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White supremacy takes center stage in a new reimagining of ‘The Merchant of Venice’



(New York Jewish Week) — When William Shakespeare wrote “The Merchant of Venice” 400 years ago, he had almost certainly never met a Jewish person. In fact, in 1596 or so, when he created the infamous character of Shylock — a greedy moneylender who thirsts for a literal “pound of flesh” from his Christian antagonist, Antonio — Jews had been banned from England for nearly 300 years.

Like most of Shakespeare’s work, “The Merchant of Venice” — which centers on Antonio’s default on a large loan from Shylock — continues to be performed in the present day, despite its reputation as “the most vexed single play in the Shakespearean canon,” as New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote in a 2004 review of the film version starring Al Pacino as Shylock. At the time, Scott noted that “the first task of any modern adaptation is to confront the anti-Jewish bigotry that propels its plot and informs its poetry.”

In his new play “The Shylock and the Shakespeareans,” Edward Einhorn confronts that bigotry head on. Now onstage at the New Ohio Theatre in Greenwich Village, the Untitled Theater Company No. 61 production that debuted June 1 and runs through June 17 reimagines “The Merchant of Venice” from the perspective of Jacob, a Jewish diamond merchant who is called “Shylock” as a slur. In this new version, while still set in an “ancient Venice, of sorts,” a group of white supremacists known as “the Shakespeareans” have co-opted the public discourse, and Jacob finds himself embroiled with them when his daughter falls in love with an Asian immigrant.

Using contemporary events and framing, alongside techniques associated with the Theatre of the Absurd, the play attempts to explore the continuum between the historical and the modern in order to create a conversation about antisemitism as it exists in our current time.

“What’s really interesting to me is how a lot of this resurgence of antisemitism has such old libels embedded in it,” Einhorn told the New York Jewish Week. “You can see whoever is the latest celebrity antisemite coming out and saying something [they think is] new when it’s actually 500 or even 1,000 years old. I think a lot of people don’t realize how historically embedded many conspiracy theories are.”

Despite its old age, conversations about “The Merchant of Venice” continue to be potent — perhaps even more so today, amid rising rates of antisemitic crimes and statements in the United States and beyond. Contemporary artists continue to grapple with what the play can and does mean, often making use of modern-day politics to propel these conversations.

A “race-conscious” production of “Merchant” at Brooklyn’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center last March, for example, tackled anti-Black racism, while a recent United Kingdom production of “The Merchant of Venice” by Tracy-Ann Oberman sets the tale in 1930s Britain, and Oberman portrays Shylock as a version of her own great-grandmother. Both of these versions make no qualms about declaring the inherent antisemitism of the play — and so, too, does “The Shylock and the Shakespeareans,” which sends the message that such hate is alive and well among us today.

When it comes to “The Merchant of Venice,” Einhorn said that “playing it straight, rather than staging it with a point of view [and context] is not the best choice.” In his spin on the tale, the playwright retains the main storylines of “Merchant”: The plot revolves around an unpaid debt to Jacob by Antonio on behalf of his friend Bassanio, who seeks to woo the wealthy Portia; Antonio is an outspoken antisemite who slanders the very Jewish man who is lending him the cash he needs.

The twist in Einhorn’s play is the analogy to modern U.S. politics — and the rub is that it’s not particularly difficult to make these connections. The Venetian citizens who persecute Shylock in Shakespeare’s play become white supremacists, led by a hateful politician called Shakespeare. They call out “Jews will not replace us,” an intentional reference to the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virgina. Portia, originally the central love interest who tests suitors and creates the judicial conditions for Shylock’s unraveling, is also transformed: she becomes an over-privileged brat who plays cruel games with people’s lives, treating her suitors with blatant racism and disregard.

“It’s cute in ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ but here it’s scary,” actor Jeremy Kareken, who portrays Jacob in this new iteration, told the New York Jewish Week. “[Portia] is playing games with people’s lives and their destinies. People end up married, people end up dead — she’s playing games because of her privilege. And the people she chooses to believe as judges [in Jacob’s trial] are deeply suspect. That’s why it’s a kangaroo court — it’s such an obvious miscarriage of justice.”

Justice is a central theme of the play, and something that Einhorn seeks to subvert and question. “[In the original], people just accept these things are happening,” Einhorn said, referring to Shylock’s trial, during which the moneylender attempts to get his revenge on Antonio but instead loses everything — even his own identity as a Jew.

The play also calls into question the idea of Jewish identity itself by highlighting the narrative arc of Jacob’s daughter, Jessica, who leaves her Judaism behind to marry her love.

“Even if you are no longer religiously Jewish, how does that identity impact you in life?” Einhorn mused. “No matter how you’ve chosen to identify previously, when major life events happen, do they bring you back to that upbringing?”

To Einhorn and Kareken, who are both Jewish, it’s not about how one practices the religion or even if one chooses to do so. (Kareken, who is also a playwright of Broadway’s “The Lifespan of a Fact,” is adamant that there is “no wrong way to do it, within the bounds of ethics.”) Instead, it’s about how a person connects to where they’ve come from and how their culture informs the path they take in the world.

At this fraught moment — when polarization among Jews is intensifying and antisemitism is ascendent — these questions feel palpable. Einhorn admits that some audience members have found it too hard to face, walking out mid-play, but overall the response has been one of reflection and consideration.

“It’s working best when the comedy and the ridiculous aspects are working as well as the drama,” he said. “And I could feel that working from the audience reaction around me.”

“The Shylock and the Shakespeareans” will be performed at the New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher St.) through June 17. For tickets and info, click here

The post White supremacy takes center stage in a new reimagining of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ 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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Local News

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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