A Glance into a Synagogue in Copenhagen

By Natalie Friedman

On my way to the library in Copenhagen, Denmark I spontaneously stopped to look at a reflective plate in front of a synagogue. On a gold plate, there was an engraved Jewish star. I watched an elegant older woman wearing a fur coat and jewels walk into the synagogue through the glass doors. As the glass door behind her closed, I said, “Excuse me, excuse me!” She looked at me, unsure of what to do. A policeman appeared out of nowhere, but I assumed he came from one of the two the police cars guarding the street. He said with urgency, “How can I help you?” Perhaps my large backpack scared him.  I looked at both the woman and the policeman and I asked if there were any events for the holidays. He said, “Not anymore, but check Chabad.” I replied, “Wow, the security is….” unsure of what to say. He replied, “Well, welcome to Europe,” in a tone as if the danger was obvious and just old news. I found myself surprisingly upset after this encounter. I was upset that they thought I would threaten this building. I was upset that a type of place that I once called home was so heavily guarded and surrounded with fear.

I walked into the library and right away, I called the synagogue to ask about how I could see it. I was determined to get in and to gain a more positive experience of the Jewish community that I deeply cared about. I called because I was scared of the procedure that I might have to go through if I approached the building again. From the phone call, I learned that either I needed an appointment or I was allowed to come in for services (today or tomorrow), and I could only enter with my passport. That day was Shabbat, a weekly Jewish holiday, and it was also Chanukah, a yearly Jewish holiday. That day was special and I would go to seek out a familiar community in Copenhagen.

The fact that I needed a passport was not only for safety reasons, but also so that security could make an assumption based on my religion and origin. When I arrived again, I was asked questions like “Where you from?”, “Why are you in Copenhagen?”, and “Why have you not been here before?” Perhaps, subconsciously, I knew the synagogue would be heavily guarded, and maybe this was why I didn’t seek out the Jewish community in Copenhagen earlier (as this event was in the 5th month of my stay). I imagine that this is how stereotyped “dangerous” groups feel: alienated and feared. Was this why I was so upset? From this situation I learned two things: First, my attempt to call the synagogue made me conscious of the importance of Judaism to me. Second, I understood that communities who feel alienated and feared may become fearful or resentful. I believe this experience serves as a sign or marker that reflects a change in me and my filter of the world.

Fake News

By Wesley Whittlesey

    Growing up, I was typically a boy who would stay away from the news and politics. To me, reading the news seemed like it was merely people wanting to get any kind of story published for a profit and so these individuals would bend the facts to help the story sell better. Because of my perception of the news, I found it easier just to trust what I knew for myself. But as I grew up, I realized that when it came to journalism there were articles that published facts to inform the population, articles that expressed opinions, and articles that bent the truth to sell a good story.

    In light of the recent presidential election, the problem of fake news articles has become especially prevalent in today’s social media. According to The Huffington Post, fake news is referred to as stories that are often created by entities pretending to be news organizations solely to attract views based
upon questionable and misleading or false substance. Fake news websites often publish hoaxes, propaganda, and other false information that claim to be genuine news, and they often use social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect. Many of these websites often seek to mislead (rather than entertain and or mock as satirical websites) readers for financial, political, or other gain. An example of these websites, according to the
Daily Dot, is the website Empire News, which contained many fake news hoaxes that were widely shared on social media, with stories based upon social or political controversies or conspiracies. These hoaxes were appalling to many readers, which resulted in even more views.

    Individuals who read the news on the internet might think to themselves, “I will for sure be able to tell fake news apart from real news!” or “I will never fall for a story that is so blatantly fake!” But the reality is that people are indeed believing these fabricated stories. The high emotions that have run throughout the course of the election, and the resulting increase of activity on social media, have resulted in higher likelihood for individuals to believe and share fake news websites and articles. A study done by Stanford University showed that in the three months before the 2016 Presidential Election, pro-Trump fabricated stories were shared a total of 30 million times, nearly quadruple the number of fabricated pro-Clinton shares.

     The question now is why are people reading these stories and more likely to believe them? What leads watchers and readers to believe stories and articles that are created to mislead and misinform the public?

 

Hamantaschen

By Jessica Fischman

Hamantaschens are typically eaten on the Jewish holiday of Purim, which commemorates the Jews being saved from execution from the ancient Persian Empire. The king at the time, King Achashverosh, arranged a beauty pageant to find a new queen. Esther, a Jewish woman, won; however, she did not tell anyone that she was Jewish. Haman, an anti-semite, was appointed prime minister of the empire, who wore a three pointed hat, and planned to kill all the Jews. Esther, with much courage and fear that the king would not help her, came forward and told the king she was Jewish, and Haman was publicly executed. The hamentashens symbolize the three pointed hat that Haman wore and we eat them to satirize him and celebrate his weakening.

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

2/3 cup sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp grated orange zest

2 1/4 cups flour

1/4 tsp salt

1-5 tsp water (if needed)

Start by cutting up the room temperature butter into a large mixing bowl. Add sugar to the bowl and mix until light and fluffy. Then add the egg, vanilla, and orange zest. Mix all the ingredients until creamy.

Sift the flour and salt into the bowl. Mix with your electric mixer on a low speed until a crumbly dough forms. This can also be done without an electric mixer, but mixing time will be a few minutes more.

Knead the dough with your hands until a smooth ball forms. If it crumbles then add more water, one teaspoon at a time. The consistency should be tacky, not sticky and firm enough to roll out. *Add water very slowly.

 

After your dough is formed, wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to chill for 3 hours or more.

 

Before you make your hamantaschens, have your filling ready to use. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly flour a flat surface and unwrap the dough and use a rolling pin to roll the dough out to ¼ inch thick. When the dough is about ¼ inch, re-flour the surface and turn the dough over and continue rolling the dough to about ⅛ inch. *The thinner the dough is the crisper the cookie will be.

 

Now, use a 3-inch cookie cutter or 3-inch drinking glass to cut the circles. Then place a teaspoon of your choice of filling into the center of each circle.

 

To create the hamantashen, fold the left side of the circle and fold it toward the center to make a flap that covers a third of the circle. Do the same to the right side and now the top should a triangular tip at the top. Then to fold the bottom, fold it upward and tuck the left side of this new flap underneath the left side of the triangle, while keeping the right side of this new flap overlap the right flap of the triangle. Then pinch each corner to secure the filling.

 

When all of the hamantaschens have been filled, place them evenly spaced on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Place them in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until cookies are a golden color.

 

My recipe was inspired by and references Tori Avey’s recipe, so for any further guidance refer to Tori Avey’s Buttery Hamantaschen.

Do Jews Run Hollywood?

Written by Zachary Brenner

credit: Annie Asch
credit: Annie Asch

When I think of my aspiration to become an influential filmmaker within the system of Hollywood, I often think of the question, do Jews run Hollywood?. What comes to mind immediately are names such as Charlie Chaplin, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, and Joel and Ethan Coen. To me, these figures are perceived as highly powerful, which might lend to the bias that because one can name five prominent directors who are Jewish, Jews must run Hollywood. And further, do Jewish men run Hollywood? The reflexive answer is, Yes, although exploration of the question is necessary before succumbing to assumption.

What qualifies someone as “Jewish”? Are they observant? Are they culturally Jewish? It seems to be a popular assumption that someone is Jewish when they are not, maybe because they are influential, white, wealthy, and have a last name that could be arguably “Jewish sounding”. There are some instances where an assumption of a “Jew running Hollywood” might end up being accurate, and other cases where it is ludicrous. In any case, assumption of anyone’s identity is problematic at best.

One instance would be the ever-powerful Weinstein Brothers, of the Weinstein Company. Since their creation of Miramax Films in 1979 and spanning until their present day leadership of the Weinstein Company, their films have received 303 Oscar nominations and 75 victories.

A ludicrous instance of an assumption that Jews run Hollywood would be a part of that same idea that the Weinsteins run Hollywood. This is a case of two Jews running a part of the establishment, but also engaging in other Jewish spaces outside of the industry. They are both active in the Jewish community and recognize their upbringing in a Jewish household. But, I don’t know whether I, as a Jew, would identify with all of their values. Even if I do identify with their work in the film industry, it doesn’t mean that our identities as Jews who happen to be interested in film should be conflated.

Secondly, what does it mean to “run” Hollywood? An easily measurable way to determine if someone can actually have a foothold in the corporate film world is by how many movies they produce and how much money is made from them. However, Hollywood filmmaking often requires hundreds of individuals with various technical and creative abilities working together. Often, if one of those individuals were to be absent from the film crew, the movie would turn out very differently. So, I would argue that you can never determine whether Jews run Hollywood or not, because one cannot determine how much influence a single figure actually has on a film, whether it be the director, director of photography, producer, writer, grip, or electrician. Further, one cannot determine whether the majority of people working in the industry are, in fact, Jewish, because there is no accurate measure for the “Jewishness” of a person. The Weinsteins are just one element of a larger force that continually produces influential and lucrative films.

According to the LA Times, only 22 percent of Americans believe that the industry is run by Jews, down from a poll taken in 1964 that claimed that 50 percent of individuals believed that Jews ran Hollywood. The article then lists many influential Hollywood producers who are Jews. Among them, leaders from Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney,  Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., CBS, and MGM. The article even addresses that the CBS Corporation Chief Executive Leslie Moonves is, “so Jewish his great uncle was the first prime minister of Israel”. I fact checked this, and it is indeed true: Leslie Moonves is related to David Ben Gurion.

A writer reacting to these polls, Joel Stein, was upset by the perceived decrease of a Jewish dominance in Hollywood. He claims he has, “…never been so upset by a poll in [his] life”. What I take issue with is this most-likely Jewish writer taking immense pride in the idea that Jews run Hollywood. That makes me think about my own career aspirations.

