Jews: in the News: Simon Rich, Shia Labeouf and Jonathan Swan

A Very Jewish Movie; A Modern Huck Finn; a Jewish Swan

The big-budget Jewish film of the summer is “An American Pickle.” SETH ROGEN, 38, plays the film’s two major parts. He plays Herschel Greenbaum, a poor Jewish immigrant who comes to America 100 years ago and becomes a pickle maker. One day, Greenbaum falls into a vat of pickle brine. Amazingly, he is revived in the present day and hasn’t aged at all. He finds out his only descendant is his great grandson Ben Greenbaum (also Rogen). Ben is a mild computer programmer who doesn’t seem to have much in common with Herschel. The film was written by SIMON RICH, 36, a former “SNL” writer who is the son of well-known columnist and essayist FRANK RICH, 71. (“Pickle” begins streaming on HBO Max on August 6.)

On July 27th, he was a guest on MARC MARON’s podcast talk show. His comments included saying Israel is a mistake because, in light of rampant anti-Semitism, you shouldn’t put all the Jews in one place (Israel). I suspect most of us have also thought this—but never voiced it—and then we have said to ourselves, “Has Jewish dispersal worldwide historically worked to save Jews? Not really. Just ask the Ethiopian Jews how well ‘dispersal’ worked for them.”

Rogen has got backlash for his comments and now he’s saying that he was not entirely serious in his comments about Israel. We’ll see if his views evolve or become more nuanced as he is forced to really re-think things in the face of fact-based criticism.

Rogen did grow up in a very Jewish milieu: his parents met on a kibbutz; his father was an associate director of the Vancouver, Canada, Workmen’s Circle; Seth went to a Jewish elementary school; his wife, actress/writer LAUREN MILLER, 38, is Jewish; and he’s frequently played Jewish characters (“Knocked Up”, “The Night Before”, “Neighbors”, and “Long Shot”).

Rogen is usually jovial. However, he did get acerbic last June. WINONA RYDER, 48, told the UK “Sunday Times” that Mel Gibson once called her an “oven dodger” at a party. Rogen tweeted:  “I’m only surprised by Mel Gibson’s ‘oven dodger’ comment because it acknowledges the Holocaust.”

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” begins streaming on Hulu on Aug. 6. It opened in some theaters, but it kind of flew under the radar despite being the highest grossing indie film of 2019. This critically acclaimed movie is a re-working of the Huckleberry Finn story. SHIA LABEOUF, 34, co-stars. He plays Tyler, a shady guy who is being pursued by two other shady guys.  He meets up with Zak, a young adult with Down’s Syndrome, and they have many adventures.  Zac, too, is on the run. He ‘fled’ an assisted living facility to pursue his dream of becoming a pro wrestler. Zac Gottsagen, who really has Down’s Syndrome, plays Zac.

Some months ago, there was a discussion of an anti-Semitic incident on an MSNBC talk show, and I was surprised when Axois reporter JONATHAN SWAN, 34, said he was Jewish. Last week, Swan had his biggest career moment when an excerpt from his one-on-one interview with President Trump was released (the full interview began streaming on HBO on August 3).  The excerpt was about American intelligence reports that the Russians were funding “bounties” for the killing (by the Taliban) of American military personnel in Afghanistan.

On June 26, the NY Times reported on this intelligence. The “Times” story said that the President had taken no action in response to his own administration’s intelligence reports. It was a blockbuster story, but no reporter got the President to directly respond to the “Times” story before the Swan interview. Swan was widely praised for the respectful, but dogged way he asked questions about this important story.

Swan grew-up in Australia. His father, NORMAN SWAN, 67, is a Scotland-born physician who immigrated to Australia and became a household name in Australian TV and radio. He’s worn three hats: as an executive who has re-organized programming in general; as the host of, or a guest on, medical shows; and as a journalist exposing medical billing and research fraud.

Jonathan began his journalism career in Australia. He began reporting in the States in 2015 and joined Axios in late 2016. His scoops include being the first to report that Trump advisor Steven Bannon was going to be fired; the first to report that the U.S. would pull out of the Paris climate accords; and the first to report that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.


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