SUBJECTS — World/Israel; Religions;


MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Responsibility; Respect; Fairness.

AGE: 12+; No MPAA Rating but suitable for any age;

Drama/Comedy; 2003; 87 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

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TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.

Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.

Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.


James is a bright, but naive, African Christian young man. Selected to become the minister for his village, he is sent on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The village chorus gives James his instructions: “come back and tell us about the place where our dream lies.” Once in Israel, diverted by the lures of materialism, James finds himself on a different and more important journey. The story is a charming parable about the limits of the profit motive and the need to find one’s own holy place, despite the temptations of contemporary life.

“James’ Journey to Jerusalem” is funny and affecting. The characters are well-drawn, rounded, and complex. The acting and production values are excellent. The lilting, bittersweet African/Levantine flavors of Ehud Banay’s prize-winning musical score add dimension and charm to the movie.


Selected Awards: 2003 Award of the Israeli Film Academy: Best Actor (Aireh Elias) and Best Music; 2003 Cannes Film Festival: Directors Fortnight; 20th Jerusalem Film Festival (2003): Best Male Actor; Honorable Mention; (Shibe); 34th New Delhi International Film Festival (2003): Most Promising Asian Director (Alexandrowicz); 13th Oslo Films From the South, Norway (2003): Best Feature Film Award, Fipresci (Critic’s) Award; Nominations for 2003 Award of the Israeli Film Academy: Best Film, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Supporting Actor (Salim Dow).

Featured Actors: Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe as James; Arieh Elias as Salah Shabati; Salim Dau as Shimi Shabati; Sandra Schonwald as Rachel; Hugh Masebenza as Skomboze; Florence Bloch as Re’uma; and Ya’akov Ronen Morad as Police Officer.

Director: Ra’anan Alexandrowicz.


“James’ Journey to Jerusalem” teaches an excellent lesson about the seduction of material culture and the importance of keeping sight of your goals. James’ real journey is to unregulated, out of control capitalist materialism and back to a more balanced life of spiritualism, meaningful relationships, and trust. The over-arching theme of the movie is timeless and universal: everyone is on a journey to find what will make them truly happy, but many of us are lured away from our goal by one or more of the seductions of contemporary life (for example, money, material goods, alcohol, drugs, gambling, bad associations). To find fulfillment, we need to leave these behind and resume our journey.

The movie is an Israeli exercise in self-criticism that has important lessons for any affluent capitalist society. It is especially relevant to those which benefit from immigrant labor (the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe). It also: (1) provides an opportunity to describe the differences between the great economic theories of the 19th and 20th centuries: capitalism, communism, and socialism; (2) serves as an antidote to white racism and class discrimination because the character the viewer identifies with is black and the viewer sees the world through his eyes; (3) introduces and explores the archetype of the pilgrimage; (4) is an excellent example of a parable; and (5) contains good examples of the literary devices of symbolism, irony, plot development, and character.




Tell your child that this movie applies to any country, including the U.S., that benefits from immigrant labor. Ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Questions and talk about the issues described in the Benefits section.


JAMES’ JOURNEY, CAPITALISM, AND THE AMERICAN DREAM: Is it wrong for a labor broker like Shimi to go to the holding tanks where illegal immigrants are being kept before they are sent back home, pick the most likely workers, pay their bail, and give them work? As long as it is legal, as long as the wages paid the workers are fair, and if the interest charged on the bail money is reasonable, it’s fine. The boss should also help those who want to get ahead acquire an education or a skill. See Discussion Question #11.

This film is an indictment of materialism in Western civilization when it erodes other values. It is also an indictment of capitalism when it doesn’t protect vulnerable workers. There is, however, another side to the tale. In the American Dream (and the Israeli Dream as well), the immigrant comes to the country and pays his passage. (Remember the years that immigrants to the American colonies endured in indentured servitude?) After a period of time, the immigrant is free of these obligations and can strike out on his own to make a life for himself in the new land. See Discussion Question #3.

