Pop Culture Embraces Tradition, While Tradition Embraces Pop Culture—but Only One Succeeds

In American Pickle­—the latest vehicle for the actor Seth Rogen—a Brooklyn Jewish slacker encounters his shtetl-born great-grandfather Herschel through a plot twist reminiscent of Rip van Winkle or Woody Allen’s Sleeper. The younger character eventually comes to appreciate the wisdom and power of Herschel’s traditional religiosity. “In theory,” writes Liel Leibovitz, such a plot “should delight anyone hankering for a movie that takes faith seriously.” In practice, however, it falls flat:

American Pickle feels about as convincing as Rogen’s comically exaggerated [East European] accent. A movie that takes faith seriously, for example, might have at least acknowledged that a few blocks away in hipster Williamsburg dwell Satmar Ḥasidim, men and women who worship and dress in ways that haven’t changed much since Herschel’s days and who might have made for suitable companions. But tradition, to Rogen, is necessarily a thing of the past. Even as he seeks to critique contemporary society, the only force he can conjure is nostalgia.

That there are religious Jews among us living according to the very same values as Herschel, and that they are thriving while liberal Judaism is decaying, doesn’t even occur to Rogen. Perhaps it’s because his movie, for all of its aspirations, was always meant to be a lighthearted comedy and nothing more. Or perhaps it’s because the realities of religious life require lived-in complexities and sacrifices, not only maudlin movie moments.

Leibovitz contrasts the film to the debut single of an ultra-Orthodox rapper who goes by the stage name Young Rechnitz, and may very well be from one of those Williamsburg ḥasidic communities:

Unlike American Pickle, Rechnitz’s single, titled “Yeshivishe Mozart,” delivers a torrent of one-liners that are as thought-provoking as they are hilarious. . . . With a pun a second (“Rebbe on vacation/ I’m going out reckless,” he quips, a rekl being the long black coat some ḥasidic Jews wear on weekdays, which means that going out rekl-less is, in fact, a rather reckless thing to do), Young Rechnitz achieves in three minutes what Rogen couldn’t in 90, mounting a fun-filled anthem to the joys and mysteries of religious life that also happens to be an excellent rap song.

At ease in his skin, cheered on by his community, and propelled forth by his faith, Young Rechnitz felt comfortable enough to reach out to pop culture at large . . . and stitch together a song that reminds us that the secular and the religious, the profound and the profane—all are parts of God’s magical creation. Rogen, meanwhile, reached into tradition for laughs and came up emptyhanded, delivering neither a particularly convincing defense of faith nor a very funny film.

Read more at First Things

More about: Hasidism, Hollywood, Jewish music, Judaism, Popular culture

Why Arab Jerusalem Has Stayed Quiet

One of Hamas’s most notable failures since October 7 is that it has not succeeded in inspiring a violent uprising either among the Palestinians of the West Bank or the Arab citizens of Israel. The latter seem horrified by Hamas’s actions and tend to sympathize with their own country. In the former case, quiet has been maintained by the IDF and Shin Bet, which have carried out a steady stream of arrests, raids, and even airstrikes.

But there is a third category of Arab living in Israel, namely the Arabs of Jerusalem, whose intermediate legal status gives them access to Israeli social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. They may also apply for Israeli citizenship if they so desire, although most do not.

On Wednesday, off-duty Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem shot at a Palestinian who, it seems, was attempting to attack them. But this incident is a rare exception to the quiet that has prevailed in Arab Jerusalem since the war began. Eytan Laub asked a friend in an Arab neighborhood why:

Listen, he said, we . . . have much to lose. We already fear that any confrontation would have consequences. Making trouble may put our residence rights at risk. Furthermore, he added, not a few in the neighborhood, including his own family, have applied for Israeli citizenship and participating in disturbances would hardly help with that.

Such an attitude reflects a general trend since the end of the second intifada:

In recent years, the numbers of [Arab] Jerusalemites applying for Israeli citizenship has risen, as the social stigma of becoming Israeli has begun to erode and despite an Israeli naturalization process that can take years and result in denial (because of the requirement to show Jerusalem residence or the need to pass a Hebrew language test). The number of east Jerusalemites granted citizenship has also risen, from 827 in 2009 to over 1,600 in 2020.

Oddly enough, Laub goes on to argue, the construction of the West Bank separation fence in the early 2000s, which cuts through the Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem, has helped to encouraged better relations.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Jerusalem