Hi Niv community and happy new year!
It’s been a while since the last Arts & Kvetch, so let’s catch-up on all the hot topics we missed in 2022. Maybe this recap can help you chase away the winter blues.
If you’re still in the holiday spirit, I highly recommend searching “Christmas songs written by Jews” on Spotify—you will be shocked by how many of the most popular Christmas tunes— from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Santa Baby,” “White Christmas”—are written by Jews (I love the irony). Here’s one playlist, for a taste. If you’re as fascinated by this phenomenon as I am, you can watch Canadian director Larry Weinstein’s Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas for free on CBC Gem, which takes an in-depth look at how the songs came to be.
For narrative content, Steven Spielberg’s newest film The Fabelmans is out in theatres now. I watched it at TIFF this year and LOVED it—it was such a warm, cozy film, and the actors playing the Spielbergs were fantastic. It was one of my favourites at the festival (though Spielberg did not make an appearance at my screening. How devastating). It’s not often that a wide-release film has a lot of Jewish content, and it was a delight to see onscreen. I mean, I think it was the first time I’ve seen matzoh brei in a movie. The Oscars are on March 12 and nominations will be announced on January 24. My guess is that The Fabelmans will get a few nods, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Despite widespread acclaim for the film, one point of contention around The Fabelmans is the casting. I haven’t fully figured out how I feel about Spielberg casting non-Jewish actors in Jewish roles, though I generally prefer authentic casting. I do think the conversation around who gets to play a Jew is a complicated one, and I am curious as to why Spielberg chose non-Jewish leads Michelle Williams and Paul Dano to play Jews. This is not an isolated incident, from Jane Lynch as Mrs. Brice in Funny Girl, Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam Maisel in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (prosthetic nose and all), it seems quite commonplace in Hollywood. I thought this Indiewire article was particularly interesting, and it also covers the recent Armageddon Time from James Grey, which had similar problems (Anthony Hopkins plays an old Jewish man). Henry Giardina summarized it well when they wrote,“it might not look or feel like the minstrelsy of old, but it’s in dialogue with it.”
This topic has also been discussed recently (with some understandable frustration) by British Jew David Baddiel in his book Jews Don’t Count, and in this YouTube video in conversation with Hannah Witton. Witton is also a British Jew who happens to be a YouTuber, and this year made a series of Vlognukah videos. Her idea was to do something akin to Vlogmas, where vloggers create one video for every day of December. Baddiel and Witton discuss his book in depth, as well as their thoughts around Jewish visibility. I highly recommend the video, as well as Witton’s full Vlognukah series, as most of it is not time-of-year-specific.
I often discuss film in these articles, as it’s my favourite medium, but I don’t often bring up plays. The ever-talented Ben Platt recently starred in a new rendition of Parade by Alfred Uhry, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. It will be arriving to Broadway on February 21 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. His performance of “This Is Not Over Yet” with Micaela Diamond is worth watching. Even if you don’t know the story, this video will get you emotionally invested because of Platt’s power as a performer. Parade is based on the 1913 trial and subsequent lynching of Jewish American Leo Frank in Georgia, and when the musical first premiered on Broadway in December 1998 it was nominated for nine Tony Awards. While the revival has been quite buzzed about, I’m still waiting for a new cast recording of the songs! Until then, you can join me in listening to the original album.
Lastly, I thought I’d mention two of my favourite Instagram personalities: mattxiv or Matt Bernstein, and thetrashwalker or Anna Sacks. Neither of them post explicitly Jewish content, but it’s clear that their Jewishness informs them as individuals, and as a result, their work. Bernstein posts about social justice and politics, and Sacks works to raise awareness on environmental issues around corporate and residential waste. She has posted about how the experience of Adamah, a Jewish farming fellowship, changed the course of her life and got her interested in composting and regenerative agriculture.
While I’ve loved taking a look back at some of my favourite moments in 2022, there are some things to keep an eye out for. First up is a new film series facilitated by the Toronto Jewish Film Festival entitled Film Bites. The program will bring you around the world with international films, starting off with The Last Suit (from Argentina) on January 18, followed by Let My People Go! (from France) on February 14, and Kidon (from Israel) on March 22. Learn more and buy tickets here. The series will be hosted at the brand-new Leah Posluns Theatre at the Prosserman JCC. TJFF is also hosting a screening of First to Stand: The Cases and Causes of Irwin Cotler on Sunday, February 5th at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, featuring a Q&A with the filmmakers and Cotler himself. Use the code HD10TJFF for a discount on your tickets here! There will also be an online screening. And if you’re looking for more Jewish content to watch, Toronto Jewish Film Festival 2022 selection A Tree of Life, about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, is now available on Crave.
What were your favourite Jewish cultural moments of 2022? Let me know in the comments below! This is by no means a comprehensive list but I wanted to bring attention to some things that I’ve been thinking about lately.
Lara Bulger has a deep-rooted commitment to the arts. With a Bachelor’s degree in Music with minors in Film and English, plus a Master’s Degree in Arts Leadership, she is passionate about the capacity of art to bring about social change. Lara is currently pursuing her PhD in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University, focusing on documentary film and its social, political and cultural impacts.