Monthly Archives: August 2014

Riding Away From Our Demons

Thanks to Netflix, I no longer have to sit through the sometimes unbearable offerings that networks air during primetime over the summer. Summers are spent binge watching shows on Netflix that I never had the chance to sit down and watch when they first premiered on television. So in just a couple of months, I knocked out six full seasons of FX’s Sons of Anarchy, just in time for the beginning of the seventh and final season, which premieres on Tuesday, September 9th at 10:00 PM on FX . 

Truthfully, I never was interested in watching Sons of Anarchy because I never thought it would be a show I’d be interested in. I figured it would be too violent and too profane, focused on the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club in fictional Charming, California, selling illegal arms from the True Irish Republican Army terrorist organization to gangs and drug dealers throughout the west coast and beyond. Yet, I love the show. I am hooked. Apparently, I am not alone. Sons of Anarchy is FX’s high-rated show ever and it’s season five premiere was the highest-rated telecast in FX history.

SOA PosterThe show centers around protagonist Jax Teller, played by Charlie Hunnam, who serves as Vice President of the MC that was started by his father. Reading his father’s journal, Jax learns to question the club and how it has gone off-course, believing that its actions do not exemplify its original mission. When his high school sweetheart, Dr. Tara Knowles, returns to Charming, their love is rekindled. They live together and raise two children together, yet this pediatric resident at St. Thomas Hospital is not the typical “old lady,” as SOA’s wives are known.

Tara wants Jax to leave SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original) so that they can start over. She doesn’t want to raise their children in a world of violence and illegal activity. Jax too is determined to leave, but every time he tries, something pulls him back. Whether it was [SPOILER ALERT] the sexual assault of his mother, the kidnapping of his son, or the immorality of his stepfather that leads to Jax wrestling the club’s presidency away from Clay, Jax cannot leave. As hard as he tries, something keeps pulling him back. And the longer he stays, the more entrenched in a dangerous lifestyle he becomes. Even when Jax realizes he cannot leave, he arranges a deal to plead guilty and let his wife and sons leave Charming. [MAJOR SPOILER ALERT] Still, even this attempt at doing the right thing ends with the brutal murder of his wife.

Jackson Teller never wanted to live a life of crime. He was born into such a life. He tried to change and felt like it was a never-ending uphill battle. It was easier to stay the same, despite the demons that surrounded him and the demon within. 

We too acknowledge that which we do not like about ourselves — what we do and who we associate ourselves with — and are committed to change. We spend the month of Elul committed to doing teshuvah, to repenting, to beginning anew and changing our ways. Yet, more often than not, we don’t change at all. Change is hard. Change is challenging. Change forces us to step out of our comfort zone and accept that which we tried to deny for so long. Change sometimes seems impossible. It is easier to think that change is impossible and not try to change at all. 

But teshuvah is a yearly occurrence. Every year in preparation for the High Holy Days we try to change for the better. A year from now, we will do the same thing, knowing that we did not achieve our goals. Still, we keep trying. We remain committed to being the best version of ourselves. Teshuvah is an ongoing experience. Maybe Jax Teller hasn’t failed at teshuvah. He rides on his motorcycle trying to leave his demons behind. He just hasn’t gotten there yet. 

May we all have the strength to keep riding in the distance, courageous enough to leave behind the parts of us we want to change. Even when detours and roadblocks get in our way, may we never stop riding towards teshuvah

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Please Note: “Sons of Anarchy” starring Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Kim Coates, and Tommy Flanagan, can be seen on FX on Tuesday nights at 10:00 PM. The seventh and final season premieres on September 9th. The show is Rated TV-MA for violence, sexual content, sexually violent acts, sexist and racist insults, and profanity. Viewer Discretion Advised.  

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

We Would All Be Better Off If We Learned to Just Shake It Off

Singer, Songwriter, and Pop Star Taylor Swift  has been a household name since 2008 when her album Fearless skyrocketed to the top of the charts, and every radio station played her hit singles, Love Story and You Belong With Me. Originally a country music star, she transitioned to pop music with that album and won a place in America’s hearts at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, when Kanye West took the stage after Swift received her “moonman” statue for Best Female Video and proceeded to tell her that her video was not as good as Beyoncé’s music video that year. America loved how mature Taylor Swift was and composed she was during that situation, even though she was still only a teenager.

Taylor-Swift-Shake-It-OffWhile still celebrated for her acknowledged responsibility to be conscious of her influence on young fans, she has also been criticized for choices she has made and how such choices are viewed by those fans. Some say that she dates too many other celebrities and musicians. Others have criticized her for being “dorky” and “neurotic.” Throughout her entire career as a pop star, from Kanye West literally stealing the stage to critics commenting on everything she does, Taylor Swift just smiles politely.

Her new single though, Shake It Off, answers these critics by essentially saying that you can’t sweat the small stuff. Her song lists many of the complaints critics have written in blogs, newspapers, and magazines:

 

I stay up too late, got nothing in my brain
That’s what people say, that’s what people say
I go on too many dates, but I can’t make them stay
At least that’s what people say, that’s what people say

She is no longer just politely smiling and pretending that she doesn’t hear such criticism. She is acknowledging that she hears what people say and despite, putting on a smile, words can hurt. Still, her message is a powerful one: it doesn’t matter what they say. She is not going to change because she is happy with who she is.

She sings:

But I keep cruising, can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music in my body and it’s gonna be alright
Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
Heartbreakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

We know that the childhood mantra of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is not true. Names do hurt. Gossiping, spreading rumors, and speaking ill will about someone can do a great deal of damage. As a result, we are too often overly concerned with what others think of us. We want to be accepted by all. We want them to speak highly of us and we fear if the opposite happens. We fear others talking about us behind our backs.

Taylor Swift’s new single, besides being really catchy, gives us permission to let go of what others think of us. She encourages listeners to not be bothered by what others think. Be proud of who you are, not who others want you to be. Just shake off what they say and don’t let such negativity stick to you. We would all be better off if we could do that.

The Hebrew month of Elul allows us to look back on the year that has passed as we prepare to change our ways in the year ahead. As we do so though, let us change what we want to change about ourselves, not what others pressure us to change. Let us each be proud of the individuals that we are, as well as the individuals that we strive to be. And when someone criticizes you, learn to just shake it off.

musicpopelulimagePlease Note: “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift is the first single off of Swift’s upcoming fifth studio album, “1989.” The song premiered during a Yahoo! live stream only a couple of weeks ago. The music video was released the same day on YouTube. As a result, the song debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making it Taylor Swift’s second #1 single in the United States.

 

 

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Don’t Let Anyone Tell You That You Are Wrong

When A-ha hit it big almost thirty years ago with their breakthrough single Take On Me, no one could’ve predicted that we would have to wait until now for another Norwegian pop sensation to top the Billboard charts. However, that has happened with Nico & Vinz’s Am I Wrong. The song has been getting airplay on radio stations all summer with many deejays even calling it this summer’s anthem. 

The truth is this duo from Oslo first released this single in April 2013 under the group name Envy. When artists Nico Sereba and Vincent Dery signed with Warner Bros. Records and ventured into the international market, they changed their name to Nico & Vinz. Their hit single is a rhetorical question, but also an important mantra to live by, especially during this month of cheshbon hanefesh, self-reflection. 

The pop song begins with the lyrics:

Am I wrong, for thinking out the box from where I stay?

Am I wrong, for saying that I choose another way?

I ain’t trying to do what everybody else doin’

Just ‘cause everybody doin’ what they all do

If one thing I know, I’ll fall but I’ll grow

I’m walking down this road of mine, this road that I call home.

Nico-and-VinzWe often feel stuck in a particular stage or situation in life. This is what others decided our lives should be like. This is the box that they put us in. Or maybe this is the box that we have put ourselves in. We feel it is impossible to change. So we conform. We act as others do. We walk down another’s path without thinking about it, without willing to create our own path.

As a result, we never try to change. The powerful reminder of the Hebrew month of Elul and this High Holy Day season is that we all must look inward for self-reflection. No one is perfect. Even the kindest and most righteous among us still must strive to change for the better. We are taught not to settle. Rather, we must strive to be the best version of ourselves. We are afraid to do something different. We are afraid to change. It is easier, as the lyrics suggest, to do what everyone else is doing. But what is right for another is not necessarily right for someone else. One’s path is not the same as another’s path. 

We avoid change — even change for the better — because we fear failure. Nico & Vinz also remind us that I’ll fall but I’ll grow. The road to become the best version of ourselves is not necessary a straight path. It is a bumpy road with detours along the way. However, just because it is bumpy, that doesn’t mean we don’t take the journey. 

