L'Shanah Tovah, Don Draper!

I admit, I did not keep up with the episode schedule so last weekend I spent Sunday afternoon glued to my screen watching Don put Pete in his place, Ken get published, and watching Don feel out of place in Greenwich Village. When I got to the end of the sixth episode, "Babylon," after that women got through her ridiculous poem about making love with Fidel Castro, and the two men took the stage, I had a sudden feeling of déjà vu, or rather déjà ecouté. “We remember, we remember, we remember you Zion,” sounded so familiar and then suddenly I remembered. I had heard it no more than 24 hours ago at the Yom Kippur Shabbat service at Temple Israel.

For all of you goys out there, Yom Kippur is the holiest of holies. It is a day of atonement and repentance observed by fasting from sundown to sundown and going to prayer services. It’s believed that on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, God writes everyone’s fate for the year in the Book of Life and then “seals the deal” on Yom Kippur. During the eight days in between, the Days of Awe, Jews try to repent for any wrong they have done against God or another human being so God will bring them good tidings for the rest of the year. That’s why common Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur greetings are “shanah tovah” (for a good year) or “gmar chatima tova” (may you be inscribed in the Book of Life for Good). These greetings may sound more awkward than saying “Happy New Year!” or “Merry Christmas”, but it’s more appropriate than saying “Happy Yom Kippur!” because after all, it is a day of penance.

During the service I went to, people were encouraged to share their wrong doings with the temple so the temple could forgive them. Many people called out their sins such as not supporting a friend in need or giving up on a social cause. Would Don Draper speak up? (If he did, he’d probably something vague and open ended.)

In addition to fasting, Jews are not allowed to eat, drink (alcohol or nonalcoholic), wear leather shoes, bath or wash, use perfume, or have marital relations in order to cleanse themselves. From the soles of his shoes (most likely leather, possibly Italian leather) to his fingertips (which are almost always holding a drink), Don Draper would not be a good Jew, although without a doubt, he could find a way around no marital relations.

The song "Babylon," based on Psalm 137 ("Psalm 137") when the Jews were exiled from Babylon, (click here to see the original version sung by Don McLean), is a typically sung at Temple. Thought it wasn’t written for Mad Men, it seems to relate to Draper. Zion is a name for Jerusalem and the Biblical Land of Israel, but it also has become a metaphor for any Promised Land or wanted goal. It has even been used in a spiritual meaning, symbolizing the yearning by wanderers for a safe homeland ("Zion"). What a coincidence, since Don could not have seemed more out of place and exiled than he did in the last scene of Babylon when Midge and her obtuse friend dragged Don to a show in the middle of Bohemia in Greenwich Village (see Don looking sad and alone here!). Don Draper is a vagabond, constantly wandering in between the city and the suburbs, going from woman to woman without finding a true confidant or soul mate. Although recently, Don has been confiding bits of his past and his worries to Rachel Menken, could she be his Zion?

Links referenced:

"Psalm 137." Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 15 Sept 2010. Web. 26 Sep 2010.

"Zion." Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 11 Sept 2010. Web. 26 Sep 2010.


  1. I've always really enjoyed it when television really uses the music in their shows well. It's easy enough to end an episode on a snappy needle drop without it even meaning much. But I remember watching Mad Men for the first time and always being intrigued by the end credits. The show was supposed to be over, but if you dug deep enough you could understand a little more while those names flashed across the screen.

    I know Babylon wasn't one of those songs - it seemed like one of the few that the characters heard and really focused on as well as the viewers. It fit the location pretty perfectly and compared to the Madison Ave setting we'd seen for 40 minutes this felt foreign enough without listening to its message. Poor Don, he's just as lost as anyone in the song.

  2. This was really interesting to me because it seems that religion is mentioned a lot on Mad Men, but never really discussed directly as much as other topics of the series. But obviously these passing references to judaism are acknowledging the way the characters are handling their situations. I now want to look for the references to christian religions and see if they play similar roles in the series.