‘Klinghoffer’ ticket-holders talk back

By now, the complaints of those protesting the Metropolitan Opera’s staging of “The Death of Klinghoffer” are well known.

The production—depicting the 1985 of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old Jewish-American passenger in a wheelchair — is allegedly anti-Semitic, exploitative, hostile to Israel and sympathetic to terrorists.

But that didn’t stop some New Yorkers from enjoying a night at the opera. Hundreds poured into the Met, braving jeers, and angry chants from protesters, who gathered at ticket entrances to heckle.

One such heckler was Robert Grunstein, who greeted opera goers with the admonition, “Shame on you.”

“I just want to arouse some level of shame, to let people know they are seeing an anti-Semitic opera, in New York, where 9/11 happened,” he told JTA.

Many in the mostly middle-aged crowd appeared undisturbed, ignoring Grunstein and other protesters. A few volleyed shouts back, returning the “shame on you” sentiment, and adding other, more colorful ones.

Others said they felt unfairly judged by people who hadn’t seen the show.

One well-dressed elderly gentleman danced past the group of hecklers, singing a spirited version of “Am Yisrael Chai.” Another elderly man in a retro New York Mets jacket attempted, unsuccessfully, to engage protesters in civil discourse. He threw up his hands in frustration, finally shouting, “I’m Jewish! What you are doing is an embarrassment.”

Like this man — and presumably the dancing one — many more shared that they, too, were Jewish. More than once, protesters accused these people of being “self-hating Jews.”

A middle-aged, Russian-accented Jewish man who identified himself as Boris said he did not consider himself self-hating. He noted that there was a chance, however, that he might find the show distasteful. “I understand the issues, I just want to see it with my own eyes before making a decision,” he explained.

“It’s a work of art intended to open up a dialogue,” said another silver-haired man.

One of the younger men in the crowd countered the claim that the show glorified violence by telling protesters that their own behavior was in fact violent. And a woman who said she works in the show but wasn’t allowed to speak with the media told protesters that the show was “very gentle, beautiful.”

“There is no way you can watch it and think it is pro-PLO,” she added.


Novel Tears Down a Sacred Shrine

“The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank: A Novel” by Ellen Feldman (W. W. Norton & Company, $23.95).

One of the more surprising moments in recent music history comes midway through the celebrated 1998 indie rock album, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” by the band Neutral Milk Hotel. Hiding in an otherwise understated tune are some startling lyrics:

I know they buried her body with others.

Her sister and mother and five hundred families.

And will she remember me fifty years later?

I wish I could save her with some sort of time machine….

It is, as many a hipster could tell you, an album about Anne Frank. Its singer and lyricist was a shaggy-headed 27-year-old named Jeff Magnum. As far removed as his native Louisiana was from Amsterdam, his songs give the unmistakable impression that he is a man in love with a 15-year-old girl who had been murdered more than five decades earlier.

Magnum was hardly the first to wish he could save her. Because of the hold that “The Diary of a Young Girl” has long had on a certain subset of American youth, generations of readers and writers have attempted to revive her with their imaginations. The most notable performance of this shadow play came a quarter-century ago in Philip Roth’s strange little novel, “The Ghost Writer.” Setting his story late in the 1950s, Roth is able, through the figure of Nathan Zuckerman, to encounter a mysterious young woman who bears a striking resemblance to Anne Frank. She becomes for him the answer to all his ambivalence as a postwar Jew in America. He imagines marrying her, the Jewish martyr nonpareil, and writing home with proof that he is no self-hater: “Dear Folks: Anne is pregnant, and happier, she says, than she ever thought possible again.” It is vintage Roth in its skewering of pieties; who else would dare impregnate the ghost of a murdered child to show how perverse the sacralization of memory can be?

In the latest literary reappearance of Anne Frank’s diary, Ellen Feldman, in her new novel, “The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank,” imagines that a boy who shared Anne’s hiding place somehow managed to survive. As she explains in an author’s note, on a visit to the Anne Frank Huis in Amsterdam, she heard that young Peter van Pels was the only inhabitant of the secret annex whose fate is unknown. Of the eight people who hid there together, only Otto Frank is known to have lived to see the liberation of the camps; the dates and places of six of the others’ deaths appeared soon after the war in the records of the Red Cross. It’s very likely that Peter died on a forced march in 1945, but officially he remains the kind of question mark that begs for a story. What became of Peter, Feldman realized, could make for compelling, speculative fiction.

It could also make for gimmicky, sentimental, cult-of-holy-memory fiction, but Feldman manages to avoid such pitfalls. She does so, in a deceptively straightforward way, by allowing her salvaged character to tell his own story, proceeding from a few parameters set by the diary. If they made it out of the annex, Peter once told Anne, he would reinvent himself entirely.

“He said life would have been easier if he’d been Christian or could become one after the war,” Anne wrote.

From there, Feldman follows Peter as he leaves his past behind. Sent to Auschwitz along with the Franks and his parents, he survives to see the limbo of the displaced persons camps and then boards a boat to America. But his survival is only the start of the story.

The moment he sets foot in New York, he carries out the plan hatched in the annex: He ceases to be a Jew.

As Feldman tells it, Peter’s fictional life from then on might have followed the path of many passing stories: swift success, endless lies, a house in the suburbs — if not for the one overshadowing fact that the author leaves in place: the diary itself, dropped into the narrative like a bomb that quietly explodes one evening while he is in his big suburban home. His wife, a Jew who believes she is married to a non-Jew, selects as bedtime reading the recently released book full of all the memories he has kept from her.

