Forget his right-wing politics and the NRA: Charlton Heston is Moses

I don’t know what it is about Charlton Heston and that long, striped robe, thick beard and wooden staff. Whatever it is, it keeps me coming back — year after year — each time Passover rolls around and his 1956 cinematic hit, “The Ten Commandments,” inev-itably comes to life on prime-time television.

That’s when my Pass-over truly begins. I grab some matzahs and cho-colate spread, glue myself to the couch and TV screen, and — like a googly eyed teenager engrossed in her favorite Brad Pitt blockbuster — sit through all 219 minutes of “The Ten Command-ments” to watch my favorite biblical movie star, Heston’s Moses.

I’ve always had an affinity for Moses, and a general passion for all biblical characters and stories. As a young girl studying the Hebrew Bible in Israel (where religious studies are a normal part of public education), I dreamt about the people and places in that glorious time “Before Christ,” when the Hebrews ate figs and dates, lived in the desert and spoke to God on a first-name basis. It all seemed quite glamorous to me.

My all-time favorite story was the Exodus, the history of our ancestors’ escape from enslavement in Egypt.

At the center of it all was Moses.

Moses was a hero and a leader, and — like King David — not a flawless one. He also had a lisp, grew up in the Egyptian palace and witnessed a burning bush, all of which made him pretty cool in my book.

Each Passover, I tried to imagine what Moses must have been like: how he talked and looked, and how he felt after leading the Hebrews to the Land of Milk and Honey only to be banned from entering it himself.

The first time I saw Heston in “The Ten Commandments,” just a couple of years after moving to the United States, I felt I had found my Moses.

Heston’s Moses was everything I had pictured: He exuded paternal magnetism, Israelite mystique and an intelligent, solemn disposition fit for the man chosen to lead the Hebrews to freedom. Plus, he imbued his character with that signature deep, masculine voice.

In reality, Heston is not the most beloved guy in show biz — after all, he is the politically eccentric, twice-elected former president of the National Rifle Association and an outspoken

right-winger. He’s even been accused of making racist and anti-Semitic remarks.

He’s also been in more than 100 movies, lives in Beverly Hills and comes from a Scottish-English background, a far cry from the Semitic Moses we know and love from the Haggadah.

For some reason, though, the minute Heston puts on those uncomfortable, Grecian-like sandals and descends Mount Sinai, a heavy stone tablet in each hand, his real-life controversial existence vanishes and, for 219 glorious minutes, he is Moses. (For those interested, the movie airs 7 p.m. Sunday, April 4, on ABC-TV, Channel 7.)

I still love the traditional seder my family has each year. We all gather at my parents’ home in Palo Alto to read the story of our ancestors, sing songs and eat and drink until the wee hours.

Sometimes, though, when I get a little bored amid the bitter herbs and matzahs, Heston’s chiseled face pops into my mind, and I daydream about Moses.

Never mind that Heston himself is now an old man in his 80s, and never mind that “The Ten Commandments” is nothing but a fancy Hollywood take on one of the most important, timeless and valuable stories of the Jewish people.

My older sister recently asked me, “What is it with you and that movie?”

To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure, but the yearly viewing of “The Ten Commandments” has become just as much a Passover ritual as the reading of the Haggadah.

Somehow, Heston (along with the most advanced cinematographic special effects the 1950s had to offer) helps me to remember the hardships and survival of my ancestors in Egypt.

And so, each year on Passover, I think of my freedom and of our return (both biblical and modern) to the Land of Milk and Honey, and I recall the painful past of our people in bondage.

If my eyes appear a little glazed-over at some point during the seder, it’s not that I’m bored or disinterested.

Inappropriate as it sounds, I’m just thinking about the former two-time president of the National Rifle Association, a.k.a. Moses.

Michal Lev-Ram, born in Israel, is a journalism major at SFSU who can be reached at [email protected].