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Jerry Seinfeld Can No Longer Be About Nothing

Jerry Seinfeld turned a mic-cradling, cereal-eating, “did-you-ever-notice”-ing avatar of American Jewish life with a overtly shrugging persona: a merry indifference to weighty materials as a comic and in his megahit TV present about nothing, as petty and apolitical as he appeared to be.

Now — off-camera, no less than — Mr. Seinfeld seems to have reached his post-nothing interval.

Because the assaults of Oct. 7 in Israel, and thru their bloody and risky aftermath in Gaza, Mr. Seinfeld, 70, has emerged as a strikingly public voice in opposition to antisemitism and in assist of Jews in Israel and the USA, edging warily towards a extra forward-facing advocacy function than he ever appeared to hunt throughout his a long time of fame.

He has shared reflections about life on a kibbutz in his teenagers, and in December traveled to Tel Aviv to fulfill with hostages’ households, soberly recounting afterward the missile assault that greeted him throughout the journey.

He has participated, to a degree, within the sort of superstar activism with which few affiliate him — letter-signing campaigns, earnest messages on social media — answering merely lately when requested concerning the motivation for his go to to Israel: “I’m Jewish.”

And as some American cities and faculty campuses simmer with battle over the Center East disaster and Israel’s navy response, Mr. Seinfeld has confronted a measure of public scorn that he has hardly ever courted as a breakfast-obsessed comic, intensified by the extra vocal advocacy of his spouse, Jessica, a cookbook writer.

This week, because the couple and their kids appeared collectively on the premiere of Mr. Seinfeld’s new film (“Unfrosted,” about Pop-Tarts), Ms. Seinfeld attracted consideration for an additional motive: She promoted on Instagram, and mentioned she had helped bankroll, a counterprotest on the College of California, Los Angeles, the place clashes with pro-Palestinian demonstrators have turned violent.

Amongst some activists on that aspect of the divide, disdain for the Seinfelds had been constructing for months.

“Genocide supporter!” protesters shouted at Mr. Seinfeld on Manhattan’s Higher East Aspect in February, as he left a “State of World Jewry” handle given by Bari Weiss, a former New York Occasions opinion editor and author whose media firm, The Free Press, has been championed by Ms. Seinfeld.

In some methods, the couple’s decisions since Oct. 7 mirror the tensions tugging at many American households on this polarized second, as they negotiate the bounds of how a lot to say and do about their political views within the open.

A consultant for Mr. Seinfeld referred an inquiry to Hindy Poupko, an government at UJA-Federation of New York who is aware of Ms. Seinfeld by way of Jewish philanthropic work. “The overwhelming majority of New York Jews have a powerful emotional connection to Israel,” Ms. Poupko mentioned. Seeing Mr. Seinfeld go to the households of hostages in Israel, she added, “has been an extremely highly effective supply of consolation to our neighborhood.”

Yosi Shnaider, a relative of a number of hostages who met with the Seinfelds in Israel in December and shared his household’s story, recalled Mr. Seinfeld as supportive and reserved, listening greater than he spoke.

“I’m placing myself in his place,” Mr. Shnaider mentioned in an interview, including that Mr. Seinfeld won’t have identified “precisely what to ask.” “His spouse requested me what she will do. I informed them I simply need them to maintain the story alive.”

Mr. Seinfeld, who’s scheduled to ship a graduation handle at Duke College this month, has tended to be personal about his private beliefs, onstage and in any other case. His namesake tv present usually banished political introspection. His standup act has favored proudly inessential observations about driving, relationship and air journey — workaday zingers to which residents of all political stripes are equally weak.

Since “Seinfeld,” he has spoken most expansively concerning the artwork of comedy itself, framing it as a morally impartial pursuit whose highest goal is to make folks giggle. (Mr. Seinfeld lately made headlines for suggesting in an interview with The New Yorker that “the acute left and P.C. crap” had hampered comedy.)

