Who Wants to Be Israel’s Ambassador?


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Quiet on the set,” shouts a production assistant, and silence falls over the fake marble floor of a studio designed to look like a conference room in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel.

As a makeup artist dabs more powder on the forehead of Yaakov Perry, former head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service, the contestants on Israel’s hit reality show, “The Ambassador,” adjust their dark, tailored suits, clutch leather attache cases and eye each other nervously.

The cameras roll and Nahman Shai, the thin, bespectacled former Israeli army spokesman who is one of the show’s three judges, looks up and says in a voice as serious as war, “It’s time to decide.”

The time has come to vote another contestant off of the show, which features 14 young Israelis competing to be chosen as the best person to promote Israel’s image abroad. The show taps into Israel’s desire to be better understood on the international stage, and to replace the army generals and stiff government spokesmen on CNN’s screens with engaging, telegenic young people who might more easily win sympathy for Israel’s side in its conflict with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world.

Shai notes that Israel has been defending its right to exist since the state was born. “The Ambassador” has brought that task into the living rooms of Israelis, who for the first time are discussing such questions as how Israel should best explain its decision to build the security fence to the world at large.

On each slickly produced episode, the contestants are presented with a different challenge, ranging from debating the Israel-Arab conflict before an audience of Cambridge University students to meeting with real-life ambassadors to conducting television interviews with French and Arab journalists.

In between the serious parts, there are also reminders that this is reality television after all, with all the requisite backbiting, scheming and personality politics.

The contestants, all between 24 and 30 years old, include lawyers, business students, an Ethiopian immigrant and both religious and secular Jews. Selected from a pool of thousands of applicants, they are attractive and well-spoken in both Hebrew and English.

Like Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice,” at the end of every episode of “The Ambassador,” the panel of judges kicks another contestant off the show. The winner will be rewarded with a yearlong job at Israel at Heart, a New York-based organization that promotes Israel’s image.

“You watch the way Israel is seen around the world and it hurts,” said Joey Low, the American millionaire who founded Israel at Heart, explaining why he agreed to the producer’s request that he provide the prize.

Yael Ben-Dov, 27, one of the show’s finalists, acknowledged the difficulty of explaining to the world images that seem to show Israel as the aggressor.

“We need to let people see the whole picture, to let people know the facts before they judge us,” Ben-Dov said.

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Iceberg Sinks ‘Race’ Menches


Eleven teams. Thirty days. One-million dollars. Zero bagels. That is what 32-year-olds Avi Scheier and Joe Rashbaum tried to face as one of the teams on the sixth season of the around-the-world reality show “The Amazing Race.”

“Race” teams are given clues telling them where to go and what tasks they must perform. At the end of each episode, the last team to reach the “pit stop” is eliminated — the first team to cross the finish line at the end wins $1 million.

This season, Rashbaum had a goal beyond the money — he planned to be the first kosher guy in reality TV history: “I’m committed to staying kosher even in these foreign lands under these extreme conditions.”

Scheier, who teaches in Brooklyn, and Rashbaum, an ad man who lives in Ventura, have similar upbringings, brains, logic and physical ability. The makings of a great team.

Unfortunately, Rashbaum will never find out if kugel is served in Karachi — the “high school buddies” were eliminated in the first leg (which took teams from Chicago to Iceland) after choosing to search a 7 miles of icebergs for a small buoy and getting turned around on the way to the pit stop.

One team that chose the other option — scaling a wall of ice — were L.A. personal trainers Adam Malis, 27, and Rebecca Cardon, 29, who landed in seventh place.

The formerly dating couple met at a spinning class (she thought he was gay) and say they are complete opposites. While Cardon is social, outgoing and spontaneous, Malis, who sported a faded Jewish singles cruise T-shirt in the first episode, isn’t.

“My biggest fear is that Adam and I will kill each other and will not be able to finish the race because we will be dead,” Cardon said.

Let’s hope this team doesn’t need to communicate with the natives too much.

“[I speak] a little Hebrew, but somehow I don’t think that will come in very handy on this race,” Cardon said.

“The Amazing Race” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.

Reality Doesn’t Bite


Even though 20 million people saw Adam Mesh take the walk of shame and ride the lonely bus home on the final episode of the first season of "Average Joe, " post reality show breakup, Mesh seems to be picking up the pieces very well.

Now he’s turning the tables: The 28-year-old Jewish Joe will star in his very own show, "Average Joe: Adam Returns."

Apparently, the ladies couldn’t get enough of Mesh: Women sent thousands of e-mails and letters wondering how they could get in touch with the mensch-turned-celebrity. Well, now some can — 20 to be exact.

The women, whose identities remain a secret until the show airs, will vie for Mesh’s love at a "dream house" in Palm Springs. The producers, Stuart Krasnow and Andrew Glassman, handpicked the ladies, seeking a grand match for the deserving stud.

"We know him really well," Glassman said, "it’s almost like fixing up a friend."

Raised Reform, Mesh attends temple for the High Holidays, but says that Judaism is not a necessary ingredient for his leading lady.

"Religion is not a criteria," he told The Journal.

Although TV is not the most traditional forum for matchmaking, his family is very supportive.

"My mom is in all her glory, and she sends mass e-mails to all her friends telling them to watch," he said.

The details of the show will be a surprise to Mesh — from the selection of women to the twists and turns for which the show is famous. But now that the world knows about his little fortune — Mesh is a partner in a trading firm in New York City — he is pretty sure that the producers will find a clever way to weed out which of the women is on the show for the wrong reasons. "I have always been a romantic…. What I am hoping for, and I don’t know if it could happen, is that I meet the one person who kind of stops me, and she is the only person I am thinking about," he said.

The program is already in production, ladies, so it’s too late to send in your resume. But you never know — with all the reality show hookups and breakups, he just might be available after the show….

"Average Joe: Adam Returns" premieres Monday, March 15, 10 p.m. on NBC.

Krusty’s Adult Bar Mitzvah


Krusty the Clown never had a bar mitzvah. It’s a startling confession “Simpsons” fans will hear this Sunday when the Springfield celebrity discovers he doesn’t have a star on the town’s Jewish Walk of Fame.

In the episode, “Today, I Am a Clown,” written by Joel H. Cohen, the sardonic Krusty turns to his Orthodox father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky (Jackie Mason), and Mr. T for help.

Now in its 15th season, “The Simpsons” regularly pokes fun at Christianity via neighbor Ned Flanders and Hinduism through Kwik-E-Mart’s Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. However, it’s been 12 years since the show has done anything more than an occasional Jewish aside via Krusty or his kin.

In the 1991 episode, “Like Father, Like Clown,” Bart Simpson studies and quotes from the Talmud to help reunite the estranged father and son. Krusty (né Hershel Krustofsky) was disowned when he became a clown, rather than following the long-standing family tradition of entering the rabbinate (“A jazz singer, this I could forgive,” Rabbi Krustofsky says. “But a clown!”).

Rabbi Krustofsky returns to help his son study for his big day — which he originally opposed for the young Hershel, fearing that he might make a mockery out of it. When Krusty realizes that his show’s shooting schedule has him working on Shabbat, he brings in Homer Simpson as a guest host.

Unfortunately, Homer wins over the audience with buddies Lenny, Moe and Carl and talk of everyday subjects like doughnuts. Krusty, in turn, gets canned.

In a bid to reclaim his audience, Krusty turns his bar mitzvah into a reality TV show, slating the event for Isotope Stadium and inviting Mr. T to read from the Torah.

What else might we expect from a “Simpsons” bar mitzvah? In keeping with tradition, maybe a little “D’oh.”

“Today I Am a Clown” airs Sunday, Dec. 7, 8 p.m. on Fox.

Payback Time


You’ll never find “The Cadillac,” on any critic’slist of top 10 “Seinfeld” episodes, but I don’t care. “The Cadillac,”episode 124 in the Seinfeld oeuvre, IMHO (in my humble opinion, forthose who don’t use Internet shorthand), is the real thing, among theshow’s most authentically Jewish episodes, revealing theuncircumcised heart within a sitcom generally acknowledged to reflectonly callousness, narcissism and an urbane hipness in post-shtetlAmerica. And, in a small way, “The Cadillac” changed my life.

Here’s the plot of the show that ran February 8,1996 as a 60-minute “Seinfeld” special.

Morty and Helen Seinfeld have been worrying foryears about their son’s ability to earn a living as a stand-up comic.Morty, in particular, has suggested over time that Jerry enroll in abusiness internship program or go back to school. Anythingstable.

Now Jerry’s nightclub act really is making it big,and to prove it, he buys his folks a Cadillac. Immediately, the giftbackfires. The car, enormous, obvious, and an egregious symbol ofAmerican success, makes Morty and Helen a spectacle among the formershmatte salesmen and other luftmenschen of their Florida condoproject where Morty is president.

None of Morty and Helen’s neighbors believe thatJerry can afford to buy the car for his parents. Suspicions aboutMorty become so strong that he faces impeachment as condo president,and has to prove to his arch-rival Jack Klompus, that he himselfdidn’t embezzle the money to buy the car. After endless complexity,the Cadillac is returned.

Why did this show make such an impact that myfriends and I were laughing about it weeks later? Just the words “TheCadillac,” has become shorthand to us, indicating a host of familialjoys and tensions which until then had gone unarticulated.

Well, of course, it’s because we’re in “TheCadillac” stage of life too. For what are the 40s in the course of anadult life if not “payback time.” The time of the commandment tobring honor to thy father and thy mother; when we show them who weare. The 40s are the time when parent-and-child stuff finally getssorted out, and the gifts of kindness, generosity and considerationbegin to flow the other way.

But in a way it’s too late. As “The Cadillac”shows, reconciliation is not easy. Jerry’s parents have stoppedwaiting for their payback; Helen and Morty have moved on and nowaccept Jerry as the limited, sarcastic being he has become. TheCadillac means less to them than the respect of their peers.

Moreover, what does it mean to have a son who canafford to buy you a Cadillac? It’s a mixed blessing to be upstaged,diminished in your child’s eyes. For many older “Seinfeld” watchers,writer Larry David is merely updating the wisdom of Lao Tsu: Bewarewhat you wish for, you may get it.

But how ironic it is that only now, when itmatters less to his folks, does Jerry want to please them. Theparents who have eternally been the butt of jokes for their boringstolidity now seem paragons of loyalty and islands of admiration. Atshow’s end, Jerry is bewildered that he can’t persuade Helen andMorty to keep the car. He shrugs, as if to say: see, no good deedgoes unpunished.

For most of “Seinfeld’s” nine-year run, Jerry andhis buddy George (Jason Alexander) have slowly, painfully and withlimited success been working to see their parents as people, not asjudgmental tyrants. What’s striking is the strength of that need;these hardened cynics, who can drop girlfriends and best-friendsbecause they don’t like the way they answer the phone, still feel theumbilical chord strongly attached. In the midst of the “Seinfeld”universe, where people use, abuse and lie to each other without asecond’s guilt, it’s amazing to find an ongoing plot line concerningparents and adult children who try to turn things around.

Another of my favorite continuing story linesconcerns George’s parents (played by Jerry Stiller and EstelleHarris), who are having marital troubles.

GEORGE: Oh my God! You know what I just realized?!If they get divorced an’ live in two separate places? That’s twice asmany visits!

JERRY: I never thought of that.

GEORGE: Imagine if I had to see them both on thesame day? [mirthless] Haha! It’s like runnin’ the doublemarathon!

ELAINE: Hey George, did you have any idea thatanything was wrong?

JERRY: Have you ever spent any time with thesepeople..?

George and Jerry never actually stopped judgingtheir parents. But sometime during this show’s great run, it seems tome that I have.

So if I never buy my parents a “Cadillac,” I have”Seinfeld” to thank for that.

Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist at theJewish Journal. Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.com. Her5-session writing retreat”Writing and Reading for Heart and Soul”begins May 16 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

SEND EMAIL TO MARLENE ADLER MARKS
wmnsvoice@aol.com

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