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.

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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.

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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

Red Band Society Teaches Us to Focus on What Unites Us, Not What Divides Us

One of the most talked about new shows on broadcast television this fall season premiered last week on Fox, the comedy-drama Red Band Society. The show has only received mixed reviews from critics; the website Rotten Tomatoes has only given it a rating of 59%. As questionable and sometimes light-hearted as the show’s premise may be, the lesson of the show sticks with us.

red-band-society-trailerThe show, based on the Spanish series Polseres vermelles, focuses on a group of adolescents and teens living together and bonding together in a pediatric ward of Los Angeles’ fictional Ocean Park Hospital.

The show has some impressive stars serving as the caregivers who tend to these pediatric ward patients, including Oscar winner Octavia Spencer who stars as Nurse Jackson and Dave Annable of Brothers & Sisters  who stars as Dr. McAndrew. What I enjoy most about the show though is that it reminds me of the 80’s classic The Breakfast Club.

In the John Hughes film from almost thirty years ago, five very different teens from different cliques with very different personalities (“The Criminal,” “The Athlete,” “The Basketcase,” “The Princess,” and “The Brain”) are forced to spend Saturday detention together. The film chronicles their day together becoming friends (and more!) in the process. At detention, they are all the same. There are no cliques. There are no societal separations. They are the same, and they come to realize that as well. The film never shows what happens Monday morning when they return to school, but that almost doesn’t matter because at that moment, in that space, during detention, they are united. They appreciate that they are all valued, sacred, and special.

Red Band Society offers a similar premise – thirty years later – taking the group of teens with different backgrounds and personalities out of Saturday detention and into the pediatric ward. However, the idea is the same: anywhere else, especially in the context of high school where there are way too many social divides, these adolescents would never speak to each other. Yet, in the content of the pediatric ward, they are the same, they are united. They appreciate each other’s sacredness. Even “mean girl” cheerleader Kara (played by Zoe Levin) begins the show by telling the other teens that if this was high school, she would never talk to them. The narrator Charlie (Griffin Gluck), who is a nine-year-old in a coma who can hear everything, even acknowledges that rebel Leo (Charlie Rowe) and know-it-all Emma (Ciara Bravo) would never be together, but in the pediatric ward, they find each other.

Real life isn’t high school. In the real world, we do not separate ourselves by cliques. However, too often we still separate ourselves. We stay close to those that look like us, act like us, or believe as we do. We distance ourselves from those who are different. Yet, the lesson we learn from Red Band Society and The Breakfast Club is that we aren’t so different. We focus on our differences to divide us. Instead, let us embrace each other and that which unites us. As we seek to make this world a better place in the year ahead, let us do so together. Let us look out for all, embrace all as God’s creations, and understand that we are all sacred. Under different circumstances, maybe others would seek to divide us. However, our commitment to peace unites us. Our commitment to serving as God’s messengers, and making this world a better place, unites us. In the year ahead, let us open our arms to all. Let us lower the barriers of the cliques and divisions that too often separate us from each other and let us unite as God’s peoples, God’s creation, fulfilling our promising to create a world in which the sanctity of each individual is realized and valued. We don’t need a red hospital band on our wrists to unite us. All we need is an open and pure heart.

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Please Note: “Red Band Society” premiered on Fox on September 17th. New episodes can be seen on Wednesdays at 9:00  PM EST. If you missed the series premiere, you can watch it here. The pilot episode was Rated TV-14 for some alcohol and drug use, some profanity, and serious medical situations.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

This Is Where I Need You

The weekend before the holiest days of the year for the Jewish community, the High Holy Days, a movie focused on one of the most sacred acts in the Jewish community hit theaters. Written by Jonathan Tropper (based on the book of the same name that he also wrote) and directed by Shawn Levy, This Is Where I Leave You has an all-star ensemble cast including Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shephard, and Jane Fonda.

