Judaism

Yom Kippur, Judaism, and Me - "No. It's the holiest day of the year." - Transparent

As a not especially religious Jew, I know I don't have to fast on Yom Kippur. Except I know that it is absolutely the right thing for me to do.

Let's keep in mind that I am really not observant. I didn't go to services today, yesterday, or on Rosh Hashanah, or on any of the Days of Awe in between. Or frankly any at all for the past several years. I think nothing of working on Shabbat. I barely celebrate most holidays. Honestly, even though today is both Shabbat AND Yom Kippur, making it especially holy, I'm still going to an audition this afternoon.

But for whatever reason, it's still deeply meaningful to me that I am Jewish. And Yom Kippur along with Rosh Hashanah are the most important holidays of them all. So I ate apples and honey last week, and today I am fasting until 7:39pm and thinking about what it is I have to atone for.

To be honest, I'm not sure about most of my atonement. I'm sure I've hurt people in the past year because we all do. Humans mess up sometimes. But, like, everyone else, it's always unintentional, so if someone doesn't tell me that I hurt them, I probably don't know that I did.

I could do the thing that some of my Jewish friends do where they make a Facebook status asking people they've hurt to come forward and tell them so they can apologize. But that always seems like such a bullshit, empty gesture to me. Why would anyone ever come forward with an old grievance? Assuming we're all mature adults, the wronged party should've already moved on by now. And it passes off all the work of atonement on to the people they've already hurt. That's not what it's supposed to be about.

Fasting reminds me that atonement isn't about apologizing for individual sins. Obviously, when I do think of specific people I've hurt, or specific things I've done, I want to do what has to be done to make it right. And if someone does want to come to me and tell me how I've hurt them, I hope they feel free to do so. But the lessons of atonement are about realizing what problematic behaviors we employ, and how to change ourselves so we don't continue to do them in the future. It's about constant personal improvement so we are worthy of being sealed in the Book of Life for another year.

I know that I can be judgmental. I know that I can be selfish and greedy. I know that I am willing to flat out use people sometimes to get what I want. I know that I am deeply impatient. I know that it is difficult for me to let things go, even when it's harmful to me to keep holding on to them. These are the things that I'm thinking about today while atoning. And over the course of 5778, I'm going to work on making myself better in each of these areas. I still won't be perfect. I'm still human. But the whole point is that I'm aware and I'm trying. It's all any person or any god could ask.

Finally, I'm not eating today by choice. But it's not an option for people in Puerto Rico. I'm sure you're all aware and doing what you can for hurricane relief, but if you can, please give. And give again. This is a pretty good charity through which to do it: https://hispanicfederation.org/donate

Death, Grief, and Community

A friend of mine died this week. And I'm really struggling with what to say about it.

It's not the first time I've experienced the death of a peer/someone my own age. And I didn't know him especially well; we worked together at the New York Film Festival, and I liked him a lot as a person, but it's not like I had known him from childhood. But his passing makes me very sad, and I don't know what to do with this grief.

There are two things I'm primarily thinking about. One is the impostor syndrome, and how I keep feeling like I don't deserve to feel this way about his passing, even though I intellectually know that's absolute bullshit. The other is how beautiful the community that comes together after a senseless death like this can be.

That first point, where I'm concerned about how worthy I am to be concerned, is pretty self-involved, I know. Not only am I entitled to my feelings, but I did know him, I was touched by his presence, and I feel his absence in my life. I know that there are other people who feel it much more strongly, and I'm doing my best to be there for them without overwhelming them with my own desire to help or intruding on their private spaces. But it's a sad thing that happened, and I am allowed to feel sad and share that sadness. And I am allowed to think about how that sadness and his absence affect me.

In the nerdiest possible way, my thoughts on that particular topic keep coming back to this scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation:

I intellectually get all of that. But I almost didn't go to the memorial service yesterday because I was worried that I didn't deserve to be there with people who knew him better and loved him more than I did. Ridiculous, of course. And I did go, and not only am I glad that I did, but I saw that the room was absolutely packed with people who had cared about him, and his family was comforted by how many people care.

