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“The Russian Doll” is the story of Jewish historical past

I’ve been obsessive about the Netflix collection, “The Russian Doll.”

It’s greater than an odd comedy-drama collection. It’s truly a metaphor for the Jewish expertise.

“The Russian Doll” is a collection a couple of younger lady, Nadia Vulvokov, a software program engineer (performed by Natasha Lyonne, who grew up Orthodox — first, in Nice Neck, NY after which in Israel), who has a bizarre behavior. She retains on dying, and coming again to life within the toilet of the venue by which she has been celebrating her thirty sixth birthday celebration.

To date, no spoilers.

And, additionally to this point, fairly Jewish. There may be Natasha Lyonne herself. The quantity 36, as in her birthday, as in double chai – 18 x 2, life instances two.

Add to the combination: that celebration venue simply occurs to be the previous web site of a yeshiva. As i perceive it, the Jewish stuff will get even deeper and extra advanced in Season 2.

“The Russian Doll” jogs my memory of the 1993 film, “Groundhog Day.” The theme is analogous: Phil Connors (Invoice Murray) retains waking up on the identical day — Groundhog Day — within the location of the official Groundhog Day festivities in western Pennsylvania. He’s trapped in an infinite time loop, a model of the mythic everlasting return — besides, he doesn’t die in between his awakenings. He simply goes to sleep. He will get the cling of it, although. He realizes that he can use his fixed re-awakenings as alternatives to be taught.

It additionally calls to thoughts Dara Horn’s novel Eternal Life. That is the story of Rachel — a girl who, for the previous two thousand years, has been unable to die. She would really like nothing higher than to be liberated from the shackles of, effectively, everlasting life, however it merely hasn’t turned out that method.

It additionally calls to thoughts the prophet Elijah, who by no means dies within the Bible, and who retains on making visitor appearances — on the finish of Shabbat at havdalah; on the finish of the Passover Seder; and on the brit ceremony. He can not die, both; on the very least, God is utilizing him for sacred missions.

Which additionally calls to thoughts the phrase that seems within the Torah blessing: v’chayei olam nata b’tocheinu. God implants everlasting life inside us. I’ve by no means believed that which means that the one that engages in Torah lives perpetually — at the least, not bodily. I’ve all the time imagined that it implies that one’s acts of research — certainly, all the sacred acts that we do — one way or the other stay past us.

It’s not that Nadia in “The Russian Doll” lives perpetually. It’s that she consistently dies, after which is instantly resurrected.

How is that this a metaphor for the Jewish expertise?

Jewish historical past is crammed with “close to loss of life” moments for the Jewish folks — from which they all the time escape, and which make them stronger and extra artistic.

  • That scene on the Pink Sea. The Israelites stroll into the ocean, with the Egyptian military in scorching pursuit. They “die” as a slave folks. They expertise the waters because the purifying waters of a mikveh, waters that paradoxically symbolize each loss of life and re-birth. The Jewish folks may have died; as an alternative, it was re-born.
  • The destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, by the Romans. No extra sacred area. No extra sacrificial choices. The traditional sages created a brand new method of devotion round prayer, Torah research, and mitzvot. No extra altar? The desk in our properties, upon which we dine and carry out rituals, turns into the brand new altar. Judaism may have died; as an alternative, it was re-born.
  • The expulsion from Spain, 1492. The Jews of Spain and Portugal go into exile. They carry with them their traditions and even their traumas. Inside a technology, Sephardic tradition offers delivery to Baruch Spinoza in Amsterdam, and kabbalah in Safed. Their Judaism may have died; as an alternative, it was re-born.
  • The pogroms in Ukraine, 1648. This was the most important lack of Jewish life till the Shoah. Out of that horror comes a couple of messianic actions, and finally, Hasidism. Paralyzed by loss of life, Jap European Judaism may have died; as an alternative, it was re-born.
  • The Enlightenment and Emancipation, 1800s. The previous superstitions now not make sense? We’re now not dwelling behind ghetto partitions? We re-think what it means to stay in covenant. Judaism may have died; as an alternative, it was reborn.
  • The Shoah, 1945. European Jewry and Judaism is in ashes. Like the brand new twigs that burst forth from the forest flooring after a forest hearth, there may be new Jewish life — in Europe, Israel, and the US. Survivors went on to assemble new lives — and in all too many circumstances, new households. Judaism and the Jewish folks may have died; as an alternative, they have been re-born.

For a lot of, these close to loss of life experiences created what the historian Salo Baron referred to as the “lachrymose view of Jewish historical past.”

This was the view that the fashionable Jewish thinker, Simon Rawidowicz, lamented:

There was hardly a technology within the Diaspora that didn’t think about itself the ultimate hyperlink in Israel’s chain. Every all the time noticed earlier than it the abyss able to swallow it up. There was scarcely a technology that whereas toiling, falling, and rising, once more being uprooted and hanging new roots, was not crammed with the deepest anxiousness lest it’s fated to face on the grave of the nation…

Not unintentionally: these phrases come from an essay with the title: “Israel: The ever-dying folks.”

Sure, however:

A nation dying for hundreds of years means a dwelling nation. Our incessant dying means uninterrupted dwelling, rising, standing up, starting anew. We, the final Jews! Sure, in lots of respects it appears to us as if we’re the final hyperlinks in a selected chain of custom and growth. But when we’re the final—allow us to be the final as our fathers and forefathers have been. Allow us to put together the bottom for the final Jews who will come after us, and for the final Jews who will rise after them, and so forth till the tip of days. If it has been decreed for Israel that it go on being a dying nation—let it’s a nation that’s consistently dying, which is to say: incessantly dwelling and creating..

Nadia, the ever-dying but by no means dying Jewish lady, is an avatar of the ever-dying, but by no means dying Jewish folks.

After all, it must be Natasha Lyonne who performs Nadia. She jokes that her household consists of “my father’s facet, Flatbush, and my mom’s facet, Auschwitz.”

A snarky quip, however one which conceals historic fact.

Natasha’s mom was born in Paris to Hungarian-Jewish dad and mom who have been survivors of the Holocaust.

She, too, represents Jewish historical past — and even an Orthodoxy as soon as consigned to the ash bin of historical past, however which itself has turn out to be reborn.

Our tales are themselves Russian dolls — small tales that nest themselves inside bigger tales.

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