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‘Funny Girl’ national tour casts non-Jewish actor as Fanny Brice, reigniting ‘Jewface’ criticism

(JTA) — The announcement this week that Katerina McCrimmon would star as Fanny Brice in the national tour of “Funny Girl,” the Broadway musical about a trailblazing Jewish comedian, has ignited criticism from some Jewish actors who say the role should be played only by someone who identifies as Jewish.

The casting, announced on Tuesday, is a breakout role for McCrimmon, who previously appeared briefly on Broadway in Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo” but has mostly done smaller productions.

But it has disappointed some Jewish performers and their allies in the theater community who knew that the production had advertised itself as “specifically seeking actors of Jewish heritage.”

Jennifer Apple, one of the first actors to discuss the decision on social media, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that because Jewishness was central to Brice, a pioneering early 20th-century vaudevillian, it should be for anyone playing her as well.

“Fanny Brice was a real human being,” said Apple, who also auditioned for the role of Brice and appeared in the national tour of “The Band’s Visit,” about an Egyptian police band’s accidental stay in an Israeli town. “She was a Jewish icon. She was a heroine. She in and of herself paved the way for performers like myself to be able to have a career. If it wasn’t for her, and her chutzpah, many of us Jewish women specifically wouldn’t be able to be performers. So it’s integral to this role, specifically.”

Someone can have Jewish heritage without embracing a Jewish identity — just ask the actor Lea Michele, who replaced Jewish actor Beanie Feldstein as Brice in the recent Broadway revival of “Funny Girl.” Michele’s father is a Sephardic Jew, but she was raised as a Catholic and said she does not identify as Jewish. (For six seasons on the hit television show “Glee,” Michele played a Jewish character, Rachel Berry, who was set on one day portraying Fanny Brice.)

But none of the coverage of McCrimmon’s casting in arts outlets has suggested any personal connection to the Brice character’s Jewish identity, and in the show’s materials, she identifies as “a proud Cuban-American from Miami.” She did not respond to a request for comment.

“I have no doubt that Katerina is freaking terrific and … that she is more than capable of leading a nat’l tour,” Samantha Massell, an actor who appeared in the revival of “Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway, posted on Instagram after the casting announcement. “But if you consider yourself an advocate for representation in casting and you’re AOK with this (or celebrating it), you need to check yourself.”

The casting adds to an ongoing debate over identity and performance. Some argue that actors should be able to play any role, regardless of their background. But the idea that at least some roles should be reserved for actors whose identities overlap with their characters’ has gained steam in recent years — opening the door for criticism when people who are not Jewish are cast as Jewish characters. (Helen Mirren, who is not Jewish but is playing the Israeli stateswoman Golda Meir in the upcoming film “Golda,” is among those who say they “adhere to both camps.”)

Some have criticized the casting of non-Jewish actors in Jewish roles as “Jewface.” The Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman, for example, lambasted the casting of Kathryn Hahn as Joan Rivers in a biopic that was ultimately scrapped; another frequent subject of criticism has been Rachel Brosnahan as the fictional Jewish comedian Midge Maisel on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

The real-life Brice got her start in the 1910s headlining Florenz Ziegfeld’s revue, the “Ziegfeld Follies.” The 1964 musical and subsequent film “Funny Girl,” both starring Barbra Streisand, chronicle Brice’s rise to fame while she grapples with her own identity as a Jewish woman — including the shape of her nose, the cadence of her voice and the pacing of her humor.

“If there is something in the piece that when portrayed by somebody of a different identity could potentially be viewed as perpetuating a stereotype or veer into the land of cultural appropriation, you’ve made the wrong casting decision,” said Ari Axelrod, an actor and producer who organized a Broadway gathering in response to a neo-Nazi protest outside the first preview of “Parade,” the show about a 1915 antisemitic lynching, in which the main character is played by the Jewish actor Ben Platt.

Critics of the casting choice say specific lyrics and visual gags just don’t work as well when they are performed by people who do not have specific Jewish lived experiences because they are or can be offensive.

The song, “If a Girl isn’t Pretty,” for example, contains the lyric, “Is a nose with deviation such a crime against the nation?” referring to Brice’s own body image issues, which she partially resolved with one of the earliest rhinoplasties in the United States.

And in the song “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat,” Brice’s character plays the Jewish caricature “Private Schwartz from Rockaway,” who wears a harness outfitted with two suggestively placed bagels and sings in an exaggerated Eastern European accent about how his “bagels gave a spin, oy, oy.”

