Let bygones (not) be bygones
Twelve-hundred-and-eight words, and we’re supposed to forget the months of ugly that came before?
Not so fast.
“I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together.”
A gracious gesture, and — poof! — the “Country First” ticket is off the hook, just like that, for the lying, red-baiting, character assassination, rabble-rousing, and calculated polarization that preceded it?
I don’t think so.
A dog that behaved that badly would be sent to obedience school. A child who was that reckless would face consequences up the wazoo. But just because Americans are good people, a campaign’s end requires us to willingly come down with a national case of amnesia?
Gimme a break.
What an insult it is to the idea of accountability, this notion that responsibility for the ugly emotions unleashed by demagoguery is wiped away by a concession speech. What an affront to the dignity of democracy, this remorseless draining of meaning from language, this quadrennial rush to retroactively trivialize our public discourse.
The most pernicious aspect of the media-political complex we are saddled with is its addiction to postmodern irony. Educated people are supposed to understand that politics is just theater, a pageant designed to entertain us, a Punch and Judy show whose audience realizes it’s not real. Politics is only a game, you see, a sport — a blood sport, to be sure, but the teams aren’t actually warriors, they’re performers, and their combat is ritual, not real.
You think these candidates mean what they say? Grow up, says the professional commentariat. Don’t you get it? These politicians are winking at you. They know it’s just kabuki. Don’t take this stuff seriously.
So John McCain — while claiming that not he’s not impugning Barack Obama’s patriotism — impugns Barack Obama’s patriotism, but we’re supposed to understand that it doesn’t really matter, because that’s just what people do in campaigns.
So Sarah Palin says that Obama pals around with terrorists, and she incites her crowds to look for pitchforks, but we’re supposed to believe that Pandora can just shoo the evil back into the box come Election Day.
So Rudy Giuliani bares his teeth on national television, but because he laughs with startled delight at the rancor he unleashes in his listeners, we’re supposed to construe his snarling as a harmless charade.
So the ads on America’s airwaves relentlessly pound into our national psyche the message that “liberal” is akin to traitor, that Obama is dishonorable, that he is opportunistically lying when he claims to dissent from “God damn America” – and the press covers the slurs as merely tactical maneuvers, as though the country could just take a shower once the campaign is over and wash the silly slime off its body, as though no damage had been done to the nation because no one serious takes any of this stuff seriously.
Yes, I know that some of Obama’s ads earned the ire of independent fact checkers. I realize that political rhetoric isn’t the same thing as sworn testimony. And I recognize that campaigns in America’s past have crawled with calumny even worse than this one.
But I also think that our yearning for post-election healing, our hunger for common ground, is risky. There is something wonderfully redemptive in our belief in national reconciliation. But there is also in it something naïve and self-destructive and dangerous.
Have we so quickly forgotten the rank hypocrisy of George W. Bush running as “a uniter, not a divider”? Have we no recollection of the fatuous hollowness of his inaugural promises to reach across the aisle? Is it too dispiriting to recall that his search for common ground turned out to mean “my way or the highway”? Is it just too difficult to remember the eight years during which principled dissent was demonized as being “with the terrorists”?
On Inauguration Day, no doubt Barack Obama will come up with something gracious to say about the worst president in history, just as he was generous in his victory speech to John McCain and Sarah Palin, and open-armed to their supporters.
But it does no good to pretend that the politics of personal destruction is harmless to democracy, to ignore how corrosive campaigns can be, to comfort oneself — as the punditocracy does — with the sophisticated nostrum that it’s only politics, so get over it.
Call me churlish, but I think that along with the privilege of living in a democracy comes the obligation to be accountable for your actions. And if you think that words — the currency of campaigns — aren’t actions, if you believe that rhetoric doesn’t matter, if you treat politics as just another branch of show biz, well then, you’re pretty much a sitting duck for the next demagogue to come along.
Forgive and forget? Not just yet.
Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair in Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. His column appears here weekly. Reach him at email@example.com.
Alan Arkin — not just another kid From Brooklyn
“I can say what I want. I still got Nazi bullets in my ass!”
Such acerbic rants by Grandpa Hoover pretty much sum up the foul-mouthed, drug-sniffing, sex-crazed curmudgeon Alan Arkin plays in the Oscar-nominated film, “Little Miss Sunshine.”
A Rough-and-Tumble Return
Actress Jessica Lundy was mostly working TV guest starring roles when she landed the part of Roberta in John Patrick Shanley’s "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" last month. The searing play spotlights two survivors who meet, clash, have sex, reveal secrets and begin to heal one another. Lundy’s character, an incest victim, cajoles and physically tussles with Danny (Matthew Klein).
"Initially, I thought, ‘My God, I don’t know if I can do this; I’m really scared," said the Jewish actress, who played Gloria on the hit sitcom "Hope & Gloria." "I’m not known for theater and the role is much darker than anything I’ve ever done."
Klein, however, thinks Lundy "brings a wonderful, unpredictable quality to the role. She can switch in an instant from one emotional extreme to another."
If the fictional Roberta is a scrappy survivor, so is Lundy. With her Catholic mother and Jewish father, she grew up in a "preppy, WASPy" Avon, Conn., where Jews weren’t allowed to play golf at the country club. Nevertheless, she said, she "always strongly identified with being Jewish…. Jewish survival despite centuries of persecution is inspirational because there’s been no surrender or sense of defeat."
Lundy had an easier journey as a young actress. By 21, she was playing Jackie Mason’s daughter in "Caddyshack II"; in 1991, she landed her first sitcom, "Over My Dead Body."
When the film and TV jobs began dwindling several years ago — partly because of the dearth of roles for women over 30 — she began looking for theater work.
Her career angst helped her to identify with the desperate character of Roberta: "I’ve had moments of despair when I’ve felt ‘This is the end of the road for me,’" she said.
Rehearsing the play has proved intense.
"Every day I’d come home exhausted and dirty because we were crawling on the floor and sweating and battered from the raw, ugly emotions," she said, hoarse from shouting her lines. "Sometimes I find myself thinking like the character offstage: Everything feels more sensitive and irritating and I can’t hold back my anger, frustration or disgust quite as well…. But while this kind of role can strip you bare, it’s also thrilling. When I said I wanted to be an actress as a child, this is what I meant."
The play runs Oct. 7-28 at Stage 52, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles. For tickets, call (310) 229-5295.
My ex-boyfriend and I had been engaging in some very dangerous activities lately. At first it started out as a rekindled friendship.
And then it grew into dinner dates, late nights and long talks. Then we crossed the “just friends” boundaries and got intimate. But the most dangerous activity was yet to come.
Mr. Ex had just sold his condo, and was shopping for a new house. I had just bought a place and considered myself a bit of a pro at the whole house-hunting game, so I offered to help him look for houses — you know, be his “second eye” and “sounding board.” He gratefully accepted my offer. Armed with the Saturday Real Estate section, a vague list of requirements and an even vaguer price range, we headed off to find him his perfect home.
