Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton? Who Jewish celebrities are backing


Chalk it up to “Hollywood values.”

The entertainment industry famously, or infamously, depending on your perspective, leans Democratic. And Jewish celebrities are no exception.

With the 2016 Iowa caucuses kicking off the presidential primary season on Monday, pollsters have Democratic candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., neck and neck in the state.

The all-important race for Jewish celebrity endorsements is close too. Here’s a breakdown of where things stand.

TEAM HILLARY

Lena Dunham attending the Lena Dunham and Planned Parenthood Host Sex, Politics & Film Cocktail Reception at The Spur in Park City, Utah, Jan. 24, 206.  (Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)Lena Dunham attending the Lena Dunham and Planned Parenthood Host Sex, Politics & Film Cocktail Reception at The Spur in Park City, Utah, Jan. 24, 2016. Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

Lena Dunham

The “Girls” creator and star is one of Clinton’s most outspoken supporters. In addition to lending a hand on the campaign trail, Dunham interviewed the former secretary of state-former New York senator-former first lady last fall in an attempt to boost her appeal among younger voters.

Steven Spielberg

The famed director has donated $1 million to Clinton’s current campaign. Back in 2000, it was rumored that Spielberg lent his Trump Tower corporate apartment to Clinton while she was running for the senate — and that he gave her “likeability” lessons.

J.J. Abrams

The “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” director and his wife each donated $500,000 to Clinton super PAC Priorities USA last June.

“[Hillary] does have the experience and the politics. She is compassionate, and right. When I look at the people who need the support that aren’t necessarily getting it, I believe that she would provide that,” Abrams told The Daily Beast on Monday.

Barbra Streisand

“Babs” proclaimed her support on Twitter as soon as Clinton launched her campaign last June.

Amy Schumer

The comedian and “Trainwreck” creator and star joked last fall that Clinton did not sound thrilled when she offered to help on the campaign trail — but she did offer.

Dustin Hoffman

“Rain Man” predicted Clinton would be the next president all the way back in 2010.

Abbi Jacobson

The co-creator and co-star of Comedy Central’s quirky hit “Broad City” showed her Clinton pride on Instagram well before it was announced last month that the former First Lady would appear in an episode of the show’s upcoming third season.

TEAM BERNIE

Sarah Silverman

The comedian and actress had some kind words for Sanders when she introduced him at a campaign rally last August.

“Where other candidates are getting gigantic sums of money from billionaires in exchange for compromising favors, Bernie is not for sale,” Silverman said to a large crowd.

Simon and Garfunkel

The folk legends allowed the Sanders campaign to use their song “America” in a recent campaign ad. Paul Simon did not comment on the ad, but Art Garfunkel told The New York Times that he is a “Bernie guy.”

“I like that Bernie is very upset by the gap between the rich and the poor,” Garfunkel said. “I think that’s central.”

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield

The Ben & Jerry’s co-founders are from Burlington, Vermont — which means they have been Sanders constituents for over 30 years as he has gone from mayor to representative to senator. The ice cream mavens, who are now out on the campaign trail, gave out free ice cream at Sanders’ campaign launch last spring.

If that wasn’t enough, Cohen recently created 40 pints of a special Bernie Sanders ice cream flavor — which has a chocolate disk on top of a tub of mint ice cream meant to represent the “1 percent.” By breaking up the disk, ice cream eaters symbolically join Bernie in his crusade the redistribute the wealth.

Ezra Koenig

Koenig, the singer of New York indie band Vampire Weekend, performed this past weekend at a Sanders event the University of Iowa. Sanders even got on stage to sing when the musicians played “This Land is Your Land.”

“I think there’s something so cool about Bernie running as a Democrat, a guy who was the only Independent in the house for a long time, the only Independent in the senate, a guy who kind of comes from an outside structure,” Koenig told CNN afterwards.

Jeremy Piven

The “Entourage” star praised Sanders for his “straight talk” in a Facebook post last summer.

Zoe Kravitz

Kravitz is the daughter of two half-black, half-Jewish celebrities: rocker Lenny Kravitz and actress Lisa Bonet. She signed an endorsement letter along with 127 other artists and celebrities who back Sanders — from Will Ferrell to rapper Killer Mike — last fall.

Selena Gomez to Howard Stern, celebs share opinions on Gaza in tweets and rants


What do Madonna, Javier Bardem and Rihanna have in common?

Aside from talent and many millions of dollars, they’ve all waded into the maelstrom of public debate over the Gaza conflict — and then had to extricate themselves when the going got tough.

For almost as long as the conflict has been raging, a parallel rhetorical fracas has been taking place among and between celebrities expressing their opinions on the Gaza conflagration. They’ve done so in one-line utterances on Twitter and Instagram, as well as in extensive comments on TV interviews, in advocacy videos and even in Op-Ed pieces.

The result has been the mess one might expect given the collision of social media, foreign policy non-experts and tabloid-style thinking with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On July 18, pop star Selena Gomez urged her Instagram followers to “Pray for Gaza,” then followed up a few hours later to add that she was “not picking any sides.” That was more than enough for Joan Rivers, who capped off a pro-Israel tirade by sarcastically mocking Gomez as “that college grad,” then added, “Let’s see if she can spell Palestinian.”

It all might seem a bit silly except that celebrities have the eyes and ears of ordinary people as few others do, and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the battle over public sentiment matters almost as much — some might say more — than the real battle on the ground in the Middle East.

“It definitely has an effect because there are many people who are out there that are not involved in Middle East politics, don’t know anything about it, and they form their opinions on the basis of what their favorite celebrity says,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “Is that fair? No, it’s not fair, but that’s the reality of the world we live in.”

Thus when, for example, married celebrity Spanish actors Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz (along with filmmaker Pedro Almodovar) signed onto a letter accusing the Israeli army of “genocide” in Gaza, Hier thought it was important to push back. He urged Jon Voight to publish a letter that the veteran actor had written in response, and the 75-year-old Academy Award winner agreed.

Voight’s reply, which appeared in the Hollywood Reporter, ripped Cruz and Bardem as “obviously ignorant of the whole story of Israel’s birth” and accused them of inciting anti-Semitism.

Whether it was Voight’s letter or the numerous other critiques of the couple, the pushback worked. Cruz released a statement noting that she was “not an expert on the situation” and that she only wished to promote peace. Bardem similarly announced, “My signature was solely meant as a plea for peace.”

In fact a number of the celebrities who have spoken out on the Gaza conflict have followed a pattern similar to that of Cruz and Bardem — a gesture in sympathy with the Palestinians (sometimes paired with harsh criticism of Israel) followed by criticism that leads to backtracking (possibly with the caveat that no bigotry was intended), finally capped off with a vague call for peace.

It was the path taken by Rihanna, who tweeted #Free Palestine, only to delete the tweet eight minutes later and subsequently post a picture of a Jewish and Arab boy walking arm in arm with the message, “Let’s pray for peace and a swift end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict!”

Madonna followed a similar path, though more elaborate, posting a picture of flowers with the caption, “These flowers are like the innocent children of GAZA! Who has the right to destroy them? No One!!!” She then quickly turned defensive, tweeting, “I do not support Hamas!” adding “I support Peace!” Then, in a twist, she posted a picture of herself with a pair of bare-topped, muscled back-up dancers — one wearing a Jewish star on his muscled abs, the other a Muslim crescent — proving again that Madonna can turn just about any discussion back to sex.

Of course, some celebrities have been more resolute in their opinions.

Jewish Voice for Peace posted a video of celebrities holding the names of Gazans who had been killed. The video included Eve Ensler, Mandy Patinkin, Roger Waters, Chuck D and Brian Eno. Eno also posted an editorial on David Byrne’s website that was highly critical of Israel.

On the other end of the ideological spectrum, Jackie Mason and Howard Stern cut loose with diatribes aimed at critics of Israel.

“If you’re anti-Israel then you’re anti-America,” Stern announced on his radio show.

A few celebrities have chosen to weigh in more carefully.

Woody Allen, no stranger to controversy, steered clear this time, saying, “This situation remains tragic and terrible, and the leaders in Israel and the leaders in the Arab world have not been able to come to an agreement.” He tipped his hand a little, though, when he added that “the Arabs were not very nice” at Israel’s founding, and “it led to problems.”

The effect of all the back-and-forth is difficult to judge. Omri Ceren, a senior adviser at The Israel Project, a pro-Israel advocacy group, noted that U.S. public opinion had stayed steady in favor of Israel, or in some demographics grown even more supportive, since the start of the conflict.

Do Stern and Voight wield more clout than Eno and Chuck D?

Ceren suggested instead, “It’s much more likely that Americans aren’t going to celebrities for their foreign policy analysis.”

In Detroit-area activists’ newsletter, celebs send their Shabbat best


Sending out a weekly e-mail newsletter to friends has become a passion for Lisa Mark Lis.

Lis, a suburban Detroit-based community activist and philanthropist, in her Friday morning e-mail posts to friends and family not only wishes her readers a “Shabbat Shalom,” but she often has a celebrity extend their wishes, too.

Lis has videotaped such notable performers as James Taylor, Carole King, Paul Simon, Neil Sedaka and David Broza sending Shabbat best. Politicians as far up as President Obama, with first lady Michelle Obama, have offered “Shabbat Shalom” wishes on camera for Lis, as have U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chair of the Democratic National Committee, and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Other celebs who have participated include “Millionaire Matchmaker” Patti Stanger and actor Wallace Shawn, who perhaps is best known for his role in “The Princess Bride.”

Lis isn’t shy about asking for a quick “Shabbat Shalom” greeting when running into a celebrity. When she told Marvin Hamlisch about some of the famous people who had recorded messages, the composer raised a glass of champagne to Lis’ camera phone and said, “I’m not Paul Simon and I’m not James Taylor. I’m Marvin Hamlisch and yes, I know how to say ‘Shabbat Shalom.’ “

She’s been sending her weekly greeting every Friday for nearly 2 1/2 years. She isn’t sure how many people are on her distribution list, but it includes friends and family from around the world, including a large contingent in Israel (her husband, Hannan, is a native Israeli).

Lis says she sends out the messages to wish as many people as possible a good weekend and to stay in touch with her connections.

“I do it to say ‘Shabbat Shalom,’ and then anything else I add is my soapbox,” Lis said. “I started to include the video messages of famous people saying ‘Shabbat Shalom’ as a fun addition to the e-mails. It makes people smile. Now people have come to expect them.”

Political views are included in some of her weekly messages. So are reminders to attend local fundraising events for causes she supports. A paragraph encouraging her readers to remember Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit during his captivity was a staple of each week’s e-mail message until his release last month. Every message includes wishes of “Happy Birthday” and “Mazel Tov” to her friends and family celebrating milestones in the upcoming week.

Lis plans to continue finding the chutzpah to ask celebs and politicians to utter those two Hebrew words for her camera phone. After all, it’s not every Friday that an e-mail arrives with a video of the leader of the free world wishing you a “Shabbat Shalom.”

ason Miller is an entrepreneurial rabbi and technologist. He is president of Access Computer Techonlogy, an IT and social media marketing company in Michigan. He blogs at http://blog.rabbijason.com and is a popular speaker about the intersection of Judaism and technology.

‘Mazel Tov’: Lifecycles of the rich and famous


Whether it’s a powerfully uplifting ceremony, a wicked disco-themed party or a bagels-and-lox Sunday brunch, the b’nai mitzvah experience is a multifaceted event that has the potential to greatly affect a person’s life.

For one weekend, an acne-plagued kid is transformed into an acne-plagued celebrity. There’s an agent (tutor), fans and paparazzi (guests and photographer) and the public apology for wild, offensive behavior (thank-you notes).

For many, the 15-minutes of fame is enough. For some — including many celebrities — the glimpse of momentary stardom becomes a pivotal moment in their lives.

That’s the idea behind Jill Rappaport’s book, “Mazel Tov: Celebrities’ Bar and Bat Mitzvah Memories” (Simon and Schuster, $25). Rappaport interviews 21 celebrities as they describe how the b’nai mitzvah experience brought them to where they are today. With the photographic help of her sister, Linda Solomon, Rappaport provides a joyfully contrasting image of the celebrities and their familiar adolescent counterparts.

The idea for “Mazel Tov” came about five years ago, while Rappaport was watching “The View.”

“I thought it’d be funny if there was a show called ‘The Jew,’ that talked about hip bar and bat mitzvah parties,” said Rappaport in a phone interview from New York.

While a b’nai mitzvah has the potential to bring out your inner celebrity for a weekend, it is also a “humorous, sentimental and emotional experience that involves indelible work,” she said.

It’s a turning point in one’s life, but most of all, because each story is primarily about self-discovery, she said, “you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate this book.”

Rappaport, who has yet to celebrate a bat mitzvah, explains that she got her taste of the experience through her friends’ ceremonies and parties, much like some of the celebs she interviews.

Featuring more than a few embarrassing photos, this book illustrates that while many celebrities have cultural roots in Judaism (Jewish neurosis, Jewish humor, Jewish appearances), they also have specific religious roots as well. In fact, their early memories of being in the public eye are often related to a b’nai mitzvah experience.

“Entourage” star Jeremy Piven remembers his bar mitzvah as “a rite of passage.” Growing up in Evanston, Ill., Piven recalls how his service was actually in a church, because they belonged to an extremely liberal Reconstructionist congregation. But unlike his character on the hit HBO show, Piven wasn’t that interested in a big, fancy party.

“It wasn’t a big community of people battling each other for the biggest bar mitzvah, like in my movie ‘Keeping Up With the Steins,'” he says.

But the b’nai mitzvah experience isn’t just about the ceremony. The party is still important.

Noah Wyle of “ER,” who never actually had a bar mitzvah, says b’nai mitzvah parties brought out his inner celebrity.

The b’nai mitzvah celebrations were “a significant part of my life because all my friends did, and boy, did they have a huge impact on me.”

Even without all the studying and preparation, Wyle explains that it was actually at a bar mitzvah party where he gave one of his first public performances — lip-synching Bob Seger’s song, “Old Time Rock and Roll.”

“And that was a real confidence boost. It was actually a seminal moment,” Wyle says.

Many of the celebrities featured in the book cherished their b’nai mitzvah experience, and “each one of them showed signs of genius even at that young age,” Rappaport said in a phone interview.

