(JTA) – Bruce Friedman was moved by “The Diary of Anne Frank” when he read it at age 9. As a child in a kosher-keeping Jewish home on Long Island, he saw in the Holocaust memoir an essential lesson for Jewish and non-Jewish children alike.
“You learn to sympathize, empathize, share the fear and the horror and the fright and disgust with man’s inhumanity to man,” he recalled about the book. “And it’s not just the Nazis. It’s the human condition. We’re really good at hurting each other.”
And yet decades later, Friedman filed a challenge with his local school district in Florida to remove a new version of the diary from classroom shelves. The book, he wrote on a district form, “does disservice to lessons on the Holocaust.”
He added, in all-caps, “PROTECT CHILDREN!”
Last month, the local school board sided with Friedman and voted to remove “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” from all grade levels in the district, with a spokesperson saying it was removed “based on state statute.” Also removed based on Friedman’s challenge: William Styron’s Holocaust novel “Sophie’s Choice.”
The successes followed two of more than 3,000 challenges Friedman has filed against books in Clay County, near Jacksonville, where he moved from New York during the pandemic. From his home there, the Jewish father has become one of the country’s most prolific and zealous participants in the movement to purge public schools of certain books.
The movement has largely targeted books featuring LGBTQ themes and content about racial equity, while catching books on other topics — including Jewish stories — in its dragnet. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has embedded the values of the movement into state law, making it easier for a small number of parents — or even just one — to force their districts to make books inaccessible to students.
The movement is most closely associated with a group called Moms of Liberty and inherits its worldview and tactics from decades of Christian family-values advocacy. But it turns out its flag-bearers can be Jewish dads, too.
Friedman recognizes that he stands out. “I figured we’d have a lot to talk about, Jew boy,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
He stands out in another way, too. Unlike many of his fellow book challengers, Friedman, a self-identified “bibliophile,” insists he reads every book he seeks to remove. He documents his objections as he goes in reams of challenge forms that he stores in his home office.
In objecting to a children’s biography of Harriet Tubman, for example, he says, “Telling them that the Civil War was all about slavery is a lie.” The picture book “Arthur’s Birthday,” featuring the cartoon aardvark, was bad in his view because “it is not appropriate to discuss ‘spin the bottle’ with elementary school children.” To Friedman, “Americanah,” a prizewinning novel by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about the immigrant experience, is “a horrible piece of garbage.” Reading from his own file on the book, he listed off its problems: “Attempted suicide, immigration fraud, promiscuity, infidelity, abortion, racism, sex, critical race theory.”
For months Friedman has battled the Clay County school board over books, even becoming a conservative folk hero when his antics at a school board meeting drew censure. This week, when Friedman attempted to read from the Mindy McGuinnis novel “Heroine,” about the opioid crisis, board members cut off his microphone, telling him there were children present. When he attempted to keep reading, two police officers escorted him from the podium.
Yet a newer board member has frequently taken his side, recently describing “every single book we’ve banned” as “filthy, filthy pornography” and adding, “People who tell you different have not read the books, period.”
Recently, the board met to revise its book policy — but a school district official said Friedman would complicate the task.
“Mr. Friedman’s erratic and inconsistent challenges make it impossible for us to predict and devise a solution,” the school district’s chief academic officer, Roger Dailey, told the board during its Sept. 26 workshop. “I don’t know that there is a way to satisfy him.”
More than 60% of all book challenges in the 2021-2022 school year came from just 11 people. In this context, the volume of Friedman’s challenges carry weight far beyond his own district — and he’s only picked up the pace since.
“He’s been incredibly successful,” said Tasslyn Magnusson, who researches school book bans for the literary free-speech group PEN America and considers Friedman one of the biggest players in a movement she sees as attacking public education. “He’s by far the best example of how this is not about the books, but this is about destroying the system.”
Friedman’s allies, too, say he is making an outsized impact. He is “an amazing person, very patient, compassionate, and really wanted to dig into the issue of the books,” said Elana Yaron Fishbein, the founder of No Left Turn in Education, which has a list of books it deems “problematic.” Friedman is the group’s Florida chapter head; with his master list of every book challenged in every district, Fishbein said, he “really went above and beyond.”
