Posted by Danielle Berrin
I know what you’re thinking: another promotional YouTube video? But this one’s actually awesome. And it has Don Johnson and Lindsay Lohan and Sarah Silverman and Susan Sarandon and Helen Hunt and I-don’t-want-to-spoil-the-others because part of the fun is just watching it roll as the star-factor rises. Plus, it’s really funny.
It’s also a brilliant marketing campaign for American Jewish World Service, the grassroots social service organization committed to the developing world.
So don’t miss it. Seriously. Oh, and Judd Apatow made it, so it’s like…did I already say it was awesome?
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October 26, 2010 | 3:31 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
In this month’s GQ magazine, there is a racy photo spread featuring the stars of ‘Glee’ by lecherous fashion photographer Terry Richardson. The two actresses who were photographed, Lea Michele and Dianna Agron are both Jewish, and seem to be having a grand ole time flaunting their fortunate Hebraic genes all around the school locker room.
Because the actresses play high school students on TV (in real life, they are 24), the photos have sparked moral outrage. High school students, the thinking goes, shouldn’t seductively suck lollipops or expose hints of thigh usually covered by underwear elastic. The photos are not beautiful, or even all that interesting. There are probably 8 zillion more glamorous poses they could have struck, but GQ wanted sleazy and sleazy is what they delivered.
Agron, who plays Quinn Fabray on “Glee” took to her blog to clear her conscience. She wrote:
In the land of Madonna, Britney, Miley, Gossip Girl, other public figures and shows that have pushed the envelope and challenged the levels of comfort in their viewers and fans…we are not the first. Now, in perpetuating the type of images that evoke these kind of emotions, I am sorry. If you are hurt or these photos make you uncomfortable, it was never our intention.
Agron added that she grew up “very sheltered” and unaware of “anything provocative or risque in the media”, explaining, “[w]hen I was finally allowed to watch a movie like Grease, I did not even understand what on earth Rizzo was talking about!?” Agron said she understood that young children with internet access might stumble upon these photos but that “there are parental locks” that can help shield young eyes from such scandalous sights.
“I am twenty-four years old,” she wrote. “I have been a pretty tame and easy-going girl my whole life. Nobody is perfect, and these photos do not represent who I am.”
But that’s where Agron is wrong.
The photos are tasteless, yes, but not because they’re inappropriate. Let’s face it Parents Television Council, high school students do worse things than feign fellatio on lollipops. The photos are problematic because they conjure hyper-sexualized images of teenage girls. And they don’t just represent Agron, they represent all high school-aged girls, and ultimately, women. I don’t see Cory Monteith having to run around in his thigh-highs.
When Agron suggests the photos are merely edgy, she’s missing the point. What Britney and Miley were doing was not “pushing the envelope”; they were sucked into a culture that hyper-sexualizes females starting from a very young age. And as long as teenagers feel they have to do that and look like that to be attractive—or really, accepted—no woman is safe.
When I asked the iconic feminist Gloria Steinem last Spring if it bothered her that her beauty has played a role in her success—after all, her breakthrough journalism story required her to go undercover as a Playboy bunny—she said, “The basic problem is that women are assessed by how we look. The problem for all women is we’re identified by how we look instead of by our heads and our hearts.” In other words, how women appear is still, unfortunately, more important and certainly more powerful than what women do. So if two successful actresses don’t have the gall to tell a men’s magazine “no”—how can society expect high school girls to do any differently? Give them what they want, right?
Only, there’s a lot more at stake when you’re 15, and you don’t know who you are, and all you want in the world is to be acknowledged. It isn’t playful in high school; it isn’t theatrical. It’s real.
October 22, 2010 | 11:37 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I’m sick of Mel Gibson.
I don’t care that he’s making headlines once again, as entertainment Websites tout another “Mel Gibson controversy.” This time, is appears the cast and crew of “Hangover 2” were up in arms over the possibility of Gibson joining the cast. Gee, I wonder why. Zach Galifianakis, who as far as I can tell is not Jewish but Greek Orthodox, took his disdain public.
