President Donald Trump signs the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, at the White House in Washington D.C., U.S. December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Trump Spars with Dem Senators on Twitter


President Trump’s tweeting is in the news yet again, this time involving a Twitter feud between the president and a couple of female Democratic senators.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) drew the ire of Trump after she called for an investigation into the sexual harassment claims against the president. Trump retaliated by tweeting that Gillibrand is a “lightweight” who “would do anything for” campaign contributions:

The Left pounced on Trump’s tweet by claiming it was sexist and implied that Gillibrand was willing to perform sexual favors for campaign contributions:

In the last tweet by Warren, some took notice of Warren’s use of the term “slut-shaming.”

Gillibrand responded to Trump’s tweet by stating, “It was a sexist smear attempting to silence my voice, and I will not be silenced on this issue. Neither will the women who stood up to the president yesterday.”

Others dispute the notion that there was any sexism in Trump’s tweet, pointing to how Trump has used similar rhetoric toward the likes of Mitt Romney and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

In the wake of Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) resignation announcement, the Democrats are rallying behind the notion that Trump should resign given that he is accused of sexual harassment by multiple women. Gillibrand told CNN on Monday, “President Trump has committed assault, according to these women, and those are very credible allegations of misconduct and criminal activity, and he should be fully investigated and he should resign. These allegations are credible; they are numerous. I’ve heard these women’s testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking.”

Trump has denied the accusations.

U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) arrives at the U.S. Senate to announce his resignation over allegatons of sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Al Franken Announces His Intent to Resign


Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) announced on Thursday that he plans on resigning from his Senate seat in wake of the multiple sexual harassment allegations against him.

On the floor of the Senate, Franken said he was “shocked” and “upset” by the allegations.

“Some of the allegations against me are simply not true,” said Franken. “Others, I remember very differently.”

Despite the allegations, Franken declared that he is “a champion of women.”

“I have earned a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside everyday,” said Franken. “I know there’s been a very different picture of me painted over the last few weeks, but I know who I really am.”

And yet, Franken said he would resign “in the coming weeks.”

“I of all people am aware there is some irony in the fact I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said in a clear jab toward President Trump and Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. “But this decision is not about me. It’s about the people of Minnesota.”

Franken added, “It has become clear that I can’t both pursue the ethics committee process and at the same time remain an effective senator for them.”

The Minnesota senator concluded by stating that he would be an advocate for progressivism outside of the Senate and that he took pride in his record as a senator.

“I know that the work I’ve been able to do has improved people’s lives,” said Franken. “I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”

One of Franken’s accusers, U.S. Army veteran Stephanie Kemplin, told MSNBC that she was “sad and appalled” that Franken didn’t apologize and take responsibility for his actions.

“He just keeps passing the buck and making it out to be… that we took his behavior the wrong way, or we misconstrued something, or just flat-out lied about what happened to us,” said Kemplin. “Justice to me would be him owning up to what he did and him to stop trying to pass the buck to individuals who possibly committed the same things, possibly more heinous, than what he’s done.”

Kemplin is one of eight women who have leveled sexual harassment allegations against Franken, which include groping and forcing a kiss onto various women.

As the accusations have mounted against Franken, Senate Democrats eventually called on him to step down. Some believe that it was a political tactic by the Democrats to corner the GOP on their support of Trump and Moore.

Photos from Reuters.

Roy and Al


So, now we know.

We know that credibility of accusers is less important than political identity of the accused.

We know that the extent of criminality is less important than how the accused criminal votes on matters of key importance. We know that standards don’t apply to our elected officials. That’s the clear and transparent message from elected officials and commentators of both political sides this month.

On the right, the refusal to hold Alabama Senate Republican nominee Roy Moore accountable for highly credible allegations of molestation of underage girls has captured national headlines. And it should: Top members of the party that suggested that Bill Clinton had to leave office thanks to his sexual misconduct are suddenly coy about whether Moore ought to step down.

Make no mistake: He should. His female accusers haven’t just told their stories, they’ve provided verifiable details, and Moore has offered no serious defense other than half-hearted accusations of forgeries and suggestions that he’s never even met the women.

Were the situation reversed, there’s little doubt that Republicans would be calling for Moore’s head.

In fact, the situations are reversed. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), it turns out, was photographed years ago as he apparently groped a woman named Leeann Tweeden as she slept. He also used a rehearsal to allegedly ram his tongue down her throat. Franken, who has sounded off routinely on the evils of sexual harassment, allegedly wasn’t above engaging in some of that himself.

And the same Democrats who have called for Moore to step down are defending Franken — or at least tacitly letting him off the hook. Most Democrats have suggested a Senate ethics committee investigation, the political version of a toothless tiger: From 2007 to 2016, despite 613 matters referred to the committee, zero sanctions have been put in place by that body. There’s a reason Franken himself has called for such an ethics committee investigation.

The defenses for Moore and Franken are identical — they’re both too valuable to their parties to go. Moore’s defenders will sometimes admit, in moments of clarity, that they don’t care about the allegations against him; he’ll be a vote in favor of their priorities. And Franken’s defenders do the same. They say that if Franken goes, that may pave the way for the ouster of other Democratic politicians — and it’s not worth fighting sexual assault and harassment just to turn over the Senate to those Neanderthal Republicans.

On both sides, the only people we’re comfortable condemning are those who are no longer useful to us politically. You haven’t heard any right-wing defenses of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert or former Sen. Larry Craig lately. And on the left, it’s little trouble to admit that Ted Kennedy was evil in his treatment of women — eight years after his death. And it’s no trouble for Democrats to finally come around to the conclusion that Bill Clinton was a cad and a probable sexual assailant — he lost his utility right around the time Hillary Clinton lost her election bid.

Sure, Democrats of the time called Republicans puritanical for suggesting that Clinton had somehow mistreated Monica Lewinsky, and protested deafeningly when Donald Trump brought up Juanita Broaddrick during the 2016 cycle. But now we’re supposed to take them seriously — if they could do it all over again, they would have stood against Bill’s sexual malfeasance.

Are we defending politicians because we believe they’re innocent, or because it’s convenient for us to think they are?

Riiiiight.

So, what should we, Americans who purportedly care about morality, do? We need to examine our motives. Are we defending politicians because we believe they’re innocent, or because it’s convenient for us to think they are? Are we willing to take a temporary political hit on behalf of a better country — and, yes, better candidates? Or are we so ensconced in the false binary of momentary politics that we’re willing to have a Senate full of alleged child molesters and sexual assaulters?

The answer is probably the latter. If so, let’s be big enough to admit it, instead of using mistreatment of women as a club to beat our enemies, while ignoring it to suit our friends. Otherwise, we’re not just part of the problem — we’re hypocrites, to boot.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the conservative podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

FILE PHOTO: Senator Al Franken (D-MN) listens during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

Another Woman Accuses Al Franken of Groping


Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) is facing another groping accusation, as a woman is claiming that he grabbed her buttocks in 2010.

The woman, 33-year-old Lindsay Menz, told CNN that she and her husband, Jeremy, approached Franken at the Minnesota State Fair to help promote a local radio booth that Menz’s dad’s business was sponsoring. When Jeremy took a picture of his wife with Franken, Menz alleges that Franken “put his hand full-fledged on my rear.”

“It wasn’t around my waist,” said Menz. “It wasn’t around my hip or side. It was definitely on my butt.”

Menz said she “felt gross” afterward.

“It’d be like being walking through the mall and some random person grabbing your butt,” said Menz. “You just feel gross. Like ew, I want to wash that off of me.”

Jeremy said he couldn’t see what Franken did to his wife behind her, but he did see that Franken “pulled her in and pushed his head against her head.” By the time his wife told him about what Franken did, the senator was already gone.

On Thursday, Franken was accused by radio host Leeann Tweeden of groping her while she was sleeping – which she supplied photo evidence of – as well as forcibly kissing her and sticking his tongue down her throat. Menz said that while her Franken incident wasn’t as bad as Tweeden’s, she felt like she needed to speak out.

“If someone sees that I said something, maybe it would give them the courage to say something too,” said Menz.

Franken said in a statement to CNN that he had no recollection of the photo he took with Menz.

“I take thousands of photos at the state fair surrounded by hundreds of people, and I certainly don’t remember taking this picture,” said Franken. “I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected.”

CNN contributor Sally Kohn tweeted on Monday that it was time for Franken to leave from his position as senator.

On Sunday, a staffer to Franken told the Star Tribune that the senator had zero intention of stepping down.

U.S. Senator Al Franken buries his head in his hands after an exchange with Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch as he testifies before a Senate Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee hearing on how Russia allegedly used their services to try to sway the 2016 U.S. elections, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Sen. Al Franken Accused of Kissing, Groping Woman Without Consent


Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) is the latest public figure to face accusations of sexual misconduct, as a woman is now accusing Franken of kissing and groping her without her consent.

Leeann Tweeden, a radio host at KABC 790, wrote that in 2006, she was on a United Services Organization (USO) tour and Franken was the main act. Backstage, Franken repeatedly insisted that he and Tweeden needed to rehearse part of the act that involved them kissing. Tweeden resisted, but eventually said “ok” to get Franken to stop his insisting.

“We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth,” wrote Tweeden. “I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time.”

Tweeden went on to say that she “felt disgusted and violated.”

When the tour had ended, Tweeden discovered a photo of Franken groping her while she was sleeping:

Tweeden was furious, but she was initially afraid to speak out and jeopardize her broadcasting aspirations. That fear is now gone.

“Senator Franken, you wrote the script,” wrote Tweeden. “But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault.”

Franken issued a statement offering his “sincerest apologies” to Tweeden.

“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” said Franken. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is now advocating for an ethics investigation into Franken.

“Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable—in the workplace or anywhere else,” said McConnell.

Photo from Reuters

Sen. Al Franken is back to telling jokes


U.S. Senator Al Franken’s high-profile grilling of several of President Trump’s nominees earlier this year thrust him into the spotlight. His tough questioning of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions led many in Washington to wonder whether the Minnesota Democrat and former comedian has higher aspirations, perhaps even to the White House.

A newly released memoir, cheekily titled “Al Franken: Giant of the Senate,” has only added fuel to the idea. It’s hardly the policy-heavy tome that would suggest a serious bid, but Franken, one of eight Jews in the Senate, does lay out a progressive agenda for Democrats. He also reviews his own unlikely career path, from performer of absurdist satire to longtime writer and cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” followed by a three-hour daily radio show on Air America and several bestselling books that debunk right-wing conservative statements.

