November 17, 2018

Ramis was a filmmaker with a questioning soul

Despite his Jewish upbringing, Harold Ramis, who died today at the age of 69, was not the most Jewish of comedy filmmakers.

Ramis, who was born in 1944 in Chicago, has said that he was not a practicing Jew. In a 2009 interview with Vanity Fair, he summed up his views as such:

Here's my religious creed in a nutshell: The Universe is in a constant state of becoming — an ongoing miraculous creation. And every day we awaken to that miracle with gratitude, respect and compassion for all who share the gift of Being.

Nonetheless, evidence of an interest in Judaism can be found in a couple of his films.

His 1993 directorial effort, “Groundhog Day,” preaches the power of good deeds (mitzvot). In the third act, Bill Murray’s weatherman, who is literally trapped inside a cold day in hell, evolves from a jaded sad sack to a performer of acts of love and kindness.

Ramis has said that the character’s reluctant transformation resonated with leaders in the Jewish community, apparently.

“Rabbis started calling from all over, saying they were preaching the film as their next sermon,” Ramis said in a 2003 New York Times article.

A 2004 New Yorker profile details his involvement with Buddhism, which included attending Buddhist retreats. He called himself “Buddh-ish” in the piece.

He also told The New Yorker that he had been unable to rid himself of “sarcasm, cruelty, self-indulgence, and torpor,” an acknowledgement that compels this reporter to conclude that despite his forays into Buddhism, he maintained, at least, a Jewy personality.

To the Times he remarked on the similarities between Judaism and Buddhism:

“There is a remarkable correspondence of philosophies and even style between the two,” he said.

Whatever his religious preference, he had an impact on comedians who more overtly incorporate Judaism into their work.

Judd Apatow had this to say about Ramis: “His work is the reason why so many of us got into comedy. … He literally made every single one of our favorite movies.”

Dan Friedman, program director at Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, highlighted Ramis’ contributions to culture, which is used as an engagement tool in the L.A. community.

“Comedy has always played an important role in Jewish culture, and Ramis was an exceptional comedic writer and director. He made incredibly popular work, continually riding the fine line of making work very high in quality and yet easily accessible,” he said. “How many people can say that they created true comedy classics in four different decades? Not many.”

Ramis, who was also a writer and actor, died as a result of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis.

His films included “Ghostbusters,” “Caddyshack” and “Analyze This.”