According to TheWrap.com:
Galifianakis was rumored to be upset with the decision to cast Gibson in a cameo, explaining to Comedy Death-Ray podcast host Scott Aukerman that he’s turned down several projects on moral grounds, saying: “But a movie you’re acting in, you don’t have a lot of control — you just show up and vomit your lines out. I’m not the boss. I’m in a deep protest right now with a movie I’m working on, up in arms about something. But I can’t get the guys to [listen] ... I’m not making any leeway.”
Galifianakis cut Aukerman off with an abrupt warning sound as the host began to mention the film’s title, but after Aukerman pressed, “I know you’re filming The Hhhhhhhh ... ” Galifianakis admitted, “It has something to do with a movie I’m working on, yeah. I’ll tell you about it later. It’s very frustrating.”
What’s also frustrating is that Mel Gibson still matters. We all know he’s a wacky anti-Semitic, misogynistic, vulgar, possibly alcoholic, psychologically unstable has-been movie star. Can we get over him now?
A Jewish Journal archive search for “Mel Gibson” brings up 204 results. In the past nine months alone, “Gibson” has appeared in ten Jewish Journal headlines. I am guilty, along with many others who are obsessed by his strange psychotic behavior, but I’m reaching my breaking point. Short of him murdering someone or making aliyah to Israel, I don’t care.
Although I do wonder why we keep drawing water from the Gibson well. No matter how much communal shadenfreude we can muster, it won’t change him; he is already a sad parody of himself. What I fear is that it’s changing us, and every time we talk about him, we give him new life.
Mel Gibson won’t get what he truly deserves until he is forgotten.
October 21, 2010 | 9:00 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I’ve written before about “The Social Network’s” view of Jewish women (you may recognize a few lines below), and how it’s so unflattering it’s no wonder Mark Zuckerberg will probably choose to intermarry. But then I considered Sorkin’s mysterious Erica Albright character—the one who outright rejects Zuckerberg in the opening scene, whose Jewishness is alluded to but never explicitly stated—and I realized that I liked her; and that Zuckerberg liked her; and that Sorkin was deeply conflicted about her.
The following column appeared in the print version of The Journal and is, I hope, the beginning of a broader investigation into why Hollywood seems to have a special aversion to Jewish women.
In “The Social Network,” writer Aaron Sorkin insinuates that one of the central drives behind Mark Zuckerberg’s development of Facebook was the hot-blooded pursuit of women.
Only, Sorkin’s script presents such a narrow, hackneyed view of women — they are either humiliatingly contemptuous or raving sex objects — critics and commentators have predictably erupted with diatribes against this seemingly misogynist universe.
Sorkin himself has admitted the movie’s portrayal of women is troubling.
“It’s not hard to understand how bright women could be appalled by what they saw in the movie,” Sorkin responded to a comment posted on TV writer Ken Levine’s blog. The commenter had wondered how the same writer who conceived C.J. Cregg in TV’s “The West Wing” could write a movie without a single admirable woman.
“Facebook was born during a night of incredible misogyny,” Sorkin wrote as justification.
While it is true that women in general do not shine in “The Social Network,” the critique is misguided, because Sorkin is quite specific as to which kind of women he is referencing, when he references them at all — and they come in two forms: Asian Americans and Jews. According to a surface reading, neither gets a pretty portrait; Asian women are depicted as attractive and easy, and Jewish women are brawling shrews.
Jewishness, in general, is a characteristic the fictional Zuckerberg and his friends are desperate to escape. At the Caribbean Night party at the Alpha Epsilon Pi house, one of Zuckerberg’s friends wryly remarks: “There’s an algorithm for the connection between Jewish guys and Asian girls: They’re hot, smart, not Jewish and can dance.” Sorkin would have us believe that, in the eyes of some Jewish men — or at least those run-of-the-mill Harvard scholars — one of the best things about an Asian woman is that she isn’t a Jewish woman. And in Sorkin’s story, Asians get bonus points for performing oral sex in public bathrooms.
“That’s not what you’re going to get from an Erica,” said Olivia Cohen-Cutler, referring to the film’s only female Jewish character. Cohen-Cutler, a senior executive at ABC, is the chair of Hadassah’s Morningstar Commission, which devotes attention to images of Jewish women in the media. While most are decrying the film’s treatment of women, Cohen-Cutler sees something different in the character Erica Albright.
In the film’s opening scene, the fictional Zuckerberg is on a date with Erica, who is pretty, sophisticated and exquisitely articulate. While trying to woo her, an arrogant and socially inept Zuckerberg winds up insulting her every which way, which prompts Erica to unequivocally reject him: “You’re going to be successful and rich. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a tech geek. I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that won’t be true: It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”
But her assertiveness, while well-founded, is met with a withering take-down. Zuckerberg avenges himself on his blog, her rejection providing the impetus for the creation of “Facemash” — the beginning of Facebook.
In real life, he wrote, “[So and so] is a bitch. I need to think of something to take my mind off her. Easy enough. Now I just need an idea.”
In the movie, the fictional Zuckerberg also insults the size of her breasts — and her last name, with a subtle dig about how her family changed their name from “Albrecht” to “Albright” — the only hint that she is Jewish, though it’s never explicitly confirmed.
“In one way [the Zuckerberg character] was saying, ‘She’s a fraud because her family did this and I’m not because I’m still Zuckerberg,’ “ Cohen-Cutler said in an interview. “What you saw throughout the film was a combination of Zuckerberg’s arrogance and self-loathing related to his otherness, which played into the ‘Jewish men hate Jewish women’ continuum.”
If this were pure fiction, it might sting a little less, but unfortunately it isn’t: Zuckerberg, who might be the most eligible Jewish bachelor in the world, met his real-life girlfriend, the Chinese American medical student Priscilla Chan, on erev Shabbat at an AEPi party during his sophomore year. (According to The New Yorker, friends speculate that they will marry.)
Liel Leibovitz, a writer for the online Jewish magazine Tablet and an assistant professor of communications at New York University, believes this is just more evidence that Hollywood is undeniably and irretrievably hostile to Jewish women.
“Being ‘Jewish’ in Hollywood means adhering to the stereotype, namely the smart and shlubby person who overcomes insecurities and applies wit to get ahead,” Leibovitz wrote via e-mail. “That, of course, is a stereotype that’s great for guys, but not too great for women. While Jewish men can fit right into the ‘Jewish’ niche in Hollywood’s arsenal of preconceived notions and crumbling clichés, Jewish women cannot.”
Indeed, Erica is punished, not for being the object of the male gaze, but for subverting it by being the only character in the movie who is actually smarter than Zuckerberg. Even if her rejection is the proper comeuppance for his immaturity and arrogance, it is Zuckerberg who becomes the hero, while Erica remains the heartless wench who wounded him.
Where does this animosity toward Jewish women come from?
“I am convinced by the theory that pins the blame largely on Jewish men,” Leibovitz wrote in his e-mail. His much-read 2009 article “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” postulates that both Hollywood’s executives and its leading men prefer shiksas. Period.
In that vein, Sorkin’s script and its obvious aversion to Jewish women can be seen as an indictment of Jewish women nobody likes: the entitled Jewish American Princess and the overbearing Jewish Mother. But Erica Albright-Albrecht doesn’t fit into either of those stereotypes, even if she derives, in some way, from an archetypal Jewish feminine strength.
“I long for the day when a Jewish actress would play a Jewish character that’s just the normal, uncomplicated, unremarkable love interest who also happens to be Jewish,” Leibovitz said.
An uncomplicated Jewish woman? No wonder Sorkin doesn’t deliver. He seems, instead, ambivalent about them. He can’t stand the stereotypical figures (either on screen or from his own life), but he is also trying to imagine something different. So while Erica is reproved for her boldness, it is Zuckerberg who ends up endlessly longing for her, and an ideal that doesn’t really exist.
I suppose it’s asking Hollywood too much for two smart, good-looking Jews to run off into the sunset together. Or at least, in this case, to Silicon Valley.
“It’s too bad that this movie, which is really a testament to the brilliance and single-mindedness of someone, had to flip the bird to being Jewish,” added Cohen-Cutler, who admitted she loved the movie regardless.
Too bad, indeed. The real world is full of Jewish women whose qualities run contrary to Hollywood stereotypes. Which leads me to believe that it isn’t Jewish women that are the problem; it’s that Jewish men like Mark Zuckerberg and Aaron Sorkin are hanging out with the wrong ones.
Correction appended: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Aaron Sorkin had been married to a non-Jewish woman. His former wife, Julia Bingham, is Jewish.
October 19, 2010 | 6:54 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I recently interviewed Ms. Tishby for our monthly magazine, TRIBE, on her favorite things to do in Israel. And as you’ll see, she has some fine ideas. Here are a few travel tips from a holy land native who knows how to have fun Israeli style…
Noa Tishby might be one of Israel’s best exports. The multihyphenate model-actress-producer has lived in Los Angeles for nearly a decade, bringing Hollywood gems like the HBO series “In Treatment” from Israel to the United States, where her career is on fire. But when we talked to her about Israel, she assured us there’s no place like home. Here are Tishby’s not-to-be-missed Holy Land hot spots.
Scarf down some hummus at Abu Hassan in Jaffa
“This is, seriously, the best hummus in the world. It might ruin your hummus experience forever. I always joke that this is like the place where coexistence lives. It’s been owned by an Arab family for generations and it is the best hummus you will ever eat in your life. It’s a hole in the wall: You go in there, sit and eat, and then they kick you out. They only serve hummus, lemonade, pita bread and these amazing fresh raw onion chips. It’s always packed; it opens at like 8 in the morning and closes at noon or whenever they run out of hummus. It’s by far the best on the planet. Locals only. It’s literally Israelis and Arabs — you will never see tourists there. It couldn’t be more authentic. It’s the real deal.”
Skinny-dip in the Mediterranean
“In America, we’re used to big, cold, icy, shark-infested water, but when you grew up by the Mediterranean — in the summer the water is about 75 degrees — the sea is something a lot more welcoming and beautiful. Growing up in Israel, those were my summers: You hang out at the beach by day and build bonfires at night with your high school boyfriend. I was able to re-create that with a group of 40 of my friends from abroad [who came to Israel] for my wedding, and we were partying on the beach, and someone said, ‘Let’s go skinny dipping!’ We all started running toward the water thinking, ‘Who’s gonna get naked first?’ Cut to: my friends taking off their clothes, jumping in the water buck-naked at 2:30 in the morning. That was a moment well missed by Israeli paparazzi. I did it again this year, right after Rosh Hashanah dinner: Me and my girlfriend went to the beach at midnight and jumped in the water — but this time we were wearing a bra and underwear.”
Escape to Bayit Bagalilin the Galilee
“This is a boutique hotel in the Galilee and it’s gorgeous. It’s completely remote, the food is divine; it’s all local, all organic. …There’s a great vibe about it, and it has the most incredible, breathtaking view of the Sea of Galilee. I like to go there to escape. I work so hard in Tel Aviv and I have such a huge family and so many friends, so every time I go to Israel it’s so hectic. If I’m able to run away for a little bit, this is where I go. I love it; it’s this blend of modern resort with something from ancient times.”
Eat, work or hang at Orna and Ella in Tel Aviv
“There will not be a time in which I go to Israel and not go to Orna and Ella. It is a cafe on Shenkin Street and it’s been around for about 15 years. The owners make everything in-house, literally, from olive oil to mayonnaise to bread … everything. The quality of the food is extraordinary; it’s healthy, it’s delicious. I’ll go there and then I’ll schedule my appointments from 10 a.m. every hour and a half, and I’ll just sit there and people will come; for a day I’ll use it as my Tel Aviv office. They’re very picky on food; they only have freshly squeezed juices and homemade desserts and they never used to have soy milk. They said, ‘We only do whole fats,’ so I used to bring my own soy milk and put it on the counter and say, ‘I’ll be here all day; make me my soy latte.’ They carry soy milk now.”
Throw a Bedouin hafla — dance party — in the desert
“The Bedouin mentality of hospitality is renowned. They’re very, very, very good hosts. And the food is fantastic. We did this as a prewedding event in a tent underneath Masada. You have to organize it in advance, and they’ll put together a big dinner for you — you can have a big group — and do camel rides. There’s beautiful music, and you can sit and eat everything from lamb to rice to baklava. It’s not something I do every time I go to Israel, but it’s something special.”
Refresh yourself at Ein Gedi
“There’s a beautiful oasis here, right by Masada. It’s a proper, biblical oasis. You walk through the desert, through a bunch of dirt roads and find yourself in like a lake with a waterfall, and it’s divine.”
Visit the tunnels at the Kotel
“This is absolutely stunning. When I last went they had just started excavating and it’s breathtaking to wander underneath the [Western] Wall and see the Old City of Jerusalem like it was. It gives me such a sense of connectedness to my roots, knowing there have been Jews in Jerusalem for so many thousands of years. It’s inspiring.”
October 19, 2010 | 3:39 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Tom Bosley, best known for playing Happy Days patriarch Howard Cunningham died today at his home in Palm Springs.
Bosley will be remembered for many things, though perhaps not for being Jewish.
Bosley was in fact a Jew, though it is a lesser known fact of his life. Even his wikipedia entry treats his Jewishness as a surprising revelation: “Although well known for playing a Catholic priest—and numerous Protestants, Bosley was actually Jewish.” Bosley grew up in Chicago and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. In a 2006 interview conducted in by The Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia Bosley revealed personal ties to the Holocaust:
“Paper Clips,” the film about the whitebread Whitwell, Tenn., middle-school students whose efforts to collect 6 million paper clips in commemoration of the Six Million Martyrs unexpectedly made millions as a 2004 movie.
Bosley contributed not just clips to the effort but, in a film clip, is seen reading his response to a letter of help sent by the children.
“When I saw the film, I fell apart,” says Bosley, whose part in the movie is moving itself. “It was important for me as a Jew to do it; I had lost a great uncle—whom I never met—in the Holocaust.”
Despite a dearth of information about Bosley’s upbringing, we at least know that Jewishness was prevalent on the Happy Days set. Ron Howard, who played Bosley’s son on the show, joked about it at the 2010 Simon Wiesenthal Center gala, where he and producing partner Brian Grazer were being honored with a humanitarian award.
Howard, who is not Jewish, recalled a time early in his career on the set of “Happy Days” when director Jerry Paris noticed him pacing nervously. Howard told Paris he was indeed feeling jittery and anxious.
“Cute,” Howard remembers Paris saying. “Waspy on the outside, total Jew on the inside!”
Wikipedia incorrectly states that Paris was born William Gerald Grossman (name changes being a common occurrence among Jews in the industry), but in fact, Paris’s daughter, Julie Paris Seltzer emailed today to say he was, in fact, born Jerry Paris and that the family is “very proud of our Jewish heritage.” She suggested the confusion may stem from the fact that Paris’s stepfather was Grossman. It’s also worth adding that Henry Winkler, who played the iconic “Fonz” character on the show, is also Jewish. And, according to WorldJewishDaily, his parents immigrated from Germany to New York in 1939, one of those insanely providential and inexplicable acts of fate.
Among the myriad online reports detailing Bosley’s life and death, People Magazine spoke to Howard about his onetime onscreen dad.
Bosley was, he said, “[a] great father and husband, and a wonderful artist, Tom led by example, and made us all laugh while he was doing it; [m]y last conversations with Tom reflected the love of life and peace of mind that he always maintained throughout his full and rewarding life.” Howard, who is 56 now, ended his remarks on a melancholy note: “I miss him already,” he said.
