Writer, director and producer Jim Abrahams has always liked pickle relish

This interview originally appeared on Zócalo Public Square.

Jim Abrahams is one-third—along with David Zucker and Jerry Zucker—of the legendary writing-directing-producing trio that gave us some of our most beloved and goofy movies. Before a screening at the Million Dollar Theatre of their 1980 comedy Airplane!—Mayor Eric Garcetti’s pick for Zócalo and KCRW’s “My Favorite Movie” series—he talked in the Zócalo green room about coveting a cameo by Ben-Hur, the sweetness of Charlie Sheen, and his weakness for Love Actually.

Q: What’s your favorite condiment?

A: Well, that’s a no-brainer. Pickle relish. It’s always been a favorite. I’m sort of a connoisseur.

Q: What was the celebrity cameo that got away?

A: Charlton Heston. Actually, we’d always go to him. He was very nice and polite, but never interested.

Q: What salad dressing best describes you?

A: Blue cheese…it’s lumpy.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about the exclamation point?

A: In regards to Airplane!—because there’s an exclamation point in the title? It made us chuckle to put it next to a bland word.

Q: What was the first album you bought?

A: West Side Story—no, it was The King and I.

Q: What was the last movie you saw that totally cracked you up?

A: I enjoyed Bridesmaids a lot.

Q: What word or phrase do you use most often?

A: Bullshit.

Q: What was the best part about working with Charlie Sheen?

A: The truth is he’s really a sweet guy and a tremendous professional. He’s one of these guys who walks onto a set and always goes up to the grips and the sound guy to say hi. He behaved like a regular person—there’s no star stuff to him.

Q: How did you get into trouble as a kid?

A: I’d wake up in the morning! When we started our careers, we were going to incorporate—form a corporation—and we didn’t know what to call it. The Zuckers said we should call it “Abrahams boy.” Because when we were kids, their parents would say to them, “Watch out for the Abrahams boy!”

Q: What movie (other than any of your own) have you seen the most?

A: I can’t pass by The Godfather if it’s on TV. I have to watch. And I have to watch Love Actually if I come across it.

JetBlue reports show Jewish doctor to blame for flight ejection

Internal JetBlue reports show that a Jewish doctor was booted from a recent flight because she was unruly and disobeyed crew instructions, not because a Palestinian passenger took issue with her views on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The woman, Lisa Rosenberg of New York, was kicked off her July 7 flight from Palm Beach International Airport to New York’s Kennedy Airport following an argument with a fellow passenger who identified herself as a Palestinian.

Rosenberg claimed that the other passenger started the fight after overhearing a phone conversation in which Rosenberg was discussing the Israel-Gaza conflict. Amidst an “ugly, racially driven altercation,” Rosenberg said, the other passenger called her a “Zionist pig.” Eventually, crew members ejected Rosenberg from the plane, which was still on the ground in Florida.

“I just was completely outraged that I would be asked to leave a plane, being a Jew,” Rosenberg told ABC’s local affiliate in Palm Beach County.

But two internal JetBlue reports obtained by airline industry blogger and consultant Steven Frischling “both squarely paint Dr. Rosenberg as the sole instigator of the events on board Flight 454,” according to Frischling. ABC’s local affiliate in Florida said it obtained the same internal reports and corroborated Frischling’s account.

“Both internal reports of the incident clearly lay out Dr. Rosenberg as the person who was in the midst of spewing hateful comments towards the Palestinian passenger in seat 9C, not vice versa,” Frischling wrote.

The reports show that Rosenberg accused the other passenger of being a “Palestinian murderer” and that “her people are all murderers and that they murder children.” As Rosenberg continued to rant and tried to move closer to the other passenger, onlookers began to express concern for their safety, the reports said, according to Frischling. While crew members tried unsuccessfully to end Rosenberg’s confrontation, Rosenberg ratcheted up her rhetoric, implying that the other passenger had explosives in her bag and intended to blow up the aircraft in flight, the reports say. Eventually, Rosenberg directed her ire at the crew members who were trying to get her to calm down.

Rosenberg was then kicked off the flight.

JetBlue declined to publicly release the reports, citing privacy reasons, but confirmed that Rosenberg’s account “in no way reflects the reports from our crew, whose decision to remove the customer we support.”

JetBlue’s corporate communications manager, Morgan Johnston, said, “A crew member may request a customer to deboard and be re-accommodated if the crew member feels as though the safety of the plane or customers on board is impacted, or the customer on board is unable to comply with in-flight instructions or obstructing a crew member’s duties.”


Chasidim on plane to Uman arrested for unrest

Several Chasidim heading to Ukraine to spend Rosh Hashanah at the burial site of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov were arrested at Ben Gurion Airport for rioting after their flight was delayed.

The flight was on the tarmac early Tuesday morning in Israel when airport operations were suspended for about an hour after two Palestinian men in a stolen struck ran a security barrier.

The passengers caused damage to the plane, including to its emergency oxygen systems, according to reports.

Some 25,000 pilgrims, many of them from the Breslov Chasidic movement, converge in Uman each year ahead of the Jewish New Year to pray near Nachman’s grave. The rabbi died in 1810.

Also Tuesday morning, some 50 people traveling to Uman were arrested. Among them were fugitives from justice, passport forgers and people wanted for questioning, according to The Times of Israel. The paper reported that it was unclear if those arrested are actually Chasidim or if they were trying to capitalize on the large number of similarly attired people in order to escape the country.

Meanwhile, rabbis and organizers from the Breslov movement met Monday in Uman with top Ukrainian government officials to work on security for the pilgrimage and facilitate cooperation between the World Breslov Center and the local police, Israel National News reported.

Among the subjects discussed was the building of a statue with a Christian cross in recent weeks on the banks of a lake near the grave, which the Chasidic leaders say will prevent the annual Tashlich ceremony from taking place. The Chasidic leaders agreed to use a different body of water for the ceremony, in which participants cast their sins on the water.

U.S.-bound plane makes emergency landing at Ben Gurion

A plane bound for the United States made an emergency landing at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport after smoke was detected in the rear of the plane.

The Continental Airlines Boeing 777 had taken off from Ben Gurion at noon, but it returned a half-hour later after pilots told air traffic control that there was smoke in the plane’s rear kitchen.

Some 280 passengers were on the flight bound for Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

Forty-five ambulances met the airplane on the runway but were not needed.

The flight returned to the air about three hours following a thorough inspection, according to The Aviation Herald. The smoke is believed to have come from an oven in the aft galley. It was originally reported that the smoke was coming from the baggage compartment.

7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, May 13

The beat goes on today at the annual Santa Monica Festival. Head down to participate in a drum circle; hear multicultural music, including a concert by Bucovina Klezmer; and enter the Eco Zone. The city steps up its commitment to environmental responsibility this year, with totally solar powered stages and a host of activities centered on caring for the Earth, including an outdoor adventure challenge course for kids, and a mobile TidePool Cruiser.

11 a.m.-6 p.m. Free. Clover Park, 2600 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt =””>

Sunday, May 14

When a lovely young woman becomes possessed by a dybbuk, it takes a minyan to cast out the demon. In Paddy Chayefsky’s “The Tenth Man,” they only have nine, until they pull a troubled man off the street to help with the Jewish exorcism. But he’s got his own demons. The play opens this weekend at The Skylight Theatre.

8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.), 3 p.m. (Sun.). $20. 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz. (310) 358-9936.

Monday, May 15

Great American music takes center stage this evening, with a tribute to the works of celebrated lyricist Dorothy Fields. Michael Feinstein, Marvin Hamlisch and others perform “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” a celebration of the life and lyrics of Fields, who wrote the titular hit, and numerous others including “The Way You Look Tonight” and “I’m in the Mood For Love.” A post-performance cast party will follow. The event benefits L.A.’s Center Theatre Group’s discount ticket programs, and is hosted by Corina Villaraigosa.

8 p.m. $200 and $500. 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 972-3139.


Tuesday, May 16

S.T.A.R. Sephardic Tradition and Recreation goes big this Lag B’Omer, and invites the community to join in. This evening they’ve rented out the Santa Monica Pier for a citywide Jewish celebration, complete with rides, kosher food and live entertainment.

5-9 p.m. $8. Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica. (818) 782-7359. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt = “”>

Wednesday, May 17

Bring your child — or your inner child — to L.A. Artcore’s exhibition of Ursula Kammer-Fox’s “Play Mates,” on view through May 31. Kammer-Fox has created a number of whimsical sculptures of made-up creatures for this show, and she explains, “I perceive one of life’s demands to be that we escape our prisons. This body of work represents my escape from the prison of constant seriousness, and the esthetics of higher education.”

Noon-5 p.m. (Wed.-Sun.). Free. LA Artcore Center, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles. (213) 617-3274. ” width=”15″ height=”1″alt = “”>

Thursday, May 18

Lauded short story writer Deborah Eisenberg discusses her latest collection, “Twilight of the Superheroes: Stories” on KCRW’s Bookworm program this afternoon. Host Michael Silverblatt will engage Eisenberg more specifically on the subject of writing about the post-Sept. 11 American sensibility.

2:30-3 p.m. KCRW 89.9 FM.

Friday, May 19

Silliness reigns at the Academy tonight, as it presents a special cast and crew reunion and screening of the classic comedy “Airplane!” Writers-directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker and actor Robert Hays, among others, are scheduled to attend the discussion. No word on the jive-talking Barbara Billingsley.

8 p.m. $3-$5. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Samuel Goldwyn Theater, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 247-3600.

7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, May 6

Playwright Colette Freedman offers two divergent works now on the stage. “Iphigenia at Aulus” is Freedman’s adaptation (in rhyming iambic pentameter, no less) of Euripides’ classic tale about the Greek king who must sacrifice his daughter to assure a victory in his attack on Troy. “Sister Cities,” by contrast, is her more straightforward story of four sisters reunited after the death of their mother. They both play this weekend at Circus Theatricals Studio Theatre at the Hayworth.

$15-$20. 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Sunday, May 7

Four talk-radio personalities compete for air time in today’s panel “The Impact of Talk Radio” at the University of Judaism. On your AM dial, Bill Handel (KFI), Michael Jackson (KNX), Doug McIntyre (KABC), and Stephanie Miller (Air America) participate, along with editor and publisher of Talkers magazine Michael Harrison. Veteran talk show host Bill Moran will ref.

2 p.m. $20. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1246.

Monday, May 8

The intense relationship between 30-something displaced cowboy Harlan Carruthers and rebellious teen Tobe creates the backbone of the new movie, “Down in the Valley,” which opens this week. Edward Norton and Evan Rachel Wood star in this dark film written and directed by David Jacobson.

Laemmle Theatres. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, May 9

Existential questions make for a unifying theme in Jewish Artist Network’s latest group show. Sharing a space at 661 N. Spaulding will be Heather Rose’s color photography layered negatives, Jeremy Oberstein’s combined photographic images, Joseph Mamos’ watercolors, Moshe Hammer’s illustrated Hebrew calligraphy, Yoshimi Hashimoto’s photo-based imagery and Zlata’s acrylic and oils.

Noon-5 p.m. (Tues., Thurs., Sun., or by appointment.) JAN Gallery, 661 N. Spaulding, Los Angeles. (562) 547-9078. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Wednesday, May 10

This month, the American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre solutes the comic works of favorite nebbish Woody Allen. Tonight, catch his classic comic fantasy, “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” about a depression-era waitress’ love affair with a matinee idol. Screenings of “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)” are scheduled for later in May.

7:30 p.m. $6-$9. 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (323) 466-3456. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday, May 11

Hope Edelman, author of “Motherless Daughters,” visits Village Books this evening, to discuss her new follow-up book, “Motherless Mothers.” Attend the book signing to hear her talk about the experience of motherless women when they become mothers themselves.

7:30 p.m. Free. Village Books, 1049 Swarthmore Ave., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4063.

Friday, May 12

Opening this week is the Zimmer Children’s Museum’s latest exhibition, “show & tell: the art of time” Seventy-eight artists, humanitarians and social activists created unique, often whimsical sculptures playing on the theme of “time.” The pieces will be auctioned off at the May 7 opening reception, to benefit youTHINK public school art and education program, but will remain on view through June 9.