The shifts in Mr. Seinfeld’s public bearing after Oct. 7 have been modest, if nonetheless perceptible. He stays far much less outspoken on the topic than different celebrities and comedians, equivalent to Amy Schumer. However for a determine lengthy held up, like few others in leisure, as a generational narrator of the American Jewish expertise, even a cautious exploration of his id has been notable.

In a single latest interview — a part of a promotional tour for the Pop-Tarts film — Mr. Seinfeld mentioned he felt “very near the wrestle of being Jewish on the planet.”

He has additionally stopped himself in need of full-scale sermonizing.

“I don’t preach about it,” he informed GQ final month. “I’ve my private emotions about it that I focus on privately. It’s not a part of what I can do comedically, however my emotions are very sturdy.”

Mr. Seinfeld’s views of Israel appear to echo these of many Jews his age. Rising up on Lengthy Island, he attended Hebrew faculty and have become a bar mitzvah the yr he turned 13, a consultant confirmed. That was the yr of the 1967 Arab-Israeli Battle, which prompted a sea change in American Jewish consciousness, establishing assist for Israel as a pillar of American Jewish life.

Against this, American Jews who got here of age because the Nineteen Eighties or Nineties haven’t identified firsthand an Israel that was a regional underdog. And the youngest American Jews, a predominantly progressive cohort, might solely bear in mind an Israel led by more and more right-wing governments below Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been the prime minister practically with out interruption for the previous 15 years.

Leonard Saxe, a professor of Jewish Research at Brandeis College, mentioned Mr. Seinfeld’s instinctive solidarity towards Israel was typical for his or her technology.

“We grew up worrying about Israel and its survival,” Mr. Saxe mentioned, “and seeing Israel because the refuge for Jews from all over the world.”

Some knowledge factors, even earlier than Oct. 7, have prompt a deeper curiosity from Mr. Seinfeld in his Jewish id.

When an Instagram put up from Ms. Seinfeld, advising followers on how you can speak about antisemitism, went viral in 2022, Mr. Seinfeld reposted the message (“I assist my Jewish pals and the Jewish folks”) and saluted its “nonaggressive” simplicity and energy.

However for some with heat recollections of “Seinfeld” — and searing opposition to the Israeli response to Oct. 7 — the comic’s actions since that day have been disappointing.

Wajahat Ali, a author and commentator who has been sharply vital of the Israeli authorities and Hamas, prompt that Mr. Seinfeld’s assist for Israel carried extra weight given his prior standing as a “famously apolitical man who couldn’t muster any concern or care about what was occurring on the planet.”

“That was a part of his aesthetic,” Mr. Ali mentioned. However now, he added, Mr. Seinfeld had chosen to talk up as a wildly prosperous man from “a cocoon of privilege” amid “a brutal struggle” he doesn’t condemn.

Absolutely, Mr. Seinfeld sees it in another way. His public feedback have largely averted geopolitical specifics, dwelling little on the alternatives of the Netanyahu authorities or potential situations for a cease-fire.

And he can nonetheless sound hesitant even in latest discussions concerning the Jewishness of “Seinfeld” — which an NBC government as soon as described as “too New York, too Jewish.”

Prompted in an interview final month with The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick (“There was a component of, ‘We are able to’t be too Jewy,’” Mr. Remnick prompt), Mr. Seinfeld didn’t linger on the theme.

“Not too Jewy. We skimmed on the floor often,” Mr. Seinfeld mentioned, including: “Possibly we talked about a bar mitzvah one time, possibly. I don’t know.”

One other memorable plot arc, in a Season 8 episode that first aired in 1997, was maybe extra instructive: The fictional Jerry’s dentist has transformed to Judaism — largely, Jerry suspects, to get away with telling transparently hacky jokes about Jews.

Troubled, Jerry seeks knowledge at a church confessional.

“This offends you as a Jewish individual?” the priest asks him.

“No,” he says. “It offends me as a comic.”

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