Is there redemption for the Sopranos?

This is not only Holy Week. It is also Sopranos Week.

The TV phenomenon returns Easter night for its final mini-season. I bring it up because back in February, the liberal, lay Catholic weekly Commonweal ran a long cover story about the show and its characters ongoing pursuit of redemption.

I reread it a few days ago. The article was written by Cathleen Kaveny, who teaches law and theology at Notre Dame.

She sets things up this way:

“In contrast with the Corleones, then, the lives of the Sopranos are shockingly ordinary. True, members of Tony’s work family inflict brutal physical violence on their associates, but the show and its creator, David Chase, place even greater dramatic emphasis on the emotional violence inflicted by members of Tony’s home family on one another. Over and over again, the series drives home one lesson: The everyday brutality of “civilianâ€? American family life bears an uncomfortable resemblance to life in the “familyâ€? of organized crime. So the question of whether the Sopranos and their circle can be redeemed, in my view, is inextricably related to the question of whether we ourselves can be redeemed.”

She explores how Tony seeks “therapeutic redemption” with Dr. Melfi, how Christopher seeks “twelve step redemption” in AA, and how Carmela seeks religious redemption.

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Kaveny concluded, in part:

“No less than Tony or Christopher, Carmela has inextricably entwined her identity with the murderous double family. To redeem these characters is to erase them. And to the credit of the show’s creator, David Chase, we ourselves are forced to admit that as viewers of a drama, we would rather take these characters as they are, unredeemed.”

It’s certainly true that the characters on the Sopranos spend a lot of time trying to deny their violent ways and pretending that their regular lives are unsoiled by their crimes.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the show. It is seriously compelling TV, for sure, largely because of the potential for violence at any time. But I’ve always felt that critics overstate the show’s complexity, not to mention the nuanced relationships among characters.

Several characters — Christopher, Paulie and Silvio come to mind — are as dumb as trees. They’re overgrown children with guns.

Carmela feels some discomfort over her husband’s lifestyle (a steady theme since the show started), but is easily distracted by a new necklace or her “spec house.” She is lovable in certain ways but hard to admire.

Then there’s Tony. Sure, he goes for therapy. He talks about his complicated relationship with his mother. He loves his kids. But when push comes to shove, he is always more interested in eating, cheating on his wife and doing whatever it takes to maintain power.

How complicated is that?

But, yes, I’ll be watching to see how it ends. To read what Kaveny thinks about the final season, read her whole article “here.”:http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/article.php3?id_article=1842

This is what your volunteer time is worth

All houses of worship depend on volunteers. And many people of faith do all sorts of volunteer work in other settings (as do non-religious people, of course).

So I thought it might be interesting to point out what the value of a volunteer hour is these days.

It’s $18.77 per hour, up from $18.04 per hour in 2005, according to “Independent Sector,”:http://www.independentsector.org/programs/research/volunteer_time.html a coalition of 575 charities, foundations and other groups.

How does Independent Sector calculate the value of a volunteer hour? It’s based on “the average hourly wage for all non-management, nonagriculture workers as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a 12 percent increase to estimate for fringe benefits.”

Fair enough.

Diana Aviv, president and CEO of Independent Sector, said this:

“The true value of volunteer time is the vital role that they play in helping millions of charitable organizations and communities across the country. Volunteering is about giving, contributing, and helping others. The new estimate helps put into perspective the enormous contributions provided by our nation’s volunteers.â€?

Another Catholic school to close doors

Another Catholic elementary school in Westchester is closing.

Parents learned yesterday that Blessed Sacrament Elementary School in New Rochelle will close in June. The reason, according to the Archdiocese of New York, is declining enrollment.

A second school, St. Joseph’s in Florida, N.Y. (in Orange County) is also shutting down. For the same reason.

Last year, the archdiocese closed nine elementary schools because of a lack of kids, including St. John’s in White Plains and St. Denis in Yonkers.

The archdiocese, like dioceses across the country, is struggling to keep Catholic schools open, healthy and affordable. As I “wrote”:http://lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070320/NEWS01/703200359/1028/NEWS12 a few weeks ago, a plan is underway in New York to make groups of parishes responsible for each school, so that a single parish does not have to carry the financial burden for a struggling school.

I was told by Catherine Hickey, the secretary of education and superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, that no schools would be closed as part of this reorganization.

I guess that Blessed Sacrament is being closed separately.

Anti-Zionist sect not victim of arson, investigators say

News of a fire Sunday night at a Ramapo property owned by the Hasidic sect Neturei Karta led just about everyone to same conclusion. Arson.

Neturei Karta is the anti-Zionist sect that sent some reps to the big Holocaust denial party in Iran a few months ago. The Jewish reaction was fierce.

But my colleague Suzan Clarke is “reporting”:http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070403/NEWS03/704030380/1019/SPECIAL02 today that investigators found no signs of an accelerant at the scene. It probably wasn’t arson after all.

False alarm.

The Neturei Karta believe that the Jewish people should not gather in Israel until the coming of the messiah. As a result — and this is the part that enrages many Jews — they often cozy up to critics or outright enemies of Israel.

A few years back, Neturei Karta leaders met with Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, who is a strong critic of Israel and who many believe to be anti-Semitic.

The Neturei Karta’s attendance at the Iran conference, though, struck a whole different nerve. Even if the Neturei Karta don’t believe in Zionism, why would they support Holocaust denial? Many of their members lost relatives in the Holocaust.

The Neturei Karta are not good at public relations, so it’s hard to say.

Some members are still insisting that the fire was set by those who oppose Neturei Karta’s views.

Remembering Uncle Moishe…

I was channel surfing last night when I landed on WLIW, public TV (channel 21, I think) and discovered The Gefilte Fish Chronicles. What a wonderful show.

It tells the story of Passover through one family that has been holding a Seder in Newburgh, N.Y., for about 40 years. Three sisters — Sophie Patasnik, Peppy Barer and Rosie Groman — the last of eight siblings, run the show. They do so with spirit and humor and faith and love.

You watch them cook. You listen to them talk (loudly and often). You hear them laugh. You watch them eat and cook some more.

It’s a scene that will be repeated all over the world tonight as Passover begins.

The Chronicles is, first and foremost, a story about family, as dozens of relatives say over and over. One of the most touching parts is when those assembled at a Seder (last year, I think) recall their late relatives who ruled over past Seders. After a while, you can almost imagine being there.

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These people are so real that it’s truly reality TV. And The Gefilte Fish Chronicles is not just for Jews. It will teach you everything you want to know about Passover and Seders and Jewish families, that’s for sure. But it shows (mostly in the kitchen) the depth and meaning of family ties and will connect as strongly, I’m sure, with Italian families, Irish families, African-Americans, Hispanics, Arabs, Greeks, anyone.

If you care about family and family traditions, you’ll love it.

You can order the DVD, a matching cookbook and or just read about it “here.”:http://gefiltefishchronicles.com/