However, just as the b’nai mitzvah experience can lead to self-discovery, it can also provide a road to self-fulfillment involving challenges that must be overcome.

Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin shares the difficulties she encountered as a deaf child learning Hebrew.

“I didn’t have the benefit of hearing myself say the words,” Matlin says, adding that the b’nai mitzvah experience is “a great way to teach your children about community and social responsibility.”

Even famed actor Henry Winkler dealt with his fair share of b’nai mitzvah struggles.

“I’m dyslexic, which is a real problem when you’re trying to read and a huge problem when you’re studying Hebrew,” Winkler says. “The words would just swim around on the page.”

Although he panicked in his early years, Winkler is now quite comfortable in front of a crowd and is grateful for the effort he put into his b’nai mitzvah studies.

Many of the actors in this book describe the satisfaction that came from their hard work and effort. But then there’s Howie Mandel. “The Deal or No Deal” host admits that he definitely had some difficulty accepting the idea that manhood is the ultimate product of a bar mitzvah.

“You’re 4-foot-10 and you weigh 70-something and you explain to all your non-Jewish friends that you can’t go out this Saturday because you’re having a party celebrating the fact that you’re a man,” he says. “And this is a guy who had a woman’s voice.”

Mandel gets serious as he explains what a great responsibility the bar mitzvah is, but adds, “the only light at the end of the tunnel was that I didn’t have to go to the Hebrew school anymore.”

A portion of the book’s proceeds are going to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Shoah Foundation.

Uri Geller bends self into Israel ‘reality TV’ stardom


Israel is no stranger to reality TV. Knockoffs — or shall we say adaptations — of popular American TV talent shows, like “American Idol” and “The Apprentice,” have become hits. But recently, Israel has developed its own inimitable, highly successful talent contest in which Uri Geller, the famous, controversial, Israeli paranormalist, is seeking an heir.

It’s only natural, Geller said in a telephone interview, that Israel pioneer a contest for mentalists (read “mind readers”).

“I think this field — call it mentalism, parapsychology, real magic, kabbalah, Jewish mysticism — all started here 5,000 years ago, when the Jews left Egypt,” he said. “It’s all riddled in the kabbalah — the mystical letters, the powers, the energy of the universe. People are believers here…. Our race is steeped in mystery attached by a spiritual thread to universe.”

Geller cited Houdini, David Copperfield, David Blaine and even Einstein as examples of Jews who have learned to understand and manipulate natural phenomena.

“The Successor” debuted Nov. 18 to record-breaking ratings. Almost one-third of Israel tuned in to watch Geller judge the nine contestants as they dazzled audiences with their mind-reading, mind-bending powers. The show has attracted international attention and, according to Geller, has sparked interest from producers abroad who are considering adopting its format.

Geller is most famous for bending spoons “with his mind,” a feat that commonly figures into legends, jokes and parodies about him, although the contestants perform more sophisticated stunts on the show. The acts use three local celebrities (always including a pretty actress or model) to perform their sleights of “mind”: drawing images, determining numbers and phrases and even playing songs the celebrities secretly choose in their mind.

The show also marks Geller’s romanticized and widely publicized comeback to Israel. He left in 1972 to pursue a worldwide, profitable — and at times notorious — career as a paranormalist, entertainer and author. Geller immediately signed on to “The Successor” when Keshet Productions approached him with the idea. At the time, he was visiting Israel on a mission for the International Friends of Magen David Adom, which he chairs.

For the next few weeks, he’ll shuttle between Israel and his mansion outside of London for the weekly live tapings, although he recently bought an apartment in Jaffa so he can spend more time in Israel, even when the show is over.

“Spiritually, mentally, psychically, I’m attached to Israel,” Geller said. “I was born here. I’m a sabra. I also have a dream to make the performers become as famous as I am.”

The winner will headline at a tourist hotspot in Macao, China, and receive a secret prize, plus the chance to boast of being Geller’s heir.

“I think they are fantastic, professional entertainers,” Geller said of his potential heirs. “They are riveting, mesmerizing. Each of them has a personality”

Aside from talent, Geller is also looking for charisma, charm, personality and stage presence. Each week a contestant is voted off by viewers at home, but the final choice will be up to Geller.

At the start of each show, Geller demonstrates that he hasn’t lost his own touch. He successfully “mind-read” the image an El Al pilot drew in his cockpit prior to landing (it was a fish) and located a expensive diamond necklace hidden in one of five Chanukah candle boxes.

However, Geller, whose patriotism has been triggered anew by his return, won’t be satisfied with passing just one torch (or shall we say a telekinetically altered spoon): “I would love to take them to Las Vegas as a team and create some kind of a Uri Geller show. I feel like it’s about time that more Israelis become well known and famous around the world, because how many do you know?”

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday the 7th

Take a stroll for a good cause at today’s 14th annual Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk. More than 100 teams are scheduled for the 5K recreational walk around Hollywood Park racetrack, and those wishing to register today are also welcome. Also ambling are celebrities Peter Gallagher, David Hyde Pierce, Leeza Gibbons and Lea Thompson.

7 a.m. (registration), 8:30 a.m. (opening ceremonies), 8:45 a.m. (warm up). 9 a.m. (walk). 10:15 a.m.-noon (health expo, live entertainment, celebrity autographs and prizes). 1050 S. Prairie Ave., Inglewood. (323) 930-6228.

” TARGET=”_blank”>www.actoberfest.com.

Monday the 9th

Sneak behind the curtain into the life of Pulitzer and Tony award-winning playwright Tony Kushner in the new documentary, “Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner.” Following the writer from just after Sept. 11, 2001 to the 2004 presidential election, cameras captured Kushner’s work on the Broadway musical, “Caroline, or Change.” and the children’s Holocaust opera, “Brundibar,” as well as his “humor, ambition, vision and dazzling braininess,” according to Newsweek.

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Jewish Renewal leader Rabbi Shefa Gold debuts her first book, “Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land,” this month. Described as an approach for using the Torah as a path for spiritual growth, the text has been praised by Renewal leaders like Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Gold visits Los Angeles this week, offering workshops in conjunction with the release. Tonight, she is at B’nai Horin/Children of Freedom.

Oct. 10: (310) 441-4434 or e-mail PeggiS@mac.com.

For other workshop dates, visit ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.uclalive.org.

Thursday the 12th

Storytelling for grownups comes courtesy of UCLA Live this week. “The Moth,” a New York storytelling organization, comes west for a night at Royce Hall titled, “Out on a Limb: Stories From the Edge.” The show of real-life narratives will include host Andy Borowitz (creator of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”), Jonathan Ames (author, “Wake Up Sir!”), comedian Margaret Cho, Cindy Chupak (writer and executive producer, “Sex and the City”), RUN DMC’s Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Steve Osborne (retired NYPD lieutenant).

8 p.m. $25-$35. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 825-2101. ” target = “_blank”>Loudon Wainwright III (photo below), read theirs tonight.

7:30 p.m. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

Agoura Gal Meets Oscar Glitz


Somewhere between a young Joan Rivers and “Desperate Housewives” actress Eva Longoria, you’ll find Adrianna Costa.

