2020 Annual Assessment

CONTROVERSY:WOODY ALLEN
This year saw the publication of Woody Allen’s autobiography, “Apropos of Nothing.” The book’s publication was an important event, both in light of Allen’s stature as a multitalented director and comedian, and because of the controversy it aroused. The 85-year-old Allen has contributed much to American and world cinema, as well as to American Jewish creativity, and the book describes milestones in his singular career. At the same time, a significant portion of Allen’s book seeks to defend his innocence of the charges of sexual abuse leveled against him by his daughter, Dylan Farrow, in 1992. Because of this episode and in the face of a severe protest by its workforce, Hachette Book Group pulled out of the deal at the last minute and it was instead published by another press, Arcade. Although Allen proclaims his innocence in the book, the wind has been mostly against him in his public and professional battle. Allen can no longer distribute his films in the United States and many universities have cancelled courses on his work. In this sense, the book and the protest against its publication demonstrate the power of the “Me Too” revolution in the United States.

DRAMA:YEARNING
This year, the Gesher Theater in Israel staged the play “The Wanderers,” by the American-Jewish playwright Anna Ziegler. It tells parallel stories about the lives of two New York couples. The first couple, Abe and Sophie, are secular American-Jewish authors. The other couple, Schmuli and Esther, are Haredim from the Satmar community of New York, who marry by shidduch (an arranged match). The deep connections between the two couples quickly become clear as they are, to an extent, the mirror image of each other.

Through the personal stories of the characters, the play seeks to decipher the meaning of the idea of “yearning.” It adopts a concept according to which Judaism is a type of yearning, in the sense of a deep and irremediable lacking.

Echoes of this idea are common in the works of American-Jewish authors of past generations such as Delmore Schwartz, Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, as well as among contemporary authors like Jonathan Safran Foer, and Nicole Krauss. The idea of Judaism as “yearning” is tied to the Diaspora and the deep longing for Jerusalem. Israeli Judaism, which has been shaped in the Israeli space, is no longer bound up with longing for a far-off place.The play, therefore, enabled its Israeli audience to encounter a different Jewish cultural viewpoint.

REMEMBRANCE:KIRK DOUGLAS
American-Jewish actor Kirk Douglas died this February in his Beverly Hills home aged 103 (1916-2020). Douglas was one of the most well-known and successful actors in Hollywood and appeared in dozens of films in an impressive career that began in the 1940s. As an actor, he was nominated for an Academy Award three times and won an honorary Oscar in 1996 (“for 50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community”), as well as a Golden Globe for lifetime achievement in 1968. He played in classic movies such as “Spartacus” (1960) and “Lust for Life” (1956), as well as in films about Israel, like “The Juggler” (1953) and “Cast a Giant Shadow” (1966), in which he portrayed the character of David Marcus, the first general in the IDF and a colonel in the U.S. Army, who came to Israel to help with the War of Independence and was mistakenly killed by a junior soldier. Douglas was considered an enthusiastic supporter of the State of Israel and donated regularly to various institutions and projects in the Jewish state. At last year’s Golden Globes ceremony, where his son, Michael Douglas, won the Best Actor award (for his performance in “The Kominsky Method”), his son dedicated the prize to his father and declared in Yiddish: “Alte kakers rule!”

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