How Jerry Lewis’s Comedy Captures the American Jewish Experience

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

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood