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This Jewish actor plays Richard Dreyfuss in Broadway’s ‘The Shark Is Broken’

(New York Jewish Week) — In 1974, three men — Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw — spent countless hours together aboard the Orca, a converted fishing boat docked in the open ocean east of Martha’s Vineyard. The trio, all actors, were filming “Jaws,” the Steven Spielberg-directed blockbuster whose filming schedule famously went 100 days over schedule. 

The Orca is also the setting, and the men the cast of characters, of the play “The Shark Is Broken,” now playing at Broadway’s Golden Theatre. The play chronicles the tense relationships between the actors as they sit onboard, day after day, waiting — with decreasing amounts of patience — for the film’s mechanical shark (nicknamed “Bruce”) to be repaired so filming can continue. Like any group of near-strangers forced together in close proximity for a prolonged period of time, they bicker, bare their souls and play mindless games to pass the time. 

Alex Brightman, 36, a Tony-nominated actor best known for originating leading roles in “Beetlejuice” and “School of Rock,” plays Dreyfuss, the Jewish actor who himself played the movie’s earnest marine biologist, Matt Hooper. 

“The Shark Is Broken” keeps its three-person cast onstage for nearly the entire 90-minute show, and much of it centers around Shaw’s distaste for Dreyfuss. (Shaw is played by his son, Ian Shaw, who co-wrote the play based, in part, on his father’s drinking diary from his time on set.) Shaw — embittered, ill-tempered and frequently drunk— has no patience for Dreyfuss, a Brooklyn native who is anxious, eager and, according to the script, caught the acting bug after auditioning for a play at Los Angeles’ Westside JCC.   

Dreyfuss’ Jewish identity is made clear from the play’s start, primarily through his own self-deprecating humor. He jokes about how his skin “bypasses tan and goes directly to sunstroke,” and how Spielberg nearly cast the emphatically non-Jewish looking John Voigt in the role of Hooper. Expressing his dislike for the ocean, Dreyfuss says, “Jews should stay away from water. Nothing good ever happened to any Jews on the water.” (Turns out that’s a sentiment with which Brightman, not a huge fan of the ocean himself, wholeheartedly agrees.) Later, as the characters dive into their childhoods, Dreyfuss reveals how his “typical Jewish father” wanted him to become either a lawyer or a doctor; this sliver of backstory helps the viewer to understand the anxiety Dreyfuss is feeling about achieving success as an actor.

Like Dreyfuss, Brightman is Jewish. He approaches his character with a fast-talking vulnerability, throwing his full physicality into the role. The New York Jewish Week caught up with Brightman in between shows to hear about his own Jewish identity, what it’s like playing a real person and how he relates to Dreyfuss’ Jewishness.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Actor Alex Brightman at the opening night of “The Shark Is Broken” on Aug. 10, 2023. (Michaelah Reynolds, Courtesy Polk & Co.)

You’re playing Richard Dreyfuss, who’s a real actor, and who’s also still living. What was it like preparing for this role? 

I think I was ignorant to the idea that it was strange when I was first auditioning for it, which I guess is a good thing. But as it’s gone forward, the pressure started to build a little bit because he’s alive and probably knows about it. I watched interviews of him, pretty much only from the year or two surrounding the filming of “Jaws,” because that’s before he was the Academy Award winner [in 1977, for “The Goodbye Girl”]. He was nervous, he had imposter syndrome, and he had this huge ambition to be not only a successful actor, but to be famous. I can empathize with so many things that he went through. But it was really the voice, the mannerism work and the posture. It’s been really fun for me to figure out that real human beings can also be characters to inhabit.

There are so many jokes throughout the play about Richard Dreyfuss’ Jewishness. Does that help you feel a sense of kinship with him? 

As he says in the show, “The people of Martha’s Vineyard, they look at me like they’ve never seen a Jew before.” I think it’s about the ostracizing, or even the sort of loneliness or isolation that comes from being something a lot of people didn’t, and really don’t, understand. I can relate to his anxiety about being someone that doesn’t inherently belong, or has been persecuted in the past. He has his walls up. And I think that was an interesting thing to play, because being in theater is about being vulnerable. And he isn’t, until he has to be. He’s full of loudness and bravado, but I think only later on does he feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable around strangers. And I totally understand that as a Jewish person. 

Can you tell me a bit about your own Jewish upbringing and sense of Jewish identity? 

I’m Jewish by genetics. My mom is Jewish, my dad is Jewish, and so I am. I never went to Hebrew school, mainly because I didn’t love regular school. My parents both had bar and bat mitzvahs, and I think they got something out of it; they definitely have some culture still ingrained. But they didn’t want to press that upon me or my brother, mainly because it wasn’t a daily practice for them.

I’m definitely culturally Jewish, even stereotypically. I’m funny. I know that seems odd, it’s not an objective thing, but I think that a lot of Jewish people I know in show business are the funniest people I know. And I know that might be a slight defense mechanism from history. I wasn’t really raised in a way that felt meaningfully Jewish, but I think I feel more Jewish now than ever. 

Your character’s Jewishness feels in many ways like a throughline in his tension with Robert Shaw. Do you have a sense of how much that was based on reality? 

I can’t speak for how Jewishness played into their feuding. But the reality is that they didn’t get each other — they just fundamentally did not understand each other on a human level, and on a professional level. They couldn’t relate to each other. I think some of it has to be about culture and being Jewish; I think it fuels their misunderstanding. In the show, Richard is persecuted more than anybody else. Richard is beat up, literally. He’s manhandled and thrown around. I can’t help but think under the context of being Jewish, it’s like at this point — then and also now — Jews are kind of through being tortured.

In the play, Dreyfuss is anxious about the impending release of “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” in which he played the titular lead. That means that you are a Jew, playing a Jewish character, who is nervous about playing a Jewish character. Do you ever find yourself getting lost in the layers? 

You’ve touched upon something that is a nightly struggle. I feel like I’m in the movie “Inception”: It’s a Jew, playing a Jew, playing a Jew. Where does it end, and where am I in that? Sometimes I do get lost even to the point where when I leave the theater I can’t shake the [Dreyfuss] accent — a sort of Queens, fast-talking, anxious, almost Woody Allen type. I think that might be a big part of who I am. It’s easier to shake off the things that are so anti-you, and I think that sometimes I bring home more of the Jewish anxiety than I anticipated. 

“The Shark is Broken” is scheduled to close Nov. 19. What’s next for you after that?

I’m doing “Spamalot” in January on Broadway at the St. James. And I have a lot of writing in the hopper. I wrote a play called “Everything Is Fine” that’s getting a reading this month, and I’m hoping that it will get a production sooner than later. It explores identity, the difference between moving on and moving forward. It’s definitely about trauma but it is a comedy, very pitch black. And other than that, I’m just trying to work on this work-life balance. I’ve done so much work-work, that it’s been really nice to dive back into life-life.

The post This Jewish actor plays Richard Dreyfuss in Broadway’s ‘The Shark Is Broken’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Menorahs in Brooklyn Stolen and Vandalized, NYPD Investigating as Hate Crime

A man seen on CCTV vandalizing a menorah in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Source: X/Twitter

Multiple public menorahs in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York were stolen and vandalized, according to a spokesman for the Chabad Jewish movement.

The stolen menorah was seen on Sunset Park Center lawn on Wednesday evening, according to Yaacov Behrman, a spokesperson for Chabad. On Thursday, it was found broken.

In a separate incident captured on video, a man is seen riding up to a menorah in Sunset Park on a bicycle and pushing it over.

“The holiday hasn’t begun, and the vandalism has already started,” Behrman said on X/Twitter.

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) is investigating the incidents as hate crimes.

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More than 500 staffers of Jewish groups, most of them progressive, appeal to Biden to press for ceasefire in Israel-Hamas war

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Hundreds of staffers for 140 Jewish organizations, most of them progressive, signed a letter to President Joe Biden and Congress urging them to press Israel to agree to a ceasefire in its war with Hamas, citing their work “building thriving Jewish communities.”