On March 5, the Agoura-raised entertainment correspondent will be covering the Academy Awards live for the first time. However, she won’t be in a gown hobnobbing with celebrities on the red carpet.

Costa, 24, has worked her way up from a Palm Springs CBS affiliate to CNN Headline News’ “Robin & Company” in Atlanta, and this weekend she will be back in the Southland covering Oscar night from the network’s Hollywood bureau. She’ll get to visit the red carpet, but only in advance to film teasers — a bit of a tease for Costa herself.

As long as she can remember, Costa has been obsessed with celebrity culture. “It was so fascinating to me. I watched every show you could possibly watch and I read every teen magazine you could possibly read,” she said.

Costa knew from a young age that she wanted to be well-known, but her mother’s efforts to get her into acting never took. “Acting for me was just never my niche. I’m really good at talking, really good at schmoozing,” she said.

In high school she dreamed of becoming an entertainment reporter. After studying broadcast journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Costa worked as an entertainment correspondent for CBS News in Palm Springs, “Access Hollywood,” E! and MSNBC.

While she says she doesn’t get star-struck during interviews, Costa confessed she’ll occasionally be “talent-struck.”

“One of the coolest interviews for me was Rob Zombie,” she said. “Meeting a Lindsey Lohan or Paris Hilton is not that exciting.”

And when it comes Jewish celebs, she’ll often use her MOT status to snag a red-carpet interview. “I’ll throw out comments about my Jewish mother sometimes,” said Costa, who was bat mitzvahed at Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks.

Even though Costa won’t be in the middle of the Oscar action, her hope riffs on the conclusion of the Passover seder: Next year on the red carpet.

“I’m sure I’ll be doing it,” she said.

 

Celebs Stick to Their Tzedakah Box Job


Frankie Muniz, star of the TV show, “Malcolm in the Middle,” had little idea what he was making as he glued colored cotton balls and beads onto a metallic container with a slot on top.

Muniz, who isn’t Jewish, knew it had something to do with “Living Generously,” the theme of a Hurricane Katrina (and Rita) benefit in late September at the refurbished Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The event, at the newly hip hotel, drew more than 400 people, many of them well-known or up-and-coming industry people: actors, writers, musicians, and comedians.

When it was explained to Muniz (by this reporter) that the metallic container was a tzedakah box, a traditional way for Jews to collect charity, everything clicked.

“My fiancee and I were in New Orleans when the hurricane hit, so we’ll do anything we can to get the city back on its feet,” he said, as his fiancee, Jamie, sat next to him, gluing away industriously. Each wore the “Live Generously” blue bracelet handed out to guests.

You could say that no major A-listers were present, but some bigger names donated tzedakah boxes that were on display. They were later auctioned off on eBay.

These donated boxes came from the likes of Regis Philbin, Kelly Ripa, Gabe Kaplan, Isaac Mizrahi and recent Emmy Award-winner William Shatner. Even Donald Trump donated a box.

The boxes were on display near a giant metallic tzedakah box, where guests could drop donations.

Live and in person, Jonathan Silverman and Lisa Loeb sat together at the arts and crafts table, recalling their Jewish day school days. Kellie Martin of “Life Goes On” fame sat nearby, also painting and gluing. Scott Weinger, also known as the voice of Disney’s Aladdin, showed up later with his girlfriend.

“I don’t think I’ve actually decorated a tzedakah box since I was a kid. It’s a little nostalgic — makes giving fun,” said Loeb, facetiously adding: “I think this is a secret excuse for single people to get together.”

With hundreds of stylish, good-looking singles — Jewish and non-Jewish — socializing by the open bar, she had a point. The fundraiser had the atmosphere of a young Hollywood society meat market and networking affair.

“We’re definitely here for the cause and not for the free drinks,” stand-up comedian Christina Walkinshaw told The Journal.

The Tuesday night fete was organized by United Jewish Communities (UJC), in cooperation with The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles. UJC, the national umbrella for 155 North American Jewish federations, enlisted the support of Evan Lowenstein of the Orthodox pop duo, Evan and Jaron, to help pull things together.

For the past several months, Lowenstein has gotten Hollywood celebs together for monthly lunches dedicated to a specific charity. At last look, the UJC Disaster Relief Fund had raised about $17 million for hurricane victims.

Loeb performed two songs, including her debut hit, “Stay,” and Evan and Jaron played their hit, “Crazy for This Girl,” joined by saxophonist Dave Koz.

Other performers included comedian and “Stacked” actor Elon Gold, who was also emcee for the night; Dan Levy of MTV’s “The Reality Show”; and Bob Saget. Some off-color jokes would not have passed muster with a Jewish modesty committee.

“Because of the audience, it was okay. I thought I wasn’t going to go too ‘blue,’ and then I hit the stage and that’s what it was,” Saget told The Journal.

Known for his portrayal of TV dad Danny Tanner on “Full-House,” Saget entertained the audience with his satiric diddy “Danny Tanner Was Not Gay.”

OK, that was something they never covered in Jewish day school.

Orit Arfa can be reached at arfa@netvision.net.il.

The Circuit


Dual Appointments

It was a busy few days for attorney Andrew Friedman. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed him fire commissioner and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors nominated Friedman to serve as commissioner of the L.A. County Judicial Procedures Commission.

In introducing the new commissioner, Villaraigosa said, “I am pleased to appoint attorney Andrew Friedman, a good friend of mine, to the Fire Commission.” Villaraigosa then noted that Friedman served the city of Los Angeles for many years, including as a member of the Los Angeles Charter Commission and has been active in numerous community organizations, including being president of Congregation Bais Naftoli.

Friedman, whose 85-year-old father is a Holocaust survivor and escaped from Hungarian communism in 1956, told the crowd, “During these times of international terrorism and natural disasters it is important that we have a strong Fire Department. I will work on the commission to make sure that all Angelenos are properly served.”

His other board, the L.A. County Judicial Procedures Commission is in charge of recommending changes in the judicial system that will result in a more efficient judicial administration. It works in cooperation with the courts and the California Judicial Council on issues of mutual interest.

Networking Women

Rina Bar-Tal, Israel Women’s Network (IWN) chair, and Avital Shachar, executive director of IWN, were back in Los Angeles recently sharing IWN accomplishments during the past year and discussing the challenges still ahead. Participants attended a reception and movie screening of “Two States of Mind.”

For more information on Israel Women’s Network, contact Rivka Dori at (818) 535-0533.

ACLU GARDEN PARTY

The weather cooperated Sunday afternoon, delivering a magnificent day for the ACLU’s annual garden party at the home of Betty and Stanley Sheinbaum in Brentwood. Almost 700 people turned out to participate in the festivities as the ACLU honored Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.); actress Alexandra Paul; Maria Elena Durazo; Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 11, president, and, in memoriam, her husband, Miguel Contreras, for their work in social activism and preserving civil liberties.

Supporters and celebrities including Edward Asner and Mike Farrell turned out to nibble on stuffed grape leaves and other assorted goodies as they watched L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa present the award to Durazo and reaffirm his commitment to the ACLU.

“I am proud to have been a part of the ACLU; and I call upon all of you and your friends to be willing to stand up and continue the fight no matter what the consequences,” Villaraigosa said.

West Hollywood Mayor Abbe Land and husband, Martin, noted, “There has never been a more important time to support the ACLU and fight to protect civil liberties with a president and Congress trying to take them away from us.”

In her introduction of Villraigosa, Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC), said. “It is a true privilege to honor this year’s recipients. The ACLU/SC has always fought for the freedom to express one’s beliefs and bring issues of social disparity to the forefront of our awareness. Sen. Boxer, Alexandra Paul, Maria Elena Durazo and Miguel Contreras have all demonstrated an enormous commitment to stand up for what is right and we are proud to honor them.”

The ACLU/SC presented Birdie Reed with the Chapter Activist of the Year Award. Reed has been an ACLU/SC member since the 1960s and is currently the president of the Orange County chapter.

For information on the ACLU, call (213) 977-9500.

A Golden Volunteer

Nearly 400 community leaders, family members and friends attended a gala dinner on Sunday, Sept. 18, at the Beverly Hills Hotel honoring Ruth Shuken for her more than 50 years of volunteer service with Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, one of the nation’s leading child welfare agencies.

Shuken, who celebrated her 95th birthday this past July 4, serves as chair of Vista’s Board of Ambassadors, and has been a member of the agency’s board of directors for more than 35 years — she is currently a vice chair of the board. She also serves on Vista’s Legislative Advocacy Committee and is a 40-plus year member of the Associates, the organization’s oldest support group, which sponsored the event.

The Look of Langer

Architect Naomi Langer was recently feted for her work on the new look of B’nai David-Judea Congregation. The award, which was given by Faith and Forum magazine and the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture, honors design achievements for new, renovated and restored religious buildings. B’nai David-Judea is unique in that it is housed in the building that was originally the art deco Stadium Theater built in 1931. A planned renovation was to provide equal access and safety for children in an inspirational ambience.

“The challenge entailed infusing life and spirituality into the sanctuary while respecting the historical building,” Langer said.

Renovations included: linking the spaces to a hydraulic elevator, adding accessible bathrooms to the lobby, which was extended, existing bathrooms, offices, banquet hall and lobby were refurbished.

The exterior was repainted a five-color palette and lined in Jerusalem stone. Exterior doors were retrofitted with translucent glass and windows were replaced. Original Art Deco details were maintained to maximize natural light. Langer said the design of the sanctuary involved three main components: introducing natural light, dividing the space into two equal parts according to Orthodox tradition and adding handicapped accessibility.

Geiderman Gives Back

Dr. Joel M. Geiderman, co-chair of the emergency department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, has been appointed by President Bush as vice chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Council, the governing body of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Geiderman has served as a council member since 2002, and was appointed to the museum’s executive committee in 2003.

“Dr. Geiderman’s appointment as vice chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council reflects his deep commitment as both a physician and son of a Holocaust survivor to the art and science of healing — a mission that both Cedars-Sinai and the Holocaust Memorial Museum share,” said Thomas M. Priselac, president and CEO of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

As the child of a Holocaust survivor, Geiderman decided early in life that he wanted to go into a profession where he could help people, and chose a career in medicine.

“I have said that the most formative experience in my life occurred during a period that spanned six to 12 years before I was born,” Geiderman said. “Ever since I became aware of and understood what happened during the Holocaust, I resolved that I needed to do something meaningful with my life.”

Book on Nimmer

David Nimmer, lawyer and long time Bureau of Jewish Education board member, was appointed the new chair of the the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles Sept. 15.

Serving of counsel to Irell & Manella LLP in Los Angeles, he was a visiting professor at UCLA Law School and distinguished scholar at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology. He has published a series of articles on the subject of U.S. and international copyright.

HUC-JIR Happenings

Joshua Holo was recently appointed to the faculty of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) as the director of the Louchheim School of Judaic studies, collaborating with USC to coordinate the undergraduate Jewish Studies curriculum. He has also been appointed as associate professor of Jewish history and is currently working on his first book, “Byzantine Jewry in the Mediterranean Economy,” forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

Sharon Gillerman is newly appointed director of Edgar F. Magnin School of Graduate Studies at HUC-JIR, where she also serves as associate professor of Jewish history. She received her doctorate in history from UCLA and wrote her dissertation on the crisis of the Jewish family during the Weimar Republic.

Her other research interests include gender and Jewish history, the history of the family, and the history of Berlin. She has published articles on the German Jewish family, German Jewish history, the History of Holocaust education, and Holocaust memorialization. She is currently completing a book titled, “Germans Into Jews: Remaking the Jewish Social Body in the Weimar Republic.” The professor has also taught at Brandeis University, UCLA, Harvard and the University of Hamburg.

Matt Albert was recently appointed regional director of admissions and recruitment at HUC-JIR. Albert received his doctorate from UCLA, a master’s in political science from Columbia University and a bachelor of arts in political science from UCSD. He spent nine years at Milken Community High School in, where he most recently served as assistant principal.

 

Stan’s Donuts Mixes Flavor and Fame


O.J. Simpson dropped in all the time. Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft were regulars, as were Robert Blake and Jayne Mansfield. Steve McQueen pedaled up on his bicycle.

Now the star clientele at Stan’s Corner Donut Shoppe in Westwood tends to be more on the intellectual side. UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale usually comes in Sundays, and UCLA Nobel Laureate Louis J. Ignarro (“You just missed him,” owner Stan Berman said) walks in for his breakfast fix.

Whether old-timer or first-time tourist, they can’t help salivating at the sight of Stan’s display counter with its 75 varieties of fresh-baked doughnuts.

Will it be the chocolate cinnamon cheese, the blueberry cinnamon log, the apple fritter or the coconut twist? Or, if you really want to impress your date, how about Stan’s piece de resistance, Reese’s peanut butter pocket, with an option of fresh bananas and chocolate chips mixed in?

If some folks boast of their descent from a long line of old-world rabbis, the 74-year-old Berman can claim generations of Russian Jewish bakers, going back at least to his great-grandfather.

His father and uncle ran two bakeries in Philadelphia, and even joining the Marines during the Korean War couldn’t interrupt Berman’s career. The Marines, in a rare instance of fitting the right peg into the right hole, sent him to bakery school, and he served his country as pastry chef at the Camp Pendleton NCO (noncommissioned officers) Club.

While in the service, he met his future wife, Ina, at the old Westside Jewish Community Center at Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, which then doubled as a USO club.

Ina worked at Hughes Aircraft and had an apartment in Culver City. After they married, Berman daily drove 90 miles each way between the apartment and Camp Pendleton.

Berman opened Stan’s Donuts in 1964, renting the present 200-square-foot store for the bakery, counter display and small indoor and outdoor tables seating 15.

As word of Stan’s delicacies spread, his clientele expanded beyond its UCLA student base. Strategically located across the street from the art deco Bruin and Village movie palaces, the shop quickly attracted some Hollywood luminaries.

“When ‘Love Story’ opened across the street, Ryan O’Neal used to sit here and count the house,” Berman reminisced.

Berman’s local reputation leaped into national prominence in 2001, when Forbes magazine published an eclectic list of “50 of America’s Best,” including best yachts, best hammocks, best spin doctors and so forth.

Forbes pronounced Stan’s as the best doughnut shop in the whole wide world, praising the product as “the kind that slide down your throat before you can reconsider your gluttony.”

Immediately after the article was published, Berman got a call from a corporate vice president in Texas, who insisted that he needed a shipment of a dozen of Stan’s finest right away.

“That put me in the FedEx business,” said Berman, who now ships all across the United States. At the shop, Berman typically sells 150-200 dozen doughnuts a day to approximately 200 walk-ins, mostly for take-out.

Berman, whose demeanor and speech pattern couldn’t be anything but Jewish, is not what you would call the rigidly observant type. His store is open from 6 a.m. to midnight, 365 days a year, although, “on Kol Nidre, my wife insists that we go to the synagogue,” he said.

When Berman started out, he used to come in a 2 or 3 a.m. but has since slowed down. He still mixes all the dough, using soybean shortening, and creates many of the specialty doughnuts but leaves the rest to a small, veteran staff.

He and his wife also take time off for travel, including two trips to Israel.

In the doughnut business, “you’re affected by every trend,” noted Berman, and acknowledged that since the low-carb craze took off, sales have been down 10 percent. But he expects to survive all fads, personally and professionally.

“I really never expected to live past 60, but I get so much joy out of the business, I’ve made so many wonderful friends that I want to stick around another decade till the shop’s 50th anniversary,” he said. “After that, we’ll see? Maybe one of my sons will take over.”

Full disclosure: After the interview, Berman presented The Jewish Journal with a dozen complimentary doughnuts. The evidence has since disappeared.

Stan’s Donuts is located at 10948 Weyburn Ave., Westwood.For more information, call (310) 208-8660, or visit www.stansdonuts.com .

‘Lucky’ Friends


Since they met at a mommy and me 13 years ago, Adam Schlesinger and Sean Abramson have been coming up with innovative schemes together, such as the time they sold novelty items like Whoopie Cushions and electrified hand buzzers. (They pulled in $100.)

But now the two recent graduates of Sinai Akiba Academy are onto something bigger and better. Their latest venture — a simple plastic guitar pick on a ball chain called “Lucky Pix,” selling for $10 — seems to be catching on.

Some high-powered connections forged through the boys’ parents landed them an appearance on Fox’s “Good Day L.A.” and placed some of their Lucky Pix around the necks of celebrities. Intuition, a trend-setting Web boutique known to cater to celebrities, is the sole outlet for Lucky Pix, giving the boys the kind of publicity and panache other retailers covet.

Schlesinger and Abramson, whose families are longtime members of Sinai Temple, are donating 25 percent of all sales to children’s charities.

“It was Adam’s idea to give to charity, and we thought that would be great,” Sean said. “By giving luck to others, you also bring luck to yourself.”

Both boys play guitar with Raw Material, a rock band at Sinai, and Sean says he has one pick he considers his “lucky” one that helps make his music come together. The boys researched the idea themselves, designed a logo and a found a manufacturer for the first several hundred picks in tortoise-shell brown, hot pink, turquoise and black.

Those have long since sold out and the next order of 2,000 is already on the way.

And the boys are about to meet a whole bunch of new teenage necks from which to hang Lucky-Pix. Both boys are attending Milken Community High School next year and Camp Ramah this summer.

“We’re really excited because this has a lot of potential for us to be able to donate a lot and help a lot of kids,” Adam said.

To view or purchase Lucky Pix, visit www.lucky-pix.com .

One Voice Gets Alexander’s Vote


For Jason Alexander, best known as Jerry Seinfeld’s hapless sidekick, George Costanza, a grass-roots peace initiative to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace is more than just “yadda yadda yadda.”

Alexander visited Israel this week to help launch One Voice, a project that hopes to empower people on both sides of the conflict through a public, electronic referendum.

As of Tuesday, Israelis and Palestinians will be able to cast ballots that allow them to present their positions on the key issues of the conflict. From their answers, a synthesized peace proposal will be crafted and then presented to leaders on both sides.

Alexander said the idea spoke to him because it held the promise of tapping into the majority on both sides who do want peace.

“The vision was so specific, so well-worked out about how to reconnect the sort of silent majority who have been silenced by the violence and get them reinvigorated and reinvested,” he said.

Speaking Tuesday at a news conference in Petach Tikva, Alexander predicted that he would be able to bring his children to Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah without fear within a year.

Alexander first heard about One Voice from its main organizers during a meeting at the home of fellow actors Danny Devito and Rhea Perlman last year. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, who are on the organization’s U.S. advisory board, were also at the meeting.

Organizers are planning to bring other celebrities to Israel to help promote the project and have established an entertainment council to help mobilize actors, writers, producers, directors and others to back it. Among entertainment industry members who have signed on in support of the idea are Ed Norton and Mili Avital.

While in the region, Alexander is planning to meet Israeli actors and members of the entertainment community in Tel Aviv and their Palestinian counterparts in Ramallah.

Daniel Lubetsky, a U.S. businessman, leads One Voice together with its Middle East director, Mohammed Darawshe, an Israeli Arab long involved in coexistence efforts. Lubetsky said the project is different than other recent alternative peace plans, because the plan’s specifics come from the grass-roots.

“We’re essentially a democratic process, where we are going straight to the people and asking them to express themselves,” Lubetsky said.

Participants in the poll will vote either by Internet at the site, www.silentnolonger.com, or via remote control on television sets, telephone, newspapers or voting booths. The organizers say results would then be tabulated by a computer system donated by IBM to the project. Those results would then be used to produce a consensus-style mandate that organizers say would accurately reflect the will of Israelis and Palestinians.

The referendum asks voters to comment on a series of proposals, including a two-state solution, the possibility of setting the 1967 borders as final borders and the evacuation of most Jewish settlements as part of a peace deal.

After Alexander toured Israel in 1991 at the end of the first Gulf War, “Israel went from absolute zero in my life to something I really became concerned with and passionate about,” he said.

The actor said Jews in Hollywood seem to be reluctant to speak out on the subject of Israel. Some, he said, think they will immediately be seen as choosing the Israeli side because they are Jewish if they say anything. Others, he said, priding themselves as leftists, choose to overtly side with the Palestinians.

“In both cases I guarantee you that most of them do not understand the history or nature of this conflict,” Alexander said. “American secular Jews distance themselves from Israel; I was just as guilty before I came here.”

Part of what draws him to Israel, Alexander said, is what he described as the passionate involvement of Israelis in their country. He said he misses seeing that involvement in the United States and that his character, George, was void of it altogether.

“George would not know Israel was on the map,” Alexander said. “George and his cohorts were the most supremely selfish people in the history of television, and anything that did not happen in their apartment and diner was outside of their field of experience. So the best you could get was he’d come here and try to recruit a ballplayer for the Yankees.”

Star of the Canyon


The Canyon Country Store — the star-studded grocery featured in the older woman/younger man film "Laurel Canyon," starring Frances McDormand — is actually run by two Persian Jews.

Owner David Shamsa and manager Tommy Bina have tried to maintain the store’s authenticity.

Shamsa, who was an influential Persian Jew in Iran during the shah’s regime, was the head of National Iranian Steel Mill Corporation and director of Iran Hotel Corporation, hosting many American officials such as Henry Kissinger, and Sens. Barry Goldwater and Ted Kennedy.

