What does it mean to be a part of something greater than yourself?
What does it mean to live a life of meaning?
What does it mean to be a Jew? An Israeli?
These and other profound questions are raised by “On the Map,” (2016) an excellent documentary written and directed by Dani Menkin. “On the Map” tells the incredible story of the 1977 Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team. While the film centers on the team’s captain, Tal Brody, it is decidedly not about any one person. It is about the entire team, all of Israeli society, world Jewry and even the community of nations then and now.
I recently had a chance to watch “On the Map” with 4th-8th grade students and teachers on the big screen in the Rosenberg Performing Arts Theatre at The Davis Academy. We screened the film as part of our Yom Ha’Atzmaut Celebration. Initially I had concerns about showing the film to our 4th and 5th graders. I was concerned for a couple of reasons– 1) the complex political and historical context of the film; 2) the fact that the film is a documentary; and 3) 2-3 bad words. In the end, these concerns didn’t outweigh the strengths of the film and I decided to show it. I introduced the film by explaining a bit of the historical context. A basic knowledge of the Yom Kippur War, Munich Olympics, as well as political events of 1977 in Israel empowers viewers to more fully engage with the content of the film.
While this is a spoiler-free review, I will say that there were several really poignant, even tear-jerking moments in the film. Those moments had to do with dreams deferred, personal sacrifices, the special camaraderie of being a part of a team, individual transformational journeys, and the special nature of Israeli society. Watching the film it is easy to slip into nostalgia for a different era in Israeli society. Not necessarily an easier time, but a simpler time. A time when an entire nation could come together behind a single sporting event. A time when an Israeli basketball team could travel across Europe and represent their country like any other team.
There are many quotable moments in the film and plenty of different directions for post-film discussion. I’ll offer one quote from the film that stuck with me. As part of his interview during the film, Israeli politician, Yair Lapid, reflects on the famous statement, “Israel is on the map,” spoken by Tal Brody. In doing so Lapid says, “There are sentences that take you from one stage to another.”
As a rabbi, educator, parent, and human being, one of the recurring themes of my personal and professional life is the idea of finding your voice. Lapid’s quote shows the power of language and of the human voice to both uncover and articulate profound meaning. In that same interview Lapid reflects on the fact that Brody, a native English speaker, uttered the phrase, “On the map” in Hebrew. He points out how incredible it is that someone not raised in Israel or speaking Hebrew was able to express the voice of an entire nation during that moment. For those of us that are committed to the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora, and for those of us that are striving to teach Hebrew in this context, Tal Brody’s famous words should reinforce the power and potential of our work.
If you have questions about screening “On the Map” I would be happy to be a resource for you.