Don’t let anyone tell you that you are wrong for doing something different, for trying something new, for changing your ways. In the year ahead, may we all be brave enough  to think outside the box and walk down our own roads. May we have the courage to fall and to fail, so that we can ultimately grow as a result. This time next year, may we look inward and  comfortably say “I am right” without worrying about being wrong.  

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Please Note: “Am I Wrong” by Nico & Vinz was originally released internationally in April 2013. The music video was released via YouTube in June 2013 and has been viewed over sixty million times. The song topped out at #1 on Shazam’s Top 100 worldwide and  peaked at #4 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart this summer. 

 

 

 

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Forget about Future Past. Focus on Future Present.

One of the most talked about and anticipated superhero blockbusters of the summer was X-Men: Days of Future Past. Part of the excitement was a result of the movie’s plot, based on The Uncanny X-Men comic book story arc from the early 1980’s of the same title . The movie also serves as a sequel to 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand and the 2011 franchise reboot, X-Men: First Class. The storyline also brings together the younger and older versions of some of X-Men’s most iconic characters, with, as a result of Wolverine’s time travel, both James McAvoy  and Patrick Stewart starring as Professor Xavier and Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen starring as Magneto.

X-Men_Days_of_Future_Past_posterThe movie begins in an apocalyptic future in which Sentinel robots have exterminated the majority of the world’s mutants. The remaining X-Men have even joined forces with Magneto and his band of villains, to help each other try to survive. In 1973 Mystique assassinated the creator of the Sentinels, in an attempt to prevent this mutant destroying robots. The assassination backfired though. Following the assassination, she was captured, and the government used her shape-shifting DNA to make the Sentinels invincible and all powerful.

The solution is to have Ellen Page’s Kitty Pryde use her powers to send Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine back to 1973 (or at least send his consciousness back in time since he never ages) and prevent Mystique from assassinating the Sentinels’ creator. Like the Butterfly Effect theory, their belief is that stopping this assassination will change the course of history.

[SPOILER ALERT] They were right. Wolverine saved the day, as we knew he would. The Sentinels disappeared from the future entirely and we see a future in which the mutants are living and teaching in Professor Xavier’s previously destroyed and abandoned School for Gifted Youngsters in peace and harmony and even characters that were killed in prior films, like Jean Grey and Cyclops, are alive and well.

The movie is exciting and was one of the best reviewed films in the X-Men franchise. Aside from the fighting, explosions, and CGI special effects, the plot is an opportunity to complete change our past, something that all of us wish we could do. If only we could all have a mutant send our consciousness back in time to change our past mistakes. If only we could go back in time and right our wrongs. If only we truly understood the long term impact and consequences of our actions maybe we would’ve acted differently in the first place. But there is no going back in time. There is no changing the past to shape the future.

This time of year has never really been about changing the past. Rather, the Hebrew month of Elul and the Days of Awe, are about accepting our mistakes of the past. We accept the past and acknowledge that our actions and in some cases, inactions, have brought us to this moment. The beauty of the Jewish New Year is that it is an opportunity to begin anew. We are renewed and refreshed. We have a clean slate. Through teshuvah, repentance, we not only seek forgiveness from God and from those that we have wronged, but we seek forgiveness from ourselves. Once we truly can forgive ourselves for past mistakes, we are able to focus on who we are in the present. What the future holds is determined by our actions here and now. While we cannot change the past, we can begin anew by changing who we are and how we act in the present. May we have the strength to forgive ourselves for mistakes of the past and the courage to do true teshuvah, in order to change who we are in the present.

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Please Note: “X-Men: Days of Future Past” starring Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, and Michael Fassbender is Rated PG-13. The film, produced by 20th Century Fox, has grossed over $230 million in North America and over $740 million worldwide.

 

 

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Chodesh Tov! Happy Elul!

Today begins Rosh Chodesh Elul, as we spend the next Hebrew month preparing for the High Holy Days 5775. Tonight begins the first day of the month of Elul and with that, we again begin a month of daily reflections. Movies, Television, and Music aren’t just about what is trendy and popular. They are about faith and prayer, repentance and renewal, justice and change. I look forward to going on this journey of preparing for the High Holy Days together.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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