WONDER WOMAN LEFT ME wondering: What are the Jewish take aways from this action-packed film? I was drawn to see the film because I am curious as to cultural trends and this film crushed at the box office. And I wanted to see the heroine, Gal Gadot, precisely because she is Jewish. In fact, she is a former combat trainer of the Israel Defense Forces and Miss Israel.
Some basic plot line: Princess Diana is from a women-only Island with knowledge of a hundred different languages and yet, isolated from the outside world. The inhabitants excel at ancient, martial arts. She rescues from the sea a downed pilot, with whom she sets off to end World War I by seeking to find Aris, the undefeated god responsible for evil.
Jewish Allan Heinberg wrote the screenplay of this superhero story. Diana deflects bullets and mortars with her forearm bracelets. She can leap over buildings and wield a lasso that elicits truth-telling. At the same time, Wonder Woman is empathic, emotional, and romantic. I marveled at her familiar Israeli accent. Aware that Jewish women are all too often portrayed as “princesses” in a negative way, protected and entitled, I delighted in the reclaiming of Jewish femininity as beautiful and strong- an eshet chayil, “soldier woman” (Proverbs 31:1)- fighting on behalf of others. Wonder Woman’s Israeli accent is here identified with goodness, strength and compassion.
I did feel bad for modern Germans, because Germany is portrayed in the film as the cruel enemy. Having traveled to Germany for the first time last summer, I, the son of Holocaust survivors, came away uplifted by the collective repentance for the atrocities of World War II. Young people are required to have Holocaust education, including several visits to death camps. Stolpersteines, brass markers with the names and fate of deportees, are imbedded in front of homes throughout the country, with over five thousand just in Berlin. Only the Germans paid reparations to Jewish survivors and to the State of Israel, which in the 1950s was a major source of support to the fledgling State. And in the past several years, Germany has taken in over a million refugees, with Chancellor Angela Merkel declaring that doing so is a moral responsibility. Regrettably, the past is hard to shed, which only underscores that modern Germany’s efforts are so laudable.
Our Wonder Woman learns quickly from her struggles with people. She will conclude that we are all created with the potential for both good and bad behavior. The sages of the early centuries teach similarly from the Hebrew vayetzer, “and He [God] created” Adam (Genesis 2:7). As written in the Torah that verb has two yuds, pronounced like a “y,” where only one would be needed. Our sages teach that one yud represents the human impulse for good and the other for selfishness. We choose our goodness.
The evening of August 22nd marks the start of the Hebrew month of Elul, when each morning we traditionally blow the shofar and recite Psalm 27. These rituals evoke making amends with those we may have hurt, increasing awareness of negative labels that we may too readily apply, and empowering us to choose positive change as we approach Rosh Hashanah. As Wonder Woman learns, how we behave, for good or bad, is our choice.
Go see the film because it’s fun and wise, and Wonder Woman’s Israeli accent a welcome surprise. And best wishes on using your powers to choose good in the year ahead. Wishes to you of a good and sweet new year.
Rabbi Spitz is a caring mentor to his congregants at Congregation B’nai Israel, a scholar, and has recently ended his 20 years of participation in the Rabbinical Assembly Committee of Law and Standards. He lives in Tustin, California with his wife, Linda; they are the parents of Joseph, Jonathan and Anna Rose.