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Let Our Own Actions Define Us

I enjoy binge-watching shows. Instead of waiting from week-to-week for the latest installment, binge-watching allows a viewer to appreciate the whole arc of a storyline all at once. My young daughter has a very different view on what binge-watching means. As a preschooler, the shows and movies she watches are limited so instead of binge-watching a season, she instead opts to watch the same thing over and over and over again.

Her latest obsession is Disney’s Descendants, a Disney Channel Original Movie that we stumbled upon while searching the On-Demand menu for some of her favorite cartoons. She was excited about the premise, as it focused on the children of her favorite fairy tale Disney characters, and the concept was cute, even if it continued to reinforce Disney’s hetero-normative culture.

DescendantsDescendants is a musical about how the children of Disney royalty — the son of Belle and Beast, the daughter of Aurora and Philip, the son of Cinderella and Charming, and even Dopey’s son — interact with the children of Disney villians — the children of Malificent, the Evil Queen, Jafar, and Cruella de Vil — at a prep school. It’s the cheesiness of High School Musical meets the Magic Kingdom. And yet, my daughter loves it, and insists on watching it again and again. While it may be that these Disney Channel show tunes are stuck in my head from watching the television movie so many times, I have to admit that some of the songs are even catchy.

The story takes place in the fictional United States of Auradon. Following the marriage of Belle to the Beast, they united all kingdoms and were elected Queen and King of this united kingdom. They sent all villains and their henchmen to the Isle of the Lost, an island ghetto where they wouldn’t be able to practice their evil magic. In turn, the royalty of Auradon seemed to be at peace and didn’t have to interact with the villains or their families. When Ben, Belle and Beast’s teenage son, is about to be crowned king, he decides that his first proclamation is to allow the children of villains to return to Auradon, believing that they shouldn’t suffer for their parents crimes. The children are tasked by their parents, led by Malificent (played by Kristin Chenoweth) with stealing Fairy Godmother’s wand in order to get the villains off the island so that they can take control of Auradon. The story is a “will they or won’t they” with an always-predictable Disney ending. Instead of following in their parents’ footsteps, they decide that they want to be good and do good. They don’t want to be defined by their parents. They want to be their own selves.

While the outcome is predictable — and the ending remains the same no matter how many times my daughter and I watch it — the lesson is important. We shouldn’t be judged based on the actions of another. We are often referred to as someone’s child, sibling, or spouse. But we are not them. While our parents and families certainly nurture us and guide us, that does not mean we need to be defined by them. We strive to hold on to the blessings that family gives us and teaches us, but we cannot carry the burden of their past mistakes. The yoke of their errors is too heavy to carry. Whom they are, how they act, and what they believe is not necessarily whom we are. The Torah reaffirms such an idea. We learn in Deuteronomy 24:16 that a parent should not be punished for the transgressions of a child and a child should not be punished for the transgressions of a parent.

We spend these days leading up to the High Holy Days by letting go of our burdens. We let go of our pasts, but most importantly, we need to let go of the pasts of others that we hold on to and carry with us. Their pasts are not our pasts. We need to be our true selves and not worry about who others are.

As we begin the new year with a clean slate, may we be proud to be ourselves instead of worrying about being viewed as somebody else. May we judge all solely based on their own actions and not based on anyone else’s. After all, even the child of an evil villain can become Disney royalty.

tvpopelulimageDescendants premiered on the Disney Channel on July 21, 2015 and is available to watch on the Disney Channel or On-Demand. 

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

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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

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

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.


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

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.


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

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.



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