This week, an intense flareup saw hundreds of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel, sending residents of the center and south into bomb shelters after the targeted killing of top Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Baha Abu al-Ata, an arch-terrorist who Israeli officials described as a “ticking bomb.”
“People of the Pod,” produced in partnership between the American Jewish Committee and The Times of Israel, speaks to Avi Issacharoff, creator of the hit show “Fauda” and The Times of Israel’s Middle East analyst, along with Times of Israel military correspondent Judah Ari Gross.
Then, co-host Manya Brachear Pashman sits down with Zalmen Mlotek, creative director of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbienne and musical director of the Yiddish-language off-Broadway smash hit, “Fiddler on the Roof,” along with show star Steven Skybell, who plays Tevye the Dairyman.
The weekly podcast analyzes global affairs through a Jewish lens.
According to Issacharoff, it was “just a matter of time” before Israel pulled the trigger on Abu al-Ata, who was behind a continuous stream of rocket and other attacks that threatened the fragile calm that had settled between Israel and the Hamas terror regime that rules the Gaza Strip.
“Time after time the Israelis warned that they were going to act against him,” Issacharoff tells “People of the Pod” co-host Seffi Kogen in a phone interview from Israel conducted Wednesday in the midst of this week’s missile onslaught.
Israeli brass even went so far as to take the unusual move of publicly calling Abu al-Ata out by name, says Issacharoff. But, he says, Egyptian intelligence along with Hamas officials ignored those warnings, causing Israel to act.
Issacharoff points out the evolving relationship between Israel and Hamas, a terrorist organization which in some ways can be seen as following in the footsteps of the Palestinian Authority as it seeks to govern in Gaza. While Hamas is seen as taking the pragmatic, if temporary, step of maintaining calm with Israel, the even more radical Islamic Jihad is acting even more recklessly in opposition to the ruling regime.
“It’s challenging for Hamas to deal with Islamic Jihad, it’s competing with them over popularity, over support, over weaponry, and it makes Hamas look like people that collaborate with the Israelis on security issues. And this is why it’s so difficult for Hamas to act against them,” Issacharoff says.
Speaking in the wake of a shaky ceasefire Thursday that still saw sporadic missile fire from Islamic Jihad, Gross provides an update, saying that despite the violations of the ceasefire coming out of Gaza, Israel has thus far refrained from retaliating with air strikes of its own, so “things are slowly getting back to what amounts to normal in that part of the country.”
The fighting has taken no small toll on the Israeli public, says Gross, with children being kept home from school in many areas for the better part of the week. But, he says, the continued missile fire from Islamic Jihad has been disrupting life for Israelis for the last two years.
As to whether or not the average Sabra thinks this last round of fighting was “worth it” in terms of accomplishing Israel’s goals of quiet, Gross says that “Israelis are broad and diverse, and have different opinions, and you’re not necessarily going to find consensus on anything like this.”
While “no one sees a clear solution to this,” he says, “everybody hates the problem.”
Next, Brachear Pashman gets the cultural scoop in conversation with Mlotek and Skybell, whose Yiddish production of “Fiddler” is, as the co-host says, “going gangbusters.”
“Yiddish was the lingua franca of Eastern European Jewry, and Sholem Aleichem, the writer of the stories of Tevye, wrote of course in Yiddish,” Mlotek says. “So when the creators of ‘Fiddler’ discovered the works of Sholem Aleichem, they read them in English, and chose to base their musical on the Yiddish.”
The show was such a success that it was almost instantly translated into other languages, Mlotek says, with performances in France, Germany, South America, and even Japan. When Israel put on its own production, Mlotek says, the show was adapted to Hebrew. However, they soon did a subsequent version in Yiddish.
“They recorded excerpts of the Yiddish ‘Fiddler’ in 1965,” Mlotek says. “And growing up, I heard that album. We all had heard the Zero Mostel version, but hearing it in Yiddish planted an idea in my soul, my consciousness, that at some point I would love to present the Yiddish version.”
Skybell tells Brachear Pashman about his long relationship with “Fiddler,” in which he starred several times during his youth, along with his attempts to learn the Yiddish language in order to hold onto his knowledge of the Hebrew alphabet. “It was only quasi-successful,” he laughs.
“I was always thinking that when I get older, I’ll play Tevye again, and time went on and on, and then two years ago I played Lazer Wolf in the most recent Broadway revival, but I never found Tevye,” says Skybell. “Finally, the Folksbiene Tevye came my way, and I like to jokingly tell that I rolled my eyes when I was cast, saying, ‘Just my luck — I’m finally playing Tevye, but it’s in Yiddish!’”