In the book Franken recounts his contentious campaign against Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in 2008, an election he won by just 312 votes, and his fight for reelection in 2014. The book also covers the 2016 presidential election and Franken’s opposition to President Trump and his administration’s policies.

In an interview with the Jewish Journal before his appearance July 8 at Live Talks LA with Chelsea Handler, Franken reflected on his journey and what comes next. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you decide to write this memoir?

After I was re-elected — and the first election was very, very close — the second one, I felt that the people of Minnesota got that I was a serious senator and a workhorse, and I felt like I could loosen up a little. And then in August of 2015 my wife and I were going to have our first vacation in years, just the two of us, at a lodge in northern Minnesota. And after that we were going to go to Africa on a Congressional Delegation trip (CODEL), which was going to be a little arduous. And I got to where the lodge was and she just said she couldn’t come because she was sick and wanted to get well for the CODEL.

So I was there at the lodge, I had five days, and I had told myself that I was going to write about all this at some point. And I thought, well, I’m going to start writing. I thought it could end up like The Shining, or it could work out. It was a lot of fun and it also helped me think about how I was approaching my job. It really just happened because my wife had a terrible cold.

Did you have any grand revelations while you were writing the book about your life and your role in the Senate?

It clarified my thinking about the role of the staff and the role of the Senator and also about what happened during the period between when I got there and when the Republicans took the majority. I was surprised when Trump won, of course, and I was about 90 percent done with the book. So I had to do a little revamping. It helped me think about my books about people lying, and my race in 2008 and being attacked for things I had written. And Trump somehow got elected, even bragging about things like sexual assault. And so it was really helpful for me to get perspective on where we are right now.

In the book you talk about how when you were deciding whether to run for Senate, you were concerned that you didn’t have the political experience. Now you see somebody like President Trump who has no political experience rising to power. In writing the book do you feel like you have a better sense of why Trump was elected?

I think that there’s been a culmination of things that I’ve been part of or witness to, or have critiqued. The books I wrote on Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich and on Fox are really about how our political discourse has coarsened and also how lying became somehow acceptable, and almost normative. Especially, I think, on the right. And how we started getting parallel universes where people are getting news that confirms their bias. And so we got to this extreme point where we are today, where we have a president calling the news media fake, and we have Americans divided by where they get their information.

Given your years of charting lies among the political right, did it surprise you that Trump won?

I was surprised, but I did also have an inkling. On Election Day I went on “Morning Joe” and I remember, I was right after former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, and she was celebrating already. And I was going, like, no, no, no, no. I’m the poster boy for close elections. Every Democrat better get out and vote. So I was nervous. It was a sinking feeling during the whole day. I didn’t think that was going to happen, but I was nervous that it would. And here we are.

Are you worried that the Democrats are spending too much time attacking Trump and too little time offering an alternative vision that might get voters excited for the midterm elections and for 2020?

I think you can do both at the same time. We definitely have to show an alternative vision. In terms of the Trump investigation and now that we have a special prosecutor, I’m on the Judiciary Committee and we’re going to ask Jeff Sessions to come appear before us again. There’s a role we have to play and there’s a role for both intelligence committees. But we’ve got to trust the special prosecutor is going to also do his job.

Our job is to have an alternate vision to what Republicans are giving us, and I think I do that in the book. I talk about Paul Wellstone and the concept of “we all do better when we all do better.” The press seems to want to also focus on Trump and to some extent it’s hard for us to get traction with the policies that we are putting out there.

In the last few months you have become well known for asking tough questions during Senate hearings. How did you prepare for the DeVos and Sessions and Gorsuch confirmation hearings?

Well, they were each a little different. With DeVos, I had a courtesy meeting with her. Before the courtesy meeting, I had heard from a few of my colleagues that had already met with her and basically I got the word that she wasn’t very well versed on education policy. And considering she was the nominee for education secretary, I was curious about that. And when we had our meeting I was actually very surprised at how little she knew. So mainly I just prepared a question about something incredibly basic in education policy, which is the growth versus proficiency argument. This is something that every teacher, every principal, every superintendent, every school board member and most parents know about. And when I asked the question it turned out to be a viral moment because she just had no clue about this very, very basic debate within education circles on how to hold schools accountable.

On Gorsuch it was reading the cases and his opinions. He’s been preparing all his adult life but I didn’t particularly buy his presentation of himself. This whole thing about “I go to the law,” it seems like he has a lot of pre-determined ideas of what the law says. And it seems like he doesn’t really believe in precedent. And he also has some very odd rulings, for example in the truck driver case. That was incredibly bizarre as far as I was concerned and I focused on that because of the frozen truck driver.

Conservatives accused you of political grandstanding. They said that the tough line of questioning was about you advancing your career. How do you reply to those accusations?

I actually hadn’t heard that. I thought they were really good questions. With Sessions, he filled out a questionnaire that the committee had given him asking him to talk about the 10 most important cases he had been personally engaged in. And he named four civil rights cases that it turned out he wasn’t engaged in. And so I thought that was a good line of questioning. I think that every line of questioning of mine was legitimate. And I hadn’t really heard that criticism.

A lot of interviewers have asked you about your presidential ambitions, which you’ve unequivocally disavowed. But have you given it any thought?

Well, I’ve given some thought to it because everyone keeps asking me about it. But I just don’t think that that’s something I want to do. I like the job I have. I like representing the people of Minnesota. And in 2020 I expect to run for reelection.

There’s been a lot of talk of impeachment with President Trump and you’ve expressed concern about what a Pence presidency might look like. Would you prefer that we have Trump for at least the duration of his first term?

Well, that’s not up to me. I think that’s going to be more about what the special prosecutor Bob Mueller finds. And I think we should let that take care of itself. I do believe that those of us on Judiciary have a role to play. I believe that those on the Intelligence Committee in the House and the Intelligence Committee in the Senate have a role to play in the investigation. I think part of that role should be determining how we can prevent this from happening again, prevent the Russians from interfering in our elections. I think that’s the primary goal of all those committees. But the special prosecutor is the one who I think will determine whether we have a there there on prosecuting people who were in the Trump campaign or associates of Trump and whether it gets to Trump himself.

I’d rather we actually not let them do this healthcare bill. And that’s where I’m really putting a lot of my energy and focus right now. That would be a terrible, cruel move on their part to take health care from people who need it the most and give a tax cut to people who need it the least.

I imagine your constituents in Minnesota are expressing a lot of concern about that right now.

Yeah. And a lot of them live in areas that Trump did very well in. And I’m co-chair of the Rural Health Caucus so I’ve been around my state hearing from them, and this frightens them, frankly.

In your interview with Marc Maron on the podcast WTF, you said you are “very Jewish but not devout.” In what ways do you think of yourself as very Jewish?

Well I think that’s an accurate statement. I’m not devout in the sense that I observe all the holidays. You know, I observe the High Holy days. I’m a Reform Jew, what can I say.

But I culturally am extremely Jewish. I think part of it has to do with, there’s a lot of Jewish comedians, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it seems to be part of the culture.

I identify very much as a Jew. I had that very much pounded into my head. I was born in 1951 so not long after the Holocaust and that Jewish identity means a lot to me. I married out of the faith, I married a Catholic girl, but our kids are half Irish Catholic and half European Ashkenazi Jew. But they really see themselves as Jews. My daughter had a very Jewish wedding and she and her husband are raising their kids Jewish. My son married a woman who’s also half Jewish, and they identify themselves as a Jewish family. So it’s a bit of a cultural identity. I mean, my son lives on the Upper West Side, for god’s sake. They’re within spitting distance of Zabar’s.

You grew up in St. Louis Park, a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis.

Yeah, I grew up in the Jewish suburb of Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, which produced Tom Friedman, Norm Ornstein, the Coen brothers, and me, among others. It’s not that weird if you think about it because this is show business and journalism and academia. That’s not so odd for Jews.

Let me ask you something about your Saturday Night Live career. You’re probably best known for your character Stuart Smalley, which came out of going to Al-Anon meetings because your wife Franni and your writing partner Tom Davis were both struggling with addiction. You write in the book that Tom hated the character Stuart Smalley. What did Franni think of it?

Franni liked the character. You know AA and Al-Anon are very different. I mean they’re entirely the same but very different. There is a lot of the same language and slogans and basic thought that goes into it. It’s recovery and all 12-step programs have something in common. But she liked it a lot. She understood it and she wasn’t defensive about her addiction like Tom was. Tom didn’t like it because it was challenging to him.

Not only was she not defensive about her addiction, but she actually opened up about her struggle with alcoholism in an ad that aired during your 2008 Senate race. How did that decision come about and what impact do you think it had on the race?

Well, I write a chapter called “Franni Saves the Campaign.” So I think it made all the difference in the race. It basically was a very, very nasty campaign. As I write in the book, they took everything I had ever done in comedy and put it through the “DeHumorizer.” They made me out to be something I wasn’t, and she knew it and she wanted to talk about how I had supported her. And she did an ad that was incredibly effective. Two days after the ad aired we had a debate in a big gymnasium and it was full, with people on the floor and in the bleachers, and she got a standing ovation when she entered the room. So it made an enormous difference in terms of the way voters perceived me.

SNL is enjoying a resurgence right now because of the Trump administration. Do you still watch it and how do you feel about its portrayal of the White House?

I think they started getting their sea legs before the election. I think that the debates were really funny. Kate McKinnon’s Hillary was a very funny take on her and captured something about her. As I write in the book, we didn’t feel the job of the show was to take sides. And a good satirical show will take on the president. And this guy and the people around him, there’s a lot to work with. But I think the show has had a very good year, even taking away the political satire. I think Lorne [Michaels] made some really wise decisions about who he kept.

I think writing and performing have equal weight. The show always works best when both the writing and performing not only are strong but one doesn’t dominate. Because when the cast dominates you get a lot of the same recurring characters over and over again until you get sick of them. And when the writers dominate you get a lot of stuff that the writers find interesting, and the audience doesn’t find either interesting or funny. So I just think it’s been a good season all around. The Sean Spicer that Melissa McCarthy did was just, I saw that live and I went, oh my goodness, this is an instant classic. Hilarious. That was a spectacular moment of the show.

Will we see you on SNL anytime soon? Possibly hosting the show?

I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s in the cards.

You write often in the book about your need to bite your tongue as a senator. Do you feel like you’re able to let loose a little bit more now that you’ve put some time into the Senate?

Yeah. I felt like after my reelection, it actually turned out to be a bad year for Democrats and I won by over 10 points. And I felt like, not vindicated, but I felt like people in Minnesota got that I was very serious about the job and that I had been working very hard on their behalf. I had been very self-conscious about not being funny when I first got there because so much of the campaign had been about me as a comedian and putting my material through the “DeHumorizer.” I felt freer after the 2014 election. And this book wouldn’t have been possible, of course, in the first term.

(L-R) Vocal soloists Kevin Earley and Annalise Staudt, and organist Philip Smith will be playing classics by Rodgers and Hammerstein at Disney Hall on Sunday. Photo courtesy of California Philharmonic.

Calendar July 7-13: Disney Hall, Franken + Handler, and Shabbat Under the Stars


FRI JULY 7

“Never Long Enough” Book Signing

In their new book, “Never Long Enough: Finding Comfort and Hope Amidst Grief and Loss,” Rabbi Joseph H. Krakoff, who will hold this book signing, and artist Michelle Y. Sider have brought together their many years of professional expertise to create an interactive keepsake for families and friends to be read along with someone nearing the end of life (or read by mourners after a death). 10 a.m. Free. Label’s Table Deli, 9226 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (248) 592-2684.

SHABBAT UNDER THE STARS

Join 100 young Jewish professionals by the pool for an open bar and a four-course dinner. The Young Jewish Professionals of Los Angeles Shabbat dinners bring together a diverse group of people to connect and network over a meal. 7 p.m. $50; tickets available at eventbrite.com. Address provided upon RSVP; location is in Hancock Park. yjplosangeles.com.

SAT JULY 8

“ANNIE KORZEN Famous Actress”

Annie Korzen, best known for her role as Doris Klompus, Jerry Seinfeld’s parents’ next-door neighbor on “Seinfeld,” will perform a show she has written about her hectic and eclectic life. In “Annie Korzen Famous Actress,” Korzen tackles poignant personal issues and divulges stories about the road she has traveled as an actress. 8 p.m. Tickets start at $30. Through Aug. 13. The Braid, 2912 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica. (800) 838-3006. jewishwomenstheatre.org.

SEN. AL FRANKEN AND CHELSEA HANDLER

U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) presents his new book, “Giant of the Senate,” the story of an award-winning comedian who runs for office and discovers why award-winning comedians tend not to follow that path. The book shares the story of an unlikely campaign that had an even more improbable ending: the closest election outcome in Sentate history and an unprecedented eight-month recount saga. In this candid personal memoir, Frankin goes behind the scenes of some of the most dramatic and hilarious moments of his new career in politics. He will be in conversation with comic and talk show host Chelsea Handler. Tickets include a copy of the book; book signing to follow the talk. 8 p.m. Tickets start at $45. The Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. (818) 243-2539. livetalksla.org.

“THE RABBI’S MISSION”

A rabbi’s life gets really interesting when two women visit his office — one his former girlfriend, the other a younger woman who is engaged. This humorous stage production examines the thorny topic of what makes someone Jewish. “The Rabbi’s Mission” is the sequel to “The Rabbi & the Shiksa.” Written and directed by Art Shulman. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Aug. 27. $24; $18 for seniors; $10 for students younger than 26. T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood. (818) 285-8699. therabbismission.com.

SUN JULY 9

“RODGERS, HAMMERSTEIN AND THE ORGAN”

Composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II are perhaps the most beloved songwriting duo of all time. During this concert, the California Philharmonic, along with vocal soloists Annalise Staudt and Kevin Earley, will take their audience down Broadway with hit songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, including “Oklahoma!” “The Sound of Music” and “The King and I.” The concert also will feature the powerful Walt Disney Concert Hall organ, with organist Philip Smith playing the beautiful “Organ Symphony” by Camille Saint-Saens and the rarely performed “Festival Prelude” by Richard Strauss. 2 p.m. Tickets start at $30. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 850-2000. calphil.com.

GRAPPLING WITH THE GREAT WAR: SEARCHING FOR SGT. KAUFFMAN

On Sept. 26, 1918, U.S. Army Sgt. Joseph Leon Kauffman, who was just shy of his 23rd birthday, was killed by a shell and buried where he lay during the heavy fighting in the Battle of the Argonne Forest in France. Nearly 100 years after his death, the story of Kauffman essentially was unknown until journalist Edmon J. Rodman saw his name in a stained-glass window honoring alumni of Los Angeles High School who died in World War I. This sent Rodman on a journey of discovery that eventually brought him to the Homestead Museum. Hear the story of Kauffman as told by Rodman and museum director Paul R. Spitzzeri. 2 p.m. Free. Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, 15415 E. Don Julian Road, City of Industry. (626) 968-8492. homesteadmuseum.org.

AUTHOR BETHANY BALL

Bethany Ball will discuss and sign her debut novel, “What to Do About the Solomons.” The book, with razor-sharp humor, tells the story of Marc Solomon, an Israeli ex-navy commando now living in Los Angeles, who is falsely accused of money laundering. As the Solomons’ Santa Monica home is raided, Marc’s American wife, Carolyn, attempts to hold their family of five together while concealing her own dark past. As secrets and rumors are revealed through various memories, tales and interactions with family and friends, readers witness the things that keep the Solomons together and those that tear them apart. 4 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. booksoup.com.

“SOLOMON: KING, POET & LOVER — A TALE OF ONE MAN & 700 WIVES”

See the show that won the Hollywood Fringe Festival’s Encore Producer’s Award. This hourlong one-man play about power, women and religion takes you on a satirical roller-coaster ride through the life of King Solomon. Marcus J. Freed plays the wise king, his 700 wives, 300 concubines and court counsel, morphing into the many characters while incorporating gymnastics, break

dancing and rap into the traditional theater format. 7:30 p.m. $10. Asylum@Studio C, 6448 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. solomonplay.com.

THURS JULY 13

“PRIMO PASSO”

Los Angeles native Daniel Ezralow returns to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts to premiere “Primo Passo,” which is Italian for “first step.” This deeply personal dance work is a career retrospective in which Ezralow revisits his works to explore their initial artistic impulse. Whether he’s creating modern dances or choreographing for Broadway, all dances begin with the first step. 8 p.m. Additional performance on July 14; 8 p.m. Tickets start at $39. Wallis Annenberg Center, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 746-4000. thewallis.org. 

Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, right, presents U.S. President Donald Trump with the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal on May 20. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Increasing Democrat disapproval for Saudi arms sale


After the Trump administration signed a $110 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, Senate Democrats are expressing growing concern over the arms agreement before today’s expected vote of disapproval. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced S.J. Resolution 42 back in April to provide limitations on the transfer of air-ground munitions from US to Saudi Arabia.

Speaking from the Senate Subway on Wednesday, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told Jewish Insider, that he will be joining Murphy and Paul in disapproval of the agreement.  Referring to the ongoing Saudi military campaign in Yemen, Van Hollen noted, “I believe that the sale of those weapons will simply prolong humanitarian crisis rather than resolve it.”

Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ben Cardin (D-MD) also announced that he will be backing the S.J. Resolution 42. “I have not been able to get satisfactory explanations from our administration in how they are monitoring the human rights issues in regards to the Saudis as well as their long term plans in arming the Middle East. This is part of a long range of arm sale,” Cardin told Jewish Insider.

Despite not directly impacting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, J Street has come out strongly against the weapons agreement. “Saudi Arabia is currently engaged in a bombing campaign in Yemen that has cost thousands of civilian lives. And it’s not simply a matter of collateral damage: UN experts say some of the worst civilian death tolls have occurred during strikes with no legitimate military target,” J Street emphasized in a statement.

For different reasons, AIPAC has also urged caution regarding the Trump administration’s deal. Calling on Members of Congress to scrutinize the deal, AIPAC says the “sale could dwarf Israel’s defense spending over the same period, including the $38 billion in pledged US security assistance.” The pro-Israel lobby expressed concern that the agreement could hurt Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME).

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), one of the party’s most passionate advocates for human rights in the Middle East, explained that he would not be joining with Paul and Murphy on the resolution of disapproval. The Arizona lawmaker told Jewish Insider, “It’s important for our National Security as we see the Iranians killing Americans and an Iranian (campaign) in Yemen killing innocent men, women and children. I believe the best way to bring about progress is to continue the pressure that I have been exerting upon them for years.”

While explaining that he would back the Saudi Arabian Arms deal, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) stressed, “I hope it will be carefully monitored.” Noting the massive civilian casualties in Yemen, Rubio added, “If they (Saudi Arabia) continue to use it in that manner, we’re going to have a big problem with it. I have a huge problem with Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. But, the pragmatism of the region is one of the considerations.”

However, for many Democrats realpolitik is not a convincing enough reason to support a massive arms deal to Saudi Arabia. “Selling the Saudis precision-guided munitions that are going to be used to target civilians makes us complicit in this humanitarian and national security disaster. Saudi Arabia needs to see that there will be consequences if they ignore U.S. demands and target civilian infrastructure,” Murphy explained.

Republican Senator Todd Young (R-IN), Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) have all co-signed the resolution among others. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted that he is “inclined to support” the resolution. While it appears that Murphy and Paul’s resolution will likely be defeated given the overwhelming Republican backing, the growing support among influential Democrats for limiting arms sales to a major US ally signals a changing policy towards Saudi Arabia and an increasing willingness of Senate Democrats to invoke human rights concerns in critical foreign policy decisions.

Bernie Sanders speaks at the Saban Theatre on May 7. Photo by Marnie Sehayek

Bernie Sanders promotes his ‘revolution’ in Beverly Hills speech


The line stretched around the block to see Bernie Sanders at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on May 7, and the independent senator from Vermont did not disappoint a sold-out crowd of 1,700.

The former presidential candidate combined what sounded like a stump speech with a postmortem on the 2016 election and a battle cry for progressives moving forward under a Republican presidency.

Part of the reason President Donald Trump won the election is that “Democrats and the media did not fully appreciate or feel the pain being experienced by many, many millions across the country,” Sanders said.

The speech signaled that even after losing the Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton, Sanders intends to remain active in national politics. He was the first Jewish candidate to win a state in a major party nominating contest, taking 23 in all. Clinton won 34.

The event was hosted by Writers Bloc Presents, a local nonprofit that showcases authors and books. Previous guests have included former Vice President Al Gore and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The speech promoted Sanders’ new book, “Our Revolution,” about his presidential campaign. A political organization of the same name seeks to use the momentum from his run for the White House to support progressive candidates and issues.

In his speech, Sanders took aim at the health care bill approved May 4 by the House of Representatives, calling it “one of the most disgusting pieces of legislation ever passed” and “a death sentence for thousands.”

“That legislation will never pass the United States Senate,” he said, earning some of the loudest applause of his speech.

He also referred to a number of legislative accomplishments he hopes to see through, including a $15 national minimum wage and a universal health care system.

Sanders began his speech by congratulating “our French brothers and sisters” for defeating nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen earlier that day in a landslide that elected centrist Emmanuel Macron to be president of France.

“The people of France said no to racism, no to xenophobia and no to anti-immigrant hysteria,” Sanders said.

What followed was a high-voltage speech that drew on some of Sanders’ favorite talking points from the campaign, such as the need to protect the environment, the lack of affordable housing in major cities and mounting college debt among young people.

He returned repeatedly to his signature message about the unequal distribution of wealth and the influence of big-donor money in politics.

“This country is rapidly on its way to becoming an oligarchic form of society … owned and controlled by a very small number of individuals,” he said.

Sanders’ speech came several days after he defended Israel from criticism by the United Nations and decried the idea of a “one-state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a May 3 interview with Al Jazeera.

“I think if that happens, then that would be the end of the State of Israel, and I support Israel’s right to exist,” he told Al Jazeera. “I think if there is the political will to make it happen and if there is good faith on both sides, I do think [the two-state solution] is possible, and I think there has not been good faith, certainly by this Israeli government, and I have my doubts about parts of the Palestinian leadership, as well.”

He added, “People will do what they want to do, but I think our job as a nation is to do everything humanly possible to bring Israel and the Palestinians — and the entire Middle East, to the degree that we can — together, but, no, I’m not a supporter of [the one-state solution].

“What must be done is that the United States of America is to have a Middle East policy which is evenhanded, which does not simply supply endless amounts of money, of military support to Israel, but which treats both sides with respect and dignity, and does our best to bring them to the table.”

In the same interview, he also criticized the U.N. for singling out Israel for human rights violations when other countries in the region are guilty of similar acts.

Developer and philanthropist Stanley Black was in attendance at the speech. He said he’s active in Temple of the Arts, and that he was a fan of Sanders, but didn’t donate to his campaign because his daughter is close with Clinton.

“He should have been the [Democratic] candidate,” Black said. “He’s a knowledgeable, smart guy.”

Writers Bloc Presents will host Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) on July 7 at a to-be-determined venue in West Los Angeles.

How Sarah Silverman delivered the Democratic convention’s defining one-liner


Corey Booker delivered an uplifting message. The first lady invoked the future of America’s children. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s once-bitter rival, endorsed her with vigor.

But it was a raunchy comedian, Sarah Silverman, who summed up the night’s implicit message in nine ad-libbed words.

“To the ‘Bernie or Bust’ people,” she said from the podium at the Wells Fargo Center here in Philadelphia, “you’re being ridiculous.”

That’s what most of the other speakers at the Democratic National Convention were trying to say. In fact, it’s what many Clinton supporters have been saying since she wrapped up the nomination in early June.

Sanders himself put it this way:

“If you don’t believe this election is important, if you think you can sit it out, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump would nominate and what that would mean to civil liberties, equal rights and the future of our country.”

The idea: If you support Sanders’ unapologetic progressivism, Clinton’s moderated version is far closer to what you want than Donald Trump’s platform, which is based in a mix of conservative positions.

The message took on added urgency on Monday after Sanders delegates voiced outrage over leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee that showed favoritism toward Clinton during the primary race. The emails led to the resignation of DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Sanders delegates vowed to protest on the convention floor.

A few speakers tried to send the unity message in friendly terms, quelling the boos and chants of “Bernie, Bernie” by explaining the importance of getting out the vote. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, a former and sometimes current comedian, reassured parents that an “8-year-old kid can teach a 4-year-old kid how to use a microwave oven” — reason enough for parents to neglect their kids and canvass for Clinton.

Silverman — who put her stamp on the 2008 election by urging fellow Jews to convince their Florida grandparents to vote for Obama — also has oodles of sympathy for Bernie. She supported his campaign and said Monday that she was proud of what he had achieved. But her blunt sentence shut the protesters up, at least for a minute, making them reflect on their pledge to sit this election out or vote for a third party.

And months after this convention ends, that one sentence may be the one we still remember from Monday night — when a comedian did what the politicians could not.

Why not Al Franken? Some think the senator and former comic could be Hillary’s VP


Last week Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said that if Hillary Clinton asked him to be her running mate, he’d take the job. “If Hillary Clinton came to me and said, ‘Al, I really need you to be my vice president, to run with me,’ I would say yes, but I’m very happy in the job that I have right now.”

Although Franken, 64, has spent seven years in the Senate and proven himself to be a conscientious lawmaker – championing decidedly unfunny issues like health insurance, mental health services in schools and net neutrality – some still find it hard to take the former comedian and Saturday Night Live writer seriously as a political figure. He was, after all, the author of an article in Playboy in 2000 about his visit to a (fictional) institute offering virtual pornography, and wrote an infamous Saturday Night Live sketch in which a suave Roman played by Burt Reynolds tries to pick up women at the local vomitorium.

And yet Franken, who defeated Republican incumbent and fellow Jew Norm Coleman in a bitter, highly disputed 2008 election, is on a number of short lists for the veep spot on the Democratic presidential ticket. The Hill included Franken among “Clinton’s 9 most likely VP picks” (admittedly, he was number 9), and Newsweek ranked him fifth as a possible choice, tied with former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Franken is himself the author, in 1999, of Why Not Me?, a satirical campaign memoir in which a character named Al Franken becomes president (and chooses as his running mate former Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, correctly predicting Al Gore’s VP choice a year before it happened).

Here’s the case being made for a Clinton-Franken ticket by some (mostly progressive) political commentators, along with some caveats.

A bit of Bernie, a foe of Trump

Politico suggests that Franken has what it takes to win over the “energized left-wing youth” who backed Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, and can defuse Donald Trump’s toughest barbs and insults with his more finely tuned sense of humor. (Franken once said of George W. Bush, “When the president during the campaign said he was against nation building, I didn’t realize he meant our nation.”)

“Franken has worked hard to prove he is a detail-oriented, issues-driven senator, not a political novelty act,” writes Bill Scher. “But he has decades of experience skewering factually challenged conservatives.” His track record before running for senator includes a series of books of sharp political commentary and a stint as a liberal radio host on the short-lived Air America network.

Newsweek’s Taylor Wofford also notes that Franken voted against fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the global trade agreement that is opposed by the Democratic Party’s liberal base. “And his personality — friendly, approachable, jokey — would compliment Clinton’s extremely well,” writes Wofford. “He’s also outspoken, and he wouldn’t be afraid to get into it with Trump on Clinton’s behalf. And if anyone can out-bully Trump, it’s Franken.”

His Senate seat is safe

If Franken has to resign to run for veep, his replacement would be chosen by a fellow Democrat, Minnesota Gov. Mark Drayton, “so Clinton doesn’t need to worry about losing a seat to the GOP,” writes Wofford.

He’s battle-tested

Politico recalls Franken’s knock-down, drag-out race for the the Senate in 2008. As JTA reported at the time, it took eight months of recounts and legal challenges – including a decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court — before Franken could declare victory over Coleman. Franken led by 312 votes after a statewide recount, but Coleman had sued, arguing that the recount was flawed.

It was easier for him the second time around, when he cruised to a 10-point reelection victory in 2014.

Doggone it, the Clintons like him

The Daily Kos notes that Franken has been friendly with Bill and Hillary Clinton for two decades, and in the tough times ahead would be a comfortable Oval Office companion for the high-strung Hillary.

“An early Clinton endorser, Franken could serve as a bridge between the grass-roots left and the Democratic establishment,” writes Scher.

The Daily Kos even thinks Franken would be a good choice to succeed Clinton as president “after her two full and highly successful terms in office,” perhaps with another short-listed vice presidential possibility as his running mate, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro.

The Jew America needs

Although Lieberman came close, Franken would become the first Jewish vice president in American history. That may ease the disappointment of Sanders’ supporters who hoped their Jewish candidate — like Franken, a New York City native — would make it the White House.

Minnesota has a recent tradition of electing Jews to high office. Before Franken and Coleman faced off, three previous elections for senator there matched two Jews – Republican Rudy Boschwitz vs. Democrat Paul Wellstone twice, then Wellstone vs. incumbent Norm Coleman. (Wellstone was killed in a plane crash two weeks before that election.)

“I don’t think Minnesota is ready for a gentile in this seat,” Franken quipped at the time.

On the other hand

Franken remains a long-shot for the VP nod, trailing other senators like Tim Kaine (Va.),  Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (Oh.) among prognosticators.

Newsweek’s Wofford suggests why:

Picking Franken gives the GOP a lot of ammo: many of his remarks from before his career in politics, including his old SNL footage, will be resurfaced if Clinton picks him. And some may worry he doesn’t have the temperament for the Oval Office. Plus, Minnesota’s not a swing state. And he’s an old white guy.

Al Franken backs Iran deal, 5th of 9 Jewish Senate Democrats to do so


Sen. Al Franken endorsed the Iran nuclear deal, becoming the fifth of nine Jewish senators to back the agreement.

“Many have expressed reservations about the deal, and I share some of those reservations,” Franken, D-Minn., wrote in an op-ed published Thursday on CNN’s website.

“It isn’t a perfect agreement,” he said. “But it is a strong one. This agreement is, in my opinion, the most effective, realistic way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon anytime in the next 15 years.”

Among Jewish Democratic senators, or those who caucus with Democrats, Franken joins Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California, Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, and Brian Schatz of Hawaii in supporting the deal. Among the four other Jewish senators, only Charles Schumer of New York has come out in opposition. The others, all Democrats — Ron Wyden of Wyoming; Ben Cardin of Maryland; and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut — have yet to declare.

Overall 18 senators, all caucusing with the Democrats, back the deal. A majority in the Republican-led chamber is likely to favor a bill that would kill the deal. President Barack Obama needs 40 out of 100 senators to block any rejection of the bill from advancing, and 34 to kill any chances of overriding his promised veto of any such measure.