Let’s say Jews do run Hollywood. Am I bothered by the idea that Jews just fell into a position of power? On the one hand, yes, I am upset because I believe that Jews worked tirelessly to adapt to American culture and steer away from the label of “outsider”. However, how can I be upset by Jews falling into power in Hollywood when among my most influential directors, many are Jews? Perhaps those Jews would not have been filmmakers had they not easily obtained their positions. And to be honest, yeah, it would be great to just “fall into power” in order to start my career. Still, I know this is a highly problematic way to gain a public voice.  

Modern filmmakers such as the Coen Brothers, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, Charlie Kaufman, and Bryan Singer are all highly influential. Shouldn’t I be excited to carry on this legacy? To be honest, I feel guilty about being excited. By being a part of this legacy, I am potentially becoming a part of a history of an established, capitalist system that hands out power to certain individuals, usually men. They have perhaps worked less tirelessly to achieve their power compared to their peers such as women, people of color, queer individuals, or non-English speaking individuals.

If Jewish directors stop “running” Hollywood (or, rather, stop getting all the good projects and recognition), I wouldn’t be upset. Now, I’m not saying that Jews (many of whom identify as cultural Jews) do, in fact, get all of the popular movies to direct. I am simply basing this argument off of common stereotypes I hear. I don’t think that being Jewish is the only mark of a great filmmaker, or of how they gained their success. The mark of a great filmmaker is thoughtfulness, persistence, ambition, and creativity. If Jewish directors stopped getting preferential treatment, it would not especially bother me because I am not an aspiring filmmaker as a Jew, but as a person looking to make an influence on the world, whether it be with my Jewish identity in mind or not.

Let’s say that Jewish individuals worked very hard and earned their place in Hollywood by making good films, studying business, and purusing interpersonal connections with powerful people. That is no excuse for the lack of progress that the film industry has displayed. Just because Jews have been disenfranchised in the past, does not mean that all Jews can continue to claim that they are underrepresented and disempowered. Specifically in Hollywood, Jews are in a unique position of power. Many people are desperately trying to get a powerful foot in the door but the lack of progress by the predominantly white (and maybe Jewish) men leading Hollywood are not doing enough to open up the space for consistently diverse voices. How many movies a year are actually about non-males—and of those about non-males, how many are non-white? How many movies pass the Bechdel test, which stipulates that at least two named female characters hold a conversation over a couple minutes long that doesn’t pertain to a man? You’d be surprised how many mainstream movies fail this test. How many non-white actors and actresses have been nominated for an Oscar? Whether or not the blame falls upon the voters for the Oscars, there is a significant problem with homogenized storylines in Hollywood.

Jews in Hollywood, as perceived influential and lauded individuals, must recognize their privilege. Jews must not hold on to the idea that a history of anti-semitism in Hollywood, such as during the years of the blacklist, remains a constant threat. Jews will survive. And now, Jews must stand in solidarity with other groups of individuals who share histories of oppression.

As an aspiring, Jewish filmmaker, I must address my discomfort with the idea that Jews run Hollywood because it reminds me that I am a privileged individual–and, to be honest, I often feel less sympathetic of people who are privileged. I frequently respect individuals who struggle to claim their success more than people born with greater opportunity for success in the capitalist workplace. But, I am Jewish and I am privileged. It’s time for me to confront those realities and vow to change the corrupt system by allowing for space for other groups to have an equal shot. I must play to my strengths as a human with unique opinions and privilege. That’s all we, as Jews who have achieved certain advantages, can do. This is the point of privilege–not to make more money and buy fancier cars, but to realize what is corrupt and infuriating about the system and change it for others who have been historically disenfranchised by systems of power.

Letter From the Editor

Amanda Botfeld

Editor-in-Chief 

 

When I first joined Leviathan, I did not realize its importance. A Jewish newspaper? That didn’t raise an eyebrow.

But, as is true throughout history, sometimes it is only after the fact that we realize what we were a part of, the movement we helped stir.

This year started with a rupture to the Western world. In January, the office of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo was attacked. Twelve were killed. But it was not solely an attack on a magazine—it was an attack on Western values. The controversial, often crass, and never tame magazine stood for the right to offend. The real target was freedom of press.

More specifically, the gunmen were affiliated with Yemen’s Al-Qaeda branch. They attacked the magazine for its crude depictions of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. In this light, it is not relevant whether Charlie Hebdo’s characterizations were culturally sensitive or racially appalling—the bloodshed was not over a matter of taste. The violence was the direct manifestation of two opposing views: those who believe in freedom of religion and those who do not. While more progressive circles may—oftentimes rightfully so— condemn Charlie Hebdo for grotesquely promoting intolerance, twelve cartoonists lost their lives because one party could not tolerate another. Not everyone believes in the right to offend.

Leviathan, as both a print and religious publication, felt the need to weigh in. How would we react? Although there were many back-and-forth discussions and even dispute over invoking the Charlie Hebdo event on our cover, at the end of the day, the fact that we print represents our stance.

We are a Jewish publication. We are a free publication.

For these reasons alone, in the eyes of the shooters, we are just as culpable. Like the legacy of the forever persecuted Jewish people, our retaliation is our existence.

That is our response.