Title: Kaddish for Uncle Manny
Written by: Jeff Melvoin
Directed by: Michael Lange
Aired: May 3, 1993
Log line: When Joel’s uncle dies, he discovers that the important bonds in times of trouble are not necessarily from a common religion, but rather a sense of community.
Listen to the podcast discussion of the episode here.
In the episode “Kaddish for Uncle Manny,” Chris and Bernard prepare to fight the Miller boys of West Virginia, Holling takes up dancing, and the community works together to find nine people of the Jewish faith to help Joel say a mourning prayer for his Uncle Manny. In all three stories, there are people engaging in teaching of some kind. In fact, education become a central part to each story.
When Chris learns Bernard has never been in a fight (and has all his own teeth), Chris creates a training regime filled with advice, philosophical musings about the inherently violent nature of man, and jars of pickle juice.
Holling fully embraces the Cajun Two-Step after Marilyn chooses him as her new dancing partner. He practices moving and repeated quotes “Marilyn-isms,” much to Shelly’s annoyance.
Upon reminiscing about his uncle, Joel recalls that Uncle Manny helped him memorize his portion of the Torah at his Bar Mitzvah.
Maurice has an education session of his own as he tries to describe how to identify a Jewish person: “Now, right here is a picture of what used to be considered your typical Jewish person. But if that stereotype was ever valid, you can see, it no longer is.”
Even Ed and Bernard educate Shelly on movies and the Jewish tradition of gathering a minyan.
While this episode features numerous instances of teaching, much of the teaching does not come to fruition. Marilyn fires Holling because of his lack of stillness; despite the lessons in fighting, Chris and Bernard don’t end up fighting; Maurice’s search for Jews is called off.
Nevertheless, we see characters trying to negotiate their way in the process of learning. Chris and the Miller boys end up realizing that they have a symbiotic relationship to one another, each needing the other’s animosity to define them. They abandon the customs of the feud that compelled them to fight, and realize a larger truth.
Similarly, Joel learns to adapt his Jewish traditions to encompass his own feelings about what feels right in saying Kaddish for his uncle. He comes to understand that it is far better to mourn among his community and the people that care for him than to pray with a bunch of hired guns.
Songs from the episode’s original airing:
- Kitty Wells, “A Woman Half My Age”
[replaced in DVD version]
- John Delafose and the Eunice Playboys* – “Cajun Two-Step”
Plays at the cajun two-step competition, before Marilyn and Robert dance.
- Clifton Chenier* – “Josephine Par Se Ma Femme”
Plays while Marilyn and Robert dance.
(*Thanks to Chris Valley for the music identification.)
- Kitty Wells, “A Woman Half My Age”
Themes / Recurrences: The past; tradition; community; death.
The Good: This episode contains pretty much everything that we want in a great episode of the series: it’s moving, it’s joyous, it’s funny. The final two sequences (the dancing and the kaddish) were especially wonderful.
The Bad: We can’t pin down much about this episode that we don’t like.
The Notable: There are some interesting pairings of characters who we don’t normally see spending time together, including Holling + Marilyn and Maggie + Bernard.
On’s rating: 10 out of 10.
Shane’s rating: 9 out of 10.
Another good one, guys. You touched on the parallels with the Bernard and Holling storylines, but I really dug the aspect of physicality for both of them. Recruited into these activities that their bodies (and minds alike) were not accustomed to, both threw themselves in fully and grew to really relish the opportunity to have this new and visceral experience, but ultimately neither got to participate. It was constructed so well, the activity could’ve been anything – fighting, dancing, ice skating, whatever, but their ride seemed to be the same. Great stuff.
I missed the beer glass thing. Will look for it next time.
PS – wonder why Joel’s old west dream was in present-day Cicely??
What great insights – we really do love how enthusiastically Holling immersed himself in dancing, and how ironically he was so focused on moving that he forgot the non-moving part. But yeah, both Bernard and Holling are the most unlikely candidates for those activities. As for the Joel dream stuff, we have no idea why it was the Wild West. Only Joel knows, probably.
-On and Shane
The episode was good but l hated where Chris was trying to get Bernard to fight. Especially where he tells him, “You’re about to pop your cherry. You’re first fight”. I’m with Bernard: I’m a lover, not a fighter. Did love the part where all the “Jews” ride up on horses…
Yes, Chris can get persuasive when he gets into those moods! But that’s why we love Chris, too: passionate about it ALL
Another beer glass moment I noticed was Chris’ beer glass has a handle when they were delivered the steaks while Bernard’s does not. Perhaps indicating Chris has a handle on the fighting situation and feels comfortable with it while Bernard doesn’t.
I love the dance scene with Marilyn and “Robert Livingston”. Do you know who played Robert? I’ve done some looking around on google and can’t find out who he is.
David, we have no idea. We had thought that they would have been listed in imdb, but no such luck. He was fantastic though, loved his “stillness”!