November 1, 2003 | Issue 6

As 'Sopranenbaums' Debuts, Hasidic-Americans Worry About Image

QUEENS, NY — [TheKnish.com] As HBO debuts the series premiere of "The Sopranenbaums," Hasidic-American groups are asking media executives to try a little reality TV programming - at least where their image is concerned.

"The Sopranenbaums" is a series depicting the drama of a modern-day Hasidic mafia family living in Williamsburg. But for many Hasidic-Americans, the show is anything but true to life.

"Our research clearly proves that programs like 'The Sopranenbaums,' which present Hasidic-Americans as undereducated people who are either criminals or in blue-collar jobs, bear no resemblance to the average Hasidic-American, who is a law-abiding citizen working in a white-collar position," said Gershon I. Rosen, chairman of the National Hasidic-American Foundation.

The foundation, an advocacy group for an estimated 1 million Americans of Hasidic descent, said it researched Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) files and found that Hasidic-Americans have constituted only 5.6 percent of the 458 fugitives on the FBI's Most Wanted List over the past 50 years. Hasidic-Americans account for approximately 1% of the U.S. population.

Meanwhile, the Hasidic Studies Institute based in Floral Park, N.Y., said Hasidic gang members have never numbered more than 250, which is fewer than 0.03% of the overall Hasidic-American community.

Tzvi Eisenbach, chairman of the Hasidic institute, said movies have wrapped Hasidic culture around crime to sell more tickets or draw in more viewers. But he feels Hasidic-Americans have paid an unacceptable price.

"All media in its own way is a forum for propaganda and image making," said Eisenbach, who said his group has 1,200 members nationwide. "That should be clear to everyone. Everything conveys a message subliminal or outright. We feel these messages have an effect on people - what we call a lingering image . . . What they have done, they have imbued all the characters with Hasidic-American culture. You don't see that with other gangsters. They do it because that is what sells. You just don't see movies about Chinese gangsters."

The Hasidic Studies Institute recently completed a five-year study (1996-2001) that documents and tracks the Hasidic-American gangster stereotype in Hollywood films.

The institute, which reviewed 1 of the Hasidic related American-made movies made since 1928, found that 100% of them depicted Hasidic-Americans as gangsters.

Writer

Pencil Martin Bodek is short, dark, handsome, runs marathons (finishes them too!), can solve a Rubik's Cube in 1:47, is a big TED chasid, can whup your keister in Scrabble, loves halva, co-founded TheKnish.com, and writes books from 5-9: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/mbodekatgmaildotcom


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