Franken said that the international community should use the next 15 years, after which key aspects of the deal expire, to prepare to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“We also must begin now to make the case to the world that the danger posed by an Iranian nuclear weapon will not expire in 15 years — and remind Iran that, should it begin to take worrisome steps, such as making highly enriched uranium as that date approaches, we stand ready to intervene,” he wrote.

Others backing the deal are Carl Levin, a former Democratic senator from Michigan who retired last year and was a longtime leader on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and former Sen. John Warner, R-Va., another longtime Armed Services leader. Levin, who is Jewish and whose brother, Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., favors the deal, and Warner argued in a Politico op-ed Thursday that defense hawks should back the deal.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., this week became the first black Democrat to oppose the deal and say he would vote to reject it.

Israel’s ambassador the United States, Ron Dermer, has worked hard to repair relations with the Congressional Black Caucus. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to Congress opposing the Iran deal, arranged with the Republican leadership without the knowledge of the Democratic leadership or the White House, drew the angriest responses from black lawmakers.

Ten Democrats in the House have said they will support a bill rejecting the deal. Opponents need at least 44 Democrats to override a veto.

Al Franken makes 6 Jewish lawmakers boycotting Netanyahu speech


Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) became the sixth Jewish lawmaker to say he will not attend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.

The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress and that has been maintaining a count of lawmakers who say they will skip the speech Tuesday, on Monday added Franken to its list of Democrats, which now totals 51. A Republican, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) is also not attending.

“This has unfortunately become a partisan spectacle, both because of the impending Israeli election and because it was done without consulting the Administration,” said Sen. Franken in a statement. “I’d be uncomfortable being part of an event that I don’t believe should be happening. I’m confident that, once this episode is over, we can reaffirm our strong tradition of bipartisan support for Israel.”

Netanyahu and the congressional Republican leadership organized the speech without informing the White House or congressional Democrats. He intends to speak out against President Barack Obama’s support of nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers. The speech takes place exactly two weeks before the Israeli elections.

Also boycotting the speech among Jewish lawmakers are Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)

The absence of Franken, like that of Schakowsky, is also significant because both lawmakers have close ties with the pro-Israel community.

There are 28 Jewish lawmakers in Congress, 27 Democrats and one Republican.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: March 30-April 5


SAT MARCH 30

LIONEL ROLFE AND JULIA STEIN

Former editor of the B’nai B’rith Messenger, Rolfe reads select passages from his new picaresque memoir, “The Misadventures of Ari Mendelsohn: A Mostly True Memoir of California Journalism,” which follows the sexual and political travails of a blacklisted Jewish reporter. Stein, whose Holocaust poetry highlighted her first book, “Under the Ladder to Heaven,” reads from her fifth book of poetry, “What Were They Like?” which looks at the lives — Iraqi, Afghan and American —caught up in the Iraq and Afghan wars. Sat. 5 p.m. Free. Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 660-1175. skylightbooks.com.


SUN MARCH 31

ELANA BELL

In “Eyes, Stones,” poet Bell’s debut collection, the writer, performer, Jewish Journal poetry editor and educator considers the question of the Israel-Palestinian conflict through the prism of her heritage as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. Bell reads selections from her book and discusses “Two Narratives in One Body: The Making of ‘Eyes, Stones.’ ” Sun. 10 a.m. Free. Temple Mishkon Tephilo, 206 Main St., Venice. (310) 392-3029. www.mishkon.org, elanabell.com/event.

“JOKES FOR JEWS” 

Joshua Snyder hosts a seder plate full of stand-up comedians, some Jewish, some not Jewish, including vaudevillian performer Michael Rayner, Los Angeles comic Adam Feuerberg, Upright Citizens Brigade alumnus Steve Halasz and Zara Mizrahi. The full-service bar and restaurant serve an assortment of nosherei. Sun. 7 p.m. $15 (present an afikomen at the door to receive $5 off admission). Flappers Comedy Club, 102 E. Magnolia St., Burbank. (818) 845-9721. flapperscomedy.com.


TUE APRIL 2

“AMERICAN BUFFALO”

Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet’s play, enjoying its first major L.A. production in more than a decade, follows a trio of misguided misfits who plot the theft of a rare coin collection. As the time of the heist approaches, tension and anticipation build, revealing loyalties and testing friendships. Tue. 8 p.m. Through May 12 (various times). $35-$55. Geffen Playhouse, Gil Cates Theater, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-5454. geffenplayhouse.com


WED APRIL 3

AL FRANKEN

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), longtime writer for “Saturday Night Live,” discusses “How the Jewish Tradition Has Influenced One Senator” for the University of Southern California’s 12th annual Warschaw Distinguished Lecture. After spending 37 years as a comedy writer, author and radio talk-show host, Franken was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008 and sworn in in July 2009 following a statewide hand recount. During today’s lecture, expect Franken to expound upon his childhood living in Minneapolis, a city that had once been rife with anti-Semitism, his cultural Jewishness and his pro-Israel beliefs. Mon. 4:45 p.m. (reception), 5:30 p.m. (lecture). Free. University of Southern California, University Park Campus, Embassy Room, Los Angeles. RSVP to (213) 740-1744. casdeninstitute.usc.edu.


THU APRIL 4

PETER MEHLMAN 

A writer and producer on “Seinfeld,” Mehlman discusses and signs his recent book, “Mandela Was Late: Odd things & essays from the Seinfeld writer who coined yada, yada, and made spongeworthy a compliment.” Thu. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. booksoup.com.

“PANTRY”

Attend the U.S. premiere of “Pantry,” a documentary that examines the cultural and social activities of producing and eating food. The film follows MyVillages.org artists Antje Schiffers and Thomas Sprenger, who collaborated with locavore-minded organizations to stock a pantry to feed 8,000 attendees of a Berlin festival. Following the screening, Skirball curator Doris Berger talks with the artists about “Pantry” and their site-specific wall painting, “Let Me Show You Around,” the result of their two-week residency at the Skirball. Thu. 8 p.m. $5 (general), free (Skirball members, full-time students). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

FRI APRIL 5

YOM HASHOAH SOUL SOUNDS 

An evening of music, poetry and prose written by some of the great artists of the Holocaust, features a special guest performance by Noel Paul Stookey of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. Rabbi Steven Leder conducts services with Cantor Don Gurney, during which Stookey performs “Jean Claude,” a song from his latest album, “One & Many,” telling the story of two French boys separated by the Holocaust. A songwriter committed to raising social consciousness, Stookey also performs a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” An oneg Shabbat follows. Fri. 6 p.m. Free. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (424) 208-8932. wbtla.org.

ZUKERMAN CHAMBER PLAYERS

In a continuing effort to motivate future generations of musicians, Israeli violinist virtuoso Pinchas Zukerman leads the Zukerman Chamber Players, a world-renowned ensemble featuring four of Zukerman’s young protégés. Together they perform the music of Brahms and Mozart. On Saturday, the quintet plays Mozart, Kodaly and Schumann. Performers include Zukerman (violin), Jessica Linnebach (violin), Jethro Marks (viola), Amanda Forsyth (cello) and Angela Cheng (piano). Fri. 7:30 p.m. $62-$99. Sat. $67-$110. The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. (310) 434-3200. thebroadstage.com

How Hollywood’s biggest politicos leaned right, not left


Ronald Reagan, Shirley Temple, Sony Bono, George Murphy and Arnold Schwarzenegger are all entertainers who launched their political careers in California, and they are all Republicans. Indeed, aside from Al Franken, no prominent Democratic officeholder on the scene today started out in the entertainment industry. Yet, ironically, a myth that began in the McCarthy era — and persists today — holds that Hollywood celebrities on the left play a powerful role in American politics.

“Quite candidly, when Hollywood speaks, the world listens,” Sen. Arlen Specter once observed. “Sometimes when Washington speaks, the world snoozes.”

The myth is misbegotten, or so argues film historian and USC professor Steven J. Ross in “Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics” (Oxford University Press, $29.95), a benchmark study of the role that Hollywood stars and moguls have played in American politics. Like Neal Gabler’s classic “An Empire of Their Own,” Ross’ book allows us look behind the curtain and to glimpse the inner workings of the entertainment industry.

Hollywood began to figure in politics as early as 1918, when federal agents reported that movie stars were playing “an active part in the Red movement.” But, from the start and throughout its history, activists on the left have always been less successful than those on the right. “It was the Republican Party, not the Democratic Party, that established the first political beachhead in Hollywood,” Ross explains. “The Hollywood left has the political glitz, but the Hollywood right sought, won, and exercised electoral power.”

Ross surveys nearly a century of Hollywood history through the lens of politics. Of necessity, he drills down into the nuance and detail of corporate and union politics in the movie business. But he also comes into tight focus on a few of the more famous faces. Charlie Chaplin, for example, is singled out as the first star to strike a political stance — an explicitly anti-fascist stance. “No silent star,” Ross writes, “brought political messages to the mass public more effectively than the man millions of moviegoers affectionately called ‘Charlie.’ ”

But Ross also reminds us that Chaplin was hounded by right-wing activists, both in Hollywood and in federal law enforcement, throughout his long career, and he was ultimately driven into exile as much for his politics as for his supposed promiscuity. “You are the one artist of the theatre,” observed the writer Lion Feuchtwanger, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, “who will go down in American history as having aroused the political antagonism of a whole nation.”

By contrast, studio mogul Louis B. Mayer, one of the founders of MGM, is singled out as the archetype of Hollywood Republicanism. He was hailed by Rabbi Edgar Magnin as “an ardent enemy of pseudo-liberals, Reds, and pinks,” and Ross himself credits Mayer with teaching the Republican Party “how to use radio, film, and movie stars to sell candidates and ideas to a mass public.” At a time when Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor and George Jessel were campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith, for example, Mayer served as executive director of the Southern California campaign committee for Herbert Hoover.

“Hollywood Right and Left” does not overlook the McCarthy era, although it is only one episode in a much grander saga. But Ross approaches the subject from a new and illuminating angle by focusing on the plight of Edward G. Robinson, an early and committed anti-fascist at a time when Irving Thalberg was comforting his boss, Louis B. Mayer, with a rosy report from Nazi Germany: “Hitler and Hitlerism will pass,” Thalberg said. “[T]he Jews will still be there.” Robinson, by contrast, worked with other stars to organize a boycott of Nazi Germany in 1938, an effort that was not popular among isolationists in America.

“[The] movie colony may root for the Jews all they wish, but don’t think that the people of the United States are going to fall in with your plans,” one estranged movie fan wrote. “Those of us who know World History and the Bible know that the Jews have always been in trouble up to their ears.”

Robinson, who was condemned as “Yiddish riff raff” by another letter writer, was repaid for his activism with surveillance by the FBI during the war, a place on the blacklist, and repeated appearances before the House Un-American Activities Committee when it targeted Hollywood in the late 1940s and early 1950s. “Outraged by the smear campaign against him,” Ross writes, “Robinson spent the next three years of his life, and over $100,000 of his own money, trying to clear his name and resume his career.” Ultimately, he was reduced to abasing himself as “an unsuspecting agent of the Communist conspiracy,” although he refused to name names. Ironically, he was “restored to semi-respectability” only when Cecil B. DeMille, “one of Hollywood’s most prominent anti-communists,” cast Robinson in “The Ten Commandments” in 1956.

The excesses of the McCarthy era eventually subsided, but Ross makes the point that the balance of power in Hollywood remained on the right as Murphy and Reagan used the denunciation of supposed “Red Menace” in Hollywood to launch their own political careers. Reagan, of course, has been credited with nothing less than a revolution in American politics, while Jane Fonda, an activist on the left in the same era, crashed and burned. Her counterpart on the right, at least in terms of the visibility and intensity of his role in politics, is Charlton Heston, whom Ross describes as “the first prominent practitioner of image politics,” if only because Heston played not only Moses, but also “three saints, three presidents, and two geniuses.”

Fonda “demonstrated that celebrities could use their star power to draw attention to controversial political issues,” Ross explains. “Her subsequent vilification revealed how the public often view such activism, especially left activism, with suspicion and cynicism.” The woman who came to be known as “Hanoi Jane,” Ross points out, “paid a high price for her activism.”

The bottom line, according to Ross, is that one wing of the entertainment industry seems to have connected with the hearts and minds of the American electorate, and the other has not. “From Louis B. Mayer to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Hollywood right has told a simple but compelling story of American triumphalism: America is the greatest nation in the world. What else do you need to know?” The Hollywood left, by contrast, has been undercut by its willingness to look behind the façade. “Few citizens want to hear a Jane Fonda, Warren Beatty, or Sean Penn point out what is wrong with the United States.” In that sense, Ross’s even-handed but eye-opening book serves as a corrective to some very famous entertainers who simply failed to understand how they come across to their audience.

Jews running for Congress: Old faces, new challengers and ‘me, Al Franken’


WASHINGTON (JTA) — With the polls predicting a big Democratic night, the number of Jews in the U.S. Congress is likely to swell and Jewish GOPers could end up losing a few of their favorite lawmakers.

The Senate matchup in Minnesota between two Jewish candidates could end up determining whether Democrats acquire a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Incumbent Norm Coleman, one of only two Jewish Republicans in the Senate, is being challenged by Democrat Al Franken.

Democrats now have a 51-49 advantage in the Senate with the inclusion of independents Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. But surveys suggest that by the end of voting on Nov. 4, enough seats will have changed hands to bring the Democrats close to 60 votes — the number at which the party could stop a Republican filibuster.

Should Democrats reach the magic mark, will Lieberman continue to caucus with them as an independent or end up on the GOP side of the aisle following his endorsement of presidential candidate John McCain?

In the House, the Democrats’ 236-199 advantage is expected to expand, which is likely to add to the total of 29 Jewish lawmakers whose re-election bids are looking strong.

Only three of the 13 Jewish members of the Senate are up for re-election: Coleman, and Democrats Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Carl Levin of Michigan. Levin is expected to win his sixth term handily against Jack Hoogendyk Jr., a Republican three-term state representative.

What follows is a look at some of the more important and interesting races featuring Jewish candidates.

Minnesota’s ‘Jewish’ seat

“I don’t think Minnesota is ready for a gentile in this seat.”

That’s comedian Al Franken’s standard joke about the fact that the U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota for which he’s running has been occupied by a Jew for the past 30 years. That streak should continue another six years with Franken, a Jewish Democrat, running 5 to 6 percentage points ahead of the Jewish first-term incumbent, Republican Norm Coleman, in recent polls. According to the surveys, a non-Jewish independent candidate, Dean Barkley, has been receiving 15-20 percent of the vote.

Coleman, a former mayor of St. Paul, and Franken have clashed over issues. Franken supported a quick U.S. pullout from Iraq, while Coleman has opposed a firm timetable for withdrawal. And the Republican backed the $700 million bailout bill last month, while the Democrat criticized it for failing to provide enough congressional oversight and supports more economic help for the middle class.

Israel has not been an issue in the campaign, but Iran did come up at a recent debate. Franken said that while he would not take any option off the table, it would be a “grave mistake” to take military action against Iran and backed talks with the Iranian government. Coleman said military action must remain an option and stressed the importance of energy independence in being able to counter the Islamic Republic.

Franken and Coleman have spent a combined $28 million mostly attacking each other. Best known for his time as a writer and performer on the television program “Saturday Night Live,” Franken has criticized his opponent’s ties to “special interests” such as oil and pharmaceutical companies, using a talking fish in some of his television ads to illustrate a Coleman fishing trip with oil company executives.

Meanwhile, Coleman has used Franken’s background as a comedian against him, taking the Democrat to task for material he had written that was insensitive to women. Franken responded that he was a comedian for 35 years and wasn’t proud of every joke he had written.

Coleman, one of two Jewish Republicans in the Senate, also has questioned his opponent’s temperament with a TV ad featuring various clips of Franken yelling and screaming. But the day after Yom Kippur, Coleman said the “time of fasting, soul searching and refocusing on your life” had convinced him to pull all his negative advertising — although Democrats have pointed out that the Republican Party has continued to run attack ads in the state.

The Minnesota race is seen as one of the crucial races Democrats must win if they want to achieve a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate. That message was hammered home last week in a taped TV commercial by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who campaigned last week with Franken.
Lautenberg’s challenge

The only other U.S. Senate race matching two Jewish candidates is in New Jersey, where 84-year-old Democrat Frank Lautenberg is strongly favored to win his fifth non-consecutive term over Republican Dick Zimmer, 64.

Lautenberg had retired in 2000 after three terms, but returned two years later to replace incumbent Bob Torricelli on the ballot just a few weeks before the election when Torricelli became enmeshed in scandal. Lautenberg has stressed his record as a protector of the environment, foe of big oil and backer of energy independence, as well as his support of expanding affordable health care.

Most recently a lawyer-lobbyist, Zimmer spent three terms in the U.S. House before losing to Torricelli in the 1996 Senate race. He is best known for his sponsorship of the federal version of Megan’s Law, which requires notifying residents when a sex offender moves into a neighborhood.

The Republican is emphasizing his fiscal conservatism, accusing Lautenberg of backing wasteful spending and arguing that the Democrat has not done enough to get New Jersey its fair share of federal tax money returned to the state.
The other 10 Jewish senators — seven Democrats, two independents and a Republican — are not up for re-election this term.

Rabbi’s run in N.J.

In a race with a potential first, Democrat Dennis Shulman — aka “The Blind Rabbi” — appears to be within striking distance in the contest to represent New Jersey’s 5th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. A new poll has Shulman, who lost his sight as a teenager and was ordained as a Reform rabbi five years ago, trailing incumbent Republican Scott Garrett by just 7 percentage points. Also, the Democrat in recent days has picked up the endorsements of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, and The New York Times.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently moved the seat from its list of “emerging races” to the “Red to Blue” category, meaning the party is more optimistic about its chances in the district.

Shulman’s bid picked up momentum in the last month, since he started attacking Garrett over a staffer’s ties to a mortgage company connected to the economic crisis and charged the lawmaker with taking an improper tax break on his property. Shulman also has accused Garrett of being “too conservative” for his Bergen County-area district. Garrett has denied any wrongdoing and last week responded in kind, airing a negative advertisement accusing Shulman of wanting to negotiate with Hamas terrorists and calling him “too extreme for New Jersey.”

(Shulman denies supporting talks with Hamas, saying he backs whatever diplomatic approach that Israel adopts on the issue.)

At a recent debate at a local synagogue, Garrett called on Shulman to “renounce” the endorsement he received from the left-leaning pro-Israel group J Street.

Shulman defended the endorsement, saying he backs the new group’s desire to see the United States play a more active role in promoting Israel-Palestinian negotiations. Garrett has received the endorsement of the New Jersey-based pro-Israel political action committee NORPAC.

Replacing Saxton

New Jersey’s 3rd District presents a solid chance for a new Jewish legislator, where Democrat John Adler is vying for the House seat being vacated after 24 years by the stalwart pro-Israel Republican Jim Saxton. The most recent poll shows Adler, a 16-year state senator, and his main opponent, Medford Mayor Chris Myers, locked in a dead heat. But the Cook Political Report rates the race in a South Jersey district that includes Burlington and Ocean counties, as “leaning Democratic.”

Adler’s signature achievement in state government is legislation banning smoking in indoor public places. Both candidates have strongly proclaimed support for Israel, but have clashed over typical partisan differences.

Adler wants a quick pullout from Iraq, while Myers believes the United States must keep its military presence there until it achieves victory “on our terms.” Myers calls Adler a “tax-and-spend” politician, while Adler accuses Myers of being a “George W. Bush apologist.”

Chosen in Alaska and Wyoming?

Fewer than 500 Jews are estimated to live in Wyoming and only about 3,500 in Alaska, yet both states could fill their lone House seat with Jewish candidates.

In Alaska, Jewish Democrat Ethan Berkowitz — who served 10 years in the state Legislature, eight as House minority leader — leads 18-term incumbent Republican Don Young by 8 points. Young, 75, survived a razor-thin primary and is under investigation in the bribery scandal for which Alaska U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens was found guilty Monday on seven felony charges.

Berkowitz, 46, a San Francisco native, is running as a change candidate arguing that Alaska would be better served having a member of the Democratic majority represent the state in Washington. Both candidates back opening the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve to drilling, but Berkowitz says he will be more effective in convincing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Democrat, to support it. The Democrat also has criticized what he calls Young’s “bullying” style in the House.

Young voted against both versions of the economic bailout bill, saying there should be limits to government involvement in the economy. Berkowitz said he would have reluctantly supported the final version of the legislation because no one but the government could do the job. He also said the legislation would free up credit for resource development in Alaska.

Berkowitz says he has a good relationship with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, but some political observers say her selection as the Republican vice-presidential nominee could make his road to Washington tougher because it will motivate Republicans in the state to vote.

In Wyoming, two polls last week showed Jewish Democrat Gary Trauner and his Republican opponent, former state treasurer Cynthia Lummis, in a dead heat in their race to succeed Barbara Cubin. Political observers still slightly favor Lummis because of the 2-to-1 party registration edge Republicans have in the state, but Trauner lost a challenge to Cubin in 2006 by slightly more than 1,000 votes.

The New York-born Trauner, 49, stresses the importance of energy independence and Wyoming’s potential role in energy development. He is also a strong backer of Second Amendment gun rights. His opponent was endorsed by the National Rifle Association’s political action committee, but Trauner received an “A minus” from the organization.

Trauner, a cowboy boot-wearing businessman, has eschewed negative ads, saying that “the way you campaign is the way you will govern.”

Lummis has touted her record of more than doubling the state’s investment portfolio during her two terms as treasurer, but the state’s Democratic governor, Dave Freundenthal, in his endorsement of Trauner earlier this month said no one person should take credit for that growth. The Republican also has emphasized energy independence and pledged to oppose any federal tax increase if elected.

Due to a tough primary fight for Lummis, Trauner enjoyed a significant financial edge heading into the last month of the campaign with nearly $600,000 in the bank compared to about $200,000 for Lummis.

Move over Obama and Palin

If the sight of a black presidential nominee and woman vice-presidential choice feel like old news by now, then check out Colorado and Florida.

Jared Polis, a 33-year-old Democrat in Colorado’s 2nd District, is poised to make history. If he wins the open seat, which has been occupied by a Democrat for more than 30 years, Polis would become the first openly gay non-incumbent male elected to Congress. He is seen as the most likely bet to add to the current total of 29 Jewish House members.

A multimillionaire Internet entrepreneur, Polis founded the site for his parents’ Blue Mountain Arts greeting card company. He has given more than $5 million to his campaign to win a district that includes includes Boulder and other Denver suburbs. Polis has not emphasized his sexual orientation in the campaign.

“I think it’s important to live one’s life openly and honestly, and I certainly do that,” he told the Advocate, a gay publication. “I treat it as I would my religion. If people ask, I’m happy to tell them about it.”

Polis is emphasizing his background as a champion of public education — he is a founder of two Colorado charter schools and a six-year member of the state Board of Education. He also supports a universal health-care system and a quick end to the war in Iraq.

He is facing Republican aerospace engineer Scott Starin, Unity Party candidate Bill Hammons and the Green Party’s J.A. Calhoun.

In the 6th District, Democrat Hank Eng is attempting to become the first Jewish, Chinese-American in Congress. Eng, a recent convert to Judaism, is trailing Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman, a Republican, in the race to follow GOPer Tom Tancredo. No Democrat has won the seat since it was created in 1980.

Eng, a New York native born to Chinese immigrants, married a Jewish woman and converted as his daughter approached bat mitzvah. He found himself immersing deeper into Judaism and made a choice that soon seemed a natural fit with his politics.

“Part of my faith includes a commitment to tikkun olam; there is so much that needs correcting,” he said, using the term for “repairing of the world.”
He said that, combined with his sensibility as the child of immigrants, drove him to repair what he saw as the damage committed by Tancredo, who ran in the Republican primaries on a stridently anti-immigration platform.

On the other side of the country, in the Miami suburbs, Colombian-born Annette Taddeo, 41, is hoping to become the first Jewish Latina in Congress. The businesswoman faces a tough challenge, though, against Cuban-born Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has used her spot as the ranking minority member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to advocate strongly for Israel.

A recent poll commissioned by the Taddeo campaign had the race within single digits, although a neutral poll earlier in the month gave Ros-Lehtinen a commanding lead. The Democrat has, like many others in her party, attempted to link her GOP opponent to President Bush. In addition, Taddeo has emphasized her experience as the owner of a small business and stressed her traditional Democratic views on issues such as expanding children’s health insurance.

Ros-Lehtinen, a 19-year incumbent, stresses her “moderate Republican” image and her superior record of serving her constituents.

Lord slams Bush outside Phoenix

In the northern suburbs of Phoenix, Jewish Democrat Bob Lord is in a tight race with seven-term GOP incumbent John Shadegg for Arizona’s 3rd District seat.

Lord, a tax attorney who has served on the board of Phoenix’s Jewish federation, is trying to tie his opponent to President Bush’s conservative policies and is counting on the changing demographics of the state for help in turning the seat blue.

Shadegg points out that he has opposed a number of Bush policies, from the financial bailout bill to No Child Left Behind, and also criticized the president’s handling of the Iraq war.

Adding to the buzz over the race last week, a Shadegg campaign credit card was found on the floor of a local Democratic Party office. A campaign volunteer said he had visited the office to pick up a Barack Obama bumper sticker for his political memorabilia collection and dropped the credit card when he reached in his pocket for money, but Democrats are wondering whether he was snooping.
National Democrats are high on Lord’s chances, having provided him with $1.5 million in financial support.

Only in Alabama
Alabama is one of the few places where a Democrat is stressting his points of agreement with President Bush.

In the state’s 3rd District, which includes Montgomery, the three-term incumbent Republican Mike Rogers says his challenger, Democrat Josh Segall, is “too liberal” for the district, tying him to the American Civil Liberties Union in an ad because Segall’s father, Bobby — a former president of the Alabama Bar Association — does work for the organization. Segall, 29, a Montgomery native and Brown-educated lawyer, responds that he is pro-gun, supports the Bush tax cuts and backs offshore oil drilling. He believes the biggest problem facing his district is the loss of textile jobs overseas — Segall has criticized Rogers for backing free-trade deals — and feels the solution is improving infrastructure.

Segall has attacked Rogers for voting in favor of the economic bailout bill. Rogers, 50, has defended his vote as being in the best interests of the country.
This is another race that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee upgraded to the “Red to Blue” category. A poll earlier this month had Segall less than 10 points behind.

The fighting freshmen

Two years ago the House welcomed a half-dozen new Jewish Democratic members, and all six appear poised to win re-election as of the final week of the campaign. Three are locked in competitive races.

The member with perhaps the toughest road back to Capitol Hill is Steve Kagen in Wisconsin’s 8th District, which includes Appleton and Green Bay. He faces a rematch with Republican John Gard, who he defeated by a 51-49 margin in 2006.

A medical doctor and founder of the Kagen Allergy Clinics, Kagen would make history if he wins as the first Democrat since the mid-1970s to hold the 8th District seat for two consecutive terms. He has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, and said that “any person who’s Jewish and visited Israel would understand how important the Second Amendment is.”

In another rematch, Democratic incumbent John Yarmuth is a slight favorite in Kentucky’s 3rd District over Anne Northup. Yarmuth edged Northup, who had served the Louisville-area district for five terms, by 3 percentage points in 2006.

The Democrat told JTA that he was glad to be squaring off again against Northup because she was close with Bush and “part of the Republican majority in Congress, the policies of which were rejected by the people.”

Northup has made an issue recently of Yarmuth’s failure to support a resolution last year recognizing Christmas, noting that Yarmuth did vote for resolutions marking Muslim and Hindu holidays. Yarmuth responded at a debate that he voted “present” because he felt the resolution trivialized an important religious holiday. Northup has said her criticism of Yarmuth has nothing to do with his Judaism.

Gabrielle Giffords may not be facing a rematch in Arizona’s 8th District, but she is running against someone she knows fairly well. Giffords and her opponent, Arizona Senate president Tim Bee, attended the same school until the ninth grade while growing up in the Tucson area. The two have clashed over the economic bailout, with Giffords defending her vote for the final version as necessary and Bee, a Republican, saying the legislation is an example of “what’s wrong with Washington.”

Paul Hodes’ run for re-election in New Hampshire’s 2nd District also had been considered competitive, but a poll out last weekend had the Democrat ahead by 25 points over former newspaper columnist and radio talk show host Jennifer Horn. Hodes has focused his message on “what we’ve been able to accomplish for people in the district,” he told JTA in an interview.

On the Broward and Palm Beach county coasts in South Florida, Ron Klein is expected to win re-election over Republican retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West. Klein, who defeated longtime incumbent Clay Shaw with less than 51 percent of the vote in 2006, said he was not taking anything for granted.

“In large urban areas, it’s very difficult to penetrate” the minds of voters, he told JTA in an interview earlier this month. “We still have a third of the voters who don’t know who I am.”

Finally, Democrat Steve Cohen had his tough race in August. While he still has to defeat three independents on Nov. 4, Cohen’s primary win in Tennessee’s 9th District, a Democratic stronghold, virtually assured his return to Washington.

The Memphis congressman won 79 percent of the vote; his African-American opponent ran television ads implying that his Judaism made him an outsider in the district.

Cohen said his campaign had “tremendous strength” in the African-American community, adding that “I feel very good about that.”

Rematch in Chicago

The race in Illinois’ 10th District features no Jewish candidate, but the race in the heavily Jewish northern suburbs of Chicago is of interest to many in the Jewish and pro-Israel community.

The four-term incumbent, moderate Republican Mark Kirk, is seen as a leader on pro-Israel issues and is close to AIPAC. He introduced legislation earlier this year backed by the pro-Israel group that would have punished those selling refined gasoline to Iran. His challenger, Democrat Dan Seals, also has expressed strong support for the Jewish state. Seals, who defeated former Clinton administration Jewish liaison Jay Footlik in the Democratic primary, lost to Kirk by 6 points in 2006.

Kirk has received the endorsement of JACPAC, a Jewish political action committee devoted to the U.S.-Israel relationship and a domestic agenda that includes reproductive choice and the separation of church and state. He has stressed his independence from Bush, while Seals has tried to link Kirk to the unpopular president as much as possible.

A September poll commisisoned by the Web site Daily Kos sparked controversy earlier in the fall because it was conducted on Rosh Hashanah. Kirk’s pollster accused the Web site of intentionally conducting the survey on the holiday in order to exclude observant Jewish voters who back Kirk. Site founder Markos Moulitsas argued that by excluding Jews — a group that traditionally supports Democrats in large numbers — the timing of the poll may have helped Kirk.

In fact, while the Kos survey found Kirk ahead by 6 points, a poll a few days later by a different organization showed Kirk leading by 8 points. The most recent poll, also conducted by Kos, had Seals 6 points ahead in a race that many observers rank as a toss-up.

Jewish women face off in Pa.

The race in Pennsylvania’s 13th District matches two Jewish women.

Democratic incumbent Allyson Schwartz is strongly favored in her race against Republican lawyer and businesswoman Marina Kats in a district that includes a portion of Philadelphia and part of neighboring Montgomery County. Kats is highlighting her personal story: She came to the United States from Ukraine as a teenager in 1979 with no money or knowledge of English, and worked her way through college, law and business school.

Schwartz is touting her two terms on Capitol Hill, where she focused on expanding health insurance for children and sponsored a tax credit for businesses hiring veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

GOP longshots

Three Jewish Republicans are major underdogs against well-known incumbents.
In New York’s 5th District, covering parts of Queens and Nassau County, Liz Berney is attempting to unseat 12-term Democratic incumbent Gary Ackerman, also Jewish and the chairman of the House subcommittee on the Middle East. In Chicago’s northwest suburbs, former minor league hockey player Steve Greenberg is challenging two-term Democrat incumbent Melissa Bean in Illinois’ 8th District. And in the San Francisco Bay Area, Nick Gerber is facing Democrat Ellen Tauscher in California’s 10th District.

Another Jewish Republican is also considered a longshot, even though he is running for an open seat in New York’s 13th District that has long been in GOP hands.

On Staten Island, former state Assemblyman Bob Straniere is facing off against Democratic City Councilman Michael McMahon. Straniere, unpopular within the local party establishment because of personal financial issues, won the primary after the handpicked Republican Party candidate died over the summer and other possible GOP contenders bowed out. But he is lagging well behind his opponent in fund raising and the seat has been all but written off by many New York Republicans.

Incumbent Republican Vito Fosella is leaving Congress after his arrest earlier this year on drunk driving charges and the subsequent revelation that the married congressman had a girlfriend and child living in the Washington area.

Democratic longshots

In New Jersey’s 4th District, Jewish Democrat Joshua Zeitz is attempting to defeat 28-year incumbent Christopher Smith. Zeitz, a history professor who wrote the book “White Ethnic New York: Jews, Catholics and the Shaping of Postwar Politics,” has attacked Smith for his opposition to abortion. Smith is emphasizing his record of legislative accomplishment and leadership on worldwide human rights issues.

In California’s 45th District, which includes Palm Springs, former state Assemblywoman Julie Bornstein is hoping to unseat Republican Mary Bono Mack. Bornstein, who advocates for affordable housing, has highlighted Bono Mack’s refusal to debate her and repeated the common theme of yoking her GOP opponent to the unpopular president. Bono Mack, the widow of singer and politician Sonny Bono, has defended herself as an independent voice.

Health policy expert Judy Feder again will challenge 14-term incumbent Republican Rep. Frank Wolf in Virginia’s 10th District, which covers some of Washington’s northern Virginia suburbs. Feder, a Georgetown University public policy professor, put up a spirited challenge two years ago but lost by 16 points. Wolf has been a leader on human rights issues and was among the first members of Congress to visit Darfur.

Al Franken leads in Senate race, poll finds


Al Franken has taken the lead over incumbent Norm Coleman in the Minnesota Senate race, according to a new poll.

The Star-Tribune Minnesota Poll, conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 2, showed the Democrat and former writer-performer for “Saturday Night Live” with a 43 percent to 34 percent advantage over Coleman, a Republican, in a contest of Jewish candidates. Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley garnered 18 percent.

Coleman led Franken by four points last month in the same poll. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 points.

Coleman campaign officials, according to the Minnesota Star-Tribune, criticized the poll’s methodology by noting that a SurveyUSA poll conducted by a local TV station and released earlier in the week had Coleman up 10 points on Franken, 43 percent to 33 percent.

The Star-Tribune Minnesota poll also found that Barkley was drawing more votes from Coleman than Franken, and that Franken would be ahead by seven points in a head-to-head match.

–JTA

Q & A with Al Franken


A l Franken, “Saturday Night Live” alumnus, political commentator and satirist made headlines recently when the Fox News Channel sued him for using the term “Fair and Balanced” in the title of his new book, “Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them, A Fair and Balanced Look at The Right” (Dutton, 2003). Fox eventually dropped the suit, but not before Franken’s tome attacking conservative arguements hit the top of the best-seller lists, where it remains today.

Franken spoke to The Journal from his house in New York about the California recall, growing up Jewish in Minnesota and the nonissue of a Jew becoming president.

Jewish Journal: What are your thoughts on the recall and our new governor?

Al Franken: Well, I wish him all the best. I know there are a lot of Democrats who are bitter about the whole recall process, I didn’t necessarily think it was proper, but his voters have spoken, and now it is time for people to coalesce around this guy and try to solve California’s problems.

JJ: I thought that you would come with a much more partisan line. From reading your book I thought you would see it more like the 2000 election where the Republicans “stole” it.

AF: There is an aspect to that here. I did listen to him [Schwarzenegger] during the campaign, and he never said anything. It was unbelievable to me. It was like watching a movie, because politicians in movies can’t address specific issues, because the movie has to exist in sort of forever time. His speeches could have been from any year, any time. [Breaks into Schwarzenegger accent] “We have got dem for de people, in Caleeforneeah” — oh, I can’t do him.

But I do have one specific worry, that the men in California — and I hope they don’t take it this way — will see this as a license to grope Maria Shriver. And you know, she is very attractive, but guys, just because she seems to think it is OK, it is not open season on Maria….

JJ: In your book, you write that your father was a lifelong Republican who switched party loyalties in 1964 because [then-presidential candidate] Barry Goldwater didn’t vote for the Civil Rights Act, and he told you that Jews shouldn’t be against civil rights. Can you tell us a little about growing up Jewish and explain how your Judaism shaped your politics?

AF: I grew up Jewish in Minnesota, in a place where we were a distinct minority. Minneapolis had been a center of anti-Semitism, in the ’30s, ’40s and 50s. My mom sold real estate, and she was very aware that there was redlining in Minneapolis for Jews. That awareness, of actual institutional racism by banks and Realtors, made us even more keenly aware of the importance of civil rights laws. So in 1964, when Goldwater was against the Civil Rights Act, my dad, who was like a Jacob Javits Republican, became a Democrat and never looked back. I very much identify with my dad, and that made me a Democrat at age 13.

JJ: I read that your wife is Catholic, and save for a seder once a year your life is low on Jewish practices. Yet, Jewish references and Jewish experiences appear repeatedly in your book. Can you tell me a little bit about your Jewish life today? How much does Judaism figure into your daily experience?

AF: My wife is a fallen Roman Catholic…. We don’t belong to a shul, and my kids have really been raised with no formal religious education, but they definitely consider themselves culturally Jewish. Partly it is growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was quite the opposite of my experience.

My wife — every year we have a Chanukah dinner and she makes the best latkes and … the best brisket on the Upper West Side.

But my kids definitely consider themselves Jewish, have very Jewish senses of humor and went to a high school that was two-thirds Jewish.

And the most important aspect of this — we did go to a Reform temple when I was a kid, and my parents were not particularly devout, but we were taught that there was a certain ethical base to our religion that was the essence of our Judaism, and I think my kids have grown up with that.

JJ: In an interview in 2000, you were asked whether the country was ready for a Jewish president. Now it seems that if any of these Democratic front-runners get elected, we won’t be able to escape having a Jewish president. Do you think that America is moving to a place where religion doesn’t matter anymore, and why do you think so many Democrats are eager to be Jewish?

AF: Well, I think that it doesn’t hurt to be Jewish if you are a Democrat, because of fundraising. [John] Kerry is half-Jewish, [Wesley] Clark is half-Jewish, [Howard] Dean has a Jewish wife, [Joe] Lieberman is the whole boat. [John] Edwards is as goyish as you can get; [Al] Sharpton — not Jewish.

I think that the Lieberman candidacy was just a big nonevent in terms of how it affected people at the polls, which is great. It might be different if Lieberman was heading the ticket at this time. But even then I don’t think it would be that big an issue.

JJ: A lot of Jews might agree with you on being anti-Bush on social issues, but they appreciate his stance on Israel. They perceive him as being very supportive of Israel’s war against terror. Do you agree that Bush is a good friend to Israel?

AF: There is definitely a pro-Israel slant, which I basically agree with for Bush. I think that he just ignored Israel for a long time immediately after being elected because he didn’t want to get his hands dirty. He was basically doing everything that Clinton didn’t do. If Clinton had rolled up his sleeves and worked with Barak and tried to reach a settlement there, then Bush decided that the right thing to do was to do nothing.

As far as now supporting Israel, as I also write in the book, there is this odd alliance between the neo-cons, who are very pro-Israel, obviously, and the Christian right, which is very pro Israel. But the neo-cons are very pro-Israel because Israel the only democracy in the Middle East, and the religious right is for it because Jews need to be in Israel in order for Armageddon to happen, at which point we Jews will all die in a fiery death. I think that at that point the coalition between the neo-cons and the Christian Right will dissolve.

JJ: Before I read your book, I thought that it would be very funny on every single page, but there were a lot of chapters and there were a lot of pages in it where I thought that you were being deadly serious, almost to the point where it made me feel sad.

AF: Well — the Wellstone chapter.

JJ: The chapter about the late Sen. Paul Wellstone and even some of the arguments about why the tax cuts were bad and the terrorism chapter, etc. I don’t know if the book is being misrepresented. It is funny, but there are a lot of serious parts in it.

AF: I think that satire…. I don’t think that they [humor and seriousness] are incompatible at all. Even the funny parts are serious.

JJ: I read a Salon interview where you were asked whether your support for Clinton wavered during the impeachment, and you answered, joking I assume, that even during “Pardongate” you needed to give Clinton credit for the pardons he didn’t give, like to the Unabomber and Charles Manson.

In this book I didn’t find any such jokes about Clinton. It was more of a paean to him. Monica aside, is there is anything, in your estimation, that Clinton did that was wrong or at least questionable?

AF: Aside from Monica? Well I think that he might have been a bit aggressive on some of the campaign fundraising and he might have gone into Rwanda a little quicker, but basically I thought he had a really successful presidency.

JJ: Finally, what do you think Stuart Smalley would say about your book and your success?

AF: Well Stuart isn’t very political. He would say [in a nasal voice] “Well, good for Al. You know. It’s a big success, and I know him, and you know, good for him.”

Al Franken will be speaking on Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m. at Temple Emmanuel, 300 N. Clark Drive, Beverly Hills. $18. For tickets, call (310) 335-0917.

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