Just a few months before the Islamic revolution, Shamsa fled to the United States and, in 1982, bought the building in Laurel Canyon.

The only store nestled in the verdant Laurel Canyon, Canyon Country Store, built in 1919, has served as a location for several films and is also a hangout for many artists, musician and actors. The cozy, friendly place is reminiscent of a small-town store — whose patrons have included celebrities like Liam Neeson, Sophia Loren and Mick Jagger. Downstairs is a restaurant, Pace ("peace" in Italian), and adjacent is a wood house where Jim Morrison used to live.

Bina told The Journal he feels a responsibility for the entire neighborhood. Together with other locals, he has formed a voluntary group to clean up Laurel Canyon’s surrounding area, for which he has received an award.

"The city doesn’t take care of this area very well," he said. "We do this to protect the environment."

Chanukah-Style Reality TV


If you were beginning to feel that too much time had passed since you last saw dancing bearded rabbis on television, then fear not, because West Coast Chabad, the organization that sponsors the “L’Chaim” telethon, is broadcasting a special Chanukah party on KCAL-TV Channel 9 each night of Chanukah.

“Chanukah, the Miniseries,” two-minute segments directed by Stephen Kessler, is aimed at inspiring viewers to participate in Chanukah by watching the menorah being lit.

The program has two parts. In the first part, Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad, will say the blessings and light the menorah. Each night there will be a different celebrity with him, for example, Darryl Sabara of “Spy Kids,” who will also give a personal message about the Chanukah experience.

Then the Hollywood Klezmer Band will play, and a group of students, immigrants, community leaders, celebrities and, of course, bearded rabbis, will kick up their heels and dance the hora in celebration of the Festival of Lights.

“This is a project that takes the concept of pirsumei nissah, spreading the miracle of Chanukah to the next level,” said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, the group’s public relations director. “Years ago, people felt that Chanukah should be kept in the house, but thank God it has turned into this [public] beautiful thing.”

“This show is a good way to expose people to the menorah experience,” he said. “You have to imagine that if they had television 1,000 years ago, someone would have done it then.”

“Chanukah, the Miniseries” will be shown sometime between 4:15 p.m. and 4:25 p.m. nightly from Nov. 29-Dec. 6. The program will also be simulcast on AskMoses.com.

Making Show Business Our Business


It has almost risen to the level of obsession, this concern about Hollywood Jews and Israel. Why aren’t they speaking out on Israel’s behalf? Why aren’t they flying to Israel to show their support? Why aren’t they sending gobs of money to help out?

In Los Angeles, the questions arise soon after any conversation about the Mideast conflict starts. We might not be able to calm the racket in Gaza or Jerusalem, but can’t we ratchet up the noise in Beverly Hills and Burbank?

Throughout this recent intifada, The Journal has tracked how Jews in the entertainment industry have reacted to the conflict. What we found and reported is what Rachel Abramovitz, writing in the Los Angeles Times last month, also discovered: Various and sometimes innovative efforts on Israel’s behalf by a younger generation of Hollywood Jews are not mirrored in the actions of the entertainment industry’s most powerful Jews. The foot soldiers have mobilized while their generals remain, for the most part, immobile.

Those critical of Hollywood’s reaction maintain that an A-list celebrity stepping onto the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport would do more for Israel’s image these days than yet another English-challenged spokesman from the Foreign Ministry on CNN.

These critics may be right, but they have chosen a glass-half-empty approach. The strong, silent studio heads and big-name celebrities make an easy target. They are a source of constant frustration to those activists who have recently tried, in a concerted and behind-the-scenes way, to push them into a more public role.

But focusing on the top billing shouldn’t blind us to the names below the title, including young-ish agents, writers, producers and directors for whom this crisis has been a watershed in their Jewish involvement. It’s true they don’t have studio-boss clout. But they are grappling to find their voice in difficult times — launching some innovative projects, raising money, organizing speakers and outreach for their peers (three such programs that I know of in the past two weeks). And they are no less frustrated than their non-entertainment industry friends at the silence of other Jews in the business. To tar these people with the brush of apathy is uninformed and shortsighted.

But what about the big names at the top of the marquee? I have three theories on why we’re not hearing more from them.

Some are already giving plenty in their own way. Take Steven Spielberg. The founder of The Righteous Persons Foundation and the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation and the creator of a movie called "Schindler’s List" is working on a movie about the birth of the Israel air force, which will probably do for Israel what "Saving Private Ryan" did for World War II veterans.

Some love Israel, but don’t support its current government. On the one hand, it is unfair to chastise American Jewish celebrities for not falling in lockstep behind Israel when many Israeli celebrities feel just as uneasy with Ariel Sharon. On the other hand, how hard is it to craft a message in support of democracy and against terror that any Jewish celebrity would be proud to stand behind?

Those celebrities who do speak out in support of Israel but against some of its government policies, such as Richard Dreyfuss, are pilloried by political opponents who want only their pro-Israel message delivered. For these Hollywood Jews, it’s damned if you don’t, more damned if you do.

Finally, this: some, maybe most Hollywood Jews just aren’t all that Jewish. Muslim, Christian and Jewish zealots all share the belief that Hollywood is home to a latent Zionist strike force ready to be mobilized the moment some top-secret, high-frequency shofar is blown. Sure, there are a lot of Jews who work in Hollywood (although even that is changing faster than the stereotype). But most of them are no more passionate about their Judaism than their Christian counterparts are about their Christianity.

Headlines don’t create a passionate and outspoken Jewish identity; upbringing and education do. It is no coincidence that the Hollywood Jews who are most outspoken on these issues have a history of Jewish involvement predating the current crisis. Some are the sons and daughters of Holocaust survivors, others were raised in culturally or religiously Jewish homes and still others entered Jewish life as part of spiritual search. As Neil Gabler documented in his seminal "An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood" (Anchor, 1989), the men who created the film industry rushed to assimilate into an America that they idealized and that their movies mythologized. But the Goldwyns and Warners had a Jewish identity ingrained by an immigrant past and anti-Semitism. New generations of Jews in Hollywood have lost that particular birthright. In the long run, creating Jewish activists, whether in Hollywood or Agoura, means building Jewish community.

The other lesson, which Americans of all creeds are quickly forgetting, is that celebrities are not heroes. As the late Joseph Campbell pointed out, the difference is clear as day: celebrities live primarily for themselves, heroes act to redeem society. Very few of us can ever be celebrities, and we ought not to wait for them to show any of us how to be heroes.

Chabad’s ‘Cowboy’


Anyone who’s ever watched the annual Chabad Telethon, to be aired live this Sunday from 5 p.m. to midnight on UPN Channel 13, knows that it’s the single most graphic demonstration of this Chassidic group’s ability to rope in big-name Hollywood celebrities.

The show was first broadcast in 1980, when it was co-hosted by Carroll O’Connor and Jan Murray as a fundraiser to replace Chabad headquarters in Westwood after a tragic fire. Since then, a long list of glitterati have shown up each year to sing, dance, tipple a bissle and appeal for funds to help Chabad’s drug rehab center in Los Angeles and other social service projects.

