‘Curb Your Judaism’ with Ittay Flescher

January 4, 2017

Shabbat dinner scene from ‘Transparent’. Source: MTV.com/news

Ittay Flescher’s film class ‘Curb your Judaism’, deals with what it means to be a Jew in the modern world. Film excerpts become texts as he curates a journey exploring Jewish identity and you will leave you wanting more. We sat down with Ittay to find out what it means to be a Jew in modern cinema.

What are your favorite TV shows with Jewish themes and why?

‘Transparent’ – This confronting story of how a parent changes gender didn’t need to be set in LA with an incredibly Jewish family in order to work as a piece of art, but the fact that so much of the dialogue is immersed with Jewish cultural references makes it all the more appealing.

‘The Wonder Years’ – Whilst far from being a Jewish show, the episode featuring Paul’s Bar-Mitzvah is one of the most touching examples of philo-semitism I have ever seen on television.

Which Jews do you think have had the biggest impact on film and television?

There are so many to choose from, but my current favourite is Jenji Kohan who is the creator of ‘Weeds’ and ‘Orange is the New Black’. To brazenly proud yet highly assimilated ways in which she writes her Jewish characters in these shows always makes for a great conversation starter.

Why do you think Jews were drawn to mass media in the first place?

To quote Neal Gabler, “The Hollywood Jews, seeking acceptance, respectability, and assimilation, saw the medium of film not as a quick way to make a dollar, but as an art form. Through their movies, the Jewish patriarchs painted an idealized portrait of an American society to which they were paradoxically denied access.”

As a whole, do you think Jewish involvement in mass media has a positive or negative impact on how the general public view Jews?

Most definitely positive. Through Film and Television, Jews have been able to raise their status in society by evoking compassion through storytelling of compelling narratives of their past and present. Given the visual dimension of film, it has contributing more to destroying stereotypes (but also creating a few along the way 🙂 than any other entertainment medium.

Finally, what topics do you think will interest those who are thinking of attending?

I have added quite a few new films and TV shows to the 2017 course which promises to be of one the most thought-provoking courses I have taught to date. Some highlights include:

*Comparing the classic version of the Jazz Singer from 1927 to the Neil Diamond version of 1980 as a way of exploring identity and assimilation.

*Looking at how comedy is used to highlight the issue of both anti-semitism and philo-semitism in shows such as Borat, All in the Family and A Place to Call home.

* Exploring the Jewish life cycle in some hilarious shows including Curb Your enthusiasm, Seinfeld, Keeping up with the Steins, Sixty Six and Northern Exposure.

* So many films featuring pesach sedarim that you will be chalashing for charoset at the end of the night.

I could go on, but for now, I will say Dayenu!