(JTA) — 2021 was a singular year. It began with a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, continued with an international vaccination push and ended with yet another COVID variant imperiling the holiday season.
Jews made news in politics, religion, science and philanthropy, and there were plenty of stories about Israel and antisemitism; arts and culture; and the lighter side of a challenging year. Through it all, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was here to provide our readers with reliable, impartial coverage of all the news of interest and concern to the Jewish community.
So what did you read in 2021? Here are our 10 most-read stories of the year.
10. Son of Jewish judge who led a national synagogue group was among mob that entered the Capitol by Shira Hanau (Jan. 7)
In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, we learned more about the individuals and groups that participated in the riot. One participant was Aaron Mostofsky, the son of Steven (Shlomo) Mostofsky, a New York judge and former president of the outspokenly pro-Trump Orthodox synagogue association National Council of Young Israel.
9. Charles Barkley jokes about losing weight to dance the hora at daughter’s Jewish wedding by Gabe Friedman (March 4)
In less serious news, NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley told Jimmy Kimmel in March that he was hoping to lose weight in preparation for the hora at his daughter’s wedding to a Jewish man. He was specifically focused on the chair-lifting portion of the dance.
“Listen, I need all Jewish people on deck, brother. ‘Cause I can only get so skinny by Saturday, man,” Barkley said. “It’s like I’m a soldier, all hands on deck.”
Don’t worry, the hora went fine.
8. Mila Kunis, Neil Patrick Harris, Helen Mirren and over 200 other celebrities sign letter denouncing cultural boycott of Israel by Shira Hanau (Oct. 27)
In October, a group of more than 200 celebrities, including actors Mila Kunis, Billy Porter, Neil Patrick Harris and Helen Mirren, signed an open letter opposing efforts to boycott an LGBTQ film festival in Tel Aviv.
The letter was published in response to calls from activists with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to boycott the Tel Aviv International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, also called TLVFest, an annual film festival showcasing LGBTQ films that was founded in 2006.
7. A chat with the son who wrote the viral obituary for his ‘plus-sized Jewish lady redneck’ mother by Julia Gergely (Dec. 16)
It’s not often that obituaries go viral. But Andy Corren’s obituary for his mother was far from ordinary. He began, “A plus-sized Jewish lady redneck died in El Paso on Saturday.” Corren’s irreverent piece, published in the Fayetteville Observer, quickly went viral.
Corren didn’t expect his piece to resonate as much as it did. He was just trying to honor his mother the best way he knew how: with humor.
“This time of the year, with the pandemic, the government, and the environment, things are feeling really bad. It’s nice to laugh, too,” he told us. “That was my mother’s specialty, laughing in the face of quite a bit of tragedy.”
6. ‘Death to Jews,’ Polish nationalists shout at rally while burning book about Jews in Poland by Cnaan Liphshiz (Nov. 12)
As part of Polish National Independence Day events in November, a book burning rally was held in Kalisz, a city of about 100,000 people 120 miles southwest of Warsaw.
At the rally, Polish nationalists burned a book that symbolized how Jews in Poland once thrived under state protection. The Statute of Kalisz, issued in 1264, served as the legal foundation for relations between non-Jews and Jews in Poland for centuries. In a reflection of nationalist fury across Europe, rallygoers shouted “Death to Jews” as they burned a copy of the statute.
5. The greatest Holocaust movie ever made, starring Steve Buscemi, debuted on 9/11. It’s time to revisit it. by Rich Brownstein (Sept. 10)
Rich Brownstein is a Holocaust film scholar and a lecturer for Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies. He has seen just about every Holocaust movie ever made.
And if you ask Brownstein, the best of the genre is “The Grey Zone,” which, he explains in an opinion piece that doubles as an interview with its writer-director Tim Blake Nelson, is “about the moral and philosophical conundrums faced by the Sonderkommando: the Jews in the death camps who worked to dispose of the victims’ bodies in exchange for slightly better treatment from the Nazis.”
So why isn’t the film better known? It debuted on Sept. 11, 2001.
4. An 11-year-old girl found a rare 2,000-year-old coin from time of the Jewish-Roman War in Jerusalem by Shira Hanau (Nov. 23)
Eleven-year-old Liel Krutokop was sifting through dirt from an archaeological dig with her family when she discovered a rare silver coin dating from approximately 67-68 CE.
“We poured the bucket with the dirt on the strainer, and as we filtered the stones that were inside, I saw something round,” Krutokop said.
After cleaning and examining the coin, archaeologists overseeing the site believe the coin may have been minted by Temple priests sympathetic to the cause of the Jewish rebels in their war against the Romans who controlled Jerusalem at the time.
3. Mayim Bialik to guest host ‘Jeopardy!’ while the show seeks a permanent replacement for the late Alex Trebek by Curt Schleier (Jan. 15)
One of the biggest Jewish stories of 2021 was the ongoing saga of the popular game show “Jeopardy!” seeking a new permanent host after Alex Trebek’s death late last year. In January, Jewish actor Mayim Bialik was named one of four temporary celebrity guest hosts.
Bialik would go on to be named a permanent co-host of the show after the original replacement, Mike Richards, quit the job after previous offensive comments surfaced.
2. This catchy ‘West Side Story’ Hanukkah parody was filmed on location in New York by Lisa Keys (Nov. 23)
Hanukkah a cappella parodies have become something of a tradition, and this year was no exception. Jewish a cappella group Six13 drew inspiration from the iconic Broadway musical “West Side Story” for this year’s tune, just in time for the highly anticipated remake.
Six13’s voices-only compilation of and riff on some of the greatest hits from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s beloved musical included “Maria” (reimagined here as “Menorah”) and “Tonight” (which becomes “Eight Nights”).
And like the movie, the music video was filmed in New York.
1. Neo-Nazis, QAnon and Camp Auschwitz: A guide to the hate symbols and signs on display at the Capitol riots by Laura Adkins and Emily Burack (Jan. 7)
Aside from the ongoing pandemic, the biggest story of 2021 was also among the first: the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
During a day rife with violence, the images that stuck with Americans included slogans and logos affiliated with conspiracy theories and extremist ideologies — many of which included antisemitic language and imagery.
We provided a guide to the hate symbols and signs on display that day, and information about the far-right movements they represented.
From all of us at The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, thank you for reading, and we wish you a Happy New Year! We look forward to covering the next chapter of the unfolding Jewish story in 2022. As always, feel free to reach out with tips, questions, or feedback, and if you’re so inclined, support our journalism.