My brain this morning is a whirling dervish of news, topics, and ideas which could probably fill a few months worth of JNR content. Fortunately I have a helper today, my grand daughter Abby, who will keep me focused and gets awarded “muse of the week” for her inspiring presence. Today is also the Yahrzeit of my Dad, who passed 24 years ago, and unfortunately, never got to meet Max or Abby or any other nachas generators yet to come. Sitting here with our little bundle of Abby joy, with the Yahrzeit candle flickering in the background, and hearing my Dad’s name called out during our Temple service last night, I am feeling a bit verklempt this morning.
Which may be why my thoughts turn away from failing banks, CPAC whack jobs, orange turdness, Days of Disruption and other shit storms and toward honoring the memory of Israel’s greatest export since the Jaffa orange, Chaim Topol. The sun set permanently this week on the actor best known as Tevya from the landmark film version of “Fiddler on the Roof”. Topol began playing the lead role on the London stage, but will surely be best known for the oscar nominated film version produced in 1971 by one of my favorite Goys, Norm Jewison. Topol went on to reprise the role in stage productions across the world including Turkey, Japan, and Greece, where he got to see firsthand how universally resonant Fiddler’s themes were: the struggle between tradition and modernity, the importance of family. But he also embodied it as a deeply Jewish story. According to one critic, “Fiddler was carefully structured to make Judaism and the influx of Jewish immigrants after the Holocaust sympathetic and accessible to outsiders. But as American Jews have become increasingly assimilated into American culture, it has turned into a touchstone for the Old World roots that help ground Judaism as a unique ethnicity and culture.”
True that. Sandra and I recently added the film version to our list of holiday movies, (along with “Die Hard” and “Love Actually”), and were surprised to find that some of our nieces and nephews had never seen it! So, a new tradition, tradition! And to Topol, a big “tip of the kipah” for an indelible performance that will certainly live on forever in the hearts and minds of Jews and non-Jews across the globe. If you are interested, there are two documentaries on the film with interesting anecdotes and back stories, and both do a pretty good job of articulating the cultural significance of the film and play, “Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles”, and “Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen”.
And speaking of the struggle between modernity and tradition, there is more of that theme playing out in Israel. Over 250,000 protesters took to the streets on Thursday (160,000 in Tel Aviv alone) to protest Bibi’s proposed power grab of the Supreme Court of Israel, making this the 9th week of such protests. Let’s do a quick summary: The high tech community, most economists, 80% of the people, most Jews around the world, most of the legal community, and now the reservists in the Israeli military, all oppose the manner, methods and content of the judicial reform proposals. Most recently, Bibi couldn’t find a pilot to fly him to Rome for a meeting since the pilots are also protesting, and, the protesters in the streets blocked his passage to the airport so that he had to take a helicopter instead of drive! Bibi, boobelah, you are losing your grip!
There appears to be some sunrise emerging on a compromise, led by President Herzog, but there are so many red lines on the key issues that it will be real tricky to carve out a compromise that will actually be acceptable and workable to all interested parties. And here in the good ole US of A, the American Jewish community seems to be agonizing over the Israeli government’s recent behavior. National organizations known for ferociously defending Israel are now publicly criticizing it over proposed changes to the judicial system. Rabbis, too, have sermonized against those reforms and new extremist cabinet ministers, including our own Rabbi Metzler, who re-emphasized his support of the protesters in last night’s Shabbat service. And dozens of prominent Jewish leaders came out against a planned visit by one of those ministers, Bezalel Smotrich, in a scathing open letter this month. No matter how you feel about the issue, they should at a minimum slow this process down and have a thoughtful dialogue before sunsetting democratic traditions that have served Israel well and reflect the liberal values of the country.
What about all the rest of the Jewy news you may be asking? When do we get to eat at the buffet of juicy items gathered from the likes of The Forward, Times of Israel, Kveller, Jewish Boston, and other notable journals of Jewish news and culture? Well put your feedbags on, cause here you go:
- Remembering Topol, the people’s Tevye – When making the film version of Fiddler on the Roof, director Norman Jewison chose Chaim Topol over Zero Mostel, who played Tevye in the original Broadway production. The Associated Press estimates that the movie has been seen by more than 1 billion people – including, according to Mira Fox at The Forward, the Mormon students at Brigham Young University who staged a production of Fiddler last year. “Topol’s Tevye,” she says, “shaped how they understood what it meant to be Jewish.” Read the story ➤
- 🇮🇱 Yikes! It’s been a deadly 24 hours in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – The Israeli owner of a farm in the occupied West Bank shot and killed an armed Palestinian man who reportedly threw improvised explosives at the farm early this morning … A Palestinian gunman shot and wounded three people on Tel Aviv’s main drag of cafes and restaurants Thursday night, before being killed by the police; two Israeli Arabs suspected of aiding the attacker have turned themselves in to authorities … Earlier on Thursday, undercover Israeli forces killed three Islamic Jihad gunmen in the West Bank. (Times of Israel, JTA, Haaretz, Times of Israel)
- White supremacists passed out more propaganda than ever in 2022: That’s according to a new Anti-Defamation League report out this week. The group found 6,751 incidents of white supremacist propaganda, a 38% increase from the previous year and the highest number since the ADL began tracking it. Among those propaganda incidents, according to the ADL, 852 — about 13% — were antisemitic, more than double the number in 2021. Carla Hill of the ADL said a “a small number of people” were responsible for large numbers of incidents, adding: “One person can literally make a town feel like it’s inundated with antisemites.” Read the story ➤
- Your guide to Jews in baseball 2023 – Ah, spring training and Fort Myers can only mean one thing: Spring is on the way! Our fantasy league baseball draft is the end of this month, and none too soon! As long as I can remember, my father always talked about the great Jews of baseball, mostly Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. Of course there were others, but none that I recall from Dad. “Jewish people are very passionate about baseball,” Boston Red Sox pitcher Richard Bleier recently noted. “They love finding out who the Jewish athletes are.” That’s been true ever since Lipman Pike, New York-born son of a Dutch Jewish family, became the first professional ballplayer in 1866. Now, we have The Forward to thank for giving us the guide for all Jews in Baseball. For the complete guide, click here.
- This week marked International Women’s Day. Ellen Cassedy, a founder of the 9-5 movement, says in a new OpEd that her lifetime of fighting for working women was inspired by the stories she heard about Yiddish-speaking women and girls in the garment industry who went on strike for better wages and hours. Bonus:Watch a Yiddish rendition of Dolly Parton’s song, “9 to 5.”
- Shiva call – Judith Heumann, often called the “mother of the disabilities rights movement,” died on Saturday at 75. Her work paved the way for the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Read The Forward’s 2021 conversation with Heumann, who they named to the Forward list of 125 American Jews who shaped our world. “’The Jewish community has an obligation, I believe, to be leaders,’ Judy Heumann said in 2016, and boy, she was one hell of a leader. Tip of the Kipah to you Judith, may you rest in peace.
- Purim illegal in Tennessee? What else is new. Tennessee’s new anti-drag laws would make Purim celebrations illegal. A bill signed into law there makes it illegal to stage “adult cabaret” anywhere a child might encounter it. Like, for example, at any Jewish community center Purim spiel or carnival where some might choose to portray characters of a different gender and, especially, at The Vashti Ball, New York’s largest queer Purim party, which features drag and welcomes children and teens in a non-alcoholic section. This anti-woke bullshit needs to end soon. For more, click here.
And so, another JNR comes to an end. It’s been a pleasure working with Abby this week, I hope it can become a new tradition! And hey, let’s remember to be careful out there.