THE LIMITS OF MATERIALISM AND UNREGULATED CAPITALISM:      The 19th and 20th centuries saw the elimination of the vestiges of feudalism throughout most of what is now the developed world. Three major economic theories arose. In capitalism, a desire for profit motivated people. Land, buildings, other property, the means of producing goods, and the means of distributing them, were owned by individuals or companies. Socialism was a reaction to the extreme hardships caused by unregulated capitalism and sought to ensure that the economy was operated for the benefit of society. In socialist economies, the state owned the major means of production and distribution. Finally, there was communism in which, theoretically, each person was to contribute according to his or her abilities and each person was to receive according to his or her needs. Communism was never actually implemented but the “communist” countries claimed to be working toward that system while pursuing a centrally planned, government-controlled economy in which the land, the buildings, the factories, the mines — pretty much everything except personal possessions — were owned by the state. Neither socialism nor capitalism was adopted in a pure form in any major economy, but different countries primarily employed one system or the other.

The experiences of the period after 1850, especially the rise of large enterprises that sought to create monopolies and the Great Depression of the 1930s, demonstrated that capitalism needed to be regulated and, in a limited way, guided by the government to prevent chaos and economic collapse. In the late 20th century, the experience of the “communist” countries (for example, the Soviet Union and China) showed that government-owned command economies could not keep pace with the modified capitalism of the Western democracies. The last half of the 20th century also demonstrated that economies with large socialist components (many enterprises owned by the government and operated for the good of all) were not as efficient at liberating the energies of the people to produce goods and services as were the modified capitalist countries. The lesson has been that in general, people work harder and smarter when they work for their own benefit, but that economies as a whole work better with certain limited government interventions.

Modified capitalist economies limit and regulate the profit motive by: (1) imposing standards and regulations (for example, a minimum wage, regulations protecting the health of workers, protections for workers’ pensions, antitrust regulations, honest trading rules for stock markets, truth in labeling, zoning laws etc.); (2) providing public services through the government (for example, public schools, medical care [in the U.S. this only extends to the aged and the indigent], city street services, garbage collection), and (3) enacting safety nets such as social security and income transfer mechanisms (welfare and progressive taxes). Through various economic mechanisms, such as central banks (called the Federal Reserve in the U.S.), insurance for bank deposits, and tax systems, these economies moderate the effects of the business cycle and influence business activity. Each country chooses its own mechanisms by which the basic capitalist structure is organized, regulated and guided.

Each country also has its unique set of non-governmental institutions which ameliorate the harsh effects of capitalism such as unions, community organizations, charitable organizations, including the charitable activities of churches, synagogues, and mosques. These organizations can be used to help protect vulnerable workers (such as illegal immigrants) from the Shimis of the real world when the government fails to do so. The preceding paragraphs are very general and certainly, there are exceptions. However, this is a fair globalized view.   A major theme of the film is that unregulated capitalism and rampant materialism corrupt everything they touch. Shimi lies, cheats and reduces his workers to semi-slavery. He forces his father to leave the home that the old man was comfortable in, just to make money. Salah, the father, cheats his friends by feigning injury and then using James’ blessedness, the ability to throw double sixes, to cheat his friends. James is diverted from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, his religious beliefs, and good relations with his fellow workers. The film shows what happens when a culture thinks only of profit and has no sense of community.

IS THIS REALLY WHAT LIFE IS LIKE IN ISRAEL? — IN WESTERN SOCIETY AS A WHOLE?      The film appears to be a realistic portrayal of the underside of developed Western economies that depend on immigrant labor. The system in each country may differ, but one way or another, many immigrants are exploited. Of course, there are many other situations in which immigrants are helped to make a life in their new home. James, however, is not an immigrant. He is on a pilgrimage and never intended to stay.

As for Israel, we know the following. It was a country which was founded with a communitarian spirit and a socialist ethos. That has certainly eroded of late. We assume that the movie doesn’t show a representative sample of the Israeli people. In fact, the film was well received in it its country of origin, Israel (nominated for Best Film by the equivalent of the Israeli Academy Awards). This demonstrates that there are many in Israel who see problems with the materialistic way of life.