James Caan and Elliot Gould, fixtures from the beginning, have been joined by the likes of Sid Caesar, Bob Hope, Michael Douglas, Whoopi Goldberg, Shelley Winters, Tony Danza, Judd Nelson, Regis Philbin, Steve Allen, Edward James Olmos and Valerie Harper. In 1997, the cast of "Friends" produced a special segment that aired only on the telethon. One-time Chabad fellow traveler Bob Dylan has made four surprise appearances. Former Vice President Al Gore stumped for the cause three times.

In its first year, the telethon netted $1 million. Last year, it topped $6.5 million. The show is so hip, it’s engendered a rash of telethon-watching parties all along the Hollywood circuit as folks gather in living rooms to see who’ll show up next to kick up their heels in a mass hora with Chabad’s West Coast founder and director Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin.

One of the most intriguing figures on the telethon is Academy Award-winning actor Jon Voight, a regular for more than a decade. Like many of those who plug the Chabad cause, he’s not Jewish, but what makes his involvement unusual is that it’s so extensive. Not only has he been co-hosting the show for years (along with several other Chabad fundraising events; notably the group’s Israel-based "Children of Chernobyl" effort), but he’s now a friend of the Cunin family. He studies Torah and reads Chassidic literature — having, by his own admission, a bookcase filled with the writings of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson — and he seeks out Chabad centers whenever he’s on location for a new film.

Two years ago, while shooting the NBC miniseries "Noah" in Melbourne, Australia, Voight gave a call to 20-year-old Tzemach, one of Shlomo Cunin’s 13 children, then studying in a local yeshiva, and asked for help in researching the part. Voight acknowledges that the final film was "controversial" (at one point, Voight somehow morphs into Abraham, and pleads with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah), and he says that without the information he gained from studying with the Cunins, it would have been a lot worse. "It may not be accurate biblically, in terms of the story, but I think in the end it was pretty good. There are good little lessons in it. I haven’t said this on television, but it was a battle to try and make it a decent portrait."

The 62-year-old actor first met Cunin in 1986, as a return favor for a friend who helped Voight hold a press conference for a Hopi leader at Temple Beth El. Cunin invited him down to Chabad’s drug rehab center in Pico-Robertson. "I walked in and saw a lot of weight lifters, real characters," Voight recalls. "In the back area I see this guy sitting at a table — big beard, with a hat on. He looked like a rabbi. He was in his shirtsleeves, and he was hand-wrestling these guys. They were all lined up and, one after another, he’s putting them down. Then someone told him I was there, so he put on his coat, grabbed me and gave me a hug. I said, ‘this is my kind of guy.’"

Voight’s commitment to the Chabad cause goes way beyond his admiration for Cunin’s arm-wrestling skills. In the mid-1980s, the actor embarked on a period of spiritual seeking. "I made some mistakes in my early life, and had to recover from them," he admits. Voight was brought up Catholic and has no intention of converting to Judaism. But he says that of all the religions he studies, he has a special fondness for Jewish learning and values. "Judaism is an amazing fountain of information. It’s not the only answer, but I have tremendous regard for it."

Voight remembers studying the Bible as a boy in Catholic school, and being particularly taken with Genesis and the stories of the Hebrew prophets. "I think the Bible is helpful in that it describes the lives of people who strive and who fail, and who pick themselves up and continue on. All the great prophets had their difficulties, yet they overcame them."

The star of "Midnight Cowboy," Best Picture of 1969, and "Coming Home," for which he took home his own Best Actor award in 1978, Voight is a gentle, soft-spoken man, who is obviously deeply taken with Judaism, Lubavitcher Chassidism and the Cunin family.

"One of the big things about the Jewish religion is that its fruit is the deed. I think that is portrayed perfectly by Chabad, and that’s why I’m with them."

Voight never met the Lubavitcher Rebbe, whom he calls a "great and extraordinary leader." But Schneerson sent his thanks to Voight through Cunin, along with a request that the actor speak out on the telethon in support of the seven Noahide commandments. (These are basic laws of human morality, supposedly given to the nations of the world by God at the time of Noah as a precursor to the Ten Commandments.)

Voight did so. "They appeal to my own sense of what I feel is a high purpose, which is to try to get everyone to an understanding of what they’re asked to do, what life’s responsibilities are. These very simple seven laws of Noah are good basics."

Hollywood could stand some of that message, Voight believes. "We’re given the idea by our culture that if you have enough money, enough cars, enough women, everything’s taken care of. It’s perfectly all right to be as selfish as you want. There couldn’t be a more poisonous message."

Saying that he’d love to "spend the rest of my life in yeshiva," Voight says he knows that’s unrealistic. "If we look for truth, we can be in a constant state of exuberance. That’s what I find in Chabad. They create an energy of positive thinking and good cheer, and through that, they’re able to do tremendous good work. Those who scoff at them are simply keeping themselves from that energy, and that’s unfortunate."

Chabad 1999: Here, There and Everywhere


Backstage at Chabad Telethon ’99, Jon Voight was like the Beatles song — “Here, There and Everywhere.” One moment, the erstwhile “Midnight Cowboy” was huddling in a corner with a telethon point person, putting last-minute touches on a speech. Moments later, he was hovering around the extensive buffet, somewhere between the chili con carne and the roast brisket. Then the Academy Award winner was catching up with friends and obliging fans with autographs and photo opportunities.

“Here, There and Everywhere.” One might say the same about Chabad itself, which has outreach chapters popping up all over the map, and the Telethon ’99 advertising campaign blanketing the city with everything from billboards and lamppost banners, to truck-side displays riding up and down Pacific Coast Highway Sunday.

A regular Chabad fixture, Voight was one of many celebrities who spent the evening singing the praises on camera of Chabad’s work. Anthony Hopkins, emcee Fyvush Finkel, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young, Shelley Winters, Dick Van Patten and Len Lesser (“Seinfeld’s” Uncle Leo) all turned out to help make Chabad’s 19th televised fund-raiser a success. The final tally: a whopping $4,701,412 in pledges.

Broadcast locally on KCOP, the telethon has become a familiar, annual parade of taped testimonials and live talent. Eclectic entertainment took place before the camera and backstage, from the comedy of Sid Caesar to bagpipe sensation “Wicked Tinkers” — each segment culminating with the obligatory tote board updates and circles of dancing Chassidim.

Overheard behind the scenes was a parent’s firsthand endorsement of Chabad’s programs. Recounting the plight of her teen-age son, who was undergoing drug rehabilitation at the organization’s Olympic and Hauser facility, the mother said that she had tried a leading rehab center, and all they did for her son was charge him a bill running in the thousands of dollars. Things changed when she enrolled her son at the Chabad center.

“They didn’t care about the money,” the woman said. “They said, ‘Just bring in your kid.’ … Chabad is the only one that cares about the kids.”

Last month’s North Valley Jewish Community Center shooting echoed throughout the evening, as the messages of Chabad leader Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin and his celebrity guests often alluded to the incident and the importance of combating hate and prejudice in the world.

Commenting on the Aug. 10 tragedy, Voight told The Journal: “I’ve traveled all over the world. People are coming together more and more. This was an isolated, insane act.”

Onstage, Voight reiterated his sentiment, also adding that the Jewish community will survive this latest tragedy because “the Jewish people are eternal. They will never be overtaken.”