In the movie Grand Canyon, Steve Martin's character says, All of life's riddles are answered in the movies! This quote came to mind when I learned that Roger Ebert passed away.
Many of you know that Roger Ebert was a famous and popular movie critic. Along with his partner and friend Gene Siskel, he made an indelible mark on popular culture. Although a bit gimmicky, many continue to show opinions for a movie by giving it a "thumbs-up" or a "thumbs-down;" a practice started by Roger Ebert.
In 1975, Ebert won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism. This was the first Pulitzer given to a film critic. In 2006, he developed a cancer that took away part of his jaw. He was unable to eat, speak or drink. His continual fight and courage drove him to return to media, as he used Facebook and other social-media outlets to connect with others. He hired other actors to serve as his voice, and he continued to write for the Chicago Sun-Times.
In deciding whether to see a movie, I'd often read Ebert's review first. On many occasions, his review was the determining factor as to whether I would see it or not. Sometimes I'd see a movie that I didn't quite understand, or enjoy. I'd then read Roger Ebert's explanations and queries. More often than not, I'd come away with a new insight. If life's riddles are answered in the movies, Roger Ebert helped explain a myriad of answers. Ebert was our modern day Rashi, helping to tease out further meaning and beauty out of movies, just as Rashi does for the Torah.
Roger Ebert because he left a huge legacy behind him. He wrote over twenty books, and hundreds of insightful, humorous, sometimes scathing, but always thoughtful movie reviews. With integrity and courage, he fought cancer so that he could continue to teach, and inspire. I mourn his loss.
I purposefully think of this one man tonight ... this one life ... as it is two days before we commemorate Yom Hashoah. Yom Hashoah is the day on which we commemorate of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews who lost their lives.
Roger Ebert left a huge legacy behind, but many of our 6 million brothers and sisters did not. Over 1 million children under the age of 16 died in the Holocaust. They were not able to write books, work for a newspaper, fight courageously against cancer, start a popular television program, or win a Pulitzer Prize.
Our Talmud reminds us that the loss of one life is akin to losing a universe. One life is full of infinite potential, and also for the chance to bring forth further life. We mourn one life because his life's work inspired us. We watched news reports of his brave battle with cancer. But what about 6 million lives?
Joseph Stalin famously remarked that the loss of one man is a tragedy, but the loss of a million is a statistic. Judaism screams at us, Al Tiscach! Do. Not. Forget. We feel the pain of losing those millions of universes - the dreams and creations, the possibilities and the achievements that could have been, but were snuffed out because of intolerance and hatred.
Yom Hashoah serves as a painful reminder that every life is precious, that every man, woman and child is filled with the ability to teach and inspire, to make us laugh, to make us question, to make us learn, to make us holy ... We mourn for those we know, but on Yom Hashoah, we mourn for those that we might have known. Those universes of life are now gone.
Roger Ebert wrote a memoir last year called, Life Itself. In it, he wrote,“I have seen untold numbers of movies and forgotten most of them, but I remember those worth remembering, and they are all on the same shelf in my mind.
Judaism teaches us that each and every life is worth remembering. On Yom Hashoah, we remember them in our minds. We grieve for what they may have been. We mourn the loss to the Jewish people, and also to the world. We cry over the immense, almost unthinkable tragedy of 6 million souls lost to us, and lost to our families. Our sadness is heightened not only by what was lost, but also by what could have been.
Our greatest consolation is ourselves. If we heed our dictum not to forget, we will not allow this to ever happen again. We will not allow other people to be targeted because of their religion, or race, or sexual orientation. The act of not forgetting is not only a mental one, it is a physical one, done with our Mitzvot, our deeds.
I close with words of Roger Ebert, commenting on Steven Spielberg's movie, Schindler's List.
At the end of the film, there is a sequence of overwhelming emotional impact, involving the actual people who were saved by Schindler. We learn that "Schindler's Jews" and their de scendants today number about 6,000 and that the Jewish population of Poland is 4,000. The obvious lesson would seem to be that Schindler did more than a whole nation to spare its Jews. That would be too simple. The film's message is that one man did something, while in the face of the Holocaust others were paralyzed. Perhaps it took a Schindler, enigmatic and reckless, without a plan, heedless of risk, to do what he did.