This-Is-Where-I-Leave-You-PosterIn the film, the four Altman siblings, all struggling in different ways in life, come back together at their childhood home after their father dies. They spend the week together, fulfilling their father’s final wish and request, to sit shiva (the traditional Jewish week of mourning following a funeral) for him. Ironically, their father, who requested that his children sit shiva, was an avowed atheist. Was the family patriarch trying bring together his estranged family, even after he left this world? Or was he, even though he did not believe in God or ritual, asking his family to turn to ritual as we so often do, during times of mourning and loss? Maybe, he just knew the importance of coming together.

This premise is set up to bring the family back under one roof, so we can watch a story unfold about family dysfunction and the hilarity that ensues as a result.

The movie has only gotten lukewarm reviews but the film still offers us an important lesson about the importance of coming together. We may fight and argue. We may distance ourselves from our family, from those closest to us. Yet, it is at times of need, at times of loss, mourning, and grief when we must come together, when we need each other the most.

Community is truly defined by how we come together, for each other, at the high points and low points in life, how we celebrate together and how we mourn together. Jews, and those who have cast their lot with the Jewish people, throughout the world will gather together in synagogues in the coming days for the High Holy Days. We may not entirely connect with the liturgy. We may not understand the themes and messages found in the narrative of the Torah reading. We may not fully understand what our relationships with the Divine are or how we each struggle with those relationships. Still, we come together. For many, we also come together with extended family and deal with the dysfunction – the blessings and sometimes challenges – that come with extended family being under one roof, just as we witness in this film.

But the tension, the disagreements, and the dysfunction do not prevent us from coming together because if we don’t come together then what’s the point? Judaism cannot survive on a deserted island. One can continue to believe. One can be alone and still have faith. But without community, without coming together, Judaism – and faith in general – cannot survive. So we come together, in joy and in grief, and at this time of year, for holiday celebrations. We come together to celebrate a new year and as we celebrate, we let go of the past that has caused such dysfunction in the first place. We come together because we depend on each other. We come together because we need each other. So let us come together during this holiday season, as family, as friends, as community. Let us lean on each other. Let us raise each other up. Let us find renewed strength of body and soul together. Because this is where I need you.

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Please Note: “This Is Where I Leave You” produced by Spring Creek Productions and 21 Laps Entertainment and distributed by Warner Bros. premiered on September 19, 2014 in the United States. The film is Rated R for language, sexual content, and some drug use. Viewer discretion advised.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

New Girl, New You

Tuesday night marked the beginning of season four – and the return – of the show that you can’t help, but fall in love with: Fox’s New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel as titular new girl Jess. I love the show, not just because it is filled with oodles and oodles of Jewish references, mostly by Schmidt, played by the hysterical Max Greenfield, who throws down Jewish references weekly (“I’m like a Hebrew cheetah,” and “A Menorah – Judaism, Son,”) and attempts to educated his misinformed roommate Nick, played by Jake Johnson (“Tzatziki is what it’s called. It’s Jewish charity”).  I love the quirkiness of the humor, the odd couple pairings of the different personalities living together in one Los Angeles apartment, including Coach (played by Damon Wayans Jr.) and Winston (played by Lamorne Morris.

NewGirlBut most of all, I love the premise: New Girl Jessica Day is a quirky, dorky, adorable Middle School teacher in Los Angeles, California. In the pilot episode, she finds returns home to find her boyfriend with another woman. She quickly moves out, and with nowhere to go, she decides to answer an ad on Craigslist, moving in with three (which has now become four) male roommates. Jess was the new roommate, and the new girl. Jess seemed out of place, but this was the perfect opportunity for her to start over, to begin anew.

In the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashanah, Folio 16b, there is a list of things an individual can do to change a decree against an individual, one of which is changing one’s place. From this teaching, comes the Hebrew proverb Mishaneh Makom, Mishaneh Mazal, meaning, “If you change your place, you change your luck.” Sometimes, it is our familiar surroundings that are so hard to let go of and leave, yet it is those familiar surroundings that truly prevent us from changing.