Friedman is not the only Jew who is active in the book-challenge movement. There is Fishbein, an Israeli-born mother and a former employee of the Philadelphia Jewish federation who founded No Left Turn in Education in 2020 to combat what she says is “a leftist agenda” in public and private schools. And Brooke Weiss, a Jewish mother in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a lead organizer in Moms For Liberty. Weiss told JTA she has never challenged a book herself, but she helped put together the group’s first-ever conference earlier this year, attended by several Republican presidential candidates.
Yet Friedman, who is involved in both groups, stands out for the sheer volume and intensity of his challenges; he is responsible for more than a third of all challenges in Florida, and his district, which has acceded to hundreds of his requests to pull books, has removed more books than any other in the state as a result. He insists that his efforts are on behalf of children like his own, whom he pulled from public school when they lived back in New York out of concerns about what the child was learning there.
“I want all lessons in all schools to respect innocence,” Friedman told JTA.
As a child, Friedman said, his father was a Navy veteran who worked printing art for periodicals, while his mother worked a variety of jobs including as an accountant, seamstress and Yiddish teacher. He celebrated his bar mitzvah in Jerusalem, visiting the Western Wall. His parents, who are still alive, raised him “Conservative, leaning Orthodox” — he now participates in Jewish life via his local Chabad-Lubavitch center — and they imparted other values, too.
“My house that I grew up in was filled with books, and I had unfettered access to everything,” Friedman said. “I was the kind of guy who would stay close to librarians. The library was my happy place.”
Now, looking back, he says the unfettered access wasn’t always to his benefit. He has challenged “Slaughterhouse-Five,” the classic by Kurt Vonnegut about the bombing of Dresden during World War II, which he said he wrongly appreciated as a 12-year-old. “When I read it I had no regard for my own innocence,” he said.
Friedman attended multiple colleges in the New York area and worked as a construction manager in New York. He became radicalized by what he saw in public schools a decade ago, when his wife’s son entered kindergarten on Long Island. Schools in New York and around the country had recently adopted the Common Core, a set of educational standards meant to unify and improve what is taught across districts and states.
The standards had drawn backlash from conservatives who saw them as trampling on the principle of local control of schools. (People from across the ideological spectrum also argued that — in language presaging the book-ban movement — the standards were not always “age-appropriate” for children.)
Friedman said the standards caused his now-stepson to experience “considerable harm,” declining to offer specifics. The couple pulled him from public school and enrolled him in an evangelical Christian school that had eschewed the Common Core. The school’s outlook was also new for Friedman’s wife, who was raised Catholic, and the religious approach was not his own — “I was born a Jew. I will die a Jew,” Friedman said — but the family loved the school. When he saw Fishbein talking about No Left Turn on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show following the 2020 racial justice protests, he knew he had found his new cause.
Friedman moved his family from New York to Florida during the pandemic, “in pursuit of less tyrannical, more favorable governance and in the spirit of liberty.” (He noted that while he doesn’t regret the move, he does miss his family and “the pizza.”) His arrival in Florida came just as DeSantis was making “parents’ rights” a legislative priority. The timing was perfect for him to inaugurate No Left Turn’s presence in that state.
When Friedman and his family moved to Florida, he made the decision to put his son — now in high school — back in public school, believing that his evangelical education had given him “a very good moral base” that would insulate him from danger. But he forbade his stepson from ever using the school library and threw himself into monitoring the library’s contents.
There were so many parents out there, Friedman reasoned, who didn’t have time to thoroughly monitor their children’s media consumption like he did. Even if most of those parents might be fine with their kid reading the occasional racy book passage, some might not be.
“It’s not the kids that have a wicked dark sense of humor like I was,” he said, describing the child he pictures in his head when he files his challenges. “It’s for the sheltered little people who have parents that are so concerned with their souls that they don’t want them harmed.”
