Blog Archives

Calling all Contributors to Join the Pop Elul Project!

As we begin prepare for the Hebrew month of Elul, and the beginning of the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, which will be here before we know it, the Pop Elul Project is trying something new this year. We are calling all contributors to share your thoughts with the Pop Elul Project.


The Pop Elul Project was started by Rabbi Jesse Olitzky in 2013 as a way of connecting pop culture to the themes of the High Holy Days. We invite you to join in this project with your own thoughts and submissions.

If you want to write for the Pop Elul Project:

Click on the tab above to “Contribute” and please fill out the form, including your name, email address, where you are from, what movie, television show, or song you will be writing about, and your submission (no more than 750 words.) You will be contacted if it becomes a part of the Pop Elul Project.

Thanks for adding your voice, your Torah, and your love of pop culture to this exciting project!


Get Down with Your True Self

While Stranger Things has been getting all the love this summer, don’t forget to also check out Netflix’s new show, The Get Down. The Baz Luhrmann series takes place in the South Bronx in the 1970’s and uses the “Bronx is burning” backdrop to tell a story about the rise of hip-hop, disco, and punk music while the city was nearing bankruptcy. Like Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, this series is a musical, using well-known songs and original lyrics to tell the story of preacher’s daughter Mylene Cruz (played by Herizen Guardiola) who just wants to sing disco instead of gospel and orphan Zeke Figuero (played by breakout start Justice Smith), a smart student that writes poetry and is introduced to the brand-new world of DJ’s and MC’s. While the show received mixed reviews and the first episode is long and slow, it is enjoyable for anyone who appreciates the origins of hip-hop, especially the influence of pioneer Grandmaster Flash. Plus, I’ll watch anything that involves Jimmy Smits. 

The backdrop is over the top in typical Baz Luhrmann fashion. The first season had a reported budget of $120 million, unheard of for a television series. And while Luhrmann went to great lengths and spent a great deal of money to make this backdrop of 1970’s New York look authentic, the backdrop is secondary to what the story of this show is really about.

The Get Down uses the backdrop of the 1970’s New York underground music scene to tell the story that we all feel – the story of a person being pulled in multiple directions. Mylene Cruz is a religious girl, growing up in a religious family. She is the daughter of a preacher who wants to sing disco music and wrestles with the tension between her family who stresses modesty and building an insular community for her and her desire to venture out into the secular world to land a record deal. 

The main character, Zeke Figuero, finds a way to hone his craft of poetry when he is introduced to the early underground world of hip-hop and partners with Shaolin Fantastic (played by Shameik Moore). He becomes his wordsmith, the newly minted MC that partners with the aspiring DJ. But he is also pressured to conform. As a smart young man, he is given the opportunity to intern for the city of New York, a shining example as a student in the struggling South Bronx who commutes into Manhattan to work in the mostly white city offices. When he is late for his first day, he dismisses it, suggesting that he instead wants to focus on his rap career. But his high school teacher, who sees his potential, challenges him, destroying “the idea that, if you’re smart and educated, you ain’t down and cool.” 

Both protagonists are pulled in opposite directions, pressured to conform, to fit into a certain box of societal expectations, based on their looks, dress, educational background, or family structure. But we find with both characters an attempt to not conform. Mylene wants to be remain a part of her religious family and still be a disco star. She doesn’t want to have to choose between one or the other. Books — Zeke’s nickname — is committed to his internship and his rap career, highlighted by the end of season one when he goes back and forth from a rally for mayoral candidate Ed Koch to a rap battle blocks away. He doesn’t want to have to choose between fitting into a certain box, having to be one person or the other. He wants to be both. And that is the positive message of Elul that we should learn this show as well.

We constantly feel pressure to conform. We are expected to fit into a certain box, based on our race or religion or gender identity, based on our careers, where we live, or how much money we have. Yet, the most important message of Elul is to stop trying to be something we are not. When we look inside ourselves and do Chesbon HaNefesh, an accounting of the self, we come to terms with who are are and whom we strive to be. We stop trying to be someone else. The goal of Elul is not to compare ourselves to others. The goal of Elul is to compare where we currently are with where we want to be. We look back on the resolutions we made and goals we set for ourselves at this time last year and see how far we have come and how far we still have to go. We have an opportunity in the new year to be our true selves, our authentic selves. That means not conforming. That means being comfortable interning for the city of New York during the day and rapping with MC’s at night — metaphorically speaking. We spend Elul getting down with our true selves. Look within yourself. Be comfortable with who you are. And share yourself with the world. 

The Get Down premiered on August 12, 2016. All episodes of part one of season one are available to stream now on Netflix. 

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

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

Riding Away From Our Demons

Thanks to Netflix, I no longer have to sit through the sometimes unbearable offerings that networks air during primetime over the summer. Summers are spent binge watching shows on Netflix that I never had the chance to sit down and watch when they first premiered on television. So in just a couple of months, I knocked out six full seasons of FX’s Sons of Anarchy, just in time for the beginning of the seventh and final season, which premieres on Tuesday, September 9th at 10:00 PM on FX . 

