Daily Kickoff: Interview with Taffy Brodesser-Akner + Jewish groups pressure Amazon – Jewish Insider

Daily Kickoff: Interview with Taffy Brodesser-Akner + Jewish groups pressure Amazon – Jewish Insider

👋 Good Tuesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we talk to members of the incoming freshman class of Capitol Hill legislators about their recent wins, and interview writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner about the TV adaptation of her book Fleishman Is in Trouble. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Rhoda SmolowTevi Troy and Miriam Adelson.
Jewish leaders are calling on Amazon to remove the book series and 2018 film “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” from its online marketplace, which they say contain tropes that “​​actively endanger Jewish safety here and now,” in an effort being spearheaded by the Anti-Defamation League.
The letter, obtained by Jewish Insider, expressed “how disturbed” the 19 signatories are at the series’ continued sales. Jewish Federations of North America CEO Eric Fingerhut, Hadassah’s Rhoda Smolow and Elan Carr, the former special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, are among those who signed the letter.
The film and book series were promoted on social media last month by Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving, who sidestepped questions about antisemitism amid growing pressure for him to distance himself from the post. The signatories note that “the antisemitic book and film shot to #1 on Amazon’s bestsellers list” after Irving’s social media post.
Two weeks ago, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and the Brooklyn Nets sent a letter to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy, asking for the company to either remove the book and documentary or provide context for the content. Amazon said at the time it was working with the ADL to consider adding some sort of disclaimer to the film.
As of this morning, Amazon has still not affixed a disclaimer to the listing for either the book or film. Since Irving’s post, the film has received an additional 800 reviews, and is rated a 4.5 out of 5 stars on the site. 
In the first episode of the new FX for Hulu series “Fleishman Is in Trouble,” the camera pans around a table at a diner. Around it sit familiar faces: Walt from “The Squid and the Whale,” Seth from “The O.C.” and Janis Ian from “Mean Girls,” and they are goofing around as they order sandwiches and pancakes. It only takes a minute to realize that it’s actually 2022, not the early aughts, and the people around the table are not the teenagers that were household names for the millennial set, but Toby Fleishman and his friends Libby and Seth (to be clear, not the same Seth that lived in Orange County). And they do feel like old friends — people known to each other and audiences for years, from the time they were teenagers to the present, when they are parents both on- and off-screen. “They are now people grappling with age, same as you who grew up with them,” Brodesser-Akner told Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss days before the show’s Nov. 17 premiere. “And that’s kind of what Fleishman is about, about whether or not you’re old.”
Midlife moments: The eight-episode series follows the trio as they navigate the quintessential challenges of middle age: when to buy a preteen their first cellphone, discovering a child has used the family computer to look at pornography, feeling disconnected from suburban family life, debating the right time to settle down, attempting dating for the first time in decades. The characters are not caricatures; though they inhabit a world of New York prestige and wealth, their struggles are relatable. The title character, Toby Fleishman, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is the first of the group to hit the life-cycle benchmarks. Though Libby narrates both the book and the series, Toby is the central character. Libby serves as a reliable narrator, her life more stable than that of either Toby — who is navigating online dating and single parenting while his children are on summer break — or Seth, a party boy reluctant to trade in late nights for stability.
Real talk: While Brodesser-Akner’s fiction — and even her profiles in the Times, which have taken her skydiving with actress Melissa McCarthy and to the set of the filming of a “Real Housewives” reunion — focuses on the extravagant and the elements of life that are beyond most people’s reach, the core of “Fleishman,” and of most of her work, highlights the challenges facing everyone at their core. The show, she said, “is something that strives to exist in realism. And realism is the only place where you can have all the factors that are affecting your life lead to an inevitable conclusion.”
Not niche: In the first minutes of the series, you are transported to Toby’s apartment, a bachelor pad with broken blinds in a building with grim, fluorescent-lit hallways. A mezuzah is posted outside his front door, but at no point does Toby draw attention to it. It’s one of several subtle references to the characters’ Jewish backgrounds — flashbacks to a family Shabbat dinner and preparations for Toby’s daughter’s upcoming bat mitzvah serve as vehicles to move the story forward, but don’t draw outsized attention. Brodesser-Akner is quick to point out that although the characters are Jewish, Fleishman is not a Jewish book. “I think about you know, The Corrections, right, or Crossroads, the Jonathan Franzen novels. Crossroads is literally about a youth minister, and nobody ever called it a Christian novel,” she explained. “And yet this is called a Jewish book. And to me, what that says, when people think that — even you, even me, even my mother, even people on the street, even the fact that you guys are interested in interviewing me — it says to me that…Jews, I always thought we had finally integrated into being American. And to me, these questions sort of indicate that we haven’t.”
Typecasting: A number of recent TV shows and films that center around Jewish characters have come under criticism for casting non-Jewish actors in leading roles. In “Fleishman,” three of the four central characters — whose friendship was cemented during a year abroad in Israel — are played by Jews. The decision, Brodesser-Akner pointed out, wasn’t intentional. “It’s such a complicated question, because I didn’t think about it. As an equal-opportunity employer, I extra did not ask anybody what their religion is,” she said. “But when I thought about who the right people were for this, that’s who there was. I don’t know what elements of them make them right for it. I’m not smart enough to know that. Like, I don’t know if it’s their genetics, it’s their cultural influences, I don’t know. I just know they were perfect for it, and I didn’t have to grapple with this question.”
Read the full interview here.
Lawmakers, envoys from various foreign embassies, members of an array of U.S. Jewish groups and congressional staffers packed into a crowded Capitol Hill committee hearing room last Thursday to discuss strategies for combating antisemitism nationwide, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Details: Reps. Mike Quigley (D-IL), Pat Ryan (D-NY), Kweisi Mfume (D-MD), Yvette Clarke (D-NY) and Marc Veasey (D-TX) — none of whom are Jewish — spoke at the forum, which was organized by lobbyist Ezra Friedlander and hosted by the office of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). The discussion was moderated by New York-based activist Leon Goldenberg and Martin Korčok, a member of the Slovak delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Aaron Keyak, the State Department’s deputy special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, was also present.
Bringing it home: Ryan, whose wife and two children are Jewish, described the concern he feels for his children. “A week ago, we commemorated the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht and the terror and horror that followed it,” Ryan said. “The fact that my two Jewish children would be under that same threat and that same risk as we see these forces building is just absolutely outrageous.” Ryan, who represents a district in the Hudson Valley, also recounted his experience dealing with antisemitic vandalism incidents at Jewish summer camps during his time as Ulster County executive. “We aggressively addressed it, called it out for the vile nature that it was, and made sure that we did the work afterwards to make the whole community aware that this is happening in our own backyard, and we have to address it and call it out,” Ryan said. “So that is something that I think is on every single elected official, every level and every community leader.”
Teachable lesson: Veasey said that his family was friendly with the family of Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker — whose congregation in Colleyville, Texas, was the site of an 11-hour hostage standoff in January — and that their children had played together at McDonalds. The Texas congressman said he used that incident, as well as the recent “terrible comments” by Kanye West and Kyrie Irving, to discuss antisemitism with his son. “A lot of people still don’t know what antisemitism is,” he lamented, describing a recent interaction on social media with someone who was unsure what antisemitism was. “A lot of people were coming up with a lot of — I hate to say it — but a lot of uneducated answers, ‘Oh, it’s just hate,’ ‘It’s just stupid,’ ‘It’s terrible,’ not really knowing what the origins of antisemitism [are],” specifically its origins in conspiracy theories about Jewish control.
Moment of crisis: Clarke, who represents a Brooklyn district with a sizable Jewish population, described antisemitism as an “unrelenting and undeniable crisis in America and quite frankly, around the world.” “It’s a real harm to innocent Jewish people due to the steady drumbeat of rhetoric that is weaponized and targeted at the Jewish people with reckless abandon and malicious intent,” she continued, lamenting the “growing normalization of hatred against Jewish communities” and its increasing presence in public discourse. Clarke referenced her efforts to reform social media to crack down on hate, and also encouraged “people of goodwill to really work against those who use social media platforms to spew hatred,” pushing back on public platforms and working to “undermine” forums that operate on the dark web.
Read the full story here.
For Chris Deluzio in blue-collar Western Pennsylvania, the key to the Democrat’s midterm victory was “standing up for the union way of life.” In Ohio, Democrat state Rep. Emilia Sykes banked on her roots in the Akron-area district. Anthony D’Esposito flipped a blue seat on Long Island by staying disciplined on the issues of crime and the cost of living. And Republican Marc Molinaro won an open seat in New York’s Hudson Valley by running against entrenched interests in Democrat-controlled Albany. As the final results from the 2022 midterms continue to trickle in, candidates, strategists and other politicos continue to pore over the election results to suss out why Democrats largely overperformed and the expected red wave largely failed to materialize, outside of a few states. Speaking to Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod in the weeks following the election, four newly elected lawmakers from purple districts, two Democrats and two Republicans, broke down what they think tipped their races in their favor.
Union label: Pennsylvania Democrats overperformed in 2022 relative to the 2020 election, outpacing President Joe Biden in many areas of the state. “We stuck to some messages that from the beginning were the things I was talking about,” said Deluzio, who won the district represented by Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA), keeping it in Democratic hands. “No. 1 was economic, taking on not just corporate power but fighting to bring back our supply chains and manufacturing and standing up for the union way of life.” Deluzio said he sees unions as critical to his victory and those of other Democrats across the Keystone State. He added that his campaign “never strayed from our commitment to protecting reproductive freedom,” citing efforts to engage voters following the Supreme Court’s overturning in June of Roe v. Wade.
Upstate comeback: Molinaro fell short in a special election this summer, but managed to pull through to victory in November, albeit under different district lines and facing a different opponent. Political pundits attributed his special election loss in large part to concerns about the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Molinaro said he continued to double down on his message from the special election, focusing on cost of living and crime. “And there’s no question that not everybody has those as their principal issue,” Molinaro said. “But overwhelmingly this part of New York, and I think most New Yorkers, acknowledge and are concerned about the high cost of living policies, the policies of Albany that have made us less safe and a real desire to just have government respect and function for them. That remained our message because it was what residents and voters wanted us to focus on.”
Zeldin touch: D’Esposito attributed Republican’s successes statewide to the climate in the state, as well as “great candidates” up and down the ballot, particularly gubernatorial candidate Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), a sentiment that Molinaro echoed. “He was a great candidate, he ran an exciting campaign, he really ignited the base and ignited a lot of people who were just tired of the one-party rule in New York and Washington,” D’Esposito said. “We saw it across Long Island in Nassau County and Suffolk County. I mean, the numbers are huge. And I think [Zeldin] had a lot to do with it.”
Read the full story here.
⚽ Blinken and The Beautiful Game: As Secretary of State Tony Blinken flew to the World Cup in Qatar, The Atlantic‘s Franklin Foer quizzed him on the diplomatic value of soccer, the humanitarian scandal surrounding Qatar as a host of the event, and his own relationship with sport. “I haven’t played recently, honestly, but I was playing until I was about 50. And there was a pickup game that took place in Washington. I don’t know if you ever played in it. Every Sunday for years, starting in the ’90s, there was a game between the staff at the National Security Council and the State Department and the British embassy. And then it attracted staff from other embassies in Washington. We played often on a field at the University of the District of Columbia. It’s adjacent to the relatively new Chinese embassy. As it was being built, the workers from China building it would stop to watch us play. And we used to joke that the cable going back to Beijing would note that the U.S. is not likely to be a threat in soccer anytime soon.” [TheAtlantic]
👨Klain is Key:  Politico‘s Adam Cancryn examines how White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain has marshaled support from the progressive wing of the party for the Biden administration’s agenda, amid reports he may soon depart from the role. “An around-the-clock communicator who courted Democrats’ grassroots groups even before Biden took office, Klain has become a critical conduit between liberal leaders and the administration’s upper echelon, according to interviews with more than a dozen leaders and lawmakers on the left. He offers a level of access the left has rarely enjoyed — and that progressives now say will be crucial to maintaining a united Democratic front in the face of divided government…. Progressives credit Klain with helping inject their proposals into the White House policy debate and building out an apparatus that’s put liberal allies in positions of power across government. Perhaps just as importantly, they said, he’s served as a high-level sounding board for the wing traditionally treated by the Democratic establishment with suspicion or outright derision — and won over liberals who once perceived Biden as out of touch with the progressive base.” [Politico]
🎭 Timely Comedy:The Washington Post‘s Peter Marks talks to comedian Alex Edelman about his antisemitism-focused stand-up show. “‘Just for Us’ gets its inspiration from Edelman’s exploration of his own religious identity: He grew up in a Modern Orthodox Jewish family in Brookline, Mass., just outside of Boston, with a lawyer mother and doctor father. He has two brothers, one of whom took up a sledding sport called skeleton so that he could compete on the Israeli winter Olympic team. (This turns up in ‘Just for Us’ as a hilarious anecdote.) But the crux of the 90-minute piece is the fascination he cultivated, in confronting antisemites online and later in person. As he outlines in the show, his abhorrence of and yet interest in the roots of white nationalism led to discovering the Queens meeting and gaining admission without revealing his ethnicity. The recent uptick in anti-Jewish incidents across the country fuels an unfortunate topicality in ‘Just for Us,’ though Edelman says the topic is never not current. ‘It’s exhausting, the discussion around antisemitism,’ he said. ‘People have been saying to me since 2018, ‘Oh, your show is so timely.’ I’ve heard, ‘Your show is so timely,’ every year since I’ve written it. If you want to write a show that’s evergreen, write a show about how ice cream is good or antisemitism is a problem.’’ [WashPost]
📚 Premier Books: In Tablet, Tevi Troy, a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Institute, peruses the bookshelves of three avid readers: Israel’s founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, the first Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin and former and incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Netanyahu shares a revisionist political outlook with Begin and a love of books with both Begin and Ben-Gurion. Bibi’s link to books began in his youth. He and his brother Yoni both read obsessively. Bibi would also carry around a notebook in which he would write down unfamiliar words he read so that he could look them up later. Yoni adopted the same practice. Yoni influenced Bibi as well, recommending Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, which became a favorite book of Bibi’s. As Bibi described his association with reading, ‘When I was a kid I would read, and later, as a young man, I read more, and as an adult I read even more.’ As Bibi biographer Ben Caspit described Netanyahu’s adult reading, ‘Bibi spent much of those years reading all the histories and biographies he could lay his hands on, as well as collections of the important political and economic essays of the day.’” [Tablet]
🙏 Rooting for Ron: Biden administration officials toldAxios that they hope former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer will be appointed to a senior post in the new Israeli government.
