SM’s Helpful, Non-Comprehensive Passover Primer

It is that time of year again, folks! By which I mean: Passover. Heretofore referred to by the Hebrew name of Pesach, because that’s how it is in my head. (Note: all of the following refers to Ashkenazic practices of Pesach. Sephardic practices are very different, but I am not familiar enough with them to write a compare/contrast piece.)

 

 

For those of you who don’t know, Pesach is, to borrow a friend’s favorite suffix, crazypants.

This friend also laments the fact that when you see Jewish characters in fiction, the only holiday they usually talk about is Hanukkah, as if that is the big poobah of the Jewish calendar. To that we say, HA. Hanukkah is one of the least important Jewish holidays from a religious standpoint, since it was instituted purely by the rabbis and not by the Torah itself, and also requires relatively little action, both during the holiday and in preparation for it. Basically, you gotta buy candles or oil and dust off your menorah (which you probably got for your bar or bat mitzvah, or else you can get a cheap one from the internet or your local bodega or whatever) and be home around sundown to light it. And if you get home later than sundown, okay, you light it then. Different customs may require that you don’t do anything more strenuous than reading a book for about 30 minutes after lighting the candles. Very intense.

Pesach…whooooo boy. Where do I even start.

Well, there’s the fact that if you live in America, the first two days and the last two days of Pesach’s eight days are, unlike any days of Hanukkah, capital-H Holiday days, which I’m using here to mean that they are basically two-day Sabbaths in the middle of the week. No electricity, no driving, no public transportation, no writing with pen/pencil and paper, no igniting fires (alas), no sewing, no talking on the phone, no texting, no internet. (Fun fact: Josh Malina, the actor, once tweeted, “Good Shabbos!” and when asked what that meant, he explained, “It’s Hebrew for ‘I don’t have access to google.’ ” High fives, Josh.)

Capital-H Holidays are different from the actual Sabbath in a couple of ways, the major one being that you are technically allowed to cook on Holidays for what is immediately needed. Although since you are still not allowed to ignite a fire, there are obviously limits on what kind of cooking you can do, and therefore most people who are planning to be at home and eating all their own food for Holiday meals have to do a metric boatload of cooking and baking beforehand. You do not want to know how many quiches and kugels and casseroles and lasagnas we (read: mostly my mom) have made in the past few weeks. And that’s not counting the desserts —brownies and blondies and cookies galore.

And THAT’S not counting the fact that Pesach has its own dietary requirements. As in, you’re not allowed to eat almost anything you normally eat. Or anything that was in close contact with anything you normally eat. The technical prohibition is against chametz, i.e. leavened food, but for practical purposes (since what is leavened food anyway) chametz includes everything EXCEPT water, raw fruits, vegetables, and items that have been officially certified on their packaging as Kosher for Passover, or kasher l’pesach.  You basically need to completely restock your fridge and pantry for this holiday and cook everything with flour substitutes such as matza meal and potato starch. Also, you have to boil, cover, or temporarily replace all your dishes, pots, pans, silverware, countertops, table tops, and anything else that may have been used for chametz. Plus you must clean every nook and cranny of your house to find any other possible chametz that might be there. Lurking. Waiting to pounce.

I like to think of it as the ultimate holiday for OCD, sanctioned and encouraged by Jewish law. On the eve of the Holiday, you even get to burn the chametz that you didn’t manage to get rid of. Partay!

 

 

Lots of people avoid all this by going away for Pesach. They go to visit family who have turned their houses upside down, thereby sparing themselves the necessity of doing it to their own homes. Or they go to a hotel, which is sparkling clean already and serves them their Kosher for Passover food.

My family has never gone away for Pesach. This is probably due to a) more family in one house for 8 days? No thank you, b) a family of nine in a hotel for 8 days? Pfft, ain’t nobody got money for dat, and, probably most importantly, c) my dad is the rabbi of a local congregation and the rabbi MUST be available on Pesach to answer questions regarding Jewish law on a holiday that is this completely neurotic and overwrought, and as I said before, for at least 4 of 8 days, phone calls and internet are not allowed, so he must be available for face-to-face consultation. Also to give sermons, which he is very good at since naturally he takes after me.

Additionally, the congregational rabbi must be around very close to the beginning of the holiday for another reason — he is the congregants’ representative to sell all the chametz that was not able to be cleaned/eaten/burned/flushed down the toilet/fed to pets/hidden in gifts given to “friends”/etc. This means that in the week or so leading up to Pesach (and, let’s be real, at midnight on the last possible day), people come to our house, meet with my dad, fill out a form delineating the value and location of said chametz, exchange an object of a certain minimum value (e.g. they hand a pen back and forth), and thus my father is authorized, as is traditional, to go to a gathering in Riverdale with the rest of the New York rabbis who hold all the forms from all their congregants and sell their chametz to a non-Jew for the duration of Pesach. (There are of course stricter opinions that say this is not allowed, but we will ignore those for the time being.)