I am a Fixer-Upper. I like to find a home that has some unique charm and character, whose exterior is a little bit shoddy. Then I can put my personal stamp on the property, gussy it up and make it my own. Mr. Ex explained that he was looking for something that was already “Perfect,” and even though he couldn’t articulate what “Perfection” was, he would know it when he saw it.
The first few houses we looked at were absolutely dismal — complete teardowns. But then we found it — perfection. It was a two-story Cape Cod with a big backyard. Every room was bright and open, the kitchen was huge and inviting and the layout was planned with such precision that not a single cabinet was out of place. The instant I walked into the house, I fell in love.
We spent nearly two hours in that house, waltzing from room to room, getting acquainted with it, feeling it out. He joked that we would have to expand the closet to fit all in all my shoes. We talked about puppy proofing the yard. We discussed which of the four bedrooms would be his office and which would be “guest rooms.” But I started to wonder: Did he really intend all of those guest rooms to be guest rooms forever? Was he thinking that they would eventually serve another purpose — for say, children? I brushed these foolish thoughts out of my mind.
As the real estate agent raced over, my heart started giving me unusual and unprecedented signals. I felt, well, giddy. First off, I was potentially watching someone spend a boatload of money, which, as a shameless shopper, I found quite exhilarating. But then I wondered if I had misjudged what kind of person Mr. Ex was. Why was he buying a “family” house? Was he the “family man” type? The swirl of the domestic fantasies made me hazy.
I went home that night and came down with a serious case of the crazies. And I knew why. That afternoon, part of me started to think: “If 8,000 highly unlikely things happen, things might actually work out with this guy.”
And that night, the other, more reasonable part of me told the other half to shut up.
The next morning, I got on the phone with Mr. Ex and asked, “Well?”
“Did you get the house?”
“Nah,” he sighed. “I decided not to get it.”
I was seriously shocked and almost affronted, even though I knew in my heart it was never going to be my house to begin with.
“But why?” I asked, “It was perfect!”
“Was it though? Was it really?”
“What were the flaws?” I implored.
Well, he couldn’t name any flaws. He admitted it was a) what he was looking for b) in his price range c) in his neighborhood and d) a flawless layout. So what was the problem?
“I don’t know,” he said, resigned. “How are you ever going to know what house is really ever going to be right?”
Realization struck. He had the perfect house. He grasped perfection — and then he let it go. Somehow, that house seemed really symbolic — and it seemed to symbolize me.
“I just don’t know if I’m ready,” he said, still talking about the house.
I had to agree.
That day, I took a tour around my new house, an airy and ancient Spanish cottage, with an antique fireplace, arched entryways and refinished wood floors. I stepped outside and took a good look at my backyard, gazing at the torn-up concrete, the half-finished deck and my uprooted shrubs. I like being a Fixer-Upper. But there are some projects that are too daunting, even for me. And I had a feeling that Mr. Ex was going to be one of them.
Lilla Zuckerman is the co-author of “Beauty Queen Blowout: Miss Adventure No. 2,” which will be released by Fireside in September.
Carlyle Discusses Dangers of ‘Hitler’
Robert Carlyle, of "The Full Monty" and "Angela’s Ashes" fame, gives a striking performance in the title role of the CBS miniseries "Hitler: The Rise of Evil." The film, which airs Sunday and Tuesday (May 18 and 20) at 9 p.m., focuses on Hitler’s life from Munich beer hall orator in 1920, through his political machinations within the Nazi party and against the Weimar Republic, ending in 1934 with the consolidation of all state power in his hands. Speaking with a pronounced Scottish burr (which he suppresses in the film) from his home in his native Glasgow, the 42-year-old actor discussed the challenges and rewards of his role with The Jewish Journal.
Jewish Journal: What were your thoughts when you decided to take the role of Hitler?
Robert Carlyle: At first I was frightened because I realized the potential dangers and pitfalls. But I decided I wouldn’t do a carbon copy of Hitler. I would do my own interpretation, that I could explore him like any other character. Then a window opened up and I wasn’t frightened any more.
JJ: One of your fellow cast members, Peter Stormare, said, "I can’t imagine being Bobby [Carlyle] and having to look at himself as Hitler every day because of all the images that flash before your eyes, all the time." What were your feelings?
RC: Once shooting began, in my quiet moments, I tried to empty myself of the character on a daily basis, rather than store it up for four months. Also, as Hitler, I didn’t look at all like myself. I had the mustache, a false nose, cheek pieces and more weight as Hitler got older.
JJ: What was your working day like when you were shooting the film in and around Prague?
RC: It took around one-and-a-half hours for the makeup and I worked 14-15 hours on an average day. As we went further along, the days got even longer.
JJ: I understand that you were offered the role of Hitler three times before you took this one.
RC:Yes, the first time was about three years ago but it didn’t come to anything. Another time was for the film "Max" [in which Hitler was played by Noah Taylor]. Five months before I started the CBS job, I worked for three months on a BBC television production which started with Hitler in the bunker and we flashed back to his earlier life. So I had already learned a good deal about the character.
JJ: I believe the BBC project was canceled, partly due to strong Jewish protests.
RC: I’m not sure. I heard that there were funding problems because the American studio partner backed out. I don’t know about Jewish protests, but if there were any I would understand that.
JJ: One of the concerns raised when CBS announced the project was that any good actor would try to find the human elements in Hitler and therefore make him more sympathetic.
RC: It wasn’t a question of searching for the human traits. I didn’t have to find that to get close to the character. I thought Hitler was very cunning and had a belief of you’re-either-for-me-or-against-me. I tried to focus on these things.
JJ: Were you aware of the objections raised by some Jewish spokesmen and organizations in the early stages of the CBS project?
RC: Not at all. I didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes. But I knew from the beginning that if I gave as honest a portrayal as I could, it would be all right. I didn’t want to upset anyone.
JJ: After you finished shooting, did you go through a decompression stage?
RC: Yes, I took off and spent a month in the country. A few weeks ago, I went back to London for some final dubbing and suddenly saw "my" Hitler on the monitor. And I said to myself, "Jesus, what a pompous little prick" and then, "You’ve done your job."
Playing at Pollard
Playwright Martin Blank confesses he has an affinity for spy
stories. It was this attraction that drew him to a book about great American
espionage cases a few years ago — and to the story of Jonathan Pollard, an
American Jew who received a life sentence in 1987 for passing documents to Israel.
“I immediately thought … this was a play,” he said. Six
months later, he said he had “this massive attack of realization that I had a
real responsibility toward telling this story.”
Blank spent about two years researching and writing “The
11th Hour,” based on true events. While the world premiere is scheduled for the
Center Stage Theatre in Jerusalem in late May, the play is now being read
locally at Valley Cities and Westside JCCs on Feb. 8 and 9, respectively. The
JCC readings star Edward Asner, Bruce Nozick and Allen Williams, and are
produced and directed by Alexandra More, artistic producing director of the
Celebrity Staged Play Reading Series.
