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By Jordan Hiller




 


When Do We Eat? (2006)  

Once again I find myself enjoying a movie way more than I should because it tugs on my heart strings by reaching for my tzi-tzis. The influx of orthodox Jewish entertainment (from Ushpizin to Matisyahu) over the past few years has taken advantage of my objectivity by playing into my sentimentality. When Do We Eat?, a way over the top Pesach comedy about a family coming together on Seder night that really has no business coming together for anything, is such a movie. The cast is mainly Jewish and they all dig into their roles and deliver some stirring work despite the overall characterizations not being credible. Without going into it much – The father sells Christmas ornaments, the mother makes out with the Israeli carpenter, grandpa is a survivor, one kid is on drugs, one kid fakes retardation, one daughter has sex for a living, and the other is a lesbian dating a black woman – oh yeah, and the other son is a Chabadnik ba’al teshuvah. It’s just a bit much. While the script is jam packed with genuine frum insight, the relatively amateur story-telling will have those in the know scrutinizing every halachic gaffe (the mother (excellent, beautiful Lesley Ann Warren), to appease her frum son, serves roast lamb at the Seder…and he eats it!). However, even with all the strange impractical goings on, as with all in this recent string of popular entertainment culled from authentic orthodoxy, there are moments of sheer breathtaking joy that elevate the spirit of a Jew by speaking to their core.

Bangitout's Jordan Hiller spoke with writer/director Salvador Litvak and actress Lesley Ann Warren.

BIO: Salvador, I hear you are a Jewtino, what was it like being Jewish in Chile?

SL: I left when I was five years old so I don’t know that much about it but I still have family there. It’s a small Jewish community called La Colonia, there are more in Santiago and about 50,000 Jews in Buenos Aires (Argentina) where my wife’s family is from. That’s a good question because that’s where my dad grew up and my grandfather. In a place like that you’re not openly Jewish. You can’t wear a yarmulke. You don’t talk abut being Jewish.

Was it orthodox at all?

No, not at all. I grew up in this country in a big conservative shul. I hated it. I wasn’t happy with it partly because my dad wasn’t happy with it.

He said you just do this because I had to do this. There was no simcha to it. I kind of found my own way back. Its great to be in a country where you can be open about being Jewish….and do it in a comedy.

I also read Kabbala got you into Judaism…and not the “red string kind” either?

I came back first. I was always spiritual….I just didn’t know that Judaism was spiritual. Such bad Jewish education. For me I looked for it everywhere else. I looked at Buddhism, mediation, Grateful Dead shows…different types of spirituality. Actually it was my wife that said - Why don’t you try Judaism. My first stop was in L.A. at a big conservative temple. That’s where I went and that day I was just in the back of the shul with tears running down my face…and the funny thing is that temple was not for me.

I ended up in Ohr Torah which is Rabbi Linder’s shul. That place fits for me. I would call my own practice reform-Chasidic. It’s like reform but everything is in Hebrew…its all Carlebach…very spiritual and joyful.

I know you have been trying to make a film for a long time, but once you started writing this one, things almost miraculously came together. Did you feel the Divine process working here?

Definitely…and not only that but let me tell you something about the movie that I’m sure you’ll be interested in. We had the idea of “dosing dad” at the Seder …it made us laugh, we thought it was funny (one element of the movie is the miserable father tripping during the Seder after his son slips a tab in his cup). We had these charters at the Seder and we had to decide who these characters were and we needed a starting point. What we did was we looked at the 13 attributes that we recite on Yom Kippur – gracious, pleasant forgiving, kindness - all the qualities we wish we had, right? What we said was each of the members of this family was missing one of these qualities. What makes a character interesting is their flaws. Originally we were gonna have two little kids at the table...low budget movie – no kids…so dad misses three qualities. So by the end of the movie everyone has made a little progress in their own yetzer hara, in their own pharaoh that they are enslaved to, their won missing attribute - making some progress in getting that. By the end of the movie the 13 attributes are present and it is a holy moment.

Lesley, I guess I didn’t do enough research for this interview, but just based on your performance, I have to assume you are Jewish and a mother because if not you pulled off the most convincing portrayal of one I have ever seen.

LAW: I’m both. I’m a mother and I have a son. I didn’t make it specifically about a Jewish mother and a Jewish son issues. I made it for myself as an actor more about a mother/son dynamic that probably goes on in many homes in many religions. The aspect of being overprotective and defending [the frum son] to the husband and the family and wanting to see the good and resisting to see the trouble that he is in and the deceit and whatever is going on with him and finally not being able to take it anymore and finally taking a stand for herself. It was more of a psychological emotional background than a Jewish background.

I was very impressed by the way you portrayed the constitution of the ba’al teshuvah. Where, although he has a major slip on the Seder night, he is not necessarily regarded as a hypocrite. Was that a conscious decision?

Very much a conscious decision. I mean when you try to take on so many mitzvos and especially to do it fast…you are holding yourself up to standard that is so challenging. What could be more human…of course you are going to slip, how could you not slip? the beauty of the tradition is that it says “and you’re gonna slip…and here’s what you do when you slip” – you get back on the horse. And Jews have to be good to Jews just like people have to be good to people. They shouldn’t call each other hypocrites just because they are trying to do something they haven’t mastered…its ridiculous.

What are your Pesach plans this year?

SL: We’re having a Seder. We’re going t be on LA. We tell people when they are at our Seder to figure out what your yetzer hara is…what your thing you want to free yourself of this year- write it down, bring it - you don’t have to tell anybody. Then we toss it in a fire before the Seder starts. So now for the rest of the Seder when you are reading the Haggadah and reading about pharaoh and how you are going to be liberated with the help of G-d…you can think about your yetzer hara.

LAW: I’ll be shooting a pilot. (Everyone at the table laughs). That’s what I’ll be doing. I’ll be shooting a pilot in Albuquerque. It’s a drama it called In Plain Sight.

Looks like you’ll have to write down something for her and burn it.


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Please send all comments to Jordan Hiller at jtrick1@aol.com

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