Truthfully, I never was interested in watching Sons of Anarchy because I never thought it would be a show I’d be interested in. I figured it would be too violent and too profane, focused on the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club in fictional Charming, California, selling illegal arms from the True Irish Republican Army terrorist organization to gangs and drug dealers throughout the west coast and beyond. Yet, I love the show. I am hooked. Apparently, I am not alone. Sons of Anarchy is FX’s high-rated show ever and it’s season five premiere was the highest-rated telecast in FX history.

SOA PosterThe show centers around protagonist Jax Teller, played by Charlie Hunnam, who serves as Vice President of the MC that was started by his father. Reading his father’s journal, Jax learns to question the club and how it has gone off-course, believing that its actions do not exemplify its original mission. When his high school sweetheart, Dr. Tara Knowles, returns to Charming, their love is rekindled. They live together and raise two children together, yet this pediatric resident at St. Thomas Hospital is not the typical “old lady,” as SOA’s wives are known.

Tara wants Jax to leave SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original) so that they can start over. She doesn’t want to raise their children in a world of violence and illegal activity. Jax too is determined to leave, but every time he tries, something pulls him back. Whether it was [SPOILER ALERT] the sexual assault of his mother, the kidnapping of his son, or the immorality of his stepfather that leads to Jax wrestling the club’s presidency away from Clay, Jax cannot leave. As hard as he tries, something keeps pulling him back. And the longer he stays, the more entrenched in a dangerous lifestyle he becomes. Even when Jax realizes he cannot leave, he arranges a deal to plead guilty and let his wife and sons leave Charming. [MAJOR SPOILER ALERT] Still, even this attempt at doing the right thing ends with the brutal murder of his wife.

Jackson Teller never wanted to live a life of crime. He was born into such a life. He tried to change and felt like it was a never-ending uphill battle. It was easier to stay the same, despite the demons that surrounded him and the demon within. 

We too acknowledge that which we do not like about ourselves — what we do and who we associate ourselves with — and are committed to change. We spend the month of Elul committed to doing teshuvah, to repenting, to beginning anew and changing our ways. Yet, more often than not, we don’t change at all. Change is hard. Change is challenging. Change forces us to step out of our comfort zone and accept that which we tried to deny for so long. Change sometimes seems impossible. It is easier to think that change is impossible and not try to change at all. 

But teshuvah is a yearly occurrence. Every year in preparation for the High Holy Days we try to change for the better. A year from now, we will do the same thing, knowing that we did not achieve our goals. Still, we keep trying. We remain committed to being the best version of ourselves. Teshuvah is an ongoing experience. Maybe Jax Teller hasn’t failed at teshuvah. He rides on his motorcycle trying to leave his demons behind. He just hasn’t gotten there yet. 

May we all have the strength to keep riding in the distance, courageous enough to leave behind the parts of us we want to change. Even when detours and roadblocks get in our way, may we never stop riding towards teshuvah


Please Note: “Sons of Anarchy” starring Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Kim Coates, and Tommy Flanagan, can be seen on FX on Tuesday nights at 10:00 PM. The seventh and final season premieres on September 9th. The show is Rated TV-MA for violence, sexual content, sexually violent acts, sexist and racist insults, and profanity. Viewer Discretion Advised.  

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

We Would All Be Better Off If We Learned to Just Shake It Off

Singer, Songwriter, and Pop Star Taylor Swift  has been a household name since 2008 when her album Fearless skyrocketed to the top of the charts, and every radio station played her hit singles, Love Story and You Belong With Me. Originally a country music star, she transitioned to pop music with that album and won a place in America’s hearts at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, when Kanye West took the stage after Swift received her “moonman” statue for Best Female Video and proceeded to tell her that her video was not as good as Beyoncé’s music video that year. America loved how mature Taylor Swift was and composed she was during that situation, even though she was still only a teenager.

Taylor-Swift-Shake-It-OffWhile still celebrated for her acknowledged responsibility to be conscious of her influence on young fans, she has also been criticized for choices she has made and how such choices are viewed by those fans. Some say that she dates too many other celebrities and musicians. Others have criticized her for being “dorky” and “neurotic.” Throughout her entire career as a pop star, from Kanye West literally stealing the stage to critics commenting on everything she does, Taylor Swift just smiles politely.

Her new single though, Shake It Off, answers these critics by essentially saying that you can’t sweat the small stuff. Her song lists many of the complaints critics have written in blogs, newspapers, and magazines:


I stay up too late, got nothing in my brain
That’s what people say, that’s what people say
I go on too many dates, but I can’t make them stay
At least that’s what people say, that’s what people say

She is no longer just politely smiling and pretending that she doesn’t hear such criticism. She is acknowledging that she hears what people say and despite, putting on a smile, words can hurt. Still, her message is a powerful one: it doesn’t matter what they say. She is not going to change because she is happy with who she is.

