We had an early morning planned at the reconstructed village of Katzrin. At just after six, we were waiting in the parking lot, but we couldn’t get inside. The manager that Aran had asked to unlock the gates, wasn’t there. Aran quickly dialed the man’s number and had a brief conversation in Hebrew. He lowered the phone with a wry smile.
“He is coming now,” Aran said. “The schools are closed. The bomb shelters are open. He did not call us because he was sure we would not be here.”
In a few minutes, the manager arrived, and opened the gates. Gary, Oswaldo and I headed to the house where we’d be filming the healing of the paralytic.
The house had a loft, and Oswaldo climbed up the ladder to shine a light down from above, since we wouldn’t be punching any real holes in the roof.
The extras arrived soon after, and Aran spirited them away to get costumes. In a quiet moment, Aran pulled me aside. “Some of the actors today are Orthodox Jews,” he told me.
“Will they be OK with the story?” I asked. We are filming a story about Jesus, which was definitely not a part of orthodox tradition.
“Yes, they want to do it,” Aran responded. “Some of them have traveled for hours on the bus from Jerusalem. Just,” he paused. “Try not to ask the orthodox actors to do anything that is a big part of the story. Let them stay in the back”
I bit my lip. “Sure.” We had gotten in all kinds of scrapes so far, but I really didn’t want to add insulting anyone’s religion to the list.
But Aran was right, as usual. The actors were incredibly excited to be there, and committed to telling the story, even though it was one they didn’t know. I decided to unfold the story as we went along.
“This man is a teacher,” I said, pointing to Amir in his Jesus robes, “You are listening to him speak, when suddenly something starts to fall on your heads, and you look up to see what happened.”
Aran translated for me, and we guided the crowd into position around Amir. It was a good icebreaker scene to start with. A young man in the loft threw straw and dirt onto everyone’s heads, and they practiced their shocked reactions.
With the group more relaxed, we moved into more serious territory. Amir helped me to lay out a dummy stretcher on the floor, and we laid a young actor on it. He did a excellent job of choosing a position for his paralyzed character and sticking with it.
Now came the heart of the story. “This Rabbi says to the man on the ground, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” I told the actors. A young man in the front row frowned.
“That’s right,” I told the crowd. Do what he just did. You are all surprised and angry, because no one should say that to anyone.” We shot several scenes with the obliging crowd frowning angrily at the out-of-line statement.
Bomb shelters and danger were mostly forgotten as we focused on our scenes, but on break, an American-Israeli actor approached me. “Do you hear that,” she asked? A slight whine pricked at my ears. “That’s a drone.” Her forehead wrinkled slightly. “This is first time since I moved to Israel that I’ve really felt afraid.”
Soon break was over, and it was time for the next part of the story. Using Oswaldo’s light from the loft, we illuminated Jesus from above, as he bent over the paralyzed man. The effect was a lovely glow behind his head, almost a halo, and the actors crowded around to see it on the camera monitor.
“Now,” I told the young man on the mat, “Amir is going to tell you to ‘get up and walk.’” We talked though the process a little, but he didn’t much help. He was impressively convincing in his role.
As the young man rose to his feet, the crowd was unusually silent. I supposed that, after I’d instructed them to frown at Jesus’ comments, this might not have been what they expected to happen.
Standing there, in the middle of that crowd who hadn’t known how the story would end, I understood it a little better. Anyone can say “your sins are forgiven,” and no one believes it. But when a paralyzed man stood up and walked, people paid attention.
The actors had a wonderful time. In fact, we had a hard time convincing them to go home when the scenes were over. These stories hadn’t been from their religious tradition, but they had still poured all their energy into making the scenes beautiful. I was thankful for that.
“You’ll notice that everyone was calm today,” Aran said when we got home. “There could be missiles, or trouble, but people here have seen it before. They don’t panic.” It was true. Our large group of actors had come to help us, despite the unusual circumstances.
That night, I fell into bed so tired, that I was sure nothing was going to wake me up. And nothing did. The rest of the crew, however, had a bit more excitement.