Inside Out 2 Reminds Us Of The Ways Judaism Helps Foster Our Deepest Feelings

Two years ago, our congregation centered our family education curriculum around Pixar movies. Using the cartoons that so many of the kids are familiar with, we were able to set some powerful and deeply Jewish conversations about what it means to bring our religious identities into the way we view secular media. We watched Soul and talked about what it means to find your “calling.”

We studied Pixar shorts to explore how to express complex stories in bite-sized units. We also visited the Pixar exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center when it was in town, giving our students and their parents the chance to see how magic is made and how we, in Jewish communities, create magic of our own.

Perhaps my favorite lesson came when we talked about the movie Inside Out. I loved using the film as a launch point for talking about all of the ways that Judaism helps us to experience our feelings, to allow for the full gamut of our humanity. This summer, with the release of Inside Out 2, we get to see another installment of what it means to allow space for our full depth of feelings.

The movie couldn’t come at a better time. During a contentious election year, an ongoing conflict in Israel, and the continued revelation of the ways that social media are stunting our capacity for true connection, we need to hear the lesson more than ever that a life lived well is one that is attuned to the intricacies of our feelings. And while a great many spaces in our lives are doing all they can to avoid the mine-field that is public discourse, it is incumbent upon our Jewish institutions to create and facilitate meaningful opportunities for us to actually engage with those feelings, to be allowed to express our feelings in safe and healthy environments, and to allow people the opportunity to learn that their feelings are valid and changeable.

We are living during a time that Whitney Goodman describes as “Toxic Positivity;” a time when we are constantly trying to put a silver lining on things, to make our lives feel like a constant fairy tale. It’s a nice theory, to always see the sunny side, but the reality is that life is made up of a whole spectrum of feelings and experiences. Pretending to only engage in the good stuff is to cut ourselves short of our full emotional potential. Judaism has always understood this. We have traditions for life at its most celebratory and its most tragic. We have systems in place for how to confront birth and death and how to feel our best and our worst. Some of our rituals even invite us to blend the two together, like when we smash a glass at a wedding; we acknowledge that even in elation, there is a little bit of brokenness, that it is human to feel complex and sometimes contradictory things.

Inside Out 2 is a beautiful reminder of what it means to allow our feelings to work in tandem with one another, to create space for each of our feelings to have their moment. Jewish communities have a rare opportunity to use this moment in popular culture to reinforce our mission to facilitate deep and meaningful emotional connections and remind people that we are here for one another in all our feelings. Jews don’t celebrate alone. Jews don’t grieve alone. We come together, and we encounter all of our feelings together, sometimes even at the same time. Because to be a Jew is to honor the deepest aspects of what it means to be human, and to be human is to be in constant relationship with our feelings.

Austin Zoot is the Rabbi Educator at the Valley Temple in Wyoming, Ohio.