It’s More Than Just Sand: The Wilderness Focuses on the Power of the Desert in the Bible

Dec. 3, 2020

By SUSAN MINUK

Stories of desolation, abandonment and contemplation of what lies beyond the known – all inspired by the outsized role deserts play in the Bible – make their world premiere this Sunday, Dec. 6 on Canada’s YES TV network.

The Wilderness, a 10-part biblical docudrama series created and produced by Toronto-based Canadian filmmaker, videographer, and producer Igal Hecht, explores connections to God, the Prophets and the desert through dramatization and interviews with religious and historical experts.

“The Biblical prophets knew that the mystical expanse, the barren earth and the endless terrain were fertile ground for revelation and direct exposure to God,” Hecht told the CJR. “It is in the most desolate places where God has made the most significant appearances, where He speaks into the lives of His people.”

Director Igal Hecht and DOP Sergey Maydin Israel
Director Igal Hecht and DOP Sergey Maydin in Israel

The Wilderness was filmed in the biblical heartland of Israel and the southern region of Mitzpe Ramon, where Abraham, Jacob, Jesus and many other biblical figures had dialogues with God.

The stories explore the lives of Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Mary, Jacob, Hagar, King David, King Saul, Cain and Abel, Job, Lot, and others. Hecht called it “a labour of love.”

“It’s a snapshot of seeds that happen in the wilderness and how the desert plays such a major part in every biblical story,” he explained.

Hecht got his inspiration from his 2016 docu-series Daughters of Eve.

“I did a show which focused on women in the Bible where we took stories and recreated them with a much larger budget and much larger cast,” he said. “I was travelling through the desert on another project and stopped to get some visuals and started thinking of the stories in the Bible that take place in the desert. A couple months later I came up with a demo. YES TV gave it a green light and it went from there.”

The Wilderness opens with the temptation of Jesus. After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days and nights in the Judean desert.

In episode two, Hecht portrays the biblical patriarch Lot, who accompanies Abraham and Sarah in their journey through the desert.

“I act when I don’t have to speak,” Hecht said. “In this case, it was because of my beard. In [the story of] Cain and Abel, we got to recreate the first murder. We gave it a Guy Ritchie kind of feel – a stylistic way the murder happens shot [from] different angles. We had some fun with it.”

Working with a limited budget, the production began in late 2019, and lasted about five weeks. The small crew included Lior Cohen as assistant director/aerial photography, cinematographer Sergey Maydin, and Gai Hoffmann on makeup. There were more than 30 Israeli actors.

“The challenge we faced was losing light,” said Hecht. “The sun goes down quickly in the desert.”

Post-production was done in Canada at Hecht’s Chutzpa Productions.

Although filmed in Israel, the series is in English. “We were very careful with the text. All of the dialogue is taken directly from the [Hebrew] Bible or the New Testament,” Hecht said. “Some of these stories have no dialogue or have one line.”

Each episode features a number of experts telling the story, lending perspective and analysis.

“We don’t preach,” said Hecht. “We are retelling biblical stories for people interested in history, maybe trying to understand what the Bible is about and what [it] can incorporate in your life in 2020.”

Born in Ashkelon, Israel, Hecht moved to Toronto with his family in 1988. In 1999, he founded Chutzpa Productions, showcasing controversial and thought-provoking films that have focused on human rights, politics, land disputes, conflict, satire, and pop culture.

He’s been involved in the production of more than 50 documentary films and some 20 television series. His work has been screened nationally and internationally on Netflix, BBC, the Documentary Channel, CBC, YES TV and HBO Europe.

The Wilderness airs Dec. 6th on YES TV at 6:30 p.m. and repeated at 11 p.m.

A trailer may be viewed at:

Anti-Social Media: When Mud is Thrown in All Directions

Nov. 23, 2020

By DAVE GORDON

If there was social media 3,000 years ago, Jews would have been bitterly divided over King David. The big scandal would be that he sent Uriah, husband of Batsheva, to purposefully die on the battlefield in order to take her as his own.

There would be a camp defending him: He’s a holy leader, the Messiah will come from him, he built Jerusalem! And a camp boiling with rage: He’s a misogynist, narcissist, evil, a murderer!

And it would fire from both ends; anyone who says otherwise is a traitor to our people. 

Surely we’re nodding, as though we’re reading a biting Onion satire serving as painful metaphor.