Friedman soon began reading school library books in his spare time, searching for objectionable content he could denounce, and scouring negative online reviews for more dirt on the books. He has turned the book challenge process into a science, filing flurries of official request forms — often with only one or two words of objection listed on them — which, under state law, must be considered by a formal review committee. He also has the ability to appeal any decision the committee makes, and usually does, if the decision doesn’t involve removing the book.
Recently, he says he landed a local job — but he has kept up the book challenges. “Employment has not slowed me,” he said. “I have the time to devote because I am a very motivated and determined person, and also because I don’t eat or sleep as I ought to.”
For the book challenges Friedman doesn’t author, he volunteers to serve on the committee that will decide their fates, as a parent representative. He then attends public board meetings to hammer home his objections in person; he went viral last year when he attempted to read aloud from a memoir by author Alice Sebold at one board meeting, as part of his justification for why he wanted it removed from the district.
As Friedman began reciting Sebold’s graphic accounting of a sexual assault, the board cut off his mic, warning him not to read “pornography” during a meeting being streamed to the public. “Hush your mouth and listen,” the school board attorney instructed him. This was hypocrisy, Friedman thought: if he can’t read a book aloud at a public board meeting because it’s pornographic, why should that same book be available in public school libraries?
Thanks in part to Friedman’s inspiration, reading objectionable book passages aloud at school board meetings has since become a tried-and-true tactic for activists who want books removed. Recent legislation in Florida even encourages such behavior by requiring boards to remove the book if they cut off such a reading for obscenity concerns.
The intensity of the efforts to ban books in Clay County has alarmed some educators there.
“One of the courses that I teach is on the Holocaust,” a district history teacher said during a school board meeting last year, speaking against the district’s mass book removals spurred on by Friedman. “Do I need to paint you a picture?”
A picture is exactly what Friedman didn’t like about the illustrated version of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which was adapted by Ari Folman and David Polonsky and published in 2018 by the foundation that controls the diary’s copyright. In an image inspired by a passage in Frank’s original diary, she shares a brief memory of same-sex attraction, which was unacceptable to Friedman.
“The fact that little Anne Frank once had some lesbian thoughts that made their way into her diary, does that help a kid learn the horrors of Holocaust or inhumanity? No. So what is it helping the kid learn?” he asked. Employing a term, sometimes used as part of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, that describes adults training children to accept sexual abuse, he added, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s grooming.”
Friedman’s opposition to the book distinguishes him from Fishbein, who said she supports only “some” of Friedman’s challenges, such as one for the frequently challenged graphic novel “Gender Queer.” The Anne Frank adaptation is a different story: “We do not oppose the use of this book in schools,” she said. Friedman himself has taken to clarifying, in his challenges, that he is not acting on behalf of No Left Turn even as he continues to use an email address associated with the group.
Yet his campaign against “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” has caught on. Since Friedman first pushed his district to review the book this past winter, another Florida district removed it outright after it was challenged by a Moms For Liberty member there. Last month, a school in Texas fired a teacher who reportedly read it aloud to her eighth-grade students.
Critics of Friedman’s movement say it builds on a history of censorship that has always boded ill for the Jews. Copies of Jewish texts have been burned by antisemitic regimes throughout history, including France in the 1200s and the Roman Inquisition in the 1500s. The Nazis led a campaign not only to burn Jewish books, but also to wipe out what they deemed “degenerate art” — which often meant, if not works by Jews, then modernist pieces the regime considered to be vulgar or not generally supportive of their aims.
“There are parallels with book burnings,” Aaron Herschel Shapiro, an instructor of Jewish American literature at Middle Tennessee State University, told JTA about the contemporary movement. “The rhetoric alone makes that clear. The books, and the ideas they contain, are framed as some sort of cultural contagion that must be purged. That’s a bit on the nose, no?”
The Association of Jewish Libraries has come out against the movement that Friedman represents. “Book bans result in the suppression of history and distortion of readers’ understanding of the world around them,” the group said in a statement last year.
Despite the fact that at least one Moms For Liberty chapter has quoted Hitler in its communications, Weiss says she sees her movement as actually safeguarding Jewish stories and students. She became involved in Moms for Liberty after her daughter was asked, on a quiz about the Octavia Butler novel “Kindred,” to compare slavery and the Holocaust; the correct answer was that slavery was “just as horrible over a much longer duration,” which Weiss said was “Holocaust-minimizing.” Still, she said, “Even my mother has made the claim that this organization is antisemitic.”
Some of the most prominent Jews in the book-banning movement reject any uncomfortable historical resonances. “If we are talking about removing ‘Gender Queer’ from the school, why does that not work out well for the Jews?” Fishbein said. “What does that have to do with Jews or not Jews?”
Friedman, too, rejects the criticism, which he said in an email is coming from “misinformed people that feel it’s a precursor to the next Krystallnacht,” referring to the pogrom that is considered the start of the Holocaust.
“When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you, Andrew, represent your Jewish publication, the JTA, you might feel that everything on earth is about Jewishness,” he said. “The only thing Jewish about my efforts is that they seem to connect with our people’s passion for justice.”
Friedman is continuing his challenges at a full pace, and told the board at its September meeting that he would continue doing so until it established “a rubric and a guideline” for how to better deal with content he believes is “pornographic.” This month, he filed one for Antonio Iturbe’s young-adult Holocaust novel “The Librarian of Auschwitz.” The book is based on the true story of the Jewish Auschwitz survivor Dita Kraus, who as a teenager guarded a slim volume of smuggled books in the death camp’s children’s unit so that the kids would have something to read. Kraus is still alive today.
Friedman’s challenge to the book, which he shared with JTA, doesn’t mention Kraus’ quest to protect children’s books from Nazis. Instead, he quotes from sections describing nude, emaciated Auschwitz prisoners and Jewish corpses, passages which he believes are inappropriate for all age levels. A message to the board further articulating his objections suggests that his main issue with the book is that it mentions the Holocaust at all.
“Unsupervised forays into the horrors of the Holocaust can be traumatizing for children,” he writes. “They are almost certain to have some impact on a child. I wouldn’t necessarily expect this impact to be positive.” Elsewhere he repeats his familiar objections: “PROTECT CHILDREN,” he writes in all caps. “DAMAGED SOULS.”
Emily Knox, a University of Illinois professor who researches book challenges, told JTA the movement’s ambitions are inherently at odds with learning about the Holocaust.
“The issue with challengers is that they want books to be pure. And so what they will say is, ‘Why would someone put this terrible thing in a book?’” she said. “But it’s impossible to have a clean book on the Holocaust. That’s not something that exists, unless you decenter the Jewish experience in the Holocaust.”
New laws on the horizon would open the door to even more book challenges. Over the summer, Florida passed a new law that allows any county resident, not just parents, to challenge any book in the district. If even a single challenge claims a book contains sexual content, that book would have to be pulled immediately until a further review can be taken.
One book that Friedman personally says he doesn’t plan to challenge is a Holocaust work that has become a symbol of the broader book-ban movement. Art Spiegelman’s graphic memoir “Maus,” which relays the experiences of his father’s survival of the Holocaust, last year was removed from a middle school lesson plan in Tennessee after the board objected to some of its illustrations, and has been on the chopping block in other districts in Missouri and Iowa. But just like with “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Friedman has positive memories of reading the book as a teen.
“I absorbed it immediately. I thought it was fantastic,” Friedman recalled. “As far as graphic novels go, and history lessons at the same time, it’s probably one of the very best.”
Still, he said, he’s fine with local efforts to remove the book from schools — even if it comes at a cost to Jews.
“That’s local control,” he said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to work. Even if their reasons are racist, even if they want that book gone because they don’t want any sympathy for Jews and they hate them, that’s local control.”
The post This Jewish dad got a version of Anne Frank’s diary banned from his Florida school district appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
This Manhattan restaurant is serving a $95 latke for Hanukkah
(New York Jewish Week) — With movie tickets that cost $30 and apartments that can reach staggering, nine-digit figures, New York City is notoriously expensive. And yet, one restaurant’s new luxury latke is still pricey enough to make jaws drop.
For Hanukkah this year, Caviar Russe, an upscale seafood restaurant in Midtown, is serving an oversized latke topped with caviar, priced at a cool $95.
The restaurant’s executive chef Edgar “Teddy” Panchernikov told the New York Jewish Week that this is the first time he has created a holiday-specific menu item, Hanukkah or otherwise, calling the pricey potato pancake a “one-off.”
The latke is an amped-up version of the mini potato pancakes the Madison Avenue restaurant serves year-round as one of the accoutrements to their caviar service, with prices that range from $65 for 25 grams of Pacific sturgeon caviar up to $10,445 for 500 grams of Almas osetra, an “exceptionally rare” caviar.
The restaurant, which opened in 1997, is just one element of Caviar Russe, a caviar business owned by Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union that regularly appears on lists of the best places to buy the fish roe. The company consists of a wholesale and online business, a caviar boutique and two restaurants, one in New York City and the other in Miami. The New York eatery has been awarded a Michelin star every year since 2014.
The limited-time latke consists of Yukon gold potatoes mixed with salt, pepper and chives — no egg, flour or any kind of filler is used. Chef Panchernikov, the 32-year-old son of Caviar Russe’s founders, then fries it all in clarified butter (no olive oil for these babies!). The crispy plate-sized potato pancake is then topped with creme fraiche, a creamy “egg jam” made by cooking the yolks in a sous vide bath, and one ounce of osetra caviar — which typically retails for about $100 an ounce at Caviar Russe and is one of their most popular varieties, according to a publicist for the restaurant.
In a video shared with the New York Jewish Week of Panchernikov making the latke, he slices it into quarters — so, rest assured, the treat is designed to be shared. However, the latke needs to be ordered 24 hours in advance; interested customers should email email@example.com.
The idea for the luxury latke came from marketing consultant Elana Levin, who was hired by the Caviar Russe team three months ago. “I thought it would be a nice way to tap into his heritage with a potato latke to celebrate Hanukkah at the restaurant,” Levin said of Panchernikov. “He was immediately open to it — he was excited to get creative in the kitchen and to do something that represents their culture and heritage and have a way to celebrate with his guests.”
“The presentation and how he built the latke was the chef’s idea,” she added.
As it happens, the luxury latke isn’t the only Jewish happening at Caviar Russe: “My Unorthodox Life” stars and internet influencers Julia Haart and her daughter, Batsheva, are holding a fundraiser, “Caviar for a Cause,” at the Manhattan restaurant’s bar and lounge. Tickets to the afternoon event on Sunday — which are nearly sold out — are $300, with all proceeds going to Magen David Adom, Israel’s Red Cross.
The owners of the restaurant are donating the food – passed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres – and the space. And although Panchernikov describes his family as “not very religious,” he told the New York Jewish Week that he felt compelled to show his support. “Given the recent events, we want to support other Jews and Israel,” he said.
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The most Jewish moments from Barbra Streisand’s memoir
(JTA) — Throughout Hollywood history, many stars of Jewish ancestry have soft-pedaled that heritage, changing their names or speaking rarely, if at all, about their Jewishness.
No one can accuse Barbra Streisand of either.
The singer and actress of the stage and screen — one of the most beloved Jewish American icons of the past half-century — published her long-awaited memoir, “My Name is Barbra,” earlier this month. Throughout, Streisand references her Jewish background constantly, often peppering in Yiddish words and callbacks to her Brooklyn Jewish upbringing.
Here are the Jewish highlights from “My Name is Barbra.”
Streisand was born in Brooklyn, in April 1942. In the book, she writes of her grandfather taking her to an Orthodox synagogue and of attending a yeshiva when she was young — an experience that later prepared her for her movie “Yentl.”
Streisand’s father died when she was 15 months old. She first lived with her grandparents, on Pulaski Street in Williamsburg. When she was eight, her mother remarried and they moved to a different part of Brooklyn.