We often talk about nature vs. nurture. Nature – one’s genetic makeup – is something that we cannot necessarily change. But nurture, those who we surround ourselves with and associate with, is something that we very much have control over. Hasidic tradition teaches that each individual has within us a Yetzer Tov and a Yetzer Rah, a good inclination and an evil inclination. In fact, tradition suggests that each even has the same amount, 50%, of each inclination. This, we have equal opportunity to do right or wrong, or in the case of new beginnings, to stay in neutral and remain the same or to shift gears, go in a new direction, and begin anew. What yetzer, what inclination we side with, the one in which we settle on negativity, or the one in which we push to change and be different, is influenced and determined by who we surround ourselves with and where we are, literally and figuratively.

In the year ahead, may we all change for the better. May we rid ourselves of those things that weigh us down, those people who prevent us from changing that which we truly need to change, and those places that prevent us from starting anew. May we settle into a new place. For some, that may mean literally moving, to a new house, a new job, a new city, or a new school. For others, that may be more figurative, a new state of mind, a new change in lifestyle, a new mindset. But either way, mishaneh makom, mishaneh mazal, may we change our place, figuratively or literally, and change our selves.

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Please Note: “New Girl” starring Zooey Deschanel, airs on Fox on Tuesdays at 9:00 PM. For those who missed the season four premiere, it is available on Hulu. Episodes are Rated TV-13 for sexual content, alcohol use, and inappropriate language.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

True Blood is a Fight For True Justice

Fans sat on the edge of their seat a couple of weeks ago as, after seven seasons, HBO aired the final episode of its hit series True Blood. Like any hit series that has been a part of society and pop culture for so long, the finale is bound to receive mix reviews. Just ask fans of Lost and The Sopranos about their thoughts on their respective series finales. The August 24th finale of True Blood was no different. Some fans loved it. Some fans hated it.

I think all fans were shocked when [SPOILER ALERT] protagonist Bill Compton (played by Stephen Moyer) asked his lover, fairy Sookie Stackhouse (played by Anna Paquin), to use her fairy light ball to kill him. That is the only way that Bill — a vampire — could die, and dying would not only set him free, but would set Sookie free as well, since she couldn’t have the family she so desired as long as she was in love with a vampire. Ultimately, Sookie obliged, and in an uncomfortable scene in which she is kissing Bill in his grave, she pierces his heart with a wooden stake.

TrueBlood We could analyze — and overanalyze — the series finale, but I prefer to focus on the series as a whole. This groundbreaking show about vampires living in the fictional small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, isn’t really about vampires at all. This is not a young adult vampire lovefest (like the CW’s The Vampire Diaries or the hit movies in the Twilight series). The series, based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris, uses vampires as an analogy to discuss issues of injustice that so many minorities face. The series began seven seasons ago after a fictional scientific breakthrough. The show takes place two years after a group of Japanese scientists invent a synthetic blood, known as Tru Blood. Such an invention allows vampires, who previously hid their identities unbeknownst to most of society, to no longer depend on human blood for survival. Many of them seek to integrate themselves into society by campaigning for citizenship and equal rights.

David Bianculli of NPR analyzed the vampires struggle to “come out of the coffin” (an expression that the show actually uses) and noted that the “tension about accepting vampires into society is an obvious play on civil right in general, and gay rights in particular.”

Hollywood is about more than entertainment. True art is used as a vehicle to promote social change and while True Blood brings us a fantastical world in which vampires, werewolves, and witches exist among us, it more importantly teaches us that the struggle for equal rights is a struggle that all of us must fight for.

If a single individual’s human rights and civil rights are denied, whether it be because of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or class, then its a problem that we all must deal with. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The liturgy of the High Holy Days reminds us that we change our ways, and we change the world, through Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah. However, we often mistranslate and misunderstand what the liturgy is charging us to do. While Teshuvah refers to repenting for our misdeeds and changing our ways and Tefillah refers to our commitment to prayer and wrestling with God, Tzedakah is regularly mistranslated. The term is often used to mean “charity,” but it literally means “justice.” And that is exactly what it means during the Hebrew month of Elul and the High Holy Days. True justice is about changing our ways and changing the world. True justice is about fighting for equal rights for all, recognizing, appreciating, and celebrating that all are created B’Tzelem Elohim, in God’s Divine Image. Justice doesn’t come easily. It is ideal, but not easy to achieve. In Deuteronomy 16:20, we are commanded:

Justice, Justice, You Shall Pursue.

We are commanded to pursue justice because it does not come easily, but it is essential for our survival. It is essential to finish creating the world God set out to create. It is essential if we are to be God’s partners in creation. Chase it. Fight for it. Pursue it. Make it reality. And although we may be entertained by vampires’ love affairs with humans (and even a little annoyed with the final episode), let us not forget that True Blood is reminding us to act just as Deuteronomy instructs us to act, to fight for equal rights and pursue true justice for all.

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Please Note: The final episode of “True Blood” starring Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin premiered on HBO on August 24th, 2014. Episodes are available to stream on HBO On Demand and HBO GO as well as on Amazon Prime. Episodes are regularly Rated TV-MA for Sex & Nudity, Violence & Gore, Alcohol & Drug Use, and Profanity. Viewer Discretion Advised. 

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Remembering Why We Are Here

It is incredible how in the world we live in, a tweet, video, or posting becomes viral so quickly, with the help of a hashtag and social media shares. Artists have begun to embrace this phenomenon as well, using social media to promote their work, inside of waiting for marketing executives to do it for them.

That is exactly what happened last week when musician Alicia Keys decided to share the new music video for her song We Are Here on her Facebook page on September 8th. Through the power of social media, her song, and the power of its lyrics, quickly spread. The song attempts to answer the existential question of why we are here and quickly went viral as Keys’ fans and fellow artists begin answering the questioning, explaining why #WeAreHere.

For example, actor Jesse Ferguson tweeted “I am here to be the best version of myself for you #WeAreHere” while musician and actress Queen Latifah tweeted “I am here for love, courage, peace, strength. #WeAreHere”. Musician Pharrell shared on Instagram: “I am here to serve Humanity with Humility #WeAreHere” and even CBS this morning co-anchor and Oprah BFF Gayle King posted on Instagram “I am here to cheer you on #WeAreHere”

Alicia-Keys-We-Are-HereMusic isn’t just about melodies and lyrics. Music – good music, real music – is meant to inspire. When it does that, then music becomes prayer. That is exactly what Alicia Keys has achieved with her latest single. Her words have become the prayer for all of humanity, reminding us why we are here. Traditional High Holy Day liturgy tells us that we change our ways through Tefillah, Teshuvah, and Tzedakah, through prayer, repentance, and justice. This is our prayer for the year ahead, as she sings in the chorus of her single:

We are here

We are here for all of us

We are here for all of us

It’s why we are here, why we are here

Alicia Keys simply and profoundly reminds us that we are here for each other. We are here to look out for one another, to support one another, and to protect one another. She references in her song war in the Middle East, gun violence and crime in inner cities, lack of support for education, and other issues that we too often choose to ignore because they may not affect us directly. She reminds each and every one of us that all issues affect us. As she posted on Facebook when she posted the video to her new song:

“No matter where we come from, when we see the state of the world today, we can all feel the growing frustration and desire to make a difference. And we all have a voice – we just need to know how to make it heard. I have a vision that I believe is more than a dream, that I know can be our reality. I believe in an empowered world community built on the true meaning of equality – where we are all considered one people, regardless of race, religion, gender, zip code, belief system or sexual orientation. …Our souls were brought together so that we can love each other sister, brother. We Are Here. We are here for all of us.”

As w re-examine ourselves leading up the High Holy Days, we cannot do that without re-examining the world around us. We cannot only change. The world must change as well. And we are a part of that. We must be a part of that. We must care about each other, we must care about the other, and unite as humanity, as God’s creation to support each other. Keys’ lyrics and her message that was attached to the video mirrors the pray of the Psalmist in Psalm 133:

How beautiful it will be when we come together as brothers (and sisters) in unity.

How beautiful it will be when we look out for each other and not only for ourselves. How beautiful will it be when we realize and truly understand that this is why #WeAreHere. May we all come to such a realization in the year ahead.

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Please Note: “We Are Here” by Alicia Keys was originally released via music video on Alicia Keys’ Facebook page on September 8th, 2014.

 

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Give A Little Bit… And Let Go Of A Lot

After over twenty years, one of the most popular Young Adult science fiction novels finally made it to the big screen. The Giver was published in 1993 and in the years and decades that followed, it seemed that Lois Lowry’s dystopian novel was required reading for almost every student in the country. It became so popular as a young adult novel that many adults chose to read it as well. With the successful transition of many young adult dystopian futuristic tales to the big screen (like The Hunger Games and Divergent), The Giver seemed like a natural hit. It would have a whole generation of new fans. Those who read it in school twenty years ago would flock to the theaters as adults to see it as well!

TheGiverThe film of the same name, starring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, and Brenton Thwaites, was released on August 15th in theaters. However, it did not catch on with fans of the novel and was a bust. While films like The Hunger Games had huge opening weekends at the box office, The Giver only grossed $12.3 million in its opening weekend, finishing a distant fifth. Through it first month in theaters, the movie has only grossed $33 million domestically and only received a 33% rating on the fan critic website, Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie, which is only loosely based on the original source material of the book, is set in the year 2048. After war, the community got rid of colors, races, ethnicities, and feelings. Memories from before that event was erased from all citizens’ minds. Jonas (played by Thwaites) must receive those memories form the past from The Giver (played by Bridges). The Receiver of Memory is the only individual in the entire community who has these memories and as a result, must advise elders and government leaders on what decisions to make because they are equally unaware of the past.

[SPOILER ALERT] Eventually, Jonas released memories back to the community. The lessoned he learned and the community realized, is something we must hold unto as well. Just because the past is painful, that doesn’t mean we erase it. Forgetting is different than erasing. In Deuteronomy 25, a portion of the Hebrew Bible that Jewish communities throughout the world read last week, we are reminded of the terrible attack on the biblical Israelites by the people of Amalek. Scripture commands us to blot out that memory and still, not forget it.

How do we blot out the memory but not forget it? During the Hebrew month of Elul, we are encouraged to admit our mistakes, repent, and start fresh as a changed person and individual. We begin anew. In order to do that, we must let go of the past. We let go of the pain and heartache that the past has caused us and that we have previously caused others. But we do not forget. If we forget it, then we repeat the past. If we forget it, then we never change; we just end up returning back to our previous state. We remember such painful memories because they made us who we are – and who we strive to become. But we also have the courage to let go, and to begin again.

moviepopelulimagePlease Note: “The Giver” starring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, and Brenton Thwaites, was produced by Walden Media and distributed by The Weinstein Company. The movie was released in theaters on August 15, 2014 and is Rated PG-13.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

‘All About That Bass’ Reminds us We Are All Made in God’s Image

Meghan Trainor’s debut single on Epic Records, All About That Bass, was released in June and available to download, buy, stream, and listen for months. Yet, after spending the early portions of the summer barely in Billboard’s Hot 100 (it debuted at #84), the catchy tune skyrocketed during the month of August, from #28 to #8 to #4 to #2. It finally ascended to the top of the charts this week as the #1 pop song in the country

AllAboutThatBassAt first listen, one might thing that the song is just about “booty shaking” and another example of degrading women as sex objects. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The lyrics are about empowering women, and all individuals, to recognize that they are beautiful. Trainor challenges societal expectations to look a certain way and to have a certain body shape – expectations that are a result of unrealistic photo-shopped images of models. 

 

She sings:

I see the magazines working that Photoshop

We know that – ain’t real

Come on now, make it stop

She tells listeners and the world that these unrealistic models aren’t true role models for what boys and girls should strive to look like or compare themselves to. Instead, the song offers an important lesson. Meghan Trainor’s pop anthem with a doo-wop feel to it is truly about self-acceptance.