“The content of this show is specifically about how she was not considered a pretty Jewish woman, that she had to change her name and change her looks to ‘fit in,’ that she had to assimilate because of her Jewish identity,” Apple said. “To have somebody not be Jewish and do that could perpetuate stereotypes.”

Axelrod and Apple both pointed to the casting of actor Bradley Cooper as American Jewish composer Leonard Bernstein in the upcoming Netflix film “Maestro” as another example of a “Jewface” gaffe. (Early stills of Cooper wearing a prosthetic nose for the role reignited the debate; Silverman is set to appear in the film.)

The casting decision for the tour follows a 15-month Broadway run for “Funny Girl.” Beginning in April 2022, Feldstein starred as Fanny Brice in the revival, bringing a childhood dream of hers to life. (Feldstein’s 3rd birthday party was “Funny Girl”-themed.)

Beanie Feldstein, center, stars as Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of “Funny Girl.” (Matthew Murphy)

“I truly believe that any Jewish woman who wants to be funny and perform and sing owes something to Fanny Brice,” she told the New York Jewish Week last year.

But after three months, the production announced that Michele would replace Feldstein — after a one-month performance by Jewish actor Julie Benko.

Under the laws of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it is illegal for a workplace to discriminate against an applicant or employee’s race, religion, sex or gender identity, national origin, age or disability. But the law allows employers to select for aspects of personal appearance if they are essential for fulfilling the requirements of the job — a leniency that opens the door to casting Black actors as Black characters, for example.

There are legal ways to stack the deck in favor of filling roles with actors of certain backgrounds, such as by encouraging people who hold specific identities to audition, or by encouraging others to choose not to.

Massell revealed in an Instagram story Thursday that when the casting directors of the musical “Double Helix,” which tells the story of the discovery of the structure of DNA, were auditioning for the other two Jewish roles (Massell plays the lead role of Rosalind Franklin), they asked people who do not identify as Jewish to “please pass” on auditioning.

“This feels like such a great actionable step for all of these types of roles that are specifically tied to an ethnic identity,” she said.

Those who are challenging the Brice casting on the national tour say there is room for actors to play characters unlike themselves. Apple — who said she has twice been one of just two Jews cast in professional productions of “Fiddler” — says it’s a “slippery slope” to argue that actors must only play their own identity.

“I don’t like that. I don’t subscribe to that. That’s not why I’m an actor,” she said. “It really just comes down to the integrity of the role and the story. And this one is literally about her Jewish identity. She was a Jewish icon.”

Who made the decision to depart from the character breakdown suggestion is not clear. Sonia Friedman Productions and NETworks Presentations, which are producing the tour that is set to launch in Providence, Rhode Island, this fall, did not respond to requests for comment..

“I do know that for this to have happened, a lot of people had to say yes,” said Axelrod.

He said that even though he disagrees with the casting decision, he believes it could have positive dividends for storytelling about Jews.

“Katerina has an incredible opportunity to use this moment to educate herself and empathize with Fanny’s story, but also the story of Jews today,” he said. “If we can’t change the casting decision — and I don’t necessarily think we should, it’s not up to me — we can leverage the moment as an opportunity for empathy and education.”

The post ‘Funny Girl’ national tour casts non-Jewish actor as Fanny Brice, reigniting ‘Jewface’ criticism appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Victims of Oct. 7 Massacre Sue UNRWA for Funding Hamas, Giving Terrorists a ‘Safe Haven’ in Its Gaza Facilities

The bloodied aftermath of a kindergarten in Kibbutz Be’eri attacked by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. Photo: Reuters/Amir Cohen

More than 100 Israeli victims of the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack in southern Israel filed a lawsuit on Monday against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) for allegedly “aiding and abetting” the Palestinian terrorist organization and helping it carry out the massacre last year that killed more than 1,200 people.

The lawsuit claims that the UN organization dedicated solely to Palestinian refugees and their descendants has spent years “sending over one billion dollars from UNRWA’s New York bank account in Manhattan that defendants then caused to be delivered to Gaza in cash US dollars to benefit Hamas.” UNRWA allegedly laundered billions in donor cash to Hamas, “greatly reducing humanitarian aid provided to Gaza residents and playing a key role in the Oct. 7 attack.” MM~LAW LLC filed the lawsuit against UNRWA in US federal court in the Southern District of New York on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Both the Israeli government and watchdog groups have unveiled evidence purportedly showing that many UNRWA employees actively participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, assisted in kidnapping Israelis that day, tortured and hid Israeli hostages in their homes, aided in the transfer of Hamas weapons and trucks, and had other close ties to Hamas.

