Movies with my Interfaith Teens: Exodus

When my family has a rare moment to watch a movie together, it can be tricky finding something to engage a 16-year-old girl (romance, history), a 13-year-old boy (action), and two boomer parents (acting and directing skills a plus). I have a list posted on our kitchen wall of films I would like my kids to see before they leave home–classics I’m afraid they may miss somehow when they go out into the brave new 21st-century world.

So with the gift of a snow day this week, I subjected my family to the three and a half hours of Exodus, the 1960 film by Otto Preminger, based on a blockbuster novel by Leon Uris depicting the birth of Israel. The script is a bit clunky, the acting a bit stiff, the production values rough, the Zionist perspective a bit naive, and the length extreme. At a Hollywood preview of the film, at the three hour mark, comedian Mort Sahl supposedly jumped up and shouted, “Otto, let my people go!”

So we spread our viewing out into two sittings. And I have to say that Exodus both entertained (romance, history, action) and educated. And who can resist the film score (the only orchestral score ever to win an Oscar), and the Technicolor panoramas (filmed on location in Cyprus and Israel)?

I admit that part of my original motivation in adding Exodus to our film queue was to convince my children that Paul Newman was more than an old guy who made salad dressing. I also felt it was time to allow them to be exposed to the allure of Zionism: the blooming desert, the utopian kibbutz, the fesity fighting Jews rising up after the horror of the Holocaust.

My own feelings about Israel are deeply ambivalent, especially as a “patrilineal half-Jew” who cannot be married or buried by rabbis there. In part because of this reality, our interfaith community does not tend to stress allegiance to Israel the way many Jewish communities do. And growing up in an ultra-progressive town, my children hear more about the plight of the Palestinians than they do about the creation of Israel. A Hollywood movie, with all of its necessary warping of events and perspectives, may seem like a dicey form of education. But at least I had the full attention of my kids. Below are some snippets of our family dialogue.

Me: “That’s Paul Newman right there. He was an interfaith child!”

Groans. “We KNOW that, Mom.”

Kids: “But this is after the war. Why are they in camps in Cyprus? Why are the British not letting the Jews into Palestine? Weren’t the British on our side during World War II?”

Me: “No one wanted the Jews, so they were still in camps. That’s why they needed a homeland. But did the British have the right to displace Arabs from their lands? They at least wanted the UN to vote on it. Shhh. Keep watching…”

Me, as Ari Ben-Canaan (Paul Newman) kisses American nurse Kitty Fremont (Eva Marie Saint): “Look! Interfaith romance!”

Kids: “Mom, why are you so obsessed?!”

Me, in the closing moments, as Ari leads his people off to fight the Arabs: “And they’ve been fighting for 60 years now, ever since.”

Kids: Quiet. Contemplating.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Famous Interfaith Children, Interfaith films, Interfaith Identity, Interfaith in the News

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5 Comments on “Movies with my Interfaith Teens: Exodus”


  1. Today is Paul Newman’s birthday. Strange and wonderful! I had no idea when we finished watching the movie this morning, or when I put this post up. Thanks to Twitter for alerting me…

  2. Christine Intagliata Says:

    I offer a hopeful note about classic movie watching: some kids need to leave home and grow up a little more, and then they discover on their own those movies we try to foist on them too soon.


    • Chris–Excellent point. I realize I’m being greedy, wanting to be there when they experience these films.

      A facebook friend also notes that Jill Haworth, who was cast in her most famous role as “Karen” in this film at age 14, died earlier this month. Though the whole “child of light” thing always seemed creepy to me. The Presbyterian nurse picks out the only platinum blond Jewish girl as the one she is going to adopt and rescue.

      • Christine Intagliata Says:

        Okay, embarrassing admission: I’ve never seen Exodus. From a critical standpoint, it’s never been viewed as a particularly good film, so I’ve been a snob about it.


        • Apparently the shadows of the booms are visible, and there are continuity issues. But for me, it’s in a category with The Ten Commandments. Cheesy, but a must-see. I am fascinated with how Hollywood handles religious content.


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