“Am I supposed to be mad about the Bradley Cooper situation?” read a confused non-Jewish friend’s text one morning this week.
She was referring to the prosthetic nose Cooper put on to play Leonard Bernstein maestrothe upcoming Netflix movie about the legendary composer, which Cooper co-wrote, directed and produced.
The trailer for the film had just been released online and my social media shtetl was buzzing with excitement.
By wearing a prosthetic horn to play the role, Cooper perpetuated stereotypes that Jews had big noses! Why did this thing have to be so huge? And why did Cooper, a non-Jew, play this iconic Jewish role in the first place?
“No,” I texted back. “It literally doesn’t matter.”
That’s the funny thing about the online outrage: no matter what the current cause, it’s easy to feel like we have to join in.
But whether you’re Jewish or not, consider this your resolutely non-rabbinic exception to suspend Schnoz-Gate.
It’s not just because there were a lot of Jews involved in the film: Cooper co-wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer, and one of his producers is one of them Steven Spielberg.
Or that Bernstein’s estate approved Cooper’s project
Or that the world will have the pleasure of seeing uber-Jewish Sarah Silverman in the role of Bernstein’s sister, Shirley.
Or that Bernstein’s children were included in the manufacturing process maestro, issued an opinion On Twitter, he said that Cooper “chose to use makeup to enhance his likeness, and we’re totally fine with that.” (They added that they’re “sure our dad would be fine with that, too.” would have been.”)
dayenu, as we Jews say. It would have been enough.
But really, I’m not upset about this non-story for one simple reason: it offers us a unique opportunity to take a deep breath and refocus our attention on what really matters.
What is that you ask? The answer is simple and would have pleased the maestro himself: art.
Why is Bradley Cooper (who is not Jewish) playing Leonard Bernstein (who was very Jewish)? Because pretending to be someone else is the very definition of acting.
And why is he wearing a big fake nose? As recently did my friend, colleague, and celebrated Jewish actor Joshua Malina told Page Six, not because Cooper wanted to perpetuate a disgraceful stereotype about Jews and their followers, but because he was trying to look like a very specific Jew who had a specific Jew noble nose.
But now that I’ve saved you the time and trouble of getting upset about Cooper and his putty trunk, you can use your mental energy to do something much better: worry real Jews, not the glamorous and deceased, but all of us alive today, the actual, unprecedented anti-Semitism in this country.
As the High Holidays begin next month, we will head into the synagogue under tight security and confront people like the self-proclaimed group of “online trolls” who this week made fake bomb threats against more than two dozen synagogues across the country USA triggered The life of thousands of Jews is hellish.
In this time of abuse, speaking out against something like Cooper’s fake nose should not be viewed as a Jewish commitment.
The news cycle is moving fast, but we don’t have to turn every perceived insult into a referendum on the plight of Jews in America. Instead, we should focus our energies on the bigotry in real life.
And how can you fight it? We can do what the world’s greatest orchestras have done and follow the example of the maestro.
Bernstein himself faced terrible prejudice, but accepted it calmly, delving deeper into his Jewish identity and creating beautiful works of art.
So let’s all pay less attention to Bernstein’s snoop and more to his spirit, which decades after his death continues to inspire Jews to engage even more fully and passionately with our millennia-old tradition. At best, we don’t spend too much time worrying about what the haters think of us.
Instead, we look at culture – our own and that of the world at large – and create works of art that are truly worthy of Bernstein’s legacy.
Everything else is just noise.
Stephanie Butnick is co-host of Unorthodoxa podcast by Tablet Magazine.