She embraces her size and encourages others to do the same, as she sings:

If you got beauty building, just raise ‘em up

‘Cause every inch of you is perfect

From the bottom to the top

The message of these catchy lyrics is profound during this time of year. During the month of Elul, we are taught to re-evaluate who we are and think about who we want to become. Yet, we also must recognize that we do not change because someone wants us to change or because society pressures us to look a certain way. We change because we want to change. We should not care about how others view us and how we look. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. Instead, we should worry about changing that which we want to change on the inside and loving how we look on the outside.

Judaism teaches the notion that each individual is made B’Tzelem Elohim, in God’s Divine Image. God’s Divine spark is within each of us. Our beauty is God’s beauty. The beauty of understanding that each individual is made in God’s image is accepting that no two individuals are 100% identical, that each individual is unique. Each of us — whether we are tall or short, overweight or too skinny, blonde, brunette, or red-head — is Divine. 

On the High Holy Days, we symbolically stand face-to-face with God. In order to prepare for that experience, we must first stand face-to-face with ourselves. Look in the mirror. Smile. See your beauty and declare that beauty. For each of us is beautiful, made in God’s image. Each of us, as Meghan Trainor says, “is perfect from the bottom to the top.” Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise.

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Please Note: “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor is her first single released by Epic Records. The lyrics include a couple of words that may be inappropriate for children. The song peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

 

 

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

A Clean Slate Means A Transparent Self

The most talked about show of the fall tv season emphasizes the themes of the Jewish New Year, most notably, how we redefine ourselves and begin anew. You won’t find this buzzworthy show on a major network. You won’t even find it on a cable channels responsible for some of television’s most recent hits, like FX or AMC. Netflix hit the jackpot a year ago when they began introducing original scripted programming, including the award-winning Orange Is The New Black and House Of Cards.

Amazon has since tried to keep up and respond with their own original programming. They have finally succeeded with this fall’s new series, Transparent, created by the incredible Jill Soloway. The entire season will be available to stream on Amazon Prime on September 26th, but the pilot episode is available to stream now for free here. Vulture already called it the best pilot they’ve seen in years. Stop everything you are doing and watch it. You won’t regret it.

TransparentThe series follows the interconnected lives of a Los Angeles Jewish family after discovering that the patriarch, Mort (an award-worthy performance by Arrested Development’s Jeffrey Tambor), is transgender. The title is a play on words. Mort is the titular “trans parent.” However, the title gives greater insight to the questioning identities of all characters. Sarah is a married mother and wonders if her life is too boring, ordinary, and settled. Josh navigates from one fling to the next, being lonely without having a true partner. Ali feels like (and is viewed as) a failure, even if she hasn’t yet figured herself out.

While Jeffrey Tambor’s main role as Mort/Maura is a groundbreaking moment in Hollywood for the transgender community, offering dramatic and humorous insight into the world of gender identity, the other characters also, in their own ways, must come to terms with the transparent version of themselves as well. The version of themselves that they portray for the world to see is not necessarily who they are deep down inside. It is not how they feel. They too need to be true to themselves.

We do the same thing. It is human nature to try to conform and fit in, to try and be what society expects us to be. When we do that though, we do ignore the truest versions of ourselves.

The beauty of the Hebrew month of Elul and of the Jewish New Year is that we have the opportunity to start over. Teshuvah, repentance, rids us of past burdens. Elul allows us to let go of that which held us down, and allows us to start over. We are given the unique opportunity to begin again. We are given the opportunity to redefine ourselves and be the person we always knew we were and knew we wanted to be. We become our true selves. We are no longer burdened by how we conformed, by how others expected us to act, or by what others expected us to do. We do not hide who we truly are. We reveal our transparent selves to God and to community. That is what beginning anew is all about.

May we have the courage to be our true and transparent selves, to be whom we are supposed to be – because that is exactly who God created us to be.

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Please Note: “Transparent” starring Jeffrey Tambor, Melora Hardin, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, and Gaby Hoffmann, is available to stream in its entirely on Amazon Prime on September 26th. Episodes are Rated TV-MA for nudity, profanity, sexual content, and occasional drug use.

 

 

 

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky