(New York Jewish Week) — Taffy Brodesser-Akner may have told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that she doesn’t find “Fleishman Is in Trouble,” her best-selling novel about the fallout from a painful divorce, to be a “Jewish” story. But she did admit that the book — and its TV adaptation that premieres Thursday on Hulu, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Claire Danes and Lizzy Caplan — is set in a very Jewish New York City milieu and features plenty of Jewish references.
“All I can say is that I am made out of Philip Roth,” she said, name-checking the late novelist who rejected the “Jewish writer label.” “I’m so formed by his books.”
Brodesser-Akner, who grew up on Long Island and in Brooklyn, is also inspired by the Jewish places and institutions that she has experienced. Here are five from throughout her life and career that either show up in the “Fleishman” show or influenced her as she constructed the story.
The New York Public Library
Brodesser-Akner thinks of this “as a Jewish place for some reason.” Jews are the people of the book, after all, and among the books to have been written by Jewish authors in the library’s main branch on Fifth Ave. are “The Power Broker” by Robert Caro, “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan, “Ragtime” by E.L. Doctorow, and “A Great Improvisation,” by Stacy Schiff.
“I don’t know, I don’t have a comment on it,” she said.
Temple Shaaray Tefila
The show filmed a bat mitzvah scene at this Reform synagogue on the Upper East Side — and the series’ location scout didn’t know that Brodesser-Akner worked there while she was in college.
“I was like, I taught Hebrew School here!” Brodesser-Akner said.
The 92nd Street Y
This Jewish cultural center, which was founded in the 19th century, features in the book as the place where protagonist Toby Fleishman’s children go to camp. (A spot in its pre-school is so coveted that there’s a cottage industry of consultants who can try to get your kid in.) Rumor has it that it delayed rebranding itself to “92NY” until after the show had finished shooting.
The diner featured in “Fleishman” doesn’t have a name, but Brodesser-Akner said that B&H, an iconic kosher dairy restaurant on Second Avenue and Eighth Street in the East Village, was the inspiration. It was big news when a gas main explosion in the East Village forced the 70-plus-years-old B&H to close in 2015, and even bigger news when it reopened a few months later.
After high school, Brodesser-Akner studied at this university in Ramat Gan, Israel, not far from Tel Aviv. “I did it so that I could live outside of an Orthodox household for a year,” said the author, whose family had become followers of the Chabad Hasidic movement.
While Bar-Ilan is referenced in the book, in the “Fleishman” show, the main characters note that they all studied together at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.