Jews in the News: Debra Messing, Jeff Gusky and Scott Frank

Interesting Comedic TV Offerings

The revival this season of “Will & Grace” has been a success, getting good, if not great reviews, and good, if not great ratings. The premise of the episode (“Friends and Lover”) airing on Thursday, Jan. 4 (NBC, 9PM) is a little risqué for current broadcast TV and certainly wouldn’t have got past network censors when the show began in 1998. Will and Grace (DEBRA MESSING, 49) try to convince themselves they are okay dating the same, charismatic man (played by Nick Offerman, the real-life husband of series’ co-star Megan Mullally.)

“My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” starring RACHEL BLOOM, 30, begins its new season on Friday, Jan. 5 (CW, 9PM).  The last season ended with Rebecca (Bloom) acting even more mesugah than usual. She was abandoned at the altar by the guy she’d been chasing for years (he left her for the priesthood!). In response, Rebecca threw herself off a (real) cliff. She survived and found an unexpected well of strength. Her fierce girl squad helped her get on her feet. Now that squad has to decide whether to help Rebecca as she seeks revenge on the erstwhile groom.

Two Serious Offerings

Two weeks ago, I caught up with a Smithsonian channel documentary, “Americans Underground: Secret City of WWI," which aired early in 2017. Right now (I don’t know for how long) you can watch the documentary, in full, for free, on the Smithsonian Channel website; on demand; or on Youtube. Ignore what seems to be the grim subject matter—this film is fascinating, moving and ultimately uplifting. 

The central figure in the film is Dr. JEFF GUSKY, 64, a distinguished emergency room physician, who is also an avid photographer/researcher. He traveled to Poland in the mid-‘90s to get more in touch with his Jewish faith and, on the site of the concentration camp depicted in “Schindler’s List”, he found a section that was unknown even to local residents. Thus began his “nose” for sites—and the genesis of his first book of photos: “Silent Places: Landscapes of Jewish Life and Loss in Eastern Europe” (2003).

During the last decade, he has explored scores of virtually forgotten underground quarries near the WWI front line in France that once housed thousands of WWI soldiers (French, American, British, and German). The soldiers carved their names and symbols into the soft limestone walls. A little more than five minutes into the documentary, there is a glimpse of a wall carving of a Star of David.

Click here to see the photo

The original photo is now exhibited at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. through Nov. 11, 2018. “Artist Soldiers” exhibit.

is now exhibited at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. through Nov. 11, 2018. “Artist Soldiers” exhibit.

I wrote Dr. Gusky and he told me that it was religious shrine created by French Jewish soldiers—but, I gather it is in a quarry near the one fully explored in the film—but not the same one. The quarry he fully explores has many American soldiers’ names carved into the walls. We see Dr. Gusky find a few of their descendants—including members of a Native American tribe.

The Netflix limited series “Godless,” released in November, got pretty good reviews and ended up on some critics’ best ten of 2017 lists. It gets kudos from me for plausibly depicting the heroism of Western frontier women. It takes place in a mining town after almost all the men are killed in an explosion. The women show pretty realistic courage as they fend off unethical businessmen and kill-crazy outlaws. Quite a few newish Westerns feature women who ludicrously act like frontier Charlie’s Angels.

“Godless” was written and directed by SCOTT FRANK, 57. “Godless” is his directing debut, but he has a long list of top screenwriting credits, including “Get Shorty” and “Minority Report.”  In a recent interview with TERRY GROSS, 66, the host of “Fresh Air” on NPR, Frank was asked about the moving last scene of the series in which a pastor recites a beautiful prayer for those killed saving their mining town. Frank surprised Gross by saying that it was a poem, “Tis a Fearful Thing” by JUDAH HALEVI (1075-1141), the famous Spanish Jewish physician, poet, and philosopher. He came across it years ago and knew it would work in this scene.

Here’s the poem. Save it for the right time:

Tis a Fearful Thing

‘Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch.

A fearful thing to love, to hope, to dream, to be –

to be, And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,

And a holy thing,

a holy thing to love.

For your life has lived in me, your laugh once lifted me, your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

‘Tis a human thing, love, a holy thing, to love what death has touched.


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