On a recent trip to Berkeley I was traveling down College Avenue and noticed something which caused me to raise an eyebrow:


At the intersection of College and Derby are two buildings: On the left is the Julia Morgan Theater, a popular performance space for plays, musicals and concerts; and on the right is Chabad House, the East Bay headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, which also functions as a local Jewish community center.

The buildings have been standing across the street from each other for decades, without the slightest whiff of controversy or animosity.

But as you can see from the photo, the current production at the Julia Morgan Theater is Oliver!, the musical based on Dickens’ Oliver Twist, and to advertise the show, the producers placed a huge banner out front depicting Fagin, one of the lead characters.


Here’s a split-screen closeup, showing the Fagin banner more clearly on the left, and the Chabad banner more clearly on the right.

This wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy except that Fagin is considered to be an insulting anti-Semitic stereotype, and the banner was positioned to face directly toward Chabad House across the street. When the Chabadniks look out the building’s front windows, they have to gaze directly at a 10-foot-tall image of a stereotypical “greedy Jew.”

Now, while it may be true that the script for Oliver! tones down the anti-Semitic aspect of Fagin’s character and treats him more as comic relief than a villain, in the original editions of Oliver Twist Fagin is completely despicable, and is considered by many to be the most anti-Semitic literary character of the 19th century.

While I can only assume that the juxtaposition of the Fagin banner and the Chabad House was inadvertent, somewhere in the back of my mind I still have the nagging feeling that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t entirely coincidental after all.

22 Responses to “Fagin/Chabad: Coincidental Juxtaposition?”

  1. 1Marvin on May 17, 2010 at 1:13 pm:

    You presume that students at Berkeley learn history – even literary history…you presume too much.

  2. 2Starless on May 17, 2010 at 2:49 pm:

    Even if you’re doing a high school musical, you’re supposed to know all of the intimate details (history and otherwise) of it. There is no way that a professional theater doesn’t understand that Fagin is one of the prototypical Greedy Jews in Western literature. Knowing that they have a Jewish center across the street, why put a giant Fagin on their banner? Why not Oliver asking can he have some more? The musical is called Oliver!, after all, not Fagin!. If the banner content wasn’t deliberate (which I’ll assume for now it wasn’t) then they obviously did it without thinking, which may be even worse.

  3. 3Dr. Jeff on May 18, 2010 at 5:37 am:

    Zombie,

    I think this is an over-read here. While the Fagin character has a black hat and a beard, it is not really in the style of traditional orthodox Jews. Also, Fagin is more of a street or mob type of crime boss , shifty criminal type of character more than the “greedy Jew” type of stereotype. But as we have learned from this web site over the years anything is possible in Berkeley!

  4. 4Salamder Drake on May 18, 2010 at 10:02 am:

    I think you’re reading too much into this one. As far as I know, the Habadniks haven’t taken offense. And if it doesn’t offend them, should it offend you?

  5. 5Ringo the Gringo on May 18, 2010 at 3:25 pm:

    I can’t imagine that this was done to intentionally offend.

    Although Dickens originally created the character as a Jewish stereotype, in later editions of Oliver Twist Dickens toned down the Jewish aspect of Fagin. And in the musical version there is nothing Jewish whatsoever about the character. If anything, Fagin, in Lionel Bart’s musical, has been completely transformed into a stereotype of a disreputable cockney.

  6. 6Steve on May 19, 2010 at 1:03 pm:

    Thank You for posting this! I really like your blog – keep up the great work!!

    Common Cents
    http://www.commoncts.blogspot.com

  7. 7datechguy on May 20, 2010 at 5:07 am:

    I would like to re-produce buzzsawmonkey’s drawing on my blog, did he give you specific permission to put it up or is he considering it “public” so it can get wide distribution?

    If there is a contest on this day, that should be the winner!

  8. 8Starless on May 22, 2010 at 3:33 pm:

    Ringo the Gringo: Although Dickens originally created the character as a Jewish stereotype, in later editions of Oliver Twist Dickens toned down the Jewish aspect of Fagin. And in the musical version there is nothing Jewish whatsoever about the character. If anything, Fagin, in Lionel Bart’s musical, has been completely transformed into a stereotype of a disreputable cockney.