October 18, 2010 | 3:21 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Jews are always talking about how Israel needs better PR — in Hebrew, hasbara, a term that connotes something between promotion and propaganda — so it’s worth asking, with so many Israelis working in Hollywood, what are they doing about it?
Some of Israel’s best exports have come to Hollywood. In recent years, a stream of Israeli products, from television shows to movies and talent, have flooded Tinseltown: HBO’s “In Treatment,” based on the Israeli program “B’Tipul,” became a fast hit; the films “Beaufort” and “Waltz With Bashir” both were nominated for foreign language film Oscars; actresses Ayelet Zurer (“Angels & Demons”) and Gal Gadot (“Fast & Furious”) have appeared in big-budget blockbusters; and a slew of Israeli producers, from billionaire Arnon Milchan to Marvel Entertainment’s Avi Arad, have helped cement the legacy.
Like any immigrant experience, competing impulses shape the Israeli experience in Hollywood: a desire to succeed, to escape the conflict, to assimilate into a society without religious orthodoxies or compulsory military service. But apart from the drive to build their own bank accounts, how are Israelis using their success? What of their values remain even though their surroundings change?
As Los Angeles raises the curtain on its 25th Israel Film Festival, two Israelis — from opposite ends of the industry — reveal their deeply personal (and deeply disparate) motives for success.
“With the exception of one movie in my life, I am always thinking about the business side,” said producer Avi Lerner, co-founder of Nu Image and Millennium Films, who will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the festival’s gala on Oct. 20.
Growing up in Israel, Lerner found solace in movies from an early age. “Instead of going to school, I went to see movies,” he told me. He began his career as a theater operator in Israel, and then worked as a producer in the UK and South Africa before moving to Los Angeles, where he has produced more than 300 films. At 63, Lerner is comfortable with his niche producing B-level action flicks featuring stars past their prime — his most recent, “The Expendables,” with Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis, has grossed more than $100 million at the box office (it cost $80 million).
Hollywood, Lerner told me, is about a bottom line, pure and simple. Commercial success is enough for him so long as it continues: “I always feel the place in which you are successful, you want to do better — that’s the nature of everyone.”
Lerner attributes the influx of Israeli influence in Hollywood to the Jewish penchant for storytelling, and to Israel’s complex society for providing good fodder. But he doesn’t believe films can change the world. In fact, he doesn’t see Hollywood films as reflecting the real world at all. Even the suggestion of a parallel between his growing up in a violent society and making action movies for a living is met with dismissal.
“In a movie, it’s very easy to distinguish who is good and who is bad — the hero is always trying to catch the bad guy; the hero always saves the girl. But life is not like that. We are selling illusions; we are selling nice stories to people.”
For Yafit Josephson, a young Israeli actress, Hollywood hasn’t been such a welcoming place. Her one-woman show, “New Eyes” (neweyesplay.com), about life on the audition circuit, is a heartfelt, humorous and sometimes harrowing account of being endlessly typecast as “the villain.”
“I was always getting cast as the Middle Eastern terrorist, the witch, the evil producer — whatever it was, I thought, ‘Why? Is it because I’m from the Middle East? Is it because of the conflict? Am I representing this conflict?’ ” Josephson said during a phone interview.
Her show, inspired by her own experience, is the story of how she worked through an identity crisis — from visiting a plastic surgeon who could fix her nose (to which her mother says, “A nose job? Are you out of your mind? It’s like giving away Jerusalem!”), to telling off a casting director who wants her to play a “merciless” Israeli soldier (“In Israel my friends saw me as a whiny, fearful little poodle, but in the U.S. I’m a Doberman.”). Eventually she comes to terms with being both visibly Jewish and undeniably Israeli in an industry that desperately wants her to conform.