The UN has been probing the allegations in an ongoing investigation. In April, a UN spokesperson said that one case of an employee helping Hamas and its Oct. 7 onslaught had been closed and four others suspended, citing a lack of evidence.

Israel discovered that Hamas used UNRWA facilities in Gaza, including its schools, to run operations and attacks against Israel and to store weapons, both in and under UNRWA institutions. The Israeli military recently revealed that in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, Hamas terrorists were found in UNRWA’s central logistics compound alongside UN vehicles. A group of 3,000 teachers working in Gaza for UNRWA even praised the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. UNRWA operates 183 schools in Gaza that are staffed by over 9,400 employees, according to the lawsuit

UNRWA schools have previously been accused of inciting antisemitism, terrorism, and hatred of Israel in the textbooks it distributes to Palestinians students.

The Israeli victims of Oct. 7 claim in their lawsuit that UNRWA “knowingly and intentionally” employed Hamas members and “knowingly provided material support to Hamas in Gaza,” including providing them access to UNRWA facilities and offering “safe havens for terrorists and their materiel.”

They accuse UNRWA of facilitating “construction of Hamas command and control centers, attack tunnels and underground bunkers under UNRWA headquarters, UNRWA schools, medical clinics, and offices.” The UN agency is also accused of turning its facilities into “prison cells to hold hostages,” as well as “military storage and deployment bases, including the storage and guarding over weapons, ammunition, explosives, and other military supplies, to be used by terrorists.”

UNRWA “collectively spent over a decade prior to the Oct.7 attack helping Hamas build up the terror infrastructure and personnel that were necessary to carry out the Oct. 7 attack, including by knowingly providing Hamas with the US dollars in cash that it needed to pay smugglers for weapons, explosives, and other terror materiel,” the lawsuit charges.

The UN organization also allegedly “permitted installation of rocket launching platforms and terrorist firing positions within and/or adjacent to UNRWA schools, medical clinics and offices, in violation of international humanitarian law.”

The case includes accusations about UNRWA implementing a tactic to further fund Hamas by paying its Gaza staff in US dollars rather than local currency, which is the Israeli shekel. The lawsuit states that although other large, local employers in Gaza pay their employees in shekels, UNRWA instead pays its local staff in US dollars and in cash. As a result, UNRWA personnel are required “to turn to Hamas-affiliated moneychangers” to exchange their cash dollars for shekels needed to buy things like groceries and other necessities.

“Hamas runs the majority of the Gaza moneychangers, and those are that are not actually run by Hamas are required by Hamas to pay Hamas a share of the fees they earn (often ranging from 10 percent up to 25 percent) for such exchange transactions, thus ensuring that a predictable percentage of UNRWA’s payroll went to Hamas,” the lawsuit explained. “Hamas uses the moneychangers to finance its military activities, and there are multiple examples in recent years of Hamas using currency exchange facilities in Gaza to finance its military activities.”

The lawsuit continued, “Hamas desperately needed the US currency itself. US dollars in cash form are vital to Hamas for purposes such as obtaining weapons on the international black market to be smuggled into Gaza and used for terrorist purposes, including the Oct. 7 attack.”

The plaintiffs said that because UNRWA’s actions in aiding Hamas “occurred in significant part” in New York — like trips taken by UNRWA personnel to the United Nations in New York City to secure funding from donor countries — the federal court in New York in which they filed their lawsuit has jurisdiction to making a ruling in the case.

Plaintiffs include not only victims of the attack but also families and representatives of those murdered by Hamas on Oct. 7. They demand a trial by jury and are seeking damages “in an amount to be proven at trial.”

The post Victims of Oct. 7 Massacre Sue UNRWA for Funding Hamas, Giving Terrorists a ‘Safe Haven’ in Its Gaza Facilities first appeared on

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Hundreds of Israelis have been moving to Canada since Oct. 7—and a Hebrew website has been here to help

When Michal Harel and her family moved to Canada from Israel in April of 2019, they had a hard time getting settled. Between learning English, finding a home, acquiring work permits, and of course navigating the more restrained social norms in Canada, Harel and her husband, Avital Epstein, struggled to get their new life in […]

The post Hundreds of Israelis have been moving to Canada since Oct. 7—and a Hebrew website has been here to help appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Here’s What Has Happened on the Ground in Gaza Over the Past Month

Trucks stand at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, Egypt, April 25, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

The Israeli offensive in the Rafah area gradually took all the ground adjacent to the border between Gaza and Egypt. Over the past few days, there have been reports of Israeli forces now conducting attacks from the area taken northwards, both in the relatively open area between the city of Rafah and the coast and inside Rafah itself.

