The Arty Semite

Barbra Streisand, ‘Funny Girl’ and Me

By Elyssa Goodman

  • Print
  • Share Share
Columbia Pictures

“I watch this movie maybe once every two weeks,” my friend Jamie said to me, giggling, as we found our seats for a screening of “Funny Girl.” The Museum of Jewish Heritage was screening the film as a part of their ongoing “Hello, Gorgeous!” Film Festival, in which they’re showing a different Barbra Streisand movie for free every week during the summer. She was so excited to see Barbra on the big screen.

The theater was filled with a decent amount of people for a 6:30 p.m. screen time in the Financial District. Many of them were women with white or graying hair, plus the occasional younger ones like Jamie and myself. I had seen the movie many times, of course, and I knew the songs without even trying, but I came to see it tonight mostly because I thought it would be a fun thing to do with my friend who adores the film so much she sat next to me reciting lines from memory. As we watched, I remembered how I felt the first times I saw “Funny Girl,” when I was in elementary school.

When I was in fifth grade, I gave a “Living History” presentation on Fanny Brice. I knew about Fanny because my mother, a lover of movie musicals and of Barbra Streisand, had introduced me to “Funny Girl.” Entranced by Streisand’s comedy and singing and fabulous eyeliner, I wanted to learn about the woman she portrayed. Was she really as funny and noisy and boisterous as Barbra? I wanted to be like both of them!

What I realize now is that it was not so much the eyeliner or the jokes or the songs that interested me, but that in “Funny Girl,” like so many Jewish women before me, I saw myself onscreen for the first time. Raised in a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, it was not difficult to find Jews around me. But on the screen — any screen? Where, as a child in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, would I have found a Jewish female role model who was as accessible as Barbra Streisand playing Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl”? There wasn’t one.

Upon brief consideration, I still don’t know if there is today. I’m not talking about historical figures —there’s always Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Gloria Steinem, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and other brilliant ladies of that ilk — but about the fictional ones you need as a child to understand yourself in the world. Where was my Disney princess? It was Barbra, as Fanny.

Sociologist Joyce Antler writes in her 1998 book “Talking Back: Images of Jewish Women in American Popular Culture,” that in “Funny Girl,” we see a Jewish woman portraying a smart, beautiful, funny, and talented Jewish woman for the first time. I think it was then that being Jewish became, to me, something tangible and something cool to be. It made me unique and interesting, and I was proud of my heritage.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this is an aspect of what many Jewish women latch on when they see Barbra as Fanny in “Funny Girl”: local girl makes good, endures tragedy, but survives and comes out on top. Seeing it feels even better because we know she’s one of us.

Watch Barbra Streisand sing ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ in ‘Funny Girl’:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Funny Girl, Fanny Brice, Film, Elyssa Goodman, Barbra Streisand

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!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • 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.