The King of Hearts; Celebrating diversity


All About Atidim

“As Henry VIII told each of his six wives, ‘I won’t keep you long’,” promised Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, as he addressed some 300 guests at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The Nov. 16 occasion was a benefit for Atidim, an innovative Israeli project to assure an education for promising youngsters from the country’s poorer development towns and thus help close the social and economic gap between Israel’s haves and have-nots.

Gillerman assured his audience that the recent battles against Hezbollah in Lebanon had been a success and had changed the rules in the Mideast diplomatic game.

Joining the ambassador on the speaker’s rostrum were Rabbi Eli Hirscher, Skirball founder Uri Hirscher, Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch, and Israeli industrialist Eitan Wertheimer.

The only disappointment was the no-show of megabillionaire Warren Buffet, who called in sick.

Metuka Benjamin, co-organizer of the event with Anette and A. Stuart Rubin, received a standing ovation, as did two Atidim-aided graduates, one from Ethiopia, the other from Russia.

Conversation at the Circuit’s table was enlivened by Rochelle Ginsburg, principal of the Stephen S. Wise Temple elementary school, and her physician husband Eli.

As master of ceremonies, actor Michael Burstyn kept the action moving and concluded the evening on a high note by leading guests in singing “Jerusalem of Gold.”

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

King of Hearts

Larry King and his friends showed the world their determination to provide health care to all no matter what their economic circumstances when the Larry King Cardiac Foundation hosted “An Evening with Larry King and Friends” at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It was a feast for the eyes and the palate and the heart and there was something for everyone as King and wife Shawn Southwick-King hosted the gala, entertaining the group with playful banter and true stories and incidents in their life.

“Entertainment Tonight”‘s adorable Mary Hart acted as emcee, bringing a whole lotta smiles and sunshine to the proceedings that honored Los Angeles’ own “movie star” mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, Eva (the men couldn’t get their eyes off her) Longoria, beloved and uber-generous philanthropists Alfred and Claude Mann, and renowned cardiologist Dr. Enrique Ostrzega. Athlete extraordinaire Lance Armstrong was on-hand to present the Corazones Unidos (United Hearts) award to Longoria, who thanked Armstrong for being there for her and acknowledged her deep admiration for him as someone who has triumphed in the face of personal adversity.

Three fortunate families bid $15,000 a piece for a personal portrait done by legendary American artist Peter Max.

The event featured entertainment by Il Divo, and raised more than $700,000 in funds to support the partnership forged earlier this year between the LAC+USC Healthcare Network, COPE Health Solutions, the Los Angeles County division of the American Heart Association and the Larry King Cardiac Foundation.

A Woman of Valor

It was a nonstop kvellfest when civic leader Rita Brucker received the Coastal Cities “Volunteer of the Year” award by the American Cancer Society. Brucker was recognized for her 35 years of outstanding service as one of the founding architects for the “Reach to Recovery” program helping breast cancer survivors. Proud son Barry Brucker, Beverly Hills City Council member, who attended the event with his wife, Sue and father, Charlie, stated, “I was amazed at the number of breast cancer survivors who credited my mother for being an integral part in their survival … it was very emotional and we are very proud.”

Celebrating Diversity

The evening was as diversified as its cause Nov. 19 at the star-studded black tie Multicultural Motion Picture Association’s (MMPA)14th Annual Diversity Awards — “Celebrating Diversity – Creativity and Talent That Shine.” The event, honoring artists for their exceptional achievements in film and television, benefited The Multicultural Motion Picture Association’s Educational and Development Scholarship Fund, that helps talented and dedicated students, and upcoming filmmakers, seeking entry into the film and television professions.

Jarvee E. Hutcherson, executive producer of the 14th Annual Diversity Awards and president of MMPA, said, “We are very pleased to honor a very select talented group of artists every year at The Diversity Awards, each of whom our organization feels have broadened the creative landscape in the film and television industry through their visionary work. With this year’s theme … we are recognizing the foundation laid by both artistic leaders and the emerging depth of dedicated young artists, behind and in front of the camera, who are bringing to this industry, a vision and talent indicative of only greater things to come in the future.”

MMPA’s Educational Scholarship Fund provides financial assistance and technical support to young filmmakers bringing diverse stories to the screen.

All’s Well

Three women were honored at The Wellness Community of West Los Angeles’ annual Friends of Wellness luncheon at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The women, Judy Bernstein, Shirley Blitz and Lynda Levy have given of their time, their hearts and their spirit to helping fulfill the mission of The Wellness Community.

“Their efforts have helped bring hope and support to countless people with cancer,” said Ellen Silver, executive director of The Wellness Community -West Los Angeles,
More than 265 people attended the event that featured a heartwarming presentation from cancer survivor and Wellness Center participant Karen Sabatini and a presentation with authors Carolyn and Lisa See.
For more information about The Wellness Community-West Los Angeles, visit www.twc-wla.org.

Thirty Years of Carlebach Rock


Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s musical legacy has taken many forms, from the
dozens of minyanim whose worship uses his music to the excellent recordings
made by his daughter, Neshama. But the most enduring and unexpected
offspring from Carlebach’s folkie neo-Chasidism is the number of jam bands
performing his music. If that seems incongruous, you only need to hear the
Moshav Band to realize how natural it really is.

Moshav Band, which was founded as a direct result of Carlebach’s influence,
just released its first English only album — “Misplaced.”

Reb Shlomo and a group of his followers had created a musical moshav in
Israel in 1977 in the hills between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, a community
called Moshav Meor Modi’im. Yehuda (vocals), Dovid (guitar), Meir (guitar,
mandolin) and Yosef Solomon (bass), the sons of one of the original members
of that community, are the core of the group, joined by drummer David
Swirsky. Like Inasense and Soulfarm, two other Carlebach-spawned jam bands,
they melded his musical influence with that of the rock groups they heard as
kids — most obviously, The Dead, Dylan, Neil Young — in a splendid blend
of sacred and secular.

The Moshav Band has long been one of the most popular of Jewish-oriented
rock groups, but sometime at the end of the millennium that distinction
ceased to satisfy the group. Perhaps the band had always intended to try
hurdling the wall that generally separates openly Jewish music from rest of
the entertainment world; for Christians that wall has been more of a
semipermeable membrane, as any country-music fan will tell you. Whatever
their motivation, in 2000 the band members relocated to Los Angeles to
launch their assault on rest of the pop/rock world.

“Higher and Higher: The Best of the Moshav Band,” which the Jewish Music
Group released earlier this year, is a canny attempt to straddle the gap
between the moshav and the mosh pit. The set has more English-language songs
than its previous recordings, and it is long on anthemic rockers like
“Waiting for the Calling” that would not be out of place on an album by U2
or Pearl Jam, two bands to which it bears more than a slight resemblance.
But even the straighthead rockers and love songs can be easily read as calls
to God, rather than your usual pop invocations of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’
roll. In truth, the bands it most resembles are ones that are firmly
grounded in the soil of a homeland and its political struggles, bands like
The Levellers or The Pogues (if you sobered them up).

In that respect, the Moshav Band’s heart and soul are still linked tightly
to the hills outside Jerusalem and, fittingly, to the musical and spiritual
legacy of Rabbi Carlebach.

George Robinson is the film and music critic for Jewish Week. His book, “Essential Torah,” will be published by Shocken Books in fall 2006.

What Will Life Be Like in 2026?


In honor of The Jewish Journal’s 20th anniversary, yeLAdim asked some of our young readers at the May 7 Israel Independence Day Festival: What will you be doing in 20 years?

“I will run a restaurant with spaghetti and macaroni and cheese.”
— Hannah F., prekindergarten, B’nai Tikvah Nursery School

“Airplane pilot.”
— Preston, second-grader, Heschel

“I want to be a pharmacist when I grow up, so I can make lots of money and have a great life.”
— Gil M., sixth-grader, Millikan Middle School

“I want to be a basketball player in the NBA.”
— Aaron R., seventh-grader, Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies

“When I grow up I want be a pharmacist or a basketball player.”
— Avin M., sixth-grader, Millikan Middle School,

“A cop. I will help the world with bad things.”
— Emil R., fifth-grader,Brentwood Science Magnet

“I will be a professional chiropractor and married with a beautiful girl. I’ll live wealthy for 120 years.”
— Jonathon A., seventh-grader, Etz Jacob

“I’m going to be a rich person in a recording studio. I’m going to be really rich.”
— David A., ninth-grader, Tarbut V’Torah

“I’m going to be 34 years old.”
— David J., ninth-grader, Reseda High School

“An NBA basketball player.”
— Pedy F., ninth-grader, Tarbut V’Torah

“When I grow up I want to be an acting teacher, because it will help kids be able to do something with their time and it’s a fun thing that most people enjoy. Hopefully I will be a mom and get married.”
— Esther L., fifth-grader, Heschel

“I’ll be a Jewish doctor. I will help all ill and injured Jews. I’ll help my people stay alive. I’ll probably live near a shul. I don’t know. Hashem will show me the way.”
— Daniel V., seventh-grader, Mendez Fundamental Intermediate School

“A veterinarian because I love animals and taking care of them.”
— Shaiel G., fifth-grader, Heschel

“Hopefully living in Israel and helping the government. I will try to make it in as a governor or as a dance teacher. I want to be in the government helping out those in need. And I also want to be teaching the people the joy of dancing.”
— Josue V., eighth-grader, Mendez Fundamental Intermediate School

“I want to work with my dad at Al & Ed’s Autosound.”
— Lerone H., third-grader, Emek Hebrew Academy

“I think I will be teaching classes in a synagogue as a rabbi. I think I could also be a dancing teacher. I think I would be a teacher in Israel teaching people how to sing.”
— David G., seventh grader, Lindbergh Middle School

“An Olympic champion because I ice skate and I will win the gold medal. I try my best and I will love to win in 2026. I hope my future there is great.”
— Sarah W., fourth-grader, Nestle Avenue Elementary School

“Playing my GameBoy.”
— Liad C., prekindergarten, Kol Tikvah

“Playing dress up.”
— Shani C., prekindergarten, Kol Tikvah

“I would like to be a motorcycle policeman to protect the city.”
— Brian S., first-grader, Encino Elementary School

“I want to live in a big house with 100 dogs.”
— Brandon H., second-grader, Wilbur Avenue Elementary School

“I want to be a judge because I’ll have a lot of power. I want to be richer than Bill Gates.”
— Ron V., fourth-grader, Hancock Park Elementary School

“I want to be a lawyer because I like defending people.”
— Robert B., fourth-grader, Hancock Park Elementary School

“A fire medic (aka paramedic)”
— Lisa C., preschooler, Gan Bet

“Playing basketball on the Lakers.”
— Freddy C., kindergartner, Sinai Akiba Academy

“I will probably be a linguist 20 years from now. I want to also be a photographer and have a few other jobs. I want to help people and solve problems between countries. I want to live either in Israel or somewhere in Europe.
— Raj G., eighth-grader, Columbus Middle School

“I will want to live next to the ocean, be in the NBA and have a big house.”
— Esther S., fourth-grader, Kadima Hebrew Academy

Back in 1986…

  • The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes.
  • The U.S starts the first federal Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
  • Refurbished Statue of Liberty opens.
  • Millions take part in Hands Across America charity benefit.
  • Pope John Paul II visits the Synagogue of Rome.
  • Soviet Refusenik Nathan Sharansky is freed from prison.
  • Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wins the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • “Sarah, Plain and Tall” by Patricia MacLachlan receives the Newbery Prize for children’s literature.
  • “The Cosby Show” is No. 1 on TV, followed by “Family Ties,” “Cheers,” “Murder She Wrote” and “The Golden Girls.”
  • Actress Amanda Bynes is born in Thousand Oaks.
  • Actor Shia LaBeouf is born in Los Angeles.
  • Actor Ricky Ullman is born in Eilat, Israel.
  • “We Are the World,” by USA for Africa is named record and song of the year at the Grammys.
  • New York Mets win the World Series.
  • The Chicago Bears win the Super Bowl.
  • The Nintendo Entertainment System makes its debut.

Passover Fest Offers Many Paths to Fun


At a time when hundreds of thousands of protesters crowded downtown chanting “Let My People Stay,” Passover may be resonating more acutely across all racial and ethnic groups than it has in recent years.

It is not only illegal immigrants for whom the Passover tale holds appeal. The story of the Exodus can be easily updated for any of the numerous people in the Third World seeking freedom from oppression. That is why Craig Taubman, who has produced events like Sunday Funday at the Ford Theater, has broadened the scope of Let My People Sing, his inaugural Passover festival, to include a seder on behalf of those suffering in Darfur. That is also why he has included musicians like Ani, a Malaysian Muslim, and Joshua Nelson, an African American who says he descends from the Jews of Senegal.

Every program is free, except for the seders, the profits of which go to building medical and water facilities in Darfur, said Taubman, who adds that at all the events people will receive gifts.

The eight-day festival actually takes place over 12 days. It kicked off on April 4 with a Clippers basketball game. Some of the festival participants sang the “National Anthem” at the Staples Center; others will play in basketball tournaments on the last day of the fest, April 16, at Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, a recreational property that Genie Benson, one of the organizers, refers to as “the best kept secret in L.A.”

Benson, executive director of Keshet Chaim, an Israeli folk ballet dance ensemble, is spearheading Let My People Rock, a full-day finale at Brandeis-Bardin. While some kids play hoops, others will replicate the Exodus by going on a trek through the 3,000-acre hilly property, led by an individual resembling Moses. Benson says that there will be a number of surprises along the way. That’s not including the different “culture” tents, such as a Moroccan tent and a Persian tent that simulate a Middle Eastern village. Or the giant sand sculpture being carved by Kirk Rademaker, an interactive environmental artist. Or the performances by the Israeli rap group, Hadag Nachash, and singers Rick Recht and Nelson.

Nelson may hail most recently from East Orange, N.J., but he traces his Jewish ancestry back to the West Coast of Africa. The 29-year-old singer, who sings and composes what he calls kosher gospel, soul music with Jewish liturgy, has been performing since his bar mitzvah. He was 18 when he released his first CD.

Nelson says that Jews of African descent, by which he means not only Falash Mura from Ethiopia but also Ugandan Jews, Nigerian Jews and Lemba Jews from Southern Africa, view Passover as the New Year because it celebrates aviv, or the spring. Because of the obvious parallels to black slavery, Nelson says that African Americans, irrespective of their religion, identify with the Jews in the Passover story.

So do many Muslims of different racial backgrounds. Ani, who will be singing passages from the Quran with the backing of the A.M.E. Church Gospel Choir at the Islamic Center of Southern California, said that, “Islam is very inclusive of all faiths, especially of the Abrahamic faiths.”

Ani has performed at many interfaith gatherings in the past, including a Muslim-Jewish seder at Wilshire Boulevard Temple; she points out that all faiths have a version of the Passover story, a story about struggling for freedom. In a phone interview, she reads a passage from the Quran in which the Israelites flee Pharaoh so that they can worship Allah.

Beyond the inclusion of non-Jews in the program, Taubman has also planned events all around Los Angeles, whether it’s Koreatown, the locale of the Islamic Center for Ani’s event, UCLA Hillel for the Darfur seder, Pasadena for a Raise the Roof performance by Rick Recht’s band, or the West Valley for the Let My People Rock freedom walk.

Nor is he limiting the entertainment to song, dance and basketball. There will also be comedy. Comedian Joel Chasnoff will perform on Friday and Saturday, April 14 and 15.

Chasnoff, 31, hopes that attendees “come out with a different view on Judaism” than they had before the show. For Chasnoff, the humor, even absurdity, of Judaism is in its “strange details.” For instance, he likes to talk about the hilarity of keeping kosher in the modern era. Boiling calves and milk may have been routine in 1906, but these practices sound almost alien in 2006.

If these kind of observations remind one of Jerry Seinfeld’s brand of humor, that is not surprising because Chasnoff admires Seinfeld’s dedication to writing. Chasnoff, who once opened for Jon Stewart and cites the “Daily Show” host as another comic influence, will also regale audience members with tales of Jewish guilt. One favorite line of his mother’s: “If my son worked just a little bit harder, I, too, could have an honor roll student.”

Like Chasnoff, many of the organizers and performers cite family as the common theme to Passover. Benson, the organizer of the finale at Brandeis, points out that Passover is uniquely participatory for everyone, children, adults, even strangers. She remembers how her father “always rented a room and invited everyone. No one had to pay. Just like now.”

Everyone may have participated, but she says that her father, in not charging anyone, was not being altruistic so much as trying to control the nature of the seder.

As her father would say, “When everyone contributes, everyone has an opinion.”

Let My People Sing, which opened with a Clippers game on April 4, continues through April 16. For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.jewishjournal.com/home/preview.php?id=15273

 

Wandering Jew – A Relief to Laugh


As master of ceremonies of “Middle East Comic Relief 2,” Peter the Persian, a stout Iranian American comic who moonlights as a labor attorney, says of the comedians performing on a recent evening, “We’ve screened all these Middle Easterners. We’ve cleared them out. They’re all Jewish friendly.”

That gets a roar from the mixed crowd.

“Most of them are Jewish friendly.”

Another roar.

“Some of them are Jewish friendly.”