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with you this time, Ringo. I don’t know about you but I know that for the past several decades, progressives, particularly artistes, have assured me that subtext means everything. That the historical context of a piece can and should be judged by contemporary standards of morality. Of course, the caveat is that whenever they indulge their own prejudices, we’re not allowed to criticize them for it.

    Here’s a hypothetical: a musical theater company in the middle of flyover country stages a production of Kiss Me, Kate and they put up a banner with an image of a demure and submissive Kate. They happen to be housed across the street from a women’s center. You think feminists would think that was a non-issue?

  9. 9Milhouse on May 23, 2010 at 7:22 pm:

    I agree with Ringo; Bart’s Fagin is not identified as Jewish in any way, and there’s no reason to suppose he is. He shares nothing but a name with Dickens’s Fagin. And Fagin is one of those names that Eastern European Jews share with the Celts (like Hamish, Cowan, Gordon, Green, Gaffney, and probably a few more), so there’s no reason Bart’s Fagin shouldn’t be assumed to be Irish or Scottish.

  10. 10psaturn on May 25, 2010 at 3:26 pm:

    Zombie, I appreciate you and in this regards, I do agree with you on the questioning on why they put that across a Jewish center…

  11. 11J. Oswald on May 28, 2010 at 10:14 am:

    I’d be more concerned if the musical was closer to the original text. This is, after all a show with a song called “That’s Your Funeral” sung by a sleazy coffinmaker. The Fagin of the musical is disreputable, but I don’t see an exclusively Jewish stereotype in the character.

  12. 12flavortown on May 29, 2010 at 4:12 pm:

    “anti-semetic” is extremely misleading. “semites” have been around since before judaism, the majority of semites are muslim. A very small percentage of jews are ethnically semetic.

  13. 13Daniel Bielak on May 29, 2010 at 5:27 pm:

    The term “anti-semitism” is an imprecise euphamism that was invented by a bigoted anti-Jewish German “race theorist” in the 1800′s in order to legitimize anti-Jewish bigotry with an “Scientific”-sounding term. Science was at that time in Western (Jewish-based, Christian, gaining prestige and religion was declining in prestige.

    The term “anti-semitism” was invented to mean, and has always meant, only anti-Jewish.

    Jewish is an ethnicity. Almost all ethnically Jewish people, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi, share certain specific genetic markers with each other which are genetic markers which they share also with Iraqi Kurdish people and with some rural “Palestinian” Arabs.

    Most Jewish people, including ethnically Jewish-European people such as myself, “look Jewish”. It is because of the overwhelming perverse obscene oppresive anti-Jewish bigotry that has been a normal, normative, taken-for-granted engrained part of Western societies (Jewish-based, Christian and post-Christian, European-based societies) for millenia that, about tow hundred years ago, when the institutional governmena laws oppressing Jewish poeple in Western countries began to be aboloshed, that ethnically Jewish-European people began to pretend, to even themselves, that Jewish was not an ethnicity. Jewish people were trying to communicate, “See, we’re not inherently evil, as your religion, Christianity, explicitly states, as a tenet, that we are. We just believe in a different religious ideology. So, please don’t hate us, and falsely accuse us, and treat us with intransigent contempt, and torture us, and murder us.”

    Ignorant people who hold antipathic wrong views about, and who feel antipathy toward Jewish people, rationalize their bigoted views and express their bigoted views with dishonest manipulative language.

    Jewish people unmindfully and undiscerningly swallow every poisonous thing that is thrown at them.

    Almost all Jewish people experience, to varying degrees, as a psychological coping mechanism, and have, for centuries, experienced, to varying degrees, as a psychological coping mechanism, a deep profound form of Stockholm Syndrome. This Stockholm Syndrome has made, and makes, almost all Jewish people “internalize”, to varying degrees, lies which vilify Jewish people, and this Stockholm Syndrome makes almost all Jewish people unintentionally further, subtly and grossly, the propagation of anti-Jewish bigotry, and this Stockholm Syndrome makes almost all Jewish people be incapable of communicating their situation, and this Stockholm Syndrome makes some Jewish people be fervent propagators of, and be the most influential propagators of, lies that vilify the Jewish people.