I have to admit that I find the whole selling-chametz-to-a-non-Jew to be, well…kind of hilarious, to be honest. The basic way it’s done is that the non-Jew (who is a lovely Christian gentleman who used to live locally and now comes in every year specially for the sale, which is incredibly sweet in itself) pays about a penny or two upfront, with the agreement that he will pay the rest of the untold millions of dollars the day after Pesach, or the sale will be voided. And even though this is clearly a charade and everyone involved knows it, there are apparently six different ways that the rabbis ensure that the sale is solid and legally binding, even though it will be voided in a week. And when I was there with my dad one year, in the room with like 50 rabbis, the meeting kicked off with a check on the exact value of gold or silver or something on the stock market or whatever that morning, to make sure that the pennies being paid upfront are of enough value to bind the sale. The whole affair is compulsively neurotic in that adorably Jewish way.

Lastly, of course, is the tradition that most people have heard of if they’ve heard anything about Pesach: the seder, or sedarim in plural, since in America, we have two of them, on the first two Holiday nights. You can probably Wikipedia it and get more information about the technicalities of seder procedure than I can possibly give you (four cups of wine, dipping of parsley into saltwater, recitation of the Haggadah, festive meal, singing of incredibly repetitive Hebrew and Aramaic songs, et al), but what it probably won’t tell you is that since a seder is a family or communal get-together, no two sedarim are alike, just like no two Thanksgiving dinners are alike, even though most of us Orthodox Jew types are reading the story of the Exodus from the same Haggadah.

A seder can be huge (we host our synagogue’s seder every year on the first night and this one had close to 50 people in attendance) or not terribly large (a friend of my was bemoaning the fact that his sedarim were going to have only his parents, brother, and grandmother, so he’d have to be very present and talkative and unable to slink off unnoticed). Our home seder often serves as a mini communal seder, topping out at 16 to 18 people, who can range from “fun guests you enjoy having” to “that guy with terrible hygiene who mutters incoherently to himself half the time and spends the rest interrupting people’s conversations to complain that his sister refuses to host him anymore and he can’t understand why.” Win some, lose some. In ancient times, it was typical to invite as many people as possible to your seder because the korban pesach, i.e. the Passover Sacrifice, i.e. an entire roast lamb, was required to be eaten before the dawn of the next morning; leftovers had to be burned. And while the base text that we read from the Haggadah is fairly standardized, people are free to, nay, encouraged to expound and elaborate and offer up additional thoughts, possible lessons learned, and questions about the story and the rituals of the seder. A common answer given for “Why do we do X Random Seder Ritual?” is “So that the children will ask.” It is a holiday of questions, although the answers may range from the satisfying to the creative to the ridiculous.

*

Independently of one another, my 13-year-old little sister and my 21-year-old little brother have already said to me this holiday, “You know, I really don’t like Pesach,” as if this is a surprising revelation. It’s really not. I obviously find many aspects of it amusing, but I can’t necessarily claim to like it. I’m sure there are people in the universe who like stressful cooking and compulsive cleaning and having strangely unbalanced guests at their table and having to read huge chunks of Hebrew text before getting to the actual meal and having to eat obscene amounts of charred-cardboard-tasting matza and not being able to eat normal food and stammering through neverending songs in foreign languages, but I don’t think it’s all that scandalous or presumptuous to say that most of us, y’know, don’t.

This holiday is nuts. It’s over-the-top and designed to drive anyone bonkers.

It is also clearly designed, in the way that it has evolved over the centuries, to force members of families and communities to interact with each other, forging and reinforcing connections between them. The preparation for Pesach is a massive undertaking, and would not get done in my house if everyone didn’t pitch in, at least a little bit. We band together against our common enemy: Pesach. And even if you don’t have a huge family, turning everything over from chametz-tik to kosher for Pesach isn’t always something you can do alone; this year I was hired by a family friend to help her lug boxes down from her attic and restock the kitchen. It forces people to ask for help that they might not otherwise ask for, and for people to provide that help because we get it, we understand that we are all at the mercy of this nutty holiday and can’t in good conscience make it even harder for someone else.

And the evolution of the system of selling chametz, in addition to creating a situation where rabbis of various communities have a forum in which they are able to get together once a year (no other holiday has such a thing built into it), also forces people to have face-time with their community rabbi. Depending on your rabbi and your comfort level, this can be a fate worse than death or it can be kind of nice. The old joke is “What’s the difference between a rabbi and a therapist? Therapist costs money.” And many a chametz-selling meeting has taken a turn for the therapeutic, I can tell you that. I found out this year that you can sell your chametz online, and I can’t help feeling like that kind of misses the whole point.

Pesach is supposed to be a time where we celebrate our freedom, how we were Exodused from Egypt. But I see Pesach as having more in common with the slavery we were freed from than the freedom we’re supposedly celebrating. It’s kind of a holiday of endurance, not celebration. In essence, in its present incarnation, I see Pesach as a trial by fire that we have to go through every year with our families and our communities, and hopefully come out stronger on the other side, and THAT’S when the enjoyment of our freedom can kick in. We are reenacting the Exodus, people! Freedom awaits at the end; you just have to survive long enough!

Although, of course, there is also the fact that absolutely nothing in American law prohibits any of this crazypants holiday. We can be as weird and bizarre as we want and our government does not care one whit. That is freedom, folks. Freedom to be complete whackjobs and fruitcakes and never having to fear for one minute that anyone will stop you. Enjoy that. Savor it.

Chag Sameach, everyone.

 

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This post was originally published in slightly altered form as a Facebook Note on April 17, 2014. There were, sadly, no gifs in the original.

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#ThrowbackTuesday — “Currently Not Listening (well, sort of)”

Because I missed yet another Throwback Thursday, here’s a [very] brief explanation of the current time of the Jewish calendar year and an equally brief rundown of some of the various customs observed at this time.

This post was originally published here on The Boylan Blog, in the weekly “Currently Listening” feature section, in April of 2013.

 

Currently Not Listening (well, sort of)

 

As you may or may not know, this is a time of year when many types of religious Jews do not listen to music.

The reasons for this are various and sundry, and nobody agrees on anything because this is Judaism and that’s just not how it works, but the most basic custom is that during Sefirat HaOmer (also known shorthand as “sefira”), which is the time between the second day of Passover and the next Jewish calendar holiday of Shavuot, or Pentacost, certain customs of mourning are observed to varying degrees. Or at least until the 33rd day of sefira, or Lag BaOmer, at which point most mourning customs end.

Again, reasons range from “a famous rabbi’s students were killed in a plague way back when” to “those students were actually fighting in a failed uprising known as the Bar Kochba Revolt” to “actually maybe it’s because lots of Jews were massacred by Christians throughout the ages at this time of year because of our wonderful reputation as Christ-killers” — pick whichever one you like, it doesn’t make much of a difference to the actual observance. Point is, we get emo for a bit.

This is expressed in various ways, most commonly by restrictions surrounding music. Some people just don’t go to live music events like concerts. Others don’t listen on their iPods. Others stop watching Glee (although most won’t admit they watched it in the first place).

In my circles, the most common custom is to avoid live music, and all recorded music that is not acapella. Jewish acapella music sales have always spiked at this time of year — many groups come out with acapella albums specifically at this time because they know that people will be dying for something to listen to. Of course, in the age of YouTube and iTunes, there is a wealth of acapella music available across all genres, and getting your music fix is easier than it’s ever been.

Because the quality of acapella music these days is so good, some people choose not to listen to it because it’s a conflict of spirit of the law vs. letter of the law…But that’s another argument for another time.

~Sarah Meira Rosenberg

Video Source: http://youtu.be/gEYKaXzCIio

 

 

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#ThrowbackThursday — “Thoughts on Passover, About Passover”

I’ve been neglecting these Throwback Thursday posts, because I’ve been super busy since returning from Israel — I’ve been babysitting a lot, raking in the cash; I took a trip last week to tag along at Harvard Law School with a friend, which served only to reaffirm my career choices because ick, law school; and of course, Passover is coming.

 

Here’s my handy guide to this insanity, originally posted as a facebook note last year, April 17th 2014. It features a super long intro which you can feel free to skip to get to the Passovery stuff.

 

 

Thoughts on Passover, About Passover

 
I haven’t written any notes recently, not since February, apparently. I could say I’ve been busy but that’s not really the reason. Reasons are:

1)  I’m up to the hundredth note, which, while it is a thoroughly arbitrary number, obviously carries this huge pressure to make it special, to write something brilliant and substantial to mark this momentous occasion. Which of course means that whatever I think of writing is going to fall into the (also thoroughly arbitrary) category of Not Good Enough.

2)  I’ve recently been through another breakup, and contrary to popular opinion, I am not an open book with my online presence, and I almost never post anything about my relationships without the consent of the fellow relationshipee. (Aside: it occurs to me in this moment that “former fellow relationshipee” sounds so much better than “ex.” Maybe I’ll call them FFRs from now on. Or not.) And perfectly understandably, he would prefer that I not blab my thoughts about us all over the interwebs. Which I of course respect, but so much of what my brain wants to write about loops back to the relationship and what I learned from it, ergo — writer’s block. Well, poster’s block. There’s plenty written, but it is not for public consumption.

3)  I’ve been trying to come up with a way to write about things about me that I haven’t written about before, things that somehow you don’t or can’t get a feel for from reading my notes. Who I really am in human form, not in text form. How I trip over my words sometimes when I talk, how my voice is deeper than what I consider feminine, how I pick at my scabs and chew my nails, how sometimes I have nothing to say and get away with just a knowing smile, how I can be a lot warmer and more approachable than it may seem from my notes but not always truly empathetic, how needy and fragile and frightened I can get, how detached and unemotional I can get, how sometimes I just chatter to fill the silence, how I forget how deeply anxious relationships make me until I’m in one again, how lazy and unproductive I can be. But I’m not talented enough to capture these imperfections in writing, because as soon as I put them into words, like I’ve done in the past with depression and with insecurity and with loneliness and with music being an emotional trigger, they sound…strong. They sound authoritative. They sound articulate and well-thought out. Which is precisely what they are not. And so I could agonize and try to figure out once and for all how to solve that paradox and do it right, but because I am lazy, that might mean no more notes for like 20 years. And we can’t have that.

So to get around all of these, and to get over that 100 Note hump instead of letting it loom larger and larger until it’s insurmountable, I’m going to write about something totally different: Passover. Heretofore referred to by the Hebrew name of Pesach, because that’s how it is in my head. (Note: all of the following refers to Ashkenazic practices of Pesach. Sephardic practices are very different, but I am not familiar enough with them to write a compare/contrast piece.)

*

For those of you who don’t know, Pesach is, to borrow a friend’s favorite suffix, crazypants.

 

This friend also laments the fact that when you see Jewish characters in fiction, the only holiday they usually talk about is Hanukkah, as if that is the big poobah of the Jewish calendar. To that we say, HA. Hanukkah is one of the least important Jewish holidays from a religious standpoint, since it was instituted purely by the rabbis and not by the Torah itself, and also requires relatively little action, both during the holiday and in preparation for it. Basically, you gotta buy candles or oil and dust off your menorah (which you probably got for your bar or bat mitzvah, or else you can get a cheap one from the internet or your local bodega or whatever) and be home around sundown to light it. And if you get home later than sundown, okay, you light it then. Different customs may require that you don’t do anything more strenuous than reading a book for about 30 minutes after lighting the candles. Very intense.

Pesach…whooooo boy. Where do I even start.

Well, there’s the fact that if you live in America, the first two days and the last two days of Pesach’s eight days are, unlike any days of Hanukkah, capital-H Holiday days, which I’m using here to mean that they are basically two-day Sabbaths in the middle of the week. No electricity, no driving, no public transportation, no writing with pen/pencil and paper, no igniting fires (alas), no sewing, no talking on the phone, no texting, no internet. (Fun fact: Josh Malina, the actor, once tweeted, “Good Shabbos!” and when asked what that meant, he explained, “It’s Hebrew for ‘I don’t have access to google.’ ” High fives, Josh.)

Capital-H Holidays are different from the actual Sabbath in a couple of ways, the major one being that you are technically allowed to cook on Holidays for what is immediately needed. Although since you are still not allowed to ignite a fire, there are obviously limits on what kind of cooking you can do, and therefore most people who are planning to be at home and eating all their own food for Holiday meals have to do a metric boatload of cooking and baking beforehand. You do not want to know how many quiches and kugels and casseroles and lasagnas we (read: mostly my mom) have made in the past few weeks. And that’s not counting the desserts —brownies and blondies and cookies galore.

And THAT’S not counting the fact that Pesach has its own dietary requirements. As in, you’re not allowed to eat almost anything you normally eat. Or anything that was in close contact with anything you normally eat. The technical prohibition is against chametz, i.e. leavened food, but for practical purposes (since what is leavened food anyway) chametzincludes everything EXCEPT water, raw fruits, vegetables, and items that have been officially certified on their packaging as Kosher for Passover, or kasher l’pesach.  You basically need to completely restock your fridge and pantry for this holiday and cook everything with flour substitutes such as matza meal and potato starch. Also, you have to boil, cover, or temporarily replace all your dishes, pots, pans, silverware, countertops, table tops, and anything else that may have been used for chametz. Plus you must clean every nook and cranny of your house to find any other possible chametz that might be there. Lurking. Waiting to pounce.

I like to think of it as the ultimate holiday for OCD, sanctioned and encouraged by Jewish law. On the eve of the Holiday, you even get to burn the chametz that you didn’t manage to get rid of. Partay!

Lots of people avoid all this by going away for Pesach. They go to visit family who have turned their houses upside down, thereby sparing themselves the necessity of doing it to their own homes. Or they go to a hotel, which is sparkling clean already and serves them their Kosher for Passover food.

My family has never gone away for Pesach. This is probably due to a) more family in one house for 8 days? No thank you, b) a family of nine in a hotel for 8 days? Pfft, ain’t nobody got money for dat, and, probably most importantly, c) my dad is the rabbi of a local congregation and the rabbi MUST be available on Pesach to answer questions regarding Jewish law on a holiday that is this completely neurotic and overwrought, and as I said before, for at least 4 of 8 days, phone calls and internet are not allowed, so he must be available for face-to-face consultation. Also to give sermons, which he is very good at since naturally he takes after me.

Additionally, the congregational rabbi must be around very close to the beginning of the holiday for another reason — he is the congregants’ representative to sell all the chametzthat was not able to be cleaned/eaten/burned/flushed down the toilet/fed to pets/hidden in gifts given to “friends”/etc. This means that in the week or so leading up to Pesach (and, let’s be real, at midnight on the last possible day), people come to our house, meet with my dad, fill out a form delineating the value and location of said chametz, exchange an object of a certain minimum value (e.g. they hand a pen back and forth), and thus my father is authorized, as is traditional, to go to a gathering in Riverdale with the rest of the New York rabbis who hold all the forms from all their congregants and sell their chametzto a non-Jew for the duration of Pesach. (There are of course stricter opinions that say this is not allowed, but we will ignore those for the time being.)

I have to admit that I find the whole selling-chametz-to-a-non-Jew to be, well…kind of hilarious, to be honest. The basic way it’s done is that the non-Jew (who is a lovely Christian gentleman who used to live locally and now comes in every year specially for the sale, which is incredibly sweet in itself) pays about a penny or two upfront, with the agreement that he will pay the rest of the untold millions of dollars the day after Pesach, or the sale will be voided. And even though this is clearly a charade and everyone involved knows it, there are apparently six different ways that the rabbis ensure that the sale is solid and legally binding, even though it will be voided in a week. And when I was there with my dad one year, in the room with like 50 rabbis, the meeting kicked off with a check on the exact value of gold or silver or something on the stock market or whatever that morning, to make sure that the pennies being paid upfront are of enough value to bind the sale. The whole affair is compulsively neurotic in that adorably Jewish way.

Lastly, of course, is the tradition that most people have heard of if they’ve heard anything about Pesach: the seder, or sedarim in plural, since in America, we have two of them, on the first two Holiday nights. You can probably Wikipedia it and get more information about the technicalities of seder procedure than I can possibly give you (four cups of wine, dipping of parsley into saltwater, recitation of the Haggadah, festive meal, singing of incredibly repetitive Hebrew and Aramaic songs, et al), but what it probably won’t tell you is that since a seder is a family or communal get-together, no two sedarim are alike, just like no two Thanksgiving dinners are alike, even though most of us Orthodox Jew types are reading the story of the Exodus from the same Haggadah.

A seder can be huge (we host our synagogue’s seder every year on the first night and this one had close to 50 people in attendance) or not terribly large (a friend of my was bemoaning the fact that his sedarim were going to have only his parents, brother, and grandmother, so he’d have to be very present and talkative and unable to slink off unnoticed). Our home seder often serves as a mini communal seder, topping out at 16 to 18 people, who can range from “fun guests you enjoy having” to “that guy with terrible hygiene who mutters incoherently to himself half the time and spends the rest interrupting people’s conversations to complain that his sister refuses to host him anymore and he can’t understand why.” Win some, lose some. In ancient times, it was typical to invite as many people as possible to your seder because the korban pesach, i.e. the Passover Sacrifice, i.e. an entire roast lamb, was required to be eaten before the dawn of the next morning; leftovers had to be burned. And while the base text that we read from theHaggadah is fairly standardized, people are free to, nay, encouraged to expound and elaborate and offer up additional thoughts, possible lessons learned, and questions about the story and the rituals of the seder. A common answer given for “Why do we do X Random Seder Ritual?” is “So that the children will ask.” It is a holiday of questions, although the answers may range from the satisfying to the creative to the ridiculous.

*

Independently of one another, my 13-year-old little sister and my 21-year-old little brother have already said to me this holiday, “You know, I really don’t like Pesach,” as if this is a surprising revelation. It’s really not. I obviously find many aspects of it amusing, but I can’t necessarily claim to like it. I’m sure there are people in the universe who like stressful cooking and compulsive cleaning and having strangely unbalanced guests at their table and having to read huge chunks of Hebrew text before getting to the actual meal and having to eat obscene amounts of charred-cardboard-tasting matza and not being able to eat normal food and stammering through neverending songs in foreign languages, but I don’t think it’s all that scandalous or presumptuous to say that most of us, y’know, don’t.

This holiday is nuts. It’s over-the-top and designed to drive anyone bonkers.

It is also clearly designed, in the way that it has evolved over the centuries, to force members of families and communities to interact with each other, forging and reinforcing connections between them. The preparation for Pesach is a massive undertaking, and would not get done in my house if everyone didn’t pitch in, at least a little bit. We band together against our common enemy: Pesach. And even if you don’t have a huge family, turning everything over from chametz-tik to kosher for Pesach isn’t always something you can do alone; this year I was hired by a family friend to help her lug boxes down from her attic and restock the kitchen. It forces people to ask for help that they might not otherwise ask for, and for people to provide that help because we get it, because we are all at the mercy of this nutty holiday and can’t in good conscience make it even harder for someone else.

And the evolution of the system of selling chametz, in addition to creating a situation where rabbis of various communities have a forum in which they are able to get together once a year (no other holiday has such a thing built into it), also forces people to have face-time with their community rabbi. Depending on your rabbi and your comfort level, this can be a fate worse than death or it can be kind of nice. The old joke is “What’s the difference between a rabbi and a therapist? Therapist costs money.” And many achametz-selling meeting has taken a turn for the therapeutic, I can tell you that. I found out this year that you can sell your chametz online, and I can’t help feeling like that kind of misses the whole point.

Pesach is supposed to be a time where we celebrate our freedom, how we were Exodused from Egypt. But I see Pesach as having more in common with the slavery we were freed from than the freedom we’re supposedly celebrating. It’s kind of a holiday of endurance, not celebration. In essence, in its present incarnation, I see Pesach as a trial by fire that we have to go through every year with our families and our communities, and hopefully come out stronger on the other side, and THAT’S when the enjoyment of our freedom can kick in. We are reenacting the Exodus, people! Freedom awaits at the end; you just have to survive long enough!

Although of course, there is also the fact that absolutely nothing in American law prohibits any of this crazypants holiday. We can be as weird and bizarre as we want and our government does not care one whit. That is freedom, folks. Freedom to be complete whackjobs and fruitcakes and never having to fear for one minute that anyone will stop you. Enjoy that. Savor it.

Chag Sameach, everyone.

 

______________

Agree? Disagree? Like my thinky thoughts? You can commission more of them via my GoFundMe campaign — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive — or subscribe on the sidebar, and thanks for reading! You can also buy me tools from this Wishlist but really I just like money.

REVIEW: The Newsroom — Season 1 Episode 7 — “5/1”

So I took a little break from recapping for Passover and instead spent my days eating, sleeping, reading, and talking to friends and family while having no access to technology that runs on electricity. Yes, this includes internet and TV. Welcome to a life of being an observant Jew.

But I am back, y’all!

 

 

—   From the “Previously on” it looks like they’re continuing the death threat/bodyguard for Will storyline. Huzzah, continuity!

—   Some weirdo is “establishing his credibility as a source” on the phone to Charlie. Presumably he’s a source within the White House, but we shall see.

—   Will’s throwing a party in his apartment. But he is a misanthrope and why is he throwing this party exactly? Even he doesn’t know.

—   It’s the one-year anniversary of News Night, apparently. Time is weird on this show.

—   Will and Jim both play guitar, evidently. Because chicks dig guitar players.

—   Will is going to eat pot cookies. Scandalous. I predict slapstick will ensue.

—   Yup, he already ate way too many. Let’s watch him make a bigger fool of himself than usual, shall we?

—   Shocker, Maggie is spending time at the party with Jim instead of Don.

—   Lisa is already using the L-word to Jim when it’s obvious he doesn’t actually care about her? GAH SHOW. GAH.

—   The “I love you” is a recent thing, I see. Jim clearly doesn’t know how to say “I like/care about you, but I need more time to develop those kinds of feelings for someone” or “THE SHOW WANTS ME TO BE WITH MAGGIE, I HAVE NO CHOICE IN THIS MATTER!”

—   Maggie, he doesn’t have to break up with her just because the feelings are unequal. What they need to do is get on the same page about what each of them feels, and then decide if they want to break up. There is no blanket solution, Maggie. Go away.

—   The president is going to address the nation. I’ll go google what he talked about on May 1st 2011 . . . Oh, I see, it was Osama Bin Laden’s death. I remember everyone going crazy about it, but I always saw it as a symbolic victory rather than an actual substantial one. Is that ignorant or unpatriotic of me?

—   Will is totally stoned and should not be allowed out in public but of course he’s going out to work. THIS WILL END WELL.

—   Sloan, Don, and Elliot are trapped on a plane with no information about what this big news story is and Don is dying to find out what’s going on. A three minute scene and Sloan manages to be objectified at least three times. Woo.

—   Stoned Will and his bodyguard are stuck in traffic and Will is impatient. This is a recipe for disaster. And there he goes! Will has run away on foot.

—   Police are giving his bodyguard a rough time, presumably because he’s black.

—   In the newsroom, Mac is instructing everyone to pursue all leads other than Bin Laden, in case he’s not the story, which is very non-dramatic since I already know the story IS Bin Laden. I suppose this is meant to be dramatic irony, where viewers know something the characters don’t, but yawn.

—   Mac’s justification for trying to find the story before the president announces it: “America thinks Bin Laden is alive. If I can make him dead one minute sooner, my entire life in journalism will have been worth it.” Really, Mac? Really? You’ve had no other, much more useful accomplishments in your two-Peabody-award-winning career? Maybe I just really don’t get why this story was so huge. Or I just don’t get journalists.

—   Don is being a whiney baby. In other news, it seems to be really really difficult to get yourself thrown off a plane.

—   Will made it to the newsroom. Still totally stoned. And he’s stressing how important this night is. Again, the more they say it, the less it feels like such a big deal.

—   And the show cannot pass up an opportunity to mock FOX News for reporting that the story was Gaddafi, not Bin Laden.

—   Mac is going to let Will go on the air even though she knows he’s totally wasted. Drama drama drama.

—   Now Charlie is saying not to report it, even though they’ve got double-confirmation that it’s Bin Laden. He says there could theoretically be harmful effects on the military operation if it’s revealed too early. He has a point, but COULDN’T YOU HAVE SAID THAT SOONER??

—   Neal’s girlfriend doesn’t feel like celebrating because Bin Laden being dead doesn’t bring her dad back. Yes, Neal’s girlfriend, I totally agree with you. Symbolic victory, not substantial.

—   The minor news anchor is getting antsy and tried to report the story, so Mac cut her feed. Why don’t they just give her Charlie’s spiel about not wanting to endanger soldiers’ lives? She just doesn’t have that perspective, so TELL HER.

—   Maggie is still hassling Jim to break up with Lisa. Give it a rest, Maggie!

—   YES! YOU GO, LISA! She’s breaking up with Jim! HOORAY FOR SELF AWARENESS, DIGNITY, AND SELF-RESPECT! I feel ten times more celebratory about this than about the Bin Laden thing, because for once a woman got to make her own choices on this show instead of having her life dictated by the men around her. Too bad Lisa was completely underdeveloped as a character and we’ll probably never see her again.

—   She did it for MAGGIE?? UGH! No, Lisa, you do these things for yourself! Maggie’s a mess and you’re not responsible for her screwing up her relationships. This almost completely decimates the good opinion I had about Lisa in the previous bullet point. I feel very fickle right now. See what you’ve done to me, Sorkin? You’ve turned me into a fickle woman, just like the terrible female characters on this show.

—   Don’s still going nuts on the plane because he can’t be in the newsroom. Everyone’s started to get messages about the president speaking and no one knows what’s up, and Don tries to calm them down, but the prissy flight attendant won’t let him and gets the pilot.

—   Don has some kind of visceral reaction to the pilot’s uniform for some reason. Department of Backstory, where are you? Oh, I guess it was just because of the military connection to the Bin Laden story? Okay. Don reveals super dramatically that Osama Bin Laden has been killed, and everyone hugs. Yay.

—   Jim grows a pair and is honest to Lisa for once and asks her out for real. Too bad this is doomed because Maggie and Jim are preordained.

—   Bodyguard finally catches up with Will, escorted by police. They are informed about Bin Laden in what is supposed to be another heartwarming moment.

—   Will is a friend of Joe Biden and got an email that the Bin Laden story is reportable, but he didn’t see it for 20 minutes because he’s stoned. Ha ha, so funny.

—   And a dramatic sappy speech by Will on the air to explain why this is such a huge victory.

—   Obama’s real speech is playing over the credits.

 

 

Final Thoughts:

This episode makes me feel like I have a heart of stone, because most of it depends on viewers having a strong emotional response to the fact that Bin Laden was killed. The whole episode revolves around how important that event is and how much it means to everyone who hears it. I remember when it happened, and I didn’t have much of an emotional response then, and I still don’t now.

I probably would if I had relatives in the military, or had lost someone on 9/11, but as a New Yorker who witnessed the 9/11 attacks but did not have a personal connection to them, I didn’t have a driving need to see Bin Laden dead. I mean, I didn’t want him alive and perpetuating more acts of terror, but I never equated his death with the end of terrorism or personal revenge, so it had significantly less of an emotional impact for me.

For once I had stronger reactions to the relationship drama of the episode, as documented above. Not good reactions, per se, but stronger. My basic complaint in that regard remains the same – the characters are frequently immature and unlikeable in regard to how they handle their romantic entanglements, which makes me not care about them, and the show is ham-fisted in its obviousness about who is supposed to end up with who, which makes me not care about all the intervening stuff because it’s clearly just stalling.

 

Rating: 3/5

REVIEW: The Newsroom — Season 1 Episode 6 — “Bullies”

So this review might wind up shorter than the average, since I’m supposed to be cleaning for Passover but instead I’m watching a TV show I don’t even like, because it’s homework. Oh well. Hopefully my mom won’t yell at me too much.

 

—   Will just forgot his own name on the air. I’m only laughing because it’s about time His Pompousness got taken down a peg.

—   Will is in therapy. Good for him. All the characters in this show need to be in therapy, but at least it’s a start.

—   He’s been paying for appointments every Wednesday for four years even though he never shows up. Well, that’s just lovely for all of us poor folk to hear.

—   Turns out his therapist died a couple years ago, and his son took over, and Will didn’t have a clue. Awkwardddd.

—   Yay for therapist calling Will on his crap. About time someone did.

—   Wait, there was a death threat? When did that happen? And what took so long? (I only partially mean “What took so long for someone to want to kill Will” — I also mean, why did they wait until 8 minutes into the episode to reveal it? Suspense? It doesn’t feel like a big reveal; it just feels like I missed an episode or something.)

—   Now flashback to explain, because everyone knows a non-linear storyline is always better than a linear one. ALWAYS.

—   Will wants commenters on the website to de-anon. Dude, have you HEARD of the internet? It doesn’t WORK like that.

—   Oh, great, more old news. This time about the community center that was being built in lower Manhattan, more commonly referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque” even though it wasn’t actually a mosque and wasn’t actually at Ground Zero. Look, I get that this was a big deal way back when. But nobody cares about it now. The most recent article I found (December 9th 2012) says that the place is struggling with funding and may be converted to condominiums.