“We pulled up to a tall brick building (one of many that all looked alike) on Newkirk Avenue in Flatbush, part of a big public housing project called the Vanderveer Estates (a very fancy name for a not-so-fancy place),” she writes in the book. “I remember being very impressed that there was an elevator. I thought we were rich now.”
The very first Broadway show Streisand ever attended, at age 14, was a 1950s staging of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and it activated ambitions to one day star on Broadway herself.
“I was mesmerized by the play,” she writes. “Anne is fourteen, I’m fourteen. She’s Jewish, I’m Jewish. Why couldn’t I play the part?” In an early theater role, she appeared in the same cast as legendary Jewish comedian Joan Rivers, then still going by her given name Joan Molinsky.
Later, Streisand’s first big Broadway part was in the musical “I Can Get It For You Wholesale,” in which she played a Jewish secretary named Yetta Tessie Marmelstein. While working on that show, she met Elliott Gould, the Jewish actor who would become her first husband and the father of her son Jason.
Described by the author as “two Jewish oddballs who found each other,” Gould and Streisand married and divorced entirely prior to their respective movie star heydays in the 1970s.
Streisand writes repeatedly about her love of food — from complaining about the subpar offerings at a Jewish camp she attended in the Catskills at age 8 to her inability to find New York-quality food while traveling overseas. She also discusses her habit of bringing food with her everywhere.
“Maybe it’s part a collective unconscious of European Jews, because what if a pogrom came and you had to get across the border fast?” she writes. “You have to have a little something to eat until you get to the next country.”
Later, she gushes about knishes from Yonah Schimmel’s on Houston Street in New York.
Streisand worked with many Jewish songwriters, directors, and arrangers during her Broadway days, including Jerome Robbins, Marvin Hamlisch and Jule Styne. “My Name is Barbara,” the song that provides the book its title (albeit with a slightly different spelling), was written by Leonard Bernstein, and she took it up after discovering a book of sheet music of Bernstein’s compositions.
“Can you believe it? I was amazed that such a thing existed,” Streisand writes of finding the song. “Now that’s bashert,” she added, using the Yiddish word for “meant to be.”
“Funny Girl,” on stage and screen
“Funny Girl,” the 1964 Broadway musical in which Streisand played the Jewish comedian Fanny Brice, made her a household name.
“Obviously, we were both Jewish, born in New York City… she was raised on the Lower East Side… so there would be a similar cadence in our speech,” Streisand writes of playing Brice. “I’d already noticed that if I spoke in the Brooklyn accent I had heard growing up, with that distinctive Jewish delivery, people would often laugh… we both had Jewish mothers who were concerned about food and marrying us off.. not necessarily in that order.”
The Jewish Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, who had been considered to write “Funny Girl” but ultimately didn’t, had insisted that a Jewish performer play Brice. “And if she’s not Jewish — she at least has to have the nose!” Sondheim said at the time, according to Streisand. In 1985, Streisand would lead off her “Broadway Album” with Sondheim’s “Putting It Together” and include several other of his songs.
A troubled production that became a huge hit, the success of “Funny Girl” on Broadway led to a 1968 film adaptation, directed by Jewish filmmaker William Wyler, that won Streisand the Best Actress Oscar. In the film, the Egyptian actor Omar Sharif was cast in the male lead opposite Streisand. In a movie shot not long after the Six-Day War, Streisand writes, “Some people didn’t like the idea of an Arab man romancing a Jewish woman.”
When headlines stated that the reaction to the casting in Sharif’s homeland had been negative, Streisand joked, “‘Egypt angry?’ You should hear what my aunt Anna said.”
In 1973, another hit movie starring the actress, “The Way We Were,” involved a love story set against the backdrop of the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, between a “Jewish girl” (Streisand) and “gentile boy” played by Robert Redford.
A “nice Jewish girl” on the cover of Playboy
A notable sex symbol throughout the 1970s, Streisand famously appeared on the cover of Playboy in 1977 with the headline “What’s a nice Jewish girl like me doing on the cover of Playboy?” She did not pose nude but did participate in a lengthy interview. The book, for the first time, includes a photograph, from that same shoot but unused, of Barbra in a Playboy bunny costume.
Barbra and Bella
Streisand has been a supporter and friend of numerous Democratic presidents and other political figures. When she started to get politically active, around 1970, she became a close friend and supporter of Jewish politician Bella Abzug, when she ran for Congress.
“Here we were, two Jewish girls… Bella from the Bronx and Barbra from Brooklyn… who made good!” Streisand writes.
Streisand later discovered that both she and Abzug were included on President Richard Nixon’s enemies list.
In 1983, Streisand made her directorial debut with “Yentl,” an adaptation of the Isaac Bashevis Singer short story “Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy,” about a girl in 19th-century Poland who disguises herself as a boy to attend a yeshiva.
“I’ve always been proud of my Jewish heritage,” Streisand writes, about her desire to make “Yentl.” “I never attempted to hide it when iI became an actress. It’s essential to who I am… And I wanted to make this movie about a smart Jewish woman who represented so many qualities I admire.”
Her son, Jason, studied for his bar mitzvah around the same time that his mother was preparing to make “Yentl.”
The movie was filmed in what was then Czechoslovakia, beyond the Iron Curtain, at a time when the communist government was cracking down on Jewish worship. But Streisand wore a Jewish star on her cap while in that country — and “wore it defiantly,” she writes.
Streisand also clashed with her co-star, the famed Jewish actor Mandy Patinkin, on the set of “Yentl.” She hadn’t wanted to cast Patinkin, who at that point was much better known as a Broadway actor, and she considered Richard Gere for the role. According to the book, once filming started, Patinkin behaved in a hostile way on the set. When Streisand asked why, he answered: “I thought we were going to have an affair.”
When Streisand replied “I don’t operate that way,” she writes, the actor, then in his late 20s, cried. She threatened to replace him, and they continued to clash after that, but Streisand ultimately praises Patinkin’s work in the film.
Many years later, Streisand writes, Patinkin asked Streisand to write a blurb on one of his albums, and she brought up what had happened on the set. As an explanation for his behavior, Patinkin told her that he was “scared.”
Barbra and Israel
A premiere was held for “Yentl” in Israel in April of 1984, and on the same visit, Streisand dedicated the Emanuel Streisand School of Jewish Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, named for her father. On the trip, she met with both the then-current prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, and a future prime minister and president, Shimon Peres. Streisand was not daunted by a terrorist shooting that took place in Jerusalem while she was in the country and continued her trip as scheduled.
In 1993, during the negotiations that would lead to the Oslo Accords, Streisand was invited to a luncheon with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, through her close friendship with President Bill Clinton. Streisand was later involved with an effort to make a film about the lives of Rabin and Yassir Arafat, leading up to their handshake at the White House. The project remained alive even after Rabin’s assassination in 1995 but later fell apart due to a financial dispute between the Showtime network and the director.
Streisand returned to Israel in 2013, for her first-ever concert in the country, and also to sing at a 90th birthday celebration for Shimon Peres. On that trip, she drew controversy when she gave a speech about the treatment of women in Israel.
“It’s distressing… to read about women in Israel being forced to sit in the back of the bus… or when we hear about the Women of the Wall having metal chairs hurled at them while they attempt to peacefully and legally pray,” she said in a speech while receiving an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University.
Obama’s Jewish joke
In 2015, Streisand received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with fellow honorees Sondheim and Steven Spielberg. “Born in Brooklyn to a middle-class Jewish family,” President Barack Obama joked in his introduction speech. “I didn’t know you were Jewish, Barbra.”
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There’s a new Jewish Caucus in Congress. Its mission is still unclear.
WASHINGTON (JTA) — More than a dozen Jewish members of Congress gathered on Friday for the first meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives Jewish Caucus.
But following the meeting, held in the offices of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, an influential Jewish Democrat from Florida, it remains unclear what the caucus will stand for as the chamber’s Jews are deeply divided over the Israel-Hamas war and other issues. A statement from Wasserman Schultz’s office suggested the caucus was still finding its feet.
