by DeDe Jacobs-Komisar, Development Manager
This past weekend I saw a movie that was both over-the-top crazy and, as a feminist, enormously cathartic. I can’t get it out of my head. I’m speaking of Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth in the post-apocalyptic action series directed by George Miller. Have you guys seen this? It’s an insane trip into a dystopian future where the ultimate goal is survival. It’s violent and nonstop and vivid and ultimately, amazingly compassionate. I’m not usually into of action films, and haven’t seen the three previous Mad Max movies starring Mel Gibson (not. a. fan.). Thankfully, Gibson has been replaced in this latest iteration by Tom Hardy. This type of movie would generally never cross my radar, but then I started hearing the buzz about it and was intrigued at the prospect of an unabashedly feminist popcorn flick. I went to see what all of the hype was about, and now I’ve become obsessed. And believe it or not, it made me think of Mayyim Hayyim. Here’s why (spoilers ahead):
1. The women. Many action films have the token “strong woman,” who is tough and smart and above all drop-dead gorgeous, there as a sidekick/love interest for the male protagonist (see The Matrix, The Lego Movie, every superhero movie ever….). These films hardly ever pass the Bechdel Test. Mad Max: Fury Road shatters the whole system with multiple richly-drawn heroines who don’t let their looks or past trauma define them. For actors playing women escaping being harem “breeders” (shudder), the director brought in Eve Ensler, creator of The Vagina Monologues and activist combating violence towards women, to help them make their characters authentic and complex. They scrawl “We Are Not Things” on the wall of their prison as they flee. There’s also a sharpshooter biker gang of women in their 70s (who did their own stunts!) who keep a stash of seeds to one day regrow the world. Ultimately, there is the “Fury” herself, Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, who smuggles out the young women and goes in search of a promised land. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the cinematic bravery of these characters echoed real-life strength we see every day in women at Mayyim Hayyim. Women like Amy*, who immersed in 2009 when she kicked an abusive partner to the curb, and again in 2014 when she was about to give birth. Transgender women revealing their true selves. Women who used their breast cancer diagnoses as an opportunity to create an invaluable resource for healing.
2. The men. In the villain’s grotesque patriarchy to the nth degree, his perpetual battles are fought by young men enslaved as “War Boys,” whose purpose is to kill and die for his power. He has created a religion of martyrdom around himself, with promises that martyrs will “live again” in the next world. The film shows the arc of one disillusioned War Boy who, when given a chance to be human and work with the women, transforms into a compassionate hero. Max himself works with the women as equals from the beginning, because proscribed gender roles are meaningless (especially) when we all must work together to survive. Which is pretty obvious – but I don’t think a mainstream action film has ever made that point so strongly. It was revolutionary to see. In the end, Max takes on the typically feminine healer role, nursing a wounded Furiosa back to health. This reminded me of the truly egalitarian oasis that is Mayyim Hayyim. Here, men and women are Jewish and spiritual equals in the context of mikveh, a ritual that for so long has been guarded by men to control women’s sexuality. Men and women working together is what makes Mayyim Hayyim a safe space for people of all genders to own and explore their Judaism.
3. Water. The villain, warlord/cult leader Immortan Joe, is just the worst. He uses his vast supply of water to control and enslave people starving in the desert, creating an empire of sickening extremes. He turns on an enormous waterfall once a day to rain down on his desperate subjects, only to slam it off seconds later, admonishing them not to “become addicted to water.” In this film, water is the key to life and self-determination, beyond just survival. The escaped women use their own kind of immersion to retake control of their bodies, begin to heal and move forward. In the end, a group of mothers turn the waterfall on for the people, signaling a new era of renewal and life.
Every day at Mayyim Hayyim, people immerse here to embrace life on their own terms – whether it’s for healing, conversion, marking a life transition, or niddah (monthly immersion). People find the strength they need to be their best selves, which is pretty badass, and to build a better world; and maybe, you know, preventing an apocalypse.
DeDe Jacobs-Komisar is Development Manager at Mayyim Hayyim. She’ll go see Mad Max again with you if you want.
*Names of immersees have been changed.