As a kid there were three things I always felt deeply connected to -- the homeless, John Lennon and my ancestors. Of course I'm referring to my living relatives. But what really struck me about this connection, was that I felt it just as much for the relatives I'd never met, from generations long since past. As I've gotten older this connection that I feel for my ancestors has only strengthened profoundly.
In 2001 when I was a senior in college at USC, I took a class on the Holocaust. It was an important class for me and certainly a defining moment in my life to be taking it. As I was learning more about my history and my ancestors, I also found that this connection I had always felt, was growing and deepening in profound ways I could not put into words.
Growing up in a reform Jewish family in West Hollywood, I was more a cultural Jew than a particularly religious one. I went to Hebrew School, had a Bat Mitzvah, and as a family we celebrated Passover and Hanukkah and went to Temple on The High Holy days. But my family never observed the weekly holiday of Shabbat, the day of rest. So it was also during this time in my life that I began going to Shabbat dinners with friends.
There was something about these Shabbat dinners that really affected me. Perhaps it was the newness of a tradition which I knew to be so ancient. Maybe it was the images of women's faces flooding my head from generations before me, who had been lighting the same Shabbat candles I was now lighting. Or perhaps it was that delicious moist challah (Shabbat bread and the kosher wine going to my head as L'chaims (toasts/blessings) were said all around. But something about these Friday nights left me feeling a kind of blissful peace and oneness I'd never felt before.
As we went around the dinner table and said our L'chaims (blessings) I imagined an invisible audience encompassing me, 360 degrees in every direction. An opera house full of all my relatives generations back looking down on me, cheering me on, sending me love, wisdom & good thoughts.
Around the same time I began to go to these Shabbat dinners, something else changed my life. At USC film school I met another young woman, Ariana Delawari. She was a kindred spirit from the moment I met her. We were in the same film production class and by the end of our first class I knew she would be in my life forever. She and I had so many similarities that we might as well have been related, except that she's an Afghan/Sicilian who was raised as a Muslim and I'm an Eastern European Jew. Nonetheless Ariana is like a sister to me.
We were together on September 11th and shortly after, her parents moved back to their native Afghanistan to help rebuild the country. Ariana has been making trips there too over the years to visit her family. She's also been taking stunning photographs, making a beautiful documentary and helping the Afghan people in any way she can.
I've watched her raise money over the years to bring back blankets and supplies to take back to the people of Afghanistan, her people. Ariana like her family will do anything to help. As an artist and a human being her life's work is dedicated to helping her brothers and sisters in Afghanistan.
Ariana is also a musician and when she realized the situation was getting worse in Kabul, she decided if she wanted to make an album there, using Afghan musicians she had to do it now, before tensions escalated. So off she went to record her album.
She made a beautiful record called "Lion of Panjshir" that was mixed and partially produced by David Lynch who also released the album on his label David Lynch MC. It is personal, timeless, timely, heartfelt and hauntingly beautiful. There is one song on the album though that really struck a nerve with me. "We Came Home" is an elegant and chilling, piano ballad about immigration and our collective ancestors who came to America against all odds in search of a better life.
Every time I heard this song, images again flooded my mind. This time I saw the tired and courageous faces in stunning black and white of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island where they came face to face with the Statue of Liberty. I saw people leaving their villages, their homes, their families, their possessions, in search of a dream and the promise of a better life filled with opportunity.
With every heartbreaking note of Ariana's haunting, delicate voice I could not help but feel that she was channeling the voices of those who came before us. Her voice like a vessel, carried my heart to another time and place.
When I told Ariana the affect that her song had on me, she asked me if I would want to direct a music video for it. I agreed of course and decided all the images I had been flooded with every time I heard this beautiful song would now make their way from my head to the screen.
In creating the video I wanted to honor the collective ancestry we all share and find a way to connect the past to the present, as Ariana does with such grace and power in her song.
In the chaos of the everyday we sometimes forget to remember the past. Too often we take for granted what we have, forgetting the courageous sacrifices made by those who came before us.
The video, much like the song, is an opportunity for us all to reflect, to honor, and to remember the courage of those who dream big and risk everything for themselves and for those yet to come.
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