There are movies I’ve seen that if they happen to be on TV while I’m channel-browsing, I’ll almost invariably stop to watch. One of these is “The Princess Bride.” Another is “The Fifth Element.” But the one I want to mention specifically today is “Bend It Like Beckham.”
I mention “Bend It Like Beckham” not only because it is a good movie, but also because of the theme. Jessminder is a teenager in modern London who comes from a traditional Indian Sikh family. Part of her upbringing, in addition to attending traditional ceremonies and religious services and respecting her elders, is that she should marry a nice Indian boy and settle down into a traditional Indian marriage. Unlike many girls in her situation, her parents have not arranged a marriage for her but would like her to make a love match that meets their expectations.
We the viewers know that Jess is secretly playing soccer on a local women’s team. Her parents certainly would not approve of this activity. To make matters worse, she has a major crush on her white, Irish coach, Joe, and he seems to reciprocate.
That’s enough information for now. I do enjoy and recommend the movie if you want to rent it or happen to catch it on TV.
I always feel torn when I watch this movie. We’re supposed to root for Jess as she bucks tradition and continues to play soccer, continues to fall in love with Joe, and works to convince her parents that not only should she be allowed to date (and potentially marry) Joe, she should be allowed to travel to California with her friend to attend college there on a soccer scholarship. That much is clear.
I hope by now you understand my point of view well enough to understand why I’m torn. If this movie were about Orthodox Jews instead of Sikhs, I would not want Jess to date Joe. I would want Jess to find a nice Jewish boy to settle down with and live a traditional Jewish life.
There are movies that have a similar theme that deal with Jewish families, but they are usually darker and less forgiving toward the traditional side. Off the top of my head, I can think of “A Price Above Rubies” with Renee Zellweger (of all people), which hardly paints Orthodox Judaism in a positive light.
The point here is that Jews are not the only ones who face this difficulty of assimilation versus traditionalism. Many cultures have found themselves being slowly absorbed by the majority. Some fight it, while others welcome it. Some have enough influence that some of elements of the minority culture become integrated into the majority. See, for example, the way many pagan rituals were absorbed into Roman Christian culture in the early years of the Church.
Unfortunately, many cultures, religions, and languages have been lost to time due to this assimilation/absorption. It is for this reason that traditional Judaism fights so hard to maintain its separateness from the majority. It’s not out of fear or racism. It’s out of self-preservation.