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How Jerry Lewis’s Comedy Captures the American Jewish Experience

Aug. 23 2017

While the late and celebrated comedian and actor rarely made overt reference to Jews or Judaism in his work, Jeremy Dauber argues that his humor embodied something quintessentially Jewish. He finds this quality in Lewis’s collaborations with the singer Dean Martin, in which Lewis was “manic and kinetic” while Martin played “the suave, elegant straight man”—in other words, a stereotypical Jew against a stereotypical Gentile. And the same juxtaposition is evident in one of Lewis’s best-known movies:

The Nutty Professor is a 1963 comedy about a nebbishy, klutzy college professor named Julius Kelp, who, taking a page from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, drinks a serum he concocts in order to turn into somebody else. But while Robert Louis Stevenson’s Victorian doctor wants to allow his less-socially-accepted urges free rein, Lewis’s comical zhlub — a kind of Mad-magazine parody come to life — turns into a cool nightclub singer, Buddy Love. Whether Buddy Love was based on Martin or not (opinion is divided: Lewis said he wasn’t, and almost everyone else believed he was), he was certainly the apotheosis of a kind of American Jewish yearning: the man women wanted; the man men wanted to be. Julius Kelp (note that weedy early-20th-century Jewish name) was who Jews feared everyone thought they were.

After the movie came out, Lewis admitted he was surprised at that one aspect of its success. He had written Buddy Love as a bad guy, as a way to help Kelp (and audiences) learn that you have to like yourself to have others like you. The movie ends with the love interest confessing she preferred the nutty genius to the sexy crooner. But audiences preferred Love, in a big way.

Lewis’s bemusement about that phenomenon spoke to an essential American Jewish truth of the period, wrought truer in his film than perhaps he knew: did a collectively imagined American dream appeal more strongly than . . . personal history? Can you really have both, without a magic potion, or split personality? And if so, which one would you rather give up?

Read more at New York Times

More about: American Jewry, Arts & Culture, Comedy, Film, Jewish humor

The Movement to Return Jewish Worship to the Temple Mount Has Gone Mainstream

Sept. 25 2017

During the eruption of violence against Israelis in Jerusalem this summer, and the subsequent struggle over metal detectors, the Islamic authorities briefly boycotted the Temple Mount. As a result, Jewish visitors, normally prohibited from praying there, immediately began to do so. Meir Soloveichik puts the episode in context and describes its meaning:

The Temple Mount is fast becoming a pilgrimage site for religious Jews. In the past, most abstained from visiting out of concern that they might enter a sacred area in a state of ritual impurity, but many now believe that, with a knowledge of the layout, history, and religious laws pertaining to the location, it is permissible to visit certain parts of the Temple Mount plaza. They thus visit the site under religious guidance—immersing first in a ritual bath, or mikveh—and tread only in specific areas. What was once a trickle of pilgrims has become a stream, and this year they numbered in the many thousands. . . .

[Indeed, a] sea change has taken place in the past fifteen years: . . . the segment of Jews visiting the Temple Mount is becoming more and more mainstream, supported by rabbis noted for their liberalism in social or religious affairs. . . .

Visiting Jews were, for a brief and brilliant moment [this summer], able to utter several words of prayer without interference. The Israeli media published photos of a diverse group of Jews standing on the Temple Mount reciting the kaddish, so close to where their ancestors, on Yom Kippur, had once stood listening to the high priest pronounce the Name of God. Soon after this kaddish, the [status quo ante] returned; Jews again were no longer free to pray at the site toward which all Jewish prayer has been directed for thousands of years. But images of that one unimpeded kaddish remain; to study them is to look back on the miraculous and heartbreaking past half-century in Jerusalem, to celebrate what has been achieved, and to mourn what might have been.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Judaism, Palestinian terror, Religion & Holidays, Temple Mount