There were so many people there. I already knew that he's a wonderful, kind, considerate person, but in the auditorium where the service was being held, not only was every chair filled, but all of the extra chairs that had been put out were also filled, and there were people lining the walkways so standing room was also filled. When people joke in that only-half-joking way about wanting to fake their own death to see how many people come to their funeral, this service was exactly what they want to happen. This community was huge.

I couldn't possibly speak for everyone there, but I know that I took comfort from how many of us were there feeling sad together. It absolutely sucked that we were there, but at least we all felt shitty together.

There isn't any kind of lesson to be learned from this. I don't believe that peoples' deaths and the things that we do after them are there to ~guide me on my path~ or anything. (Even I'm not that self-involved.) But this is my experience surrounding it, and I wanted to get it down in writing.

I want to end this by saying a little bit about him. His name is Noah Witke. He was 25. He was a liaison for the Film Society at Lincoln Center, and I knew him from his work with the theater team volunteers at the New York Film Festival. He was one of the friendliest staff members. Not to say that anyone who is a staff member for NYFF isn't friendly, but he's the kind of guy who, no matter how busy he was, would make time to stop by you as you're working, ask how you're doing, and really mean the question. He would remember people. He graduated from Julliard in drama, which is just ridiculously impressive. (For those of you who don't know, Julliard only accepts 18 people every year.) He was intensely curious about the world. When I was on shift at NYFF at the end of Yom Kippur, he's the staff member who was there as I left to go get food, and when I told him where I was going and why, he got super into the mini discussion we had about the holiday, and Judaism, and what it means for us before I ran off to actually eat. And then later that evening, he asked me what I had gotten, and got legitimately excited by the fact that I, too, was the kind of person who would get a pint of ice cream just because I could. He was caring, full of life and joy, and there are few people who deserved this less than him. People are sharing photos and stories of him here, and I think these stories capture who he was as a person better than a description ever could.

Anyway. I'm not sure what else to say. But I'm going to miss him. And this sucks.

Fasting on Yom Kippur - "It's the holiest day of the year." - Sarah Pfefferman, Transparent

This past week was Yom Kippur. It's the Jewish day of atonement, and the end of the Days of Awe. That's that week in between Rosh Hashanah, our new year, and Yom Kippur, when the Book of Life is open. We're supposed to think about the people we've hurt over the past year so we can atone for it, and then our names will be written into the Book of Life for the next year to come, and it is closed and finalized at the end of Yom Kippur. And while most of this time is generally joyous, celebrating the sweetness of life and the excitement of a new year, we're supposed to fast on Yom Kippur itself, to reflect on who we are and what we've done.

I'm a pretty bad Jew. I've never fasted on Yom Kippur. At least not before this year.

Honestly, I'm not sure I could tell you exactly why I chose to fast this time. It's not like anything in particular happened to make me understand that fasting would actually have meaning for me this time around. I've been connecting more and more to my Judaism and my faith/spirituality, but that's been an ongoing process for a couple of years now, I didn't start fasting when I started that. It was just a few days before Yom Kippur, and I realized that I was going to do it.

(Thank god I managed to give away my shift at my day job. Sure, it's about denying yourself the pleasure of food to think about what you've done, but I don't think whatever higher power there is meant for us to do that while working in a restaurant.)

I went about my day almost as normal. I slept in way later than I normally would, but I still volunteered at the New York Film Festival that evening, and I didn't go to services or anything. That didn't stop me from reflecting pretty much all day, though. And there were two things I was particularly thinking about.

One is that I never realized just how much my schedule and my life revolves around food. Not just my day job, but when I started to plan my day and I had to deliberately leave out a lunch break. Or when I thought I might be early to the NYFF, so I figured "I'll head down there, and if I'm too early, I'll just stop by Starbucks" before I remembered "no, I won't." When I started to run low on energy and I figured I'd just get a snack. And then at the festival, realizing that I would have to decide at 6pm between seeing a movie and breaking the fast. (Good thing for me that 6pm movie was also showing the next day at 9pm, so I just saw it then! Before I found that out, I was really, legitimately struggling with the decision.)

