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Alan Arkin, Jewish actor with uncommon versatility, dies at 89

(JTA) — Alan Arkin knew he was going to be an actor from the age of five.

“Every film I saw, every play, every piece of music fed an unquenchable need to turn myself into something other than what I was,” he wrote in his 2011 memoir, “An Improvised Life.”

What he was was the son of Ukrainian and German Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, where he was born in 1934. But over the course of a long and unusually peripatetic career, he managed to turn himself into a conflicted Russian submarine officer (“The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming,” 1966), a struggling Puerto Rican widower (“Popi,” 1969) and a mild-mannered Manhattan dentist recruited into an unlikely espionage scheme by his daughter’s future father-in-law (“The In-Laws,” 1979).

His versatility was honed by his study of the “Stanislavski” method taught by Benjamin Zemach, an American modern-dance pioneer who specialized in Jewish themes, and his stint as an early member of the Second City improvisational comedy troupe in the 1960s.

“It’s improvisation, and some are terrific, and some are terrible,” he told an interviewer about his days with Second City. “The ability to fail was an extraordinary privilege and gift. … You don’t learn anything without failing.”

Arkin, who became the sixth-oldest winner of the best supporting actor Oscar in 2007 for his part in “Little Miss Sunshine,” died Thursday at his home in San Marcos, Calif. He was 89.

Over a nearly seven-decade career, he imbued comic roles with pathos and serious roles with a touch of sardonic humor. He was working until nearly the end of his life, co-starring with Michael Douglas from 2018 to 2019 in Chuck Lorre’s Netflix comedy series “The Kominsky Method.” That role, as agent Norman Newlander, earned him two consecutive Emmy Award nominations.

His other well-known roles included a paranoid salesman in the film adaptation of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992) and a deaf-mute in the Southern Gothic drama “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” (1968). He also played Yossarian, the reluctant airman in “Catch-22,” the 1970 film adaptation of the Joseph Heller novel. Although the character was technically Armenian, most critics agreed that he was a “coded” Jew.

Arkin also voiced J.D. Salinger, or at least a character purporting to be the famously reclusive Jewish writer, in the cult Netflix animated series, “BoJack Horseman.”

He made his directorial debut with the darkly comic “Little Murders” (1971), based on the stage play by Jewish writer and cartoonist Jules Feiffer. In 1975, Arkin directed the Broadway production of Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys,” a comedy about elderly enemies based on the Jewish vaudeville team Smith and Dale.

Arkin was the son of David I. Arkin, a painter and writer, and Beatrice Wortis, a teacher. He wrote that he grew up in a Jewish family with “no emphasis on religion.” The family moved to Los Angeles when Alan was 11; his parents were accused of being communists during the Red Scare” of the 1950s and struggled for work. He attended Los Angeles State College and Bennington College.

Arkin won a Tony for best featured actor in 1963 when he appeared on Broadway in “Enter Laughing,” a comedy based on an autobiographical novel by the Jewish comedian, writer and director Carl Reiner.

Arkin made his film debut — and received his first Academy Award nomination — opposite Reiner in “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming,” about a Soviet sub that runs aground off New England. The phrase he teaches his comrades — “Emergency! Everybody to get from street!” — became a catchphrase.

Thirteen years later, “The In-Laws” would spawn another catchphrase, after Arkin and his co-star Peter Falk avoid a hail of bullets by running zig-zag and yelling “Serpentine!”

In 1987, he starred in the television film “Escape from Sobibor,” portraying Leon Felhendler, a Polish-Jewish resistance fighter who organized the 1943 prisoner uprising at the Sobibor extermination camp. The role earned Arkin nominations for an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe award for best supporting actor.

In “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) he played the cranky, vulgar grandfather to a little girl who dreams, improbably, of winning a beauty pageant. Arkin’s character spends hours working on her dance routine with her in the independent comedy, which was a surprise hit.

On receiving his Academy Award for the role in 2007, Arkin said: “More than anything, I’m deeply moved by the open-hearted appreciation our small film has received, which in these fragmented times speaks so openly of the possibility of innocence, growth and connection.”

Arkin was also an accomplished folk singer, forming a group, The Tarriers, that had a modest 1956 hit with a version of “The Banana Boat Song,” a traditional Jamaican calypso folk song that Harry Belafonte would make more famous.

