When I was younger, I never thought that my Jewishness would survive the hellfire of adolescence and puberty. My parents forced Judaism upon me. They made me attend worship services at synagogue, take Hebrew school classes, have a bar mitzvah and all the rest. I hated almost all of it, except for the bar mitzvah loot, of course. So, when hair sprouted from my scrotum and the teenage rebellion commenced, I tried very hard to sever ties with Judaism: I refused to attend services, declared my atheism and chose not to participate in many Jewish traditions.

But the rebellion failed. See, my rebellion against Judaism focused almost entirely on religious Judaism; I failed to account for Judaism as a culture, particularly Jewish cinema. To simplify the story, my mom was the one trying to raise me Jewish religiously, whereas my dad was the one trying to raise me Jewish cinematically. Of course, Dad didn’t think about it like that, and consequently neither did I, which was probably why his way was more effective; becoming Jewish through film was cooler, less “in-your-face” and overall more enjoyable.

By age seven, Dad had my younger brother Noah and I watching Woody Allen’s early comedies — films like “Take the Money and Run,” “Sleeper” and “Love and Death.” There was no way 7-year-old me understood the gist of what was happening in those films — plot-wise and meaning-wise — but nonetheless they shaped my development. For example, in middle school, when I was neither the most athletic nor the most confident and was struggling to figure out how to talk to girls, I fell back on what I learned from Woody Allen films — how wit, humor and intellect could be used flirtatiously. And when those tactics failed, the leftover wit and humor could be used as coping mechanisms. Humor, I would argue, is the Jewish people’s quintessential coping mechanism: With six million of our people dead, having a good sense of humor becomes all but necessary for maintaining sanity. With Hollywood on the rise, Jewish humor finds an outlet that’s popular and profitable.

In “The Gay Science,” Frederick Nietzsche famously declared that God is dead, but that His shadow would continue to flicker on our cave walls for a while before finally vanishing. Traditional forms of religion are dead too, and Judaism is no exception. Yet the shadow of religion continues to flicker on our cave walls. For me, this flickering is the flickering of images from the movie projector. I am not a religious Jew, but I am, whether I like it or not, a cultural Jew. For me, God is dead and so is religion, but in order to cope with life, I still need the culture built around the religion; and so in a sense I still need religion. While I still can, I want to bask in the flicking shadows.

Two things I learned from this introspection: Covertness is key to ideological indoctrination and enjoyment is essential to ideology. If I had noticed how enjoying Woody Allen movies was reinforcing my Jewishness, my teenage rebellion may have also included abstaining from his films. But the fact of the matter is that I still enjoy “Take the Money and Run,” “Sleeper” and “Love and Death,” and no amount of critique or analysis will change that. Likewise, the Jewishness that Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David instilled in me, and continue to instill in me, will probably never go away. When I was younger, I never thought that my Jewishness would survive the hellfire of puberty and adolescence. But, thanks to film, it did.

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