Wednesday, June 14, 2006 with the film “Everything is Illuminated”

based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. The film, with humor and sensitivity, tells the story (in Russian and English) of an American Jewish young man who goes to the Ukraine in order to better understand the lives and stories his grandparents left behind when they came to the United States after World War II. Following the screening,12 HIAS
young leaders participated in a casual discussion about the film. We touched on the idea of exploring connections and family roots, notions of home, preservation of memories, discovery of identity and different ways of coping with trauma.

Wednesday, July 19th: Natasha by David Bezmozgis Book Reading and Discussion

The HIAS Young Leaders Book/Movie Club held its second meeting this past Wednesday, July 19th. We discussed the book, Natasha by David Bezmozgis. Natasha follows the experiences of a family of Russian Jews who settle in Toronto and set about reinventing themselves. The loosely connected stories are narrated by the son, Mark, who attempts to understand not only his new world but also his parents. The stories are told with a touch of humor but delve deep into the real issues immigrant families face.With our books in hand 8 HIAS young leaders participated in a casual discussion about the themes and issues presented in the book. Our conversation took us through a dialogue of what anti-Semitism looks like around the world, to questions about what it means to be Jewish, both to the characters of the book, as well as to what it means to us. And our conversation continues! Please check out the “Current Discussions” tab to follow our post-meeting discussion.

Wednesday, August 23rd: House of Sand & Fog Screening & Discussion

A moving film about a family of immigrants from Iran trying to return to their glory days of wealth and pride and about an American girl trying to cling to the last of her stable possessions, both desperately fighting over one house which they believe holds the key to their salvation. The pride, desperation and miscommunication of the characters lead to an extremely tragic ending.Our group discussed the themes of pride, prejudice and the challenges of establishing a new life in a foreign land. We also discussed how the different values and priorities in the film represented the clashed between the 2 cultures and how despite it all, the shared humanity comes out of these difficult situations. 

Tuesday, September 26th, Tortilla Curtain/T.C Boyle, Discussion

HIAS Young Leaders discussed “The Tortilla Curtain” by T.C. Boyle in between sips of exotic teas a local tea shop in the Village.  We questioned the author’s purpose in writing a book intertwining the stories of two families affected by illegal immigration in
Southern California.  The chapters alternate between narrating the lives of an upper middle class “liberal” American family who seeks to build walls to protect themselves, and a family of Mexican immigrants who crossed the border illegally, live in the mountains, and suffer all the tragedies of poverty and illegality in order to overcome the boundaries which keep them on the sidelines of America.  Young leaders spoke about the idea of the American Dream, whether illegal entry is justifiable, and most importantly, why absolutely nothing has changed since this book was first published in 1994.  We learned that there are many questions which Tortilla Curtain did not answer.  We learned from the characters, which forced us to question how we define right and wrong in these very difficult issues involving human beings. Our book club is an important component of the HIAS Young Leader mission which seeks to involve Young Leaders by bringing to life immigration issues.  It is a space where we discuss the social and political ramifications of many extrememly difficult topic, including illegal immigraiton.  

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 with the film “Dirty Pretty Things”

This was  a moving film about a world of struggle and survival for two illegal immigrants living in working class
London. Okwe (a Nigerian exile) and Senay (a Turkish girl) are part of an invisible working class of
London trying to survive and reach their individual life dreams. With all their struggles at hand they face illegal activities of the
London’s secret underworld.  Senay and Owkw’s journey demonstrates the everyday difficulties of life for illegal immigrrants, the escape from the past and dreams for a better future. This movie also teached us about how easily people are exploited when they dont have freedom!

