Keeping the faith

A new innovative series on Channel 1, ‘My Faith,’ looks at a disparate group of Israelis in their daily lives as they discuss their attitudes toward God.

Ori Gruder 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of Hagai Sharara)
Ori Gruder 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of Hagai Sharara)
Faith and spirituality are important in the lives of many Israelis, but it’s rare to hear someone talking about it, except in terms of strict religious observance.
The multi-part series, My Faith, which runs on Saturdays at 10:40 p.m. (and which is sometime preempted by coverage of demonstrations and other news events), is the brainchild of Ori Gruder (who made the film under the pseudonym Or Yashar, which means “Straight Light” in Hebrew), an Israeli director and cinematographer.
“I started to work on the series five years ago,” says Gruder. “It’s been a long trip.”
The inspiration for it came from the fact that Gruder, who was born into a secular Israeli family, became religious himself. But Gruder is not one of the interviewees in the series.
“I don’t like to film myself,” he explains. Instead, “I looked for people who could answer my questions.”
These people include a wide cross-section of Israelis, from every end of the religious spectrum. Among the betterknown subjects are Hadar Galron, a half-British, half-Moroccan stand-up comic, actress, playwright and screenwriter; Simcha Jacobovici, a controversial Canadian/Israeli archeologist; and Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli-born, internationally known motivational speaker whose outlook changed drastically after he almost died on a trip to the Amazon.
The series also includes homeopathic healers, skydivers, teachers, doctors, scientists and dozens of other Israelis from all walks of life. Many of the participants are English speakers or have spouses who are, and speak all or part of the time in English. It was filmed all over Israel and the world, including in the US, India and Australia.
BUT ALL the participants have much in common, says Gruder.
“The single thing we looked for was someone who lives his beliefs. It’s all about the relationship with God, if you have one, if you don’t. I asked them, ‘How is your relationship with God?’ People talk about it, the ups and downs.
It’s like the relationships you have with the person you love, with your children, with your friends.”
Gruder took inspiration from a line from a Bob Dylan song, which is quoted in the series. Gruder paraphrases it: “You must serve somebody. It could be God or the devil, but you must serve somebody.”
While the idea of such a film may not surprise you, this is quite unusual and adventurous programming for the government- run Channel 1.
While the networks allowed Gruder a great deal of freedom in the series, “they told me, ‘No rabbis.’ They didn’t want it to be about religious observance,” and wanted to steer clear of the usual religious- secular debate.
In addition, says Gruder, “We wrote rules for ourselves: No politics. People can say what they want about God, but no politics.”
Producers toyed with the idea of Gruder’s including Christians, Muslims and Buddhists among his subjects, but he chose not to.
“I said I am a Jew. This is for me, it’s my character. Everybody can speak about God, but I felt people from other religions need to make their own films, tell their own stories,” he says.
Interviews were cut from the final series because “some people said the same things, basically,” and because some of the subjects seemed too extreme and cultish.
Gruder thinks it is fitting that it has been broadcast at this moment, with social-justice protests and the release of Gilad Schalit dominating the headlines.
“I think it makes sense that the network decided to run the series around the same time as the social protests.
When people stand up together and protest, saying they don’t believe in the government. The series is on belief, the series is on who runs the world.... People want to take the power into their own hands, but we don’t control everything.
But we can influence it.”
He sees a sign of redemption in the freeing of Schalit.
“We in Judaism believe in the idea of a happy end,” he says.