But more importantly, I was thinking about the people I've hurt and disrespected. And I realized that I haven't hurt that many other people. In fact, I go way out of my way to make sure I don't hurt others, and everybody likes me. I'm sure there are people I've hurt that I don't realize, but I'm also sure that they all know me and they know I didn't mean to hurt them.

The person I have disrespected is myself. Yes, I know, that's pretty self-serving for a holiday about atonement towards others, but by going so far out of my way to make sure the people around me are happy, I've put my own self at less of a priority. As if I'm not as important as my peers. I'm happy to help my friends where I can, but I also have to start looking out for myself more. I have to start demanding the things that I want, because if I don't, I'm not going to get them. And that's probably going to make me come off as a bit of a "bitch." But I have to stop caring about that, too. Besides, like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have said, bitches get stuff done. And I have a lot of stuff to do.

I have lost out on too many things that I've wanted this year so the people around me could like me more and I would hurt them less.

I then broke the fast by going to Indie Food and Wine in Lincoln Center, getting a soup, two sandwiches, as well as popcorn and lemonade from the concessions stand at the Walter Reade theater... and then I went to Gourmet Garage, bought a pint of Ben and Jerry's, and split it with a couple of other NYFF volunteers. Because it's also possible to get what I want AND make the people around me happy.

Is all of this the point of Yom Kippur? I don't know. Probs not. But it's the spiritual experience that I had, so it's valid, too.

Socrates Is Full Of It, But I'm Looking At My Life Anyway - "The unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates

I've been thinking a lot about life outside of being an actor.

I've read several advice columns, all within the past couple of weeks, that have talked about how their favorite actors all have hobbies and other things that they do on a regular basis that have nothing to do with the entertainment industry. And that totally makes sense. Any actor who is only an actor is pretty one note, and therefore incapable of giving an interesting, nuanced performance of anyone who isn't an actor.

And I know I have a life outside of being an actor. I enjoy reading, for instance. (Lately I've been reading a lot of plays I was supposed to have read for classes throughout high school and college, and motivational books that I've been using to help direct my career, but I've also read Stephen Hawking and parts of the Torah for fun.) My second favorite thing ever is traveling and seeing as much of the world as I can - I've been to over a dozen countries. And I have been a real fan of the New York Yankees for as long as I've been old enough to understand sports.

But sometimes I still doubt myself, since I incorporate those things into my acting career, and wonder if that's really the point of me having these hobbies. Do I know how to sew and then list it as a skill on my resume? Or do I know how to sew so I can list it as a skill on my resume? Am I actually only studying history so I can find a good story to make into a film? Does it matter? Is this how it's supposed to work in the first place?

And what about when it works in reverse? I started taking up yoga so I could be fitter and look better as an actress, but I really enjoy it on its own merits. Does something I enjoy gain or lose value for how or why I enjoy it?

This may be a little bit of a BS blog post, because I absolutely do not have an answer to any of this. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it to help me figure my own out! (I swear I actually mean that, I'm not just saying it.)

Gosh, I just realized that I could have been using this post to sort out my own thoughts on hobbies to be used for a short or a one act. Which would just make this the most disingenuous thing ever. Oops. My bad.

Actor Spirituality - "No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and eternity." - Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

So I've got this gig at the US Open, which is pretty cool.

I'm doing brand ambassador work there, which is a pretty sweet gig. But for the company I'm helping to promote, there are two groups doing the work that needs to get done. There's the marketing agency through which I got this gig. And then there's this group called Team Challenge. They're all lovely, sweet human beings, and it wasn't until a few days into working there that I found out that everyone from Team Challenge works 12-15 hour shifts, and they do it on a volunteer basis. And there's an excellent reason for it: They're all ex felons and drug addicts, and this is part of their rehab.

And I think that's incredible. Everyone who is going through that program is caring and wonderful and really wants to make their lives better. They tell people about the group when they can, and they always emphasize how it saved their lives.

There's just one thing about them that threw me when I first found out about it. It's a Christian program. Which is, like, whatever, people can have whatever religion they want. And especially for a rehab program which needs the faith in a higher power thing, Christianity is a pretty obvious way to go, especially in America. So, you know, cool.