The writer/director Alexandrowicz told TWM:

[The film is] about this concept of “frayer” [Yiddish slang for a person who allows others to take advantage of him or her; a chump, a patsy]. The character Salah in the film is teaching James not to be a “frayer.” He’s teaching him to be strong, to not let go of anything, just as he did his son. But afterwards his two sons, his own creations, turn against him, and he finds himself in a weak position in relation to them — his real son and his adopted son [James]. At one point James tells him, “Look, you can get $1 million for your plot of land. Why don’t you take it? Don’t be a frayer, take it.” The father responds, “It’s the other way around now. If I take the money I’m frayer. What do I gain from it?” This is perhaps something the Israeli consciousness should understand, that we are trapped now, into not being “frayer” in the situation. Perhaps our way out is through being exactly the opposite of what we believe, the opposite of being strong.

Interviewer: This is what you are contributing to the discourse.

Alexandrowicz: Yes. And the change of James in the film from someone who’s completely ready to be a “frayer” to someone who won’t be a “frayer” any more, and then begins to make enemies and to hurt other people, comes to a point in the end of the film where James wakes up, where he finds who he was and what he is now. And this is something that I hope for us very much. Interview of the Director by Liza Bear for Indiewire.

PARABLE: This film is a parable, “a short fictitious narrative that illustrates a moral attitude, a doctrine, a standard of conduct, or a religious principle.” A parable is distinguished from a fable in that fables usually take the form of stories about animals that are illustrative only and could not have happened in reality. A parable on the other hand deals with people and has an inherent plausibility which allows more complex issues to be explored. Article on parable. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved January 24, 2005, from Encyclopaedia Britannica Premium Service. Parables are often used in religious teachings. An example from the New Testament is the story of the sowers (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20 & Luke 8:4-15) in which Jesus explained that the sowers were those seeking to spread the word of God, the seed stood for the holy message, and different types of people were the locations in which seed landed, in some the seed would grow, in others it would wither, and in some it would be stolen by evil.

SYMBOLISM: There are several symbols in the film, some recognized by the characters and others not.

James’ clothing changes. He arrives in Israel in beautiful robes of golden material from his native land. His first attendance at church is in another African robe, this one white. However, as he gets derailed, he adopts Western style clothing, first for work, but then even for church. As James gets wealthier, his clothing improves, until he goes to the party near the end of the film in a fashionable white suit. When he is deported, James is wearing the traditional clothing that he had on when he arrived. However, by that time he has re-discovered his quest.

Jerusalem stands for the holy place. Of course, the true holy place is found within ourselves, in our own faith and belief, whatever that faith and belief is and wherever we may be physically located.

The trip to Jerusalem is a symbol for James’ path in finding himself and resisting the temptations of material culture.

James’ ability to roll dice and get consistent double sixes is a symbol of his blessedness. As long as James has not abandoned his quest, he is blessed. However, by the time of the party, he is no longer seeking Jerusalem (that is, he has accepted the out of control capitalist/materialist culture and has abandoned the quest for true fulfilment). Being no longer blessed, his luck at dice is gone. This symbol also affects the other characters because Salah, the father, perverts this gift (James’ blessedness) to win money at backgammon, alienating his friends.

Salah’s action in kissing the money he wins at the rigged backgammon game is a symbol of how money is substituted for friendship and affection in the unrestrained capitalist/materialist culture.

Salah’s rundown, slum-like home (with a garden that James made bloom again) is a symbol for the old pioneering spirit of Zionist Israel and a close relationship to the land, nature and community. The fact that it is surrounded by large apartment buildings shows the threat from the new unrestrained capitalist/materialist culture. The loss of this little plot of land to yet another large apartment complex is a symbol for the loss of fundamental values and relationships on which a satisfying and meaningful life depends.

IRONY: The following are some of the instances in which irony is used in this film:

When he is in the holding tank, James prays for God’s help in reaching Jerusalem. Just then, in walks Shimi, and the doors of the jail spring open. At first this appears to be an irony because Shimi is not, apparently, an answer to James’ prayers. Rather, he is the embodiment of temptation leading James away from his pilgrimage. As the story ends, in a type of double-irony, it becomes clear that Shimi is indeed the answer to James’ prayer, but not because he will facilitate James’ journey to the city of Jerusalem. Shimi facilitates James’ exposure to rampant capitalist materialism which James must experience and reject on his real quest, the effort to find his true self.

