(JTA) — Norman Lear, the Jewish TV pioneer behind iconic comedies of the 1970s and 1980s that helped bring social commentary and Black characters into the mainstream, has died at 101.
Lear’s death was announced by a spokesperson for his family, according to The New York Times.
The decorated creator of “All In The Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Son” and a host of other groundbreaking TV sitcoms, Lear lived and worked through just about every era of Hollywood comedy. A lifelong liberal in part, he said, because of hearing an antisemitic preacher on the radio as a child, he was also a notable donor to liberal causes.
He reached his 100-year milestone a few years ahead of peers Mel Brooks and Dick Van Dyke (both 96). But he had to say goodbye to other beloved longtime colleagues, including Carl Reiner (who died in 2020 at age 98), talent manager George Shapiro (who died in May at 91) and Betty White (who died shortly before her 100th birthday).
Lear got his own documentary in 2016 and received a Kennedy Center honor, as well as just about every other award under the sun. Yet even as he notched the century mark, he continued to work, co-hosting “Live In Front Of A Studio Audience,” a series of TV specials in which celebrities recreate episodes of his old sitcoms, and executive-producing the recent remake of his show “One Day At A Time,” as well as last year’s documentary “Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It.”
Born July 27, 1922, to Jewish parents who had Russian and Ukrainian ancestry, Lear celebrated his bar mitzvah in his native Connecticut. He recalled that hearing antisemitic preacher Father Coughlin on the radio as a child helped fuel his interest in political activism. Beginning in the 1970s, he donated large sums to progressive causes, and in 1981 he founded an organization aimed at countering the influence of the Christian religious right wing in politics.
Over time, his many early projects — which also included “Good Times,” the first family show led by two Black parent characters — were seen as a crucial bridge to wider acceptance of Black stories in pop culture. Though “Good Times” was criticized for what many perceived as an over-reliance on catchphrases and stereotypes, his follow-up “The Jeffersons” gave American culture a robust and celebrated portrait of upwardly mobile Black middle-class life.
“It’s not that there had not been black people on television before,” wrote Ronda Racha Penrice, a Black cultural critic, in 2016. “But black people had not been on television by the ’70s in roles where who they were mattered as much to them as they did on ‘Good Times’ and ‘The Jeffersons.’”
“All in the Family,” which starred the “lovable bigot” Archie Bunker character, has also been appraised as one of the earliest TV shows to deal with antisemitism in the United States — though Lear’s intention to paint Archie’s opinions as abhorrent backfired when many viewers, including U.S. President Richard Nixon, decided they agreed with him.
Lear’s support for liberal causes lasted through his later years. Shortly after turning 100 last year, Donald Trump reiterated an argument he had made as president — that American Jews endangered themselves by not supporting him. Lear quickly made headlines for calling Trump a “horse’s ass.”
“Today, having recently turned 100, I read Donald Trump’s appalling words about American Jews, and I am nine years old again,” he tweeted. “The phrase, a horse’s ass, was an everyday expression when I was nine and it occurs to me again now.”
Days earlier, Lear had taken to Instagram to reminisce in a video, singing a lick from the classic tune “That’s Amore,” recalling how he once worked for Dean Martin singing the same song during the Colgate Comedy Hour in the 1950s.
Reflecting on his life in the video, Lear expressed gratitude for every moment of it.
“Living in the moment, the moment between past and present, present and past, the hammock in the middle of after and next,” he said by way of advice. “Treasure it. Use it with love.”
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Why ‘ceasefire’ might show up alongside ‘Trump’ and ‘Haley’ in New Hampshire primary results
(JTA) — Pro-Palestinian activists in New Hampshire have encouraged voters to fill in “ceasefire” on ballots as the state goes to the polls in one of the most watched primaries this cycle.
“We have to get out and show Biden that we’re not just asking for a ceasefire, we’re demanding it,” says the Vote Ceasefire website, launched to send a message to President Joe Biden to press Israel into a ceasefire in its war with Hamas. “And one of the most impactful ways to do that is through the power of your vote.”
A sample ballot on the campaign website shows how to fill in the blank space on the ballot with “ceasefire.” The campaign, launched by local peace activists, has the backing of some prominent state politicians, including Andru Volinsky, a former member of the five-member State’s Executive Council that functions as a check on the governor.
State election officials say they are expecting a larger-than-normal number of write-in votes, and organizers of the ceasefire write-in effort are pressing for the state to disclose just how many votes the write-in campaign draws. They want to influence contests in other states as well, particularly as it appears likely that both parties’ nominating contests will be resolved early in the primary season.
The effort comes as Biden’s backing for Israel’s war with Hamas is under attack from the party’s left, increasingly in Congress as well as among the progressive grassroots.
All eyes are on New Hampshire on Tuesday as Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, hopes to mount a successful enough challenge to former President Donald Trump in the Republican primary to stay in the race. Trump has driven out virtually every other candidate.
Haley, who has the backing of much of the Republican Jewish establishment, adamantly opposes a ceasefire. Trump claims he could bring an end to the war “very fast,” although he does not say what that would entail.
Biden, who got the Democratic Party to rearrange its primary schedule to start next month in South Carolina, is not on the Democratic ballot, but New Hampshire is running a Democratic primary in any case, although it will not send delegates to the convention.
Long-shot candidates, including Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips and self-help author Marianne Williamson, who are both Jewish, are on the Democratic ballot. There is a local effort to write in Biden’s name as a means of discouraging the long shots from continuing their bids. The Democratic Majority for Israel, a pro-Israel Democratic political action committee, is encouraging voters to write in Biden’s name.
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Book columnist Hannah Srour-Zackon reviews two recent bestsellers that combine history with a Jewish perspective
Mitch Albom and James McBride are authors who stand as poignant testaments to the enduring power of storytelling. Their respective book sales speak to the ability of their stories to resonate with audiences worldwide, without even needing to account for their numerous accolades. Moreover, both have strong Jewish ties which have influenced some of their […]
American Israeli Tal Mitnick sentenced to 30 more days for refusing Israeli army service
(JTA) — Tal Mitnick, an 18-year-old dual American-Israeli citizen, is beginning his second 30-day sentence for refusing to be conscripted into the Israeli army.
Mitnick had long planned to refuse to serve, citing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians under occupation. His determination was bolstered by the devastation caused by the Israel-Hamas war, launched on Oct. 7 when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel, massacring more than 1,200 people, brutalizing thousands more and abducting more than 240.
More than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. Israel says roughly a third of that number are combatants.
“Israel has already lost this war,” Mitnick told The Guardian in a story posted Tuesday, the day he was ordered to return to a recruitment base to enlist for three years of military service as part of Israel’s mandatory draft. “More killing and more violence won’t bring back the lives lost on 7 October. I know people are hurt. Traumatized. But this doesn’t make anything better. To root out extremist ideas from Palestinian society, we must root them out in Israel.”
Refusal to enlist is rare in Israel, where support for the military is widespread among Israeli Jews and a mandatory term of service — three years for men and two for women — is broadly seen as a patriotic duty and rite of passage. Arab and haredi Orthodox Israelis are exempt from the draft, though small numbers of both sectors enlist voluntarily.
Before Oct. 7, growing numbers of reservists had pledged to absent themselves from duty in protest of the government’s judicial overhaul. But following Hamas’ invasion, nearly all controversy over military service within Israel evaporated and reservists reported en masse for the largest call-up of troops in the country’s history. About a month into the war, a poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute found that more than 90% of Israeli Jews approved of the IDF, as opposed to 17% of Israeli Arabs.
Speaking to the Guardian, Mitnick said he knew he would be tried and sentenced again, as he was when he first reported to the recruitment base in December.
He had a few days of freedom before returning to the base on Tuesday and receiving another sentence. He spoke about the sentence on X, formerly Twitter, where he extended best wishes to a Turkish Cypriot refuser who was beginning his sentence the same day.
“I want to extend my solidarity to Cypriot conscience objector Mustafa Hürben,” he said. “Mustafa and I will both be jailed today (23.1). International solidarity between us is the way to fight against oppressive systems in each of our countries.”
Mitnick’s late father, Josh Mitnick, was a celebrated American Israeli reporter who freelanced for a number of outlets, including the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
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