The Arty Semite

A Serious Party With the Coen Brothers

By Beth Kissileff

  • Print
  • Share Share

On March 22, I went to a “Serious Night” party at B’nai Emet synagogue, in St. Louis Park, MN where the bar mitzvah scenes as well as some others in the Coen brothers film “A Serious Man” were filmed.

Photo by Wilson Webb

One of the audience members recounted his query to one of the Coen brothers asking why the opening scene was in Yiddish and set in Eastern Europe. His reply, “We wanted to introduce audiences to the world of a Jewish movie.”

The problem is that the world of the Jewish movie is not in the distant past, it is in the here and now, among the young extras from the movie selling paper flowers and collecting donations to benefit victims of the Haitian earthquake, couples in their teens and twenties dancing to Israeli music, and the old folks, as at an actual bar mitzvah, looking at family pictures on display. In this case the photos were of the extras in costume, and photos from the film’s 1967 era courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest.

A man who was in the funeral scene recounted how he instructed everyone to stand for the Kaddish, and showed the actor playing a rabbi how to raise his hands indicating the assembled should rise. The production crew went with his suggestions. However, in the bar mitzvah scene, the cantor and a number of the gabbaim told the directors that the blessings for the Torah were not being done in the right order and that the bar mitzvah boy, not the older man, should be reciting the aliyah, the blessing before chanting the Torah. The production crew was not interested in verisimilitude for that scene, waving critique away.

Finally, one woman got up and said, “Mary Zophres, the costume designer, dressed Brad Pitt, she dressed George Clooney, she dressed Frances Mc Dormand and she dressed me.” The congregation applauded. She added, in a critique more often leveled at religions than movies, “Being in the movie was much more fun than watching it.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: B'nai Emet Synagogue, A Serious Man, Beth Kissileff, Coen brothers, Ethan Coen, Film, Fred Melamed, Haiti, Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest, Joel Coen, St. Louis Park, Woody Allen, Yiddish

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.