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The great-granddaughter of a Hollywood pioneer called out Dave Chappelle, and we got mail

Your turn: Readers respond to the Forward’s coverage of Chappelle’s SNL monologue

A rabbi lamented the ignorance of the roots of Western antisemitism, while another wondered whether it was time to let go of Jewish “victimhood.” Someone else called Dave Chappelle’s now infamous “Saturday Night Live” monologue “a resentful bit of business from someone capable of much better.” Another said, simply, “Dave is a schmuck.”

An open letter to Dave Chappelle from Sharon Rosen Leib, the great-granddaughter of a Hollywood pioneer, is the Forward’s most-read article of 2022 so far, with nearly 500,000 page views. The letter also produced scores of emailed responses from you, our readers.

In her letter, Rosen Leib took Chappelle to task for the “Saturday Night Live” monologue in which he said: “There are two words in the English language that you should never say together in sequence. And those words are ‘the’ and ‘Jews.’” Chappelle’s monologue was made in response to Kanye West’s tweet calling for “death con 3” to the “Jewish people” and Kyrie Irving’s tweet linking to a film that denies the Holocaust.

Here are excerpts from a few of your letters, edited for length and clarity.

Chappelle put the cards on the table

On so many levels it becomes hard to pin down a comedic turn filled with sarcasm and stereotypical tropes to make a point. I regularly text with six friends and we cannot agree whether Chappelle was being antisemitic or pointing out how stupid Kanye is for being antisemitic and outspoken about it.

But Chappelle put the cards on the table in such a way that points to why society needs to talk about it.  Your op-ed discussed the positive conversation about Jews literally building an industry. Not said was how, during that initial heyday, Jewish actors had to change their names.

—Steven Weiss

I love the balance of appreciation for his selfhood, artistry and brilliance. And, the ask not to use that for pain. Not because he doesn’t have the right, but because he can be better. And it would be nice if he would be.

—Rabbi Alexis Berk

Your article about Dave Chapelle’s SNL monologue for the Forward was thoughtful, forceful and right. From a performance standpoint, Chapelle wasn’t at all funny until he stopped talking about Ye, Irving and the Jews. The rest made me laugh aloud several times. His set was sneaky mean, a resentful bit of business from someone capable of much better. A good rule to follow? Don’t generalize about any group unless they stand together and act conjointly, and seek common labels.

—Paul Spirn

A friend of mine sent me your open letter to Dave Chapelle. I was in tears because you absolutely nailed all of his misguided reasons and the hurt. As an Afro-Puerto-Rican-Dominican-American who grew up in New York City among the Jewish community, I’ve always felt a great comfort in seeing resilience around me because my people also suffered slaughter and genocide. 

When I was in college, every weekend I would drive up to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In one exhibit, you were presented with a pamphlet of identification cards of real Jews who lived in Europe during the Holocaust. As you went through the exhibit, you learned a little bit more about them and their experiences. The farther along you went in the exhibit, the more harsh and dire their lives became. But I forced myself to live in that pain and even then, I was watching it and not living it. At the end of the exhibit, you would find out whether or not the individuals you came to know survived. And for the entire year that I went, not one child, man or woman in my pamphlet ever made it.

Dave is a schmuck.

—Yasmine Morales Campbell

Why Chappelle ‘nailed it’

Frankly, I disagree with you. Actually, I think he nailed it. Yes, he was subversive in a sense, as he always is, and chose to weigh in on one of the topics that most people were anxious about him discussing. My issue is why his comments were micro-analyzed and the most negative interpretation offered.

—Sara Maltzman

Kanye West and Dave Chapelle have the same right to free speech you do.

Jewish history is what it is. What happened to Jews in WW2 was horrific, but it happened 80 years ago. Isn’t it time to let go of the victimhood? Other peoples have faced genocide, from the Armenians to the Cambodians. You don’t see them so up in arms. Get on with your lives. People in this country have the right to speak out on any subject. Except, it seems, when it comes to the Jews. Why is that? If somebody says something stupid that is their choice and their right. 

Now, if West and others cannot say what they think and are punished for it, then perhaps what they say is indeed true? Otherwise, why not ignore them. 