In the physical sense, James makes it to Jerusalem only as a prisoner and not as a pilgrim. This is an ironic end to his physical journey.

The minister of the congregation at which James worships is also infected by materialism. It blinds him to his true vocation, which in this case is to minister to his flock, James among them. He betrays James’ trust by using James to further the material needs of the congregation (costumes for the choir and jobs for parishioners) in a way that hinders James on his pilgrimage. The minister, rather than Salah, should have been the one to remind James that he had lost his way to Jerusalem. (The character of the minister should not be seen as a warning only to Christians, but to adherents of any religion.)

There is, of course, the irony inherent in the view of Jerusalem as a city of the Bible and the modern day city of Jerusalem. This is an irony that affects all Christians, Jews, and Muslims, who consider Jerusalem to be a holy place. The writer/director of the film said:

The first thing I thought of about the film was the fundamental, strong contradiction between the Holy Land as an abstract, spiritual entity in the mind of many people in the world, and it being Israel, a country with a very prosaic existence-a fast developing country, with a modern economy, traffic jams, shopping malls, immigration laws, and exploited migrant workers. See Director’s Statement.

Of course, the Jerusalem of biblical times probably had its underside as well.

THE MYTH OF THE HERO AND JAMES’ JOURNEY: One of the standard storylines in myth and literature is the journey of the hero. The primary components of the myth are separation, travel to another world, learning to survive in that world, the intervention of facilitators, and return. This is James’ story. He can take back to his village his understanding of the weaknesses of materialism and unrestrained capitalism, along with his renewed faith in the moral teachings of his religion. He takes as well the understanding that the physical Jerusalem is a very different place than the holy city described in the Bible, but that the important Jerusalem is a spiritual place in which each person can feel close to their sense of the meaning of the universe. James’ journey has many of the aspects of a hero’s journey. Money and material goods are the siren song of temptation. There is a person who leads him astray, actually several: Skombozi, Shimi, the minister, and Salah. James is able to pass through this world, which to him is alien, and return to his village with the prize, in this case, new wisdom.

PLOT STRUCTURE: The overall structure of the plot in this story is: (1) James goes on the pilgrimage; (2) he is diverted by the customs agent and Shimi; (3) aided primarily by Shimi, Skombozi and Salah, he adopts the materialist lifestyle and abandons the pilgrimage; and (4) James regains the right path when Salah tells James that he has lost his way and will never make it to Jerusalem, Skombozi crashes the party creating a scene, James has his epiphany, and Shimi has James arrested. Once arrested, James makes it to Jerusalem but as a prisoner rather than a pilgrim.

RELIGIOUS PILGRIMAGES: The religious pilgrimage is one of the archetypical journeys of mankind. It is found in all major religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, etc. Pilgrimages are undertaken for several reasons: to gain supernatural help; to express thanks to a deity or saint; as an act of penance; to fulfill a vow, or simply for the sake of devotion. Sometimes the pilgrimage is simply an added reason to travel to a place. The purpose of the journey of a pilgrim is to become closer to the holy and to purify the self. Pilgrims believe that when they get close to or observe sacred locations they can communicate more fully with their god. Pilgrimages are made to Jerusalem, to Mecca, to certain temples, locations of relics, graves of saints, sites of miracles etc. Christian pilgrims have been journeying to Jerusalem since 200 C.E. James’ journey began as an effort to become closer to the holiness of the City of Jerusalem. Articles on “pilgrimage”, “Buddhism;” “Judaism” and “Christianity” in Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved January 24, 2005, from Encyclopaedia Britannica Premium Service. For more, see Wikipedia Article on Pilgrimage.

