It’s a sentence that reads like a white-Jewish Madlibs, and the video, for the band’s new single “Sunflower,” has that sort of charm to it, like an Urban Outfitters helmed by a put-upon bar mitzvah party planner.
Hill, the actor-turned-auteur who has directed one other music video as well as the 2018 indie feature film, “Mid90s,” sets the enigmatic ditty against a sepia-soaked vision of the Upper West Side, as it once was (it wasn’t.)
We see bandleader Koenig and guest guitarist Steve Lacy bopping around iconic local eateries Zabar’s and Barney Greengrass, eventually joined by a wizened Jerry Seinfeld and various male employees and passersby. It’s world of simple, small pleasures: baseball caps and coffee cups, bicycles and blocks of cheese, salmon and sturgeon and Seinfeld and sunflowers. There are still places where a man can be a man and a Jew can be a Jew, the video seems to say. The finer things remain on the sun-dappled Upper West Side, providing that all women are replaced with smoked fish.
Larry David’s daughter is in the background of one shot — that’s parity, baby!!!
The men lounge in the temples of Ashkenazi eating, larking around as only boys can and watching the funny-talking foreign man behind the counter working to please consummate Upper West Sider Jerry Seinfeld. Ah, sweet nostalgia for a time when foreigners knew their place and women stayed in the kitchen! (But, you know, not the Zabar’s or Greengrass kitchens, where they might be paid.)
It’s too bad, because food preparation — the purview of women throughout history, though the culinary world is dominated by men — can be a democratizing force in Jewish spaces. And one of Koenig’s other singles, “Harmony Hall,” from this upcoming album Father of the Bride, handles Jewish anxiety during rising anti-Semitism with genius. If only the same could be said for Koenig and Hill’s view of Jewish culture under ideal circumstances.
The Orthodox get a bad rap, but at least when their women are erased from images, you can sometimes see the spaces they leave behind. In Jonah Hill and Ezra Koenig’s greatest fantasy of golden age New York Judaism, women are simply nonexistent.
Jenny Singer is the deputy life/features editor for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny
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