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How To Do Nothing, Jewishly

A step-by-step guide on how to marinate at home on Labor Day weekend

Armin Rosen
September 02, 2016
The stars of 'Broad City' know what's up. YouTube
The stars of 'Broad City' know what's up. YouTube

The summer is more or less over, and the only compensation you’re getting for an end to the season of frolic and ease is one measly day off from work. And if you live in the eastern half of America, there’s a chance that some or all of it will be ruined anyway: Hurricane Hermine is bearing down on the southeast, and there’s something like a 70% chance of rain in New York on Sunday. Summer’s gone folks, enjoy this little preview of your coming misery!

Luckily, The Scroll has generously planned a single day of your holiday weekend in. Nothing on our itinerary is too heavy—it’s all at least some somewhat Jewish, kinda, and it won’t bum you out, hopefully. And if it does, then buck up: It’ll be Pesach before you know it.

9 AM: Shachrit: Listen to Leonard Cohen’s “Songs From a Room”
Some large chunk of the morning service consists of the recitation of psalms, a sort of meditative exercise meant to focus the mind and spirit in preparation for the day ahead. Start your day in with a similar blast of Judicially-themed sublime poetry—like Leonard Cohen’s second album, which includes the Canadian songwriter’s retelling of the binding of Isaac.

10-11 AM: Watch Firefly, Season 1 Episode 12: “The Message”
We have a long day ahead of us. Why not start it out weird? This was the last episode of Firefly, Joss Whedon’s beloved space western ever filmed, and the one in which we discover the Jews will still be out there hundreds of years from now, running interstellar post offices.

The episode raises some tantalizing yet sadly unanswered questions about the particularities of Jewish practice on a remote space station: Is there a kosher slaughterhouse on board? How hard is it to wrangel a minyan? Which way’s Jerusalem? We’ll never know, but part of the genius of Firefly is that it didn’t try to explain everything all at once, and was confident in the subtle expository power of its world-building. Also, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a strange and sensorially aggressive place in New York—the former Brooklyn Night Bazaar for instance, or, I don’t know, Penn Station—and turned to my friends and been like, “Wow, this is just like the Jew planet in Firefly!” In every instance I’ve done that I’ve been met with nothing but blank stares.

11-1 PM: Watch Pa’am Hayiti (2010)
I watched this movie a few years ago on an El Al flight back to the U.S. after a brief visit to Israel, and it sticks out more vividly in my mind than the trip itself. This movie about a boy who apprentices for a matchmaker during his summer vacation in Haifa in 1968 is a heartwarming coming-of-age story that is, in some larger sense, the whole country’s coming of age story, and in no smaller sense an intimate and fun and universally relatable evocation of what it’s like to be in your early-to-mid teens. It features my favorite scene in any Israeli movie, when our hero and his firecracker American cousin (who also speaks perfect Hebrew, of course) are listening to the radio, and “Yehezkel” by the The High Windows comes on. “Finally,” she exclaims, “a good Israeli rock song!”

1-2: Mincha: Nourish thyself, and listen to Balkan Beat Box
What’s the best Jewishy sorta lunch you can jerry-rig with whatever’s in your fridge? In my case, and maybe in you’re case, it’s shakshuka. At the bare minimum, all you really need is a single onion, a can of whole tomatoes, some tomato paste, paprika, garlic, a pinch of chili powder, and somewhere between three and ten eggs, which you can either poach or just drop right into the skillet. In the time it takes you to chop, simmer, and stew, you could listen to the entirety of “Nu Med,” the Israeli group Balkan Beat Box’s gonzo bar mitzvah party mix of the damned from 2007.

This should have you dancing off the meal just in time to watch…

2-3:30: Watch Duck Soup (1933)
Not long ago, the Jewish Review of Books ran a disturbingly convincing takedown of Groucho Marx. Instead of reading it (note: you should still read it), watch the greatest of all Marx Brothers classics, a sort-of allegory for the rise of fascism in which Groucho plunges Fredonia into a pointless war and literally fights his own reflection.

3:30-3:35: Go outside and frolic in the rain
Stay out there long enough that you don’t care how soaked you are—long enough that you’re reduced to a state of childlike whimsy and freedom—until can hear your mother exhorting you to come inside and dry off already; you’ll catch your death out there.

3:40-5:10: Watch Festival Express (2003)
I’m amazed that this concert doc about a trainload of musical icons playing a traveling musical festival in Canada in 1970 isn’t better known than it is. The performances are fantastic—The Band and the Flying Burrito Brothers both kill it, and there’s a Janis Joplin “Cry Baby” that’s probably risen the dead before.

But it also has those little quirks and points of tension that separate the good concert docs from the great ones. At every stop of the way, Canadian hippies are irate that the concert promoters have the audacity to charge admission—this is the early ’70s, after all. In one scene, Jerry Garcia single-handedly quells an impending riot by playing “Friend of the Devil.” There’s amazing footage of a gaggle of musical greats being bored together on a cross-country train; at one point, they buy out the entire contents of a liquor store in Saskatoon. There’s nothing Jewish about this movie, aside from the disproportionately Jewish following that the Dead seem to have had. Come to think of it, there is something Jewish about this movie: John Bowman and the Sha-Na-Na are in it, playing “Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay.” (Astounding, true Jewish fact: Noted Bible scholar and Jewish Theological Seminary provost Alan Cooper is a former member of Sha-Na-Na.)

5:15-5:35: Watch The Simpsons, Season 9, Episode 1: “The City of New York Vs. Homer Simpson.”
This one has my favorite Jewish joke in all of The Simpsons, and I’m almost embarrassed to admit what a cheapie it is. Bart sees a group of bearded, shtreimel-clad Hasids walking down a Manhattan street. “Hey look, it’s ZZ-Top!” Bart exclaims. “You guys rock!” “Eh,” one of the chachamim mutters with a detectably Yiddishkeit lilt. “Maybe a little.”

6:40-9: Watch I’m Not There (2007)
The greatest movie ever made about the greatest Jewish musical artist of the 20th century becomes something different every time you watch it. From one angle, Todd Haynes’s re-imagining of Dylan’s life is too decadent and self-indulgent to take too seriously; from another, Haynes’s method of having seven different actors play Dylan—including Richard Gere and Kate Blanchett—is the only way to get the immensity of the man across on film. I like this movie because it’s both fun and inscrutable. I don’t know what in Gehennom is happening in this scene; all I know is my heart shoots up my throat every time I watch it.

Incidentally, I’m Not There could have totally sidestepped the tricky issue of Bob’s spiritual life, which remains one of the most controversial topics in all of Dylanology. Props to Haynes for resisting what must have been a certain urge to pretend Dylan’s Christian phase never happened, and for handling the entire thing in a dramatically coherent and non-trivializing way.

Eating leftover shakshuka while listening to Phish playing “Avinu Malkenu” will suffice:

10-10:40: The X-Files, Season 4, Episode 15: “Kaddish”
Before Inglorious Basterds, Mulder and Sculley’s golem-hunting expedition ranked as recent pop culture’s most notable engagement with Jewish revenge fantasy. I can’t remember if this episode left me satisfied or just sorta angry and confused—probably all of the above; this is The X-Files after all—but maybe give it a watch, just to find out if it’s any good, y’know?

10:40-??: Congratulations: You now have The Scroll’s permission to leave your house
Or better still, don’t leave your home. Read a book! Wow, there sure is just a dumbfounding quantity of Jewish books out there. Where to even begin with it all. Bereshit isn’t a terrible place to start, come to think of it. If you’re in a less biblical mood, crack open an Etgar Keret short story. If you’re in a mood that falls somewhere been biblical and biblical-but-not-in-the-sense-of-wanting-to-read-the-actual-Bible-right-this-very-second-biblical, might I suggest former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky’s thrilling interpretation of the life of King David, which will make you wonder what else you totally missed in Hebrew school.

Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet Magazine.