There are also certain common mishaps and errors to which many pilgrims are prone. The writer/director, Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, has related to TeachWithMovies.org the following story. It was told to him by a Tibetan Buddhist Monk after a screening of the film: “It’s a famous phenomenon that Buddhists who make the pilgrimage to Lassa [the capital of Tibet and the location of an important Buddhist shrine], get completely preoccupied with the business that was supposed to fund the trip. They have a saying ‘Even if you reached the city, you might have not entered the temple.'”

There are also secular pilgrimages. For many U.S. citizens, trips to Philadelphia to see where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Constitution was drafted, or to Washington, D.C., or to the site of the Battle of Gettysburg, are meaningful journeys which give rise to strong emotions and cause them to reflect on their heritage.

Writer/director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz put it this way:

I think there is a bit of James in each and every one of us. We learn too well, as people and as societies, how to talk about our noble dreams as an easy way of forgetting them. I think each of us has his or her Jerusalem toward which we aspired to reach. Whether we reach it, or even remember where we were headed, is another issue. Director’s Statement.

MATERIALISM AND ORGANIZED RELIGION: The writer/director, Mr. Alexandrowicz, told TeachWithMovies.org that the Pastor character is not intended to be particularly Christian, but could be from any religion: Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. He stated that “It is my observation that even spiritual institutions are open (very open) to corruption by the influence of materialism to use their believers in the wrong way. This is based on things I’ve seen and heard in quite a few places around the world. So I think it is a healthy lesson for students to clearly observe the abuses of materialism in any system, even if it has a spiritual affiliation.”


1. See Standard Questions Suitable for Any Film.

No suggested Answers


2. How does the position of the workers in the dormitory differ, if at all, from slavery? How is it like slavery?

Suggested Response:

It’s much too close to slavery for comfort but it isn’t full slavery. Shimi’s “business model” differs from slavery because the workers are not bound for life, they receive wages for their work, and they can send money home. In addition, their activities during off hours are not regulated by the boss and they can save their wages. It is like slavery in that their continued employment is compelled until they leave Israel and they can’t work for anyone else while they are in Israel. What is really going on here is that Shimi is taking advantage of them by paying them too little and preventing them from working for anyone else.


3. Change the circumstances somewhat. At church, James meets a girl and falls in love. She was born in Israel to parents of African descent. Her whole life has been spent in Israel and she doesn’t want to leave. James decides to stay with her in Israel. He saves up enough money to repay his village for the plane ticket and writes them a letter saying that he won’t be coming back. He expands his cleaning business, pays off Shimi, gets married and stays in Israel. If this had happened in the U.S., what would it have been called?

Suggested Response:

The American Dream. We have also heard it called the Israeli Dream (by the writer/director of this movie) and we believe that it was the dream for any country of immigrants: Canada, Australia, Argentina etc.


4. James says “When I tell my village about this place, they’ll be angry with me.” What is he referring to?

Suggested Response:

People have a tendency to be angry with those who challenge their myths and also to those who bring bad tidings. The latter reaction is called “shoot the messenger.”


5. This story can be seen as the tale of the quest of a hero. How is it like and unlike other hero myths that you know about? (Examples are Odysseus, Jason, Hercules, and Luke Skywalker.)

Suggested Response:

See Helpful Background Section: THE MYTH OF THE HERO AND JAMES’ JOURNEY.


6. James completes his journey, though not his pilgrimage. Please explain this.

Suggested Response:

James’ real journey was his internal journey which led him to reject materialism and the exploitation of others. His pilgrimage was to the city of Jerusalem.


7. Describe some of the ill effects of the materialism and under-regulated capitalism shown in the society portrayed in this movie. Then decide whether this also applies to the society in which you live. Explain your reasoning.

Suggested Response:

In the society shown in the movie, the desire to avoid being a “frayer” and to acquire money and material possessions interfere with people’s relationships with each other and what will really make them happy in life. There is no one correct response to the second part of the question.


8. Before James throws away the money at the party, he has begun to resemble one of the other characters in the film. Who is it? Explain why.

Suggested Response:

James has begun to resemble Shimi: greedy, using others for his own benefit, and distrustful. All of James’ usual happiness and magnetism are gone.


