My latest binge watching experience on Netflix is AMC’s The Walking Dead. I must admit: I wasn’t so interested in checking out a television show that seemed like an episodic horror movie. However, after traveling through Atlanta this summer and seeing the show being filmed, I figured I had to give it a try. With stars of the hit show appearing on last week’s cover of Entertainment Weekly, I knew I made the right decision making The Walking Dead my latest show of choice.
My binge watching hasn’t progressed as fast as I would like though, so I won’t be revealing any spoilers here. In fact, I had to put the issue of Entertainment Weekly aside. I couldn’t read a preview of Season Five of the hit tv show until I was all caught up to speed with previous episodes.
The show is eerie, suspenseful, and fun. The beginning of the show had me hooked immediately. After Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln) wakes up from a coma in an abandoned hospital, he quickly comes to terms with the fact that the zombie apocalypse has arrived. He heads to Atlanta where he was told that the government set up a safe and protected compound. He was told wrong. Rick ends up causing a swarm of zombies to surround the mall where he and other scavengers were searching for resources. Determined to clean up the mess he made and get the group of survivors out of the city safely, Rick recruits Glenn and together, they smother themselves in zombie guts in order to walk the Atlanta streets undetected by the undead. They all return back to the encampment safely, all except for racist redneck Merle Dixon). After getting into a scuffle with T-Dog, Rick took charge and handcuffed Merle to pipes on the roof. That is where they left him.
Most of the group was not disappointed. Merle Dixon was a racist and a bigot. He criticized decisions made by the group of survivors. He selfishly took advantage of limited resources instead of sharing them with the group. They didn’t mind that Merle was left behind, but Merle’s brother Daryl was determined to go back and find him. Even T-Dog, who was physically and emotionally beaten by Dixon, acknowledged that Dixon was alive and it was “on” them to save him. He felt guilty for dropping the handcuff key. Rick, on the other hand, was prepared to return to Atlanta because he believed that no one should be left behind. Even after being reunited with his son and wife whom he thought were gone and dead, he was prepared to leave again to save someone he left behind. Rick takes charge as the new de facto leader and leads by example, explaining that the group has a responsibility to look after all.
This lesson is a lesson that all communities need to be reminded of. I hope that all communities draw a hard line in the sand, understanding that there is no place for the bigotry and hatred that the character Merle Dixon exudes in holy spaces and holy communities. That being said, this lesson reminds us that many different people and many different types of people make up a holy community. We all don’t come all the time and we all don’t come for the same reasons. We have different beliefs, different ideologies, and different ways of connecting to community and connecting with the Divine. True community creates entry points for each of us and allows for each of us to feel at home. True community, like the survivors in The Walking Dead, looks for the talents of all individuals and is concerned about the well-being of all individuals. We at Congregation Beth El are committed to welcoming all those interested in becoming a part of our community, regardless of observance, faith, ethnicity, background, sexual orientation, or gender identity. A true community walks together and ensures that there is a place for each individual.
Rick’s goal is not to love everyone in their makeshift community. He doesn’t even like many of them. But he looks out for all of them. And when they fight the zombie epidemic that has taken the vast majority of humanity, when they fight the walking dead, they walk together.
In just a matter of weeks, Jews all over the world will gather in synagogues to celebrate the Jewish New Year and the High Holy Days, the holiest and most sacred days on the Hebrew calendar. We gather together for worship and greet so many new and familiar faces. We do not pray alone. We do not celebrate alone. We come together because community is what strengthens our Jewish identities and keeps us connected to faith. But community only thrives if we ensure that everyone feels like they belong in our communities. Community is only successful if we make sure we don’t leave anyone behind.
As we open up the doors — figuratively and literally — to many of our communal houses of worship in the weeks ahead and we walk on a path towards the New Year, let us make sure that there is room on this journey for us all. As we walk on this journey, let us walk together.
Please Note: “The Walking Dead” starring Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies, and Jon Bernthal can be seen on on Sunday nights on AMC. The fifth season premieres on October 12th. Various episodes of this show are Rated TV-14 and TV-MA for excessive violence, profanity, and sexual content. Viewer Discretion Advised.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky