Steven Spielberg’s Jewish Fable and Its Moral Universe

Nov. 22 2022

Written and produced by Tony Kushner and Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans is a coming-of-age tale very much based on the latter’s own life. And like the Spielbergs, the titular family is an identifiably Jewish one, who can be seen lighting Hanukkah candles and the like. Adam Kirsch finds that the characters’ Jewish identity hangs over the film’s early scenes, when the protagonist, Sam Fabelman, is a child. But, Kirsch writes:

After these early scenes in The Fabelmans, Jewishness disappears as a subject and even as local color. When Jewishness returns in the last third, it’s in strictly cartoon form. Sam, now attending a California high school full of tanned blonds he nicknames “the giant sequoia people,” gets bullied by Logan, an anti-Semitic classmate who calls him “Bagelman” and drives the thrust home by putting a bagel in his locker. Logan even calls Sam a Christ-killer, to which he retorts, “I’m not 2,000 years old and I’ve never been to Rome”—a line that tells us a lot about Kushner and Spielberg’s knowledge of religion and history. Wasn’t there at least one person working on The Fabelmans who could have pointed out that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem?

There is one moment, however, where the ethics of Spielbergian art are challenged in a fascinating way. One of Sam’s tormentors in high school is a sequoia person named Chad Thomas, which might seem too on the nose, if the actor who plays him weren’t named Oakes Fegley. Chad beats Sam up in alliance with the Jew-hating Logan, but when Sam makes a movie about the senior class to show at prom, Chad appears as the hero—a victorious golden god.

To Sam’s surprise, Chad is deeply freaked out by this homage from a boy who ought to hate him. The disparity between the way he looks on screen and the way he knows himself to be in real life drives him to tears of guilt. And maybe that was the whole point, for when Logan comes storming up to get revenge on Sam, Chad decks him. By making the Gentile look better than he really is, the Jewish artist goads him into living up to the image.

At bottom, the scene suggests, the idealism and moralism of the Jewish popular artist is a survival strategy based on guilt. It is such an acute and damning insight that it’s genuinely surprising to find it in a movie like The Fabelmans.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewry, Anti-Semitism, Film

Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy