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In Mel Brooks’ ‘History of the World Part II,’ Jewish jokes reign from BCE to the Beatles



(JTA) — In a scene that will soon stream on Hulu, a group of early Christian bishops gathers to set a promotion strategy for their newish religion — to “make the Bible an international blockbuster,” as one puts it.

But the plot is unclear: “Who are the bad guys in this story?” asks one. He and his fellow clerics consider two options: the Jews and the Romans.

“Let’s make them the Jews, for sure,” says a bishop. “They run everything,” says another.

And thus the First Council of Nicaea, a gathering in 325 C.E. that is considered the birth of Christian antisemitism, gets the Mel Brooks treatment in “History of the World Part II,” the long-awaited sequel to the classic Mel Brooks film that revolves around Jewish history — and skewers it. The new four-part series even has a Jewish premiere date — March 6, the eve of the merrymaking holiday of Purim.

As with the 1981 original — written, directed and produced by Brooks, who also stars — the new series is littered with Jewish subject matter, even in the sketches that aren’t about Jews. And although comedy mores have changed in the past four decades, the series aims to retain Brooks’ signature combination of sharp parody, vaudevillian vulgarity and Borscht Belt antics.

“We really tried to embrace what we loved about [Brooks’] work and apply that to the work that we were doing, whether that was the themes of funny character names, or breaking the fourth wall or anachronisms or certain kinds of playful blocking,” director Alice Mathias told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “The kind of comedy work that I was doing up until this point was a touch more restrained and not quite as slapstick in places. So it was really fun to get a little sillier.”

And the creators aren’t concerned about a show with repeated send-ups of Jewish history at a time of rising antisemitism.

“Saying ‘the Jews are the bad guys’ is only funny because you’re making fun of the people saying it,” said showrunner David Stassen. “You’re punching up, you’re making fun of the bishops in power. That was the intent.”

Pictured from left to right: Nick Kroll, Wanda Sykes, Mel Brooks, Ike Barinholtz, and David Stassen at the Los Angeles premiere of History of the World Part II. (Tommaso Boddi via Getty Images)

Part of the series’ Jewishness is thanks to Nick Kroll, the Jewish comedian who had been interested in creating “History of the World Part II” for a very long time and “nudzhed” Brooks to agree, Stassen told JTA, using the Yiddish word for pester. Kroll is the co-creator of the critically acclaimed cartoon “Big Mouth,” which was largely based on his experience attending the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester. He also grew up in a Conservative, kosher-keeping household.

Kroll joins Brooks, 97, Wanda Sykes, Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen as a writer and executive producer, with Mathias of Netflix’s absurdist sketch series “I Think You Should Leave” as director.

“It wasn’t a matter of, is this the right time for this?” Stassen told JTA. “It was just like, how do we honor Mel? How do we do a show that’s different than current sketch shows, that is in Mel’s tone?”

“History of the World Part I” spoofs the epic films of the mid-20th century, with sketches including a musical number take on the Spanish Inquisition; an alternate history of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments; and cavemen discovering music. The new series puts a 21st century spin on that idea, reminiscent of Comedy Central’s “Drunk History” (and featuring many of the same cast members, including Joe Lo Truglio, who plays one of the bishops at Nicaea) with hints of the Netflix series “I Think You Should Leave.”

Audiences will see comedic sendups of historical events including Black congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s historic run for president; Marco Polo’s arrival at the palace of Kublai Khan in China; the Russian Revolution; and the signing of the Oslo Accords, the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Schmuck Mudman (Nick Kroll), Fanny (Pamela Adlon), and Joshy (Charles Melton) discuss leaving the shtetl as the Russian Revolution breaks out. (Courtesy of Hulu)

Just a few of the Jewish jokes: Jason Alexander makes an appearance as a notary-slash-mohel who brings the wrong bag, full of his ritual tools, to the official signing of the Confederate Army’s surrender at the end of the Civil War.

“Useless. Unless somebody wants to take a little off the top,” Alexander’s character says, gesturing to his tools.

The story of Jesus Christ gets parodied via multiple genres and is arguably one of the most Jewish recurring sketches of the whole series. In a “Curb Your Enthusiasm”-inspired sketch in the second episode, Judas (Kroll) and Luke (JB Smoove) realize that Jesus (Jay Ellis) has abandoned keeping kosher when they catch him publicly eating a bacon cheeseburger. A subsequent sketch spoofs the documentary “The Beatles: Get Back,” in which fans of the apostles eat matzah on sticks outside of the Apples & Honey recording studio.

A fan of the apostles (Quinta Brunson) stands outside of Apples and Honey Studios. (Courtesy of Hulu)

And a recurring sketch focusing on the Russian Revolution and parodying parts of “Fiddler on the Roof” features a literal mud pie salesman named “Schmuck Mudman” who lives in an Eastern European shtetl. Mudman sells his wares via Putz Mates, a Yiddish play on the food delivery app PostMates. After moving from the village to Moscow, Mudman, played by Kroll, is surprised to find a meeting of the Mensheviks, the opposition to the Communist Bolshevik party, in his apartment.

“Your misery looks familiar to me. Are we from the same shtetl?” Mudman asks one of the Mensheviks in a depressing round of early 20th century Jewish geography.

“No. I get this all the time,” the man responds. “But I’m a miserable city Jew.”

The post In Mel Brooks’ ‘History of the World Part II,’ Jewish jokes reign from BCE to the Beatles 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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