Peter the Persian is certainly one of the friendly ones at the Levantine Cultural Center in Culver City, an organization dedicated to fostering cultural awareness among all Middle Easterners. And this is a friendly house, even if it’s located on a dead-end street amidst desolate warehouses and almost no street lighting. It’s the kind of street Bugsy Siegel might have once used for silencing a rival hood.

Inside this cavernous barn with Persian rugs draped like curtains over the back walls of the elevated stage, there are no mobsters or secret cells from what we can tell. There are just ordinary citizens, but that doesn’t stop the host, Jordan Elgrably, a svelte man in a black shirt, from saying, “All those who are working here for Homeland Security, please raise your hand.”

No one here is from Homeland Security, but there are “all kinds of creatures” at this event, as Peter the Persian says.

A few rows in front there is a middle-aged man with a 5 o’clock shadow, who wears an unusual furry cap. It looks a little like the Siberian beaver caps once fancied by Mikhail Gorbachev, except it’s not quite as furry and mixes black and white hues.

“What do you call that cap?”

“It’s a Karakul,” says the man with the stubble. “From Kashmir.”

His female companion wears another exotic hat.

“It’s a Manali,” the man says.

“Is that in Indonesia?”

“Manali, India,” she says. “In the Himalayas.”

Elsewhere, a man holds a glossy Iranian American magazine called Namak; he has opened it to a two-page spread with the headline, “God & Allah Need to Talk.”

“Any Muslims here tonight?” Elgrably asks.

Only one person, a grinning young man, raises his hand.

“You can drink,” he’s told.

The rest of the crowd, several hundred from a glance, settles in as Peter the Persian introduces the first comedian, a 30-something woman of Syrian descent named Helen Maalik, who has come from New York to appear tonight.

Though Maalik is Syrian American, and this evening’s entertainment is billed as a post-Sept. 11 satire, she focuses initially not on the Middle East or national security concerns but rather on dating.

Wearing jeans and a faded yellow and green striped shirt, the attractive, petite Maalik says that she doesn’t have much sympathy for women who complain about not getting dates.

“Put out,” she says in a voice that suggests a whine and a smidgen of urban anomie. “Do it, especially on a first date.”

Continuing her riff on dating, she relates the tale of a young woman who complains about a homeless man asking her out–“Those guys come with a lot of baggage.”

Maalik says in that whiny voice, “Stop it. We all have it. His is just plastic.”

Then she switches to ethnic concerns. “I’m 100 percent Arab, not 50 percent Arab and 50 percent normal,” she says, but people often tell the light-skinned Maalik that she looks Jewish. “I don’t mind looking Jewish. I have no problems at airports.”

The crowd breaks up at that joke, as it does when she says, “My husband is Indian Muslim, I’m an Arab. So we’re on the FBI list twice.”

She leaves to much applause, after which Peter the Persian introduces Sanjay Shah, an Indian comic from Los Angeles, and then Nasry Malak, an Egyptian American who, like Maalik, hails from New York.

“I’ve never done stand-up comedy in an airplane hangar before,” says Malak, who resembles Johnny Mathis not only in his smooth good looks but also in his velvety voice.

A political comedian, Malak jokes about how his family has decided to “turn his father in” to the authorities. Not that his father has done anything wrong, but it would be a patriotic act.

Then he says that “the homeless of America should not be smarter than the president of America. Bush might be the dumbest man in the world.”

Upon reflection, he adds, “Sometimes I think Bush might be the smartest man in the world. He’s messed up this country so badly that immigrants don’t want to come here anymore.”

As Malak leaves the stage and intermission arrives, Peter the Persian ascends the platform and then asks us all to say “Bush.” He extends the U like it’s two or three O’s. Everyone says, “Booosh.”

At the break, a woman tells Peter the Persian that he looks Jewish. Putting down his Pilsner Urquell beer, Peter, for once at a loss for words, says, “I am … I am … nothing.” Then he adds, “I am a populist.”

I tell Peter that I must leave. It’s 10 p.m.

“I’m not offended,” he says in a slight deadpan and hands me his business card.

“He’s really brilliant,” says another woman, who tells me that the best acts are coming after intermission.

“What about the premise of Albert Brooks’ new movie? Obviously, there’s comedy in the Muslim world,” I say.

Laughing but with a bit of regret in his voice, Peter says, “This is not that world. They’re not laughing over there.”

On Saturday, Feb. 25, at 8 p.m., the Levantine Cultural Center will host “An Evening of Palestinian Literature and Music”; Elias Khoury will present his novel, “Gate of the Sun,” along with a concert of Palestinian music and song with the Naser Musa Ensemble. 5920 Blackwelder St., Culver City, (310) 559-5544.

How to Get Jews on TV


 

In 1989, Richard Rosenstock created an ABC pilot based on the film, “The Flamingo Kid,” which was ostensibly set in the Jewish beach club scene of the 1950s and ’60s.

“I’d grown up among the Westchester County, N.Y., version of those clubs, so it was a chance to draw on autobiographical elements and to write what I knew,” said Rosenstock, now an Emmy-winning co-executive producer of Fox’s “Arrested Development.”

Yet when he tracked down the original script of the 1984 movie, he noted that the filmmakers had changed the hero’s name from Jeffrey Weiner to Jeffrey Willis and “had de-Jewed the material,” he said. “So I actually made the pilot even more Jewish than the movie, on purpose, because that bothered me.”

Rosenstock is one of six Jewish screenwriters who will appear on a panel to discuss how Judaism affects their work as part of The Jewish Screenwriter Speakers Series on March 29 and May 3 at B’nai David-Judea. Participants at the young professionals event, sponsored by The Jewish Journal, will include Michael Borkow (“Roseanne,” “Friends,” “Malcolm in the Middle”); Mike Sikowitz (“Friends,” “Veronica’s Closet”); Howard Gordon (“The X-Files,” “24”); David Sacks (“The Simpsons,” “Malcolm in the Middle”) and Michael Glouberman (“Third Rock from the Sun,” “Malcolm in the Middle”).

Sikowitz, for one, could call his connection “revenge of the Jewish nerd.” When the 38-year-old did stand-up comedy early in his career, he identified with Woody Allen.

“Allen was aware that he was a scrawny, bookish, horny young man, and I felt like, ‘yes, I’ve been the guy who just wishes he could get the beautiful girl, although she’s not looking at him,'” Sikowitz said. “I was drawn to his smart self-deprecation, and the ability to find not only the pain but the amusement of the situation.”

While writing for “Friends” in the mid-1990s, Sikowitz helped bring that sort of pain and humor to the character of Ross, whom he describes as a “shlimazel.”

Sikowitz cites an episode in which Ross (David Schwimmer), buys a monkey in an effort to appear mysterious and Mediterranean to potential dates, only to have the animal attack a pretty woman on the subway.

Sikowitz was part of the writers group that decided to label Ross Jewish in a holiday episode that opened with him picking the wax out of his menorah. While some observers have complained about a dearth of other Jewish details for Ross, Sikowitz said, “the series was a pop fantasy about attractive, funny people in their 20s hanging out, and I don’t think it had a responsibility to be any more than that.”

He is taking a similarly universal approach with his current pilot, “Grown Men,” based on the friendships and rivalries he experienced with buddies at the Jewish fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu, at the University of Pennsylvania.

“The show will focus more on the fraternity behavior than the Jewishness,” he said.

Nevertheless, a central character, David Horowitz, is a member of the tribe and shares Sikowitz’s Woody Allenesque sensibility. When the character kvetches about being less successful than an old frat pal, it’s partly Sikowitz speaking.

“I’ve done fairly well in entertainment,” Sikowitz said, “yet when my buddy who I started out with invites me to his Malibu beach house, part of me goes, ‘Good for him,’ but there’s this sort of Dave Horowitz character part that goes, ‘Why shouldn’t I have this? I’ve worked hard, and if I had gotten this break instead of him, he’d be visiting me at my beach house.'”

If Sikowitz has been inspired by Woody Allen, Rosenstock looks more to Philip Roth. His penchant for Jewish subjects began, he said, when he viewed the movie version of Roth’s “Goodbye, Columbus” upon its release in 1969. Based on Roth’s work about class warfare between nouveau riche and working-class Jews, the film “astounded” Rosenstock with material that felt so familiar to his own upper-middle-class Conservative Jewish childhood in Yonkers, N.Y.

Rosenstock was also influenced by a late 1960s zeitgeist in which Dustin Hoffman and Richard Benjamin were leading men, and in which Woody Allen and Paul Mazursky made commercial films with varying degrees of Jewish content.

“All this inspired me — that you can actually put overtly Jewish characters onscreen,” he said.

Rosenstock did just that when he created his own TV series in the 1990s; 1992’s “Flying Blind,” which he describes as “‘The Graduate’ meets ‘After Hours,'” tipped the hat to Roth with a protagonist named after “Columbus'” Neil Klugman.

Meanwhile, Gordon, a Reform Jew active at University Synagogue, waited four years to create the perfect “X-Files” episode based on the Frankenstinian Jewish legend of the Golem.

“It was an opportunity to delve into the mythology of a culture and a religion I identify with strongly,” he said. “It definitely meant more to me than my episode about an African melanin vampire.”

In his current job executive producing the real-time counter-terror drama, “24,” Gordon’s Judaism emerges, if more obliquely, in the dialectic tradition he brings to the characters. Points argued include whether torture is permissible under certain conditions, a thread that has helped make the show popular in Israel, Gordon said. A recent trip to the Jewish state has inspired him to consider introducing an Israeli character on the show, as well as to plan missions to Israel for people in the entertainment industry.

“I’m very interested in finding ways to communicate how wonderful that country is,” he said.

For Orthodox screenwriters, integrating religious observance with sitcom schedules has been a major issue. When Sacks got his first job after he began observing Shabbat in 1987, the producers essentially told him “either work on Shabbos or you’re fired,” he recalled.

His agent said he would not work in television again; eventually, the producers agreed to keep Sacks on the sitcom, but with a lesser salary and title.

The writer has since proved himself on shows such as “The Simpsons” and “Third Rock From the Sun.”

“Now before I accept a job I always discuss Shabbos,” he said. “These days I find people are not quite as concerned about whether you think the dead are going to be resurrected at the end of days. They want to know if you can solve the story problem at the act break.”

Sacks is now a consulting producer at “Malcolm in the Middle,” where three of 11 writers are observant Jews and a kosher lunch menu circulates in the writers room. Nevertheless, he said, he is not a “crusader for Judaism” at work but only in his private life. To this end, he teaches two classes at the Happy Minyan and is a founder of Jewish Impact Films, which aims to improve public relations for Jews and Israel by empowering novice filmmakers to produce positive films on these subjects.

He apparently has paved the way for other observant Jews in the sitcom world. Glouberman, for one, said Sacks indirectly helped him secure his first job, at “Third Rock,” a decade ago. At the time, Glouberman’s agent advised him to mention the Shabbat issue only after he had been hired: “So I called the showrunner and I was very anxious and I said, ‘I’ll work 24 hours a day, but I can’t work Shabbat or Jewish holidays,’ and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, David Sacks worked on our pilot, and we loved him.'”

Today, Glouberman works with Sacks on “Malcolm,” about a quirky family with a genius middle child (Frankie Muniz) his three hooligan brothers, clueless dad and drill-sergeant mom. It’s the universal family, Glouberman said, but he was drawn to the show because the pilot read like someone had hidden a camera in his Orthodox childhood home. To write one episode, he drew on the time his parents accidentally left his brother standing in the corner all night long.

Although the show is rife with gross-out humor and sight gags, Glouberman believes it jibes with his Torah values. He points out that Malcolm’s parents actually love each other, unlike the bickering parents on shows such as Fox’s “Married… With Children,” and that “the children honor their mother and father, although not necessarily in classic terms.”

When the boys take on four clowns who have dissed their mother, for example, “She watches them with this proud smile on her face while they fight and knee clowns in the groin,” Glouberman said.

It may not be classic Torah, but it comes from a Jewish place. As Gordon put it, “My Judaism informs me so deeply it’s hard to unbraid my [writer’s] identity from my Jewish one.”

March 29 and May 3, 7:30 p.m. (cocktails), 8:30 p.m. (speakers). Free. B’nai David-Judea, 8906 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. with the number of people in your party to RSVP@jewishjournal.com.

 

Calendar



The Jewish Journal is no longer accepting mailed or

faxed event listing information. Please e-mail event listings at least three

weeks in advance to:
calendar@jewishjournal.com
.

By Keren Engelberg

Calendar

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EVENTS

Lev Eisha: 7:30 p.m. Andy Hill, former UCLA basketball player and inspirational speaker, discusses “Miracles Do Happen: How You Can Be Touched by an Angel.” $25. Adat Shalom, 3030 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles.(310) 475-4985.

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The Hermosa Beach Playhouse:
2 p.m. and 7 p.m. “Ethel Merman’s Broadway.” $45. Pier Avenue at Pacific Coast Highway. (310) 372-4477.

OPEN HOUSES

he New JCC at Milken: 10 a.m.-
4 p.m. Open house for new and old members. Also, 1:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Koreh L.A. teen literacy corps training session for eighth-12th graders. 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3390.

EVENTS

Temple Akiba: 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. American Red Cross blood drive.
5429 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City.
(310) 398-5783.

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LECTURES

UCLA Israel Studies Program and International Institute: 4-5:30 p.m. “Arafat’s Legacy … and How It Spins Out Now” with Kenneth W. Stein. Free. UCLA Law School Room 1357, enter campus at Hilgard and Wyton. (310) 825-0604.

Jewish World Watch: 7:30-9 p.m. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) on community response to the Darfur refugees. Valley Beth Shalom, Encino. (818) 784-5224.

ARTS &
ENTERTAINMENT

University of Judaism: 11 a.m. Cellist Tina Guo performs as part of the Young Artist Concert Series. Luncheon follows. $12-25. Bel Air. (310) 440-1283.

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ARTS &
ENTERTAINMENT

Adat Ari El: 7:30-9:30 p.m. “Bedtime Stories for Grownups” with Donna Rifkind. Wynn Meeting Room, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

Temple Ner Tamid: 9:30 a.m. Tea and Torah four-part “Tradition” lecture series meets Wednesdays. $10-$15. Fellowship Hall, 10629 Lakewood Blvd., Downey. (562) 861-9276.

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Skirball Cultural Center: Opening of the exhibit “Driven Into Paradise: L.A.’s European Jewish Emigres of the 1930s and 1940s.” Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., LosAngeles. (310) 440-4500.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Colburn School of Performing Arts:
7:30 p.m. Concert composed by Menachem Wiesenberg. Free. 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 621-2200.

SHABBAT

Nashuva: 6:45 p.m. Nashuva community service-oriented Kabbalat Shabbat. Westwood Hills Congregational Church, 1989 Westwood Blvd., Westwood.” width=”1″ height=”30″ alt=””>

Tu B’Shevat

Saturday, Jan. 29

Congregation Mishkon Tephilo:

12:30 p.m. Seder celebrating the New Year of Trees. PETA’s Aaron Gross speaks on “Kashrut, Religious Values and the Ethical Treatment of Animals.” 206 Main St., Venice. (310) 392-3029.

Sunday, Jan. 30

B’nai B’rith, The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California, Jewish Historical Society, JQ International, Nashuva and Temple Beth Israel: 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. A morning of planting and revitalization. Plant trees and shrubs at Temple Beth Israel. 5711 Monte Vista St., Highland Park. (310) 841-2970.

Congregation Kol HaNeshama: Noon-3 p.m. Tree planting at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. All ages. (949) 551-2737.

Westside Jewish Community Center: Noon-4 p.m. Community festival themed, “Old Roots, New Growth.” Games, art, tree planting and live music. Free.

5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles.

(310) 938-2531, ext. 2250.

Beth Shir Sholom: 12:30 p.m. Community Tu B’Shevat celebration.

1827 California Ave., Santa Monica.

(310) 453-3361.

Singles

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Singles Helping Others: 9 a.m.-noon. Walk rescued dogs with the Amanda Foundation in Beverly Hills.

(818) 907-2427.

Nessah Synagogue: 1 p.m. Tu B’Shevat celebration for young professionals and college students. $26. 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 247-1226.

G.E.E. Super Singles (20s-40s):

5:30 p.m. Drinks and progressive dinner. $35. Sportsmen’s Lodge, 12833 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (818) 501-0165.

Conversations at Leon’s: 7:30 p.m. Saturday Night Mixer. $15-$20.

639 26th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P.,

(310) 393-4616.

Temple Ramat Zion and North Valley JCC: 7:30 p.m. After New Year’s Bash with live music by “Nightlife” and dancing. $15-$20. 17655 Devonshire Street at Zelzah Ave., Northridge. (818) 366-4801.

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Jewish Outdoor Adventures:
9:45 a.m. Intermediate hike to Strawberry Peak from Red Box. Carpools from West Los Angeles, the Valley and Angeles Crest Highway.” width=”1″ height=”30″ alt=””>

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Israeli Folk Dancing: 8 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Classes by Israel Yakove meet Mondays and Thursdays. $7. 2244 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 839-2550.

Project Next Step: 8 p.m. Coffee Talk with coffee and pastries. $7. R.S.V.P., 1399 S. Roxbury Drive, third floor, Beverly Hills. (310) 772-2466.

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Westwood Jewish Singles (45+):
7:30 p.m. Therapist Maxine Gellar leads a discussion on “Involvement With the Unavailable.” $10. West Los Angeles area. R.S.V.P., (310) 444-8986.

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Wilshire Boulevard Temple:
7:30 p.m.-midnight. David Dassa’s weekly dance lessons with beginner lessons at 7:30 p.m., regular class at 8 p.m. and open dancing at 9:15 p.m. $7. 2112 S. Barrington Ave., Los Angeles. ddassa@att.net.

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Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California (20s-30s): 8 a.m. Monthly meeting open to all members for planning and discussing membership development, programs, conferences and award dinners. University of Judaism,

15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. R.S.V.P., skorin@uj.edu.

Conversations at Leon’s: 7 p.m. Discussion about “What Women Really Want, a Woman’s Perspective.” $15-$17.

639 26 St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 393-4616.

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New Age Singles (55+): 6 p.m. No-host dinner at Nibblers followed by a creative arts Shabbat service at Temple Beth Am. Nibblers, 8383 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Temple Beth Am, 1039 La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 838-7459.

Nashuva: 6:45 p.m. Nashuva community service-oriented Kabbalat Shabbat. Westwood Hills Congregational Church, 1989 Westwood Blvd., Westwood.” width=”1″ height=”30″ alt=””>

Upcoming Singles

Elite Jewish Theatre Singles:
6:30 p.m. Attende a no-host dinner social followed by the musical “Chicago” at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. $42.50. R.S.V.P.,
(310) 203-1312.

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Elite Jewish Theatre Singles:
8 p.m. No-host dinner social and
“2-Across” in the Santa Monica area. $19 (prepaid). R.S.V.P.,
(310) 203-1312.

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J-Ski (20s-40s): Taos Ski Trip. $759. R.S.V.P.,
JskiLa@aol.com
.

A Boutique With Benefits

Shop for relief this Tuesday, Feb. 1. Beverly Hills boutique outlet Treasure Depot invites Jewish Journal readers to a Shopping Party and Tsunami Relief Fundraiser that offers a 10 percent discount off already 70 percent marked-down high-end shoes, clothes and accessories by Jill Stewart, Marc Jacobs, Sergio Rossi and others. In addition, 10 percent of all sales for the week of Feb. 1-8 will go to American Jewish World Service’s Asia tsunami relief effort.

5:30-8:30 p.m. 9921 Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 552-3301.

Little-Known Givers Have Big Hearts


 

Robert Rosenthal, a self-described “typical Jewish boy from Manhattan,” sometime bull rider and country music addict, has morphed into the godfather of entertainment at military bases across the United States.

He is among the many Angeleno volunteers and philanthropists, often little known, who are the propelling forces behind notable enterprises both in this country and Israel. The Journal recently interviewed both Rosenthal and another “propelling force” — investment manager David Polak.

Rosenthal’s transformation began when, as a kid, he worked one summer on a dude ranch in Arizona. Although he did all the dirty work, he never got over the experience. He entered rodeos, studied ranch management and never went out without his Stetson hat.

In the 1960s, after Army service, he moved to Studio City and became a successful entertainment lawyer. He retired a few years ago.

Always an ardent patriot, after Sept. 11, Rosenthal felt strongly that he had to do something constructive. When he learned that in contrast to USO shows for troops overseas, there was no similar entertainment at stateside bases, he suggested to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that something be done to close the gap.

Rumsfeld thought it was a neat idea, but let it be known that the mechanics and expenses would have to be borne by public-spirited citizens — such as Rosenthal.

Drawing on his professional background, show biz contacts and family foundation, Rosenthal, now 68, and his wife, Nina, set up the Spirit of America Tour project.

As a first step, he went to Nashville, the country music capital, invited managers and agents of some of the biggest acts and asked them to list dates when their performers were not tied up with commercial gigs.

Then, slashing Pentagon red tape as he went along, Rosenthal coordinated the dates with commanders of Army, Navy and Air Force bases and staging areas across the country.

Without a staff, the Rosenthals have created a show circuit that a professional impresario might well envy. They started with five concerts and shows in 2002, escalating to 18 in 2003 and 21 last year.

Their most frequent and popular performers have been country music stars Clint Black, Charlie Daniels and Travis Tritt. Other favorites have been Blood, Sweat and Tears, David Clayton-Thomas and comedian Dennis Miller.

The entertainers work without fees (though Rosenthal covers their expenses), and the audiences, including families of soldiers and sailors, never pay a penny.

Rosenthal attends all shows west of the Mississippi, while his Nashville liaison, Cathy Gurley, does the same for the eastern part of the country.

By now, Rosenthal has become known as a “one-stop shopping center” for artists who want to entertain the troops.

“Their agents know exactly whom to call,” he said.

Rosenthal, who also put in a stint in the 1960s as a documentary and feature filmmaker (including “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me”) is a man of many interests.

Among the beneficiaries of his volunteer work and money have been Maccabi USA, Professional Bull Riders and Los Angeles Junior Ballet. He has also served on the California Boxing Commission.

As for his present fulltime Spirit of America endeavor, Rosenthal comments, “When you hear 15,000 military cheering an act, that’s the biggest reward. We live in the greatest country in the world, and I feel privileged to do something for it.”

David Polak heads a major investment management firm in Century City, whose shrewdest bet may have been on the brains of an Israeli professor.

Some 10 years ago, Polak and his wife Janet, longtime supporters of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, decided to endow a research chair in the life sciences at the Haifa-based institution.

They consulted with then Technion president Zeev Tadmor, who suggested one of his most promising scientists, Aaron Ciechanover, as the first incumbent of the new chair.

The Polaks were on a cruise last October and while surfing the Internet pulled up a news item that Ciechanover had just been named as the 2004 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, together with his Technion colleague Avram Hershko, and American Irwin A. Rose of UC Irvine.

“We were exhilarated,” recalled David Polak, “and we immediately e-mailed our congratulations.”

The Technion professors are the first Israeli Nobelists in the sciences and with Rose shared the $1.35 million prize. They were recognized for their research on the regulatory process taking place inside human cells, a discovery leading to the development of drugs against cancer and degenerative diseases.

On receiving word of the award, Ciechanover noted, “I don’t think our work could have been done without the help and support of the Polaks and the American Technion Society.”

Polak, who supports numerous other Jewish and Israeli causes, will be reunited with the Israeli scientists in June, when the Technion dedicates the new David and Janet Polak Center for Cancer Research and Vascular Biology.

An MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) engineering graduate, Polak said that his support of the Technion is based on his concern for the growth and survival of Israel.

“Israel’s main asset is its brainpower and the Technion provides this raw material for a high-wage industry,” he said. “The country’s export economy and national security depend on technologically trained men and women.”

 

Playwright’s Alter Ego Returns Home


For Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies, “Brooklyn Boy” represents both a return and a departure.

Like several of his early plays, the drama explores obsessions culled from his Brooklyn boyhood: “The legacies parents instill in their children, the continuity of wounding that occurs from generation to generation, the relationship between fathers and sons in particular,” the 49-year-old author said.

“But while my previous Brooklyn plays have involved the coming of age of various Marguliesian figures, I’ve never really let myself be a man in Brooklyn,” he continued. “This is the first time I’ve placed a middle-aged alter ego on that turf.”

“Boy” revolves around 40ish novelist Eric Weiss, who returns home — actually to the hospital where he was born — to visit his dying father, Manny, a shoe salesman. It’s his first trip back in a while, and he’s ambivalent: “I saw what Brooklyn did to my parents, and I knew I had to get the hell out of here,” he tells a friend. “I saw … the fear, the xenophobia, the suffocating double grip the Holocaust and the Depression had around their throats.”

Yet Eric has just had his first literary success with a semiautobiographical novel.

“So he’s at a juncture where he’s realizing that Brooklyn isn’t just a place he has to keep himself in exile from,” actor Adam Arkin (Eric) said. “He’s coming to see that whatever he has to offer as an artist is going to have to embrace who and what he was there. And what he had regarded as a kind of purgatory now can be a kind of key to his being whole.”

It appears that Margulies made a parallel journey. Before a recent rehearsal at South Coast Repertory, he described growing up surrounded by Holocaust survivors who “instilled in me a kind of fatalism and morbid fascination for recent Jewish history.” His American-born father, meanwhile, was an overworked wallpaper salesman, “physically affectionate but prone to mysterious silences,” who lived in fear of losing a job he loathed.

These twin shadows of the Holocaust and the Depression “instilled certain fears in me, legacies I had to shake,” Margulies said.

The playwright did so, in part, through his work. “The Model Apartment” (1984) is a kind of “Frankenstein” story in which Holocaust survivors have created a monster in their schizophrenic daughter; “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” (1985) features an artsy kid named Artie who spars with his father; “The Loman Family Picnic” (1988) tells of a downtrodden salesman whose son is writing a musical comedy version of “Death of a Salesman.”Margulies’ intensely personal (but not strictly autobiographical) work places him in a unique niche.

“[He] does not have the master work plan of an August Wilson … or the political urgencies of a Paula Vogel or Tony Kushner to shape and drive his work from play to play,” said Jerry Patch, dramaturg of South Coast Repertory. “Instead, his theatrical output, now more than a dozen plays, six of which have enjoyed prominent lives on American stages, has come from assessing his own changing vision of himself and the world in which he lives.”

So it makes sense that Margulies eventually left Brooklyn — and tales of restless, artist sons — to explore midlife concerns. “Sight Unseen” (1991) describes a painter, catapulted to superfame, who struggles with his identity as an artist and a Jew. The Pulitzer-winning “Dinner With Friends”(1999) was inspired by Margulies’ observations of “a succession of domestic catastrophes” in his circle

“Brooklyn Boy” began with another observation several years ago.

“My wife and so many of our contemporaries were dealing with failing and dying parents,” he said. Since Margulies’ own parents had died by the time he was 32, inventing the fictional Manny was “an opportunity to create a fantasy of what an aged version of my father might have been like.”

The character also “embodies so many of the generation who are now failing and dying; very often first-generation American Jews who were battered by the war and the Depression; who married and did all the traditional things and are now at the end of their lives with their generally overpsychoanalyzed children.”

It was the late playwright Herb Gardner (“Conversations With My Father”) who persuaded Margulies to set the piece back home: “I’d steadfastly steered clear of Brooklyn for a time in my work, because I feared I’d tread familiar ground,” he said. “But Herb convinced me it was an exciting prospect to revisit Brooklyn at this stage of my life, not as a boy but as a man.”

Perhaps the play is Margulies’ way of acknowledging Brooklyn as a source of creativity, as well as shadows.”‘Brooklyn Boy’ feels to me like the work of a more mature writer, so I’m glad I made the trip,” he said.

The play runs Sept. 10-Oct. 10 at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa (previews are Sept. 3-9); for tickets, call (714) 708-5555 or visit www.scr.org. Margulies will speak Sept. 9 as part of Chapman University’s Visiting Writers Series at Kennedy Hall. For more information, call (714) 997-6750.

Death Doesn’t End ‘Morrie’ Phenomenon

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.” So says Morrie Schwartz in the signature line from Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays With Morrie,” the best-seller about how workaholic Albom learned life lessons from his dying former Brandeis University professor.

Death apparently has not ended the Morrie phenomenon, either. Since the Jewish Schwartz succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1995, Albom’s book has spent seven years on the New York Times best-seller list and has been reborn as a TV movie and a play, to have its West Coast premiere at The Laguna Playhouse Sept. 11.Like the 192-page book, the play is based on Albom’s weekly visits to the colorful Schwartz during the final months of his life in late 1995. The Jewish sportswriter had reconnected with his favorite sociology professor after seeing Schwartz impart aphorisms on “Nightline.”

For 14 Tuesdays, teacher and student met for what both called “a final thesis,” which Albom ultimately wrote up as a book to help pay Schwartz’s medical bills.

Although he was more reluctant to turn “Morrie” into a stage production, he “grew intrigued by the theatrical legacy a play might create,” according to the New York Daily News. The challenge was to transform the book into a two-character piece with dramatic conflict — including the journalist’s change from Type A dynamo to a more smell-the-roses kind of guy.

While the play (co-written with Jeffrey Hatcher) opened to some mixed reviews off-Broadway in 2002, critics also noted viewers’ intense emotional response to Schwartz and his homiles (sample: when he tells Albom, in Yiddish, “Don’t hide your light under a bushel.”

So it’s likely that Morrie’s light will continue to shine, when the play has its first preview in Orange County this month — appropriately, on a Tuesday.

Previews are Sept. 7-10; the play runs Sept. 11-Oct. 10. For tickets and information, call (949) 497-2787, ext. 1. –NP

Behind the Festival: Poogy the Producer


How do you go from being a member of one of Israel’s most popular bands to being the creator of a vibrant film festival in America?

Well, the story is a long one, and if you’ve got some time, Meir Fenigstein will be sure to tell it to you. But on the eve of the 20th anniversary of Israel’s film festival — opening Thursday, April 29 — Fenigstein hasn’t much time to discuss the last two decades of his roller-coaster ride in creating the festival. But if you’re willing to put up with numerous interruptions from "emergency calls" from overseas filmmakers and local hoi polloi and who knows whom, you might find out about the man behind the festival.

Fenigstein started the first festival in 1981 in Boston — but really he was just helping someone screen some Israeli movies. They showed six films to 3,000 people. Two years later, the official festival began in New York, and now, 21 years later (he took a year off), the Israeli Film Festival shows 43 films to more than 45,000 people in four cities. How it went from zero to 60 is the story of one Israeli’s chutzpah, perseverance and luck.

"What made me decide to start the film festival?," Fenigstein ponders the question aloud, as if he’d never really thought about it. "I’ll give you a little background," he says, and then begins 53 years ago, with his birth in Tel Aviv to Holocaust survivors.

The story gets interesting when he joined the army and got to Lehakat Hanachal, the Nachal unit’s entertainment troupe, which used to be a starting point for some of Israel’s most famous singers, such as Chaim Topol, Arik Einstein and Yehoram Gaon. (The story of the musical group is immortalized in the 1978 film, "Halehaka" — "The Troupe" — which Fenigstein stars in; next week on the film’s 25th anniversary, it is being released on DVD and shown in Israel as part of Independence Day festivities.) Fenigstein, a drummer who acquired the nonsensical nickname Poogy, joined up with other soon-to-be-famous musicians like Danny Sanderson and Gidi Gov to form Kaveret (Hebrew for beehive).

If you’ve ever been to a religious wedding, you probably have danced to one of Kaveret’s most famous songs, "Yoya," whose humorous lyrics can be roughly translated as such: "I received a harsh punishment/they sentenced me to death./I sat in the electric chair/and said goodbye to my car./If only I could have at least/switched my chair./Because you know what they say,/you change your place, you change your luck."

But Poogy’s luck did change. After three albums, one North American tour, one performance at the Eurovision song contest (they lost to ABBA) and almost four years together, the beehive fell apart. And life for Poogy — now back to being Fenigstein — was never the same.

"I was disappointed," he says, the enthusiasm fading from his voice. "Don’t forget, we started when I was in the army, so I was pretty young then." Kaveret was more than just a band, it was a creative family — they did sketches ("Poogy Tales"), radio, television — which in a small country like Israel is a sure guarantee for widespread fame. "For every good thing, there’s an end," he laments.

Shooting stars must land somewhere, and after Fenigstein dabbled in acting for some years in Israel, he found himself in Boston. It was there he met a Tel Aviv University film professor on sabbatical who asked him to bring a couple of films from Israel.

Now comes the part of the story when pluck and luck coincide: Fenigstein went to his friend, megaproducer-director Menachem Golan, to ask for the films, and someone said, "Are you going to make a festival?"

"What do you mean?" Fenigstein asked the guy, because he’d never heard of a film festival. While these days it seems that every other neighborhood is starting its own film festival, especially a niche festival like "shorts" or "Jewish" or "Irish," back in the ’80s there was no festival circuit. But Fenigstein went to one of the nascent fests — Toronto — which today is one of the biggest, along with Sundance and Berlin. It inspired him to create one of his own.

"I didn’t know what I was doing," Fenigstein says. He called it, "The First Annual Israeli Film Festival in New England," and produced an eight-page booklet (today, the booklet is over 200 pages). A week before the festival opening, he woke up, sweating, shaking — basically having a panic attack. "I asked myself, ‘Look what happened, are you willing to die for this?’ And I didn’t believe the answer. Yes, I was willing to do it."

Once he knew what was in his heart, there was no stopping him. Not that it was easy.

Israelis didn’t understand what he was doing. They asked him, "Why do you want to take my film? Why would I want to give it to you? How are you going to promote it?"

Fenigstein hooked up with partners and took the films to New York and by the first "official" festival in 1983, he had doubled his audience to 6,000 people. In 1986, he held the one-city fest in Los Angeles, at the Nuart in Santa Monica. It was only a decade ago that the festival became permanently bi-coastal, and in the last four years, he’s added Chicago and Miami to the roster.

In today’s competitive film industry, the Israel Film Festival is an agent for the growing but small Israeli film and television market. In Hollywood tradition, in order to bring in the stars, he honors celebs (this year Norman Jewison and Gale Anne Hurd) and tries to bring in distributors for tachlis: to get the movies picked up in America.

Over the last 25 years, Israel and the United States have had a close relationship, but conflicts have been many in the political arena. Like much art, The Israel Film Festival provided America with a view beyond the headlines.

Yet Fenigstein didn’t do it to be a publicist for his country: "It wasn’t a mission for Israel. It was something that I needed to create for myself, after Poogy, to create my new spine," he recalls. "I didn’t know I was going to do it 10 years later…. I didn’t know that I was still going to be here 20 years later."

Passover Show Honors Oppressed


“The boy never spoke to anyone about why he didn’t want to go home after school….

Slowly his anger became his new best friend.

He started to beat up on girls, kill chickens, steal bikes and clothes.

He would sneak into people’s homes just to destroy them.” –Daniel Cacho

Until he discovered poetry while he was in juvie for gun posession, Daniel Cacho felt enslaved by severe childhood abuse.

When he recites his searing work at the theater event “Doikayt: A Los Angeles Passover” on April 1, he’ll recall how an uncle molested him and hung him from trees in his native Belize.

The abused Cacho felt worthless and powerless, even after he joined his mother in Los Angeles at age 15: He packed guns and courted danger, and landed himself in the juvenile detention center a few times.

It was there that the teenager chanced to attend a DreamYard/L.A. writing class three years ago.

“Poetry allowed me to take my power back,” said Cacho, 22, who now teaches DreamYard workshops. “It’s been my freedom song.”

Overcoming oppression, both internal and external, will be the focus when Cacho and 20 other artists perform at Doikayt, produced by the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and AVADA, a Yiddishkayt Los Angeles project to engage people under 35.

Passover, the holiday of redemption, celebrates many different types of freedom. “Through theater, poetry and music, we’ll recontextualize Passover’s themes of slavery and liberation within the framework of Los Angeles,” said Tali Pressman, AVADA’s founder and a PJA spokesperson.

The event’s title, “Doikayt,” refers to the philosophy espoused by Yiddish-speaking Jews who established unions while toiling in sweatshops a century ago. “It means ‘here-ness,’ or being present, as in fighting for social justice and making life better for everyone right where you live,” Yiddishkayt’s Aaron Paley said.

For “Doikayt,” Paley and Pressman selected performers who are doing such work here and now. Phranc, the self-described “Jewish lesbian folk singer,” will perform heart-wrenching Yiddish songs that could describe sweatshop conditions today in Los Angeles; soprano Gwen Wyatt will sing African American spirituals, many of which use imagery from the biblical Exodus (think “Go Down, Moses”); the Yuval Ron Quartet will gather Jewish and Arab musicians to perform a fusion of Bedouin, Sephardic and other music; and Marisela Norte will read from her play, “Scenes From the Dining Room,” which explores questions of power and powerlessness raised by her waitressing experiences.

“You are the server, so people talk to you in a certain way,” said Norte, 48, a prominent East Los Angeles writer. “I’ve had people snap their fingers at me, pull on my clothes, speak slowly because they don’t think I speak English. Or they’ll say, ‘Wow, you don’t even have an accent,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Yes, I was born here.'”

Norte — whose Mexican forbears include one Jewish grandmother — said her play’s narrator is the fictional restaurant’s dishwasher, an undocumented worker, “the invisible man.”

“I like my work to give voice to the voiceless,” she said.

Nobuko Miyamoto, 64, shares a similar goal; for “Doikayt,” she’ll perform her poignant song, “Gaman,” (“To Endure” in Japanese), written around 1990 during the call for reparations for Japanese Americans interred during World War II.

The poised, soft-spoken Miyamoto was just a baby when her family was ordered to report to the holding camp at Santa Anita racetrack in the early 1940s. “Ganan” draws on her vague memories, such as being carried on her uncle’s shoulders to mess hall and her allergic response to sleeping on hay in a horse stall: “I was covered in eczema from head to foot,” she said.

Miyamoto and her mother were the only women at the Montana beet farm where her father was eventually sent as a slave laborer. Her family’s experience, and that of other Japanese Americans, ultimately helped prompt her to found Great Leap, an organization that uses the arts to promote understanding between diverse groups. Thus Doikayt is her kind of event: “It’s important to find these kinds of opportunities to identify with each others’ culture,” she said.

Paley believes that Passover is perfect timing for such an endeavor. “The holiday has universal themes of slavery and liberation,” he said. “It’s a reminder that we can never be completely free until everyone is free.”

As the intense Cacho says in his poem, “Lost & Found,” “Until I weep for 9-11, mourn for Vietnam and breathe for Iraq, I’ll be trapped in this human maze, chased by time, searching for a rhyme to lead me back home.”

The event takes place April 1, 9 p.m., at The Echo, 1822Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. A dance party with the band, the Alef Project, willfollow the performance. $20. For tickets or information, call (323) 692-8151 orvisit www.avadaproject.org .

Clarinetist Finds His Klezmer Voice


"I came to klezmer quite by accident," said virtuoso clarinetist David Krakauer.

He was a noted classical musician around 1987 when a chance encounter on a Manhattan bus changed the direction of his career.

Seated nearby was the accordionist from a klezmer band that played in front of Zabar’s, across the street from Krakauer’s 10th-floor apartment on the Upper West Side.

"The music used to waft up through my windows," he said. "Suddenly, I realized it had made an impression."

The son of a psychiatrist and a violinist, Krakauer had known little about Jewish music or culture growing up in an assimilated home in Manhattan. Yiddish was the language his grandparents had used when they did not want younger relatives to understand their conversation. At Juilliard, Krakauer assumed he would embark on a career of playing Brahms and Mahler with perhaps some jazz on the side. He did so while making a name for himself as a member of the Aspen Wind Quintet, by performing with new music groups such as Continuum and teaching at Vassar and the Manhattan School.

But Jewish music crept up on Krakauer, 42, who’ll perform his unique brand of nouveau klezmer at the Skirball Cultural Center March 21. Around 1978, he said, he attended a concert by the then-elderly clarinetist, David Tarras, who had merged klezmer and swing in the 1920s.

"He didn’t play so well anymore … but there was just something about his sound that gave me the shivers," Krakauer said. "[It] was the rhythm, the cadence, the way the sounds went up and down. It reminded me of my Belorussian grandmother’s voice, when she said things like ‘David, so nu?’"

Krakauer’s own gravely voice crackled with excitement as he recalled meeting that klezmer accordionist on the 104 bus headed uptown in the late 1980s.

"She asked me to recommend a clarinetist who could play with her band, and I think she assumed I’d name a student," he said. "Instead, the words spontaneously flew out of my mouth: ‘I’ll do it.’ It was as if I instinctively realized, ‘I know nothing about being Jewish, but I want to connect.’ I felt like klezmer could be my connection, through sounds, notes and music."

So Krakauer began studying old recordings, learning the proper ornaments and the lilting or frenetic technique required to perform traditional dances such as the doina or freylach. He played weddings and bar mitzvahs, assuming the endeavor would become a musical hobby, not a career.

But then he was invited to play with The Klezmatics, an American band spurring the exuberant klezmer revival of the 1980s. When he traveled to Germany with that group around 1989, he performed in front of thousands of dancing, cheering non-Jews. The same thing happened throughout Eastern Europe and especially in Poland, where Krakauer returned more than seven times to teach and perform. While coaching a group of young musicians in a ramshackle barn off a dirt road in Sejny, he recalled, even a dour farmer paused to tap his feet in the adjacent field.

Of the continuing non-Jewish obsession with klezmer, Krakauer said, "I think enough time has passed, since the Holocaust, for Europeans to wonder, ‘What Jewish culture have we been missing?’ We klezmorim are viewed as representatives of that part of the Eastern European soul that was destroyed in the Shoah."

But Krakauer, like The Klezmatics, wasn’t content just to perform traditional pieces in a straightforward style. In the mid-1990s, he formed his own band, Klezmer Madness!, which weds classic Jewish music with contemporary forms such as jazz, rock and hip-hop. Today, he is part of a wave of musicians who are continuing to push the klezmer envelope, according to Yale Strom, author of 2003’s "The Book of Klezmer." Such bands include the world fusion-infused Flying Bulgars and Strom’s Afro-Cuban Klazzj.

Krakauer’s latest forward-thinking CD is "Live in Krakow," which he recorded last year in the city that bears his name. The energetic album features samples and beatbox by DJ Socalled; it also includes Krakauer’s original composition, "Klezmer a la Bechet," based on an imaginary 1920s meeting between black New Orleans jazz clarinetist Sidney Bechet and the Ukrainian Jewish clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. Another track, "Love Song for Lemberg/Lvov," combines a waltzy melody with atonal sounds mimicking "screams of the Jewish dead," said Krakauer, who is still prominent in classical music circles.

But even as he stretches the genre, he still wants klezmer to sound like klezmer. It has to remind Krakauer of the music he heard wafting in through his windows back in 1987: "It has to suggest my grandmother’s voice," he said.

For information about the Skirball concert, call (310) 440-4500. For tickets, call (323) 655-8587.

Pearl’s Life, Articles Inspire Jam Session


The idea for the Daniel Pearl Music Day began about six months after terrorists murdered the Jewish Wall Street Journal reporter in Pakistan last year.

When his decapitated body was discovered in a shallow grave in Karachi, his family was finally able to bury him at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in August 2002. But after the funeral, they faced another unpleasant milestone: commemorating what would have been Pearl’s 39th birthday on Oct. 10.

“We dreaded it,” said his father, Judea Pearl, a UCLA computer science professor. “We didn’t know how we would cope.”

Enter Pearl’s old Paris neighbor, conductor George Pehlivanian, who described how he had dedicated an Israel Philharmonic concert to the slain journalist. The family began considering a birthday concert for Daniel, who had been an avid violinist, fiddler and mandolin player.

“Danny’s sister, Michelle, asked, ‘What would Danny have liked for his birthday?” his father said. “And the answer came naturally; he would have liked a jam session with all his friends. And where were all his friends? They were all over the world. So we began making phone calls.”

The result was the first Daniel Pearl Music Day, an international series of concerts intended to promote world peace in his memory. Organized around his birthday, the festival reprises this year with more than 120 concerts in at least 20 countries, including Muslim states such as Pakistan. An honorary committee includes Barbra Streisand, Ravi Shankar, Zubin Mehta and Elton John, who appears in a TV spot promoting the event.

“The message of tolerance symbolizes Danny’s victory over his killers, and over the ideology of hatred that brought about his death,” Judea Pearl said.

In Southern California, approximately 10 programs will commemorate the late journalist; they include a performance by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, an American Youth Symphony concert and the premiere of Russell Steinberg’s “Stories From My Favorite Planet,” inspired by Pearl’s life.

The Daniel Pearl Foundation commissioned the 45-minute piece after a friend of Steinberg’s, on a hunch, suggested he telephone the journalist’s parents last spring.

“I think they were wary at first because they thought I was a reporter,” said the conductor-pianist-composer, founder of the Stephen S. Wise Music Academy.

They relaxed when they learned Harvard-educated Steinberg, 44, was in fact a musician; like Daniel Pearl, he attended Birmingham High and studied classical music as a child in Encino.

During a meeting at their home, Judea and Ruth Pearl regaled the composer with poignant and hilarious stories about their son, who was known for his quirky, insightful journalism. Steinberg especially liked the one about how Pearl secured a Los Angeles assignment about a Stradivarius violin that fell off a car (while based back East, he argued the piece should be his because he covered transportation).

His parents gave the composer a copy of Pearl’s “At Home in the World: Collected Stories From the Wall Street Journal,” which inspired Steinberg’s composition. “I was fascinated by how this Valley boy, through his curiosity and journalistic excellence, propelled himself into the nexus of world politics,” he said. “Because I wanted to write about Danny’s life, not his death, I realized his words were key.”

In his ensuing violin-and-piano piece, music accompanies excerpts from five articles evoking Pearl’s journey, enacted by a reader. A goofy tango sets up the outlandish Stradivarius story; a madcap tarantella precedes an eerily prophetic piece about Osama bin Laden’s gem smuggling trade, which describes the call to kill Americans. Immediately after that excerpt, the tango returns in a minor key, sounding ghostlike and haunting.

“It’s the only time the music becomes mournful, because I want people to come away knowing who Danny was, not just what happened to him,” Steinberg said.

Pearl’s parents, who have been too grief-stricken to erect his tombstone, appreciate the uplifting approach.

“The piece isn’t a eulogy,” Judea Pearl said. “It captures Daniel’s character, his humor, his quirkiness, his optimism and his humanity…. Through the music day, we’re hoping to use his unique spirit as an initiative for tikkun olam, repairing the world.”

“Stories From My Favorite Planet,” performed by pianist Russell Steinberg, Los Angeles Philharmonic violinist Mitchell Newman and reader Mark Totty, will debut Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Milken Community High School, followed by performances Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. at Brand Library in Glendale and Nov. 9, 7 p.m. at Pierson Playhouse in Pacific Palisades. For tickets and information, call (310) 440-3500, ext. 3344. The program will also include excerpts from Steinberg’s new CD of solo piano and classical guitar music, “Desert Stars.”

For more information about the Daniel Pearl Music Day,launched by the Daniel Pearl Foundation, visit www.danielpearl.org .

New Books: World Hates Us, Let’s Eat


Solid proof that Jew-hating is on the rise is the number of nonfiction titles publishers are releasing on the subject.

The human fever called anti-Semitism finds the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) borrowing from the Jewish Defense League (JDL), with the JDL’s mantra "Never Again!" inadvertently part of a new book by ADL national director Abraham Foxman, "Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism" (Harper San Francisco, $24.95).

Foxman’s book is part of a new cluster of titles on anti-Semitism; Jewish moralist and radio talk show host Dennis Prager has reissued his 1983 book (co-written with Joseph Telushkin) "Why The Jews? The Reason for Anti-Semitism" (Touchtone, $14); essays by 17 British writers and thinkers are in "The New Anti-Semitism? Debating Judeophobia in the 21st Century" (Profile Books Limited, $29.95); and feminist Phyllis Chesler avoids question- mark titles with her work, "The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It" (Jossey-Bass, $24.95).

The four books — covering similar ground when chronicling the numerous post-Sept. 11 anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents — also complement two new historical works; Holocaust researcher Max Wallace’s "The American Axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh and the Rise of the Third Reich" (St. Martin’s Press, $27.95) and French academic Pierre Birnbaum’s eye-opening, "The Anti-Semitic Moment: A Tour of France in 1898" (Hill & Wang Pub, 2002, $35).

That no French Jews were killed in 1898 probably provides little comfort to Jews worldwide in 2003, who though in relatively safe Western democracies live amid unusual tolerance of Israel bashers, a tolerance paralleling the tolerance of France’s Jewish hatred described by Birnbaum; "For the Jews of France, death — so frequently present in the shouts and insults — remained a virtual threat. So many angry crowds, so many out-of-control demonstrations, so many knives brandished."

Despite the shouts of "Death to the Jews!" screaming off the pages of "The Anti-Semitic Moment," Birnbaum notes that Jews defended themselves and that some brave police and gendarmes in major French cities were, "constantly on the alert, patrolling without respite, dispersing rioters, charging threatening crowds, guarding stores whose owners were Jewish."

The Britons writing in "The New Anti-Semitism?" are unnerved; that journalist Jonathan Freedland’s essay points out the unbelievably obvious — "no matter how bad Israel is, it is not the Third Reich" — displays how defensive Jews must be in just supporting Israel. Jerusalem Post London correspondent Douglas Davis’ decision to stop appearing on the BBC was reinforced when a BBC radio show researcher asked him if he would debate the show’s topic — "Whether Israel is ‘a morally repugnant society.’"

Wallace’s "American Axis" details affections for the Third Reich by Americans as admired as Ford and Lindbergh, calling both men, "deeply contradictory figures." Wallace unearths documents showing that despite modern denials by the Ford Motor Co., it owned shares and directly financed Ford’s anti-Semitic newspapers The International Jew and the Dearborn Independent.

The Lindbergh family continues what Wallace called, "the carefully crafted rehabilitation of a tarnished hero." Official biographer A. Scott Berg’s 1998 book downplayed Lindbergh’s racial theories and Nazi solidarity. "American Axis" guts the historical cleansing of Ford and makes Berg’s book now appear weak, its 1999 Pulitzer Prize for biography undeserved.

Much of Foxman’s "Never Again?" is a serviceable outline of recent anti-Semitic incidents. He even manages humor, writing the ADL’s inability to convince singer Michael Jackson to cut song lyrics with the words, "Jew me, sue me … kick me, kike me," essentially is proof that, "there is not Jewish cabal dictating the entertainment industry — or if there is, it is a remarkably ineffective one."

His book’s most touching, memoir-like part is about Foxman the child Holocaust survivor in eastern Poland, saved — and baptized — by his Catholic nanny, then returned to his parents after the war. Not surprisingly, Foxman laments the Vatican’s tragic, ongoing refusal to make public baptism certificates of other Jewish children baptized into Catholicism while in hiding.

Telushkin and Prager’s useful, updated "Why The Jews?" includes a what-can-be-done-about-this section, but Prager admits, "These efforts are important and effective — but only in a society relatively free of anti-Semitism."

Chesler’s "The New Anti-Semitism" finds the longtime feminist suggesting that Jews, "must make common cause with the Christian left, right and center."

Chesler’s writings of grappling with longtime leftist/feminist allies have become bread and roses for anti-Zionists. For decades, Chesler’s life has been women’s studies conferences, global feminist gatherings, resolutions, pickets and petitions; yet, American feminists will not march as Israeli women are murdered by (usually male) suicide bombers. And Chesler also notes, "In the last three years, many feminists have either consciously or unconsciously muted their critiques of Arab and Muslim misogyny."

When Chesler asked non-Jewish feminists at a conference two decades ago who would hide her from the SS, only one offered even such hypothetical compassion. After a life of bonding with such seemingly insensitive people, Chesler writes contrastingly, "I regret nothing…. And yet, and yet, I must now calmly but clearly part company with my former friends and comrades."

The best argument against Jewish hatred is the same general argument against hatred itself. The valorous police portrayed in "The Anti-Semitic Moment" fought back French mobs less out of specific respect for Jews than out of a belief in civil order. The British editors of "The New Anti-Semitism?" make a similar argument:

"The fact and logic of history is that the treatment of Jews is frequently the litmus test of the ‘good society.’ Those societies and nations that have welcomed and treated Jews well have been among the most successful and creative of their time."

Hitler’s Conductor: Man or Monster?


On opening night of Ronald Harwood’s "Taking Sides," revolving around Hitler’s favorite conductor, viewers accosted the playwright. A woman said, ‘How could you do this to such a great artist?’" Harwood recalled. "Then a man grabbed me and said, ‘Wilhelm Furtwängler was an absolute s—.’ So I thought I’d done my job rather well."

His 1996 play, now an Istvan Szabo film, pits Furtwängler against a brash fictional American interrogator out to nail "Hitler’s bandleader" in denazification proceedings.

In the film, Furtwängler (Stellan Skarsgård) insists he remained in Germany rather than cede his culture to the Nazis and that he used his clout to save Jews.

Maj. Steve Arnold (Harvey Keitel) counters that Furtwängler made only token efforts at resistance while supporting the murderers, including performing at Hitler’s birthday. In return, the maestro enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and numerous mistresses.

Speaking from his London home, the droll, precise Harwood — who won a screenwriting Oscar for "The Pianist" — said he tried not to take sides while writing the play and the film.

"I attempted to make both arguments compelling because I want viewers to ask themselves what they would have done in Furtwängler’s place," he said. "’Was protesting from the inside a legitimate moral response to Hitler? Can art remain separate from politics?’ These are some of the questions I want people to explore."

The film is the latest in a body of work on the moral ambiguities of the period, including Michael Frayn’s play, "Copenhagen" and Tim Blake Nelson’s Auschwitz-themed drama, "The Grey Zone."

Harwood’s analysis of an artist’s responsibility under a dictatorship personally resonated for the Hungarian Szabo ("Sunshine"), who survived the communists and won a 1981 Oscar for "Mephisto," about a Nazi-era actor.

"The audience must be able to pick up on the contemporary dilemma in the conflict," he said of "Taking Sides." "Is it right and justifiable to survive a dictatorship by compromises?"

Harwood continued to field criticism as the film opened in New York earlier this month.

"I still get angry letters from people saying I’ve got it all wrong," he said. "Many Americans in particular can’t bear Maj. Arnold, whom they regard as a caricature, a bully, a Philistine. But I always point out that he’s the only character in the entire piece who talks about the dead. Everyone else talks about art and music and culture, but Arnold has seen the carnage at Belsen and it haunts him."

Harwood (né Horwitz), 68, was similarly haunted by concentration camp footage he saw in his native South Africa at age 12.

"The Reform synagogue took all the Jewish children to see these awful newsreels, and it had a terrible effect on me," he said. "I had nightmares, and it’s scarred me all my life."

Meanwhile, Harwood’s father, who had fled Lithuanian pogroms, regarded apartheid as someone else’s problem.

"He’d say, ‘Just thank God it isn’t us,’" the author said. "It was a prevalent sentiment among Jewish refugees in Cape Town after the war. But it seemed to me that oppressed people should care about the fate of other oppressed people."

Harwood, for his part, wrote several anti-apartheid novels after moving to England to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1951. After his 1980 play, "The Dresser," was made into an Oscar-nominated film, he served as president of the human rights organization International PEN.

But eventually, he began to feel uneasy about taking sides from a distance.

"It was quite fashionable and risk free to criticize South Africa from London," he said wryly. "I was extremely brave, from 6,000 miles away."

Harwood wondered how outspoken he would have been had he lived in a totalitarian society — which is why he was riveted by a 1994 book on Furtwängler’s dilemma.

"I loved the ambiguity of his case," said the author, who views Hitler’s favorite filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl as an "unabashed Nazi."

He went on to comb archives for denazification transcripts and to interview officials who had supervised such proceedings.

"They were morally brutal," he said. "They bullied people, and they did behave in an extreme way. But they had just seen the camps, and no one in the world had seen that before."

After director Roman Polanski saw "Taking Sides" in Paris, he asked the author to write another film involving music and the Holocaust, 2003’s "The Pianist." But even Polanski doesn’t know which side Harwood personally takes regarding Furtwängler.

"Look, I won’t even tell my wife," Harwood said.

"Of course, I might leave a little note to be opened after my death," he added, coyly. "But I want audience members to make up their own minds. I don’t want them to think I’m plugging a line."

The film opens today in Los Angeles.

For Love of the Dance


Or Nili Azulay often gazes at the faded photograph of her late grandmother, who was widowed in her 20s. “Her huge, expressive eyes are filled with strength and struggle,” the Israeli dancer-actress said. “She looks like Bizet’s ‘Carmen,’ although she is wearing nothing fancy, only a simple white dress and a white flower in her hand.”

Azulay, renown for her flamenco work, excels at portraying characters who are equally strong and passionate. In her spin on Edvard Greig’s “Peer Gynt Suite,” she plays a feisty Bedouin princess and other heroines from the plays of Henrik Ibsen. In her version of the Bizet opera, “Carmen,” she depicts the defiant gypsy as a feminist, not a prostitute.

Azulay will bring a similar range of emotions to Noam Sheriff’s “Israel Suite” and the world premiere of Yuval Ron’s “Canciones Sephardi” when she performs with the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony (LAJS) on Sunday.

“The kind of happiness I recall in my grandmother’s way of being is the same as in flamenco,” she said. “It’s never 100 percent happiness; it’s always tinged with melancholy.”

If it seems unlikely that a nice Jewish girl would become a flamenco dancer, consider her early role models. Azulay’s Syrian-born grandmother, Nona, defied her parents to wed the man she loved, then refused to remarry after he died several years later. Azulay’s mother, Chaya, became one of Israel’s first female barristers; her father died when she was a small child. “The sadness of not having a father was tempered by growing up with these strong, independent women,” she said.

No wonder Azulay was riveted by Bizet’s fiercely independent gypsy — and the art of flamenco — when she saw Carlos Saura’s film “Carmen” at age 14. The ballet student was so “stunned” by the dance numbers that she returned to see the movie a dozen times. “In ballet, the body is an instrument in service of the overall piece, while in flamenco, the protagonist is the dancer’s personality,” she said.

As Azulay began intense studies with famed teacher Sylvia Duran, she learned that “People who become huge in flamenco have huge personalities. They don’t have to do much to burn up the stage.”

The poised, five-foot-nine Azulay — who is also an award-winning poet — displayed similar charisma when she studied in Spain in 1995-96. She went on to establish a career emphasizing flamenco and classical Spanish dance performed with orchestras around the world. Azulay — who also appears in films such as 2003’s “The Brothel” — considers herself part of the flamenco revival spurred by Saura’s “Carmen.”

But her grandmother remains an important artistic inspiration. Azulay was drawn to the “Canciones Sephardi,” in part, because it reminds her of the tunes Nona used to sing in Ladino and Arabic. “That really struck a chord in Or Nili, and she brings that passion to the stage,” said Noreen Green, founder and artistic director of the LAJS.

The complex emotions of the “Israel Suite” also remind Azulay of her grandmother. In the dreamy first movement, she flies onstage with a white lace mantilla, reminiscent of a bridal veil. In a section based on a 15th century Ladino song, she uses constricted movements to suggest the pain of exile.

“The piece conveys the pathos of being an Israeli, of living in a state of half-dream, half-war,” she said.

The concert Sept. 14, 7 p.m. at the International Cultural Center (formerly Scottish Rite Auditorium), 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, also features internationally renown musicians such as flamenco guitarist Adam Del Monte and music by David Eaton. For information, call (310) 478-9311, where you can buy tickets through 1 p.m. Friday; or purchase them at the door.

Mojdeh Sionit contributed to this story.

When Worlds Collide


Much has been written about Jewish talent working in the entertainment industry. But what happens when you’re a sought-after Jewish writer who also happens to be observant?

"When worlds collide" might as well have been the subtext of a recent panel hosted by Sinai Temple’s Kesher Sinai group, which engaged David Sacks ("Third Rock From the Sun"), Ilana Wernick ("King of Queens"), David Weiss ("Clockstoppers") and Marv Silbermintz ("The Tonight Show with Jay Leno") on the subject of Hollywood values and pressures conflicting with Jewish ethics and ritual. The evening — the first union of the Congregation Mogen David-based grass-roots singles group Aaron’s Tent and Kesher Sinai (formerly Sinai New Leadership) — included a java-fueled, post-panel singles mixer, courtesy of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

Aaron’s Tent founder Aaron Kemp moderated the evening, which took place in April and was co-chaired by Kesher Sinai’s Faranak Rostamian and Cindy Stogel. Kemp, a Screen Actors Guild contractual lawyer, opened the discussion on a facetious note.

"I thought I would grow up to love my gentile partner and have comedic episodes with my non-Jewish in-laws," said Kemp, mocking the historical portrayal of Jews on television sitcoms.

Responding to the influence of such stereotypes, Weiss said that he was more impacted by Rat Pack-era celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. than network television’s tendency to put Jewish males in interfaith relationships with WASPy women.

"I did not want to grow up to be a one-eyed black Jew, but I did want to marry Meredith Baxter-Birney," admitted Weiss, an observant Jew who, for a brief spell, converted to Christianity on his quest for spiritual satisfaction.

"I thought the entire world was Jewish growing up," said Silbermintz, raised on 79th Street and Broadway in Manhattan. "I thought Popeye and Batman were Jewish." Silbermintz became a staff gag writer on "The Tonight Show" in 1992, after years of sending Leno unsolicited jokes.

Wernick was not aware of Jewish representation on television while growing up, but added, "I was really excited to find out that the actor who played ‘The Fonz’ was Jewish in real life."

Panel members told personal anecdotes about the lines of sensitivity toward Jewish content drawn behind the scenes. Wernick touched on the inherent Jewishness of Jerry Stiller’s character on "King of Queens," which portrays characters of Italian heritage. She also said that behind the scenes, she has become the arbiter of what is and is not Jewish.

"It’s like I’m a rabbi on the show," Wernick said. "By default, I become that because I’m the most Jewish one there."

Sacks, a veteran of two long-running sitcoms — "The Simpsons" and "Third Rock" — set the record straight regarding his connection to Jewish-themed episodes on both series. He came onboard as a writer on "The Simpsons" after completion of the episode in which Krusty the Clown is revealed to be Jewish. But Sacks did have a hand in the "Third Rock" episode in which the alien family adopted the surname of the Solomons and declared their human alter egos Jewish. However, the idea was not his.

Weiss summed up his working relationship with his non-Jewish writing partner this way: "I’ll write on Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday, you’ll write on Shabbos and yontif." The pair, which penned a "Rugrats" Chanukah special, is currently scripting "Shrek 2."

The panel also discussed the line between homage and stereotype onscreen. Weiss lamented the day when Nickelodeon jettisoned the overtly old country Grandpa Boris from the "Rugrats" after the character raised the ire of the Anti-Defamation League, which deemed Boris too stereotypical. Silbermintz, whose father is Columbian and mother Dominican, became hardened to people referring to him as Puerto Rican. He dislikes the air of sensitivity and political correctness.

"You think the Italians are offended by ‘The Godfather,’" he said, laughing, "they love it. It’s like the Torah to them, and ‘The Sopranos’ is like the New Testament."

Wernick spoke of having to overcompensate in all areas and devote 110 percent in all areas in order to justify leaving work early to observe Shabbat on Friday evenings, when "King of Queens" tapes.

"My bosses are all nonobservant Jews, and they’ve been fantastic about the whole thing," she said.

During the question-and-answer period, an audience member asked the panel to comment on why so many Jews in Hollywood do not publicly back Israel. Silbermintz observed that the sole celebrity not mincing words about his support of Israel is Howard Stern, to which Kemp interjected, "Yeah, except he won’t admit that he’s a full Jew on his own show."

Community Briefs


Palestinians Rally in Santa Monica

A public forum in support of the Palestinian cause drew a standing-room-only crowd to Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles on March 2. The meeting, held in preparation for a March on Washington set for April 20, was sponsored by the group Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Palestinian American Women’s Association.

The pro-Palestinian meeting drew supporters from a broad swath of progressive and radical causes; flyers and literature handed out before the speeches advocated for Greenpeace, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, along with the anti-war and pro-Palestinian purpose of the afternoon. Following a 10-minute video titled “Intifada: The Road to Freedom,” speakers, including former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, addressed the crowd. — Mike Levy, Staff Writer

Saban’s Successful Season

The success saga of Haim Saban, the billionaire children’s entertainment magnate, continues apace.

A one-time sergeant major in the Israeli army, who grew up in a Tel Aviv slum, Saban has just been appointed to the Board of Regents of the University of California by Gov. Gray Davis.

The position of regent carries no remuneration but considerable prestige and has been described as the California equivalent of a knighthood.

Parenthetically, the 57-year-old Saban and his companies have contributed more than $400,000 to the governor’s election campaigns over the past three years, including a recent $50,000 donation.

For a companion title, Saban has been named finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He has raised millions for Democratic Party causes, as well as substantial sums for former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and other Labor Party stalwarts.

Born in Egypt and raised in Israel, Saban arrived in Los Angeles in 1983 and scored his first phenomenal success with his children’s television show “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” In 1995, he went into partnership with media mogul Rupert Murdoch to create Fox Family Worldwide.

That company was sold last October to the Walt Disney Co. for $5.2 billion. According to the Los Angeles Times, Saban “and his affiliates” received about $1.4 billion.

As Saban’s political donations and muscle grow, he has become one of the most courted donors by Democratic heavyweights, from presidents and would-be presidents on down.

A recent Los Angeles Times article lists the three most sought-after names at political fundraisers as “Haim Saban, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Lew Wasserman,” thus putting Saban on the same level as the two Hollywood legends.

Saban is greatly supported in his political and charitable endeavors by his wife, Cheryl, who ranks among the city’s reigning power hostesses.

In a recent profile of Cheryl Saban, the Los Angeles Times reports: “Among the party divas who stay at the top of their game, star power is the key. [Cheryl] Saban, for instance, can command heads of state, such as the president of Israel. She has held soirees for both Bill and Hillary Clinton.”

Haim Saban declined requests for an interview for this story. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Anti-Arab Hate Crimes Down

Hate crimes committed against Arab Americans in California have fallen more than 90 percent since an upsurge of such crimes in September 2001, according to a report by state Attorney General Bill Lockyer. The report, released Feb. 28, tracks a steady decline in hate crimes in 17 police and sheriffs jurisdictions, from a high of 182 attacks in the weeks immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, to a low of seven in January 2002. In all, the report lists 294 hate crimes committed against Arab or Muslim Americans, Sikhs, South Asians and others mistaken for Arabs or Muslims since Sept. 11. Seventy-one anti-Arab hate crimes were reported in October, 21 in November and 13 in December. More than one-third of the reported attacks have occurred in Los Angeles. — ML

‘Fiddler’ Plays On


Since it opened at Broadway’s Imperial Theater on Sept. 22, 1964, "Fiddler on the Roof" with the late Zero Mostel as Tevye, the milkman trying to preserve his family’s traditions in the face of a changing world, is still part of the tapestry of Jewish and American culture.

MGM Home Entertainment has released a 30th anniversary DVD of the musical, brought to the screen on Nov. 3, 1971 with Israeli-born Topol in the role of Tevye. The DVD includes insightful commentary tracks by director-producer Norman Jewison and Topol; a documentary on Jewison; "Any Day Now," a never-before-available song beautifully sung by Paul Michael Glaser (Perchik) which was deleted from the film; "Tevye’s Dream," in full color; and stories of Sholom Aleichem and historical background read by Jewison.

"’Fiddler, is a story that touches everyone, regardless of ethnicity, nationality or culture, because it encompasses so much humanity that it relates to all people," Jewison told The Journal. "It says many things about Jewish culture and life, as interpreted by Sholom Aleichem and Joe Stein."

Playwright Joseph Stein, who also wrote the screenplay, said: "There are universal themes: It’s a story about parents and children, a story about struggling in a strange world, conflict of cultures, immigrants."

The road to Broadway was not a smooth one. "Every producer in town turned it down; they thought it was too ethnic," Stein recalled. "One said: ‘I like it very much, but what will I do for an audience once I run out of Hadassah benefits?’ It was an unusual musical — it had a Jewish theme and a serious storyline. It had everything going against it. But we loved the story and believed in and telling it as honestly as we could, and tried to adhere to the spirit of Sholom Aleichem.

"Eventually we got Hal Prince and Jerome Robbins involved, and got the play to Broadway," Stein said. "We were stunned by the reaction. People would call and tell us that they never felt that way in the theater before. They felt like they were in shul."

The audiences extended far beyond Hadassah benefits both in numbers and geography. "We also never anticipated the worldwide acclaim," Stein said. "People all over the world accept it as a personal statement. The Japanese producer asked me if they understood the play in America, because he thought it was such a Japanese story."

"United Artists approached me about directing the film version of ‘Fiddler,’" Jewison recalled. "I will never forget the shocked looks on the studio heads’ faces when I told them that despite my name, I was not Jewish. I knew a lot about the Jewish religion and had been in search of it my whole life and wanted this opportunity.

In shooting the film, I wanted the audience to believe that they were in Anatevka in a small shtetl in the Ukraine at the turn of the century, so I wanted to shoot the film in Europe. The Iron Curtain was up at the time, and U.S./ Russian relations were strained. We ended up in Yugoslavia. We shot most of the film in Croatia, and the rest at the Pinewood studios in London. It was John Williams’ first movie score, and I got to use Jerome Robbins’ choreography."

Jewison remembered the late Isaac Stern, whose performance on the ‘Fiddler’ soundtrack reached more people then his lifetime of concerts combined. "I fought for Isaac Stern," Jewison said. "When he played his solo, I had put up a Chagall sketch I had bought, upon which I based the image of the fiddler. When Isaac walked into the studio, I tapped on the glass and showed him the sketch. He told me that the spirits of Chagall and Sholom Aleichem were with us."

Jewison struggled with casting the role of Tevye. "Zero created the role and was very popular, and he so dominated the stage that he turned it into a one-man show. Film, however, was not his medium of expression.

"Topol’s performance in London knocked me out. He had warmth and a virility that I knew would translate to the screen. I wanted intense ethnic pride and strength. Topol was Israeli, and was not in any way ghettoized or insecure about his Jewishness. He was in his 30s at the time, and they were pulling the white hair out of my head and putting it into Topol’s beard to make him look older," Jewison said with a laugh.

"It is a joy to reminisce about the film," said Chaim Topol from his home in Tel Aviv. "Before the film, I had done over 400 performances as Tevye in London, and since the film I have done over 2,000 performances, in the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan,and Australia. I haven’t been away from the subject at any point in my life."

Paul Michael Glaser recalled his experiences as Perchik, the idealistic student who dazzles Hodel, Tevye’s second-oldest daughter, with his sophistication and passion.

"I had not yet seen Fiddler when I got the call to audition. I was 27 and was asked to play a 17-year-old, and thought I wouldn’t get the part. I went to The Sherry Netherland Hotel in New York, sat with Norman and read and danced around the hotel room. A screen test followed and I got the part.

"This was my first movie, and I was fascinated by the whole aspect of filmmaking. Topol played Tevye like an Israeli. A European Jew would look at God and ask why with his hands open, where an Israeli would ask why with his hands pointed at God," Glaser observed.

Recalling the film’s premiere, Jewison said: "In 1971, Arthur Krim, then chairman of United Artists, wanted the premiere to be in Jerusalem, instead of New York or Los Angeles, and he wanted Golda Meir to be the special guest at the screening." She arrived in an old Chevy Impala, flanked by young, heavily armed soldiers. Golda sat with Topol for the first half of the film and with me for the second half. I was worried about her reaction. I watched her during the exodus scene. She put her fist into her eye and flicked one tear away, and she took my hand and squeezed it. At that moment, I knew I had done good."

Asked about the work’s ultimate message, Jewison emotionally responded: "’Fiddler’ is about a man who has consummate faith in his own destiny and will go on, and nothing is going to defeat him or his family. The fiddler will keep playing. When I think of Tevye going on, pulling the cart, with his two youngest daughters, headed for the United States, I get this strong unshakable belief in our continuity and our survival. It doesn’t matter how many buildings people blow up or how many threats are made."

Calendar & Singles


SATURDAY/21

Temple Isaiah: 9:00 a.m. Torah study followed by Shabbat service. 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 277-2772

Temple Akiba: 7:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Comedy performance by improv group Off the Wall, with music and refreshments. $25. 5249 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. For more information, call (310) 398-5783.

PBS: 8 p.m. “Schindler’s List,” winner of seven Academy Awards, in recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Day. For more information, call (212) 708-3000.

SUNDAY/22

Magbit Foundation: Noon p.m.-7 p.m. After Passover picnic with games and prizes, carnival rides, face painting, sidewinder climbing wall, kosher barbeque and kosher hot dogs. $50 (adults), $60 (at the door); $25 (children 4-16), $35 (at the door). Hidden Valley Park, Irvine. For directions or more information, call (310) 858-6020.

Temple Ner Tamid: 5:30 p.m. Gala celebrating the congregation’s 40th anniversary and honoring “man of the year” Henry Bear. With comedy act by Archie Barkan, musical performances, cocktails and dinner. $100. Cerritos Sheraton Hotel. For reservations or more information, call (562) 861-9276.

Temple Bet Yahm: 7 p.m. Hadassah Lieberman, wife of Senator Joseph Lieberman, speaks on the campaign experience and her activism in Jewish causes, followed by a reception at a private home. $36 (general admission); $18 (seniors over 65); free (full-time students). 1011 Camelback Street, Newport Beach. For more information, call (949) 644-1999.

Project Chicken Soup: 8 a.m. Help cook hot kosher meals and deliver them to people with AIDS. Hirsh Kosher Kitchen, 338 N. Fairfax Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 655-5330.

MONDAY/23

OASIS Older Adult Program: 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Lecture on Islam. Pierce College, Life Sciences Bldg. ‘1728, 6201 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills. For more information, call (818) 710-4163.

Jewish Family Service: 2 p.m. “Sleeping Disorders,” lecture by Rachael Guth and discussion. 12821 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood. For more information, call (818) 984-0276.

West Valley JCC: 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Lecture by gerontologist Dr. Dan Osterweil as part of “The Doctor is In” program every Monday. Free (members); $4 (nonmembers). 22622 Vanowen Street, West Hills. For more information, call (818) 464-3300.

Kehillat Ma’arav: 7:30 p.m. Dr. Arthur Gross Schaefer, speaks about “The Good, Bad, and the Ugly: Effective Jewish Ethics,” followed by a dessert reception. $12 (in advance); $15 (at the door). 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. For reservations or more information, call (310) 829-0566.

West Valley JCC: 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Yiddish music and conversation class every Monday. Free (members); $4 (nonmembers). 22622 Vanowen Street, West Hills. For more information, call (818) 464-3300.

Yeshiva of Los Angeles: 7:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Ulpan class, level I, every Monday. Beth Jacob Congregation, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 229-0958.

TUESDAY/24

Women’s American ORT: Noon. Luncheon meeting to celebrate the holidays with Jewish Harmonica Group. $7. Fu’s Palace, 8751 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 552-1514.

Jewish Family Service: 2:15 p.m. Support group for married, single or widowed women explores feelings of loss, illness, the aging process, interpersonal relationships and life changes. 12821 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood. For more information, call (818) 984-1380.

University of Judaism: 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Workshop on life after retirement, led by Judith Sommerstein. 15600 Mulholland Dr., Bel Air. For more information, call (310) 476-9777.

Congregation Tiffereth Jacob: 7 a.m. Learner’s Minyan second and fourth Tuesday of every month. 1829 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach. For more information, call (310) 542-9426.

Project Next Step: 6:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. “The Oldest Legal System: A brief overview of Jewish law,”first of four part lecture series every Tuesday. $50 (4 class series). 9911 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 552-4595 ext. 27.

WEDNESDAY/25

B’nai Tikvah Congregation: 7:45 p.m. In observance of Israel’s independence day, the soldiers who died protecting Israel in the 1948 War of Independence and other battles are commemorated. 5820 W. Manchester Ave., Westchester. For more information, call (310) 645-6262.

Jewish Music Commission: 7:30 p.m. “From Darkness Into Light,”choral concert relaying Holocaust experiences and honoring Israel’s 53rd year of independence. $10. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. For tickets or more information, call (818) 788-6000.

Adat Ari El Sisterhood: 11 a.m. Erin Brockovich honored with Woman of Significance Award. $35. Sportsmen’s Lodge, 12833 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. For more information, call (818) 766-9426.

THURSDAY/26

Adat Ari El: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Senior Club meets Thursdays for entertainment, to go on trips and play bingo. For location or more information, call (818) 764-4532.

Temple Aliyah: Noon-1:30 p.m. “Lunch and Learn” discussion about this week’s Torah text with Rabbi Vogel. 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills. For more information, call (818) 346-3545.

Congregation Mishkon Tephilo: 8 p.m. “Jews in Venice Do Not Live On an Island,” panel discussion regarding community change. 206 Main Street, Venice. For more information, call (310) 392-3029.

Yeshiva of Los Angeles: 8:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. “What Makes the World Tick? Perspectives of a master kabbalist,” lecture by David Krich every Thursday. Mogen David Congregation, 9717 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 229-0958.

FRIDAY/27

University Synagogue: 6 p.m. Rabbi Arnold Rachlis and cantor Ruti Braier lead family services in celebration of Israel’s 53rd year of independence with music, stories and folk dancing after a pizza dinner. 4915 Alton Parkway, Irvine. For reservations or more information, call (949) 553-3535.

Cheviot Hills Senior Citizens’ Club: 10:45 a.m. Meets for entertainment, trips, bingo, guest speakers, book reports and luncheons. Today: Jerome Elliot, singer and comedian. $1.50 (members); $1.75 (nonmembers). For location or more information, call (310) 652-7508.

UPCOMING

The Council of Israeli Organizations: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun., April 29. Israeli festival to celebrate 53 years of Israel’s independence includes entertainment, fashion show, Israeli dancing, carnival rides, Heritage Pavilion, petting zoo and much more. Woodley Park, 6350 Woodley Ave., Van Nuys. For more information, call (818) 757-0123.

Singles

SATURDAY/21

New Age Singles (55+): 7 p.m. Dinner and dance party with music by Alan Weiss and line dance lessons. $12. (members and men before 8 p.m.); $15 (guests). University Synagogue, 11960 Sunset Blvd., Brentwood. For more information, call (310) 473-1391.

Palos Verdes Singles: 7 p.m.-11 p.m. Party with appetizers, featuring vocalist Deon James singing Neil Diamond songs. $17. Manhattan Beach Marriott Hotel. For directions or more information, call (310) 372-6071.

Jewish Singles Meeting Place (30’s- 40’s): 11:30 a.m. Meet at Dodgers Stadium to watch the game between the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. Carpooling available from Encino. $10. For tickets or more information, call (818) 780-4809.

SUNDAY/22

New Age Singles (55+): 2 p.m. Meet for table games including bridge, Rummy Que, Trivial Pursuit, Boggle and Scrabble, followed by a no-host dinner at a nearby restaurant. $3 (members); $5 (guests). For reservations, location or more information, call (310) 473-1391.

Klutz Productions (21-39): 8 p.m.-1 a.m. Dance party with
DJ Kev E. Kev playing world beat music and cigar room. $10. The Conga Room, 5364
Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, e-mail klutzproductions@aol.com .

MONDAY/23

Israeli Dance Session: 8 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Open dance session every Monday with Michelle Yakovie. Also, Thursdays, dance lessons for beginners. $6. 2244 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (800) 750-5432.

Bridge for Singles (60+): 7:30 p.m. Intermediate players meet every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. $4. 4111 Via Marina, Marina Del Rey. For more information, call (310) 398-6558.

TUESDAY/24

Westwood Jewish Singles (45+): 7:30 p.m. Dessert and discussion every Tuesday. Also meets Sundays, 8 p.m. $8. For location or more information, call (310) 444-8986.

WEDNESDAY /25

Stephen S. Wise Temple: 7 p.m. “Lawrence the Psychic,” lecture with readings and discussion regarding hunches and vibes about people encountered on a daily basis. $12. (members); $16 (guests). For more information, call (310) 476-8561.

THURSDAY/26

Project Next Step (20’s and 30’s): 7 p.m. “Does Television Dictate or Reflect Our Values?,” lecture by speaker Michael Glouberman, Golden Globe-winning producer and writer for “Malcolm in the Middle” and “3rd Rock From the Sun.” $5. 9911 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For reservations or more information, call (310) 552-4595 ext. 21.

Conversations!: 7:30 p.m. Guest speakers, discussions, socializing, appetizers and drinks every Thursday. $15. 820 Harvard St., Santa Monica. For reservations or more information, call (310) 315-1078.

Westwood Kehilla (25-45): 8:15 p.m. “Endgame: How close to the Messianic Redemption are we – and how can we really know?,” discussion based on the Pardes sourcebooks, followed by refreshments. 10523 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 441-5289.

FRIDAY/27

Jewish Association of Single Professionals: 8 p.m.-1 a.m. Dance party with appetizers, dessert, and live music by Dalena, Casa Blanca and acclaimed DJ David Katz. $20 Pasion Club, 12215 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. For more information, call (323) 656-7777.

405 Jewish Singles (22-45): 7:30 p.m. Shabbat service, socializing and refreshments every last Friday of the month. Temple Menorah, 1101 El Camino Real, Redondo Beach. For more information, call (562) 426-6413.

UPCOMING

Kosher Meet Market: Sat., Apr. 28, 7 p.m. Dinner, swing lessons and dancing. $10 (cover). The Derby. For reservations, location or more information, call (818) 654-9978.

Strange Attraction


Actress Marcia Gay Harden is a Texan, non-Jewish and the daughter of a U.S. Navy captain who regularly moved his family around the world. So she has had to do her homework, she says, to portray the tough-yet-vulnerable Jewish characters that have won her wide acclaim.

Harden studied 1920s anti-Semitism to play Verna, the two-timing Jewish moll to Irish mobsters in the Coen brothers’ stylized gangster film "Miller’s Crossing." She read up on the laws of shiva to portray Norma Berman, the eccentric daughter of a Jewish widow in Beeban Kidron’s "Used People." She learned a thing or two about psychology to become the Jewish shrink Susan Silverman in A&E’s "Small Vices." And she perused biographies to prepare for the role that just gleaned her a supporting actress nomination: the Jewish American painter Lee Krasner, the long-suffering wife of Abstract Expressionist giant Jackson Pollock (Ed Harris) in the biopic "Pollock."

"Lee and Jackson were the proverbial case of opposites attracting," Harden said during a Journal interview at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles.

Verbal, matter-of-fact Krasner (1908-1984) was the daughter of Orthodox Jewish Russian immigrants, raised in Brooklyn and the tenements of the Lower East Side. Like many Jews of her generation, she rejected the old ways to become an American, specifically a New York Jewish intellectual committed to everything radical and modern. Pollock (1912-1956), conversely, was a taciturn, troubled young man from Wyoming: alcoholic, manic-depressive, prone to frightening rages and swaggering boasts.

They met when Krasner saw his work in a 1941 exhibition, charged up the stairs of his Greenwich Village apartment building and knocked on his door.

"The fact that Lee was Jewish was part of the draw for Jackson," said actor-director-producer Harris, who bears an eerie resemblance to Pollock and is an Oscar nominee for best actor. "He found that exotic, provocative and mysterious."

Harden ("Space Cowboys," "Meet Joe Black") regards Krasner as provocative. "She was a woman who broke all the rules," says the actress, who earned a Tony nomination for playing a valium-addicted housewife in "Angels in America." "She was a Jewish woman making her way in a world of WASPy, macho artists. She was not a virgin when she married Pollock, which was unusual at the time. She was smart, tenacious, a survivor. I identify with her struggle, her desire to find her own voice."

For Harden, that struggle began in childhood, when she strove to upstage her sisters as the third of five children growing up in Japan, Germany, Greece, California and Maryland.

A Greek-language production of "Medea" at the Parthenon inspired her to become a performer, though the New York theater scene proved less than welcoming. Harden subsisted on a series of menial jobs and was once left with only $1 to survive the weekend. A casting director handed her a plastic surgeon’s business card and said, "You have what I call the flaring-nostril look, and unless you get it fixed, you will never work." One winter morning, Harden was so distraught that a homeless person comforted her on the street.

Her big break came after she enrolled in the graduate theater program at New York University, when she was cast as "Lucy, the Fat Pig" in a zany production of "The Comedy of Errors." All she did was oink and jiggle her huge, padded bum and her beanbag breasts, which were the object of several sight gags. But that was enough to catch the eye of Joel and Ethan Coen’s casting director, who was looking for an actress to play the Jewish vamp, Verna, in "Miller’s Crossing."

Before long, the starving artist, dolled up in smoky dark make-up, was sitting across the table from the Coens, salivating over a Lucullan smorgasborg of pastries and cold cuts. Fortunately, the assertive Verna took over: "I just grabbed a cookie, lit up a cigarette and did the audition," she said. "I was uncharacteristically aggressive, which must have been the character speaking."

The Coens had just one question for the actress: "Is it a problem for you playing a Jewish character?" "I shook my head, ‘No," and that was exactly the answer they needed," Harden said.

Nevertheless, she felt she needed to educate herself by reading about the kind of anti-Semitism her character would have faced during the Prohibition era. "I wanted to understand what made Verna feel like an outcast at the time, which informed all of her choices," Harden said.

To prepare for "Pollock," the actress studied painting ("I suck," she said), listened to audio tapes of Krasner and interviewed her surviving friends and relatives. "Her nephew told me, ‘If you want to play Lee Krasner, start screaming from the minute you walk into the door until the minute you leave,’" Harden said.