She sings:

But I keep cruising, can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music in my body and it’s gonna be alright
Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
Heartbreakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

We know that the childhood mantra of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is not true. Names do hurt. Gossiping, spreading rumors, and speaking ill will about someone can do a great deal of damage. As a result, we are too often overly concerned with what others think of us. We want to be accepted by all. We want them to speak highly of us and we fear if the opposite happens. We fear others talking about us behind our backs.

Taylor Swift’s new single, besides being really catchy, gives us permission to let go of what others think of us. She encourages listeners to not be bothered by what others think. Be proud of who you are, not who others want you to be. Just shake off what they say and don’t let such negativity stick to you. We would all be better off if we could do that.

The Hebrew month of Elul allows us to look back on the year that has passed as we prepare to change our ways in the year ahead. As we do so though, let us change what we want to change about ourselves, not what others pressure us to change. Let us each be proud of the individuals that we are, as well as the individuals that we strive to be. And when someone criticizes you, learn to just shake it off.

musicpopelulimagePlease Note: “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift is the first single off of Swift’s upcoming fifth studio album, “1989.” The song premiered during a Yahoo! live stream only a couple of weeks ago. The music video was released the same day on YouTube. As a result, the song debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making it Taylor Swift’s second #1 single in the United States.



– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Chodesh Tov! Happy Elul!

Today begins Rosh Chodesh Elul, as we spend the next Hebrew month preparing for the High Holy Days 5775. Tonight begins the first day of the month of Elul and with that, we again begin a month of daily reflections. Movies, Television, and Music aren’t just about what is trendy and popular. They are about faith and prayer, repentance and renewal, justice and change. I look forward to going on this journey of preparing for the High Holy Days together.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky




Ugly Little Lies

I resisted watching Pretty Little Liars for as long as I could. I resisted it partially because it was on ABC Family and I assumed that the quality of the show rivaled the likes of fellow ABC Family seriesThe Secret Life of The American Teenager and a 10 Things I Hate About You television spin-off. I resisted because I suspected that the quality of acting was not up to par. Truthfully though, I resisted because the premise sounded like a cross between Desperate Housewives, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Gossip Girl with a pinch of Mean Girls. Yet, ABC Family kept renewing the series. This summer’s episodes are a part of its fourth season with the fifth season already filming. ABC Family has also announced a spin-off, Ravenswood, to premiere in October later this year. With the increase in episodes and viewership, I finally gave in.

The show, based on the teen novels of the same name, follows four teenage girls part of a clique that is lost withoutPrettyLittleLiarsImagePopElul their ring leader. The queen bee, Alison DiLaurentis (played by Sasha Pieterse,) disappears and as time passes by, the four other girls begin receiving mysterious messages from someone named “A” who threatens to expose their secrets. The girls originally think “A” is Alison as she is the only one who knows their secrets. However, when [Spoiler Alert] Alison’s body is found, they are concerned that someone else knows about their wrongdoings. The series focuses on their attempts to find out what happened to Alison, but more importantly for them, to find out who the true identity of “A.”

The whole show’s concept is based on the idea that a group of girls did something wrong, knew that they did wrong and didn’t want to get caught for doing wrong. Thus, instead of coming clean, they go to greater trouble keeping their wrongdoings a secret than presumably the trouble of the wrongdoing in the first place. If they never did wrong, maybe there would be no storyline. Obviously this is unrealistic to expect, not just from a Hollywood script, but also from real life. No one is perfect. We all are bound to make mistakes. The High Holy Days are exactly for this purpose. We have opportunities for atonement and repentance specifically meant to guide us — and push us — to admit those secrets within us. The Hebrew calendar is set up so that we start off the year by admitting our secrets, by exposing our lies and telling the truth, by admitting what we have done wrong. MIstakes are a part of life.

The error in these four girls’ ways is not the mistake. The error is the attempt after attempt to keep their secrets and hide their mistakes at all costs. Their error is in refusing to tell the truth. Lying is a slippery slope. One small lie often developments into a mound of dishonesty and deception. When we lie, our stomach ties in knots. The more lies, the worse we feel. Eventually, this mound of lies builds up and we create an alternative reality and an alternative self. We don’t even recognize ourselves anymore. In order to admit our mistakes, we have to admit that we have made mistakes. We have to come clean instead of trying to cover up.

Let us take advantage of the month of Elul to come clean to others and to ourselves. Part of this process of Teshuvah, repentance, means letting go of the lies. The New Year begins with truth, truth in who we are and who we are not, truth in what we have done and become, and truth in who we want to be. Truth allows us to appreciate ourselves, even with bumps in the road along the way. During the month of Elul, let us pledge to stop with the lies because lies only lead to greater lies and let’s be honest, there is nothing pretty about a little liar.


Please Note: “Pretty Little Liars” is on ABC Family on Tuesday evenings at 8:00 PM EST, with the Summer Finale premiering this Tuesday. The show features sporadic violence, a fair amount of language, and physical sexual encounters that stop just before the act itself. It is rated TV-14.



– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky