Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Year. New Start. New You.

So...I don't know if any of you had the chance to see this past Sunday night's episode of the Fox animated comedy "Family Guy." (I've never really seen the show, but it made it on to my radar screen a few weeks ago, when I heard that it had been nominated for a Best Comedy Emmy. Although it didn't win the award, lots of people are all abuzz - because even "The Simpsons" - still going strong after more than twenty years on TV - has never been nominated!)

At any rate, the title of this past week's episode was "Family Goy" and dealt with all different aspects of Judaism and Jewish identity. We'll get to that in a second. To begin with, consider putting off your work (or homework) for a little while, and watching the 21 minute episode, below. Disclaimer: yes, there are all sorts of offensive and terribly inappropriate things here. We're talking sex stuff, gender stuff, and just for good measure: it's pretty religiously offensive (to Judaism and other religions). For your viewing enjoyment, I've cued the video past the first seven minutes of the Kathy Ireland bit. Unfortunately, that means that the video opens with a joke about breast cancer. (Who makes jokes about breast cancer?!)

If you can get past the offensiveness, there are actually some really funny moments here. And there's tons of food for thought.

Say what you will, if this isn't really your kind of humor...but you've got to give the show credit for being richly infused with Jewish cultural references and associations - even when they're used crudely, they're astounding. For example, the piece where Peter leans out the window, without a shirt on, with a rifle, to try to shoot his Jewish wife Lois (!!!) on the street is an obvious reference to the horrifying scene in "Schindler's List" where Ralph Fiennes shoots Jews randomly for sport. The joke (if you can call it that) starkly reminds us that for anti-Semites, Jews are just objectified as objects of hate.

(By the way, in case you missed it, another excellent Holocaust-themed movie starring Fiennes was "The Reader.") Anyway..back to Family Guy..errr...Goy.

The most poignant moment in the episode (for me) comes when Lois' mom realizes that her husband has unwittingly convinced her to repress her Jewish identity for decades. Lois, then, comes to believe that Peter (apparently a lapsed Catholic) was doing the same to her (even though she just finds out that she's Jewish in this episode).

There's something to this: to what extent do we allow the other people in our lives to 'repress' (maybe that's too harsh of a word) who we really are?

We all know about the incredible pressure that our friends, peers, family members, etc. put on us to conform. To what extent do we bend to those pressures? This stuff comes up when we struggle with:

And of course, it comes up when we struggle with the nature of our Jewishness.

Lois proudly declares to Peter that she isn't going to let him repress her Jewish side. It's a powerful moment: in an instant she teaches us what it means to have the courage to be ourselves, regardless of the social repercussions.

This weekend, Jews around the world will be marking the holiday of Simchat Torah. (To learn more about it, click here.) On Simchat Torah, we end our reading of the Torah...and then we start at the beginning all over again!

The content of the Torah (our story and history) doesn't change. And yet: we experience that story anew each and every time we encounter it, AS IF IT WERE THE FIRST TIME.

That image of rewinding the story...of giving the story a "do-over" if you an incredible image for us to keep in mind as we embark on the journeys that will take us forward into the new year. maybe Peter and Lois are the WORST role models that ever existed....but this episode of "Family Guy" does teach us about the value of standing up and courageously claiming the freedom to be ourselves: the kind of individuals, friends, and Jews that we all dream to be in the year ahead.

Chag Sameach.

PS: The Jesus character at the end of the episode was wrong: the Last Supper wasn't a Passover Seder! The reference to the seder, and to Peter's mistaken claim (when he put Lois on the cross!) that the Jews killed Jesus are really not laughing matters. Take the time to learn more by reading this.

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