Blog Archives

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.

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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

Walking Together

EWWalkingDeadMy 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 DeputyTheWalkingDead 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. 

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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

Breaking Good

BreakingBadImagePopElulThis summer was the first time I saw an episode of Breaking Bad. My Twitter feed and Facebook newsfeed were consumed by comments about Jesse Pinkman and Walt White! Based on the 140 character posts, I quickly learned that this was Breaking Bad’s final season. The show would end its run with 16 season five episodes and with each episode, according to social media reaction, fans were sitting on the edge of their seats, hoping that the twists and turns of the dark plot would be resolved. I had no interest in the show; it was too dark for me. There is plenty of darkness in the world so I immediately crossed a show about drug lords and violence off my list.

Yet, with all the Twitter and Facebook excitement, and with a little help from Netflix, I gave in and started watching AMC’s hit show. What I found was a disturbing story — brilliantly acted — about love, obligation, and support. What I saw surely justified all the Emmy nominations (and victories) and the critical acclaim the show has received, some going as far as to say it is the best show on television and one of the greatest shows of all time.

The show’s central figure is Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston,) a high school chemistry teacher living in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his pregnant wife and his teenage son who has cerebral palsy. He even works in a carwash after school hours to earn extra money, to financially prepare for his new child on the way.

The show begins with White being informed that he has inoperable lung cancer. Struck with the realization that life is finite and that he has a terminal illness, he approaches a former student, Jesse Pinkman (played by Aaron Paul,) to help him make methamphetamine.  Their meth lab on wheels ends up producing a potent form of the drug, leading the previously honest and selfless chemistry teacher down a path of violence, murder, and lies.

The irony is that Mr. White begins this life of crime because of his love and concern for his family. He does not initially tell his wife about his illness, instead being elusive about his drug business, hoping to stabilize his family’s financial future for the long haul. He does not want his family to worry about putting food on the table or keeping a roof over their heads when he dies. He wants to make sure that, in a way, he is looking after them and supporting them, even when he passes away.

Such an action begs the question: is sinning acceptable if it is a selfless act to benefit others? Much in the same vein as Robin Hood who was a thief, but donated the stolen money to the impoverished, White is a drug dealer, but only out of love for his family. When is doing bad really an act of doing good? Maybe one does wrong with good intentions, but that doesn’t change the evil that one does. Walt White eventually gets caught up in a slippery slope of evil. His good intentions led him down a dark path, with his wife that he was trying to support, [SPOILER ALERT] eventually leaving him because of his involvement in the drug world.

However, we have a choice: we can acknowledge the darkness around us and become lost in that darkness or try to find the sliver of light in the darkness. I am an optimist. I choose to find the sliver of light in each situation and in each individual. Despite this dark and sinful path, White’s intentions were good. They were rooted in benevolence. Our goal is not to look at such an individual and scorn him. Our goal is to remove the blinds and let the sliver of light, the sliver of righteousness that exists somewhere within him, radiate so that we can leave behind a life full of darkness and immorality.

As we examine ourselves in preparation for the New Year, let us all remember that there is no such thing as a “lost cause.” Those of us who make mistakes, sin, and do wrong (which is certainly all of us to some extent,) have compassion, kindness, and righteousness within us. Let us find the good within all of us, especially at times when we are only consumed with that which is bad, so that our path in the New Year will be one guided by our Yetzer HaTov, our intention to do good. The root of the Hebrew word Teshuvah, repentance, means to ‘return.’ We spend the month of Elul striving to return to our ways, to only do good. In the face of evil, let us all return to a path of righteousness.

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Please Note: AMC’s “Breaking Bad” is rated TV-MA for strong language, violence, sexual behavior and illicit drug use. It has won four Primetime Emmy Awards, including awards for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, and has been nominated for Outstanding Drama Series.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Oltizky