“We had a very-well attended, constructive meeting focused on how we can work together and develop our broader mission,” the statement said. “We did a lot of listening and considering one another’s opinions and thoughts. We left looking forward to continuing to engage in these discussions with our colleagues so that we can come together in consensus on how a secular Jewish Caucus can be most effective.”
The House has 26 Jewish lawmakers, all but two of them Democrats, and it is unclear which attended the meeting and whether either of the Republicans made it — especially because six congresspeople who RSVPed canceled at the last minute due to illness or sudden conflicts. Ohio Republican Max Miller had said he would attend, but he did not confirm whether he was there. Nor did Tennessee Republican David Kustoff.
Wasserman Schultz is alarmed at the spike in antisemitic attacks and rhetoric in the United States since Hamas terrorists massacred 1,200 people in Israel on Oct. 7, launching the current war in Israel and Gaza. She wants to formalize a united front among Jews in Congress to confront the hatred.
For decades, Jewish members of Congress had been gathering unofficially. Earlier this month, Axios reported that Wasserman Schultz got the go-ahead from House administrators to make the Jewish Caucus official — though it appears that not all Jews in the House believe the caucus should exist.
For the last decade, the unofficial gatherings were helmed by Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat who is the longest-serving Jew in Congress. He told Axios that he would attend Friday’s meeting, but was concerned that the organizers — i.e., Wasserman Schultz — did not consult with all the Jews in the chamber before creating the caucus.
“In the rush to form this new group, by contrast, most Jewish members were left out of the discussion altogether,” he said. He also said the hurt feelings would be a distraction as the caucus seeks unanimity on the Israel-Hamas war.
There are currently official Black, Hispanic and Asian-Pacific caucuses in the House, and there are formal Jewish caucuses in state governments; one of the most active is in California. But one issue that may have prevented the formation of a House Jewish Caucus until now is the age-old question of what “Jewish” means.
A concern reported by Axios — which has long been discussed among Jews in the U.S. Capitol — is that some Jewish lawmakers fear setting the precedent of establishing an explicitly religious caucus — especially because Jews tend to cherish the separation of church and state. That may be why Wasserman Schultz’s statement included the word “secular” right before “Jewish Caucus.”
Another fear is that the wide differences among members of a Jewish Caucus would undermine its purported purpose: Jewish unity.
In late October, Nadler wrangled all 24 Jewish Democrats into signing a statement backing the Biden administration’s robust support for Israel in its war against Hamas. Within weeks, that united front was crumbling, as a number of Jewish Democrats joined calls for a ceasefire.
Beyond differences about the war, there are vast differences among Jews in Congress over, well, everything. Wasserman Schultz sought, and got, Miller’s membership in the caucus, making it the only one of the ethnic caucuses to have bipartisan membership. But Miller is among the most enthusiastic endorsers of former President Donald Trump, while the caucus also includes Nadler and Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Dan Goldman of New York and Adam Schiff of California — all of whom played leading roles in one or both impeachments of Trump. Schiff and Trump routinely express the hope that the other is jailed.
Some members, such as Florida Democrat Jared Moskowitz (who hoped to attend but was unable to), see Jews as an ethnic minority subject to persecution.
“At a time when there’s people marching through the streets with signs calling to ‘Gas the Jews,’ it is absolutely critical that Jewish members form a united front against antisemitism and for the safety and security of the Jewish people,” Moskowitz told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The sensitivity of the get-together made even the most voluble of lawmakers clam up about it. A number of spokesmen promised to get back to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about whether their bosses were in attendance but never did. A spokeswoman for Vermont’s Becca Balint, a Democrat who joined Congress earlier this year, simply said that she was not in attendance.
Kathy Manning, a North Carolina Democrat, attended the meeting and said it centered on the need to confront antisemitism.
“I’m pleased to join in the founding of the Congressional Jewish Caucus,” she said. “During this time of rising antisemitism, it’s imperative that the Jewish community have its unique experience and perspective represented at the leadership table in Congress.”
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