No Rosh Hashanah for You!

Published: September 5th 2010
in Culture » Television

Narrator Ralph Benmergui blowing the shofar.
Pic: VisionTV
The Soup Nazi with restaurant owner Ami Hassan
Pic: VIsionTV

If you’ve ever wondered what kind of soup the Soup Nazi is cooking up for the High Holy Days, then look no further than Rosh Hashanah: The Day of Judgment, VisionTV’s look into the meaning of Rosh Hashanah.


 “The food was really what it meant to me,” said Larry Thomas, best known for his portrayal of the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld, about Rosh Hashanah when he was growing up. “I used to sneak into the kitchen and fill my pockets with my grandmother’s kreplach she was saving for the soup.”


He’d run upstairs to his bedroom, pull the fuzz-covered kreplach out of his pockets and gorge himself.


The hour-long program, narrated by Ralph Benmergui -- award-winning Canadian broadcaster and host of Benmergui in the Morning on Jazz.FM91 (weekday mornings from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.) -- is a substantial conversation about the deeper meaning of Rosh Hashanah.


“It’s about really exploring the idea of the ethics involved, the aspects of forgiveness,” said Benmergui, who has hosted three previous VisionTV series, including My Israel. “The introspection, all those things that make for the High Holy Days being more than an obligation but being an actual exercise.”


Thomas is interviewed alongside Ami Hassan, the Israeli owner of Winnipeg restaurant Falafel Place, with both men shouting “No falafel for you!” and speaking about what Rosh Hashanah means to them.


“My mother gets a big kick out of the fact that I played the Soup Nazi, I played Osama Bin Laden in Postal and I played a Saddam Hussein lookalike in Arrested Development. She just laughs her head off. She goes, 'Nice Jewish boy, huh? This is how I raised you?’”


In Rosh Hashanah: The Day of Judgment, we find out that the Bible only mentions the sounding of the shofar, that the holiday of Rosh Hashanah may have evolved from an annual pagan festival acknowledging a local king and the gods who supported him. The rabbis of the Talmudic era reimagined Rosh Hashanah as a major Jewish festival marking the start of the fall harvest. They linked God’s judgment to the crops and the very short season of rainfall in the Middle East.


“If your crops did well and you surived the year, well then God has smiled upon you.”


In modern times, Rosh Hashanah is associated with the very day the human race was created.


“We’re celebrating the birth of mankind,” says Rabbi Alan Green of Winnipeg’s Shaarey Zedek Synagogue at the beginning of the program. “The fact that we’re here and we can make this universe a heaven on earth and we can make the opposite of it as well.”


Green explains that Rosh Hashanah is here to remind us of our duty to repair the damage we have caused in the past year, to perform tikkun olam.


“To do everything we can to make our lives and the lives of our family and our people and all the nations of the world a peaceful and happy and heavenly one, according to the way God first dreamed of the world when he conceived of creation.”


For Benmergui, the High Holy Days are a time to reaffirm his faith. “It’s a great opportunity for me to take stock of my friendships and my relationships and the apologies I need to make for the things I have done to other people. Kind of an accounting in myself as to what has happened in the last year, how well or badly I handled it and what I can do to improve the person. To me, it’s a great moment that is given to you.”


Benmergui even successfully blew a shofar for the first time at the end of the program without practicing beforehand. Perhaps it has to do with his lifelong love of jazz.


“I have to say I was more than pleased that I could just do it, just like that,” he said. “That was a lot of fun. I think maybe the key is, the bigger the shofar the easiest it gets. I was quite happy that happened.”


Benmergui said he hopes both Jews and non-Jews watch the program.


“It’s good for Jews and non-Jews because it’s content driven and it really would help people to know what it is we’re doing when we don’t show up at work.”


Rosh Hashanah: The Day of Judgement airs on VisionTV Tuesday, September 7 at 10 p.m. ET.

Related articles: (Rosh Hashanah, Ralph Benmergui, soup nazi)
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