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‘Fleishman is in Trouble’ hits FX Thursday. Just don’t call it a Jewish series, says its creator.



(JTA) — From Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s point of view, her best-selling 2019 novel “Fleishman Is in Trouble” wasn’t all that Jewish. She’s a little perplexed by the deluge of press junket questions about its Jewish essence.

“It’s funny: I don’t think of it as a Jewish book. I know people do,” she said.

Brodesser-Akner, a journalist famous for her sharp celebrity profiles, is now the showrunner of the book’s star-studded TV adaptation, an 8-episode FX series that debuts on Hulu on Thursday. In the story, Toby Fleishman (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is a 41-year-old Jewish hepatologist who has recently divorced Rachel (Claire Danes), his ambitious, icy, blonde theater agent wife. Early on in the story, Rachel disappears in the middle of the night, leaving Toby with their two children and a truckload of resentment. Toby, who had a nebbishy and romantically insecure youth before marrying Rachel, is now drowning in the sexual bounty of dating apps.

On Zoom, Brodesser-Akner was speaking a few days after the show’s blowout bash at Carnegie Hall and Tavern on the Green, an iconic Central Park restaurant. “I’ve never been to an event like that. It was 600 people,” she said. It sounded like a scene that could have been plucked right from “Fleishman,” which is set on the extremely wealthy Upper East Side, and in which the responsibilities of marriage and parenthood are at odds with the ambitions and personal longings of its middle-aged characters.

Brodesser-Akner, 47, who was both adrenalized and a little frazzled, had to balance the premiere with parenting duties — she’s a mother of two boys, ages 15 and 12. “I’m still picking sequins from my teeth.”

As a writer, Brodesser-Akner likes to play with the power of subjectivity, and she built “Fleishman” on it. Though the story begins as Toby’s, it eventually morphs into a “Rashomon”-esque take on the divorce and what really went wrong in the Fleishmans’ marriage. The story is narrated by Libby (Lizzy Caplan), Toby’s friend from their year abroad in Israel. A former men’s magazine writer, Libby is now a lost and frustrated stay-at-home mom in suburban New Jersey (and a stand-in for Brodesser-Akner). Adam Brody steals scenes as Seth, an immature finance bro and another year-in-Israel friend with whom Toby reconnects after the divorce. (His presence is a homecoming of sorts for those of us who spent our tween years watching him play a different Seth in “The O.C.”)

“I don’t think of it as a Jewish book,” says Taffy Brodesser-Akner.

Brodesser-Akner pieced together the story’s Jewish elements: a doctor named Fleishman, a bat mitzvah, Friday night dinners, a year abroad in Israel, a few jokes about Jews being bad at home repairs (which is the subject of a very funny scene in episode six between Toby and Seth). There are a few insidery details that she fails to mention, like a fake Jewish sleepaway camp called Camp Marah, which sounds like the real Camp Ramah but roughly translates to “Camp Bitter” in Hebrew. Does all this add up to a “Jewish” story?

“I read ‘The Corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen, and it mentions Christmas I think 47 times. I read ‘Crossroads’ and it’s about the family of a youth minister. But neither of those is ever called a Christian book. This is called a Jewish book. I don’t object to it being called a Jewish book. But to me it’s mostly an American story. As a writer and as an observer of the culture, I think that calling this a Jewish book is proof of the answer to an old question: are Jews considered Americans? And the answer is no.” She threw in her characteristic meta analysis: “So now you have a very Jewish profile. How Jewish is that, Sarah?”

The self-aware comment is a good reminder that although her responses may be unguarded, she has not forgotten that she’s on the record. A name in New York media, Brodesser-Akner wrote for GQ and is now a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, having profiled Gwyneth Paltrow, Ethan Hawke and Tom Hanks and written about the Joshua Cohen novel “The Netanyahus,” the television show “Thirtysomething” and much more. She inserts herself often into her writing, not to make it about herself, but to remind the reader that every profile is by nature filtered through the lens of the writer crafting it. Her writing is searing, self-deprecating — so raw it’s still bleeding and often quite funny.

“I wrote the book the way I would write a profile, just like I always do. But this man doesn’t exist,” she said.

RELATED: 5 Jewish places that inspired Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s ‘Fleishman Is in Trouble’

We had tried to meet in person near her home on the Upper West Side, but by the time she was available, I was in Tel Aviv, placing us along the Israel-New York axis on which “Fleishman” is set. When Toby suddenly calls Libby to tell her he’s getting divorced, he catapults her into memories of their early twenties in Jerusalem. Those thoughts make Libby miss the possibilities of her youth, the ones time has ruthlessly and inevitably extinguished. Eventually her longing for her past becomes so overwhelming that it threatens her marriage to her menschy and patient husband, played by Josh Radnor. (For more longing-for-younger-days while in Israel content, Brodesser-Akner wrote a Saveur essay about vegetable soup in Jerusalem — her Proustian madeleine. Interviewing Brodesser-Akner from my friend’s apartment in Tel Aviv, a city where I lived in my twenties, I found the theme of longing for the past hit almost too close to home.)

Part of the reason Brodesser-Akner doesn’t think the “Fleishman” story is all that Jewish is that she doesn’t feel all that Jewish — at least not relative to her mother and sisters, who are aligned with the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement and live within a few blocks of each other in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

“I don’t think any writer has ever gotten it right,” she says of her Jewish background. “They say I was raised Orthodox. It’s interesting because it always makes me look like the black sheep in my family, when really they are. I’m exactly how I was raised to be until I was 12.”

After her mother, a secular Israeli, and her father, a Conservative Long Islander, divorced, her mother put Brodesser-Akner and her sisters in Jewish school. Some Jewish observance trickled back to her mother, who ended up going the Chabad route.

“My mom had never been inside a synagogue until the day she married my father. Now that is what we call ironic,” Brodesser-Akner said.

Brodesser-Akner’s two sisters followed, and her mother eventually remarried and had another child, the only sibling born into a religious household.

“The thing that made me a journalist was being raised in a home where, at age 12, I was relegated to observer. I had to learn how to understand other people’s points of view. And now that’s what I do,” she said.

Despite their religious differences — Brodesser-Akner attends an Orthodox synagogue but sends her children to an unaffiliated Jewish school and says she wakes up “every morning with new ideas” — the author is very close with her family, and her sisters were at the “Fleishman” premiere.

“They were at the premiere of my perverted sex show,” she joked with a laugh referring to the Hulu series, which features some sexual content as Toby explores the post-divorce New York dating scene. “They show up for me and I show up for them. I have my challenges with it, but I think their challenges must be greater. They never say this to me, but they must think that my life is comparatively…” She looked away thoughtfully, trying to find the right words. “They must think my lifestyle is comparatively less worthwhile. But we really love each other.”

To Brodesser-Akner, the most Jewish show on television is “The Patient,” which she calls “the best show I have seen in 100 years.” And that’s not because it (like “Fleishman”) is on FX. “I’m not that kind of interview!” she said.

Lizzy Caplan plays Toby’s friend Libby. (FX Networks)

“It’s the most Jewish show in all of the Jewish ways. It grapples with a Jewish prisoner; with the difference between a Conservative Jewish female cantor whose son becomes ultra-Orthodox — I’d never seen that on screen. It was kind of the only relatable Jewish matter I’ve ever seen. People ask me if I’ve watched ‘Shtisel.’ And I always say, I’m in the 47th season of an ultra-Orthodox family drama myself and not really interested!” She laughed. “But also I think of the other Jewish matters on television, which are adapted memoirs of people who were ultra-Orthodox and now aren’t. It’s like no one can imagine religious people being happy in their lives. And that’s really shocking to me. My family is very happy.”

Brodesser-Akner wound up with her dream cast: she had a list of five actors — Lizzy Caplan, Jesse Eisenberg, Claire Danes, Josh Radnor and Adam Brody — and no backup plan. She noted the fact that viewers have seen them grow up on screen as one reason they were right for the roles. For many, watching Caplan, Eisenberg and Brody sit across from each other in a diner will feel like a camp reunion, the fulfillment of a Jewish television fantasy they never knew they had.

“One thing that we were trying to get across is ‘how could it be that I am this old when I was once this young?’ And the fact that you have a memory of Claire from ‘My So-Called Life,’ or Jesse from ‘The Squid and the Whale’ — that does so much of the work of the show without writing a word,” Brodesser-Akner said.

Besides Danes (who plays the only main character with a non-Jewish parent, whom the book makes clear she resembles) the lead actors are all Jewish — a notable fact in a time when Jewish representation on screen, and who should be allowed to play Jewish characters, is the subject of continued debate.

Last month, New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum, who is Jewish, tweeted, “There is a simple solution to the question of whether various non-Jewish actors are allowed to play Jews & that is to ask me.” Brodesser-Akner responded to the tweet, writing “[Non-Jew] Oscar Isaac in Scenes from a Marriage is the best ex-ortho I ever saw on screen!”

About casting Jewish actors, Brodesser-Akner noted a legal issue rarely mentioned in the representation debate: one can cast based on looks, but it’s illegal in the United States to cast based on religion. She took this very seriously.

“I spoke to [‘The Plot Against America’ director] David Simon about it and he said, ‘They’re actors. You let them act.’ And I agree with that. The question that I asked myself was who was perfect for it?” she said.

Even if Brodesser-Akner rejects the claim that “Fleishman” is a definitively Jewish story, wasn’t she consciously playing with some Philip Roth-inspired Jewish archetypes? Toby the nice Jewish doctor, the devoted, idealistic dad who’s also self-righteous, horny and insecure.

No, she insists she wasn’t. But also Philip Roth is so ingrained in her that who’s to say? And isn’t the question flawed in the first place?

“All I can say is that I am made out of Philip Roth. I’m so formed by his books. I actually would say that you have a bias in the asking of your question, in that you’re Jewish too. And you also are made out of Philip Roth books since you’re a writer. Again, that goes back to the same question as ‘are we American?’ To me, Toby is not ‘a Jewish guy.’ He’s just a guy! He’s the kind of guy I know! I was just trying to be myself.”

“Fleishman is in Trouble” premieres its first two episodes on Hulu on Nov. 17. It will release each of its six remaining episodes weekly on Thursdays. 

The post ‘Fleishman is in Trouble’ hits FX Thursday. Just don’t call it a Jewish series, says its creator. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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