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006: ‘The Namesake’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

This book weaves together an immigrant experience, culture shock, the conflicts of assimilation, and the struggle between generations.
Lahiri delves into the lives of the Gangulis, a newly-arrived Bengali family in
Cambridge, MA. She navigates their attempt at creating a new life in the
United States while simultaneously grappling with what seems to be an ever-diminishing fidelity to the life they knew. Their son, Gogol, guides the reader through the main questions of the book: how do actions, or inactions, reflect inner turmoil and confusion? To what extent are our backgrounds and heritages active guiding influences in our lives; and what changes does time bring to these sensitive issues? Also, how can the reader, like Gogol, ever learn to appreciate both his/her heritage and present reality?

Tuesday December 19th, 2006 – Lilya 4-Ever

This was a moving film about hope and disillusionment of new beginnings. Lilya, a 16 year old sweet and innocent Russian girl, is abandoned by her mother who travels to America with a man.  Lilya quickly succumbs to the desperate situation engulfing her.  The only bright light seems to be her new boyfriend who promises her a job and new life in Sweden.  Not realizing she has been duped, she is picked up by her boyfriend’s boss in Sweden, only to find she is now imprisoned as a sex slave and is forced to work as a prostitute. The movie sends a very clear and painful message about the existence of human trafficking. It sharply portrays the desperate cycle that leads young innocent and poor girls into the trap of trafficking. .  A recurring theme in our club meetings was the dream of a better future in another land. In Lilya’s case, the dreamy future tuned out to be not only a disappointment but a deadly nightmare. We grappled with the idea of the familiar vs. the unfamiliar and how as time passes we learn to look at things differently – as Lilya learned to miss the idea of home embodied in her relationship with the little boy from her neighborhood. The circumstances of her life seem to have driven her into circle of increasingly difficult, irresolvable situations and help to demonstrate the most vulnerable can be taken advantage of in the worst ways and how urgent the need is for stopping this phenomena and assisting helpless refugees. 

January 30th, 2007 : ‘Chasing Freedom’

The HIAS Young Leaders Movie Club met in the Upper West Side for January’s dinner-and-a-movie event, where we watched “Chasing Freedom” starring Juliette Lewis and Layla Alizada.  Alizada portrays a young Afghan woman, Meena, who arrives in the US seeking asylum represented by her pro bono attorney (Juliette Lewis).  Through Meena’s emotionally charged narration, we learn about the conditions of her life in Afghanistan which drove her to journey to the US, and the legal challenges Meena faces in the complicated asylum system once she arrives.  Following the movie, the Young Leaders shared their reaction to the movie and their thoughts on the tensions between national security and just asylum/refugee policies.   The film presented a broad overview of the asylum process from beginning to end, illuminating the importance of legal aid and refugee resettlement agencies such as HIAS. 

February 20th, 2007: The Spirit catches you and you Fall Down 

In February, our group met to discuss ‘the Spirit catches you and you fall down’ by Anne Fadiman.

Fadiman tells the story of the Hmong Refugees in the U.S and reveals the cultural conflict created between their world and the American world. Through the story of the Lees and their daughter Lia, we learn a great deal about these unique, strong minded people that struggle to preserve their heritage and identity at any price, for better or worse. The story also gives us a chance to examine our own sets of values.

Lia’s illness, epilepsy (or ‘The Spirit Catches you and you fall down’ in Hmong) is the point of cultural struggle in this piece, calling into question both Hmong standards and American standards. The preservation of heritage and privacy of practice clash with western medical and ethical standards and asks both sides: How open are we really to one another? How well do we deal with difference and change?

Fadiman’s solution is better communication, better listening – she suggests that a doctor should not only listen to the story their stethoscope tells but to the story the patient reveals in the larger context of their culture and beliefs. The results of not listening, as this books often teaches us, can be disastrous.

Lia’s story and the stimulating discussion it provoked lingered in our minds for quite a while. Whether Fadiman’s book was an anthropological, cultural research paper, medical document or a journalistic account – we all agreed this it is a beautiful, compelling tale that brings about great sadness but also much inspiration.

 Join us on every last week of the month on Tuesday, when we continue our exploration of the different themes in experience of immigration. for more information on time and location, Please RSVP to or call 212-613- 1303  


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