The Top 5 Things I had to cut from “The Force Isn’t With Me Anymore,” my new essay up on Tablet

My new piece up on Tablet, “The Force Isn’t With Me Anymore,” is about how my lifelong love of Star Wars is clashing with my commitment not to go to the movies. Yes, it is true, this fangirl, the child formerly known in some circles as “Chewbecca,” will not be watching “The Force Awakens.”

O Death Star Play Set, how I miss thee!!

Writing the piece was loads of fun: I got to relive many happy minutes of my childhood. In the original draft, I described the scene when I received my beloved Death Star Play Set (from Kenner!) in loving detail, and included all sorts of wacky stuff that I had to cut for length before turning the article into Tablet. 

Editing out all that material was painful, and so I give you…


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More about McKee’s STORY: How two of my stories measured up

I’m still reading STORY and have so much to say on its utility that you’ll just have to bear with me for a few more posts on it.


victoria station tube mind the gap

Writer! Mind the gap!

McKee has a theory that the material a story is made of is not words, not paper and pen (or computer) but something he calls the GAP. The Gap develops when a main character acts and discovers that his/her expectations regarding the response s/he’s going to get conflict with the reaction s/he really gets. This discrepancy forces the character to adjust and change.

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About six months ago, my sister sent me the link to an interview with Eric Kimmel, the acclaimed children’s author. The popular blogger at Homeshuling chatted with Mr. Kimmel about his retelling of the Purim story, which came out early this past spring.

(Before I go any further, I want to make clear that I’m actually a big fan of Mr. Kimmel despite what follows. I assure you that many of his books are perfectly appropriate for Jewish families, and urge you to purchase them or borrow them from the library.)

One of the central themes of the interview is whether it’s okay to alter the details of a story from the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) or a folktale. Mr. Kimmel feels that “You cannot be absolutely tied to the text or you are going to tie yourself into knots.” 

Read more:

He continues later,

I’m writing modern midrash. Because midrash continues to the present day. We are constantly reinterpreting and reinventing these stories. They are not locked in stone. I want children to learn that the stories of the Torah are great stories – they stand with the best of them – Anderson and Grimm – and it all comes down to the story.


Recently, my family purchased the animated movie, Young Abraham. This film incorporates many elements of midrash, dropping certain details and streamlining or fictionalizing others. I was a little uncomfortable with the tampering with tradition, but the overall message is the same as in the original midrashim and completely coincides with frumkeit so I don’t mind my children viewing it.

This is not the case with Mr. Kimmel’s The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale. The author plays fast and loose with the details of the original text, which is–after all–a sacred work from the Tanach. For example, he “glosses over” the deaths of Haman and his family. However, one of the central points of Book of Esther is that Esther and Mordechai are making a tikkun (correction) for the lack of follow-through King Saul demonstrated when he didn’t kill King Agag of the Amalekites despite HaShem’s instructions to do so. Additionally, it’s very important to a true understanding of the Book of Esther that Achashveirosh is a drunken slob and that Esther doesn’t really want to be married to him. Mr. Kimmel changes that detail, too.

These are changes to essential details, and I wouldn’t want to read this book to my children.

Similarly, in Even Higher, a retelling of the famous I.L. Peretz story about the Rabbi of Nemerov, Mr. Kimmel wanted to give a little context to the story. However, the information he interjects to explain the battles between the misnagdim and the chassidim is incorrect. His mishandling of the chassidus vs. misnaged battles of the 18th and 19th centuries actually makes the subject more murky, not less (and is probably not age-appropriate anyway).

In the same story, Mr. Kimmel shows the Rebbe livening up an old lady by dancing with her. It is highly unlikely a Chassidishe rebbe would dance with a woman, and it sends a message that you can just ditch halachah (in this case, the rules against negiah) if your intentions are okay.

I think that perhaps there is a little “wiggleroom” when you teach children (and writing a picture book is essentially teaching)–but you have to respect the original message and not misrepresent authentic Judaism in the retelling. For this reason, my husband and I generally screen even Jewish books before they enter our home.

What’s your opinion?

A trip into the Uncanny Valley

My kids love Tintin comics by Herge, so I was unable to suppress my desire to watch the trailer of the new Tintin film (despite the fact I haven’t gone to the movies in nearly eight years). If you’re interested it’s here:

What surprised me is that the animation in Tintin seemed to me to fall into what is called the Uncanny Valley.
The Uncanny Valley refers to the widespread belief that when computer graphics, robots, or other representations of people look and act almost, but not quite, like the real thing, people are creeped out. Apparently some genuine research has been done in this area, and many experts in CGI and robotics try hard to avoid stumbling into the Uncanny Valley in order to avoid turning off potential viewers. 
As technology advances, this becomes more and more difficult. Just when does the image flip from being disgusting and become convincing? And how are we supposed to respond to such simulacra? 

[Indeed, this is a favorite theme in science fiction. For example, both the classic book I, Robot by Asimov and the Ridley Scott movie Blade Runner (based on Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) directly address this conundrum. In one fictional world, androids are prohibited from having a convincing human appearance altogether; in the other, such robots exist, but are forbidden from living on Earth.]

Now let’s get back to the new Tintin adaptation. I watched the trailer (and I should repeat that I actually don’t watch movies in theaters and rarely at home unless Jewish), and I immediately responded—Ugh! 

I’m not sure why the producers opted for an image capture CGI as opposed to live action (there actually are already animated adaptations of the Tintin comics, so I’m not so shocked that they opted out of another animated version), but I had a visceral reaction against what I saw. I’m wondering if other viewers will have similar reactions. With more and more exposure to video game graphics and the like, maybe the Uncanny Valley will lose it’s effect on people who see a lot of CGI.