Blog Archives

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

Out of My League

TheLeagueImagePopElulThe League is meant to be the perfect sitcom for guys who hate typical sitcoms. The show focuses around a group of friends in a fantasy football league and prides itself on raunchy inappropriate humor. While I hate to make gender-stereotype assumptions, statistics prove that the show attracts mostly a male audience, although my wife is embarrassed to admit that she enjoys watching the show with me (even if the humor makes her uncomfortable and she doesn’t understand any of the football references.) The show has a sort of cult following, with it already renewed for a sixth season, even though the fifth season hasn’t even premiered yet. The League (along with other shows for a more mature audience, like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Legit) will be a part of Fox’s new network, FXX, for the upcoming season, which premieres September 4th of this week. The premiere of the show is on Erev Rosh Hashanah, the first night of the Jewish New Year. This of course means I’ll be DVR’ing the season premiere, but I think there is a greater connection between this show and goals for the Jewish New Year than just sharing a date on the calendar.

The show is all about winning. The goal of each character is to win their fantasy football league. Please don’t misunderstand me: I am all for winning. I am a huge sports fan and very competitive and emotional when watching my favorite teams. I also play fantasy football, although the others in my league will be the first to tell you that I don’t play well! What is troubling about this show (although I also understand that it is intentionally ridiculous) is not the competition, but rather the extreme limits that one will go to for the sake of competition. The league members aren’t just interested in winning. They are interested in crushing their competition. They trash talk. They mock. They embarrass. They make fun. They shame the loser and celebrate at the other’s expense.

Such acts made me realize: do we laugh at people or with people? Do we enjoy the failures of others? Is our success determined by another’s failure? So many of us work in a world where we can only succeed if others fail. Yet, such a cutthroat lifestyle isn’t healthy. If we truly strive to live in a world of peace and harmony, then why must some of us succeed while others fail? Why can’t we work towards success while simultaneously supporting the success of others? Imagine if we all supported each other. Imagine if generosity took over jealousy.

As a child at Jewish summer camp, I used to joke with my peers about the camp’s slogan, “everybody wins.” It’s unrealistic, I thought. Camp is just setting us up to fail. Yet, there is something beautiful about this message, a message that encourages unity and brotherhood, a message that encourages supporting one another instead of destroying one another.

As we conclude the month of Elul and prepare to enter the New Year, let us each take the time to think about the possibility of peace. A big picture vision of world peace may seem impossible and out of our reach, but true peace begins at home. Peace begins with us, when we stop competing and stop always trying to win. Peace does not come from beating the other. Peace comes from helping the other.

I knew by the seventh round of my fantasy football draft that I wasn’t going to win this year. I still laughed and I joked and I had a good time. Life isn’t about winning. Life is about growing. Life is about becoming the best version of ourselves, and doing so as others do the same, instead of doing so at the expense of others. Maybe Jewish summer camp got it right with a vision of “everybody wins.” That is the vision that I will certainly be carrying with me in the year ahead, just maybe not when it comes to fantasy football.

tvpopelulimagePlease Note: “The League,” starring Mark Duplass, Stephen Rannazzisi, Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer, Jon Lajoie, and Katie Aselton, will begin its fifth season on the new network, FXX, on September 4th at 10:30 PM EST. The show is Rated TV-M for sexual encounters, strong language, and drinking, drugs, and smoking. 



– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky