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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

L’Shana Tovah, everyone!

5769 is going to be the best year yet.

While not technically Jewish, like many members of "contemporary" or "alternative" families, I've been around the block when it comes to major religions (and a few not so major ones). My grandparents on one side spoke Yiddish around me all the time, which was both infuriating and utterly fascinating. My great-grandparents and grandparents on the other side had such thick New York/New Jersey accents that when they occasionally talked Catholicism it sounded as if they were from another country. Then there's a yet another side that's from New England and whether or not they went to church, there's something odd about Connecticut that can feel like another country.

Never actually being a member of the tribe, I've been able gleam all the good parts of Judaism while simply ignoring all the rites, rituals and sacrifices. Of course, this means I would make a for a terrible Jew, but I know I'd be a hit at all Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and hoot at dinners during the High Holidays. The social aspect of Judaism that is supported by a rich and ancient history of scholarly study and preservation has always intrigued and inspired me.

But, like most major influences in my life, it all comes down to the movies. I was 10 years old, living in Sugarland, Texas and my mother, her 18 yr old Christian Scientist screenwriting grocery bagger friend, his buddy and I went to see Woody Allen's Radio Days on what I can only assume to be a sunny and hot Texas Saturday afternoon. I had seen Bananas, Sleeper and Broadway Danny Rose, but Radio Days was different. It's an episodic love letter to a wartime America and to family. Radio Days began my love of big bands, a longing for a Radio City Music Hall where you could watch movies and when radio had more entertainment options than ever, all of which required imagination from the audience. During my middle school years I had to hide my excitement from a friend who regularly brought up her attendance at one Seth Green's Bar Mitzvah. I was supposed to know him from Can't Buy Me Love, after all.



The great thing about Radio Days is that because of its tidy sequence of vignettes and multiple story lines, you can enter the movie at any point. It's an "easy" Allen flick, one of the only where it's obvious that he actually loves these characters. There is also a scene with the dumb but cute cigarette girl wannabe singer, Sally (Mia Farrow), who witnesses a mob hit and then is taken to the mobster's house where she's treated to the stereotypical Italian mother late night buffet while ma and the gangster discuss where to dump her body. I know it sounds nuts, but that scene has a very similar tone to one in Goodfellas (1990) where Tommy and Jimmy are treated to a late night snack at Tommy's house.

But, with the passing of my Grandma Faye more than ten years ago and Grandpa Elwood in May of 2006, were are no more dinners, long Seders, dry chicken or kugel with crispy brown edges. My sister and I fixed that this year and hosted a Seder for her graduate school friends. Someone brought brisket, I made sweet kugel, we drank much kosher wine and had a sort of chaotic Seder with many confused first timers asking hard questions. It was lovely, though extremely reformed. As Radio Days makes me nostalgic for a past I never actually experienced, I hold my few experiences within the Jewish faith in a similar fashion. They are memories and events stripped of all personal history or context and are simply about the joys of family and of course...love.

So, speaking as someone who is a touch Jewish if only by association, Happy New Year to all.