But it got me thinking about my own religion and spirituality. And I kind of have two. One is my Judaism. I come from a religiously-agnostic-bordering-on-atheist-but-culturally-Jewish family, and I mostly go along with that? Kind of? But I also take it one step further. Because I also have what I call the "actors religion" or "actor spirituality."

It's the belief in some kind of higher power that helps guide us all, but no one really knows what it is. It's just the belief that there is something to the universe that is greater than we are. And maybe it's the collection of all of our spirits, or maybe it's just the energy of the universe, or maybe it's something else entirely.

If you've ever read books written by Paulo Coelho, particularly The Alchemist, you understand what it is I'm talking about.

It also feels a little weird to have that kind of spirituality here in New York. LA actors are famous for it, for believing that "if it's meant to be, it will come to pass" and when someone gets their break then it was "their time" and everyone else around them will have their own time soon if they just keep working hard and believing in it. In New York, the exact same events are described as "dumb luck."

It also feels weird because I also 100% believe in science. I take the scientific explanations for things as fact, fully understanding that these explanations can change as we discover stuff in the world around us... but also knowing that the things we accept as true today come from logic and evidence.

But I still have that religious/spiritual side to me. It's comforting to believe that I'm not going through life alone. That I'm connected to other people and/or the universe around me. It's also nice because it doesn't have that many hard and fast rules beyond "don't be an asshole," which has fit in very nicely with my belief that, if there is a god, he/she/it/they won't stop me from going to heaven just because I chose to do things with my life and enjoy the world he/she/it/they created instead of going to to a building and praying to him/her/it/them once a week.

Such a lack of structure probably wouldn't work for someone in rehab. And for people who do need or even just like organized religion, then that's totally fine and great. Organized religion has done some incredible things throughout human history.

But I just wanted to bring up the idea of the actor's spirituality. Because I think that unorganized religion is kind of cool, too.

Microblogging - "Brevity is the soul of wit." - Oscar Wilde

I read an article on Backstage about how actors should be "microblogging." The idea is that I would be posting a whole bunch of two or three sentence blogs about the things that I'm doing, with links to their websites. Posts like...

Come see me this weekend at Columbia University's BET Ensemble showcase "HEAR ME!: 10 Minute Play Festival Featuring the Columbia/Barnard Poetry Slam Team"! Tickets are on sale for Friday and Saturday. Hope to see you there!

(Fun fact: You should come see me this weekend at Columbia University's BET Ensemble Showcase "! Tickets are on sale for Friday and Saturday. I hope I'll see you there!)

(Fun fact number 2: I'm definitely going to do a microblog post of exactly that after I've finished writing this post, in case someone comes over but doesn't want to read this much longer post. So if you see it twice, you're not crazy. It's just that I am.)

The argument for more "micro" blog posts is that they're good for people who just want a quick update of what I'm up to, I can post more of them without looking obnoxious for throwing blog post content at everyone all of the time, they're good for people who aren't willing to read my longer essays about the industry or analyses things, and they help increase my search engine optimization (SEO) so this website is the first thing that comes up when someone searches my name. (Fun fact number 3: When I first created this website, if you searched my name, you had to scroll through several pages of Google results before it would come up.)

But for all of those very rational and legitimate reasons to microblog, it hurts my Creative Writing major's heart. There's no art to microblogging! I like writing longer posts because it can show more of who I am as a person, I can actually use my writing style and training, and it's just more personal - longer blog posts are not something a machine could churn out, but anything can post a link and type "check it out!"

So I'm going to ignore the people who say that you can't have it all in this as well as the rest of my life, and I'm just going to do both kinds of blogs. Because as helpful as microblogs can clearly be, I fail to see what the point of having a blog is if I can't passionately express my love for all kinds of media on it every so often.

Alternatively phrased: I fail to see what the point of having a blog is if I can't find myself incoherent and start writing anyway.

Finally, on a totally unrelated note, happy Purim! In light of that...

Recipe of the Week: Lazy Hamentaschen

Fun Fact (number 4, I guess): For all that it is a specifically Jewish holiday coming from one of our holy books, God's name is not mentioned once in the Book of Esther. (Source)