At first he tries to ignore it, forgetting the diary just as he has forgotten the events it describes. But as Anne’s words become not just a book but also a cultural phenomenon — the play, the film, the sudden ubiquity of a girl he thought lost — Peter’s hidden past becomes the elephant in every room he enters. When at last he reads the words he had watched Anne write, he is overcome by them.

“When I was not reading it, I was thinking of it…” he says. “I was trapped in that book as I had been trapped in that house.”

The inevitable reckoning between Feldman’s speculation and the reality that inspired it begins when Peter hears of the liberties that were taken in the diary’s various adaptations. In one of the historical and scholarly epigraphs at the start of each chapter, we learn that the playwrights and producers of the dramatic production of Anne’s story, faced with a “sagging second act,” decided to invent conflict where there had been none. They made Peter’s father into a thief, a stealer of bread from the mouths of children. While he had done his best to forget his parents and their fate, this outright rewriting of history is too much for him to bear. It is against this backdrop that Peter van Pels, the boy who died in real life, sets out to confront Otto Frank, the man who, here and in history, survived to tell the tale.

Such seamless weaving of fact and fiction gives “The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank” tension to spare, making it a story of unexpected suspense — no small feat, given that the crimes that drive the plot occurred long before the action opens. It’s a page-turner motivated not by the usual whodunit but more meaningfully by questions: When will he speak? Will the revisers of history get away with it? How will the man who knows the truth admit it, knowing the cost?

The novel’s most effective moments come when Peter tries to make sense of what happened to the story of his life in hiding when it became not just his memory but the world’s. When he goes to see the Anne Frank film, he is at first put off by the invented details but then cannot help but be moved by the film, despite knowing how much of it is untrue. Particularly untrue, he finds, is the moral of the story, the words from the diary with which the movie ends. “In spite of everything,” the actress playing Anne says, “I still believe people are good at heart.”

With the credits rolling and that hopeful message hanging in the air, Feldman allows Peter a soliloquy of restrained disgust: “That was what the audience wanted. The triumph of the human spirit, as my wife called it. The reassurance that in spite of everything, of people going to their deaths by the millions merely for the accident of their birth, of other people willing and eager to pry gold fillings from their mouths before they shoveled them into ovens, of ghoulish experiments on unanesthetized individuals in the interest of medical science, of an entire people’s bloodthirsty complicity to cleanse the world of another entire people, despite all that, human beings are good at heart.”

By tearing down the shrine of simple hope and sacred memory that has been made of Anne Frank, Feldman has created a fiction that makes the facts of her story real again.

Though one selling point of this book surely will be the promise of a kind of reanimated Anne offered by the likes of Roth and Magnum, she is rarely mentioned directly. This is to Feldman’s credit. Her project is harder work, and she pulls it off.

Rather than bringing Anne back to life, the author brings her back to death. A half-century after a found diary made a murder victim into an icon, Feldman succeeds in acknowledging the role the story has played in the world, while allowing — finally — the girl who wrote it to rest.

This article appears courtesy The Forward.
Peter Manseau is co-author of “Killing the Buddha: A Heretic’s Bible”(The Free Press, 2004). His next book, “Vows,” will be published in the fall.


The Shabbos After

Here’s a marketing nightmare: You have your biggest and most captive audience of the year, and rather than dangling the kind of well-packaged, enticing tidbits that might draw people back for more, you offer up several hours worth of weighty and complex theological ideas wrapped in obscure ritual.

Welcome to the High Holidays, where twice-a-year attendees get their primary one-on-one time with Judaism, meeting up with a God and a tradition that don’t necessarily reflect what goes on behind the main sanctuary doors the rest of the year.

"We have to help people understand that if their only experience with Judaism is the High Holidays, that it is a very skewed relationship they have with Judaism and a skewed relationship that they have with God," said Rabbi Richard Camras of Shomrei Torah in West Hills. "The judgmental God of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is not the God of Sukkot or Simchat Torah or Shabbat for that matter, and if people feel overwhelmed by the seriousness of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and decide not to come back, they are missing out on the beauty and passion and intimacy and joy that come with Simchat Torah and Sukkot and all of the other festivals."

The challenge is to help occasional attendees get a glimpse of the character of the shul and how it might enhance their lives on a regular basis, despite the High Holiday’s huge crowds that can make even the warmest community feel distant and overwhelming, security bottlenecks and the whole off-putting ticket thing.

Directly adjuring people to come back can backfire with its implicit criticism and guilt. "People come for a lot of reasons on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and they are all valid. It might be because a parent or grandparent inculcates them, or they want to take advantage of the opportunity for personal reflection or spiritual growth," Camras said. "Whatever those reasons are that compelled them to come out on that day, if we can help them see that there are other days of the year where they can have meaningful relationships with God and community, with services and with synagogue, then we are successful."

Most shuls do experience a membership bump around the High Holidays, and synagogue leaders are trying to figure out how to make that number grow not only in terms of getting more people to join, but in getting those who are already members to come back more often.

"If people had more engaging and participatory and uplifting experiences on the High Holidays, they would come back again for services on Shabbat, and they’d say, ‘Oh my gosh, there is something going on here that can touch me and move me and inform me and stimulate me and help me be part of a community," said Ron Wolfson, co-founder of Synagogue 2000, a revitalization effort run from the Whizin Institute at the University of Judaism.

Some congregations participating in Synagogue 2000 spent a whole year figuring out how to make High Holidays more appealing to those who aren’t regulars.

They focused on how shuls can custom tailor ideas such as being more welcoming and warm, offering concrete opportunities for social action or study, and crafting services that are more participation and less presentation.

One of those synagogues was Temple Israel of Hollywood, which put the ideas to work at a crucial time.

On Rosh Hashanah morning right after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, congregants were confronted with metal detectors and long security lines before they even got to the door.

Volunteers were ready to go out to Hollywood Boulevard and greet people with cold water and trays of apples and honey.

"It’s really just a more intense version of our regular Shabbats," said Robin Kramer, the temple’s president. "We try to create a sense of welcome and warmth that makes the experience people have human — and therefore sacred," she said.

Temple Israel’s Rabbis John Rosove and Michelle Missagieh take that openness into the services itself. They compiled a Machzor that has the prayers in Hebrew, English and transliteration, along with commentaries both ancient and contemporary, and they invite reaction and comments from the congregants both during and in follow-up after the holidays.

"There are many ways of entering, and it is part of the shul’s obligation to think hard about those many points of entry, and to create a sense of welcome for people who are searching for wonder and reflection and repentance," Kramer said.

Like a growing number of shuls, Temple Israel, a Reform congregation, has multiple services, including a Russian service, free family service in the morning before regular services, and a free afternoon Yizkor and Neilah service on Yom Kippur.

Many attendees get a post-holiday phone call.

"It’s not accident when someone comes to a synagogue. People feel a connection and are looking for meaning, and we have to pick up on that and help them get connected," Temple Israel Director Jane Zuckerman said.

University Synagogue in Brentwood has integrated more music into its services throughout the year, and this year that will also extend into the High Holidays.

A band made up mostly of members will accompany services with keyboard, clarinet, electric guitar, trombone, drums and violins. Twenty voices from the teen choir, R’nanot, make the services more personal for the choir members and the congregants.

"The experience is not performance. It’s transformative. The kids are involved in the leadership of the service, and that means their families participate," University’s Rabbi Morley Feinstein said.

While Reform congregations such as University Synagogue are more open to experimenting with the liturgy, Orthodox and some Conservative congregations are limited in how far they can veer from traditional prayers and melodies, since congregants expect to hear the tunes and prayers they have heard for years.

"There are two forces at work: One is the impulse to make the day accessible, and the other is an impulse toward authenticity," said Rabbi Ed Feinstein of the Conservative Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

"They way I get out of the bind is to teach. Rabbi Schulweis and I take every opportunity to teach the prayers and the liturgy and the philosophy of the holiday, to teach about the human condition and about God. If I am teaching, I am opening the doorway of authenticity and accessibility," he said.

Camras at Shomrei Torah takes a similar approach. This year on Kol Nidre night, rather than giving a major sermon he will teach about specific prayers throughout the course of the service.

"The purpose of prayer is to help change a person, to refocus a person or to help them stop to allow them to think about life in a different way. I want to help them understand certain prayers and parts of the service so that they will have an intimate relationship with the Machzor and the liturgy," Camras said.

He leads similar instructional Shabbat services throughout the year, and those Shabbats see double the normal attendance.

"People want to know ‘What is supposed to happen to me when I’m sitting here, and if nothing happens why do I need to come back?’ I want to help them see that something can happen," he said.

Camras will also directly focus his sermons on developing a more intimate relationship with God and community throughout the year, so that God’s judgment on the High Holidays comes in the context of a loving relationship.

He will focus on Shabbat as a tool for building that intimacy, and Camras will use the opportunity to unveil "The Year of Shabbat," an initiative undertaken by The Federation’s West Valley Rabbinic Task Force.

Seven synagogues of all denominations will participate in the initiative, where each month programs, classes and sermons will focus on one theme. The synagogues will come together in a monthly program, and a newsletter and neighborhood hospitality will further tie together members of different congregations.

Marketing the programs for the year and offering specific and imminent action items has become a staple of the High Holidays, but Wolfson cautions congregations not to rely on that.

"There is a difference between putting out fliers that say ‘please come to this program,’ and challenging people at a different level, at a higher level. It’s not about attending, but about inspiring action, whether that is spiritual growth, participating in services, engaging in learning, becoming an adult bar or bat mitzvah, getting involved in family education, or getting involved in social action," Wolfson said.

Rabbi Elazar Muskin at Young Israel of Century City uses the High Holidays not just to unveil the full-color program brochure with a top-secret humorous theme, but to inspire congregants to reach for higher levels of commitment.

"If you are in an Orthodox shul, you know they are going to come to shul every week. However, every rabbi is concerned about how you capture the inspirational moments of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and give them a charge for the rest of the year," Muskin said.

That challenge, it seems, crosses all denominations.

"The bottom line is we need to touch people, and people are touched in different ways — some though acts of compassion, some through the heart and some through the head," said Rabbi Morely Feinstein of University Synagogue. "We have to provide numerous opportunities to reach out so people can come inside and see what wonderful things can happen here."

Alan King a Model for Seinfeld, Crystal

Many young Americans know comedian Alan King’s work — they just don’t realize it.

The observational style of King, who died this week of lung cancer at age 76, was a model for younger comedians such as Billy Crystal and Jerry Seinfeld.

Crystal, a close friend, was one of those who paid tribute to King at his funeral Tuesday.

Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, co-editor of the “The Big Book of Jewish Humor,” said King was “someone who brought a sense of indignance about the travails of life.”

King, who usually was seen with a cigar in his mouth, was among the first to lampoon airline food and other irritants of airline travel, as well as doctors’ bills and traffic.

“That was considered kind of cutting edge in that period, where most people were just telling jokes about their mother-in-law,” said Gerald Nachman, author of “Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s,” according to New York Newsday.

King adopted the comedic voice of someone hard to please, cantankerous and impatient.

As drama critic Kenneth Tynan once put it, “If a sawed-off shotgun could talk, it would sound like Alan King.”

In comparison to his contemporaries, King was less raunchy than Lenny Bruce, less schmaltzy than Buddy Hackett and didn’t talk in dialect like Sid Caesar, Waldoks observed.

But like these others geniuses of American Jewish comedy, King was quick with the zingers.

In one of his better-known lines, King said, “As life’s pleasures go, food is second only to sex. Except for salami and eggs. Now that’s better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced.”

After performing for Queen Elizabeth II, he was introduced to the queen. When she asked, “How do you do, Mr. King?” he told audiences he replied, “How do you do, Mrs. Queen?”

“She stared at me, and then Prince Philip laughed,” he recalled. “Thank God Prince Philip laughed.”

Born in Brooklyn as Irwin Alan Kinberg to Jewish immigrants from Poland, King quit school at age 14.

Through his appearances on the “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the 1950s and 1960s, and for his guest-host appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” King brought the edgier, Catskills style of humor to the American masses.

But he put his own personal stamp on the Borscht Belt joke.

King has said he was inspired to change his style after watching a performance by another young comedian, Danny Thomas, in the early 1950s.

“Danny actually talked to his audience,” he recalled in a 1991 interview. “And I realized I never talked to my audience. I talked at ’em, around ’em and over ’em, but not to ’em. I felt the response they had for him. I said to myself, ‘This guy is doing something, and I better start doing it.’ ”

That sometimes meant a turn to topical humor.

“Why is everybody carrying on about Woolworth’s?” he asked a black audience at a rally after the first lunch-counter sit-ins of the civil rights era. “Have you ever eaten at the counter at Woolworth’s? If you wanted to sit in the Colony Club I could understand.”

King said he didn’t want to slow down in his later years — and he didn’t, performing a few years ago as film mogul Samuel Goldwyn in “Mr. Goldwyn.”

“You only live once,” he once said, “except for Shirley MacLaine.”

He plied his trade well enough that he was named the first recipient of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture’s award in American Jewish humor. The award now is named after him.

King also showed the younger generation of comics how to be a successful businessman.

He appeared in film and on stage, produced Broadway plays and wrote five books. He was the master of ceremonies for part of President Kennedy’s inaugural party in 1961, and for the 1972 Academy Awards.

His collection of reminiscences, “Matzo Balls for Breakfast and Other Memories of Growing Up Jewish,” will be published next year by Simon & Schuster.

He also was involved in Jewish philanthropy. He founded the Alan King Diagnostic Medical Center in Jerusalem, established a scholarship fund for American students at Hebrew University and created a chair in dramatic arts at Brandeis University.

New UJ ‘Tradition’ Starts

Tevye, Tzeitel, Golde and all the other memorable characters of "Fiddler on the Roof" graced the big screen at the University of Judaism (UJ) on Sunday, April 25, but it was the audience who stole the show.

Five-hundred people — some bold enough to come in costume — sang along with the memorable songs of "Tradition," "If I Were a Rich Man" and other classic "Fiddler" tunes. The UJ singalong event capitalizes on the popularity of participatory shows, such as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," "Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding" and "Grandma Sylvia’s Funeral."

UJ staff passed out kitschy props highlighting key points in the film — ring pops for "Matchmaker" and boxes of gilded chocolate coins for "If I Were A Rich Man." When the sun set on Friday evening at Tevye’s house, the audience munched on mini challahs.

Participants, drawn into the excitement of the production, led performances of their own. During the graveyard scene of the film, Sandy Erkus, dressed as the ghostly Fruma Sarah, ran about the theater in her tattered wedding gown, reviving the role of Lazar Wolf’s dead wife. Erkus said she didn’t plan to steal the spotlight, but fellow audience members coaxed her to get up and play the part. "Me, being a ham and a half — wait that’s not kosher is it? — I went up," she recalled with a laugh.

At intermission, timed with the wedding of Motel and Tzeitel, Tevye’s oldest daughter, the UJ treated the audience to a mock wedding reception with sliced wedding cake, champagne and even a fiddler playing in the background.

Sandy Kanan, wearing a shawl over her head and a long cloak-like dress, enjoyed coming out and dressing up like Yente the Matchmaker.

"I love getting into it," said Kanan, who finds the program an entertaining lesson in Jewish tradition.

"This is so important; this is our culture; this is our heritage," she said. "There is a lot of truth in it."

The next "Fiddler" singalong has been set for March 20, 2005. A "Grease" singalong is also being planned. For more information, call the UJ’s Department of Continuing Education at (310) 440-1246.

Funny, They Don’t Sound Jewish

Laura Bush on Howard Stern; J. Lo waking up with a pimple on her nose; Homer Simpson running for governor of California. No, it’s not a slow day on “Live on E!” It’s a game of “Scenes from a Hat” — one of 40 interactive games that improv comedy troupe ¡The Los Hombres! has in its repertoire. The game, in which audience members write down funny scenes that they would like to see acted out, is just one way the eight-member cast connects with the audience.

“There’s something great about improv that doesn’t happen in other theater,” said Joshua Glazer, the group’s founder. “The audience learns what’s happening at the exact same time you do. So there’s a spark between you and them and it just feeds off it, so everything’s funny.”

Upon graduation from M.I.T., Glazer founded the Los Angeles-based group two years ago. With its founding members consisting of six men and one woman, the group came to be known ironically as ¡The Los Hombres!, because of course, “two articles is funnier than one,” Glazer said.

But aside from their name, for most of the group’s 5 1/2 Jewish members, it is their Jewish background that inspires much of their comedy.

“Jewish humor is, to me, the funniest humor in the world — the rhythm of Jewish humor and that ‘if we don’t laugh about it we’ll cry instead’ philosophy,” Jewish cast member and writer Michael Konik said. “Though we are not an overtly Jewish group, I think our sensibility is a very Jewish sense of humor.”

Cast member Michael Feldman said that the group is simply perpetuating a trend that can be seen throughout Jewish history — dealing with tragedy and sadness with humor.

“It’s about finding some sort of a recourse through humor to deal with the horrible things that life can give you,” Feldman said. “I think that’s what we try to do a little bit…. If there are problems in your life and you face that thing, you can find a way to deal with it and process it.”

While the troupe members hope that their show can offer the same therapy for their audience as it does for them personally, their primary goal is to inspire laughter.

“Who knows if laughing cures cancer,” said Nickie Bryar, the group’s Jewish mother (she just had her first baby), one of four women in the troup today. “That would be fantastic. But I think it’s really important that people have a good time.”

The Los Hombres! performs every Friday in September at
the Second City Studio Theatre, 8-9 p.m. 8156 Melrose Ave. Admission $10. For
more information, visit

The World, Observed

The moment former Sen. Gary Hart told the audience at theMilken Institute’s Global Conference that America is “at a crossroads,” Abe Zarem leaned over to me and said, “He’s wrong.”

There were 1,500 people sitting in the audience listening toa panel tussle over the United States’ role in the world. For a conference thatannually attracts the world’s financial and academic elite, the seating at theBeverly Hilton was refreshingly democratic: no place cards, sit almost anywhereyou like. So I found myself between Charlie Woo, the innovator behind downtown Los Angeles’ Toy Town district, and Zarem, inventor, professor, entrepreneur,thinker.

“Crossroads is not the right word,” Zarem told me,correcting Hart, “because at a crossroads you pick a direction and you knowwhere you’re going. We’re at a cloverleaf. When you turn off a cloverleaf youdon’t know where you’re going.”

He’s right, and the better metaphor explains why MichaelMilken hosts his annual conference. Business leaders and others pay $1,900 ahead for three days of seminars, lectures and shmoozing, hoping to get a peakbehind the curves. The presenters are Nobel and Pulitzer Prize laureates,chiefs of finance, politics and academia, and, in Milken’s words, “about 40 peoplewho are paid to do nothing but think.”

The attendees seemed to break down along the “not mutuallyexclusive” lines of the intellectually curious, the portfolio warriors huntingopportunity and the elbow-rubbers, who figured that what works for Milken mightwork for them, too — George S. Kaufman called that “gelt by association.”

Milken’s genius has always been at mining capital markets tofind undiscovered value. In the 1980s, he restructured the corporate world byfocusing on financial markets. After legal battles and a jail term about whichhis official conference biography is admirably up front, his focus has expandedto other forms of undervalued capital, human and social.

Laying bare these veins of capital enables individuals andgovernments to unleash what Milken called “the most powerful force in theuniverse: compound interest.” (Milken claimed Albert Einstein said this aboutcompound interest, but Einstein authority Alice Calaprice has said he probablydidn’t.)

Milken, who was elected cheerleader at Birmingham HighSchool in the early 1960s, is cheerleading still, filling the dais with anenergy that wouldn’t be out of place at a human potential seminar. But — andthis is all to his credit — this was a conference devoted to the potential of humanity — and if in uncorking that potential some people profited, good for them, goodfor us all.

So, Monday evening’s panel discussion offered a hopeful viewof humanity’s potential. Moderated by Milken, the discussion featured NobelLaureate Robert Fagan, biologist Paul Ehrlich, futurist Alvin Toffler andlinguist Steven Pinker.

Fagan said that the obvious next source of unleashableenergy lay Far East.

“The most important economic event is the emergence ofChina,” Fagan said. “By 2030, the Chinese economy will be bigger than theeconomies of America and Europe put together.”

Other speakers on the panel agreed, and the presence ofentrepreneurs like Woo, founder of the Megatoys corporation, was all the proofthey needed. Drawing on a network of Asian contacts, Woo, 47, built the toydistrict downtown from a single $140,000 warehouse into an area that employsmore than 4,000 people, boasts revenues estimated at roughly $500 million ayear and controls the distribution of some 60 percent of the $12 billion intoys sold to American retailers. China is the new plastics.

Toffler said that the current economic meltdown is a hiccupin the “knowledge revolution,” what he called the “Third Wave” of humandevelopment after the agrarian and Industrial revolutions.

“Between 1750 and 1950 there were 27 financial crises inAmerica and England,” Toffler said. “None of them stopped the IndustrialRevolution.”

What stands in our way, Ehrlich warned, is our careless useof natural resources and the fact that a full third of the world still lives inpoverty. “The current system is unsustainable,” he said.

But Pinker and the others stressed humanity’s adaptability,our ability to innovate our way out of problems. By the evening’s end, evenEhrlich offered hope that “humanity, as smart as we are, will get smart enoughto save our butts.”

On Tuesday evening the “Big Picture” narrowed to focus on”America’s Role in the World.” This discussion featured William Bennett, formersecretary of education; Robert Bartley, editor emeritus of The Wall StreetJournal; Hart; and Stephan Richter, publisher and editor-in-chief of TheGlobalist. Despite King’s vain efforts to expand it, the debate swirled aboutthe current war. It became clear that so many of the big questions Americafaces — what we stand for, how we are to exercise our power, whether the worldwill fear us, hate us, respect us or all three — are being played out now inthe sands and cities of Iraq.

The conference provided a time to take a step back from anda more distant perspective on these unknowns, just before we turn off thecloverleaf.  

Up Close and Comical

”I’m a ham,” said legendary actor-writer-director Carl Reiner.

“When you’re a showoff, you’ve gotta get on that platform.”

Which is why 80-year-old Reiner is eager to regale theaudience with tales of his life in a speaking engagement at the Orange CountyPerforming Arts Center on Dec. 9. He’ll cover everything from working on SidCaesar’s TV shows to playing straight man to Mel Brooks’ 2,000-Year-Old Man towriting semi-autobiographical novels such as “Enter Laughing.”

“The only thing I’m an expert on is me,” he said of hischoice of a lecture topic. “And I’m a fairly good interviewer from myexperience with the 2,000-Year-Old Man. I know what I’m curious about, so I’llask questions of myself and give all the answers.”

Expect to enter — and exit — laughing.

Bronx-bred Reiner, whom Brooks calls the “tall, bald Jew,”has been funny practically since birth. “As a kid, I could always make peoplelaugh, and I could perfectly tell and retell jokes I heard at the movies,”Reiner said.

His first performance occurred when he put one leg behindhis head and hopped on the other in front of his rapt kindergarten teachers andclassmates. A smaller crowd watched his Orthodox bar mitzvah, which he saystook place “on a Thursday morning before mincha, with just a minyan of old Jews.”

By 1950, Reiner was writing and performing on Caesar’s “YourShow of Shows,” where he met a short, outrageous fellow writer named MelBrooks. “Mel Yiddishized everything,” Reiner says. “I’ll never forget he usedto do this character called The Jewish Pirate. Instead of a Jolly Roger, he hada Jolly Magen David.”

While hanging out in the writers’ room one day, Reiner madehistory when he turned to Brooks and ad-libbed, “Here is a man who was at thescene of the crucifixion 2,000 years ago. Did you know Jesus?” Brooks instantlylapsed into a thick, Yiddish accent and replied, “Thin lad, wore sandals, cameinto my store, but he never bought a thing.”

Over the next 10 years, Reiner shlepped a tape recorder toparties to capture their 2,000-Year-Old Man shtick, although he says he andBrooks refused to cut a record because “we were afraid the accent would playinto anti-Semitic stereotypes.” It wasn’t until after they had recorded thealbum in 1961 that Reiner received the penultimate confirmation that the 2,000-Year-OldMan was universal.

His notoriously cheap neighbor, Cary Grant, had shnorred adozen copies of the album to take along on a trip to England; when he returned,he knocked on Reiner’s door. “She loved it,” Grant gushed. “Who?” Reiner asked.”The Queen Mother,” Grant replied.

“The biggest gentile in the world,” marveled Reiner, whobecame a founding father of the TV sitcom when he created “The Dick Van DykeShow,” based on his home life during “Your Show of Shows.”

In 1979, Reiner again made history by directing “The Jerk,”the movie that catapulted Steve Martin to superstardom. He went on to directthree more films with the Texas-born comic (“Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” “TheMan With Two Brains” and “All of Me”), who proved to be a very different kind ofcollaborator than Brooks. “Mel is loud, abrasive and hilarious, while Steve isquiet and hilarious,” Reiner said. “But funny is funny.”

The octogenarian could say the same of himself. Last year,he elicited yuks with his hilarious turn as a grumpy, Rolaids-popping, has-beencrook in Steven Soderberg’s heist flick “Ocean’s 11.” Recently, he signed withLittle, Brown and Company to write a children’s book, “Tell Me a Scary Story,But Not Too Scary!” prompted by a request from his grandson, Nicky (the middlechild of Reiner’s director son, Rob Reiner). Now he’s finishing anautobiography, “My Anecdotal Life,” spurred by fellow comedy writers at TheFriars Club.

“We have this alter-kacker lunch — we calls ourselvesROMEOS, Retired Old Men Eating Out — where everyone kept telling me to writedown my stories,” Reiner said. “I started and pretty soon I was adding andadding to the list.”

He’ll tell a number of those stories in Orange County, wherehe hopes to elicit more yuks. “Although I’m older now, I still have the need toget up in front of people and make them laugh,” he said. “That’s what I like tohear.”  

Chabad rocks!

Chabad of California’s 22nd annual “L’Chaim to Life Telethon,” hosted by Dennis Prager, was humming along nicely with a long roster of talent that included classic actors James Caan and Elliott Gould, comic actor Dom DeLuise and Israeli singer David “Dudu” Fisher. Then 10:30 p.m. rolls around and the KCET soundstage — where the telethon is broadcast — went amok. Enter the Sand Man.

Yes, Hollywood’s most bankable comic actor, Adam Sandler — as in “The Waterboy,” “Big Daddy” and “Mr. Deeds.” While he didn’t pander to his Jewish audience with a performance of “The Chanukah Song,” Sandler did show some support for his pal, Arthur Brooks, who belted out his soothing-as-chicken soup rendition of “My Yiddishe Mama.”

“You dance amazing, rabbi,” Sandler told Chabad patriarch Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin onstage, as Cunin and sons whirled around the bewildered “Happy Gilmore” star.

Sandler, who is known for not giving interviews, nonetheless said a few words to The Circuit.

“I’m glad to be here and I’m honored to be here,” he said.

Sandler was not the only surprise guest of the evening. Arguably the most triumphant moment of the evening came when singer Neil Diamond melted hearts by singing “America” from “The Jazz Singer.” Hot off his performance, Diamond told The Circuit that his Chabad experience was “terrific. It was a wonderful time.”

In the VIP room, The Circuit caught up with other notables happy to support Chabad.

“Their persistence intelligence, energy, spirit, heart and soul” is what attracted Gould, who played legendary gumshoe Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman’s “Long Goodbye” and looked very Chandleresque in his floppy gray Stetson.

Caan, the gritty actor who shined in “The Godfather” and “Honeymoon in Vegas,” told The Circuit that Chabad’s drug rehab facilities helped his late sister, Barbara Caan Licker, who lost her battle with leukemia in 1981.

