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.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewry, Anti-Semitism, Film

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship