Why Actor Jonathan Lipnicki Walks Jews Home on Shabbat

Antisemitism isn’t a new disease. It’s one of the oldest in the book and it’s been creeping up in America well before October 7 happened. Now, it’s just all the more commonplace. During the first week in March, multiple bloody attacks occurred on Jews around the world. Benjamin Harouni was shot dead by his patient, Mohammed Abdulkareem in San Diego. In Paris, a 62-year-old man was attacked outside a synagogue. In Zurich, Switzerland, a 15-year-old stabbed an Orthodox Jewishman calling himself a soldier. These are just the attacks outside of Israel, where terrorists are still stabbing and murdering Jews regularly while the country tries to defend itself.

Actor Jonathan Lipnicki (known for Stuart Little, Jerry Maguire and Dawson’s Creek) decided to take matters into his own hands and step up in his Los Angeles community to protect Jews when they’re at their most vulnerable.

He and his friend, Remi Franklin, started Shabbat Angels, a community of people that volunteer to walk Orthodox Jews to and from synagogue on Shabbat, a time when they don’t carry their phones. 

They started in 2021 — they felt things getting bad then — and reached out to some friends (both Jews and non-Jews) that they knew from doing martial arts, Brazilian jiu jitsu and boxing. 

The impetus was an attack at LA’s Sushi Fumi where two men yelled antisemitic slurs at a group of Jewish diners. This was just one of many similar incidents at the time that continues today. “It was really Remi’s brainchild,” Lipnicki says. “He said, ‘We could do something about this. We can drive the hate out.’”

The two got a WhatsApp group together and had many volunteers quickly. They got in touch with an Orthodox synagogue and started that week.

Lipnicki feels that their work did make an impact — of course among the people they were serving — but also with the antisemites in the wings. “There was more solidarity,” he explains. The unity among Jews he says showed others they won’t just be victims in all of this.

In the process, Lipnicki got to know many of the Orthodox families he was helping, often going to their houses for Shabbat. “They expressed their gratitude quite often,” he says. “And they’re strong too.”

The experience has brought Lipnicki himself closer to Judaism. “I have gotten a lot closer to G-d from 2021 on and it carries me through.”

Unfortunately, this relationship with his faith may have negative ramifications in Hollywood. Hollywood, although started by Jews and although antisemites love to say that Jews control the industry (in reality, it’s just an antisemitic trope), doesn’t actually have the best representation for any kind of Jew.

Behind the scenes, Lipnicki says that the one who is accepted is one who brushes off his religion. There’s this idea of “the good Jew.” “A lot of people are quick to say, ‘I’m Jew-ish’ and stay far away from any religious notion,” he says. “That’s not helping.”

Content coming out of the industry is all Holocaust focused or negative images of very religious Jews or it’s the neurotic Jew who loves bagels, he explains. “There’s a certain weakness represented or like we’re the butt of the joke.”

It may seem silly, but that all makes a difference and is what the Jew in the City Hollywood Bureau is trying to combat — for a very serious reason. Many people don’t take the plight of the Jews as seriously as other minority struggles and it’s having violent consequences.

Many people Lipnicki knows in the industry and outside of it who have been vocal about other minorities have been completely silent when it comes to Jews — well before October 7. After the massacre, they’ve used the opportunity to solely speak out against Israel. A few people have shown solidarity to Lipnicki but just privately in a direct message. 

“I appreciate the DM but it also made me upset. With all the bad things going on, why are you holding back? Because it doesn’t fit into some narrative of what is going to get you social points? Jews have stood by so many causes and the fact that [others] aren’t reciprocating is heartbreaking.”

Despite all of this, Lipnicki remains hopeful. He wants to be a part of the change to bring diverse characters to Hollywood, not just the ones that fit into stereotypes and certainly not harmful tropes. “We need to have a certain backbone with how we let ourselves be represented,” he shares. “If more of us work together and stand tall, we can create better characters and ultimately really good television and film…I would like the future generation [of Jews] to be proud of where they come from.”

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