“I represent my country, and I would feel like I was betraying myself and everything I stand for if I portrayed Israel in a negative way,” Josephson said. “Before I put this play on stage, I went to my parents and said, ‘Mom and Dad, I’m not going to make it in Hollywood because of my strong opinions.’ What I represent with my identity is stronger than my desire to do anything it takes to be in Hollywood.”
Josephson, 28, has been living in Los Angeles for seven years and says she understands why some fellow Israelis will do anything to ascend the ladder. But that doesn’t mean she is like them. In her eyes, she has a mission.
“In the play I’m encouraging Israelis to remind themselves where they’re coming from, and I’m encouraging them to support Israel, even if they’re away from Israel,” she said.
For his part, Lerner is unapologetic about a lack of a higher calling in his work, but he does share Josephson’s (and much of Jewish Hollywood’s) desire to be embraced by the American mainstream.
“The bottom line is the Jewish people have to succeed,” Lerner said. “And it all comes from the fear that if you don’t succeed, they won’t accept you.”
October 15, 2010 | 2:32 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
For some Jews it’s perplexing that Jon Stewart, an American Jewish icon, isn’t religious. How could the Jew who makes Jewish ‘cool’ be so indifferent to Judaism?
Buried beneath the laughter from his jokes—that he ritually delights in Big Macs with bacon on Yom Kippur or mocks Israel’s leaders for skipping a U.N. meeting on Sukkot “you mean, the holiday with the huts?”—is a deep and hidden disappointment that he isn’t really doing what we’re doing.
Earlier this week, The Berman Jewish Policy Archive, a research and analysis outfit at NYU, offered their findings on the state of Jewish journalism in the aftermath of a controversy at The Jewish Standard in New Jersey. One critique, from Andrew Silow-Carroll, expressed a wish “that journalists would move beyond their serial habit of assessing the ‘Jewishness’ of various public figures.”
The sentiment seemed shortsighted, because “assessing” the Jewishness of others enables communal connection. For example, knowing Jon Stewart was born Jewish is one thing; hearing him crack self-deprecating Jewish jokes night after night is intimately endearing. A Jew can participate in Stewart’s jokes because there’s a shared reference point; Jews aren’t laughing at Stewart, they’re laughing with him.
BJPA summed up Silow-Carroll’s article, first published by CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Leadership and Learning, with a more concrete explanation: “[The author] asserts that there seems to be a checklist of vague, stereotypical qualities that seem to create the overall profile of a Jew. Instead of journalists probing their subjects to find out meaningful aspects of Judaism in the individual’s life, they seem to only ask about where they celebrated their Bar-mitzvahs, or whether or not they went to Hebrew school. The author asserts that such checklist questioning undermines the true value and impact that Judaism has on one’s life.”
Fair enough. In fact, what Silow-Carroll is getting at is what makes it possible to consider Stewart—nonpracticing, irreligious Jew that he is— such an important Jewish figure. For Stewart, Hebrew school was boring; but being Jewish is not.
In this week’s Jewish Journal, writer Marty Kaplan tries to apprehend Stewart’s Jewishness with a few background details and excerpts from “The Daily Show”. It’s the title, though, that’s most revealing—“Waiting for Jewman”—because it implies, somehow or another that Jews want more of Stewart’s Jewishness, more of the core values that make him tick, more of the psychology that forms his worldview, more of his pet peeves and passions. And I’m not sure anyone would mind if, you know, Stewart popped by their shul one Shabbes.
Read more Waiting for Jewman:
Jon Stewart did his show, business as usual, on Rosh Hashanah this year. That night, when his interview guest, Meghan McCain, daughter of Senator John McCain, greeted him with “Happy New Year,” Stewart looked uncharacteristically nonplussed for a nanosecond, before replying, “What? Huh? See you in Times Square tonight.”
“Culturally Jewish, but not practicing” is what it’s called on the JDate profile form. Stewart grew up in suburban New Jersey with the name Jon Stewart Liebowitz. When radio host Howard Stern asked him about his real name, Stewart answered, “Actually, it’s ‘Jewy Jewman.’ ”