Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lagh ba‘Omer bonfires and HapPijamoth

Jewish date:  18 ’Iyyar 5772 (Parashath Behar).

Today’s holidays:  Day 33 of the ‘Omer/Lagh ba‘Omer (Judaism), Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of the Apostle Simon (Greek Orthodox Christianity), Feast Day of St. John Holmes (Church of the SubGenius).


Last year I somehow missed the Lagh ba‘Omer bonfires.  This year I planned ahead and captured a few pictures last night at a vacant lot near the local mall:

This activity was primarily one of children and families and included roasting marshmallows.  Bonfires also seem to be a relatively recent practice.  For more on current lore on Lagh ba‘Omer, especially inaccuracies in it, please see “Lagh Ba’Omer - A Gratuitous Holiday”.  It takes an hour to listen to the lecture, and it is in Judeo-English, but it is well-worth it.

This poster advertises a Lagh ba‘Omer parade and show this afternoon, courtesy of Ḥabbadh.  Parades are not a Lagh ba‘Omer tradition, but given that Israel is the only predominantly Jewish country on the planet, one has to expect that celebrations of Jewish holidays over here would be scaled up to a larger scale than in the Diaspora.  The man pictured on the poster and featured at the show is Gershon “Geri HambuGeri” Mandelba’um, a character from the Israeli children’s show HapPijamoth (“The Pyjamas”).  I have seen seasons 3, 4, and 5 of HapPijamoth on-line as part of my efforts to better understand spoken Modern Hebrew, and so I am going to use this opportunity to talk about the treatment of religion in HapPijamoth.

HapPijamoth belongs to the genre of “stupid shows”, not meant to be taken seriously and with most of the characters being not particularly bright.  (This is not an insult, but a statement of fact.  For example, one of the main characters, ‘Odhedh Paz, actually thinks he is pregnant in one episode, despite being unambiguously male.)  The show is named after a band, HapPijamoth (who actually wear pajamas during performances), and strongly associated with the band is Geri Mandelba’um (who runs a low-quality hamburger restaurant called HambuGeri) and his teenage daughter Roni.  HapPijamoth and Geri frequently get into trouble due to their lack of intelligence, greed, ignorance, laziness, and lack of foresight.  Roni is smarter than any of them and seems to be in the show for teenagers to identify with.

Given that this is a stupid show, no topic is treated particularly deeply, including religion.  The average episode ignores religion altogether, though it is dealt with from time to time:

  • One of HapPijamoth, Qobbi Faraj, has a superhero-level ability to change his appearance.  (If they ever explain this, it is not in an episode I have seen.)  One of Qobbi’s alter-egos is Sabbabah Sa’li, apparently a parody of the Qabbalist Baba Sali.  This quasi-character’s speech is very difficult to understand, and I do not mean that he speaks with an accent which gives me trouble or he speaks too fast; a lot of what he says is deliberately ungrammatical or nonsense, to the point where the other characters do not know what he is trying to say.
  • Roni often asks for (or extorts) money from Geri.  In one episode he takes money out of a ṣedhaqah (charity) box and gives it to her.
  • In one episode Geri attempts to get kashruth certification for HambuGeri.  In order to avoid having to hire a rabbinical supervisor, he claims that his rav is Sabbabah Sa’li, which gets Qobbi into trouble since not only is Sabbabah Sa’li not on record as being ordained, but Qobbi lacks even rudimentary knowledge of kashruth.  A song in this episode about HapPijamoth becoming ba‘ale teshuvah (becoming religious) is not reflected in their behavior.
  • One of HapPijamoth, Yamith Sol, enters a talent show doing an interpretive dance which goes horribly wrong in that the chair she uses during the dance falls apart and has to be repaired on stage.  The music she chooses, ’Eḥadh Mi Yodhea‘?, is a traditional Pesaḥ song reviewing a number of the basics of Judaism; her outfit and dance are not consistent with the song or observant Jewish norms.
  • Season 4 ends with all the characters mysteriously dying.  Season 5 begins with HapPijamoth in the Gan ‘Edhen for TV shows, which seems based on a popular American Christian conception of Heaven, and trying to go back to Earth in response to a prayer from a child who is distressed that the show has ended.  One of HapPijamoth, Nathan Qupperman, is put into the role of God, though as a shining human-shaped being rather than incorporeal; he declines to go back to Earth.  Geri is in the Gehinnom for TV shows, a place blatantly based on a popular American Christian conception of Hell, complete with the demon king ’Ashmedha’y in the role of the Devil.  It goes without saying that HapPijamoth are successful in their quest, as failure would mean the end of the show.  ’Ashmedha’y recurs in another episode, in which one of his schemes ends up destroying the Earth, which gets him in big trouble with YHWH.  (Yes, that gets undone, too.)
Theological rating:  D (the afterlife episode is what really did it in).

Peace, and please be careful burning stuff today.


Update a few hours later:

I am aware of the incongruity between a Habbadh event and a character from a show with a theological rating of D.  This is Earth.  Weird things happen here.  I did not plan to attend the show, period.  That did not stop it from being held in the basketball court next to the synagogue I went to for minḥah (afternoon services).  And I heard Yaniv Polishuq doing his Geri HambuGeri character, including his trademark taunting (for which mere transcription cannot do justice).  And he even did a song including the trademark taunting.  Given the incongruity, the effect was surreal.