Asner knows the Pollard story well. He’s also performed
readings of “Bitter Friends,” a Pollard-based play in which pseudonyms were
used. In comparing the two, Asner praised Blank’s more straightforward version.
“I think it’s a much braver position that the author has taken in this one,” he
“The 11th Hour” presents an analysis of Pollard’s
psychology, focusing on Pollard’s point of view from the time he decides to spy
for Israel, culminating in his capture and confession. It’s an approach that
steers away from much of the controversy — what some call Pollard’s harsh
sentencing given the circumstances — and yet it may not avoid it completely.
By humanizing Pollard, Blank’s play may draw some criticism
from those who feel he should be viewed simply as a traitor.
“Everyone has an almost irrational response to the guy,”
Blank said, admitting to being sympathetic toward Pollard. “Jay Pollard is a
tragic character and the play is a tragedy. It cannot be anything but. Whether
you sympathize with him or you don’t, he’s a tragic character.”
Israeli Surfs New Turf
Windsurfer Gal Friedman became the first Israeli to win the gold medal at the World Mistral Sailboard Championships, held in Pattaya, Thailand, on Sunday, Dec. 15. Out of the 11 races in the regatta, Friedman won four and in two more he placed second, making it the best-ever achievement for an Israeli windsurfer.
Friedman’s achievement wasn’t always so certain. Although he had won a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, his fierce rival, Amit Inbar, represented Israel at the Sydney Games in 2000. Friedman’s disappointment at being overlooked in favor of Inbar led him to rethink his future, and he took off two years, preferring to concentrate on other sports, such as mountain biking.
Once the Sydney Games ended, Friedman started thinking about making a comeback. At the same time, Inbar decided to quit, but Friedman refused to attend the trials set by the Sailing Association for choosing a team for the European championships. While younger Israeli windsurfers such as Tal Machuro, Yoni Ben-Zeev and Alex Hebner competed against each other, Friedman — with the help of the Elite Sports Unit and the agreement of the Sailing Association — received funding to train intensively with Nikos Kaklamanakis, the gold medalist in the last two Olympics.
Friedman credits much of his recent success to his coach, American Mike Gebhardt. "He has helped me with the small things, the things which differentiate between the top places and the rest. Gebhardt is himself a former Olympic medalist, and his experience has helped me — mostly in motivating me to believe that I can win," Friedman said.
"He has proved his great potential. He has the attributes of a champion," an ecstatic Gebhardt said Sunday of Friedman. "He has great technique and a strong character, but he needs some moral support to make him even better," he said.
Friedman’s title places him as a leading contender among Israelis going for an Olympic medal in the 2004 Athens Games, alongside pole vaulter Alex Averbukh and kayaker Mikhail Kalganov.
Despite the fact that he was in 19th place after his first race in Thailand, Friedman got back on course on Sunday, took the lead on the second day of competition and did not look back. "I didn’t try to go for a medal, I went for the gold," he said. "This was a long and tough event, but I stayed close to the title all the way through. I have had a good year. It is very difficult to be second in Europe and world champion in the same year, but I have done it, and I have proved that I am part of the leading group in the world." — Staff Report
Spinning a Jewish Web
When preschool teacher Sylvia Rouss noticed a lack of children’s literature about Judaism, she did something about it: she wrote the books herself. Rouss, who teaches at Stephen S. Wise Temple, is the author of the popular "Sammy Spider" series, which are widely used in Jewish schools around the country.
"I use the spider as a vehicle to teach young children about Jewish holidays and Israel," said the Tarzana resident. In her latest book, "Sammy Spider’s First Trip to Israel" ($6.95, Kar-Ben Publishing), which was released in July, Sammy tags along when the family he lives with makes a special trip to the Holy Land. "It is very hard to find any books for young children on topic of Israel," Rouss said. "We try to teach [children about Israel] every year because it is so important at a Jewish school."
Earlier, when Rouss completed "Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah" (Kar-Ben Publishing, 1993) she was asked to create a series around her crawling character. It wasn’t long before the young spider experienced Passover (1995), Rosh Hashana (1996), Shabbat (1998), Tu B’Shevat (2000) and Purim (2000). While "Sammy Spider’s First Trip to Israel," is the arachnid’s seventh adventure, Rouss has written numerous other books as well as two anthologies and two activity books.
Having traveled to the Jewish homeland every year for the last 27 years, Rouss has developed a strong connection to the country. As such, she just wrote a new book for older children called "Tali’s Jerusalem Scrapbook," which is about a young girl living in Israel. The story deals with terrorism through the eyes of a child. Rouss is quick to point out the importance of going to Israel during times like these. "When someone’s sick, you make a point of visiting them," she noted.
In addition to the "Sammy" books, Rouss recently released a preschool rhyming book called "The Littlest Candlesticks" ($14.95, Pitspopany Press).
Meet Sylvia Rouss as she gives public readings of her three most recent works on Sunday, Oct. 27 at 10 a.m. at Temple Beth Israel, 3033 N. Towne Ave., Pomona, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel & Pomona Valleys, (626) 967-3656; and Sunday, Nov. 24, 11:30 a.m. at Pages Books for Children, 18399 Ventura Blvd., No. 15, Tarzana, (818) 342-6657.
When Melanie Mayron read an early script of the iconic yuppie angst-fest "thirtysomething" in 1987, she rushed to the telephone. The series’ creators had portrayed her character, Melissa, as Jewish, fat and troubled. But the famously redheaded actress didn’t want any of that. She’d already been a recurring character on another show about a food-obsessed Jewish chick, the 1970s sitcom, "Rhoda." And she was tired of the cliché.
"So I talked their ears off about why they shouldn’t make Melissa another self-deprecating Jewish woman who dumps on herself and eats," says Mayron, who has just directed her second feature film, "Slap Her, She’s French," starring Piper Perabo. "I felt that while she had perhaps done that in her 20s, she was 30-something, she’d had therapy, and she was beyond it."
The executive producers agreed, and Melissa went on to become "thirtysomething’s" scrappy, lovable underdog — among the most memorable Jewish characters in prime time — a freelance photographer struggling to find the right job and the right guy. Some complained that she was the stereotypical, unlucky-in-love Jewish girl, but Mayron begged to differ. "I didn’t see Melissa as a loser or a neurotic," she says. "I saw her as a survivor."
The same could be said of the 49-year-old Jewish actress, who in person is funny — and waif-like. If Melissa has been described as Chaplin’s "Little Tramp reincarnated in a woman’s body," so is Mayron. When acting jobs proved scarce over the years, she supported herself as — you guessed it — a freelance photographer.
When Mayron found that the Jewish men who ran Hollywood favored non-Jewish actresses, she co-wrote a short film, "Shiny Shoes," starring herself as "a Jewish girl who wanted a Jewish guy while the Jewish men around her just wanted shiksa goddesses."
By the time the acting jobs started to dwindle, as they do for many women over 40, Mayron had already transitioned into writing and directing. Her credits include ABC "Afterschool Specials," episodes of "New York Undercover" and "Ed" and her 1995 feature film directorial debut, "The Baby-Sitters Club," based on the novels of Ann M. Martin.
She’s continuing to persevere as a director, though the odds are daunting. Despite the success of a handful of female filmmakers such as Penny Marshall and Kathryn Bigelow, only four of the 100 highest grossing films in 2001 were directed by women, according to a recent study from San Diego State University. Though hotshot young male directors are quickly signed to bigger movies, women have a different experience, Mayron, and the study, suggest.
"My debut feature, ‘The Baby-Sitters Club,’ got good reviews and made good money for what it cost," she says, wearing jeans and boots recently in her publicist’s mid-Wilshire office. "But it took me six years to get to direct my second feature. I think a guy would have had another movie out the same year."
Ask why she signed on to "Slap Her" — about a conniving foreigner who usurps the identity of a popular Texas teen — and she jokes, "They were gonna make the movie and they wanted me." While the few reviews out so far have been disappointing, Mayron has been singled out for praise. Variety complimented her for drawing "lively playing from her cast without over-indulging them as a fellow actor."
Mayron says she hopes it doesn’t take another six years to land her next directing gig. Then her head swivels and she’s looking around, Melissa-like, for some wood to knock. "Here’s a tree," she says, brightly, rapping the branches of a potted plant.
Though most people assume Mayron — everyone’s favorite TV gingit — is the quintessential East Coast Ashkenazi Jew, her background is more varied. While her mother hails from Russian Jewish stock, her father, David, a chemist, is a Sephardic Jew whose family goes back five generations in the land of Israel. "My grandfather sold insurance to King Farouk of Egypt," she says. "And my savta’s parents helped found the city of Tel Aviv in 1906. Our family name used to be Mizrahi, but they changed it to Mayron, which means ‘happy water’ in Hebrew."
The actress’s dad was raised in then-Palestine and served as a combat medic in the War of Independence (Mayron carries a photograph of him in uniform in her wallet). Soon after the war, he arrived in Philadelphia to attend university and met Mayron’s mother, Norma, at a Hillel party in 1950.
Melanie, the eldest of their three children, grew up traveling to Israel every few years. Her most vivid memories: playing in bomb shelters and speaking a patois of Hebrew, French and Ladino to her now 101-year-old savta. Back home in Ambler, Pa., she attended Jewish camps and weekly services at a "Conservadox" synagogue.
Around the time of her bat mitzvah, she viewed a production of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" and vowed, during the car ride home, to become an actress. But the road wasn’t always easy. After playing a chunky Jewish girl (among other less-than-svelte roles) who considers an affair with a rabbi in Claudia Weill’s 1978 flick, "Girl Friends," Mayron decided to go on a crash diet. "I lived on coffee and Tab for two weeks, lost 16 pounds and then my hair started falling out in clumps," she says sheepishly. "Thank God I had enough nice, thick Jewish hair to cover up the bald spots."
A few years later, she shaved her head to play Vanessa Redgrave’s best friend in the Auschwitz saga, "Playing for Time" — and didn’t work for two years while waiting for her hair to grow back.
Things had picked up by the time Mayron created the role of Isabelle Grossman, the hipster courted by the Pickle Man in Susan Sandler’s "Crossing Delancey" at New York’s Jewish Repertory Theater in 1985. "Susan told me she’d written the part for me after seeing ‘Girl Friends,’" recalls Mayron, the never-married mom of two 3-year-olds. "I was supposed to star in the movie version, but Steven Spielberg bought the [property] for [his then-wife] Amy Irving. I was devastated because I loved that part; I mean, I was her."
Mayron also identified with Melissa, the searching, yearning, single artist she went on to play on "thirtysomething." The series earned her a 1989 Emmy Award for best supporting actress as well as her first shot in the director’s chair (she eventually directed two episodes).
The New York Times recently called her "among the more versatile women in Hollywood," but the actor-writer-director isn’t cocky about her future. She still has the same scrappy license plate she’s had for more than a decade: "It says ONDWAY," she says with a laugh, again sounding like Melissa. "Because I feel like I’ll always be on the way. On the way in, or on the way out."
"Slap Her, She’s French" opens next week in Los Angeles.
One Shagadelic Sourpuss
She’s back, baby — and dare we say it? — she’s shaggable. In the third go-round of Mike Myers’ Bond spoof, "Austin Powers in Goldmember," Mindy Sterling returns as Frau Farbissina ("sourpuss" in Yiddish), Dr. Evil’s number-one squeeze and henchwoman. But she’s decidedly less, well, farbissina.
"She’s a bit more domestic," says 49-year-old Sterling, an improv veteran. "She’s a lot more attractive. She even has a hot little love scene."
A tarted-up Frau — initially based on Lotte Lenya’s shrill character in "To Russia With Love" — locks jaw with Evil (Myers) in a hilarious prison conjugal visit sequence. "I wear a blond wig with hideous dark roots, a very short jeans skirt, garish press-on nails and outrageous falsies in my bra," says Sterling, who was glad to ditch Farbissina’s usual military garb. "The dutiful Frau’s trying to blend in with the other white-trash wives visiting their hubbies in prison."
The over-the-top scene is what one would expect of Sterling, who honed her comic instincts growing up with a Borscht Belt comedian dad, Dick Sterling.
It was while doing improv at the Groundlings Theater in Los Angeles that she first met Myers, who remembered the Jewish actress while casting his first Powers film in 1997. He said he got Farbissina’s Yiddish name from his Jewish wife and mother-in-law — the inspiration for his schmoozy "Saturday Night Live" character, Linda Richman, the host of "Coffee Talk."
In the 1999 sequel, Frau’s revealed to be the mother of Dr. Evil’s nebbish son, Scott (Seth Green). In "Goldmember," a sexier Sterling gets slapped on the tush by Michael Caine, who portrays the titular spy’s groovy-but-deadbeat dad.
The actress hopes to play an even more femme Frau in the future. "I’d love it if the fourth movie explores domestic life at home with the Evils," she says. "Like, if Frau has a pregnancy scare or Scottie’s dating — very much like ‘The Osbournes’ on MTV."
"Goldmember" opens today in Los Angeles.
What is the meaning of courage?
In Hollywood, it is often the brave, handsome soldier who risks his life, or the enterprising businesswoman who succeeds against all odds. The triumph of the individual: that’s the American Way.
But not all cultures glorify that path, and when faced with a character that chooses a different path, we may be hard-pressed to deem that choice "courageous."
But that’s exactly what Israeli writer-director Dover Kosashvili says of Zaza, the main character in his film "Late Marriage," the winner of nine Israeli academy awards and other world festival awards, which will be shown at the Israel film festival here this week.
Zaza (Lior Loui Ashkenazi) is a 31-year-old Tel Avivian bachelor who humors his parents as they fix him up with "suitable" girls. Zaza is handsome, intelligent and successful, so why are they are so worried about him? They’re Georgian.
