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November 28, 2019 11:24 am

Jewish Actor Seth Rogen Talks About ‘Traumatic’ Experience Filming in Pittsburgh During Tree of Life Shooting

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Seth Rogen in 2011. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

In a recent interview with The New York Jewish Week, Jewish comedic actor Seth Rogen opened up about filming his new movie “American Pickle” in Pittsburgh last year when the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue took place.

Rogen, 37, said being in Pittsburgh at the time of the attack was “very strange and upsetting…and very traumatic and surreal, but there was some sense of pride of being in Pittsburgh at that time and making something that was so outwardly Jewishly themed.”

He explained: “I think there’s some sense of receding that happens in moments like that, and that’s appropriate and there’s some sense that the opposite is what’s appropriate — that you should stand kind of taller and occupy more space rather than less space, and that’s kind of what it felt like we were doing. We were a couple miles away from the most antisemitic attack that had ever taken place. We were making one of the most well-funded Jewish-centric movies that has been made in my recent memory. So it was two very oppositional forces occupying the same space, but it felt good, in some ways, to be a part of that space. It reaffirmed the many themes that we liked about it.”

“American Pickle,” based on a short story by Simon Rich, stars Rogen as Herschel Greenbaum, a Yiddish-speaking immigrant in the US at the turn of the 20th century who falls into a pickle barrel and emerges in Brooklyn in 2018. Rogen, who learned Yiddish for the part, talked with The New York Jewish Week about this being his most Jewish role ever and said he never shied away from his religious heritage.

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“It’s something that’s always been just a very big part of my life, although I’m not an observant person or a particularly religious person,” he said. “I think if you went through all of our movies, almost every one has some sort of Jewish joke in it…The more personal humor is, the more everyone likes it, the more people see you’re incorporating your own life, your own sensibility, your own work, the more they appreciate it, even if it’s different than their own, people can relate to it.”

The actor and his father will be honored next week by Workmen’s Circle, an organization dedicated to promoting Jewish identity based on social justice and the Yiddish language. Rogen talked about the importance for him of being involved in social justice work through a Jewish organization saying, “I think that when you’re a part of a group of people that is targeted globally, there’s some comfort in getting together and working within that community and I think that is just something that I’ve always found throughout my life.

“At a very young age, my dad told me everyone hates Jews so just be aware of that, and it’s probably a fine reason to, at times, do things that involve just other Jews ’cause at least you’re surrounded by people who don’t hate you.”

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