  14. 14Daniel Bielak on May 29, 2010 at 5:29 pm:

    I apologize for the many grammatical errors in my previous comment.

  15. 15Daniel Bielak on May 29, 2010 at 6:30 pm:

    Anti-Jewish bigotry – the holding of antipathetic wrong views about, and the feeling of antipathy toward Jewish people – is constituted not simply as viewing the people who are members of the group about which one holds antipathetic wrong views as being somehow intellectually or physically inferior to oneself or to people who are members of other groups nor as simply viewing the people who are members of that group as being less physically attractive than the people who are members of one’s own group or than the people who are members of other groups but, rather, is constituted of viewing the people who are the members of the group about which one holds antipathetic wrong views as being inherently evil, and is constituted of viewing individual people who are members of the group as not being individual people who are just like all other individual people, but, rather, as being members of an abstract collective entity, and is constituted of viewing the people who are members of the group, as being, individually, weak and ridiculous, but as being, as a group, all-powerful controllers of the world.

    It is for this reason that Anti-Jewish bigotry is different from all other forms of bigotry towards other groups of people, and it is for this reason that anti-Jewish bigotry is the most insidious and most difficult to dispel forms of bigotry that exists.

    There are several factors that have caused anti-Jewish bigotry to have arisen and to exist.

  16. 16Daniel Bielak on May 29, 2010 at 6:40 pm:

    Correction:

    “..is constituted not simply as viewing…”

    should be

    “…is constituted not simply of viewing…”

  17. 17Daniel Bielak on May 29, 2010 at 7:10 pm:

    The following are the main factors that have caused anti-Jewish bigotry to have arisen and to exist.

    O The traditional religion of the Jewish people having a chauvinistic (though not supremacist and not imperialist) aspect (as do the traditional religions of other ethnic groups have chauvinistic aspects)
    O Many Jewish people having high abilities and high accomplishments
    O People who are Jewish having obvious flaws (as do all people have obvious flaws)
    O Almost all people holding an egocentric wrong self-view
    O Many people who are not Jewish holding a very egocentric wrong self-view (as do some people who are Jewish hold a very egocentric wrong self-view) – and, as a result, those many people who are not Jewish feeling anger about the first three listed factors, and as a result feeling malice toward Jewish people

    Jewish people allow and propagate anti-Jewish bigotry because of the following factors which interact with each other.

    O Jewish culture highly valuing egalitarianism and the aversion of injustice
    O Many Jewish people being very socially, and generally, imperceptive (having low-level, “high-functioning”, Asperger’s Syndrome; having low amount of “general intelligence” – though, in many cases, having high amount of “specific intelligence”)
    O Almost all Jewish people experiencing a deep profound form of Stockholm Syndrome

  18. 18Daniel Bielak on May 29, 2010 at 7:12 pm:

    Correction:

    “…aversion of injustice…”

    should be

    “…aversion to injustice…”

  19. 19Tim on Jun 2, 2010 at 12:37 am:

    Good Heavens. Anti-Jewish bigotry arises because “many Jewish people having high abilities and high accomplishments”.

    And “the traditional religion of the Jewish people having a chauvinistic aspect” while Jewlish culture “highly valuing egalitarianism”. Aren’t that at odds with each other? Frankly, I think you need to reconsider youur arguments, where they’re not plain laughable, they’re just wrong-headed. Do you also believe there’s still a worldwide conspiracy against Jews, perhaps?

    Honestly? It’s a poster for a play everyone knows. Yes, Dickens’ Fagin is a deeply unpleasant character, and yes, anti-semitism (call it what you will) was rife in 19th Century Europe, but this is really something of an over-reaction.

  20. 20Daniel Bielak on Jun 13, 2010 at 1:50 pm:

    Tim wrote,

    “And ‘the traditional religion of the Jewish people having a chauvinistic aspect’ while Jewlish culture “highly valuing egalitarianism”. Aren’t that at odds with each other?”

    No.

    “Do you also believe there’s still a worldwide conspiracy against Jews, perhaps?”