Sometimes we forget that the term Israelis includes as great a variety of people and cultures as exists in America. There are the oldtimeAshkenazim and the Sephardim, the religious, the secular, the settlers, then there are also the new immigrants: the Ethiopians, the Russians — and each have their own subculture and traditions. In Hebrew and Georgian, "Marriage," Kosashvili’s first feature film, portrays one of those subcultures, the Georgian community — though certainly not at its best.
Zaza’s parents — his mother is actually played by the director’s mother ("I couldn’t find an actress who could do a convincing Georgian accent," he says) — live across the street from their prized son, and ship him on many interviews of other young Georgian woman of good families. (Ashkenazi studied for five months with the director to learn the language.) But Zaza doesn’t take their concerns seriously, because he is in love with Judith, a divorced mother who is more typically "Tel Avivian."
Zaza’s entire extended family gets involved and forces Zaza to make a choice, one they themselves once had to make, and their fathers before them. But how he chooses isn’t exactly the point; for a foreign audience (and probably most audiences seeing this French-Israeli co-production will be outsiders) it’s the otherworldly values inherent in the relationships in the movie: family loyalty, respect, tradition, community.
Kosashvili, 35, views the world and his film philosophically. "I don’t believe that Zaza even has a choice," he told The Journal in Hebrew from his home in Israel. A Georgian immigrant himself who came to Israel at age 6, Kosashvili says the characters are a composite of his community, though the story is something he heard from a friend. "On the whole, I don’t believe in choice. The freedom to choose is nonexistent in this world," he said. Kosashvili’s worldview is definitely not an American one of manifest destiny.
"Zaza is not seeking the moment when he is supposed to decide. He is searching for the point to which he is suppose to arrive," the director said, noting that his character is not a coward, but one who acts within his own constraints.
But what about love conquering all?
"Zaza is investigating the nature of his great love," Kosashvili explains. "He discovers that his great love is for his parents."
Remember Hanna-Barbara’s "Squiddly Diddly?" Well, a new cartoon cephalopod has come to town, and his name is Oswald the octopus. Voicing the title character on "Oswald," Nickelodeon’s new addition to its children’s line-up, is a Valley boy who has been a popular actor since childhood, Fred Savage.
Savage had captured the hearts of millions of viewers on the nostalgic ABC series "Wonder Years" (1988-1993), with his vulnerable portrayal of Kevin Arnold, a boy just trying to make sense of growing up. Now 25, Savage sees "Oswald" as an opportunity to do it again, albeit with a much younger audience in mind.
"I knew more of what I didn’t want Oswald to be," Savage told The Journal. "I didn’t want the show to talk down to kids."
"Oswald" centers around the cartoon’s eponymous eight-tentacled hero, a sensitive, positive-thinking big blue octopus who, with canine companion Weenie and friends Henry (a penguin) and Daisy (a flower), goes on adventures in Big City. Plots include the search for an ice cream truck, flightless Henry’s dream to fly and Daisy’s flirtation with the bongo drums. The series stresses themes of teamwork and tolerance.
Savage’s greatest challenge on "Oswald" might be refraining from going off the scripted page, playing opposite talented cut-ups David Lander (Squiggy of "Laverne & Shirley" fame) who voices Henry, and Laraine Newman ("Saturday Night Live") as Madame Butterfly.
Originally from Chicago, Savage and his family moved to the Valley when he was 12, after he landed the "Wonder Years" part. While Savage was growing up, his family attended Stephen S. Wise Temple for holiday services, and he participated in activities at the campus Hillel as a student at Stanford University.
Savage still stays in touch with former "Wonder Years" castmates, including Danica McKellar (who played love interest Winnie Cooper). McKellar went on to become a brilliant mathematician in real life. So, was it unnerving playing opposite a genius for five years?
"I think if I were in math class with her, it would have been more intimidating," said Savage, who directed episodes of TV shows such as "Boy Meets World" and, this year, "All About Us."
While he portrays an octopus on TV, Savage won’t be acting like one on any blind dates. He’s been dating a "nice Jewish girl" from Chicago’s North Shore. Savage said that his friendship with this woman, a former childhood acquaintance, has blossomed into his first serious relationship.
Sounds a lot like the plot to a "Wonder Years" reunion special. "Oswald" airs at 10:30 a.m. weekdays on Nickelodeon.
The discussion was con-fidential when Roger Richman, attorney for Hebrew University of Jerusalem, met with Bonnie Curtis, Steven Spielberg’s producer on "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence." Spielberg needed the university’s help on his top-secret film, about a robot child who longs to become a real boy.
Spielberg had written the screenplay based on a detailed treatment and storyboards commissioned by his friend, the late Stanley Kubrick. One of those sketches depicted Dr. Know, a hologram in an arcade game who provides key information to the hero. "It was very important to us to maintain Stanley’s original vision of an Albert Einstein-like character [for Dr. Know]," Curtis told The Journal.
Enter Hebrew University, which has owned Einstein’s image since 1955, when the scientist bequeathed his archive and likeness to the school.
Because the university is protective of Einstein, licensing expert Richman carefully studied pages of the script pertaining to Dr. Know (voiced in the movie by Robin Williams) and met with Curtis to scrutinize the character’s design. During their closed-door session, Curtis opened her portfolio to reveal the whimsical Einstein caricature, complete with bristly mustache and fluffy white hair. Richman instantly approved.
Though studios usually pay hefty fees to use Einstein’s image, Warner Bros. got it free for a 12-minute scene in "A.I."
That’s because Spielberg’s ties to the school date back to 1987, when he received the university’s Scopus Award and endowed its Jewish film archive with contributions that have reached $1 million.
After meeting with university President Menachem Magidor to discuss "A.I." and other issues in December, Spielberg made another major gift to the archive, which bears his name. Spielberg will also receive a 2002 honorary doctorate from Hebrew U. "A.I." has brought him even closer to the university, an observer said.
The words we find in this week’s parasha have undoubtedly influenced more individuals in the Western world than any other in the entire Torah. They are called in Hebrew aseret hadibrot (the ten utterances), but most people know them simply as the Ten Commandments.
They have provided a beacon of moral certainty in eras of social confusion and doubt and have illuminated the dark corners of the human soul when the divine sparks of prophetic vision have been dimmed by violence, injustice and oppression.
At times I read these words with an almost embarrassing sense of communal pride at being heir to the civilization that gave these "commandments" to the world.
At other times I am reminded that all people share the same hopes and dreams and divine spark. This was brought powerfully home to me recently when I was privileged to be part of "Talk to America," a live worldwide conversation on Voice of America.
The subject was parenting, ethics and character, and I was invited as the featured guest because of my book "Children of Character — Leading Your Children to Ethical Choices in Everyday Life" (Canter & Associates). What made it so unforgettable was that the other participants in this conversation were calling from South Africa, Liberia, India, Ghana, Iran, Guyana, China, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia. The most incredible aspect of this international conversation was how powerfully our human oneness was underscored.
Shelly in South Africa said, "I agree completely that teaching values has to be by example, not precept. The most important thing parents can do for their children is to transmit a sense of who they are."
Maxwell in Liberia asked, "With all that’s going on the world today, how can a parent raise a kid with good character?" And Katon in India lamented, "Times are changing, and most of the time children are now outside the home or in front of television sets, and the influence of parents has declined to a considerable extent. Gone are the days when we had dinner-table discussions and parents took pride in developing the character of their children. How relevant today really is the influence of parents compared to what it was a hundred years ago?"
Ahnd in Madras added, "I think that kids used to hear stories at the knees of parents and grandparents. They always ended with good triumphing over evil. They were designed to encourage kindness, good, charity, love, understanding, tolerance, honesty, simplicity, sharing and truth, and discourage the opposite values. I think we are a lot poorer today. This isn’t taking place, and kids are valueless comparatively. They are more selfish, and TV, soap operas and movies are no longer teaching morals."
Quami in Ghana said, "As a parent I try so hard to bring up my child "the right way," but we have TV influencing the values which may not be the right values; we also have peers attempting strongly to undo what parents have done. How do children walk that fine line?"
Jenny in China commented, "It is very important for parents to influence their kids, but I wonder about your reaction to parents who have given their kids too much influence, while the kids want their own character, so it’s kind of tough for the kids."
Hassein in Iran asked, "Can you predict that one day the world will have the same set of values accepted by all people around the globe, so that there will be no conflict around the world. Is it possible? Do you think that such a day will come, and if yes, how can this happen?"
While I listened to these voices from around the world, I realized that I have had this same conversation with parents in Chicago, Detroit, New York, San Francisco, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego and here in Los Angeles.
After all, that is the real meaning of why this week’s "Ten Commandments" were given in the desert and not Jerusalem — to teach us that the most important spiritual truths of human life are the same for everyone, regardless of race or religion, culture or language. Perhaps when we finally accept that truth of that lesson, the messianic vision articulated by Hassein of Iran will finally come true.
When Natasha Richardson starred in Paul Schrader’s 1988 biopic, “Patty Hearst,” she drew inspiration from a Holocaust-themed tome plucked off a shelf in her father’s Los Angeles home. The book was “If This Is a Man,” Primo Levi’s account of his time in Auschwitz, and in its pages the young Brit gleaned crucial insights into the psyche of her brutalized character.
“There are enormous differences between life in a concentration camp and living in a closet,” the tall, willowy actress said during a Journal interview at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pasadena, a Vogue cigarette dangling from her slender fingers. “But I found certain similarities I could use — the trauma of just trying to stay alive, moment to moment, one day at a time. In all my work since, I’ve been very affected by the writings of the Holocaust.”
Memoirs like Levi’s have helped her tap into the despair of protagonists braving “extreme adversity, oppression and fear” — a woman incarcerated in the sexist dystopia of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” for example, or the doomed chanteuse Sally Bowles of “Cabaret.” They have fueled the urgency she conveys as a Holocaust rescuer in the upcoming CBS miniseries, “Haven,” based on a true story from World War II.Richardson plays Ruth Gruber, a Jewish American journalist who fought U.S anti-Semitism to escort nearly 1,000 Holocaust survivors from war-torn Europe to America. She accepted the role with eyes open. She knew there would be the inevitable comparisons with her husband, actor Liam Neeson, who earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as Holocaust rescuer Oskar Schindler in “Schindler’s List.”
“And then I thought there might be quite a few people wondering, ‘Why on earth did they want this English [gentile] to play Ruth Gruber,'” Richardson said between sips of Diet Coke with lemon. “But after reading the script, I felt compelled to do the movie. I’m fairly well-read on the subject of World War II, yet I had absolutely no idea that the U.S. government went out of its way to keep Jewish refugees out of this country during the Holocaust. I was deeply shocked by that.”
As she prepared to play Gruber, Richardson recalled her trip to Auschwitz while visiting Neeson on the set of “Schindler’s List.” “I am not a proponent of the death penalty, but I was furious to learn that the camp’s commandant had been merely hanged to death,” she said. “I thought, ‘The inmates had to endure agony for months and years, and he died so easily?’ I would have liked to have done to him what he did to all those people.”
Though Richardson was born in 1963, World War II was a presence in her early life. She grew up hearing her family’s war stories and watching the World War II-themed films (“The Dam Busters,” “The Captive Heart”) starring her grandfather, the esteemed actor Sir Michael Redgrave. During the blitz, her mother, actress Vanessa Redgrave, and her uncle, Corin, then children, were whisked out of London to an elderly aunt’s home in the country. “I learned about the rationing and being separated from parents, and my mother’s recollection, as a very little girl, of seeing an entire town obliterated by bombs,” Richardson said.When Natasha was a teenager, Vanessa starved herself and bloodied her scalp to portray an Auschwitz inmate in the Arthur Miller TV movie, “Playing for Time.” But the teen was even more disturbed by the media controversy that ensued when some Jewish groups insisted the virulently anti-Zionist Redgrave had no right to play a Holocaust victim. “It was, and is, deeply hurtful to me that anyone could construe my mother is anti-Semitic,” said Richardson, who grew up in Vanessa’s radical circles. “I learned more personally about the Holocaust and what happened to the Jewish people from her than from anyone else.”
She also learned a thing or two about acting, a career to which she aspired from an early age. She was 4 when she played a bridesmaid in “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” starring Vanessa and helmed by her father, the director Tony Richardson. Eighteen years later, Michael Redgrave, then suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease, was taken in a wheelchair to view her performance as Ophelia in “Hamlet.” “She is a true actress,” he proclaimed of his granddaughter. He died a week later.
Richardson’s Tony-winning work in Sam Mendes’ brilliant 1998 revival of “Cabaret” taught her what was at stake for the “Haven” refugees. “We had a kind of Holocaust ending,” she said. “The emcee, who has a yellow star and is also homosexual, took off his clothes, then the whole stage went white, there was the noise of electrocution and you just knew that all these people were dead. Some nights I would get so upset about what happened to the characters that I couldn’t stop crying for half an hour after the performance.”
While Richardson kept a copy of “If This Is A Man” in her “Cabaret” dressing room, she surrounded herself with Gruber’s books for inspiration on “Haven.” She also met for tea with the 89-year-old journalist to quiz her about how she dealt with the sexism and anti-Semitism of U.S. officials circa 1944. By the time she arrived on the “Haven” set in Toronto last year, she could recite the contents of a suitcase of Gruber’s that appears in the film but is never opened on camera.
The performer was unprepared, however, for the emotional toll of the shoot. First she learned that her husband had been injured in a motorcycle accident and was in intensive care in New York. Then she was required to shoot the sequence in which Ruth’s beloved father falls ill and dies, which transported her back to the horror of her own father’s 1991 AIDS-related death. She recalled the weeks she cared for him, changing his soiled sheets and administering sponge baths. After his death, she immersed herself in AIDS volunteer work, inspired by the Talmudic phrase: “He who saves one life saves the entire world.”
