Philomena’s Jewish Moment
02/28/2014 - 00:44
Sandee Brawarsky
Judy Dench  and Steve Coogan in “Philomena.” Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company
Judy Dench and Steve Coogan in “Philomena.” Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company

"Philomena" may be the come-from-behind winner in Sunday night’s Academy Awards presentations. The outstanding film –based on a true story -- about an Irish Catholic woman searching for the son she was forced to give up as a teenager when she was sent to a convent has been nominated for four Oscars, including Best Film.

Philomena, the lead character played by Judy Dench, is helped in her search by a British journalist, played by Steve Coogan, who also wrote the script, based on the book written by the real journalist, Martin Sixsmith.  The film returns several times to the convent in Ireland and its sisterhood of nuns.

But at one point in this film that takes a critical view of policies of the Catholic Church, the camera pauses on an item that’s clearly an etrog box, used to hold the “product of hadar trees” referred to in the bible.

That line, from Leviticus 23:40  inspires the commandment to “take” the lulav and etrog (“You shall take unto you on  the first day the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.”) and frequently appears on etrog boxes. Here, the camera shows the blue-green box with its traditional shape and the first words of the line in Hebrew -- Ulakahtem lachem, you shall take unto you – that wraps around the rim of the beautiful box.

At first, I thought I was imagining something, that my journalistic focus on Jewish culture was causing me to see Jewish imagery everywhere, but indeed it’s there, confirmed by subsequent viewers.

The etrog box doesn’t have to do with the plot, but it’s a thing of beauty, meant to hold something of beauty, and it’s noticed. It’s on a shelf in the Washington home of the partner of Philomena’s son. But I don’t want to give away the story here. Before or after the Oscar envelope is opened, be sure to see this film.

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My attention went to a small Hanukkiah or Menorah on a side table at the same Washington home.

Philmenos son had a partner - maybe he had a Jewish connection? Looked on line but couldn't find ? We were 3 seeing the movie and we ALL jolted when we saw it ? Maybe director added it - would love to find out - also other movies recently have menorahs etc

I'm told that the book has no indication that the partner was Jewish. I suspect it was an addition/embellishment of the film's version of the story.