Last night the season finale of "Ray Donovan" (spoiler alert) featured a scene in which Mickey Donovan (played by Jon Voight), the clan pater familias — and a burglar, robber, swindler, torturer, escaped convict, a stone-cold killer who even pimped his teenage daughter out to a crime boss — sits on stairs next to a storefront synagogue, as men in black hats and black coats crowd in, one by one. Mick is with Smitty, his granddaughter Bridget's husband. He expounds to the younger man on the fact that those Jews are going to Yom Kippur services, that this is their Day of Atonement. And then, as only a lapsed Catholic Boston Irishman could, he describes how Jews are absolved of their sins: by confessing everything to God and repenting all. And, Mick continues, on this day Jews are written into the Book of Life, which foretells their year to come.
I had to laugh at this scene. In the nineties, when I lived in Los Angeles, about every six weeks or so I studied Torah with Yitzchok Adlerstein, a noted Orthodox rabbi. There were between four and a dozen in our class, all adults, usually all men. We met, for about a year, in the high rise offices of a Century City film production company. The company sublet a couple of rooms to Jon Voight's production company. Both a fine actor and a practicing Christian, Voight came to all of these Torah classes and sat silent at an adjacent table as Rabbi Adlerstein used rabbinical exigesis to uncover for us the hidden meanings concealed in the Torah's text.
I have no doubt that Jon Voight, were he not playing Mickey Donovan, could have done a far better job of explaining the purpose of Yom Kippur, adding that merely apologizing to God was never enough to atone for one's sins. One must first make things right with those one has harmed, offended, or hurt in some way; God only excuses our offenses against God, not against man.
But on the steps, young Smitty mumbles a prayer to God apologizing for ratting out Ray and his brothers for the murders of three cops. Then he sits back, feeling much better about himself.
Most Jews, even those who go to a synagogue only for the High Holy Days, know the Unetanah Tokef, a millenium-old prayer chanted aloud on both Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, which includes, in part, this description of God's annual judgement:
On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire,
Who by sword and who by wild beast,
Who by famine and who by thirst,
Who by earthquake and who by plague,
Who by strangulation and who by stoning,
Who shall have rest and who shall wander,
Who shall be at peace and who shall be pursued,
Who shall be at rest and who shall be tormented...
In the episode's final scene, Smitty is caught in a crossfire and lays dying in the street, clutching the flowers he bought to give Bridget.
© January 2020 Marvin J. Wolf
FROM Marvin J. Wolf
On this page are true stories, magazine articles, excerpts from books and unpublished works, short fiction, and photographs, each offering a glimpse of my life, work and times. Your comments welcome. © Marvin J. Wolf. All rights reserved.