Arkin was married three times. He had three sons, all actors: Adam Arkin, Matthew Arkin and Anthony (Tony) Dana Arkin.

The post Alan Arkin, Jewish actor with uncommon versatility, dies at 89 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Treasure Trove: A 1905 postcard from Basel recalls the many Zionist groups and supporters in Toronto

“Greetings from the Seventh Zionist Congress to our friends in Toronto” reads the top message on this postcard sent from the 1905 Congress in Basel, the first held after the death of Theodor Herzl. The image was painted by Carl Josef Pollack and depicts Herzl standing among his fellow Jews awaiting entrance to the Land of […]

The post Treasure Trove: A 1905 postcard from Basel recalls the many Zionist groups and supporters in Toronto appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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‘Arteries of Capitalism’: Anti-Zionist Groups Planning Major ‘Blockade’ of Ports Around the World

Pro-Hamas demonstrators marching in Munich, Germany. Photo: Reuters/Alexander Pohl

Far-left anti-Israel activists are launching a mass demonstration to block the “arteries of capitalism” on Monday by staging a blockade of commercial shipping ports across the world in protest of Western support for the Jewish state.

“We will identify and blockade major choke points in the economy, focusing on points of production and circulation with the aim of causing the most economic impact,” A15, the group planning the action, announced in a statement. “There is a sense in the streets in this recent and unprecedented movement for Palestine that escalation has become necessary: there is a need to shift from symbolic actions to those that cause pain to the economy.”

A15 is calling on members in cities such as New York, Dublin, Sydney, Ho Chi Minh, Genoa, London, and others to participate in the act, which could endanger billions of dollars in shipping. The group is also sharing information about police arrest, bail, and other legal information, possibly suggesting that its members are prepared to behave unlawfully.

“As Yemen is bombed to secure global trade and billions of dollars are sent to the Zionist war machine, we must recognize that the global economy is complicit in genocide and together we will coordinate to disrupt and blockage economic logistical hubs and the flow of capital,” the group continued.

Another anti-Zionist group, which goes by “Within Our Lifetime,” has vowed to join the demonstration and will participate by amassing on Wall Street in an attempt to bring trading on the New York Stock Exchange to a halt. Nerdeen Kiswani, a former City University of New York student who once threatened to set a person’s sweater on fire while he was wearing it, will lead the effort.

Police in Victoria, Australia are on high alert, according to a report this weel by The Sydney Morning Herald. On Monday, the city will activate its State Police Operations Center, an action which is reserved for emergencies and will require diverting resources from other cities in the state. One likely target of the group, the Port of Melbourne, processes over 8,000 containers per day and adds $11 billion to national gross domestic product (GDP).

Anti-Zionist protesters have protested at the Port of Melbourne before. In January, they attempted to prevent the docking container ship at Webb Dock because its owner, ZIM shipping firm, is an Israeli company.

The New York City area has been the site of similar demonstrations. In 2021, a group called “Block the Boat” protested the unloading of a container ship owned by ZIM at the Port of New York/New Jersey, two days after another Israeli ship was reportedly blocked from unloading in Oakland.

Since the Hamas terror group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, attempted disruptions of shipping have occurred in many major American cities. Most recently, a group amassed at San Francisco’s Piers 30/32 to condemn the leaving of USNS Harvey Milk, believing that it was en route to the Middle East.

US Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) addressed the protesters, according to a local CBS affiliate, telling them that President Joe Biden agrees with their message.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Biden Pressure on Israel Partly Due to Concerns Over 2024 Election, Says Israeli Lawmaker, Former UN Ambassador

US President Joe Biden, left, pauses during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo: Miriam Alster/Pool via REUTERS

Israeli politician and former Ambassador Danny Danon attributed US President Joe Biden’s increasingly critical posture toward Israel’s war on the Hamas terrorist group to domestic political concerns and the upcoming presidential election in a wide-ranging interview with The Algemeiner.

Danon, a current member of the Israeli parliament for the Likud party and former ambassador to the United Nations, spoke with The Algemeiner to discuss the ongoing war against the Hamas , potential escalation in northern Israel with the Hezbollah terrorist organization, and the evolving politics of the US-Israel relationship.