—Warren Bacon

Everybody is assuming the worst and none of what he said was how you took it and wrote about it. He did replace Jews in Hollywood with Blacks in his Ferguson joke: “There’s a lot of Black people in Ferguson, Missouri, but that doesn’t mean they run the place.”

His writing partner Neal Brennan [has a Jewish father], and I guarantee you he helped Chappelle write the monologue. I sensed Jewish writing throughout. He makes it clear he isn’t talking about “Jews” as a monolith and he accomplished what he was trying to do. He got people talking about a subject we are afraid of and won’t talk about. I’m Jewish and I got it! Just because you are unable to see the truth and won’t discuss and be open-minded to his monologue, hatred and antisemitism will continue until we talk about the real issues.

—Scott Goldner

Rarely do I write a letter, so I will be brief. First, I did not find Chappelle’s monologue on SNL offensive. Second, why bring up Trump? He was just honored by the Zionist Organization of America. I get it. Trump is an idiot, loud, boisterous, and maybe a little dangerous. But judge him by his actions: the embassy move to Jerusalem, the recognition of the Golan Heights, backing out of the Iran deal, the Abraham Accords, and defunding the Palestinian Authority.

—Warren Gross

‘We are all essentially alike’

Like you, Chappelle’s tirade hit a raw spot with me, as my parents are Holocaust survivors who lost many family members.

My story is a complicated one. My mother remarried to a Nazi German who said to my face and that of my young children that Jews are an inferior race. My husband, an East Indian non-practicing Catholic, and I have spent our lives trying to set examples for our kids. When we took trips, we stayed in Servas homes. Servas is a hospitality exchange service whose premise is that if you stay in a strangers’ homes and break bread with them, you will come to understand that we are all essentially alike. We have stayed in Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Hindu homes all over the world. It had a profound effect on our children. One daughter married a Canadian-Irish Maltese guy and the other a Canadian-Korean-Chinese. Our son’s partner is African American.

—Florence Coutts-Zawadzki

A ‘red flag’ for every American

It is important to emphasize the historical facts (as Sharon does) that Jews “invented Hollywood” because they were excluded from most businesses in the early 20th century because of antisemitism, and they could operate freely in creating the motion picture business in the far reaches of the west. That would change dramatically by the 1930s and 1940s, however, when antisemitism in America spread like a toxic poison throughout politics, government, religion, and in many communities.

The ignorance of so many otherwise well-meaning people about the etiology of antisemitism in Western civilization, the dramatic rise in antisemitism in the past few years since Charlottesville, and the pain that we American Jews experience when we see antisemitism going mainstream as it has among some in sports, entertainment, and politics, ought to be a red flag for every decent American.

—Rabbi John Rosove

Growing up in an insular Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, I never faced antisemitism until I left the community. It’s just depressing. Why do people feel threatened so much by us as a people? I remember going to civil rights marches with my family so many times. I was just a kid, but my mother schlepped me on the buses to Washington. I remember those days even though I really was not old enough to know the importance of them. It’s frustrating. We, the Jewish people, have to continue the fight against antisemitism as we have done for thousands of years. That’s all we can do.

—Nancy Thaler

I also am a fan of Dave Chappelle’s, but I have much lower expectations of him than you seem to. As I see America’s abrupt turn to overt and shameless Jew-hatred, from the left and the right and even from the mainstream Jewish community, I expect very little, certainly not much in the way of change.

I guess I took my personal stand when I made Aliyah (2.0 — I first tried to make a life here in 1982 and failed. I know it’s not easy, for all sorts of reasons). Not only am I a dedicated Zionist, but I also see an urgent need for me to establish the foundation of a home and refuge for my children and grandchildren, all of whom think they’re living very comfortable and secure lives in the U.S. I’ve lost hope for our future there — the Goldene Medina is no more and, by my reckoning, we’ve passed the point of no return.

—Rabbi Harry Zeitlin

Correction: The original version of this article included a reader comment that incorrectly stated that Neal Brennan, a writing partner of Dave Chappelle’s, is Jewish. His father is Jewish but he was raised Catholic.

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