Music to My Ears


Music to My Ears

Just when I thought the whole Jewishcommunity had swung to the right, I visited with lyricists Alan andMarilyn Bergman; it was music to my ears. This songwriting pair movesseamlessly from show business to activism, having won three Oscars,two Grammys and three Emmys for songs such as “The Way We Were,””Windmills of Your Mind” and the score for “Queen of the StardustBallroom” while playing a strong behind-the-scenes role in nationalDemocratic Party politics. They take nothing for granted — not ahumane political climate, nor even each other. After 39 years ofmarriage, Alan, tall and dapper, instinctively rises to meet hiselegant partner’s entrance into the room; he regards her kiss as agift, a pleasant surprise.

This sense of gratitude, which informs their workand their politics, will be evident next Saturday, when the Bergmansmake a rare public appearance in honor of Leo Baeck Temple’s 50thanniversary.

“We’re making a political statement,” MarilynBergman told me last week. “We’re talking about what a synagogueshould be, what a rabbi should be, what a Jew should be.”

Leo Baeck, led for more than 45 years by RabbiLeonard Beerman and for the past 20 years by Rabbi Sandy Ragins, isLos Angeles’ quintessential Reform synagogue, placing political andsocial action at the center of Jewish religious observance. Locatedin the heart of Lew Wasserman territory, where more money is raisedfor liberal Democratic presidential and congressional candidates thanany other district in America, Leo Baeck has been home to everyliberal cause of the postwar years. Anyone seeking to know what Jewsfelt about civil rights, Vietnam and the women’s movement had only tocome here, to the modern synagogue on the east side of the 405, andfind true north.

There is no true north anymore; Jews aresplintered, both religiously and politically. Even Leo Baeck’ssocial-action agenda today is less about political involvement thanabout hands-on activism — feeding the poor and AIDS outreach.

Yet the Bergmans, once accurately characterized byBarbra Streisand as a “nice Jewish couple” (she’s recorded some 40 oftheir songs in an enduring professional relationship), have stayedthe universalistic course. They introduced Streisand to EugeneMcCarthy early in his 1968 presidential campaign, one of theformative meetings in Streisand’s political life. Marilyn was founderof the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee, one of the nation’smost influential women’s PACs until it disbanded last year in protestagainst the high cost of campaign financing. They wrote the scriptfor President Clinton’s first televised inaugural celebration. Andthey are already involved in Sen. Barbara Boxer’s re-electioncampaign, calling Boxer’s doomed to be hotly contested