9. Who is the person who is most alone in this film?

Suggested Response:

It is Salah, who is alienated from his son by his own teachings. He repeatedly told Shimi not to be a “frayer.” His wife has died and he cheats his friends, preferring money to their friendship. He fears that if agrees to sell the land, he will never see his son again. He does establish a friendship with James, but also uses James relentlessly.


10. Where did Shimi learn that at all costs he should avoid being a “frayer”?

Suggested Response:

His father, Salah, repeated it to him constantly.


11. The film is not completely clear about how Shimi conducts his business, except that he pays low wages, keeps the passports of his workers, makes them repay their bail money (probably charging an exorbitant rate of interest), and that workers are trapped in his system, sometimes for years. It does appear that the wages that he pays are a lot of money when compared with what the workers could earn at home. Assuming that Shimi could negotiate the legalities of getting permission from the government for the illegal immigrants to work in Israel, how could Shimi have conducted his business ethically?

Suggested Response:

He would have to pay a fair wage, based on a combination of what he received and what was a prevailing wage at the time. While the workers’ wages would have increased dramatically, there would still have been plenty of room for profit. After the workers had repaid the bail money with interest, they would have been able to work for anyone. He would not have taken their wages when they ran afoul of his policies (e.g., what he did to Feda). If they were interested in bettering themselves, he would have helped them get schooling, learn a trade etc.


12. What is the strongest interpersonal relationship shown in this film and who puts it down, saying that one person is another person’s “frayer”?

Suggested Response:

The one relationship that is not shown to be undermined by the materialism of the characters is Shimi’s marriage. But his father derides it and says that Shimi is his wife’s “frayer”. The fact that this is the only relationship not shown to be destroyed by materialism and that it is derided as not measuring up to the materialist ethic of getting more from a relationship than you give, shows how poor human relationships are in this society. It is especially ironic in that Salah venerated his dead wife, Miriam.


13. What did it mean when Shimi said that James had become part of the family?

Suggested Response:

Shimi was beginning to trust James as he had not trusted anyone shown in the film (except his wife). James betrayed this trust by becoming more like Shimi.


14. James goes to the party, expecting to be able to talk to people and have a good time. What happens and why?

Suggested Response:

He is isolated and alone because the Israelis at the party (except for Shimi and his wife) do not welcome him. To make it clear what his place is, Shimi’s wife asks him to run an errand. The white people at the party act from a combination of racism and class bias.


15. Describe the character of Shimi in the film and explain the complexity of this character.

Suggested Response:

Shimi is definitely the bad guy, a man who exploits illegal immigrants and focuses his life on materialism and not being a “frayer.” But he is not a cardboard villain. The pay that he gives his workers, while small by Israeli standards, is “a fortune” back in their own countries. It allows them to do what they came to Israel to do, i.e., work for more money than they could earn at home. While Shimi sometimes cheats his workers by not paying them what he owes them (e.g., what he did to Feda), he gives bonuses for good work. When James proves himself a hard worker, Shimi gives him an extra day off so that James can go to Jerusalem. Shimi loves his wife. While he wants his father to sell the family home, he negotiates a provision in the contract giving Salah an apartment in the new building for life. Shimi begins to trust James and invites him to the party (to keep the old man company). He is disappointed when he learns that James has been making money on the side by undercutting Shimi’s prices.


16. Describe the character of Salah in the film and explain the complexity of this character.

Suggested Response:

Salah is the prophet of materialism, schooling his son and James not to be “frayers.” He uses James’ uncanny knack with dice to cheat his friends. Yet he misses his wife and is desperately afraid that Shimi will no longer come to see him if he sells the family homestead. He is the catalyst for helping James realize that James has abandoned his journey.



1. Who does James form a real friendship with?

Suggested Response:

Salah (the father) and Skombozi, although he loses his friendship with Skombozi when he becomes a boss.


2. Why is real friendship so difficult in a society which is so cutthroat and materialistic as the society shown in this film? Give an example.

Suggested Response:

Everyone is trying to out-scheme everyone else. Money and material possessions are more important than personal relationships. The best examples are Salah and Shimi. Salah sacrifices his friendships to cheat at backgammon. Shimi exploits his workers and forces his father out of his home.



