Donate

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

 

How Lebanon—and Hizballah—Conned and Humiliated Rex Tillerson

Feb. 21 2018

Last Thursday, the American secretary of state arrived in Beirut to express Washington’s continued support for the country’s government, which is now entirely aligned with Hizballah. His visit came shortly after Israel’s showdown with Hizballah’s Iranian protectors in Syria and amid repeated warnings from Jerusalem about the terrorist organization’s growing threat to Israeli security. To Tony Badran, Tillerson’s pronouncements regarding Lebanon have demonstrated the incoherence of the Trump administration’s policy:

[In Beirut], Tillerson was made to sit alone in a room with no American flag in sight and wait—as photographers took pictures and video—before Hizballah’s chief allies in Lebanon’s government, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law the foreign minister, finally came out to greet him. Images of the U.S. secretary of state fidgeting in front of an empty chair were then broadcast across the Middle East to symbolize American impotence at a fateful moment for the region. . . .

Prior to heading to Beirut, Tillerson gave an interview to the American Arabic-language station al-Hurra, in which he emphasized that Hizballah was a terrorist organization, and that the United States expected cooperation from the “Lebanon government to deal very clearly and firmly with those activities undertaken by Lebanese Hizballah that are unacceptable to the rest of the world.” . . . But then, while in Jordan, Tillerson undermined any potential hints of firmness by reading from an entirely different script—one that encapsulates the confused nonsense that is U.S. Lebanon policy. Hizballah is “influenced by Iran,” Tillerson said. But, he added, “We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon”—which apparently makes being “influenced by Iran” and being a terrorist group OK. . . .

The reality on the ground in Lebanon, [however], is [that] Hizballah is not only a part of the Lebanese government, it controls it—along with all of the country’s illustrious “institutions,” including the Lebanese Armed Forces. . . .

[Meanwhile], Israel’s tactical Syria-focused approach to the growing threat on its borders has kept the peace so far, but it has come at a cost. For one thing, it does not address the broader strategic factor of Iran’s growing position in Syria, and it leaves Iran’s other regional headquarters in Lebanon untouched. Also, it sets a pace that is more suitable to Iran’s interests. The Iranians can absorb tactical strikes so long as they are able to consolidate their strategic position in Syria and Lebanon. Not only have the Iranians been able to fly a drone into Israel but also their allies and assets have made gains on the ground near the northern Golan and in Mount Hermon. As Iran’s position strengthens, and as Israel’s military and political hand weakens, the Israelis will soon be left with little choice other than to launch a devastating war.

To avoid that outcome, the United States needs to adjust its policy—and fast. Rather than leaving Israel to navigate around the Russians and go after Iran’s assets in Syria and Lebanon on its own, it should endorse Israel’s red lines regarding Iran in Syria, and amplify its campaign against Iranian assets. In addition, it should revise its Lebanon policy and end its investment in the Hizballah-controlled order there.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, U.S. Foreign policy