Last night, many in our community celebrated Rabbi Joey Wolf's retirement after 30 years at Havurah Shalom. Rabbi Joey is a brilliant and caring man who always said what was on his mind with commitment and humor.
One thing I truly admire about Rabbi Joey is his steadfast belief in justice. He fights for those issues of most importance to him and ACTS upon it. As my grandmother would say, "There are talkers and there are doers. Be a doer for what you believe is right, whether others agree or not." Rabbi Joe exemplified that.
Rabbi Joey, thank you for what you have done for Jewish Portland these past 30 years and beyond.
Speaking of thirty years ago, on April 19, 1987, Fox Television aired the first of several animated shorts featuring a dysfunctional family called The Simpsons. Bart, Homer, Lisa, Marge and Maggie Simpson made their debut on The Tracey Ullman Show, and in December 1989 the “official” Simpsons TV show began. Now, more than 600 episodes later, the family is going strong and no one has aged one bit. And who would have guessed it would play an important role in sharing “Jewish life” with its viewers.
First, the show has its local roots. As you know, the show is set in Springfield, which creator, Matt Groening, later shared was named after Springfield, Oregon. Groening said, “The only reason is that when I was a kid, the TV show Father Knows Besttook place in the town of Springfield, and I was thrilled because I imagined that it was the town next to Portland, my hometown. When I grew up, I realized it was just a fictitious name."
The Simpsons is one of the “most Jewish” shows on television (I am currently quite partial to The Goldbergs). As Mark Pinsky, former religion writer for the Orlando Sentinel, wrote, “The award-winning cartoon sitcom is one of the Jews’ best friends. For millions in North America and globally who have never actually met a Jew, The Simpsons has showcased us in a knowing, sympathetic, yet realistic way. The series has portrayed numerous important aspects of modern (and ancient) Jewish life in brilliant 23-minute bites. If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons, they — and we — would be well served.”
Springfield is arguably a modern American version of Chelm, Yiddish folklore’s fabled town of nitwits. Beyond all the crazy characters, its two leading Jews are Krusty the Clown, a children’s TV host, and his estranged father, Rabbi Krustofski (who died last season). The town has a Jewish “Walk of Fame,” featuring Sandy Koufax, Joan Rivers, Albert Einstein and Lorne Michaels. Plus, the local synagogue has the unlikely name of Temple Beth Springfield.
Springfield also has its share of clueless gentiles, beginning with Protestant minister, Reverend Lovejoy, who keeps the local rabbi's contact information in a separate “non-Christian Rolodex,” and an elementary school principal who thinks Yom Kippur is a made-up holiday. On the High Holy Days, the marquee of Lovejoy’s neighboring church reads: “No Synagogue Parking.” And who could forget when Bart visited New York and mistakenly identified three bearded rabbis for the Texas rock group ZZ Top.
Pinsky writes about two classic episodes featuring Rabbi Krustofski. In “Like Father, Like Clown” and “Today I am a Clown,” the writers portray the full spectrum of Jewish assimilation in America, as well as the ongoing tension between tradition and modernity. The Simpson children use sometimes obscure references from Talmudic and Hasidic lore to engineer father-son reconciliation. Many of the episodes have been used in Hebrew school and Jewish youth group settings.
The Jewish content of The Simpsons inspired Brian Rosman, a health policy researcher at a Brandeis University to write: “The Simpsons does the funniest, most authentic parodies of Jewish life among all the comedy shows on TV, certainly compared to shows that are considered more ‘Jewish.” The Simpsons demonstrates a more intuitive understanding of American Jewish history, Jewish religion and culture, and Judaism’s place among all the other varieties of belief and identity in America.” Happy 30th birthday and mazel tov to The Simpsons!
There are several important upcoming events in our community that the Jewish Federation is proud to support.
• This Sunday evening marks the beginning of Yom HaShoah, a time when people around the world remember the six million Jews and millions of others who perished in the Holocaust. As Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel stated, “Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims.”
The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, in coordination with the Oregon Board of Rabbis and others, are hosting a series of programs to commemorate those who perished. I hope you will come…listen…learn…and most importantly, remember.
This is also a time that we pay tribute to – and celebrate – the survivors of the Holocaust. They witnessed and endured the worst of inhumanity, but somehow found, in the depths of their own humanity, the courage to go on, to rebuild their lives as they helped build our communities.
Together with them we must remember – and pledge – that never again will we be indifferent to incitement and hate; never again will we be silent in the face of evil; never again will we indulge racism and anti-Semitism; never again will we ignore the plight of the vulnerable; and never again will we be apathetic in the face of mass atrocity and impunity.
• Lesley Sachs, Executive Director of Women of the Wall, will be speaking at Congregation Beth Israel on Wednesday, April 26 at 7:00 p.m.
• Commemorate Yom HaZikaron, a day to remember those who lost their lives in the struggle that led to the establishment of the State of Israel and for all military personnel who were killed while on active duty in Israel’s armed forces, on April 30 at 8:00 p.m. at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center.
• Our community Yom HaAtazmaut celebration will take place on May 1 from 5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center. Come out and celebrate Israel’s Independence Day.
• Dr.Kenneth Waltzer, Executive Director of the Academic Engagement Network, will be speaking on May 3 at 7:00 p.m. at Congregation Neveh Shalom about the anti-Israel BDS movement and the college campus.