Jewish Journal


July 8, 2013

The Jewish Soul of Ray Donovan



Courtesy CBS Press Express

Welcome back to Awards Material. After a quiet start to the summer, we’re back just in time for Emmy nominations, which will be announced next week. But first, let’s take a look at a new show that won’t contend until next year’s awards. Ray Donovan premiered on Showtime last Sunday night, June 30th, immediately following the final season premiere of the network’s long-running flagship series Dexter. Like that show, this one features a protagonist who employs violence in his daily occupation, but who can still be described as a “good guy.”

Advertisements for Showtime’s latest include the tagline “No one can ever know…Ray Donovan.” Liev Schreiber’s main character is certainly complicated, loyal to his family but not opposed to the occasional extramarital fling and hell bent on preventing his father, recently released from prison, from establishing any sort of relationship with his children. Schreiber, an esteemed Tony Award-winning Broadway actor, should be familiar to audiences for, among others, his recent role in the 2008 film Defianceas Zus Bielski, one of the real-life leaders of a group of brothers who saved over a thousand Jews during the Holocaust.

Ray and his family are definitely not supposed to be Jewish, and their Irish names, Boston accents, and previous run-ins with a priest confirm that beyond a doubt. But there is a prominent Jewish character played by a very familiar Jewish actor whose first appearance on screen immediately cements his religious affiliation. Elliott Gould, who played Reuben Tishkoff in the Ocean’s Eleven film series and recurred on Friends as Jack Geller, is no stranger to playing Jewish characters. On Ray Donovan, he’s Ezra Goldman, a good friend and business partner of Ray’s who shares a checkered history with both him and his father.

Ezra bursts onto the scene in the show’s pilot when Ray arrives at his home to pay his respects following the death of Ezra’s wife. Ezra is distraught to find his mistress in attendance, deeming it a “shanda” that she should be present for such an occasion. Puzzled at his use of Yiddish, everyone dismisses Ezra’s sudden burst of Judaism as a result of his grief. In episode two, however, Ezra returns again, making quite an entrance. When questioned about why he is not sitting shiva, Ezra cites “pikuach nefesh,” the value of saving a life over all other aspects of Jewish observance. Of course, Ezra is really only concerned about a client in despair, and his violation hardly holds water. At the end of the episode, Ezra is seen leading visitors at his home in the Mourner’s Kaddish, once again returned to his contemplative honoring of his late wife’s memory.

This is not the first time that Showtime series have featured an unexpected infusion of Judaism. Both The Big C (as described in a previous post) and Weeds did so recently, and other shows such as The L Word have explored characters’ Judaism in surprising depth and accuracy in the past. Gould is too good an actor not to showcase on a regular basis, and it stands to reason that Ezra will continue to have a part to play. Whether or not his Jewish identity recesses after his mourning period ends remains to be seen, but it’s nice to see him embrace it in a time of crisis. If he falters, Ray can always rely on his loyal henchman, the very obviously Israeli Avi, another supporting player who may have a bigger role to play.

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