In fact, Krasner focused much of her creative energy on keeping Pollock together and furthering his career. But by 1956, the tension in their marriage had escalated; Pollock often stormed off to a tavern or to the arms of his mistress. Their rows became so violent that Harden braced herself to receive an anti-Semitic slur in the film’s most explosive scene.

"I debated a lot as to whether to leave that in the movie," Harris confided to a Journal reporter. "But to me, it was symbolic of just how low the relationship had deteriorated and of the despair and anger Pollock was feeling about himself. He wasn’t anti-Semitic, but the slur was just the most heinous, ugly thing he could think of to say."

Harris helped Harden understand why Krasner put her own career on hold to nurture an abusive husband: "Lee realized this man had the potential to create art that she loved," he told The Journal. "But she also had her own problems as a woman. Her relationships with her brother and a previous lover were quite masochistic. Her brother would degrade her and talk down to her, and she followed him around like a puppy dog."

It wasn’t until after Pollock’s 1956 death in a car wreck that Krasner began one of the most productive periods of her career, Harden noted. Her impressive body of work was showcased in a 1999 retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but the actress was glad she saw the exhibit after she had completed "Pollock." "The work in the show was confident and big and bold, and that is not the person Krasner was while Pollock was alive," she explained. "My Lee Krasner was much more insecure. The woman who could create those big, bold paintings hadn’t come into being yet."

"Pollock" opens today in Los Angeles.

Rocky Mountain Chai


Move over Sundance, Slamdance, Digidance and Nodance. The two-week showbiz schmoozefest in Park City, Utah, traditionally a launching pad for Jewish indie cinema, is now home to SchmoozeDance, a forum for Jewish filmmakers, journalists, observers and studio execs to celebrate Jewish film.

“Since everyone’s schmoozing at Sundance, I thought the Jews should, too,” founder Larry Mark said.Mark has dedicated the past five years of his life to Jewish cinema. A circulation marketer at The New York Times by day, the movie buff was annoyed by the ubiquitous stereotypes he heard about Jewish film. “It was, ‘Oh, Jewish cinema — that’s “Fiddler on the Roof” or Holocaust stuff,'” he said. “But there’s so much more.”

Mark proved his point by starting JewishFilm.com, the online Jewish film archive; there are now some 800 listings, including past Sundance entries like Boaz Yakin’s “A Price Above Rubies” and Darren Aronofsky’s “Pi.” To keep his site current, Mark compulsively studies Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and worldwide film festival lineups. (He’s also the editor of MyJewishBooks.com.)

Now he’s turning his attention to Park City. “I’ve always wanted to go to a real industry film festival,” explained the affable Mark, who’ll use vacation time to attend the fests.

SchmoozeDance is starting small. This year, it’s an oneg Shabbat and a kiddush sponsored by JewishFilm.com Jan. 19 at Park City’s only shul, Reform Temple Har Shalom. “I even had yarmulkes made up that say ‘SchmoozeDance at Sundance,'” said Mark, who’s invited everyone from Village Voice critic J. Hoberman to Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein.

In 2001, movies to watch include Michael Apted’s “Enigma,” based on Robert Harris’ best-selling novel about Britain’s elite team of code-breakers facing their worst nightmare in March 1943. Nazi U-boats have unexpectedly changed their enigma code, endangering a merchant shipping convoy of 10,000 men.Sundance opens with Christine Lahti’s “My First Mister,” a March-October romance starring Albert Brooks and Leelee Sobieski. The festival will also premiere “Divided We Fall,” about a Czech family that harbors an escapee from Theresienstadt; the documentary “Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey,” about the life of the remarkable African American mediator of the 1949 Arab-Israeli armistice; and “Trembling Before G-d,” a highly anticipated doc about gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews by Sandi Simcha DuBowski (see story, page 27).

Then there’s director Marc Levin, winner of the 1998 Sundance Grand Jury Prize for “Slam,” a lyrical feature about an incarcerated Black poet; he’s back in Park City this year with Slamdance opener “Brooklyn Babylon,” a Black-Jewish “Romeo and Juliet” inspired by the Song of Songs. Set in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where Black-Jewish tensions have simmered since the riot of 1991, Sol, a charismatic rapper ready to break into the music business (hip-hop MC Tariq Trotter), meets Sara (Karen Goberman), a young Jewish beauty ready to break free of her religious background. Sparks fly.

The provocative pic brings Levin, director of the video version of Anna Deavere Smith’s L.A.-riot saga, “Twilight: Los Angeles,” back to his Jewish roots.

“[As] the millennium was approaching, I felt it was time to do my Bible film, a hip-hop Solomon and Sheba in the neighborhood where my parents and grandparents all grew up,” he said. “In a way, it completes my trilogy: ‘Slam,’ ‘Whiteboys’ and ‘Brooklyn Babylon.'”

In dramatic competition at Sundance, the Yale- and Stanford-educated writer-director Henry Bean offers “The Believer,” starring Theresa Russell and Billy Zane, based on the 1960s true story of an ex-yeshiva bocher turned anti-Semite. In real life, Danny Balint committed suicide the day The New York Times printed an exposé revealing he was Jewish. In the movie, we meet the 12-year-old Balint (Ryan Gosling) arguing with his rabbis and dodging gentile toughs on the street. By 22, he is a skinhead and budding fascist leader; when the court sentences him to “sensitivity training” with elderly Holocaust survivors, his conflicting feelings set him on the path to self-destruction.

While Balint was hiding his Jewishness, “at the same time he was compulsively revealing it,” said Bean, the screenwriter of “Internal Affairs” and “Enemy of the State.” “He would bring knishes back to the Nazi headquarters and hang out with girls who looked obviously Jewish. The notion of somebody hiding something and revealing it at the same time fascinated me.”

Paymer’s “State”


When David Paymer was 14, he used a fake ID to sneak into New York’s Coronet Theater to see Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate.”

“Hoffman showed me that a short Jewish guy with a big nose could prosper and even be seen as a leading man,” the 46-year-old actor said during an interview at the Marmalade Cafe in Santa Monica.

Several decades later, Paymer has prospered as one of the busiest supporting actors in Hollywood, though seldom as a leading man. He’s earned critical kudos as the scheming Jewish producer Dan Enright in “Quiz Show,” the money-laundering Leo Devoe in “Get Shorty,” the press secretary Ron Ziegler in “Nixon” and a shrink in Lawrence Kasdan’s “Mumford.” He earned an Academy Award nomination for his role as Stan Yankelman, Billy Crystal’s long-suffering brother-manager in “Mr. Saturday Night.” He’s worked with Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Robert Redford, and now David Mamet in the Hollywood satire “State and Main,” a pic about what happens when a movie company sets up production in a New England town.

Like 30 percent of Paymer’s roles, the character of producer Marty Rossen is Jewish, though he’s tougher and sleazier than the “rabbinical” Enright, the actor says. When Marty first arrives on the beleaguered set, the fictional director, played by Oscar nominee William H. Macy (“Fargo,” “Magnolia”), greets him in Yiddish. Rossen promptly threatens the bimbo actress (Sarah Jessica Parker) who refuses to do her nude scene; he works damage control when his star (Alec Baldwin) demonstrates a fancy for underaged girls. He also exchanges insults with a blackmailing local anti-Semite (His favorite slur: “You speed-trap shaygetz.”)

The funniest gag is when the fictional filmmakers stock every hotel room with Streit’s matzah: “Can I have a cracker?” a local asks. The matzah “is a symbol of the intersection of Hollywood Jewish culture and small-town America,” Paymer says, adding that teaching Macy Yiddish was no easy task. “Mamet and I worked on Bill,” he says. “We had to work on Bill a lot.”

Studio heads have sent Paymer fan letters about Rossen, which surprised some of his friends. “People have asked me, ‘Aren’t you worried you’re biting the hand that feeds you?’ ” the actor recalls. “But Hollywood loves to skewer itself. Just look at ‘The Player’ and ‘Wag the Dog.’ “

And it’s cathartic for an actor to play a producer, the guy who runs the show. “You feel so out of control as an actor,” Paymer explains. “I’ve never had any producer be as nasty to me as Marty, but the fear is they’re saying terrible things behind your back. You worry they’re looking at dailies and yelling ‘You stink!’ at the screen.”

Paymer loves “State and Main” because it skewers the vicissitudes and inflated egos of showbiz, something he knows firsthand.

He’s wanted to act since he sat in the front row at his community theater in Oceanside, N.Y., and watched his parents perform in fundraising shows. Like the characters of Stan and Buddy in “Mr. Saturday Night,” Paymer and his older brother, Steve, performed for the relatives in the living room; in high school, the theater department was a place the shy, unathletic teen felt he belonged. But he felt guilty about seeking the limelight. “In my neighborhood, you were expected to become a Jewish doctor or lawyer,” explains Paymer, whose mother fled Nazi-occupied Belgium with her family. “I didn’t want to let my parents down. I didn’t want to be a ‘bum.’ “

Ironically, it was his father’s decision to leave the scrap metal business and pursue a musical career that inspired the actor to follow his dream. As Paymer père went off to earn a doctorate in musicology, David juggled auditions with psychology studies and “miraculously” landed the role of Sonny in the national touring company of “Grease.”

By 1982, he was cast as Dr. Wayne Fiscus on NBC’s “St. Elsewhere” but was devastated when the producers gave him the boot several days into production and replaced him with Howie Mandel. A decade later, he ran into one of the producers after his Oscar nomination. “I gave him a big hug and thanked him for firing me,” Paymer says, beaming. “I said, ‘You got me out of TV!’ “

While shooting his big-break role as ice cream guru Ira Shalowitz in “City Slickers,” Paymer had no idea that star Billy Crystal was writing his next film, “Mr. Saturday Night,” with him in mind. “It’s a good thing I didn’t, or I would have been nervous,” admits wry, soft-spoken Paymer, who now keeps his Oscar nomination certificate in an obscure corner of his guest house.

Several years later, Paymer worried he blew his chance to work with David Mamet when the birth of his eldest child caused him to decline a role in Mamet’s Jewish-themed play “The Old Neighborhood.” But then the writer-director came calling with “State and Main.” “I was insecure because Mamet has his own actors, and I didn’t know how I’d fit in with the whole gang,” concedes Paymer, who studied Mamet’s acting books and meticulously practiced his rapid-fire dialogue. “And because David’s language is so tough and bullying in many of his plays, I assumed maybe he’d be like that. But he was totally the opposite. He’s a love, like a big teddy bear. He was an actor once, and he does anything to make an actor feel accepted.”On the set, life imitated art as the Hollywood company descended on the town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass., and the actors were ensconced in a crummy Sheraton hotel with bad food and only four cars for eight people. “You’d go to the front desk, the keys would be gone and you’d go, ‘Does Macy have the car? Does Baldwin?’ ” Paymer recalls. “We’d get that feeling of being stuck in a small town, which just added to the realism of the film.”

In his private life, Paymer attends Reform High Holiday services and is planning to enroll his 6-year-old daughter, Emily, in Hebrew school. In his professional life, he avoids stereotypically Jewish roles. “I get offered a lot of attorneys named Epstein or Kleinman,” he says. “I get a lot of nebbishes with glasses.”Next up, he’ll appear with Macy in the film “Focus,” based on Arthur Miller’s early novel about anti-Semitism in New York during World War II. His character, Finkelstein, is Jewish; Macy’s character isn’t, though his neighbors think he is. “It’s great to work with Bill again,” Paymer reveals. “We’ve got the shorthand down to make a scene work. We’re like an old married couple.”

“State and Main” opens today in L.A.

7 Days In Arts


9
Saturday

Guitarist, composer and bandleader Bill Frisell finishes off the Gershwin and Beyond concert series tonight performing with his new quartet. Accompanied by Greg Leisz on dobro and pedal steel guitar, Kenny Wollesen on drums and David Piltch on bass, critically acclaimed jazz guitarist Frisell will explore works by Gershwin as well as performing his own latest compositions. $20 (general admission); $17 (members); $12 (students). 8 p.m. Magnin Auditorium, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For tickets, call (323) 655-8587. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.

10
Sunday

Avi Hoffman’s one-mensch show “Too Jewish?” includes a moving recitation of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be?” soliloquy – in Yiddish. Through the course of his Yiddish, English and “Yinglish” revue, Hoffman trots out some of the best of the old (“Afn Prepetshik,” the comedy of Menashe Skulnik) combined with his own stories and parodies of Broadway musicals (“My Fair Latke,” “Oy, Glaucoma!”). With Yiddish lyrics translated by large posters onstage, and the pure entertainment and humor of the show, “Too Jewish?” makes a case for the continued vitality of Yiddish theater. $25-$30. Wed. 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Thur., Fri. and Sat. 8 p.m.; Sat. and Sun. 2 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m. Through Dec. 31. Freud Playhouse, UCLA. For tickets or more information, call (310) 825-2101.

11
Monday

Two new exhibits opening this week at The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust evidence the power of memory. Susan Cooper’s “Recollection: Lost Wooden Synagogues of Poland and Russia” is an 80-foot long relief sculpture depicting synagogues built in the 16th-19th centuries and destroyed during World War II. Dedicating the sculpture to her aunt and other family members lost in the Holocaust, Cooper says, “I wish to recall something of significance that was lost, rather than to depict destruction.” The second exhibit, “Every Man a Number: Children’s Art from the Czech Republic,” displays contemporary children’s art made after a visit to Terezin. Museum hours: Mon.-Thur. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Fri. 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sun. Noon-4 p.m. 6006 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For reservations or more information, call (323) 761-8170.

12
Tuesday

o New York-based Israeli artist Michal Sedaka has her second Los Angeles area solo exhibit, titled “Movements,” on view now at BGH Gallery. Co-sponsored by the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles, the exhibit of new large-scale oil paintings displays Sedaka’s transition to an abstract expressionist style while retaining elements of her intimate, figurative earlier work. Tue.-Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Exhibit runs through Dec. 31. Bergamot Station, Building D4, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. For more information, call (310) 315-9502.

13
Wednesday

The Writers Bloc author lecture series tonight presents Mona Simpson in conversation with Christina Schwarz. Simpson is the author of the 1989 bestseller “Anywhere But Here,” the story of a complicated mother-daughter relationship; her latest book is “Off Keck Road.” Schwarz’s debut novel “Drowning Ruth” examines family secrets and the damage done; the book is a recent Oprah selection. $15. 7:30 p.m. Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For reservations, call (310) 335-0917.

14
Thursday

To the delight of the veteran theater company’s admirers, A Noise Within has returned to its original, refurbished, Glendale home. The season’s opener is Thornton Wilder’s classic “The Skin of Our Teeth.” General admission $26; students and seniors $22. Wed. and Thur., Dec. 13-14, 8 p.m. Masonic Temple Building, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. For tickets or more information, call (323) 953-7795. – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor.

15
Friday

Chanukah, Kwanza, Christmas and Ramadan, lost love, feuding families and fast food all play their roles in the Cornerstone Theater Company’s “For Here or To Go?” Over the past decade, Cornerstone’s ensemble members have worked with communities throughout Los Angeles, producing theatrical works with neighborhood residents from Boyle Heights to Beverly Hills, with groups of postal workers, police officers, bus riders and people born on June 30. The eclectic, community based work of the theater company comes together in this comic, musical, verse play. The “bridge” production features performers from 14 Los Angeles communities, testifying to the power of cross-cultural communication. $25. Through Dec. 24. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. For tickets or more information, call (213) 628-2772.

Return to Yiddish


Chava Alberstein has been called Israel’s Joan Baez, and for good reason. Her politically charged folk songs have infuriated and inspired listeners — none more so than “Chad Gadya,” a scathing riff on the Passover tune she wrote at the height of the Intifada.

The song, which declares, “I used to be a kid and a peaceful sheep/Today I am a tiger and a ravenous wolf,” admonishes Israel for perpetrating the Middle East cycle of violence. Back in 1989, it was virtually banned from the radio and led to canceled concerts and threatening telephone calls to Alberstein.

When the chanteuse performs “Chad Gadya” at her Royce Hall concert on Dec. 7, she believes audiences will be more receptive. “The current conflict reminds people that the cycle of violence is still turning and that it can turn against ourselves,” explains Alberstein, a Peace Now advocate who has recorded nearly 50 albums. “It shows us that we must stop the cycle; otherwise, it’s the end of the world and the dream of the Jewish state.”

Polish-born Alberstein, the daughter of Holocaust refugees, arrived in Israel at the beginning of the dream, around 1950. She was 4, and her father, a piano teacher, was too poor to purchase a piano. Instead, he bought an accordion, and little Chava was his first pupil.

At 12 years old, not long after Alberstein was riveted by a Pete Seeger concert, her father brought her a used guitar purchased from a sailor in Haifa. In her late teens, inspired by the American folk musicians who drew on their ethnic roots, Alberstein did the unthinkable in the young Jewish state: She put out an album of songs in Yiddish.

Recently, the internationally acclaimed singer returned to the mameloshn after making a documentary on the last Yiddish poets in Israel. “I felt like the movie was a goodbye to Yiddish, but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye,” says Alberstein, who began writing songs based on Yiddish poems and recorded them with The Klezmatics on a 1999 album titled “The Well.”

