“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes?”
“The Merchant of Venice” (Act III, Scene I)
About the Cleveland Jewish Chronicle.
The paper was given its name in 1957, but it was the successor to The Jewish Herald, which was established in 1907, and the Hebrew News, which was founded in 1885 during an upsurge in Jewish immigration in Northeast Ohio.
The paper continues to be Jewish-centric in its focus and mission, but its orientation has gotten increasingly reformed and, some would say, more secular in order to attract a larger and broader readership. And so it includes a sports section despite the remarkable scarcity of Cleveland Jewish athletes to profile, reviews of non-kosher restaurants throughout the city and an entertainment section that covers the visual and performing arts, whose works are not necessarily created by, about or featuring anyone Jewish.
As the theater critic, I cover everything staged by the city’s professional companies. Cleveland’s Playhouse Square is one of the largest theater districts in the nation, second only to New York City, and includes meticulously renovated venues constructed in the early 1920s as houses for vaudeville and movies. One plays host to the Cleveland Play House, the oldest permanent professional regional theater in the United States and a Tony Award winner. Others offer top-tier national Broadway tours and Cleveland’s classic repertory company, Great Lakes Theater. Playhouse Square now houses eleven stages with more than 10,000 seats. There’s also a thriving professional theater scene consisting of smaller stages on the near east and west sides of the city that are producing innovative, avant-garde and contemporary plays as well as original works by local playwrights.
While I cover everything, my editor Mark always asks that I find a “Jewish angle” and see things through a “Jewish lens,” if possible, in what I write. So if there are Jewish artists involved in any way with a production, I am obligated to call them out as a Jewish artist just like how Adam Sandler’s hilarious “Hanukkah Song” calls out famous people who are Jewish and those we think are Jewish but are not.
“O.J. Simpson? Not a Jew.”
In doing so, I’ve discovered that my Semitic radar is not very accurate, which tends to result in a stream of letters to the editor spanking me for my ignorance. Who knew that lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II was Episcopalian and director Norman Jewison – Jewison – was Protestant? And Canadian. I have been assigned an intern named Gwen to proofread my tribal designations. She is an exceptionally bright and eager-to-please sophomore from a private Jesuit university who is hoping that I get hit by a car so my column will be hers.
Although Mark gives me free rein on the productions I review, he asks that I not cover Christmas shows, touring productions of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Godspell,” or stagings of “Cats.” There is nothing particularly Christian about “Cats;” Mark just hates the musical. I often call him Rum Tum Tugger just to piss him off. And do so with a thick Yiddish accent to show that I can view the world through a Jewish lens.