The Israeli Actor Who Brought the Shtetl to the Silver Screen

March 10 2023

Born in Tel Aviv in 1935 to a working-class family, Chaim Topol gained fame in Israel for his role in the film Sallaḥ Shabati, but it was his performance in the Israeli production of Fiddler on the Roof that propelled him to the part for which he is best remembered—as Tevye in the Hollywood version of the musical. Topol died on Wednesday at the age of eighty-seven. David Herman reflects on his career:

Topol was then chosen over the more renowned Zero Mostel (who famously played the part on Broadway) to play Tevye in Norman Jewison’s Hollywood adaptation. According to Alisa Solomon in her book Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof: “Jewison felt Mostel lacked reality. He was too big, too American.” The director wanted a much more realistic feel for his film, especially for the part of the dairyman.

Mostel was religiously observant and spoke Yiddish, but Topol was a Hebrew-speaking sabra (Jew born in Israel) and was still in his thirties. Critics agreed. Pauline Kael, writing in the New Yorker, said Topol’s “brute vitality” helped to “clear away the sticky folk stuff.” Fiddler went on to become the top-grossing film of the year and was part of Jewish wave of Hollywood films in the 1960s, which included Goodbye Columbus, The Graduate, and Woody Allen’s early films.

Along with the musical duo Esther & Abi Ofarim and a new generation of Israeli writers, including Amos Oz, whose first novels were published in the mid-1960s, and S.Y. Agnon, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966, Topol symbolized a new Israeli culture. . . . His death was announced by Israel’s president Isaac Herzog, who described him as a “gifted actor who conquered many stages in Israel and overseas, filled the cinema screens with his presence, and especially entered deep into our hearts.”

Read more at Jewish Renaissance

More about: Fiddler on the Roof, Film, Israeli culture

The U.S. Is Trying to Seduce Israel into Accepting a Bad Deal with Iran. Israel Should Say No

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on the Iranian nuclear program. According to an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, the Islamic Republic can now produce enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture “five nuclear weapons in one month, seven in two months, and a total of eight in three months.” The IAEA also has reason to believe that Tehran has further nuclear capabilities that it has successfully hidden from inspectors. David M. Weinberg is concerned about Washington’s response:

Believe it or not, the Biden administration apparently is once again offering the mullahs of Tehran a sweetheart deal: the release of $10 billion or more in frozen Iranian assets and clemency for Iran’s near-breakout nuclear advances of recent years, in exchange for Iranian release of American hostages and warmed-over pious Iranian pledges to freeze the Shiite atomic-bomb program.

This month, intelligence photos showed Iran again digging tunnels at its Natanz nuclear site—supposedly deep enough to withstand an American or Israeli military strike. This tells us that Iran has something to hide, a clear sign that it has not given up on its quest for a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, Antony Blinken today completes a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is reportedly pressing the kingdom to enter the Abraham Accords. This is no coincidence, for reasons Weinberg explains:

Washington expects Israeli acquiescence in the emerging U.S. surrender to Iran in exchange for a series of other things important to Israel. These include U.S. backing for Israel against escalated Palestinian assaults expected this fall in UN forums, toning down U.S. criticism regarding settlement and security matters (at a time when the IDF is going to have to intensify its anti-terrorist operations in Judea and Samaria), an easing of U.S. pressures on Israel in connection with domestic matters (like judicial reform), a warm Washington visit for Prime Minister Netanyahu (which is not just a political concession but is rather critical to Israel’s overall deterrent posture), and most of all, significant American moves towards reconciliation with Saudi Arabia (which is critical to driving a breakthrough in Israeli-Saudi ties).

[But] even an expensive package of U.S. “concessions” to Saudi Arabia will not truly compensate for U.S. capitulation to Iran (something we know from experience will only embolden the hegemonic ambitions of the mullahs). And this capitulation will make it more difficult for the Saudis to embrace Israel publicly.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Antony Blinken, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship