Playing Anne Frank Podcast Review

Among the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust were 1.5 million young people. This cumulative experience of the lost generation speaks to us via The Diary of Anne Frank.

In 1955, the book was turned into a play. The new 7-part podcast, Playing Anne Frank, tells the behind-the-scenes story of how the play was made and its impact on everyone (both the audience and the creators) involved. Mixing historical media with interviews of surviving cast members, it brings the drama to life and reinforces the importance of the work.

I have enjoyed listening to the first 3 episodes. For obvious reasons, both the original text and its various stage/screen incarnations are still relevant, even after all of these years. What I am appreciating is the insights of the cast and that they understood the necessity of sharing Anne’s story.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

New episodes of Playing Anne Frank are released every Tuesday.

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Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Holocaust ended 78 years ago. Though it may seem like ancient history, the truth is that it happened in the lifetimes of our parents and grandparents.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and specifically, the liberation of the survivors of the Auschwitz death camp.

When I think of what has been happening in the past few years, I see scary signs of what could happen again. I think it goes without saying that we don’t want to make the alarm bells ring all of the time. But, given recent events (Kanye, for one), I can’t help but make connections to the recent past.

One of the things that I wish was more well-known was the persecution of the LGBTQ community. Before the war, Berlin was known for its openness to those who were not heteronormative. The ended in 1933. Thousands were murdered and many more were persecuted.

The problem is that many continue to turn a blind eye to this hatred, even those of my faith. Ben Shapiro (whom I dislike with every bone in my body), has been open about his association with the right and their hatred of everyone who is not them. What he conveniently forgets is that at the day, he is still Jewish. The antisemites would still slap a yellow star on his chest and send him to his death.

It has been said that we die twice. The first time is when shuffle off this mortal coil. The second is when we are forgotten. Many of those who were killed have died twice.

May the memories of the millions who were murdered always be a blessing. Z”l.

Best New Television Shows of 2022

  1. Obi-Wan Kenobi: The DisneyPlus series answers the question of what happened to Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) in between the events of Revenge of the Sith (2005) and A New Hope (1977). My favorite part of the series was the introduction of Reva Sevander (Moses Ingram).
  2. Anatomy of a Scandal: Based on the Sarah Vaughan book of the same name, this Netflix miniseries follows the investigation of a politician accused of rape.
  3. The US and the Holocaust: This Ken Burns multi-part PBS documentary exposes how the United States failed to help the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
  4. Ridley Road: This PBS/Masterpiece program is based on the book of the same name by Jo Bloom. It tells the story of a young woman of Jewish descent in the 1960s who goes undercover to stop a Neo-Nazi group from destroying the UK.
  5. Gaslit: Julia Roberts plays Martha Mitchell in this Starz production that tells the tale of Watergate from Martha’s perspective.
  6. Dangerous Liaisons: A sort of prelude Les Liaisons Dangereuses, it started off a bit slow and took a few episodes to get interesting. Unfortunately, Starz canceled it at the end of the first season.
  7. The Serpent Queen: Samantha Morton plays the title character in this Starz series about Catherine de Medici. Wow, that is all I have to say.
  8. Women of the Movement: This ABC/Hulu miniseries told of the murder of Emmett Till and his mother Mamie’s journey to get justice for her son.
  9. Ms. Marvel: A young woman goes from an ordinary teenager to a superhero who saves the world.
  10. Andor: The prequel to Rogue One, the series explains how Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) became the rebel leader who led the fight against the Empire.
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This will be my last post for 2022. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for taking time out of your day to read this humble writer’s work. I’ll see you in 2023.

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Best Books of 2022

  1. Carrie Soto Is Back: Taylor Jenkins Reid‘s latest novel about a nearly over-the-hill tennis star took my breath away.
  2. I’m Glad My Mom Died: Jennette McCurdy’s memoir of her childhood, her career, and her abusive mother made me grateful for my parents, warts, and all.
  3. Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence: The revelations in this book are damming.
  4. What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix: The book takes Wuthering Heights in a new direction, deepening the narrative and an understanding of Bronte’s era.
  5. The Matchmakers Gift: A Novel: Lynda Cohen Loigman‘s latest novel about a Jewish teenage matchmaker in the early 20th century and her skeptic granddaughter is pure gold.
  6. The Princess and the Scoundrel: The book tells the story of the wedding and honeymoon of Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo after the destruction of the Empire in Return of the Jedi.
  7. The Weight of Blood: This reboot of Carrie adds racism to the mix, making Stephen King‘s novel even more relevant than it already was.
  8. Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in WW2 Era America: Their tactics may not have been exactly legal, but standing up against antisemitism is nothing to sneeze at.
  9. Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power: This biography of Nancy Pelosi is a reminder of the barriers she has broken and the legacy she will leave behind.
  10. His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle For Racial Justice: The murder of George Floyd forced the world to face its racist past.

Here’s to the books we read in 2022 and the ones we will read in 2023.

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Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish Review

Fiddler on the Roof is one of those stories that is both universal and specific. The story of an everyman trying to balance family and tradition in a changing world speaks to all of us, regardless of background or location.

The new production of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish is playing at the New World Stages in New York City. Directed by Joel Grey, Steven Skybell plays Teyve, the poor dairyman living in the Pale of Settlement in the early 20th century. He and his wife, Golde (Jennifer Babiak), they are raising five daughters under difficult circumstances.

Three of their five daughters are of age to marry. Tsaytl (Rachel Zatcoff), Hodl (Stephanie Lynn Mason), and Khave (Rosie Jo Neddy) marry for love instead of waiting for a husband to be presented to them. As each presents their potential spouse to their father, the thread of tradition begins to fray.

While Tevye is doing with familial issues, the outside is getting closer. Antisemitism is forcing reality all of the characters to face reality and the hard truth about their circumstances.

This production is fantastic. The fact that the characters speak in the mamaloshen (mother tongue) of Yiddish adds a level of gravity to the narrative. It is as if the audience is one step closer to the real people who called that time and place their own.

There is a moment (which I will not give away) that completely represents the message of Fiddler. It happens at the very end of the first act and as far as I know, has not been done in past productions. It is a breathtakingly horrible moment that I don’t think I will ever forget.

Seeing this adaptation in 2022 and knowing what is happening in Ukraine grounds it in a reality that I never expected. It is nothing short of a gut punch.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish is playing at the New World Stages in New York City until January 1st, 2023. Check the website for tickets and showtimes.

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Thoughts On the First Night of Chanukah

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah.

This year, the holiday feels different. With an extreme rise in antisemitism, it is a reminder of the message of Chanukah. Essentially, it is the fight against hate and assimilation. It is the perfect middle finger for those who deny our humanity and the right to be seen as more than our faith.

Wherever you are, and however you’re celebrating, Happy Chanukah!

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Thoughts On Whoopi Goldberg’s Hamas Comment and Netflix’s Farha

There are two ways to view history: the fact as we know them to be and how the information is twisted to represent a certain perspective.

Just before Thanksgiving, The View co-host Whoopi Goldberg said the following about Hamas and the Taliban being labeled as terrorist organizations.

“Depends who you talk to”

This was in response to Ilhan Omar potentially being removed from her committees by the Republican leadership in January. Now granted, this is a partisan proposal that is deeply problematic, but Goldberg’s comments are also problematic.

Both Hamas and the Taliban (as anyone with a brain would recognize), are known terrorist groups. If the only way to create their ideal world is to destroy and kill, so be it. The Hamas Charter goes so far as to say it in black and white.

“Which calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, and would not
become a purely political movement, but quite the opposite, it would continue its policy of “resistance”.

The conflict with Israeli is religious and political: The Palestinian problem is a religious-political Muslim problem and the conflict with Israel is between Muslims and the Jewish “infidels.”

Goldberg seems to be an intelligent and capable woman. She would have lasted this long in Hollywood without a brain. But in making this comment, she has proven herself to be ignorant.

One of the newest films to be released on Netflix is Farha. It is supposed to dramatize the event known as “Nakba“. This is the lie that in 1948, Israel murdered and forced out hundreds of thousands of Arab Palestinians.

In any war, there is violence, there is death, and there is destruction. It is the nature of the beast. Nakba never happened. It was a story concocted to make the Israelis appear the Goliath to the Palestinian‘s David. The problem is that this fiction has continued to enable anti-semitism and has killed multiple generations on both sides.

Every time I read or see something about this, I get sick to my stomach. When I was very young, I was told the story about the ripple in the bond. As it got bigger, it spread. The same could be said for anti-semitism.

The only way to counter this hate is with love and acceptance. But first, we have to be willing to see one another as human beings.

Enjoy your evening.

The Fabelmans Movie Review

It is always fascinating (at least from my perspective) to learn how and why an artist got started.

The new film, The Fabelmans, is the semi-autobiographical story of Steven Spielberg‘s early years. Co-written by Tony Kushner ( who also co-wrote West Side Story), the tale starts in 1952 in New Jersey. Sammy Fabelman (Mateo Zoryan) is going to the movies with his parents Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and Burt (Paul Dano).

The Greatest Show on Earth will change Sammy’s life. As the movie shifts in time, an older Sammy (Gabrielle LaBelle) wants to make a career as a filmmaker. While his artist mother encourages him, his scientist father would prefer that his son take another path in life. When his Uncle Boris (Judd Hirsh) comes for a short visit, he also supports Sammy’s dream.

Life becomes more complicated by two moves: the first to Arizona and the second to Northern California. By the time the family settles in California, Sammy is dealing with more complications: the end of his parent’s marriage and the blunt antisemitism he is experiencing in school. Mitzi and his father’s best friend Benny (Seth Rogen) have become more than friends, adding additional pressure to everything that Sammy is going through.

Michelle Williams is going to get at the very least, an Oscar nomination for her role. I felt for her, as both a woman and an artist. As much as she loved her husband and her children, it is obvious that she had a gift for music.

Clocking in at 2 hours and 30 minutes, it goes pretty fast. But even with that pace, some scenes could have been left on the cutting room floor. That being said, it is a love letter to movies and the families we love, foibles and all.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Fabelmans is presently in theaters.

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Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in WW2 Era America Book Review

For the most part, the bad rap that the mafia gets is for a good reason. If what the media says is true, their activities obviously cross moral and legal borders. But what happens when their “work” helps to make the world a better place?

Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in WW2 Era America, by Michael Benson, was published earlier this year. As the antisemitic temperature rises in Europe in the 1930s and the Nazi‘s vision of the world spread, many Americans remain silent.

The only ones who are not afraid to speak up (and knock a few heads) are members of the Jewish mob. In different cities across the country, they sent the message that the Nazis and their American allies would not be tolerated.

I loved this book. It was a fun read. It came off not as a standard history book, but as a fun ride through an era that was dark and difficult. It has an Inglorious Basterds vibe and an opportunity to live (and fight) vicariously through the narrative.

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Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in WW2 Era America is available wherever books are sold.

P.S. I am trying to not sound alarmist, but America in 2022 is scarily becoming Germany in 1939. A recent online survey among employers revealed that 25% of hiring managers will set aside certain applicants simply because that person is Jewish.

The Price of Hate: Thomas Meixner

Hate of any kind twists our minds. It makes us believe something that is patently false and leads us down a road of death and destruction.

Back in October, Thomas Meixner was murdered. His crime was speaking out against antisemitism. The man who is accused of killing him (who will not be directly named in this post) took his life because he believe that Meixner was Jewish. He was not Jewish.

What it is going to take to force people to open their eyes? Antisemitism is real and it still exists. I would love to say that it ended in 1945, but it didn’t.

The only way to stop it is to speak out and make it clear that it is wrong and unacceptable. Until that happens, we will continue to mourn the loss of innocent lives.

May his memory be a blessing.

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