Is the Protagonist in Disney's 'Wish' Jewish? – Kveller
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Is the Protagonist in Disney’s ‘Wish’ Jewish?

While nothing is explicitly stated, shouting "Shalom!" certainly has me wondering.

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via Disney

I’m not a “Disney adult,” but I’ll confess: I love a good Disney movie. I grew up in the so-called “Disney Renaissance,” and still have a major soft spot for “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid.” That said, I never caught “Frozen” fever, and when Disney’s “Wish” hit theaters last November, I was one of the many who waited for it to arrive on streaming. 

“Wish” recently came to Disney+, and after watching it, I have thoughts. Some of them are about the film’s many, many Easter eggs referencing classic Disney movies, and a few are about the villain and his villain song, but the one that I just can’t get out of my head is this:

Why did no one tell me the protagonist was Jewish?

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, Disney’s “Wish” tells the story of Asha, an aspiring sorcerer living in the kingdom of Rosas, located somewhere in the Mediterranean. Rosas is ruled by a seemingly-benevolent sorcerer king who has the ability to grant wishes… but only if he deems them safe, suitable wishes that will benefit the kingdom. Asha, who begins the film preparing for her interview with the king, is hoping not only for a job, but that she can convince the king to grant her grandfather’s wish on his 100th birthday.

While Asha is not explicitly a follower of any religion (it’s a rare Disney character who is), I was downright startled at how Jewish-coded she is. Only a few minutes into the film, she affectionately refers to her grandfather as “Saba,” the Hebrew word for grandfather, which her friends, including a group of boys wearing what appear to be kippahs, all understand without hesitation and occasionally refer to, saying things to Asha like, “Your Saba will love it if you get the job.”

The kingdom of Rosas was canonically founded as a place where diverse peoples could immigrate, safe in the knowledge that they would be free from persecution. Despite the kingdom’s Mediterranean location, this founding principle reminded me of the words of Jewish American poet Emma Lazarus, who wrote in her poem, “The New Colossus,” which appears on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…”

Fittingly, for a citizen of a place of implied religious freedom, Asha’s possible Jewishness isn’t confined to her interactions with family. In one memorable scene, she greets her fellow citizens of Rosas by shouting “Shalom!” to a crowd.

Moreover, her chosen profession, of sorcerer’s apprentice, may be a callout to one of Disney’s most famous and beloved works, but it’s also a role that’s not without its Jewish echoes. While not exactly sorcery, Judaism’s long mystical tradition includes Kabbalah, and if I’m not mistaken, the red string jewelry Asha wears looks an awful lot like Kabbalah bracelets, with a necklace to match. Asha’s late father is repeatedly described as a “philosopher,” which is an apt description for a Torah scholar, and he’s referenced repeatedly as someone who would look for the truth and be unafraid of where it took him.

Which brings us to my final realization about “Wish.” Whether Asha is explicitly Jewish or not, the film has a surprisingly Jewish message. Caution for spoilers, but at the end of the film, Asha and her friends and families release the wishes that the king had been holding onto “for safekeeping” (and to ensure that no one would be able to work towards them on their own), and give the people of Rosas the power to pursue their own dreams. Asha’s Saba, whose wish had been to create art that inspires people, tells her how grateful he is, because even though he might never make a masterpiece, at least now he finally has the power to try.

In the end, the theme of “Wish” is a celebration of free will, and even freedom of conscience. The “happy ending” for the people of Rosas is the ability to make their own choices. I watched “Wish” around Passover, and thought about how Passover is a celebration of freedom, and how even though we may make mistakes when we gain some power (golden calf, anyone?), it’s still right, and even imperative, that we have that freedom.

Asha ends the film embracing the magic within her — and using her freedom to be something like a fairy godmother, doing mitzvahs by helping those around her. It feels like the right ending for a scholar’s daughter who’s unlocked powerful knowledge herself. 

And for the record, Valentino the goat is much too cute to sell — let alone for only two zuzim.

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