Alberstein, who’ll sing excerpts from the CD in L.A., says performing Yiddish songs in Poland has been intense. “It’s a mixture of sorrow and anger and victory,” she explains. “I think to myself, ‘You tried to erase us and here I am again, singing in Yiddish. It never stops.'”

For tickets to Alberstein’s Dec. 7 Royce Hall concert at UCLA, call (310) 825-2101.

Addis in Wonderland


On a sunny morning along the Wilshire corridor, wearing a black leather jacket, director Michael Addis sits on the parking lot patio of Caffe Latte, talking shop over some cappuccino pancakes.”We don’t look very closely as a society,” said Addis, an independent filmmaker in his 30’s. “It’s our job as filmmakers to offer a closer look, especially if it’s comedy.”

Addis’s latest, “Poor White Trash” — starring Sean Young, Jason London, William Devane and M. Emmet Walsh — is the tale of a poor white family that resorts to crime in order to raise the money to send a son to college. Amid a colorful, satirical landscape thriving with desperate characters making wrong decisions for the right reasons, the indie film flaunts Addis’ hot-dogging, high-octane direction and has already received high praise from outlets such as Ain’t It Cool News, IMDb.com and Liz Smith’s column.

“It’s pretty sociological,” said Addis of his film as he sipped his coffee. “I was angry at the way the law deals with the disenfranchised. I was going through some legal stuff, and my father was going through some stuff with lawyers and arbitrators that ultimately destroyed his business.”Indeed, one of the major characters in “Poor White Trash” is a flawed lawyer who gives his young son some crummy advice.

“Most people present the portrait that the parents are wise,” Addis said with a chuckle. “The worst advice you get in the film is from the parents, how you might have to do an immoral act to get ahead and what are the pros and cons of that.”

Addis, who took over a town in southern Illinois in the summer of 1999 for his 25-day shoot, had fond memories of himself and his actors hanging out with the townies to soak up the local color. He recalled one man in particular who approached him.

Addis said, imitating the man’s regional twang, “‘I heard that you were a Jew.’ I thought to myself, ‘Uh-oh,’ and then he said, ‘Would you like to go to temple with us?'”

Michael Addis grew up in Skokie, Ill., where he lived until he was 8. His family wound up in San Diego, where Addis attended university.

“I wasn’t an extraordinary student,” said the San Diego State philosophy major, who also tackled journalism for the school paper and played in a funk band.

While Addis bows down at the comedy shrine of Albert Brooks and Mel Brooks, it was, in fact, another Brooks who had a more direct influence on him.

“Early in my career, I met with James Brooks,” said Addis. “I was inspired to write a script after I had talked with him.”

Everything about Addis is unorthodox, including how his interest in directing began and how “Poor White Trash” came about.

“I was working as a cashier in Price Club. I was a horrible cashier. They wanted to fire me,” said Addis. But instead, they assigned him to do a series of videos on workplace injuries. The films caught the eye of the corporate office. Soon Addis was in charge of instructing the employees of all Price Club stores nationwide.

Believe it or not, Addis didn’t meet Tony Urban, the rural Pennsylvania man whom came up with the story for “Poor White Trash,”face to face until shooting began. In fact, the pair met and collaborated on the whole project online.

“I said, this is an interesting story. Let’s write it,” said Addis. “I ended up doing the final draft. I like being able to work with people with good ideas.”

Ultimately, the appeal of “Poor White Trash” was very simple for the up-and-coming filmmaker.”On shows like ‘Dallas’ and ‘Dynasty’ or any of these shows where we see the lifestyles of the rich, we’re fascinated by that,” said Addis. “I’m was more interested in seeing the drama of the poor, the soap opera in their lives.”

Addis defended the use of the poor-white-trash stereotype as pretty loose and tongue-in-cheek. “The movie’s not against poor white trash. It’s like saying ‘Les Miserables’ is insulting to poor French people,” said Addis. “I grew up in a poor-white-trash area. There were a lot of poor Jews there too.”It’s sort of a stereotype to thinks of the well-off Jew,” he continued. “The idea of like white-trash Jews is actually really funny to me.”

Perhaps the fact that Addis himself once had to live out of his car has made him adverse to all kinds of stereotyping.

“People think it’s easier being a Jew in the entertainment world,” said Addis. “In reality, people say we don’t need another male Jew perspective.”

“Poor White Trash” opens in limited release on Dec. 1. For more information, go to poorwhitetrashmovie.com

Kosher Boom


Kosher consumerism just went up a notch in Los Angeles, with a handful of new shops whose contemporary decor and top-quality products prove that the kosher eye and palate is as discriminating as any other. From imported chocolates to hot dogs that go pop, from Hawaiian fish to scones and tea, Los Angeles can now begin to take its proper place among the kosher capitals of the world. What follows is Part One, a rundown of what’s new in L.A. kosher food. Part Two will appear in next week’s Business section.

Like a Kid in a Candy Shop

Munchies Sweet Emporium, a candy shop and soda fountain, opened its doors last month on Pico, a couple blocks west of Robertson. The smell of fresh waffle cones and rich chocolate hangs lightly in the air, and the peaches-and-cream tile and walls are a subtle backdrop to the real decor: wall-to-wall candy. One side of the immaculate and spacious store is lined with 240 glossy bins dispensing nuts, dried fruit, gourmet coffees, and candies of all shapes and sizes – 3-inch jaw breakers, chocolate-covered everything, bubblegum baseballs, Sweet Tart miniature pacifiers and candy Legos, marzipan fruit shapes, and a full rainbow of jelly beans and gum drops.

Chaya and Gagy Shagalow, along with their partners, Dena and Steve Vojdany, have scoured the world for these candies, bringing them in from all over the country, as well as Italy, Mexico and Belgium.

“The community didn’t have anything like this, and we felt it could use it,” says Chaya, a registered nurse who spent much of her childhood in her parents’ pharmacy and soda fountain. Plus, she says, “we are social people, and we wanted a place where people could be creative, where we could treat our customers like guests.”

Dena lends her creative talent to custom-pack baskets, ceramic or crystal dishes, and novelty containers – pianos, baby shoes, oversize champagne flutes. The custom packages, as well as some prepacked trays, come in almost any size or price range, from a house gift for a Shabbos host to an elaborate gift basket. Munchies hopes also to supply weddings and Bar Mitzvahs with novelty party favors.

Behind the counter, Steve and Gagy – who brings with him eight years of restaurant experience – preside over the ice cream, made fresh on the premises in dairy and pareve varieties. On a frozen slab of granite, toppings are cut into the creamy gelato, adding an element of entertainment to a family outing. There are floats and shakes, hand-dipped caramel and English toffee apples, cappuccinos and a handful of tables and chairs outside at which to enjoy them.

Chaya hopes the place will become a hangout, which is why Munchies will be open till 11 p.m. weekdays and 2 a.m. Saturday nights.

“We wanted to create a store that was welcoming for kids and adults, at a price they could afford,” Gagy says. “We want to be a neighborhood hangout, a community spot.”

Judging from the row of minivans parked outside last Sunday, Munchies is already a sweet and savory destination.

Munchies Sweet Emporium at 8859 W. Pico Blvd. is under the rabbinic supervision of Kehilla Kosher, (310) 777-0221.

Live From New Yawk

It may be opening later this month smack in the middle of Pico, but there won’t be a bit of California to mar the truly New York experience of eating at this glatt kosher Nathan’s, the hot dog shrine of Coney Island. Tofu and sprouts, after all, don’t mix well with Philly steak sandwiches, fried chicken, grilled burgers, and of course, Nathan’s world-famous hot dogs – the official hot dog of Yankee Stadium, by the way.

“These hot dogs have to be grilled on a special grill that cooks them at three different temperatures, so it has the proper pop when you bite into it,” says Barry Sytner, who owns the fast food restaurant with Eugene Brennan.

Oh, and don’t get him started on the french fries. A specially bred potato will be shipped in directly from Maine, and they will be peeled, cut and fried on the premises – none of this frozen stuff for the Nathan’s franchise, which sends out surprise inspectors to ensure compliance with its many specifications.Sytner says New York transplants – whether recent like himself, or those who have been here for decades – have already been pounding on the still-locked door.

Nathan’s in L.A., under Kehilla Kosher supervision, will be the fourth kosher restaurant in the worldwide franchise, along with two in Israel and one in Brooklyn.

And Brooklyn won’t feel far from L.A. in this ’50s-style restaurant on Pico (the original home of Nagila Pizza); the famous Coney Island amusement park where the first Nathan’s opened in 1916 is painted and lit up on hand-carved wood that lines the walls.

Hot dog carts will be available for catering, and there will be Shabbos take out, too. And, says Sytner, New York hours for a New York restaurant – 11 to 11 weekdays, till 1 a.m. Saturday nights.Nathan’s is located at 9216 W. Pico Blvd. near Glenville, 310-273-0303.

Fishing For Compliments

If you thought the kosher seafood experience was limited to trout, halibut, salmon and the occasional ahi steak, visit Fishland on Olympic and Palm in Beverly Hills, where fresh New Zealand John Dory and loup de mer from France await the daring chef.

Simy and Philippe Levy, along with Simy’s brother, Felix Fhima, opened the gourmet store in July, expanding their downtown wholesale business to meet the retail needs of the Westside community. The French family supplies fish to restaurants, including some kosher establishments, throughout the area.”We had a lot of customers who came downtown and wanted their fish cut with our kosher knives,” says Simy, who runs the store. “We had so many requests to open a place on the Westside, so we did.”

Fishland sells non-kosher seafood as well, but don’t let the shrimp and mollusks turn you away. The kosher selection is kept on a separate counter, cleaned and cut with separate knives, and refrigerated separately, all under the supervision of Rabbi Moshe Benzaquen.

And Fishland, stocked to be a one-stop dinner shop, also carries a variety of other kosher gourmet items, such as pastas, French cheese, caviar and desserts.

Fishland is located at 9150 Olympic Blvd., 310-271-2553.

7 Days in the Arts


29Saturday

It’s “Big/World/Fun” time for kids and families at the Ford Ampitheatre. “It’s Good to Be an Ant,” the world premiere of a larger-than-life ant colony, features actors from Kidspace Children’s Museum, Pasadena Shakespeare Company, and the San Francisco Mime Troupe. The “Big/World/Fun” series brings together local artists with groups of national and international stature to create unique family entertainment. Crafts activities start at 9 a.m., show starts at 10 a.m. $7. 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Los Angeles. (323) 461-3673.

Film and animation buffs have a chance to experience the rarely seen works of influential avant-garde filmmaker Oskar Fischinger. The pioneer of abstract musical animation, whose commercial work included the Bach episode of “Fantasia,” is featured in a retrospective of his work at LACMA, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth. The screening also features work by artists and filmmakers inspired by Fischinger’s art. 7:30 p.m. $7 (general Admission), $5 (members, seniors and students). LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For advance tickets, call (877) 522-6225.

30Sunday

An L.A.-style musical take on the ancient Greek tragedy of Antigone is the latest site-specific adaptation from the Cornerstone Theater Company. Originally commissioned by the Getty Museum, “An Antigone Story (A Hijack)” has moved its production downtown to the historic Subway Terminal Building. With original songs and choreography, Sophocles’ tale has been transformed into a story of warring corporate, multimedia and political moguls, who all happen to be members of the same family. Through Aug. 20. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. $15 (general admission), $10 (students and seniors). 417 S. Hill St., Los Angeles. For information and reservations, call (213) 613-1700 ext. 31.

31Monday

“Chick Singers” is Deborah Pearl’s one-woman show about eight different women, each a singer of a different style of music. The show includes popular classic songs from “Over the Rainbow” to “Kol Nidre,” as well as original compositions and characters ranging from an aging opera diva to a punk rocker and a church choir member. Through Aug. 28. Sun., 3 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m. $15, brunch and dinner packages are available. Cinegrill at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd. For reservations call (323) 466-7000.

1Tuesday

Two new exhibitions of film-related artworks are open for the summer at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In the Fourth Floor Gallery, you will find the works of famed watercolorist Dong Kingman, whose motion picture work included the animated title sequences of such films as “Flower Drum Song” and “Lost Horizon.” The exhibit runs through Sept. 24. A second exhibition features more than 50 recently acquired film posters, including originals from “King Kong” and “Citizen Kane.” Posters depicting Ronald Reagan’s acting career are also included. Through Sept. 10. Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. and Sun., 12 p.m.-6 p.m. 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 247-3600.

2Wednesday

The popular Jewish music of RebbeSoul is the main attraction of the free summer evening concert at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The festive concert under the stars features RebbeSoul’s innovative blend of ancient Jewish melodies and world beat music. 7:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m., Audrey and Sydney Irma Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-2401.

3Thursday

Another outdoor evening concert this week features multi-instrumentalist and virtuoso guitarist Celso Machado, bringing the rhythms and melodic traditions of his native Brazil to the Skirball Cultural Center. For even more international flair, Machado will be joined in the courtyard setting by Chinese pipa (luteplayer Qiu-xia He and percussionist Joseph “Pepe” Danza. 7:30 p.m. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500, orskirball.org

4Friday

French director Alain Renais’ 1993 two-part film “Smoking/No Smoking”plays with notions of destiny, examining the various possibilities of its characters’ lives based on the choices they make. The film won five Cesar Awards, the French equivalent of the Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. Then its North Americanrelease was indefinitely postponed. Until now. A daring combination of eight plays by British dramatist Alan Ayckbourn, “Smoking/No Smoking” is presented by The American Cinemathequefor a one-week special limited run, with each of the two parts screening on alternate nights.Aug. 2-Aug. 8, times vary. Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. For showtimes and ticket information, call (323) 466-3456.

Music From Home


On a warm spring evening this month, the boisterous strains of Eastern European music wafted out the window of a large, Spanish-style home in Santa Monica. Inside the high-ceilinged living room, an unexpected sight greeted a visitor: Jewish and Romani (a k a Gypsy) musicians diligently rehearsing side by side.

A Jewish bass player vigorously bowed beside a Romani accordionist playing so fervently that sweat poured from his brow. A Yiddish consultant belted out the Romani anthem in the mama-loshn while a Rom sang the response in his language. In the middle of it all, klezmer maestro and attorney Barry Fisher supervised like a proud parent, jangling a tambourine in one hand as he ticked off the musical numbers on a clipboard.

The rehearsal was in preparation for an upcoming “YK2” concert, “Hot Wedding Music,” which will feature the pieces that Romani and klezmer musicians played for centuries at nuptials across the old country. Before the Holocaust, both sets of musicians traveled the backroads of Eastern Europe, collaborating and competing and performing at each others’ weddings and special events. Some of the tunes have been lost to Jews but are still a vital part of the Romani tradition.

If anyone could bring together 17 top L.A. Jewish and Romani musicians, it is Barry Fisher. His first exposure to the Rom took place in the 1960’s, when he chanced upon a Rom encampment while hitchhiking through a remote part of Macedonia with his melodica. Fisher, who co-founded L.A.’s Ellis Island Band during the klezmer revival of the 1970s, continued his association with the Rom by playing at Gypsy events throughout the Southland. As an attorney, he has been an advocate for their Holocaust reparations and for their right to practice the ancient craft of fortune-telling, which culminated in a landmark case Fisher argued and won before the California Supreme Court.

The upcoming “Wedding Music” concert, he says, merges his interest in things Jewish andRomani. “It’s an exploration of the culture of two peoples who have traditionally been vilified and romanticized,” he adds.

Another native Angeleno, musician Michael Alpert, will return to Los Angeles for concerts of the “YK2” festival. At 46, the violinist and vocalist for Brave Old World is considered one of the pioneering virtuosi of the klezmer revival.

The son of a Lithuanian immigrant father, Alpert grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home in West L.A. He fell in love with Yiddish music through the songs of the workers and the partisans he learned at the school, run by Yiddishist-communists, that he attended from the age of 6. The only child of older parents, he felt a keen desire to help preserve their precious, waning Yiddish culture before it was gone.

His efforts included the co-founding of a band, the Chutzpah Jewish Orchestra, in the 1970s. Brave Old World came about in 1989 to turn klezmer into a Jewish art music for the concert stage. At “YK2,” the klezmer supergroup will perform pieces from its most recent CD, “Blood Oranges,” which serves as a trip to “Yiddishland,” a place that no longer exists in Eastern Europe but is alive in the souls of contemporary Jewish musicians. The album seeks to answer the question, oft posed by Brave Old World members, ‘Where would klezmer be today if not for the Holocaust?’ ”

In another “YK2” concert, Alpert and Brave Old World will share the stage with the Canadian-Ukrainian group Paris to Kyiv, whose forebears came from the same shtetls as many Ukrainian Jewish immigrants. The concert, titled “Night Songs from a Neighboring Village,” is “very moving to me,” Alpert says. “It’s an encounter between Jews and Ukrainians after 50 years and [the] historical wedge between us.”

“Hot Wedding Music” takes place Tues., May 16, 8 p.m., at the Skirball Cultural Center, (310) 440-4666. Brave Old World performs Thurs., May 18, 8 p.m., at Cal State Northridge, (818) 677-2488, and Sat., May 20, 8 p.m., with Paris to Kyiv at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater, (323) 461-3673. An artists’ talk at 7 p.m. will precede the concert. – Naomi Pfefferman, Entertainment Editor

Backstage with Jon Voight at Chabad Telethon ’99


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.”