(New York Jewish Week) — In “The Calling,” a new miniseries streaming on Peacock, a Jewish NYPD detective fights crime and solves mysteries by letting his Jewishness lead the way.
Jeff Wilbusch plays Avraham Avraham, a detective whose Judaism is both central to his character — in more than one scene he says the Mourner’s Kaddish for a murder victim — and an identity that influences the way he does his job.
“It is so beautiful that, in our profession, as actors in the storytelling business, that you can play such a character,” Wilbusch told the New York Jewish Week. “Also, in these crazy times now, to have this beautiful role and character brought to life on screen on such a big platform is a really good thing.”
“The Calling” is based on a series of detective novels by Israeli author Dror Mishani. Though Mishani’s books take place in Israel, the show, produced by David Kelley (creator of “Ally McBeal,” “Big Little Lies” and more) and directed by Barry Levinson (“Diner,” “Good Morning, Vietnam”), transports Detective Avraham to New York. Slightly reminiscent of “Law & Order,” it has less of a procedural bent, with cases that span multiple episodes and more emphasis on the character development.
Detective Avraham — whose double name is not explained in the show further than one off-hand comment “my parents liked the name, I guess” — is a bit of a mysterious and complicated figure who works with his team to solve missing persons cases and a bomb threat at a day care.
Wilbusch, who is Israeli, is best known for his role in Netflix’s “Unorthodox” as Moishe Lefkovitch — the unruly and somewhat dangerous cousin who flies to Germany to track down Esty (Shira Haas), the show’s formerly Orthodox protagonist. For the actor, who grew up in the Satmar Hasidic community of Mea Shearim in Israel until he was 13, and whose native language is Yiddish, he feels a certain responsibility to honor the Jewish characters he plays.
“As a storyteller you have a lot of responsibility, especially when it comes to playing characters that are specific. I do feel a very strong responsibility to Avi,” the 34-year-old actor said. “I’m Jewish and I’m playing Jewish and it is a strange time for us Jews. The current events don’t really leave my head.”
In some instances, the show seems to combine several different streams of Judaism — Detective Avraham says he grew up in Crown Heights, though in a shot of him saying morning prayers and wrapping tefillin on his roof, he appears to live in Williamsburg. He doesn’t wear a kippah save for a few scenes, and while he attends an egalitarian synagogue, he also seems to speak fluent Yiddish.
Still, the character’s Judaism is less about the external markers of Judaism on the show — the scenes of him praying, saying a blessing, or performing “shemira,” watching over the dead — and more about how he carries himself and conducts his job.
“He’s not just Jewish because his name is Avraham, or Jewish because he wears a kippah. He’s Jewish because many different things make him Jewish, storytelling-wise. He’s not a superficial character,” Wilbusch said. “He is such a deep and complex and interesting character with such a strong message of humanity. ”
Avraham is considered the best detective in the department: He knows how to ask the right questions, how to bear witness to tragedy and how to continue to advocate for justice.
“I learned many things from him — to really listen to people, to really use the senses and to fight to see the good in people,” Wilbusch told the New York Jewish Week.
“The Talmud teaches us to see every single human being as the whole world, and that each and every person is entitled to infinite respect and concern. It’s not that I didn’t believe in this before, but just to play a character who consciously embodies this in his whole way of living is a very strong thing and a very healing thing,” he added.
Though Avraham is guided by that very Jewish conscience, he still has his blind spots. He prefers to work alone, he keeps his methods to himself and he remains guarded about his background and personality, perhaps aware that his Judaism sets him apart.
Upending these tendencies in Avraham is his more junior partner Janine Harris (Juliana Canfield), who is eager to learn more about Judaism in order to understand her colleague better. Throughout the series, she asks about synagogue, shiva and Sukkot in a respectful and curious way.
“The Talmud says it’s forbidden for a teacher to reject his student,” she tells him in one scene. “If I ask you, you kinda have to teach me.”
It’s a relationship not often seen on television, a non-Jewish character with an innocent curiosity about Judaism and a recognition of how it influences one’s entire being. For Wilbusch, the relationship between Avraham and Janine was one of his favorite parts of the show.
“It says in the Torah ‘Lo tov heyot l’adam l’vado,’ a person should not be alone,” Wilbusch said, quoting a line in Genesis. “Avraham thinks he works best alone, but he needs Janine badly. The relationship that they have is not just a master-student. She keeps them in line where he has blind spots.”
The relationship on screen bled into their real world interactions on set, Wilbusch said. As production went on, Canfield, who is not Jewish, would slip in Yiddish phrases like “oy gevalt” after messing up a line.
“It means a lot to me. It’s a dream come true — a dream that I never knew I had,” Wilbusch said. “I never thought I would play a Jewish detective, that this would be my first leading role in America.”
All eight episodes of “The Calling” will be available to stream on Peacock on November 10.
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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.
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.”
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.)
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.
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