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TV Series Looks at Family Life of Secular Jew Who Married A Jew-by-Choice: The Education of Max Bickford

This fall marked the debut of an unusually intelligent and wonderfully acted TV series about a modern Jewish family: Max (Richard Dreyfuss) is a single father bringing up his pre-adolescent son Lester (Eric Ian Goldberg) and college-age daughter Nell (Katee Sackoff) on his own. Within their nuclear family they confront such current religious issues as how to accommodate religious skeptics and believers, and how observant to be.   

The show stars two Academy Award winners: Richard Dreyfuss (who won for best actor in 1977 for his role in The Goodbye Girl) and Marcia Gay Harden (who won for best supporting actress in 2001 for her role as Lee Krasner in Pollock). Dreyfuss also produces the series.

 

In addition to the religious theme, Max is a college professor, and the series realistically and amusingly portrays issues facing faculty members on college campuses today--students who are difficult in various ways, other faculty with personal problems or quirks (one of whom, Andrea Haskell, is played by Harden), administrative assistants who don't assist, and budget cuts.

Max is also a recovering alcoholic, and the series tackles his daily struggle with himself and his attempts to help others. Max has clearly gained a measure of self-awareness from his personal struggles.

In the most recent episode, Max's son Lester is approaching Bar Mitzvah (ceremony in which someone assumes the privileges and obligations of an adult Jew) age, but no Bar Mitzvah has been planned. That is because Max, the intellectual, is a skeptic when it comes to religion, and hasn't entered a synagogue since he married Lester's mother over twenty years ago.

Max's wife had converted to Judaism before she married him. The fact that she was killed by a drunk driver even though she was a believer seems to have pushed Max even further from religion. In fact, he wonders what use her faith was to her.

 

The conversion did apparently have some powerful results, however, one of which was a severing of relations between Max's wife and her parents, who never met their grandchildren.

But Lester, yearning for some connection with his deceased mother, thinks she would have wanted him to have a Bar Mitzvah and asks his father to join a synagogue so that he can have one. When Lester learns that his mother's parents are still alive, he decides to invite them to the Bar Mitzvah.

At first reluctant to affiliate or to support his son's interest in religion, Max gradually comes around.

Clearly, in future episodes the series will explore Lester's Bar Mitzvah preparation, his mother's parents, and the effects of her conversion on her family.

The series can be seen on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. on CBS. It's worth watching.

 

 

Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah." Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple."
Ronnie Friedland

Ronnie Friedland was the founding Web Magazine Editor of InterfaithFamily.

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