“My father was my best friend and my rock,” she told The Journal, “so his death was just a huge loss, a sense of being cut adrift, and that is how Ruth feels when her father dies in the film. For me, that sequence was all very close to home. I knew it was going to hurt, but the very fact that it did made the scenes better.”Like the refugees in “Haven,” Richardson also found safe haven in America, where she emigrated to escape the baggage of being compared to her famous relatives. She hopes her two small sons will avoid the family business. “Having lived for many years in the shadow of my mother, a great actress, I know what it’s like to have to have to carry that on your back,” she said. “I know how hard it is to emerge from those long shadows.”
“Haven” airs Feb. 11 and 14 at 9 p.m. on CBS.
Updating the Marx Brothers
Left to right, Michael Preston, Paul Magid and Howard JayPatterson of The Flying Karamazov Brothers.
As a reward to all of us lowbrows for sitting through any numberof very serious, avant-garde dramas and trying to figure out thepsychological motivations of the characters, the Mark Taper Forum hasrelented and given us “Room Service.”
The wild and crazy farce presents the Flying Karamazov Brothers,who juggle clubs and repartee at their usual manic pace, and if theydrop a ball or pun here and there, who has time to notice?
The play-within-a-play plot line, if anyone really cares, is aboutthe four brothers rehearsing a play, in which they encounter the samemisfortunes as the characters they are portraying in “Room Service.”
In both instances, the deadbeat brothers encounter irateproducers, apoplectic hotel managers, pseudo-doctors and anuncomprehending outside world determined to foil their artisticplans.
Coherent analysis of the goings-on is not furthered by the factthat each of the four (and actually unrelated) brothers — PaulMagid, Howard Jay Patterson, Michael Preston and Sam Williams –portrays half a dozen characters, aided by instant costume changes,cross-dressing and rapid gender changes.
Thanks to bouncing credit cards and previous unpaid bills, thebrothers are denied sustenance by the hotel’s room service, and theperpetually gnawing hunger leads to lines such as “complimentarycontinental breakfast, served on tectonic plates” and “we are forcingour opinion down his throat, that’s all we got around here.”
“Room Service” is adapted from the 1937 Broadway hit by JohnMurray and Allen Boretz, and the following year’s movie, starring theimmortal Marx Brothers.
It’s uncertain how many contemporaries have actually seen the 1938film, but there was a certain amount of carping by audience membersand critics that the present production didn’t live up the Marxianoeuvre.
One suspects that time and nostalgia have falsified memories. Theauthoritative Movie Guide grants the movie only two stars (out of apossible five) and describes it as “wasting the talents of theBrothers Marx in an insufficiently absurd film.”
And no less an authority than Groucho himself considered the moviea failure.
The current “Room Service” updates the scenario with a few mostlyfunny, contemporary shticks, including the appearance of billionaireBill Gates, who rescues the production but in turn buys the TaperForum and fires artistic director Gordon Davidson.
Robert Woodruff, better known at the Taper for such edgy plays as”In the Belly of the Beast” and “A Lie of the Mind,” directs the zanygoings-on at breakneck speed.
“Room Service” runs through Dec. 21 at the Taper Forum. Forinformation, call (213) 628-2772.
One Man’s Journey to Judaism
There is nothing tentative or half-way about MarkC. “Moshe” Hardie.
For instance, when the 26-year-old African-American decided tobecome a Jew, he underwent three conversion processes, with aConservative/Reform rabbi in San Francisco, at Chabad House inBerkeley, and with the Orthodox Beit Din in Los Angeles.
When Hardie shows up for a newspaper interview, he comes prepared.He brings a biography, photos, copies of his conversion certificates,a long list of references with phone numbers, and a self-addressedenvelope for mailing the story-to-come.
He even furnishes his own headline, “From the Crack House to theStatehouse,” for the reporter’s consideration.
The crack house was part of the neighborhood scene in north LongBeach, “the most impoverished place in California,” as Hardiedescribes it, where drugs, gang shootouts and teen-age mothers werecommonplace, and where young Mark grew up in a single-parent home.
The statehouse stands in Sacramento, and its resident is Gov. PeteWilson, for whose policies and good name Hardie now works ceaselesslyas a special assistant to the California chief executive.
Between the crack house and the statehouse, Hardie has crammed inenough experiences to last most men a lifetime. He relates hisaccomplishments with the easy assurance of a man who characterizeshimself as “always completely confident.”
“I never question my own identity,” he says. “I feel settled andstable.”
Let’s take one example of his aplomb, perhaps seasoned with atouch of chutzpah.
In 1996, while taking a summer law course at the Hebrew Universityin Jerusalem, Hardie decided to intervene personally in the ragingconfrontations between haredim and secular groups over whetherBar-Ilan Street should be closed to traffic on the Sabbath.Sauntering in where angels might fear to tread, Hardie printed up10,000 leaflets, in English and Hebrew, which pointed out thatIsrael, as “the spiritual homeland of the Jewish religion…has theduty to protect the rights of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews.”
Left, Hardie traveled the lengthand breadth of Israel, along the way picking up — apparentlyeffortlessly — a colloquial Hebrew that he demonstrated during theinterview.
Therefore, he reasoned, Bar-Ilan Street should be closed, exceptfor emergency vehicles, during the Shabbat.
Every Shabbos, Hardie would go to Bar-Ilan Street and circulatebetween the barricades restraining the opposing sides, pass outleaflets, and earnestly lecture both sides that “we’re all K’lalYsrael, which must remain unified and be a light unto the nations,”he says.
This was Hardie’s second visit to Israel. The summer before, hehad studies at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, and he lived at the nearbyHeritage House.
“You could stay there for free if you were Jewish,” says Hardie.”Actually, this was before my conversion, but no one could tell methat I wasn’t Jewish.”
He also traveled the length and breadth of Israel, along the waypicking up — apparently effortlessly — a colloquial Hebrew that hedemonstrated during the interview. This new acquisition complementshalf a dozen other languages, from Afghan to Polish, which Hardielists on his curriculum vitae.
His path to Judaism began as a child, when his Southern Baptistgrandmother made him read a biblical chapter each day.
“I became fascinated with what she called the Old Testament,”Hardie says. “I immediately identified with the people of Israel; Ifelt that I had stood at the foot of Mount Sinai.
“Later, when I turned 18, I decided to give myself free rein forthe next eight years to explore different religions, cultures andlanguages. On the basis of my religious studies, I concluded that theTorah was the true original, and all the others were merely copies.”
Before his Israel excursions, Hardie had earned a bachelor’sdegree in political science at UC Riverside, and then entered UC’sHastings College of Law.
