Monthly Archives: August 2015

Appreciating Our Own Prequels

Fans of The Walking Dead were on the edge of their seats waiting for the premiere of last week’s Fear the Walking Dead on AMC. I previously highlighted The Walking Dead on the Pop Elul Project last year while binge-watching the show on Netflix. I am all caught up and the show continues to be a cable hit. Although the creators of the show and the television network refuse to call the show a “prequel” or “spin-off” and instead refer to it as a companion series to The Walking Dead, they were smart to expand the universe of cable’s most popular show. Why not take advantage of a hit show and create another hit show based on something that is already successful?!? And so Fear the Walking Dead was born, taking place in Los Angeles instead of Atlanta, Georgia or Alexandria, Virginia. The show focuses on the beginning of the zombie outbreak, while The Walking Dead started with the outbreak already underway, with hopes of a crossover once the timelines of the two shows catch up to each other. AMC bet right on this prequel gamble: last Sunday’s premiere episode attracted 10.1 million viewers, a cable television record for a series premiere.

TFearTheWalkingDeadhe prequel phenomenon is not unique to the zombie universe of The Walking Dead. Following the successful run of another AMC hit show, Breaking Bad, the network revealed a Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul, which has received critical acclaim and award nominations. After FX’s hit Sons of Anarchy went off the air this past year, creator Kurt Sutter began talking about expanding that universe to include a prequel and a companion show.

The concept of a prequel is a fascinating one. While I fully understand anxiously waiting for a sequel, and waiting to see the continuation of a beloved story line, there are no surprises in a prequel. We know how things turn out. We already know what the zombie apocalypse world looks like and yet, a record number of viewers turned out to watch Fear the Walking Dead. Why are we so fascinated with prequels? Sequels may reveal a new twist in the storyline, but prequels help us come to terms with what we already know. Prequels allow us to make sense of the chaotic present reality.

We are taught to look inward during Elul. We are taught to think about where we are and where we want to be. We think about the present in order to prepare for the future. We are also taught to not worry about the past. The past is the past and we cannot go back and change it. That is certainly true. However, acknowledging and examining the past allows us to reflect on who we are and where we are in life. We cannot change and be who we strive to be – and get to where we want to be – in life unless we accept who we are and where we are currently. To understand who we are and where we are, we need to reflect on the past. We need to examine the prequels of our lives. Every action has a corresponding reaction. Every decision has a consequence. Thinking back on our past – examining our prequels – helps us understand our present. Only then, can we truly prepare to change. Reflecting on our past successes and mistakes allows us to understand our current reality.

May we each be courageous enough to look back on our pasts, the blessings and the challenges, the right decisions and the wrong ones, to understand how got to where we are. Only once we do this, can we let go of the past in order to start in a new direction for the new year.


Fear the Walking Dead premiered on August 23rd, 2015. New episodes of the show premiere on Sunday nights at 9:00 PM EST on AMC. The show is rated TV-14 for coarse language and violence.

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Getting the Train back on Track

Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow, was really everything I expected it to be – and more. As a fan of Apatow’s previous films and Schumer’s Comedy Central show, I anticipated the crude and vulgar humor. Still, the movie had heart. The film was truly laugh-out-loud funny and yet, I even got a little teary-eyed at the end. The film, the first that Apatow directed that he did not write himself, stars Schumer as a magazine columnist and Bill Hader – who brilliantly transitions from sidekick to leading man – as a sports physician. Schumer’s character profiles Hader’s Aaron — and the career-saving knee surgery he performs for athletes — for the stereotypical men’s magazine that she writes for. Amy sleeps with Aaron, but unexpectedly ends up falling for him.

TrainwreckAmy is the titular trainwreck. Following a speech from her father (played by Colin Quinn) who tells his children that monogamy is impossible, she grows up to drink a lot and sleep around. Not only does she think that true love is impossible, she focuses on “one night stands” because she doesn’t want to get too close to anyone. She worries about what will happen if she lets her guard down and lets other people into her life. If she never lets anyone in, then she will never get hurt.

Aaron refuses to let their relationship be a one night stand and has her stay the night, calls her the next day, and wants to see her again. She doesn’t know what to do. Amy begins to let her guard down, but having never cared for another, she still waits for them to breakup, eventually causing the breakup herself. The film concludes [spoiler alert] as so many romantic comedies do, with her realizing that she loves Aaron and works to reunite with him and get back together. She comes to understand that no relationship is easy or perfect, but she is still willing to try to make it work and attempts to change her ways.