Something similar occurred lately to one of our community members, Rafi Yablonsky, who wrote about the blowback from his Facebook post congratulating Kamala Harris on her election as U.S. Vice-President. The epithets hurled at him were disgraceful – a shameful lack of civility and respectful discourse.

He should be – we all should be – rightfully outraged. 

With due respect to Rafi, whom I admire for his invaluable Jewish community service, I have an addendum. I believe he ought to have also chided his own side, even if in passing, so as not to give the impression such behaviours are limited to the right.

He complains there are Jews who are labeled “heretics” for not supporting Donald Trump, while I contend, at the same time, that it’s important to know there are Jews who are labeled heretics (and much worse) for supporting Trump.

He inadvertently provides evidence for this, in his “two kinds of Jews” theory:

“There are Jews who, ignore, or worse, laud and emulate his [Trump’s] hatred towards women, minorities, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone who opposes him. These sentiments stem mainly from his decision to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and several other pro-Israel policy shifts. And then there are the rest of us.” 

So, one is either a Trump-supporting Jew who encourages hate in all its forms, or a morally upstanding anti-Trump Jew. This us/them black/white characterization is overly-simplistic, lacks crucial nuance, and implicitly paints “other” Jews as terrible people.

I have met scores of kind, good-hearted Jews who support Trump.

There are swaths of LGBTQ+, Latinos, Blacks and women who voted for him, too. Are they all hate-enablers?

No one can judge another’s character based simply on where their X is on their ballot. What I know about any given Trump voter is virtually nothing, because I do not have a looking glass into the heads of 73 million people. And neither does anyone else.

Here’s what some might find unbelievable. For every tweet, policy or malapropism that is perceived to be anti-woman, anti-minorities, or anti-LGBTQ+, there are Trump supporters who can explain a completely opposite perspective that they believe invalidates the accusation. And as we’ve undoubtedly heard, there are supporters who vote for policy over personality.

That doesn’t make them bad people. Misguided, perhaps. Uninformed, perhaps. Or, to their minds, wise. Whichever the case, they, like anyone, deserve to be treated with dignity.

So while Rafi is correct to reproach Trump-supporters who were disrespectful, it’s an error of omission to avoid mentioning the same issues that exist on the opposing end. 

I cannot count the number of times I have seen Trump and those who support him called Nazis, haters, and racists. This is especially true from the six “A’s:” activists, academia, athletes, artists, authors and anchors. The most recent example is CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who equated Trump with Nazis. Comparisons like these are being normalized; trivializing the Shoah by the day.

And to paraphrase Rafi, “there are Jews who ignore, or worse, laud and emulate this hatred.” I’ve seen Jews on social media compare Trump to Hitler, and compare his Jewish supporters to kapos, and not a peep – not even a “thumbs down” – from their friends. 

Just after the election, a prominent and respected member of our community stated on his Facebook wall that he believes Trump is “evil.” (What does that make Heinrich Himmler? “Super-evil?”) This individual also said Trump’s supporters are evil, and asked to be unfriended from anyone who supports the president.

By his reckoning, a person cannot simultaneously be a decent human being, and still think Trump may have accomplished some good (or at least, believe him better than the alternative). 

One must pass a “political purity test” even to be virtual friends with him.

How does unity, so vigorously preached, spring from such intolerance? 

So it’s clear: My political positions are complicated. I might be seen defending conservative positions online, but I also hold many classic liberal beliefs, and surprisingly, a couple of leftist ones.

I would sooner enjoy a dinner with a mensch with whom I differ than have so much as a l’chaim with a shmuck who votes like I do. 

This isn’t achieved through “othering,” which actually goes beyond just Trump, or Obama, or any politician. On social media, going as far back as the day I first signed in to Facebook in 2007, I saw disdain and derision in place of disagreement, on both sides. Particularly during election years. It got personal.

Obsessed as we are when Israel is demonized, and when Jews as a whole are dehumanized, somehow there’s no overlap in lesson when we do this to our fellow. 

In the early 20th century, author Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing about the French philosophe Voltaire, to whom the quote is often misattributed, famously wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” 

The 21st century needs an updated version: “I disapprove of what you say, and I will admonish those who demean you for saying it.”


Dave Gordon
Dave Gordon

Dave Gordon’s writing has appeared in more than 100 media outlets around the world, including the National Post, Toronto Star, Washington Times, BBC, Montreal Gazette, and Baltimore Sun. His website is www.DaveGordonWrites.com