The “Brian’s Song” star affectionly recalled being prodded by her to attend High Holiday services. “She used to tell me, ‘Put on your blue suit, go to the Beverly Hills Hotel.'”

Also touched by Chabad’s good deeds: Dmitriy Salita, who will be fighting at Mandalay Bay in Vegas on Sept. 13, told The Circuit, “Chabad is what got me involved in Judaism. They turned my life around,” said the 20-year-old junior welterweight and Russian immigrant who gave props to Rabbi Zalman Lieberoff of Chabad of Flatbush in Brooklyn for showing him the Jewish way.

Looking grownup in his suit and tie was 10-year-old Daryl Sabara of the “Spy Kids” movies.

“I’m here to say some Jewish prayers and talk to the crowd,” said the redheaded Sabara, of German and Russian Jewish descent. Later onstage, the dancing Chabadniks turned the spy kid into a sky kid when they began hoisting him up in the air.

Onstage, freewheeling rap sensation Casanova was cool as a cuke as he stalked the phone banks and freestyled rhymes about the volunteers. But behind the scenes, the starstruck Casanova freaked when he recognized Gould. Gould came over and the two shared a moment of conversation.

“It’s an honor to be here again among my Jewish brethren,” said the rapper, who was once a wrestler named Oscar for the former WWF and has played the telethon on many occasions in the past decade. “I find Chabad awesome, and I look forward to coming back again,” he said

The Circuit also hung out between performances with Sephardic singing sensation Jo Amar, who flew in from Israel just to sing his signature “Barcelona” on the seven-hour program, reggae singer Elan and members of Rebbe Soul. Elan, who sang “Nothing Is Worth Losing You (Jerusalem)” and “Praises” on the telecast, is a reggae-rooted pop-rock-soul pastiche being groomed in the Shaggy tradition, with two tracks on the upcoming Santana album.

Elan’s connection with Chabad is personal. While on tour in Australia during Passover 1997, Elan found himself at Coffs Harbor, four hours from Brisbon.

“We were literally in the middle of nowhere,” Elan said. That’s where Chabad of Byron Bay came in, including him in their holiday services.

Ditto on an occasion when Elan and wife, Orly, were vacationing in Hawaii over Simchat Torah.

“They attend shul in Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts,” mused Elan of that Chabad’s constituency. “If I’m on tour, I always have a place to go.”

Actor Robert Guillaume (“Benson”), game show host Peter Marshall (“Hollywood Squares”) and California Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Dist. 24), were among the recognizables circulating through the VIP room. Also greeting fans was Fyvush Finkel (“Boston Public”), who has been the telethon’s master of ceremonies for the last three years, and was now the recipient of Chabad’s L’Chaim-To Life! Humanitarian Award.

Honorary Chabadnik and Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight once again proved himself the “Midnight Cowboy,” staying up and partying till the telethon’s midnight close, when Chabad scored its biggest grand total ever: $5,473,793 (edging last year’s $5,104,533).

As usual, Chabad knew how to throw a fundraiser party. Those in attendance stayed all night long. Perhaps Cassanova summed up the evening’s spirit with his economical exclamation: “Chabad rocks!” — Gaby Wenig contributed to this report.

About 200 people attended the gala dinner for the Southern California Jewish Center gala at the Beverly Hilton for the 22 Israeli victims of terror visiting Los Angeles. Attendees included a wide roster of celebrities and community members, such as Buzz Aldrin, Tom Arnold, Jaime Pressly, Renee Taylor, Joseph Bologna, Susan Blakely, Lanie Kazan, Charlene Tilton, Tina Louise, Leah Remini, David Suissa and Shelley Ventura-Cohen.

The event was chaired by Rabbi Shimon and Rebbetzin Vered Kashani from the Southern California Jewish Center. CNN anchor Jim Moret was the master of ceremonies, and Oscar-winner Jon Voight gave the keynote address.

Each of the victims of terror was awarded a medal in commemoration of their visit to Los Angeles, and a video presentation was shown of the impact of the terror attacks on the lives of the victims.

“I think it’s very important that we support the victims of terror,” Voight said. “It is important to put a face to the events and to realize the horror of them and stand up and speak out against them.”

“Normally we are here to honor people who play heroes,” said Arnold, referring to the fact that the Beverly Hilton is the home of the Golden Globe Awards. “So it’s good to be here to honor actual heroes themselves.” — GW

Stanley Gold has been elected chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees replacing John C. Argue, who died Aug. 10. The president and CEO of Shamrock Holdings Inc. and nine-year USC boardmember will assume leadership immediately.

Gold, who graduated from the USC Law School in 1967, joined the USC board in 1993 and has been vice chairman since June 2002.

He is a governor and former chairman of the board of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and serves on the board of councilors of the USC Law School, board of overseers of the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the board of the Walt Disney Company.

Gold, with his wife, Ilene, has two children, Jennifer and Charles (a USC master’s of business administration graduate). The Golds reside in Beverly Hills.

Fundraising veteran Wallace “Bud” Levin has been installed as national major gifts chairman for Jewish National Fund.

“While I knew that over the past 100 years, JNF has helped to reclaim, restore and nurture the Jewish homeland,” Levin said. “When I was in Israel this summer, I really saw how vital their immediate work is — both responsively and proactively.”

Levin began his career as a lay leader 40 years ago in St. Louis with the St. Louis Federation, United Hebrew Congregation Capital Campaign, and National United Jewish Appeal.

A Matter of Opinion

Rabbis to your corners. We want a clean fight, a fair fight, and no hitting below the beard. It’s not the WWF Wrestling Smackdown — it’s the JSI rabbinical smackdown, brought to you live by the Jewish Studies Institute (JSI) Talkback Series.

