avoid it at all costs. Or the scene in “Schindler’s List” when Oscar Schindler realizes the gravity of his actions. Though an extreme example, often when we realize the harm we have done, a step toward changing direction or “righting the wrong” is to seek forgiveness. In September, AJFF brought its groundbreaking educational initiative, “On Campus,” to Pace Academy and showed Oren Rudavsky’s documentary “Witness Theater.” In the film, Holocaust survivors share testimony of war-time atrocities with students so that their tragedy can be understood by a new generation. The documentary and the AJFF program that evening grappled with the difficult dilemma of how to put a human face, creating empathy and understanding for teens, on the tragedy of the Holocaust. One teen in the film shared that his time spent with the survivors taught him not to be so quick to judge other people, but to try to understand their life experiences.  Recognizing the humanity in others is the emotional bedrock of forgiveness, as is the recognition that we, too, make mistakes.

Jews have long struggled with the concept of forgiveness, with rabbinic commentary and sacred text helping us to define the importance of forgiveness and the importance, when we are able, of granting forgiveness. We are proud that the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and other cinematic outlets have contributed to our contemporary understanding of this wildly complex idea. May we find it more satisfying to approach our deeds from this past year with an eye toward humility, realizing the wrongs that we may have inflicted on others … and may we have the strength to own those mistakes and seek forgiveness. May those with whom we have struggled, those with whom we are holding memories of wrongs committed against us, have the wisdom and understanding to seek forgiveness from us this New Year … and may we have the courage and compassion to hear them out and respond with kindness.

Then will this truly be a blessed year for us all.

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