👋 Farewell Tour: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi in Washington yesterday, discussing in particular the need to calm tensions in the West Bank, during the Israeli official’s final trip to Washington in his role as the country’s top military officer.
🗳️ Valadao Victory: Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) was declared the winner in California’s 22nd Congressional District, becoming one of only two Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump who will serve in the next Congress.
💻 Back Online: Twitter reinstated the account of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), 10 months after the Georgia legislator was booted from the platform over tweets that violated the company’s misinformation policy.
🐦 Social Shenanigans: Israel’s official Twitter account responded to Kanye West’s “Shalom” tweet with a lighthearted reference to a former feud the rapper had with singer Taylor Swift, drawing a compliment from Twitter CEO Elon Musk, who said “more countries should tweet” like Israel. 
🍔 Beyond Concerned: Plant-based alternative meat company Beyond Meat is facing difficulties, with its stock having dropped nearly 83 percent in the past year, causing concern among those in the industry.
🛫 Israel Trips: The Adelson Family Foundation, led by Miriam Adelson, is cutting its funding to Birthright from $20 million in 2022 to $10 million in the coming year, resulting in major cutbacks in the program, which were announced this week.
🚓 On the Fence: Authorities are still deciding whether or not to press federal charges against two men arrested over a threat made against a synagogue in New York City.
📸 Cairo Calling: Ivanka Trump posted photos from a family trip to Egypt, alongside husband Jared Kushner and their three children.
⚽ Football Frustration: Secretary of State Tony Blinken criticized threats from FIFA officials to sanction World Cup participants who planned to wear armbands that promoted diversity.
🇮🇷 Silence Speaks Volumes: Iranian soccer players remained silent as their national anthem played ahead of their first game at the World Cup, in an apparent show of solidarity with anti-regime demonstrators. 
❗ Soccer Stunner: Saudi Arabia toppled powerhouse Argentina 2-1 in Tuesday’s match.
🛢️ All About Oil: Oil prices rebounded after Saudi Arabia denied a report that OPEC oil producers are considering an increase in oil production ahead of a European Union embargo on Russian oil and restrictions by the G7.
🕯️ Remembering: Astronomer Jay Pasachoff, who is believed to have seen more solar eclipses than any other person in history, died at 79.
Reuters spoke with Israelis who took the first-ever commercial flight between Israel and Qatar on Sunday to attend the World Cup.
Author of multiple New York Times bestsellers, Peggy Orenstein turns 61… 
Polish-born Holocaust survivor, he became a British champion weightlifter and competed in the Olympics (Melbourne 1956 and Rome 1960), Sir Ben Helfgott turns 93… Former majority owner of MLB’s New York Mets for 33 years, he was a high school teammate of Sandy Koufax and went on to a successful career as a real estate developer, Fred Wilpon turns 86… Professor at NYU Law School, Sally Katzen turns 80… Novelist and screenwriter, Roger Lichtenberg Simon turns 79… Born to a Jewish family in Tunisia, he served as a member of the Canadian House of Commons, Jacques Saada turns 75… Former president of the two-million-member Service Employees International Union, now a senior fellow at the Economic Security Project, Andy Stern turns 72… SVP of development for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, Tim R. Cohen… Television personality with past shows on MSNBC, CNN and Bloomberg TV, Donny Deutsch turns 65… IT specialist at the IRS, Martin Robinson… Ukrainian oligarch, best known for being the chairman of Dynamo Kyiv (Kyiv’s soccer team) since 2002, Ihor Surkis turns 64… Chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, Brian Robbins turns 59… Israeli film and television actor, Ishai Golan turns 49… Senior editor at The City and columnist and editorial writer for the New York Daily NewsHarry Siegel turns 45… Israeli rapper, blogger and political activist, his stage name is The Shadow, Yoav Eliasi turns 45… Actress, her box office success is the greatest of all time, Scarlett Johansson turns 38… VP of communications and media relations for theSkimm, Jessica Sara (Turtletaub) Pepper… Actor Alden Ehrenreich turns 33… Actor and comedian, he was on the cast of “Saturday Night Live,” Jon Rudnitsky turns 33… Social media personality known as Baby Ariel, she has 36.1 million followers on TikTok, Ariel Rebecca Martin turns 22… Director of public affairs and communications at Energix Renewables, Yarden Golan
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