Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s not-so-crazy trip to Israel

Golden Globe-winning actress and writer Rachel Bloom talked about Jewish identity, diversity on her hit show, and Israel on her first trip to the country.

March 22, 2016 14:20
'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' star Rachel Bloom

'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' star Rachel Bloom. (photo credit: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT)

Between all the countless panicked columns written about young American Jews not caring about Israel anymore, it’s refreshing to meet a Jewish American 28-year-old who says “I’m Jewish; I think there’s somewhat of an assumption that I’m pro-Israel.”

Even more refreshing is hearing that she “hasn’t heard much about the ‘boycott Israel’ movement in the states.”

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Considering that the woman in question is Rachel Bloom, the co-creator, writer, executive producer and star of American musical comedy TV show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” who won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Television Series Musical or Comedy and promptly announced that she is going to Israel, much in the way football players talk about Disney World, that seems like a pretty big #BDSfail, as Israel supporters say on social media.

Faithful viewers of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (who have found an online workaround, since it doesn’t air in Israel) may have assumed that Bloom’s views are not that different from those of her “80% emotionally autobiographical” TV alter-ego, Rebecca Bunch, who in a recent episode rhymed “progressive as hell” and “I support Israel” in a number titled “JAP Battle” that broke the Jewish Internet.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's JAP Battle

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” revolves around Rebecca Bunch, a successful, but depressed, Manhattan lawyer, who quits her job, packs up and moves across the country to West Covina, California to be near her sleepaway camp boyfriend, 10 years after they broke up.

Bunch is Jewish, and that isn’t just a minor detail, like on some other shows where the Jewish character might light a menorah in the Christmas episode and never mention it again. The “JAP Battle” between two “Shebrews from Scarsdale” includes references to Birthright, AEPi, matza balls and the Jewish youth group classic “Sheket Bevakasha – hey!” and is peppered with Yiddish like “shande,” and “shtetl.” Bunch’s mother is played by Tovah Feldshuh, the artist otherwise known as Golda Meir (in both the Broadway play Golda’s Balcony and the movie “Munich”), who immediately sings to klezmer-esque fiddling about Bunch looking “healthy” and “you won’t get a boyfriend this way” upon entering her daughter’s California apartment.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Theme Song.

Bloom talked to The Jerusalem Post about Jewish identity and other elements of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” on her first-ever trip to Israel last week while noshing on, what else, cream cheese and lox.

“I was raised pretty secular, but to know that I was Jewish. It was very much an identity thing. I didn’t have a Bat Mitzva, but I know everyone in Hollywood who said anything anti-Semitic. My grandfather was an ardent atheist, but in the same breath, he’d say he didn’t like Vanessa Redgrave for being pro-Palestinian,” she recalled.

Bloom said if she hadn’t married her husband, who is Jewish, with an Israeli father and a mother who “runs a Conservative temple in Queens,” she probably would not have thought much about Judaism, but, although she and her husband are both secular, it is very present in her life.

Bloom’s trip to Israel had barely been planned when she announced at the Golden Globes that she would be taking it – she needed a vacation and wanted to visit close friends who had recently made Aliya – but the Tourism Ministry hooked her up with a guide, and she enjoyed it so much she found herself “giving [her] friends a lecture on the Bar Kochba revolt.”

She recently read Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land, and began to be more interested in Israel.

“There’s this narrative of Israel being big and established and Palestinians are oppressed, but when I read the book I got more of a sense [of the complexities],” Bloom said. “My tour guide is secular like us, but is very much a nationalist, and he said, ‘we have worked for this place, we deserve it, and we’re trying to make it better.’”

And, of course, there’s the food element of the trip: “The hummus and tahini changed my life. The halva is a total game changer.”

Between the trip to Israel, which she said made her more in touch with her Jewish identity, and the political climate in the US, Bloom had a lot of thoughts to share about anti-Semitism.

Referring to participants in Republican primary candidate Donald Trump’s rallies being caught saying “go back to Auschwitz” and doing the Nazi salute, Bloom quipped: “We didn’t live in Auschwitz. I’m not going back there.”

Bloom “grew up feeling like it’s cool to be Jewish – bagel and lox, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks. Whenever someone blamed the Jews, it was like, ‘you’re stupid,’ nothing dangerous about it.”

Anti-Semitism was such a foreign concept for Bloom, that it was even a subject of a running joke on a Jewish comedy album she wrote with her husband and friends (“Suck it, Christmas!!! A Chanukah Album”), which included a running sketch about a meeting of the Elders of Zion planning global domination, but arguing about where to have lunch.

“You think Jews have an organized plan for controlling the media, when we can’t agree on anything?” Bloom laughed.

“The idea of awakening the racists and bigots in America that have been lying low, and that becoming cool – it’s scary,” she added. “And then, I’ve really screwed myself if there are problems for Jews in America. I have a show about being Jewish!”

Jews are not the only American subculture to be featured on the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” or “HaExit HaMetorefet Sheli,” as Bloom knew to translate the title into Hebrew.

Josh, Bunch’s love interest, is Filipino, and other characters are Latino, Italian, and white (though the whitest guy on the show claims to be part-Native American), which Bloom said reflects the people she knew growing up in southern California.

“We have a bunch of cultures living in harmony, but with a sense of cultural identity. Part of building a character is giving it specificity. On sitcoms, when it’s just a bunch of people who vaguely work in PR and live in large apartments, I’m like ‘who are these people?’ I don’t feel like I know them,” she explained.

That need for specificity and creating true-to-life characters is what made alienating non-Jewish viewers a non-issue for Bloom, just as she enjoys the episodes with specific references to Filipino culture and food.

“Judaism in America is an immigrant culture, and we’re a nation of immigrants. When we had that Tovah Feldshuh song ‘Where’s the Bathroom,’ so many non-Jewish people said ‘Oh my God, that’s my mom.’ My friend is Nigerian and said that’s exactly what her mom says,” Bloom recounted. “We wanted to tell new stories that hadn’t been seen before, and that’s why I think diversity is so important.”

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