As we prepare for the High Holy Days, one thing stood out to me – besides the brilliant comedic turns of John Cena and LeBron James: how others can help us change. Amy refuses to change, but it is only once Aaron enters her life that she realizes, because of him, that change is possible. The Hebrew month of Elul is focused change. This is our opportunity to do teshuvah, to let go of the past and change our ways. This is our opportunity to have a fresh start and be better in the year ahead. However, we often focus on self-reflection during this time of year. We are taught to do Cheshbon HaNefesh, an accounting of the soul, and focus on how we can change ourselves. Yet, we forget the impact that our actions have on others.

We are taught that we can’t control others; we can only control ourselves, so we should focus on ourselves. But we live in a world of interconnectivity, a world where we touch each other’s lives, a world where every interaction has consequences. As we seek to change, we have the ability to help others change. Every conversation, every interaction, every moment we experience with another –  those who we are closest to and those who are complete strangers – may influence us, and those we interact with, for the better.

Never underestimate your power to change and never underestimate your power to help others change as well.

moviepopelulimageTrainwreck, written by Amy Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow, was released in the United States by Universal Pictures on July 17, 2015. The film has already grossed over $100 million in North America and its opening weekend was the second biggest debut for Apatow. The film is Rated R for sexual content, partial nudity, and language. Viewer discretion advised.  

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

A Small Step Can Lead to a Big Change

Please excuse me for a second while I geek out. I got rid of my childhood comic book collection over a decade ago, but still love the comic book tales of my youth. I’ve loved seeing these stories come to life on the big screen over the past decade as Marvel launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, introducing movies about incredible – and under appreciated characters – like Ironman, Thor, Captain America, and the Guardians of the Galaxy, not to mention bringing them together for mega-event motion pictures like the Avengers films. I have seen each of the Marvel films in theaters – some more than once!

Yet, I admittedly questioned the studio’s decision to give Ant-Man a stand-alone movie. Ant-Man is certainly not one of the most popular Marvel superheroes, even if he was an integral part of the initial Avenger comic books. Funnyman Paul Rudd was an interesting choice to play the lead, but with rumors of turmoil in the writers’ room and on the set, with director Edgar Wright leaving the film over “creative differences,” this movie seemed destined to fail. I couldn’t see how Marvel could make an epic, interesting, action-packed, and funny film about a hero who shrinks down to the size of an insect to save the day. Boy, was I wrong!

AntManMarvel made the right move by having the film focus on Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), the second incarnation of Ant-Man, while still choosing to keep Dr. Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) as an integral part of the story as well. The film tells the tale of Lang, a down on his luck ex-con, recently released from prison who attempts to find a stable job to support his daughter. He ends up getting recruited by his old cellmate Luis (played by the hilarious Michael Pena, who stole the show), to break in to a safe. Thinking the safe was full of cash or diamonds, Lang agrees, but it turns out that all he finds is the Ant-Man suit. Hank Pym orchestrated this whole thing to try to convince Scott Lang to become the new Ant-Man.

The technology allows anyone wearing the suit to shrink down to the size of an ant, and gives them super strength – after all, ants can withstand 5,000 times their weight. Pairing the suit’s abilities with the ability to control the actions of different types of ants through radio frequencies, Lang is tasked with stealing the Yellowjacket suit, the attempt of Darren Cross, Pym’s former protégé, to replicate the Ant-Man technology. Pym’s point is that groundbreaking technology in the right hands can change the world for the better, but if it ends up in the wrong hands, it can have a devastating impact.

Ant-Man was the most entertaining Marvel film since Captain America: Winter Soldier, and most fun film since the original Iron Man movie. Ultimately, this film was a film about teshuvah, about repentance and change. Scott Lang was a criminal. He tried to change his ways, but was pulled back into the criminal world.

The ant-man suit allowed him to change for the better, but the suit is also a metaphor for each of us. In order to be a hero, he didn’t need to become an overpowering green giant like the Hulk or become a super soldier like Captain America. He needed to become small, for the greatest changes we make are often the smallest.

We think that in order to change during this High Holy Day season, we need to reinvent ourselves. We believe that our lifestyles and work habits need to change. We fail before we even start, fearing that we can never truly change in the way that we seek. However, a small change can make a great impact. Do not seek to completely change. However, a small change – an ant-sized change, if you will – may have a deep and long-lasting impact. It’s the small steps that allow us to truly change our ways and change who we are.


Marvel’s Ant-Man is Rated PG-13 for violence, language, and suggestive humor.

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. OIitzky

Letting Go of the Bad Blood

If you pass me on the road, you’ll see me during the summer driving with the windows rolled down, singing along with the radio. Admittedly, a lot of the time this summer, I have been singing along to Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood. This is partially because the song seems to be played on one radio station or another every couple of minutes, and partially because this is Taylor Swift’s latest summer anthem. After all, this isn’t the first time the Pop Elul Project has highlighted Swift’s songs. Last summer, we highlighted the important lesson she teaches in her Shake It Off single, in which she reminds us all to not be bothered by what others say about us or think about us.

Taylor SwiftThis year’s summer anthem Bad Blood, teaches us something different. Another break-up ballad about a relationship gone sour, Swift focuses on the bad blood that now between her and another. Now, she can no longer trust her former significant other.

Yet, her lyrics speak more deeply about how difficult it is for us to let go and forgive. During these Days of Awe, we seek out those that we have wronged and ask for forgiveness. We admit our mistakes and apologize to all those we have wronged, believing that the only way to change is through teshuvah. The only way to be a better version of ourselves is to acknowledge our previous wrongdoings. However, asking for forgiveness is the easy part. We know we have done wrong. We know we want to do better. By admitting our mistakes, we are letting go of the weight on our shoulders, the knot in our stomachs. It is much harder, as the victim, as the one who has been hurt and wronged, to be willing to forgive. It is easier for us to stay angry. It is easier for us to hold a grudge. It is harder to give someone a second chance and a clean slate.

Swift’s hit single says exactly that. She is unable to forgive. She is unable to accept an apology and move on. She sings:

Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes

You say sorry just for show

You live like that, you live with ghosts.

Sometimes though, the opposite of her lyrics are true. Sometimes, we don’t forgive, just for show. Sometimes, we still love the person that wronged us – a family member or friend – but feel like we can’t forgive them. We have to stay strong in our efforts to reject their apologies. Yet, when we live like that, we are the ones living with ghosts. We are the ones stuck in the past.

By apologizing, by doing teshuvah, we – those who have made mistakes and have done wrong to others – have moved on. But by refusing to forgive – by holding a grudge – we refuse to move on. We hang on to the past and while others are changing and striving to be better, we are stuck in neutral.

The Hebrew month of Elul leading up to the Jewish New Year is about change. We need to let go of what we have done wrong in the past, but more importantly, we also need to be willing to let go of what has been done to us as well. We can’t truly move on and give ourselves a much needed fresh start until we are prepared to do so.


“Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift, featuring Kendrick Lamar, is a single off of Swift’s “1989” album. The music video broke Vevo’s 24-hour viewing period record and received seven MTV Video Music Award nominations.

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. OIitzky

Embracing How We Feel on the Inside

I have soft spot for Pixar movies. When many friends suggested that Inside Out was a little too serious and intense for my preschooler (not to mention that most of the premise would probably go over her head anyway), I still insisted on seeing the film. Ever since Toy Story came out twenty years ago, I have never missed seeing a Pixar film in theaters. It may be odd for grown adults to go see an animated film without kids in tow, but I wasn’t going to miss this film. Every Pixar film has successfully made me laugh and cry, with brilliant and unique stories. I also knew that with characters voiced by the likes of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, and Lewis Black, this movie would be hysterical.

What I was not prepared for was how emotional I would get seeing the film, and how important its message is. Inside Out opened on June 19th, 2015 with a huge opening weekend, bringing in over $90 million.

InsideOutThe movie tells the story of a young girl Riley whose family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, California. Imaginatively told through the manifestations of her five emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger – we see how the emotions of this young happy girl change as she adapts to a new house, a new school, new friends, and a new life. Much of the film centers on these emotions traveling from ‘headquarters’ to the ‘five islands’ of her conscious that are powered by core memories to retrieve lost memories. During their journey, we learn of the importance of our multiple emotions.

Joy (voice by Poehler) is the leader of Riley’s conscious, telling the other emotions what to do, and it makes sense, since Riley seems to be a pretty happy kid. However, with the difficult move, we see more and more sad memories entering her conscious. Joy tries hard to fight off the fear, sadness, disgust, and anger that Riley feels, however, it is ultimately Sadness that take control of ‘headquarters’ and saves the day, prompting Riley to return home instead of running away.

Sadness reinstalls Riley’s core memories and in doing so, the young girl cries to her parents, confessing that she is sad. She ends up leading a more emotionally balanced life, with core memories that are created that share multiple emotions. This animated film is more than a cute, fun, and imaginative look on how we think and feel. This film reminds us that we can’t always be happy all the time. We aren’t supposed to be. Furthermore, during those times when we feel sad, we shouldn’t suppress our emotions. We shouldn’t put on a face. We shouldn’t mask our emotions. Rather, we need to be able to cry, and scream, and be sad. Our sadness defines who we are just as much as our joy does.

We spend the month of Elul reflecting on who we are and how we feel. We try to be optimistic and put on a smile. We try to stay positive. As we strive to reconnect with God, we strive to be happy and think about the blessings we have in our lives. However, we need to be comfortable being fearful of God, being angry with God, and crying with God as well. We need to be okay reflecting on the sadness along with the joy. Our experience preparing for the New Year needs to be more than simply saying that last year was great and next year will be even better.

The month of Elul allows us to let go of the past, to dry away our tears, and cast away our sorrows, just as we cast breadcrumbs in the water during Tashlich. Elul gives us permission to begin again. But we can’t do this if we only focus on joy. We must acknowledge the importance – and blessing – of sadness as well.


Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out is Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action.

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. OIitzky

Life’s Impossible Mission

I saw the recently released Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation last week. The film, like the previous four in the franchise, was funny and suspenseful, with unbelievable action sequences – so unbelievable that it only happens in a movie. Produced by sci-fi god J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions, the film brought in $55.5 million in the United States during its opening weekend and has already grossed over $375 million worldwide. The film is fun and the franchise is still strong, twenty years (does that make you feel old?) after the first Mission: Impossible’s release.

MissionIMpossibleLike the previous films, Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt of the IMF, the Impossible Missions Force, a covert ops team who does the jobs that others cannot. This movie was no different, with Ilsa Faust (played by Rebecca Ferguson) counting on Hunt to do the job she couldn’t, retrieve something for the head of the terrorist organization, the Syndicate. While [spoiler alert] she is a MI6 agent in deep cover in the syndicate, she is still trying to uncover this document for MI6. Lane, the head of the Syndicate, is on to Faust, but he too can’t get the information he needs without using Hunt. It seems the mission is an impossible one for all except for him. Yet, the head of the CIA (played by Alec Baldwin) attempts to disband the IMF for he is quick to point out that Hunt and is crew seem to fail half of these impossible missions. He believes that it is not about success. Rather, they are just lucky that they succeed when they do.

The Hebrew month of Elul, which we are just beginning, begins the period of the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe and Amazement, a period of reflection and renewal. We spend this month leading up to the High Holy Days reflecting on the year that has passed and thinking about what the New Year ahead will look for us. Yet, every year, Elul after Elul, we spend this time attempting to do what seems to be life’s most impossible mission: to change. We try to change and we fail. We try to change, yet we remain the same.

Still, year after year, we try again. We believe next year will be different. We believe we will be different. And we know we will fail. In the words of the Kol Nidre at the very beginning of Yom Kippur, we admit that we will break promises and vows. We admit that our efforts to change will fall short. This is because too often we try to change and become something that we are not. We must be true to ourselves. We should not try to be something else or someone else. Instead, our attempts to change should focus on ourselves. We should attempt to be the best version of ourselves. Instead of comparing ourselves to others and trying to be like them, we should accept who we are and be proud of who we are. Otherwise, our failed attempts to be like others will just cause us to self-destruct, much like the mission assignments in the films.

I invite you to spend this month trying to change, but not trying to change to be like someone else. That is an impossible mission. Try to change to be more like the truest version of yourself.


Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is directed by Chirstopher McQuarrie. It was released by Paramount Pictures in the United States on July 31, 2015. It is Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity.

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. OIitzky