Many civilians in Gaza have moved to the safe havens allotted by the IDF. The resistance by the US government to the Rafah operation was based on the premise this would not happen. Just as in the previous IDF offensives in northern Gaza and the Khan Yunis area, the rate of evacuation is one of the factors determining the rate of advance of the IDF units.

During the clearing operations in each area taken, IDF units have uncovered hundreds of tunnels, including dozens crossing the border into Egypt. These tunnels were used for smuggling weapons from Egypt into Gaza, as well as civilian traffic — both people and goods. Officially the Egyptians destroy all tunnels they discover on their side of the border, but apparently, over the past few years, they have reduced this effort considerably — these tunnels all have large openings on the Egyptian side of the border, they are not small or camouflaged, and the traffic through them was not a trickle.

Rocket launchers and stocks of rockets were also found adjacent to the Egyptian border. Additionally, more evidence has been found in Rafah of Hamas’ use of UN sites and mosques.

The IDF has also continued to conduct raids into northern Gaza and Khan Yunis whenever concentrations of returning Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists are discovered, as well as raids into the Nuseyrat area, between Gaza and Nuseyrat. The Nuseyrat area is the only one in which the IDF has not yet conducted a major offensive operation.

In a much publicized raid on June 8, which was conducted by a Police Force special unit supported by the IDF, four hostages held in two separate private homes (one belonging to a news photographer who had published in Al-Jazeera) were rescued. An Israeli officer was killed in this raid, and a few others were wounded. The Palestinians, as usual, claimed enormous casualties to civilians living in the area of the raid. Again as usual, there is no evidence that the published number was anywhere near the truth.

Given similar events in the past — when numbers claimed by the Palestinians of hundreds of civilians killed by the IDF were later found to be grossly exaggerated, to have included many terrorists, and to have included Palestinians killed or wounded by Palestinian fire — the reliability of these numbers must be regarded as suspect.

Also found over the past few weeks were the bodies of a number of hostages killed on October 7 whose bodies were taken to Gaza, as well as a few who were kidnapped alive and then killed while being held. One more body was discovered inside Israel.

After spending an estimated $320 million on building a floating pier to provide humanitarian supplies, it seems the US will permanently dismantle it. It was incapable of withstanding the buffeting of waves, and broke apart once. The pieces were then towed to an Israeli port for repair and to await a calming of the sea. Afterwards it was returned to the Gaza coast, but when the sea conditions worsened again, the Americans pulled it out again. Because the IDF captured the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing, Egypt refused to continue sending humanitarian supplies through it. However, supplies increased through the other crossings between Israel and Gaza, thereby bypassing Hamas tax-collectors. According to posts published by Gazans on social media, this lowered the prices of commodities in Gaza.

On June 9, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNHCA) published a report stating that the claim that there is a famine in Gaza is not based on supporting evidence:

The FRC does not find the FEWS NET analysis plausible given the uncertainty and lack of convergence of the supporting evidence employed in the analysis. Therefore, the FRC is unable to make a determination as to whether or not famine thresholds have been passed during April.

They qualify that statement by claiming they are physically incapable of acquiring sufficient reliable evidence. However, photographs posted on social media by Gazans show that the real problem is less a matter of lack of foodstuffs and more an issue of inefficient distribution. The IDF spokesperson has reported that much of the supplies are simply being stored inside Gaza and awaiting distribution because the organizations in charge of distribution are incapable of meeting the rate of supplies flowing into Gaza. Furthermore, Gazans are complaining openly that Hamas is deliberately taking much of the supplies and hoarding them to sell at high prices to raise funds for its operations. They also complain of theft of supplies by criminal organizations for the same purpose.


In a speech given on June 19 by Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah, he claimed that:

Hezbollah has 100,000 troops all told and has therefore turned down requests by other organizations of the Iranian-led Shiite alliance to send contingents to Lebanon.

Hezbollah has the full panoply of weapons to conduct ground, air and sea combat, it manufactures weapons at home, and it is receiving weapons from Iran despite Israel’s attempts to prevent this.