    I am quite aware of the current situation in the world.

    I am aware of the lies that vilify the country of the Jewish people that are now believed to be true by very many people in the world, including, very most likely, yourself, which are lies that are based on traditional Western anti-Jewish lies, and which now Western journalists, by lying by omission, and by lying blatantly, out of normal, normative, Western anti-Jewish bigotry, ignorance, cowardice (fear of murderously censorious Fatah-the-PLO-the-Palestinian-Authority and murderous censorious Hamas), greed for Western sensationalistic stories of “Evil Jews Persecuting Beatific ‘Palestinian’ Arabs”, and which are lies that are based on lies that were developed and propagated by leaders and adherents of the Arab Nationalist movement and by the leaders of the modern Islamic Supremacist political movement and then further developed and propagated toward the West by Soviet KGB officials, with, in the 1960′s, so-called “intellectual exchange programs”, toward ignorant, imperceptive, egocentric, bigoted Leftist academics and intellectuals in Western democratic countries

    Amin al-Husseini – the founder, preliminarily in 1920′s, and officially in the 1930′s, of the genocidally anti-Jewish “Palestinian” movement, as a division of the Arab Nationalist Movement; organizer, with the aid and support of British officials, of massacres of Jewish people in the British Mandate of Palestine from 1920 to the late 1930′s; appointed, in 1921, to the position of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem by British Officials which was a position that was invented by those British officials; early prominant influential member and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood; creator of the Palestinian Arab Party in 1935 through which he created al-Futuwah, the terrorist youth corps which he officially named the Nazi Scouts; opposed by most British officials by the late 1930′s; resident of Germany and adjoined official of the Nazi regime from 1941 to 1945; co-architect, with his colleague Adolf Eichmann, of the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people in Europe; program director of Radio Zeesen; creator of Muslim Nazi S.S. divisions in the balkans which killed several hundred thousand Serbian people, over ten thousand Jewish people, and over ten thousand Roma (Gypsy) people; mentor and uncle of Yasser Arafat; captured, in 1945, by Allied forces and held in France to be tried for war crimes; allowed to escape to Egypt in 1946 by British and French government officials; the leader of the Arab High Commitee; leader, as the leader of the Arab High Commitee, of the 1948 Muslim Arab self-proclaimedly intendedly genocidal attack on the country of the Jewish people, Israel, by the armies of five Arab countries a few days after Israel was voted a country in the United Nations; founder, in 1957, with Yasser Arafat, of Fatah

    Arab Nationalist movement – “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”-Jewish-conspiracy-theory-based, German-Nazi-influenced, German-Nazi-Allied, anti-Jewish, political movement started in the 1930′s

    Mulism Brotherhood – “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”-Jewish-conspiracy-theory-based, Wahabi-Sunni-orthodox-original-Islam-based, genocidally anti-Jewish, political organization founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna

    Radio Zeesen – powerful shortwave radio station in Germany from which Amin al-Husseini broadcasted “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”-Jewish-conspiracy-theory-based, genocidally anti-Jewish, and anti-United-States, anti-British, and anti-democracy, Islamicly-themed, programs in Arabic, Turkish, and Farsi (the Persian language), to all of the countries in the Middle East, which were programs that became popular in Muslim countries in the Middle East, and which were programs to which Rohulla Khomeini, the then future founder of the Shia Muslim branch of the modern Islamic-Supremcist political movement, was, as a young man, in Iran, a regular and dedicated listener

    Taqiya and Kitman – orthodox-original-authoritative-currently-mainstream-Islamc-sanctioned deceit employed as a strategic tactic in “the furtherance of” Islam; Taqiya – Islam-sanctioned deceit (including blatant lying); Kitman – Islam-sanctioned deceit by the means of telling of half-truths

    Tim,

    I hope that one day you, and the millions of others who currently hold the wrong views about Jewish people, and feel the antipathy toward Jewish people, that you, have, by writing what you wrote in your previous comment, displayed that you do, will wake up.

  21. 21شات كتابي on Sep 27, 2010 at 11:58 am:

    Very scary. I hope Mr. Vilks has good security.

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