November 19, 2018

TV ‘terrorist’ plays Jewish hero on stage

I was on my sofa in Jerusalem reading the opening credits of my favorite TV show, “24,’ looking for Jewish names to figure out exactly how many Jews control Hollywood. Lo and behold, I see my friend’s name: Steven Schub.

I met Schub through a networking website that connects that fans and admirers of the work of author-novelist Ayn Rand. (A quick refresher, she wrote The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, novels that glorify individualism and reason.) We met for coffee in Israel when he was there visiting his sister and have stayed in touch since.

On ’24’ Schub played an Islamic terrorist, Sabir (I hear roles of terrorist are usually given to Jews, go figure). With his fellow terrorists, he vaporized Valencia in a nuclear attack. He’s probably best-known for his work in the film ‘Caught’ with Edwards James Olmos and guest star appearances on NYPD Blue, and, yes, Sesame Street. His day job is lead-singer for The Fenwicks, a 10-piece “afro-Celtic Yiddish Ska” band, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Now he’s starring as a Jewish hero in the play ‘The Accomplices‘ at the Fountain Theater. Peter Bergson, born Hillel Kook (nephew of the famous Rabbi Kook), came to the U.S. from Eastern Europe to save Jews from Hitler’s clutches only to be met by indifference, and sometimes hostility, from key figures of the Jewish community and the Roosevelt administration. Schub’s admiration for Bergson’s ideas and actions has lent to an inspiring and powerful performance.

Schub said over the phone (without the show’s Eastern-European accent), “I definitely have always responded to people who live what they believed, and Peter Bergson was a guy who did. He was a shining example of what one man can do and that’s what he did–how an individual can change history.”

Schub researched the role by reading Bergon’s writings and interviewing his daughter, a political science professor at Ben Gurion University. He discovered that Bergson’s views actually bear many similarities to Rand, a great admirer of the Founding Fathers.

“He was a Jeffersonian,” Schub said, speaking not as an expert on Bergson but as an actor who dutifully researched his character. Bergson/Kook believed that all people living in Israel–Jews, Muslims, Christians–should have equal rights and he abhorred the idea of tying religious identity to national identity, believing in separation of religion and state. He served as a member of the first Knesset, but his insistence on having a constitution similar to America’s eventually led to a rift between him and right-wing leader Menachem Begin.

Having started out as a disciple of Vladmir Jabotinsky, founder of the Irgun (the militant Jewish army in pre-State days), he soon evolved from a Jewish Zionist to a Classical Liberal (not to be confused with today’s liberalism.) He was a “post-Zionist already in 1947”, believing Jewish identity needed to be reexamined and favoring the school of thought that believed Jews in the Land of Israel needed to be reinvented as “Hebrews.”

But in his day, like many Irguniks, he was written off as a fascist.

“He didn’t fall into any left-right of alternative. He was a radical for individualism in same way Ayn Rand or Jabotinsky was.”

What convinced Bergson/Kook most of the need to escape from Jewish collectivist thinking were his own negative encounters from Jews as he tried to save his brethren, dramatized very well in the play. Members of the Jewish establishment tried to silence him and even deport him when he started protesting too loudly to get America to do more to save the Jews of Europe. Except for filmmaker Ben Hecht, the Jews who “controlled” Hollywood back then didn’t use their influence to help the Jewish plight.

“Instead of wasting their time fighting Bergson, they could have mobilized instead to create a tidal wave of pressure. The non-Jews were more than glad to jump on board.”

My kudos to Bergson, whom I was glad to discover through this play, and to my friend Schub for doing such a heroic job with the role.

He sure made up for blasting Valencia.