Grupo_de_Taglit by Wikicommons user Luqux. Birthright Israel Taglit group in Israel.

JEWTAH – Outsiders Welcome!

[pullquote align=right] Religious identity is a big deal in Utah.
[/pullquote]Religious identity is a big deal in Utah.  It looms larger than the mountains. Growing up in Salt Lake City my identity was that of ‘the Jew.’ And truth is I loved it! Not only did I get to bring a special letter to my teachers the week before the High Holidays explaining my impending absences, but I was considered to be quite exotic in the eyes of the predominantly LDS community. Mormons identify closely with Jews. Leaving me to wonder,  why did I NOT identify with them?
From the time I was in elementary school my mom would come in every December to teach everyone about Chanukah, and in high school and junior high I was always asked to speak in classes about Judaism. There was very little anti-semitism that I experienced; I can count those incidents on three fingers:  Someone told me I was going to hell for killing Jesus (they apologized on Facebook 17 years later), the captain of the football team introduced me to the joke “Why Do Jews have such big noses?” “Because air is free,” and then my local college paper referred to me as “Jeremy Rishe, a Jew.”
JEWTAH film poster
Needless to say, the Mormon community is very kind and gracious, but still I felt left out. My closest friends were outcasts by Utah standards, average Americans by global standards. We were a ragtag bunch of Guatemalans, Chinese, homosexuals, Iranians, Trekkies, theater nerds, a Catholic and two Jews. The one bond we all shared was that we were not the majority — in this case Mormon.
I’ve come to love my ‘outsider-dom;’ so much so, I’ve written a film about it all called JEWTAH. The film is about a lone Jew in Utah who holes himself up in his Grandmother’s basement to avoid dealing with all the ‘anti-semitism’ he perceives around him. G-d intervenes in his life, and commands him to face the ‘scary’ world of Salt Lake City, or remain trapped.
[pullquote align=left] There is power in being different.
[/pullquote]Like this character, I find there is power in being different. It helps one know where they stand. Here in New York, I choose to introduce myself as a Jew from Utah, because of the reaction it gets. Also, too much separation can divide a person from ones humanity, closing down the channel of compassion toward others. Now, as I look back in time, a part of me feels funny having separated myself so distinctly from the good hearted community I grew up in.
I see the earth as a mountain meadow, much like the ones nestled in the Uintah Mountains of Northern Utah. These meadows are full of flowers: different species, colors and smells, different shapes and sizes, but they are all flowers. The bees come from miles away to take their nectar. These flowers come and go with the seasons, and only exist for a short while.  They live in the meadow. They are beautiful, and they are worthy of respect, because their existence is miraculous. Just like us.
If you like these themes, and wish to support our film, JEWTAH, please visit Third Wing Media’s website and leave us a dollar.