NASSAU COUNTY, NY – “There is a new movie named ‘Tango Shalom’ that I saw two days ago. The film is a comedy/ drama which conveys such a beautiful and universal message that I am convinced you will welcome the chance to see it’’, my friend Corey, a fifty-six year old successful tech investor from Great Neck, N.Y. told me over lunch last week.
Corey then informed me that “Tango Shalom’’ (appropriately titled as you will soon see) was recently released in select theatres in New York and Los Angeles and will be available to the general public on streaming platforms in early November.
More importantly, Corey let me know that the film was playing at a movie theatre in Manhasset, N.Y. just about 5-6 miles from my own Great Neck office. “It is almost right around the corner from you. I really do recommend that you go there to see this wonderful film”, he urged.
However, Corey out of desire, told me, to be totally up front revealed that he has been a long-time family friend of Judi Beecher, the multi-award-winning actress, singer-song writer and filmmaker who, he explained, plays the role of the wife of the movie’s protagonist, and is also the film’s executive producer.
“Full disclosure my journalist friend”, Corey stated. “Judi and I both grew up in the same community in Great Neck, and we first became acquainted through our families”, and then, Corey added, “We continued our friendship and remained in contact since then, even as Judi’s work as a multi award winning actress, singer, songwriter and director have taken her for years at a time to Los Angeles, Paris and London”.
Still, Corey insisted that he would have loved the film independent of his friendship with Beecher. “Even without Judi, I would have loved the movie, and highly recommend that you see it as soon as possible”, he first swore and then implored.
As you might have already guessed, I followed Corey’s recommendation, full disclosure and all, and the next day went to the theatre to see the film for myself. And from the beginning to the end of what I judged to be a great work of cinematic art, I realized that I had made the right decision.
Set in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home to the borough’s large Chassidic Jewish community, the film first presents the theological dilemma facing Rabbi Moshe (Jos Laniado). Hoping to save his financially embattled Hebrew school from bankruptcy, the rabbi, an accomplished dancer of the hora, a traditional Jewish wedding dance, considers entering a televised tango contest to win the large cash prize that would enable him to save his school.
The rabbi, though, is faced with a seemingly unresolvable spiritual conflict: the dance contest, he knew, would require that he dance with a female partner other than his wife, an arrangement, though, totally forbidden by his own ultra-orthodox sect of the Jewish religion. However, the rabbi also understands that winning the contest would afford him his last and only chance to save his school.
From that introduction segment of the plot forward “Tango Shalom” expands, I found, from surprising to intriguing to compelling. Searching for spiritual guidance from clergy from religions other than his own, the rabbi reaches out first to a Catholic priest (Joe Bologna, the veteran actor and co-producer and co-writer of the film who died at the age of 82 shortly after the film was completed), to a Muslim Imam (Yasir Sitara) and finally to a Sikh holy man (Hamza Zaman).
Hoping to help the perplexed rabbi find a way out of his conundrum, each one these three holy men proposes his own unique solution, which is consistent with the theological teachings of their own respective faiths, while, at the same time, reflecting the spiritual, moral and humanistic commonality of all three.
So after seeing this heartwarming movie of which, please forgive me, I will provide no further details, but rather suggest that you go see it for yourself, I was not surprised when, as I later learned, it has received the praise and endorsement of a cross section of leaders of the same four faiths whose fictional leaders are portrayed in the film.
Nor was I surprised that, as I also later learned, “Tango Shalom” had won the “2021 Artisan Festival International World Peace Initiative for Best World Peace and Tolerance Narrative Feature Film Award”, at Cannes.
However, I must confess that I was surprised, actually very surprised, when I discovered that this same year, the movie had, among the many other honors it has received to date, also won the 2021 “Rabat Comedy International Film Festival Morocco Award”, the 2021“New Delhi [India] Film Festival Award”, the “Jaipur [India] International Film Festival Award” as well as securing the nomination for Best Film at the 2021 “Anatolia [Turkey] International Film Festival”.
The reason for my surprise? All three of the countries hosting the festivals have very large Muslim populations – a demographic that a skeptic might view as being less than receptive to the film’s impossible to miss message of the universality of all religions.
Not among those skeptics was Judi Beecher, who thanks to Corey arranging a phone interview between her- from Los Angeles – and me – in Great Neck – I learned why. “You might think I am naïve”, she stated. “But I truly believe that the positive response shown [to “Tango Shalom’’] by many fans and movie critics in the Islamic cinematic community really does reflect the growing understanding and respect that followers of that faith have for Judaism, Christianity, Sikhism, and all other religions.
“If you doubt my optimism”, Beecher added, “look no further than the Peace Treaty [the Abraham Accords] that Israel signed last year with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and, having a very special meaning to me and “Tango Shalom”, also with Morocco”.
Beecher, who is Jewish, then cited another example, which she said, reflects the new feeling of cooperation and friendship between Muslims and Jews.
“I learned that Yasir Sitara [the aforementioned actor who played the role of the Imam] was born in Iraq, and after seeing many of his family members murdered by [then Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein, fled to America”, she stated.
“What inspires me”, she elaborated, “about Sitara, who is a pious Muslim, is that rather than living a life based on his hatred of the evil cowards who killed so many of his loved ones, he has become a fighter for peace and brotherhood, not only through his art, including so beautifully performing his role in “Tango Shalom”, but also through his personal actions… Sitara, I also learned, joined other members of his mosque to help raise funds for the families of the victims of the Philadelphia synagogue shooting”, noted Beecher referring to the October 27th, 2018 shooting by white supremacist at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which left 11 worshippers shot and killed and wounded seven other innocent victims of this heinous act of anti- Semitism.
Beecher herself has long known about the evils of anti-Semitism. “My mother and my maternal grandparents are Holocaust survivors” she informed me. “I will tell you the entire story another time of how they were saved by Jewish and non-Jewish individuals and by Jewish and non-Jewish humanitarian organizations”.
“But my mother, her parents and a few other close family members were the lucky ones. My mother’s grandfather and almost every one of her great aunts and uncles as well as many cousins and children were slaughtered during the Holocaust”, she sadly noted.
Beecher recalled that during the filming of “Tango Shalom” she often thought of those doomed relatives.
“I kept on thinking about the relatives I will never meet on this earth, while hoping that a movie that shows the common goodness and humanity of people of all religions can play some part in fighting intolerance and hatred and replacing them with understanding and love”.
I believe that “Tango Shalom” does just that.