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Hulu’s ‘The Bear’ brought up ‘Jewish lightning’: What does it mean, and is it antisemitic?

There are some light spoilers for “The Bear” in this article.

(JTA) — “The Bear,” FX and Hulu’s drama series about the behind-the-scenes workings of a Chicago restaurant, has been one of TV’s most acclaimed series since debuting last year.

The first episode of its second season, which debuted June 22, brought up a controversial term that caught the attention of critics: “Jewish lightning.”

Most found the reference funny but didn’t want to touch it. A Vulture critic wrote,” I’m not even going to go into what ‘Jewish Lightning’ is.”

But what does it mean, and is it as antisemitic as it sounds?

This season focuses on the restaurant’s transition from Italian sandwich stop into a more high-end restaurant called The Bear, a transformation that requires heapings of money and effort. Protagonist Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), a decorated chef, returned to Chicago at the start of the series to run the restaurant following the death by suicide of his brother Mikey (Jewish actor Jon Bernthal, who appears on the show in flashbacks).

In the first episode of Season 2, a character falls into a hole in the wall. When the characters wonder why there’s a hole there, veteran restaurant employee Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) describes it as “the result of some failed Jewish lightning.” At one difficult point for the restaurant years earlier, Mikey, in the throes of drug addiction, had “thought that if this place were to accidentally burn down, that maybe there’d be some insurance money.”

Richie explains the term correctly — it’s used to describe arson aimed at collecting insurance money. The American Jewish Committee calls it “a derogatory phrase…rooted in Jewish stereotypes of stinginess and greed” and “an ethnic slur that should be condemned.”

It’s not clear where or when the term originated, but it dates at least as far back as the 1970s, when Earl Ganz published a short story in the Iowa Review called “Jewish Lightning.”

The “Bear” characters acknowledge that “Jewish lightning” is a problematic term.

“I think the explanation of Jewish lightning does cement it as something that we shouldn’t say,” says sous chef Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), who adds that she would like to “add it to the list” of terms not to be said in the restaurant. In an effort at “personal growth” that is one of the season’s continuing arcs, Richie had earlier vowed to no longer pejoratively use other non-politically correct words such as “gay” and “retarded.”

There’s a payoff to the arc in the season’s eighth episode, in which restaurant employee Fak (Matty Matheson) suddenly realizes ahead of an important inspection that Mikey’s arson attempt was the reason why he couldn’t figure out how to get the gas system in the restaurant to work. Fak bursts into a meeting Richie is having with staff, blurting out “Jewish lightning!”

“Let’s just take a quick break while I go address this problematic individual,” Richie tells the staff.

Carmy and his family are established as Catholic and Italian-American, although some of his relatives are played by Jewish performers, including Bernthal as his brother. Jamie Lee Curtis — whose father, mid-20th-century movie star Tony Curtis, was Jewish — plays his mother. Ebon Moss-Bachrach, who plays Richie — who Carmy calls “cousin,” despite their lack of blood relation — had a German-born Jewish father.

Unlike the brouhaha after an episode of “And Just Like That” that included an incongruous Holocaust joke last year, the “Jewish lightning” moment hasn’t sparked a critical online reaction. That’s likely because it’s relatively clear that the show is not endorsing antisemitic sentiment but rather poking fun the type of casual bigotry that Richie seeks to grow beyond. (It helps that the arson scheme is executed by characters who are not Jewish.)

This is not the first time a prestige TV series has referenced “Jewish lightning.” In 2001, in an episode in the first season of the HBO series “Six Feet Under,” a character discusses a fire at a rival funeral home by stating “You ever heard of Jewish lightning? Oh, sorry. Did I offend you? I’m Jewish. I can say that.”

In an infamous sports radio moment in 2015, a prank caller to Mike Francesa’s show on WFAN, in talking about the New York Mets and their suffering in the fallout of the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme, asked if the team’s stadium, Citi Field, “might get struck with some Jewish lightning.” Francesa noted that the caller had waited on hold for two hours.

(The term has also been used in more surprising and positive ways. A two-part superhero erotica series called “The Shocking Adventures of Jewish Lightning,” featuring a female hero of that name, was published in 2021 and 2022 by Deep Desires Press. The books are by Kitty Knish, who is also the author of a collection called “Thong of Thongs: 69 Sexy Jewish Stories.”)

The new season’s especially acclaimed sixth episode, set at an extremely tense and claustrophobic Christmas dinner among bickering relatives, has been compared by multiple people on social media to the 2020 movie “Shiva Baby,” which had a similar vibe but depicted a Jewish family at a shiva. The two works have something else in common — in both, the protagonist’s love interest is played by the Jewish actress Molly Gordon.

The post Hulu’s ‘The Bear’ brought up ‘Jewish lightning’: What does it mean, and is it antisemitic? appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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‘A Time for Vigilance’: FBI Director Says Agency on Alert for Threats Against Jewish Community During Passover

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before the House Approbations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, April 11, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Michael A. McCoy

The director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Wednesday said his agency was on alert for threats posed to the Jewish community during Passover, which begins on Monday night.

Christopher Wray told a group of Jewish community security officials about the FBI’s state of alertness during an event titled, “Passover Without Fear: Preparedness and Security Considerations in Today’s World.”

Wray said the FBI was “particularly concerned” that lone-wolf attackers may target Passover gatherings, high-profile events, and/or religious locations. 

At the same time, he said that while “I’m not providing these updates in any way to alarm you, because this is not a time for panic,” it was “a time for continued vigilance.” 

The Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates the Biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt, will begin next Monday evening and end the following Tuesday.

The national director and CEO of the Secure Community Network — the organization Wray was speaking to and that describes itself as “the official safety and security organization of the Jewish community in North America” — said he was not aware of any specific threats at this time.