He also claimed that Hezbollah has information that Cyprus has agreed to allow Israel to use its airports if Israeli airports are damaged by Hezbollah fire. He threatened that if Cyprus does this, it too will become a target of Hezbollah’s firepower.

This is not the first time Nasrallah has mentioned the 100,000 troops figure. This is considerably more than all previous reports, which ranged from a low of 45,000 to a high of 60,000. The previous occasion was in October 2021 when internal tensions in Lebanon threatened to boil over into a possible civil war. If he is speaking the truth, then Hezbollah has more men than the official Lebanese army (85,000). The Hezbollah forces are certainly better trained on average than the Lebanese army, and they are also better equipped in some areas.

The exchange of fire on the Israel-Lebanon border continues at a varying but fairly low intensity. Over the past few weeks Israeli attacks have escalated in the choice of targets, which are now no longer only near the border but also include Hezbollah installations in central and northern Lebanon. Hezbollah has responded by increasing the size of its rocket and exploding drone salvos into Israel. There are reports that to reduce casualties Hezbollah has withdrawn many of its personnel several kilometers north of the border and is conducting almost all its fire from a distance.

Hezbollah has admitted that so far 349 of its personnel have been killed (another 50 since my last report). This does not include non-Shiite members of Hezbollah who probably add at least a few dozen to the list.

In addition to the numerical increase in Hezbollah casualties, there has also been an increase in their ranks and importance. The commander and some senior staff members of one of Hezbollah’s three divisions in south Lebanon were killed, as were some senior staff members of another division.

Israeli casualties

The total number of Israelis confirmed killed on and since October 7, 2023, is now 1,609, with another approximately 16,500 wounded.

There are still approximately 116 kidnapped Israelis and non-Israelis in Gaza. How many are alive and how many dead is not known. In the negotiations with Hamas, Israel demanded a list of those alive and those dead, but Hamas refused. Furthermore, Hamas claims not to know the whereabouts of more than a few dozen of the hostages. Some are in the hands of other groups or even “private” clans who joined the assault on Israel in the third wave of the Hamas attack on 7 October. Thus, for example, the four Israelis rescued since my last report were all held in the private homes of “civilians.”

In addition, 19 Israeli civilians have been killed in Hamas rocket attacks and seven by Hezbollah.

As of last month, a total of 662 IDF soldiers have been killed (42 more than my previous report) on all fronts since and including October 7.

Palestinian casualties

The Gaza Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas in its role as the government of Gaza, claims that approximately 37,500 Gazans have been killed so far, and approximately 85,000 wounded. They do not differentiate between personnel of Hamas and other terrorist organizations and civilians, but according to the IDF, at least 15,000 Hamas and other terrorists have been killed. The IDF has also captured many terrorists, though the exact number has not been divulged. From anecdotal information it can be estimated at 3,000-3,500 (there have been no reports of major surrenders over the past month).

Given that Hamas and the other groups had 40,000-50,000 personnel between them (different sources provide different numbers, and there is a problem counting part-timers as opposed to regulars or official “reserves”), these numbers represent a sizeable chunk of their manpower. However, we have no information on the recruitment rate of new personnel, who are perhaps less trained but still add to the numbers. Hamas youth movements (equivalent to Boys Scout movements) conduct basic firearms training from an early age, so they have a recruitment pool of teenagers available to join the fighting.

Until early May, the UN claimed (quoting Hamas numbers) that of the nearly 35,000 Gazans killed in the war till then, 9,500 were women and 14,500 were children; i.e., approximately 68.5% of the killed. Suddenly, two days later, the UN approximately halved the numbers to nearly 5,000 women and 7,800 children; i.e., approximately 36.5% of the killed.

It should be noted that Israel has been consistently claiming its combatant/non-combatant ratio is one of the best and perhaps the best ever achieved by any army fighting in urban areas. These new numbers prove it. In fact, given that the term “children” includes anyone under 18 and that Hamas and the other organizations employ teenagers younger than that as combatants (15-18 year-olds), the ratio is in fact even better than these numbers show. Any civilian deaths are regrettable, but they are unfortunately inevitable whenever combat occurs where civilians are present. When one side deliberately uses them as human shields, this of course happens even more.

Dr. Eado Hecht, a senior research fellow at the BESA Center, is a military analyst focusing mainly on the relationship between military theory, military doctrine, and military practice. He teaches courses on military theory and military history at Bar-Ilan University, Haifa University, and Reichman University and in a variety of courses in the Israel Defense Forces. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

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