Rabbi Gartenberg’s Observations about the Movie, “Up in the Air”

 Rabbi Gartenberg’s Observations about the Movie, “Up in the Air”

I recently had the opportunity to see the newly released film Up in the Air,  created by director Jason Reitman and starring George Clooney as  Ryan Bingham, an unattached frequent flier who is hired to lay off employees for companies that do not have the stomach to do the task themselves.  The movie is a timely portrait of a new America made anxious by job insecurity, corporate bottom lines, and impersonal technology.

The movie not only movingly portrays these hard times, it also explores the tensions between experience and youth, personified by the conflict between Bingham and his younger protégé, Natalie Keener, played brilliantly by Anna Kendrick. This “dynamite young woman” with an Ivy League diploma has wowed the boss with her cost saving and high tech methods of delivering the bad news.  Bingham, the older man who crisscrosses the country in order to deliver bad news face to face, reluctantly becomes the mentor for the whiz kid. The movie beautifully shows the limits of Natalie’s confidence in technology in the face of the humanity and failings of the older Bingham.

In one telling scene we see an older office worker let go with a video screening.  He goes in and out of the camera frame, becoming blurry from his alternating rage and grief.  As Frank Rich describes it, “It’s like watching a man being assassinated by a predator drone. But this is Detroit, not Waziristan.” (NYTimes 12/14)  Ultimately, the high tech solutions to Bingham’s odd business collapse at the same time Bingham himself discovers how family and friendship is his and his clients’ salvation during hard times. 

As we enter the cycle of the Reading of Exodus in January, we are told of our ancestors falling into terrible times as Pharoah and the Egyptians oppress them step by step until they are fully subjugated and enslaved.   One of the striking things about the Exodus narratives and the Midrash is the depiction of the children of Israel struggling to keep their families intact in the face of difficult conditions.  Moshe’s mother ends up being the wet nurse for him in Pharoah’s palace.  The Midrash tells us how Israelite women cared for their men by enticing them with mirrors despite their exhaustion from their labors. 

Family and fellowship are so important during hard times. Our congregation should be a source of comfort and support for our members who are experiencing tough times.  That is one of the reasons we initiated Shabbat dinners, which we call Shabbat Table Experiences,  at the synagogue after early services.  These Shabbat dinners are a wonderful time for fellowship.  At these meals we invite everyone to bring a dish (from our kosher item list) to the meal.  This way, everyone can participate and save the expense of paying for a meal.  Most of all the meals give us face to face time, and opportunities for conversation, fellowship, and joyfulness.  We can use all of these things during these tough times when we all feel “up in the air.”  Join us for our upcoming Shabbat Table Experiences at TBS which are featured at our website at www.tbslb.org and in the Scribe.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

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