The series, held at the Museum of Tolerance, invites panelists from clashing Jewish camps to debate controversial topics in a TV-talk-show format. Rabbi Ari Hier, JSI director, plays a Jewish Jerry Springer, and moderates the intense discussions. He comes with a prepared set of questions, but as with every good talk show, members interject their opinions, and ask some questions of their own.

The series evolved from Hier’s desire to create a more interactive learning experience. "When a person hears a rabbi’s lecture or listens to a sermon, they don’t play much of a role," Hier said. "This series allows the audience to get involved with the discussion," he said.

Hier encourages seminar audiences to question panelists during each program, and the crowds delight in this opportunity to engage in debate.

Joel Levy of Beverlywood, a regular Talkback attendee, found a home in the series. "I really started exposing myself to Judaism 14 months ago. I’ve been to all different synagogues, but somehow felt left out. It’s these nights, these topics, that really hit home to me," Levy said.

The deliberated topics have included "Almost Famous: A Jewish perspective on ethics in rock ‘n’ roll Culture," "Spiritual Center or Social Club: Why do we go to synagogue?" and "The Art of Religious Enticement: The highly competitive means used to bring Jews closer to Judaism."

Ironically, the Orthodox Hier, who expressed disapproval of religious enticements during the last panel, employs those very means to lure Jews into learning. "I really want to bring Jews into textual, Talmudic study. I think it’s what Jewish adults really crave, deep down. But I created the Talkback programs to get people in the door," Hier said. "People talk about these issues behind closed doors, and now we have a format to discuss them in public," he said.

The format has been well-received. On a drizzling February night, over 50 attendees, ranging from their 20s to their 60s, fill the museum hall. And while many Talkback fans attend multiple programs, JSI program director Emma Barron says the audience shifts with each new topic. "We had tons of parents and educators at the session about the high stress level of Jewish day schools, and lots of kabbalahists and Speed Daters at the religious enticement program," Barron said. "So we’re really reaching a broad range of people," she added.

Talkback is as popular with its panelists as it is with its audience. Past panelists invited to dispute the heated issues hailed from Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist congregations. Organizations such as Jews for Judaism, The Chai Center and even Rolling Stone magazine have also sent representatives.

Daniel Greyber, rabbinic intern at the Conservative Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, found his participation in the Religious Enticement panel beneficial.

"There’s great value to this format, to people having a sincere discussion, and agreeing to disagree on topics that affect all Jewish people," Greyber said.

For Greyber, the Talkback format seemed particularly useful in flushing out distinctions between various Judaic schools of thought. "There are substantial differences between the movements that have real consequences for kol Yisrael. This is an important forum, because people can ask questions and learn where different organizations stand on these issues," Greyber said.

Audience member Levy echoed Greyber’s opinion. "The most enticing and informative format is this — an actual learning exchange."

The next Talkback series, "The L.A. Jewish Singles Scene: Can you ever meet Mr. or Ms. Right?" will be held Wednesday, March 6, at 7 p.m. at The Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Admission is $4 (members) and $5 (nonmembers). Dessert reception follows. For more information call (310) 552-4595 ext. 21.

Let’s Make a Difference

Monty Hall is guiding a visitor past the fine artwork in the foyer of his Spanish-style Beverly Hills home, where you don’t see a single memento from the game show that made him a TV icon.

People mostly remember Hall from “Let’s Make a Deal,” the landmark show that ran intermittently from 1963 to 1991, featuring prize-hungry contestants in chicken costumes or bunny suits vying to see what was behind doors number one, two or three. Audience members traded knickknacks for refrigerators, and strangers still chase Hall down the street, yelling that they have a bobby pin in a purse, a hard-boiled egg in a pocket.

While “Deal” made the emcee a household name, his life’s passion is less known to the general public — so much so that he wanted to call his autobiography, “There’s More to My Life.” What many don’t realize about Hall is that he has raised almost a billion dollars for dozens of charities, at least half of them Jewish, from Israel Bonds to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to the Israel Children’s Centers.

Today, three hospital wings bear his name, and so do two city streets, in Cathedral City, CA, and in his native Winnipeg, Canada. Even at age 78, Hall makes more than 100 appearances a year around the world, speaking and performing gratis at benefit shows, and enlisting the help of his celebrity friends.

“If you left it up to Monty, I wouldn’t have a dime,” Don Rickles teased on an A & E Biography of Hall. “I’d just be on a bus, doing everything for free.”

This weekend, between events for the Venice Family Clinic and Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Hall will appear with friends Carl Reiner, Shelley Berman, Hal Kanter and Sherwood Schwartz in a panel discussion about Jews and TV comedy. The panel is a highlight of the national King David Society weekend, an event for major donors to the United Jewish Appeal Federation Campaign of United Jewish Communities, organized by the UJC and the Los Angeles Jewish Federation (see box).

Although he’s proud of the show, don’t tell Hall that “Let’s Make a Deal” will be his epitaph. “You put that on my tombstone,” he has quipped, “and I’ll kill you.”

Hall’s charitable roots go back two generations, to his Ukrainian maternal grandfather, David Rosenwasser. When the greenhorn stepped off the train at Winnipeg, Canada, in 1901, he was greeted by “a big voice ringing off the platform in Yiddish, –‘Are there any Jews here?’,” Hall says. “This man took my grandfather home, where he proceeded to give him a hot meal and a hot bath, his first in months. The next morning he got my grandfather a rooming house, a $5 loan from the Jewish free loan society, bought him a pushcart, taught him the money system and showed him where the farmers brought in produce from the provinces. And my grandfather was in business.”

Rosenwasser, in turn, ultimately became president of his Orthodox synagogue and brought over as many Jews from his shtetl as possible.