Taking a step back, Wray said that even before the Hamas terror group’s Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, “the threat to Jewish Americans had already elevated.” However, he continued, “in the six months since then, we’ve seen those threats elevated” even further.

In December, the FBI said there had been a 60 percent spike in antisemitic hate crime investigations since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war. Then on Wednesday, Wray said the probes into antisemitic crimes tripled in the months following Oct. 7.

“Between Oct. 7 and Jan. 30 of this year, we opened over three times more anti-Jewish hate crime investigations than in the four months before Oct. 7,” he explained.

Last year, the FBI found that 63 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes were directed against Jews.

There have been a number of mass shooting, bomb, and other threats against synagogues across the US since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, when the Palestinian terror group killed 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostages to Gaza.

Wray’s latest comments came one day after the the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released its annual audit of hate incidents that targeted the Jewish community.

The ADL recorded 8,873 antisemitic incidents in 2023 — an average of 24 every day — across the US, amounting to a surge of 140 percent compared to the prior year and the most such outrages since the organization began tracking such data in 1979.

The vast majority of the antisemitic incidents — 5,204 — occurred after the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7.

“Since Oct. 7, anti-Zionism is impossible to separate from the Hamas attacks,” the ADL said. “These rallies have a dramatically different impact on the Jewish communities that have felt demonized and harassed because of this sustained level of intense anti-Zionist street activism.”

Beyond outrages such as assault, vandalism, and harassment, the ADL included in its tally “rallies that include support for Hamas or justify its attacks, calls to ‘globalize the intifada’ or ‘by all means necessary,’ and expressions of anti-Zionism such as the phrases ‘Zionism is terrorism,’ or ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.’”

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US to Oppose Palestinian Bid for Full UN Membership

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks to members of the Security Council during a meeting to address the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, April 18, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The United States on Thursday will vote against a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership, a US official told Reuters, blocking the world body from effectively recognizing a Palestinian state.

“It remains the US view that the most expeditious path toward statehood for the Palestinian people is through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the support of the United States and other partners,” the US official said.

The 15-member council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution that recommends to the 193-member UN General Assembly that “the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations.”

A council resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the US, Britain, France, Russia, or China to pass. Diplomats say the measure could have the support of up to 13 council members, which would force the US to use its veto.

“We have long been clear that premature actions in New York, even with the best intentions, will not achieve statehood for the Palestinian people,” the US official said.

The Palestinians are currently a non-member observer state, a recognition that was granted by the UN General Assembly in 2012. But an application to become a full UN member needs to be approved by the Security Council and then at least two-thirds of the General Assembly.

The Palestinian push for full UN membership comes six months into a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and as Israel is expanding settlements in the West Bank.

“Recent escalations make it even more important to support good-faith efforts to find lasting peace between Israel and a fully independent, viable, and sovereign Palestinian state,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council.

“Failure to make progress towards a two-state solution will only increase volatility and risk for hundreds of millions of people across the region, who will continue to live under the constant threat of violence,” he said.

Israel‘s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said Palestinians failed to meet the criteria to become a full UN member, which he outlined as: a permanent population, defined territory, government, and capacity to enter into relations with other states.

“Who is the council voting to ‘recognize’ and give full membership status to? Hamas in Gaza? The Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Nablus? Who?” Erdan asked the Security Council.

He said granting full UN membership to the Palestinians “will have zero positive impact for any party, that will cause only destruction for years to come, and harm any chance for future dialogue.”

The Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank. Hamas, a terrorist organization, ousted the Palestinian Authority from power in Gaza in 2007.

Ziad Abu Amr, special envoy of Abbas, asked the United States: “How could this damage the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis? How could this recognition and this membership harm international peace and security?”

“Those who are trying to disrupt and hinder the adoption of such a resolution … are not helping the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis and the prospects for peace in the Middle East in general,” he told the Security Council.

Abu Amr said full Palestinian UN membership was not an alternative for serious political negotiations to implement a two-state solution and resolve pending issues, adding: “However, this resolution will grant hope to the Palestinian people hope for a decent life within an independent state.”

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New Haggadah Released for Israeli Soldiers in Gaza Ahead of Passover

Israeli soldiers respond to an alert of an apparent security incident, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Oct. 10, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

A new Haggadah designed specifically for Israeli soldiers is heading into the Gaza Strip as the Jewish holiday of Passover is set to begin new week.

The book, composed by Rabbi Gamaliel HaCohen Rabinowitz of Rehovot, came after he researched the various Jewish laws and customs regarding how to conduct a Passover Seder in a war zone.

Titled “The Seder in Gaza,” the new Haggadah answers questions such as what to do if there is only a small period of time to conduct the Seder, the traditional Passover feast, which can typically last hours. The text also addresses if soldiers need to return to combat, the order of conducting a quick Seder, and what to do about the issue of chametz within a house that is used as a temporary home to soldiers — technically it is forbidden to have chametz, or leavened products, in one’s home during Passover

The Haggadah tells the story of the Passover Seder, which celebrates the Biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt. Passover is a week-long celebration by Jews around the world who read the Haggadah to commemorate the exodus from Egypt.

Many Israeli soldiers will remain in Gaza during this year’s Passover — which will begin next Monday evening and end the following Tuesday — due to the ongoing war with Hamas. The Palestinian terrorist group launched the conflict with its brutal invasion of southern Israel on Oct. 7, when the terrorists murdered 1,200 people and kidnapped 253 others as hostages.

Most enlisted and reserve soldiers have been released from duty, though some remain and there is a growing number who are returning amid the anticipated operation in Rafah, the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip and where it is believed the last remaining Hamas battalions are camped out.

There are about 130 hostages remaining in Gaza who will not be celebrating the holiday with their families.

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