I was on my sofa in Jerusalem reading the opening credits of my favorite TV show, 24, looking for Jewish names to figure out exactly how many Jews “control” Hollywood. Lo and behold, I see my friend’s name: Steven Schub.
I initially met Schub through the Atlasphere. We met for coffee in Israel when he was there visiting his sister and have stayed in touch since.
On 24 Schub played an Islamic terrorist, Samir. With his fellow terrorists, he vaporized Valencia in a nuclear attack.
His day job is lead-singer for The Fenwicks, a 10-piece “Afro-Celtic Yiddish ska” band, but that’s a whole ’nother story.
Now he’s starring as a Jewish hero in the play “The Accomplices” at the Fountain Theater (as a guest production being performed at the Odyssey Theater) in Los Angeles.
Peter Bergson, born Hillel Kook and nephew of the famous Rabbi Kook, came to the U.S. from Eastern Europe to save Jews from Hitler’s clutches only to be met by indifference, and sometimes hostility, from key figures of the Jewish community and the Roosevelt administration.
Schub’s admiration for Bergson’s ideas and actions has lent to an inspiring and powerful performance.
Schub said over the phone (without the show’s Eastern-European accent), “I definitely have always responded to people who live what they believed, and Peter Bergson was a guy who did. He was a shining example of what one man can do — how one individual can change history.”
Schub researched the role by reading Bergon’s writings and interviewing his daughter, a political science professor at Ben Gurion University. He discovered that Bergson’s views actually bear many similarities to Rand, a great admirer of the Founding Fathers.
“He was a Jeffersonian,” Schub said, speaking not as an expert on Bergson but as an actor who dutifully researched his character. Bergson believed that all people living in Israel — Jews, Muslims, Christians, Atheists — should have equal rights (which for the most part they do) and he abhorred the idea of tying religious identity to national identity, believing in separation of religion and state.
He served as a member of the first Knesset, but his insistence on having a Constitution similar to America’s eventually led to a rift between him and right-wing leader Menachem Begin.
Having started out as a disciple of Vladmir Jabotinsky, founder of the Irgun — the militant Jewish army in pre-State days — he soon evolved from a Jewish Zionist to a Classical Liberal (not to be confused with today’s liberalism), believed Jewish identity needed to be reexamined, and favored the school of thought that believed Jews in the Land of Israel needed to be reinvented as “Hebrews.”
But in his day, like many Irgunists, he was written off as a fascist. Schub: “As a consistent defender of absolute individual rights, this was of course an absurd, grotesque accusation — especially as his whole life was dedicated to fighting for life, liberty and freedom. In the culture of the time however, anyone who was not a socialist or outright communist was often tagged with that epithet.”
“He didn’t fall into any Left-Right alternative. He was, or became, essentially a radical for individualism, in same way Ayn Rand or Jabotinsky was.”
What convinced Bergson most of the need to escape from Collectivist thinking were his own negative encounters with Jewish leaders as he tried to save his brethren, dramatized very well in the play. Members of the Jewish establishment tried to silence him and even deport him when he started protesting too loudly to get America to do more to help save the Jews of Europe — by bombing Auschwitz for example, or allowing more refugees in.
Except for screenwriter Ben Hecht, the Jews who supposedly “controlled” Hollywood back then didn’t use their influence to help the Jewish plight. However, legendary acting teacher Stella Adler, actors Marlon Brando, John Garfield, Paul Muni, Harpo Marx, and even Frank Sinatra did become Bergson allies.
“Instead of wasting their time fighting Bergson, Jewish leaders could have mobilized to create a tidal wave of pressure. The non-Jews were often more than glad to jump on board.”Despite it all, eventually Bergson’s efforts led to the creation of the War Refugee Board which is credited with saving the lives of over 200,000 Jews and 20,000 non-Jews.
My kudos to Bergson, whom I was glad to discover through this play, and to my friend Schub for doing such a heroic job with the role.
He sure made up for blasting Valencia.
NOTE: The Accomplices runs until June 14th, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $30.00. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. (between Olympic and Santa Monica Blvd) in West Los Angeles. For reservations and information, call 323-663-1525 or go here. Every performance so far has sold out completely, so act soon.