Asked about Biden’s pressure on Israel not to enter Rafah — the last Hamas stronghold in Gaza — and to agree to a ceasefire, Danon said, “You know, a ceasefire without us bringing the hostages back and defeating Hamas, it means that Israel will lose this war.”

“I don’t think that President Biden and other allies of Israel are actually supporting the stand of Israel losing the war,” he continued, arguing that “they have other interests in moving forward because of the election in the US and international pressure, but we have a different timeline.”

When asked to clarify if he believed the upcoming presidential election in the US was fueling Biden’s current policy toward Israel — especially in the form of public and private pressure — Danon reiterated that he believes “it’s a combination of the election and also international pressure.”

In several US states, activists have been campaigning for voters not to support Biden in the Democratic primary due to his overall support for Israel. In Michigan, for example, a key battleground state and home to America’s largest Arab population, a campaign to vote “uncommitted” during the state’s primary rather than for Biden gained significant support. Some prominent observers have suggested that the Biden administration’s changing position on Israel and the war in Gaza may be influenced by domestic political fears of losing electoral support from anti-Israel voters.

Meanwhile, amid escalating tensions on Israel’s northern front with Hezbollah, which wields significant political and military influence across Lebanon, Danon made it clear that Israel would remove the threat of Hezbollah on its border one way or another.

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, “tens of thousands of Israelis have been evacuated from the northern communities” due to the rockets launched by Hezbollah on a nearly daily basis, he explained. In total, more than 2,000 rockets, along with many more anti-tank guided missiles and drones, have been launched into Israeli territory since the war began.

“They … have to be able to go back to their homes. In order for them to go back, we … have to push Hezbollah away from the border,” he said. “So that’s the end game.”

How that may happen in practice remains uncertain: “One option is to have negotiations and to prevent the conflict,” he said. “And the second option is to have a limited conflict. And the third option is to have a full war with Hezbollah.”

Regardless, he added, in the end Hezbollah “will not be on the fence and they will not threaten our communities.”

The interview took place prior to last week’s airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus, Syria last week that Iranian officials have attributed to Israel.

the Israeli strike in Syria that killed two commanders in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — putting Israel on high alert for the prospect of a direct Iranian attack on Israeli territory. The strike killed seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a US-designated terrorist organization, including two senior commanders.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in the incident. However, Israel has been bracing for a retaliatory strike amid a flurry of public threats from Iran to attack Israel.

Another important issue that has captured the attention of the citizens of Israel and the entire Jewish world is the continued captivity of more than 130 people in Gaza who Hamas terrorists kidnapped during their Oct. 7 rampage. Liberated captives testified to surviving sexual assault, torture, and starvation.

“When you deal with the [sic] irrational enemy like Hamas, it’s very challenging [to negotiate a deal],” Danon said. “I think we should apply more force, more military force, and that will encourage Hamas to negotiate another agreement that will release more hostages.”

Some of the more than 250 hostages seized on Oct. 7 were released as part of a temporary Israel-Hamas truce in November.

Pushed on why there has not been another agreement since then, he explained, “The challenges that we are facing are not easy. Both the one that requires the defeat of Hamas, you know, we pay a very heavy toll every day, more and more soldiers are paying the price of their lives in order to achieve this goal.”

“And also the hostages,” he added. “It’s very hard for them, the conditions are unbearable, and we are aware of the ongoing atrocities. So it is hard, but I think it’s a challenge for us to be determined. And I think at the end of the day, despite the difficulty, we are determined to win this war, and we will win this war.”

Some Israelis have criticized the government for prioritizing military victory and politics over the return of the hostages. One family member of a hostage said at a rally recently that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “concern for coalition stability outweighs his clear duty to bring our loved ones home … We were told to sit still, we were told to travel the world, but after six months, the hostages are still in Gaza! This is a complete and deliberate failure!”

Nevertheless, Danon is singularly focused on winning the war against Hamas and bringing home the hostages. 

“I think the enemy underestimated the strength of the people of Israel, and they will realize that we are a strong nation and that’s why we will defeat them,” Danon concluded, underscoring the way in which this war has, in many ways, brought Israelis together in an unprecedented way.

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