The letter, which does not necessarily reflect the views of the signatories’ employers, is the latest sign that differences among American Jews regarding Israel’s response to Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 invasion are becoming more public and pronounced. A number of Jewish Congress members now back a ceasefire, after having initially presented a unanimous voice in support of Biden’s backing for Israel.

“We are individuals who work for a wide array of Jewish organizations across the United States, coming together across the broad range of beliefs, practices, backgrounds and identities that make up the rich fabric of the American Jewish community,” said the letter, first reported Thursday by NBC.

“We are uniting together in this moment to call for a ceasefire, the release of all hostages, and a commitment towards a long-term political solution that ensures the freedom and collective safety of Israelis and Palestinians,” the letter said.

The letter comes just weeks after a mass pro-Israel rally on the National Mall, during which speakers enthusiastically endorsed Israel’s refusal to halt its military campaign until Hamas is dismantled and all the hostages it abducted on Oct. 7 are returned home. Hamas released more than 100 hostages in exchange for hundreds of security prisoners during a seven-day ceasefire that ended last week

The letter suggests to the president that the vocal Jewish groups that have opposed the war are also representative of a wide swath of American Jews. Biden prides himself on being attuned to Jewish sensibilities; he has cited his decades of closeness to Israel and to the American Jewish community in resisting calls from the left to press Israel into a ceasefire.

“As a group of professionals from a wide spectrum of Jewish organizations, many of us have devoted our life’s work to building thriving Jewish communities,” said the letter. “Our organizations may or may not join the call for a ceasefire themselves, but we feel moved to speak as individuals to demonstrate broad support within the Jewish community for a ceasefire.”

Most of the organizations listed as affiliates of the signatories are on the left of the political spectrum, among them Bend the Arc, Jews For Racial and Economic Justice, and Workers Circle and its affiliates, all of them social justice advocacy groups. Some of the social justice groups themselves have not endorsed a ceasefire, in part because their focus is on domestic issues. (A Boston spinoff of Workers Circle is an exception, and so is JFREJ.)

There are also staffers from the two leading groups that have mobilized Jewish opposition to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and backed a ceasefire: IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, which is anti-Zionist. Left-wing activists point to Tthe visible presence of activists for these groups at antiwar protests to assert that there is Jewish backing for a ceasefire.

But some of the signatories come from groups focused on Israel that have opposed a ceasefire, including J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group. But in another sign of shifting sentiments, J Street said in a press release Thursday that it was reconsidering its position on the war.

There are also staffers for synagogues, some but not all known for their liberal outlook, that have not taken a position on a ceasefire.

More than 80 of the staffers signing asked for anonymity but listed their employers, which include mainstream groups that have backed Israel’s war effort, among them the Reform and Conservative movements. The list includes three anonymous staffers for UJA-Federation of New York, which has raised millions for Israel during the war.

“I signed this letter because all decisions at this fragile moment must be made with lasting peace and safety in mind for all people in the region,” the group’s press release quoted one of the unnamed UJA staffers as saying. “I call on President Biden to take immediate action for a permanent ceasefire, release of all hostages, and a just resolution to this brutal war.”

Heather Booth, a consultant for Jewish groups who did not sign the letter, urged the mainstream Jewish groups employing some of the signatories not to retaliate.

“Those who have signed the letter are responding to their values,” Booth told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We may or may not agree with what they’re signing and saying and I didn’t sign this myself for many reasons. But I support their right to share their passionate commitment to their values.And it’s a sign of these times at some on the list fear retribution for signing.”

In a press release, a Boston-area rabbi said her support for a ceasefire stemmed in part from her revulsion from Hamas.

“For the sake of defeating the insidious ideology of Hamas, for the sake of returning all of the hostages to their homes, for the sake of the wellbeing of all of the Israelis and Palestinians caught up in this war, I urge the Biden administration to do all it can to bring about a ceasefire as a first step to a lasting, political solution to the conflict,” said Rabbi Tovah Spitzer of Dorsey Tzedek, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Newton.

The letter comes as a number of Jewish Democrats in Congress have in recent days called for a ceasefire, or have called for restrictions on emergency aid Biden has requested for Israel that has yet to be approved. One of the Democrats, Rep. Becca Balint of Vermont, made a statement in support of the letter.

“Thousands of Palestinians, including thousands of children, have been killed. Many more have been displaced, without water, food, medical supplies, and fuel,” she said. “This is inhumane. What is needed is a negotiated bilateral ceasefire that ensures the release of all hostages and paves a path toward peace, security and safety for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Hamas killed more than 1,200 people and wounded thousands on Oct. 7, most of them civilians. Since Israel launched counterstrikes and a ground invasion of Gaza, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry has reported that some 17,000 people have been killed, including thousands of children. What portion of that number are combatants, and what portion were killed by misfired rockets aimed at Israel, is not known. Israel has estimated that twice as many civilians as militants have died in its counteroffensive.

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Shots fired fired at Albany synagogue with preschool, suspect in custody

(New York Jewish Week) — Shots were fired at Temple Israel in Albany on Thursday, the first night of Hanukkah, as U.S. Jews grapple with a surge in antisemitism following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the Israeli military’s military campaign in Gaza.

There were no injuries in the shooting on the premises of the Conservative synagogue in New York’s capital, Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement, adding that she had spoken with the congregation’s rabbi. She said in a press briefing, however, that the synagogue has an on-site early learning center, “with at least two dozen children, preschoolers, who were on the premises.” She added that the facility went into lockdown but that all children have been released safely to their parents. 

A 28-year-old male is in custody, said Hochul’s press secretary, Avi Small.

The suspect shouted “Free Palestine” during the incident, Albany’s Times Union reported, citing police and another source.

Hochul said she had directed the New York State Police and the state’s national guard to be on high alert and step up patrols of at-risk sites for Hanukkah, such as synagogues, yeshivas and community centers throughout the state — including New York City, which is home to the largest Jewish population in the United States. 

“Any act of antisemitism is unacceptable, and undermining public safety at a synagogue on the first night of Hanukkah is even more deplorable,” Hochul said. “We reject hate, antisemitism and violence in all forms.”

Hochul visited the synagogue on Oct. 7 in a show of solidarity amid Hamas’ attack. 

The governor said that, following Thursday’s incident, she contacted Temple Israel’s Rabbi Wendy Love Anderson, and “assured her that the state of New York will do everything possible to restore the sense of security her congregation needs at this time,” adding that she plans to attend Shabbat services there this Friday evening. 

In the briefing, Hochul noted that the synagogue had been one of several targeted with bomb threats in September. 

There was no immediate public comment on the incident from the synagogue or the Albany police department.

Law enforcement and Jewish community security groups have reported a surge in antisemitism since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

In New York City, the NYPD reported 62 antisemitic hate crimes last month and 69 attacks in October, a steep increase. Anti-Jewish incidents made up 65% of all hate crimes reported to police last month. There is no comparable data available for antisemitic hate crimes in upstate New York.

Synagogues and other Jewish institutions have been targeted in the wave of hate crimes. On Friday, bomb threats were made against 15 synagogues in New York State, including five in upstate areas. 

The threats were made as part of a campaign intended to interrupt synagogue operations by forcing law enforcement to go to a location, and there did not appear to be any actual danger to the targets, said the director of the Jewish security group the Community Security Initiative, Mitch Silber. 

“The bottom line is this: The safety of Jewish New Yorkers is non-negotiable,” Hochul said in the briefing. “Every act, whether it’s verbal or physical, any act of antisemitism is unacceptable, and undermining the public safety at our synagogue, on the first night of Hanukkah, is even more deplorable.” 

“I remind everyone: As New Yorkers, this is not who we are. This must stop, ” she added. “We reject hate, antisemitism, Islamophobia. All hate crimes must stop, and all violence in every form must cease. We have no tolerance for these acts of evil that have now permeated our society.”

Ahead of questions, the briefing concluded with the lighting of Hanukkah candles, led by Eva Wyner, the state’s deputy director of Jewish affairs.

The post Shots fired fired at Albany synagogue with preschool, suspect in custody appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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