Most law students barely find the time and energy to cope with thecompetitive pressures of their classes, but Hardie concurrentlyembarked on his conversion to Judaism at Temple Beth Israel-Judea inSan Francisco. He also pulled off the noticeable feat of activemembership in the Black Law Students Association while serving at thesame time as president of the Hastings Jewish Law StudentsAssociation and as communications director for the nationwideassociation of Jewish law students.
During his conversion studies, furthermore, he was advised by hismentor, Rabbi Herbert Morris, to go out among the Jewish people. SoHardie became a volunteer at the Jewish Home for the Aged in SanFrancisco. Earlier this year, he interned at the Israeli Consulate inSan Francisco, programming a computer network for Israelis working inthe Silicon Valley’s high-tech companies. His supervisor was ShiraSkloot, director of public affairs at the consulate. She said thatHardie was actually overqualified for his assignment, but that “heworked hard and was a pleasure to work with.”
Hardie received his law degree, with a specialty in internationallaw, from Hastings, and then took the state bar examination. He won’tknow the results until December.
During the bar exam, he wore his Hebrew University sweat shirt,not so much as a good luck charm but because “I want Hashem with me,”he says.
The ink on his law degree and his final conversion certificate washardly dry when Hardie landed his present job as a special assistantto Gov. Wilson.
He works within the Office of Community Relations, and his job isto present the governor’s views and goals to African-American andother community groups. He plies his beat always wearing his kippahand tzitzit, and as both an African-American and a Jew, he representstwo ethnic blocs that have consistently opposed the Republicangovernor.
Hardie is unfazed. He passionately backed the governor’ssuccessful campaign to eliminate public affirmative action programsand praises his boss for leading the way to a “colorblind”California.
“I tell inner-city audiences that the governor is a deeplycompassionate man who wants to include everyone in the Americandream,” says Hardie. “I believe his is a tzaddik [most righteous man]and a mensch.”
Some of Hardie’s other icons are even less popular among theliberals in Tel Aviv and San Francisco.
“My role models are Ze’ev Jabotinsky [founder of the ZionistRevisionist movement], Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu,” saysHardie. His admiration of the prime minister and his knowledge ofIsrael’s security needs are such that “in Israel, I’m called ‘TheBlack Bibi.'”
Less controversial members of his pantheon are Dr. Martin LutherKing Jr., Gen. Colin Powell and Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneerson.
A large photograph of the Lubavitcher Rebbe will grace Hardie’splanned office in the governor’s Los Angeles headquarters, togetherwith a mezuzah and a small refrigerator for kosher food supplies.”Then I’ll feel really at home,” Hardie says.
He also looks forward to learning about state government fromRosalie Zalis, Wilson’s senior policy adviser and liaison to theJewish community, whom Hardie also designates as a role model.
There seems to be no limit on how far Hardie can go, but at themoment, all his energies are bent toward advancing Wilson’s agenda.Nevertheless, he finds time to support such organizations as Hadassah(as a male associate), American Friends of the Hebrew University,Jewish National Fund, Jews for Judaism, and the National Anne FrankCampaign. He is a member of the American Israel Public AffairsCommittee, and his car’s license plate bears the letters AIPAC.
But pressure of work has forced him to divert three writingprojects — a book titled “Zionists Come in All Colors,” a children’sbook on the life of Anne Frank, and a story about a ferventlyOrthodox couple who unexpectedly become the parents of a black baby.
Even a workaholic has a private life, and every Shabbat and manyevenings, Hardie walks through his Los Angeles neighborhood, theOrthodox enclave of Pico-Robertson, dropping in at his favoritefalafel and schwarma joint, chatting with Israelis, or just revelingin the ambiance of Yiddishkayt.
Any romantic interests? As a public figure, Hardie begs off, hemust be circumspect about his private life. But he admits tocurrently “laying the foundation” of a serious relationship. Is sheJewish, he is asked. “Of course,” he says. “I can only marry a Jewishgirl.”
What makes Hardie run, what propels his drive? Hardie creditsmainly his father, who, though divorced from his mother, suddenlyreappeared in his life when Mark was 8 years old.
The father, a certified public accountant and business executive,passed on to his son the motto, “If you believe it, you can achieveit.”
He instructed the boy to stand in front of the mirror everymorning and repeat 100 times, “I like myself.” And when the fathersaid goodbye, he invariably added, “See you at the top.”
When Mark Hardie says goodbye, he closes the interview with ajaunty, “Sei gesund.”
Make the Time Count
Child rearing, it turns out, is a relativelyshort-term project. The truth is that we don’t have them for verylong. Eighteen years, that’s all. Eighteen years, from birth untilthey move away to Stanford. If your child is 5, you’ve got 13 yearsleft. If your child is 8, you’ve got 10 years. If your child is 11,you’ve got only seven years — just a few years to put them to bedwith a story and a song, to make them breakfast, to stick artwork upon the fridge.
It’s also a very few years to teach values, toshape character, to instill a way of life. If it takes a lifetime tocreate a masterpiece of art or music, how do we shape the characterof our children in just a few years? We used to hope that they’dlearn by example — watch us and model their behavior after ours.That’s difficult these days. We can’t assume that by living a certainset of values, our kids will model their values after our own. Theoutside culture produces too much static interference. The mediaculture is powerful, intrusive and pernicious. For every parentalwarning to think carefully and to act reflectively, there’s a Nike adadmonishing, “Just Do It!”
It takes more than modeling to teach valuesbecause the values that we think we are modeling, the values we thinkwe are living, aren’t always visible to our kids. When we write acheck to a charity that we deem important, how do our kids know? Whenwe go to a meeting of the community, leaving them at home with thesitter, how are they to know?
To raise kids with strong values, we must be muchmore affirmative in our efforts. We must know our own values. And wemust work — consciously and creatively — to make our values visibleto our kids.
Begin with this assignment: What do you want yourchild to take to college? No, not the Toyota or the computer, butwhat values, what commitments, what ethics? Make a list of the 10values you want your child to have. Post the list on yourrefrigerator door. Ask yourself each day how these values have foundtheir way into your child’s life.
Qualities of character are communicated byimmersing children in an environment rich with symbols, rituals andstories. Because children need to see and to hear and to touch ourvalues, the Torah teaches: U’k’tavtem al mezuzot beitecha — “Writethem on the door posts of your house” (Deuteronomy 6:9). Read yourhome. Read the values that are visible in your home. Do you have atzedakah box? Do you have Shabbat candles? Does your home — thevisible and the tangible environment in which you bring up yourchildren — bespeak your deepest passions and purposes? Are thererituals in your life, rituals that communicate your ethics? Do youshare stories at bedtime, at holiday times, at special moments? Arethese stories that help kids find their place in a greater story,stories that give kids courage to face life?
We have them for so little time. Make the timecount. The greatest gift we give our kids is a sense of life’spurpose and meaning, the values we uphold, the commitments we fightfor, the passions that make life worthwhile. The Rabbis warned us:”Hazman katzar, vi’hamalachah miruba’at.”
The time is short, and the task substantial. Starttoday.
Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom inEncino.