3. Was Shimi right in putting pressure on his father to sell the land for the million dollars which would buy economic security for Shimi?

Suggested Response:

This is an age-old conflict when parents grow elderly and control assets that they do not use to the greatest advantage. The children, due to inherit the assets when the parents pass on, think that they need the money immediately and resent having to wait. In this movie, the situation is brought to a crisis point when a developer makes an offer to buy the land at a very good price. Shimi’s resolution is to sell the land but he has a provision written into the contract that his father will get an apartment in the new building close to his old neighborhood and his friends. This is not entirely unreasonable. It takes advantage of the chance to make big money on the land and keeps the father in his new neighborhood. However, the father will have to leave the old home that he had lived in with his beloved wife. Moreover, his hold on his son, the son’s desire for him to sell the land, will be lost. (Salah says that if he sells the land, “I’ll never see my son again.”).


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.



(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)


1. Did James always honor this Pillar of Character in his dealings with Shimi?

Suggested Response:

No. He lied for his friend Skombozi. James was also untrustworthy in undercutting Shimi’s prices and taking his customers. However, this obligation was lessened by the fact that Shimi was grossly underpaying him and would not allow him to work for anyone else.



(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)


2. This movie deals with racism. Give two examples.

Suggested Response:

Here are three examples: (1) When the African workers in the dormitory call Feda, the Roumanian in charge of the dorm an “ape”;(2) the reaction of the guests at Shimi’s party to James; and (3) the frequent reference to blacks as “blackie”.



(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)


3. What were the reasons that Shimi liked James so much?

Suggested Response:

First, James had a gift for getting along with people. Second, James was reliable. Third, James was a hard worker.


4. Which character in the movie betrays James’ trust? (Hint: It wasn’t Shimi. He never asked James to trust him.)

Suggested Response:

The minister, a man who should have been acting in James’ best interests, used James to get better uniforms for the choir and jobs for his parishioners. His actions hindered James’ pilgrimage and are another element showing how thoroughly materialism had penetrated into the heart of the society shown in the film. It could also be said that Skombozi betrayed James’ trust by crashing the party and making a scene.



(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don’t take advantage of others; Don’t blame others carelessly)


5. Did Shimi act fairly toward his workers?

Suggested Response:

No. He was taking advantage of them and compelling them to work for him because he had their passports. They could not work anywhere else in Israel. Their only alternative was to return home. However, the money that the immigrants were making from Shimi was much more than they would be paid in their own country. But then again, it wasn’t nearly as much as they were worth in Israel, and his mark-up on their labor was too high. In a capitalist system, it is not unfair to mark up an employee’s wages but the mark-up should be reasonable.


6. When James started his own business, did he act fairly toward his workers?

Suggested Response:

It depended upon how much he was paying them. If he was paying them a reasonable rate compared to what he was paid for their work, he would have been. Apparently, he marked them up as much as Shimi did.


  • See Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With Any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
  • Pick a pilgrimage (religious or secular) that would be meaningful to you and write a short essay with a paragraph on each of the following topics: (1) the reason for choosing this pilgrimage; (2) what challenges and difficulties you would expect to face; (3) who would help or hinder you on your way; (4) what benefit you would expect to receive from the pilgrimage.



In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

  • “James’ Journey to Jerusalem: Zeitgeist Films” Hollywood Reporter, March 15, 2004 v383 i1 p14(2);
  • “James’ Journey To Jerusalem: A modern slave tale gets disturbingly soft treatment” by Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly, March 12, 2004 i755 p94;
  • “James’ Journey to Jerusalem. (Movie Review)” by Maria Garcia, Film Journal International, March 2004 v107 i3 p42(1);
  • “James’ journey to Jerusalem. (Film Review)” by Derek Elley Daily Variety, June 9, 2003 v279 i44 p40(1);
  • “JAMES’ JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM” by J Hoberman. The Village Voice. New York: Mar 3-Mar 9, 2004. Vol.49, Iss. 9; pg. C68, 1 pgs.

This Learning Guide was last updated on December 10, 2009. 

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