Open Tues.-Thurs., and by special arrangement by calling Carrie Jacoves, (323) 761-8992. $3 (ages 3-12), $5 (adults), Free (ages 2 and under, and grandparents accompanying a grandchild). Zimmer Museum and Jewish Federation Bell Family Gallery, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8990. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Defy Gravity

Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld and I shook hands 20 minutes before we were to jump out of an airplane together at 12,500 feet. It would be my first solo jump. Dan has made some 23,000 — he’s stopped counting except by the thousands.

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Brodsky-Chenfeld smiling as the author falls to earth.


I came to the Perris Skydiving Center, at the eastern end of Riverside County, for two reasons. A publicist for the center had contacted me to promote the National Skydiving Championships, to be held there over Labor Day.

“What,” I asked, “does that have to do with The Jewish Journal?”

“Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld,” the publicist said.

The other reason I came to the skydiving center was to do something I’d always wanted to do: jump.

The chance to make my first jump under the guidance of Brodsky-Chenfeld, who happens to be Jewish, was worth challenging my wife’s strict no-skydiving-while-still-a-father rule. Brodsky-Chenfeld has won 16 national and eight international championships. In a sport that demands athleticism and death-defying cool, Brodsky-Chenfeld is world-renowned. In the skydiving world, he’s known as Dan B.C.

“He draws the best competitors from all over the world,” said Larry Bagley, who oversees competition for the United States Parachutist Association. “You think: Dan B.C. is the person I want to be when I grow up, if I ever grow up.”

That Dan B.C. is Jewish has to be counterintuitive. Take away the short, illustrious history of Israeli combat paratroopers, and you won’t find many Jews jumping out of airplanes. History has taught us that danger will find us soon enough without our having to chase it.

“My parents,” he told me as we walked toward the small, waiting airplane, “yeah, they probably prefer I did something else.”

Family lore has it that Brodsky-Chenfeld, who is 43, was jumping off his bunk bed as a 5-year-old growing up in Columbus, Ohio, using his pillowcase as a parachute. He got his first real opportunity at 18, at Ohio State University, and he was hooked. Soon he was running a nearby drop zone, working his way up the ranks of divers in the nascent sport of skydiving.

Competitive skydiving looks like daredevilry, but Brodsky-Chenfeld and others are out to prove it is a demanding competition, as deserving of Olympic status as skiing or gymnastics.

“All people usually see are the stunts,” Brodsky-Chenfeld said. “They never see the sport.”

Divers exit the plane going 90-100 m.p.h. at 12,000 feet. As their bodies reach terminal velocity, 120 m.p.h., they begin a series of timed maneuvers, building human formations of four to 16 divers in a required sequence. Plummeting toward the ground at 200 feet per second, they guide their bodies into place with tremendous delicacy and discipline. They must do all this in 35-50 seconds — then separate, pull their ripcords and land.

A photographer, who is part of the jump team, records the formation for the judges, who determine winners on a point system. At the Labor Day weekend competition at Perris Valley Skydiving, visitors can watch 750 skydivers compete in 26 events — the largest national event in history.

“You can fly up there,” Brodsky-Chenfeld said. “You can go forward, backward, spin around. You surf the air like you surf water.”

The sport involves rigorous physical conditioning combined with meditation. Since divers get very little actual airtime to practice, they rehearse on the ground and push themselves to visualize linking sequences in their minds. Brodsky-Chenfeld, who is general manager of the skydiving center, also trains teams from around the world, including Israel.

He’s proud of that, and of the Star of David configuration he organized at the Los Angeles Jewish Festival in 1996 — 48 skydivers jumping from three planes. Until last year, he also held the record for organizing the world’s largest link-up: 300 divers from 14 planes.

But the challenge of the sport itself is his primary passion, and Brodsky-Chenfeld combines an athlete’s well-muscled frame with a calm, confident Zen-master demeanor.

As he walks me toward the waiting airplane, I look down and notice he is wearing sandals.

My skydiving instruction — which the skydiving center paid for — began in front of a video monitor in a small room. On screen, a lawyer with no discernable personality –“I represent the skydiving school. I am not your lawyer” — informed me that skydiving can lead to serious injury or death. By signing the eight-page waiver, he said, I cannot sue, and if I do sue, I most likely will not recover damages, and that, if I am able to win damages, I must understand the school is not insured.

“Now that I’ve covered all the grim legal aspects,” the lawyer concludes, “why don’t you go and have some fun and be safe.”

You can do a tandem dive harnessed to an instructor, or you can take a four-hour course, then jump accompanied by, but not attached to, two jumpmasters. I chose the latter, and paid very, very careful attention.

“The ground can come up on you very fast,” instructor Josh Hall said. “Skydivers think a lot about the ground.”

Landings, though, are soft, thanks to a new generation of glider-like parachutes. Those old mushroom shaped ones, Hall explained, created nothing but “human lawn darts.”

Brodsky-Chenfeld and my other jumpmaster, Kai Wolf, told me the key is to breathe and relax. They smiled a lot and took deep, exaggerated breaths. Other than the fact that I was wearing a jumpsuit and a parachute pack in an airplane whose side door slid wide open at 8,000 feet, it was just like a Pilates class.

I’d done my research and knew, rationally, that skydiving was somewhat safer than general aviation, but certainly less safe than not skydiving.

“Think about it,” Larry Bagley said later. “There’s a slim chance that it’s his turn and your turn to go at the same time.”

On April 22, 1992, Brodsky-Chenfeld and 22 other skydivers climbed into a de Havilland Twin Otter at Perris Valley, ready for another round of practice. At 700 feet, water in the fuel supply stalled the engine and the plane plummeted nose first into the ground. The pilot and 15 skydivers died — one of the worst aircraft accidents in skydiving history.

Brodsky-Chenfeld was pulled from the wreckage. He suffered a broken neck, a collapsed lung, numerous broken bones and internal injuries. His close friend James Layne, sitting across from him in the airplane, died instantly.

Brodsky-Chenfeld spent six weeks in a coma, and has no recollection of the crash.

In the hospital he’d lost 40 pounds, and wore a halo screwed into his skull to limit his movements while his broken back tried to heal. A wrong move or a fall could have paralyzed him for life, let alone jumping again out of an airplane.

“There was never any doubt in my mind that if I could physically do it, I would,” he said. “It’s the job I love.”

Just months later, Brodsky-Chenfeld, still in a neck brace, began competing. His team, Arizona Airspeed, took the bronze in the November 1992 Nationals. In 1995, Airspeed beat its trans-Atlantic archrivals, the French Excaliburs, to win an international gold medal.

If it sounds like the movie “Rocky,” it reads like it, too — a screenplay of Brodsky-Chenfeld’s ordeal has begun circulating through town.

Brodsky-Chenfeld said the accident didn’t change his view of skydiving, but of living.

“I understood how fragile it all is,” he said. “I woke up in a different world than the one I passed out in. There were people gone whom I was close to. So you learn to make sure you get the most out of each moment, and make sure the people who mean the most to you know they do.”

Brodsky-Chenfeld met his wife, Kristi, when she came to him for skydiving lessons She went on to make more than 300 jumps, but left the sport when she became pregnant with their first child. He carts around his two children, ages 10 and 6, in a white Volvo station wagon.

“It’s a safe car,” he explained.

I have two children, too, and they’re the last images in my mind before I leap out between Brodsky-Chenfeld and Wolf, into the air.

The feeling is indescribable — a sensation of flying, not falling. My mind frizzes between sensory overload, sheer terror, and wonder.

A videographer, Mike Kindsvater, is circling me with a camera. When I watch later, I’ll see my lips frozen in fear, and Brodsky-Chenfeld, smiling broadly.

At 5,000 feet I wave the instructors away, pull my cord and swing upward, suspended by my thankfully perfect chute. I spend the five-minute float down uttering prayers of thanksgiving, curses and exultations.

When I land, I want to take the next plane up and do it again.

I told this to Dan B.C.

“Yeah,” he said. “You have to get up there to understand.”

The USPA National Skydiving Championships will be held Aug. 23-Sept. 11. For more information, visit www.skydiveperris.com or call (800) 759-3483.