—   Okay, that was kind of satisfying, smacking down that lady’s arguments about “creeping Islam” and calling her out on her hypocrisy by pointing out all the garbage people have done in the name of Christianity.

—   And there’s the death threat. They know his address. That’s always creepy.

—   Other storyline: coverage of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Sloan speaks Japanese. Of course she does — since we know nothing about her, they can keep giving her a bajillion superpowers and we’ll just swallow it.

—   More displays of Maggie’s professional incompetence. Since it’s been a couple of episodes since we’ve had some of those.

—   Don forgot to get someone to replace his anchor on his show, and now is recruiting Sloan at the last minute. Equal opportunity incompetence! Huzzah!

—   Sloan gets her chance to be deeply unprofessional, asking Will’s new bodyguard if she can touch his pecs.

—   Will just called her an accomplice to drug dealing, because she doesn’t throttle her guests until they give her answers on the air. Is it her job to get people to incriminate themselves and possibly lose their jobs?

—   At least he recognizes in hindsight that that was a stupid thing to say.

—   Oh, no. Sloan’s interrogating the Japanese spokesperson herself, ignoring the translator, and now she’s revealing what he told her off the record, how the radiation levels are higher than they’re admitting.

—   Charlie’s right — Sloan’s gonna have a heck of a time ever getting anyone to talk to her off the record again.

—   Poor Sloan; she looks like me when I’m trying not to cry. But yo, basic rules of journalism . . . off the record = OFF THE RECORD.

—   Don lifts her chin up, instead of saying “chin up.” Are they gonna become a thing, now? Finally break up Don and Maggie for good? Please god yes. I don’t actually care about either couple, but something new would be better.

—   Will has daddy issues and a tragic backstory! Why am I not surprised? That’s just such a cheap way to gain sympathy. Sorry, Sorkin; it’s blatantly manipulative.

—   The therapist IS David Krumholtz! Pretty pretty Jew boy. Love the curls. (That’s been bugging me the whole episode; I’ve never seen him in a serious role so I wasn’t sure it was him.) Wonder if he’s also supposed to be cleaning for Passover right now 😛

—   Don sees Jim and Maggie laughing. Jealous Don Alert!

—   And Mackenzie just discovered that Will almost took a job in LA, which she thinks means he was going to ditch her, so she’s yelling at him. I bet he was going to propose, and I bet he’s still got the ring to prove it.

—   Yup, there it is. Naturally he keeps it in the office instead of at home, because that would make SENSE.

—   Oh, he was lying about the ring. He just got it to screw with Mac. Figures.

—   The spokesperson who talked to Sloan off the record just lost his job. Could have seen that coming.

—   Sloan rejects Mac’s offer to help. Which is smart, because I don’t think we’ve ever actually seen Mac solve a single problem.

—   This interview with Sutton Wall is the most compelling scene in the entire series so far, because for once, the people who disagree with Will aren’t being portrayed as evil or stupid — Wall (a fictional black, gay, former deputy chief of staff to the widely renowned homophobic senator Rick Santorum, inspired by the real-life Robert Traynham) gets to stand up for himself and make a nuanced, passionate argument that is contrary to Will’s. This is a lot more like West Wing Sorkin than Newsroom Sorkin.

—   Will acknowledges that he bullied Wall. And this is obviously what’s causing him to lose sleep.

—   Don asks Sloan of all people if Maggie’s interested in Jim?? Sloan and Maggie barely interact! Also, that’s a continuity fail, because I’m pretty sure most of Don’s actions in the series so far have been motivated by the fact that he already figured out that Maggie’s interested in Jim.

—   They can fix the whole Sloan mess if she goes on the air and lies about what happened. Moral of the story: It’s never okay to lie to the public, except when it is.

—   Ha, the insomnia was actually caused by the bacon sandwiches Will eats before bed. Therapist tricked him into opening up. Not sure that’s legal, but this is TV therapy.

 

 

Final Thoughts:

The gimmicky flashback nature of the episode was weird at first, but I got used to it, though I think maybe it should have started with Will in the therapist’s office or waiting room, so that it would be obvious we were entering in the middle of the story and that when the death threat was revealed, it wouldn’t seem so jarring and make me feel like I should rewind and see if I’d missed something.

The jokes in this show by and large still fail to make me laugh. But I enjoyed David Krumholtz as the therapist, and I’m glad to see that IMDB shows that he’ll be in more episodes.

Overall, this episode was very focused on Will and is essentially a character study about what he likes, dislikes, and what gets under his skin and why. I suppose it’s not bad as far as character studies go, but I’m sure I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more if I actually liked Will to start with and so this wouldn’t feel like a last-ditch attempt to get me to like him. (He’s tortured! He’s conflicted! Love him!) I can’t think of a single character on the show that I like enough to hear all about their psychological demons. None of them interest me enough.

 

Rating: 3/5