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Rabbi’s Update 12/22/2023


Dear Friends:


A few months ago when the first publicity stills came out from “Maestro”, the new movie about Leonard Bernstein which stars and was directed and co-written by Bradley Cooper, there was a lot of controversy about the prosthetic nose he wore in the movie so that he could more closely resemble Bernstein. At the time, Leonard Bernstein’s three children issued a statement in support of Cooper which said “It happens to be true that Leonard Bernstein had a nice, big nose. Bradley chose to use makeup to amplify his resemblance, and we’re perfectly fine with that. We’re also certain that our dad would have been fine with it as well.”


Having now watched the film, which came out on Netflix on Wednesday, I have to say that in my opinion Bradley Cooper not only portrayed Leonard Bernstein, he became him. After watching the movie, I watched a few clips of Bernstein on YouTube and the way Cooper embodied Bernstein was astonishing.


This movie and the publicity stills around it reignited the debate about whether non-Jews should portray Jewish characters in film or on stage. I found it interesting that one of the actors who ignited this debate and coined the term “Jewface,” Sara Silverman, had a significant role in this film as Bernstein’s sister Shirley.


I think there is a reason that it is called “acting.” If only Jews can play Jewish roles, isn’t it the logical corollary that Jewish actors should only play Jewish roles? There is definitely a history of exaggerating Jewish noses and stereotypical Jewish mannerisms for nefarious purposes but Bradley Cooper clearly has immense affection and respect for Leonard Bernstein. This is not the opportunity for me to go into a full critique of the film but the performances by both Cooper and by Carey Mulligan as Bernstein’s wife Felicia Montealegre are both outstanding and if you have Netflix, it is well worth watching.


As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoons from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.

As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at rabbi@kehilatshalom.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by. 


L’shalom,




Rabbi Charles L. Arian






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