Once upon a time: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney agree on Israel


Israel had a starring role in the third and final presidential debate last Tuesday night. How big? China, a country of 1 billion people to which America owes $1 trillion and whose military and economic decisions will affect us for years to come, rated 32 mentions. Israel, a country of 6 million people that receives $3 billion in aid from America each year, received even more — 34 mentions, to be exact. The European Union, Latin America, Eastern Europe — in short, most of the rest of the world — got 18 mentions, total. Imagine a New Yorker cover showing a map of the world according to the candidates: There are only three countries — the U.S., China and Israel — with Israel slightly larger than the other two.

It would be flattering, all this attention for one little Jewish state, if it also weren’t so dangerous. The special attention is a direct consequence of what happens when Israel is used as a political wedge issue, a way to peel Jewish voters away from Democratic candidates.

The danger is that instead of enjoying the broad, bipartisan support it has long received, Israel will come to be seen as a one-party cause. In a country that’s frequently split down the middle, that can’t bode well for Israel.

As I watched the debate unfold — and the inexorable Israel question arise — I fantasized the way I’d like to see these candidates, and all future ones, handle it. What follows is that fantasy, in transcript:

Bob Schieffer: Would either of you be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States, which of course is the same promise that we give to our close allies like Japan?

President Barack Obama: You know, Bob, let me stop you there. Of course, I’m tempted to knock that softball straight over Miami Beach clear to Cleveland Heights. But I’m not going to do it.

Because this is what will most certainly happen. I will use the opportunity to boast about how much my administration has done for Israel, and about how much Israel means to me; I might even hum a few bars of “Hatikvah.” And then Gov. Romney will get his two minutes, and he will profess his love and support for Israel, and then accuse me of turning my back on Israel, of putting “daylight” between America and Israel. And then in my rebuttal I’ll call into question his ability to protect Israel, and our parties and our defenders will join in the accusations and defamations, and in all the noise, the American people will lose sight of the most important, essential truth: America’s support for Israel is bipartisan. It is good for America, and good for the world. And it is unshakeable. That is true whether you elect me or Gov. Romney, a Democrat or Republican.

Schieffer: Gov. Romney, your rebuttal?

Gov. Mitt Romney: I agree with the president. In fact, if you noticed when we walked out on stage to your applause, we exchanged a few words and smiled. I said to the president, “I won’t take the Israel bait,” and he said, “I’m with you there.”

We want to set an example for the American people that some issues are too important to politicize, and Israel is one of them. After all, what candidates argue over which party supports England more, or which of us has Brazil’s back? Earlier this year, the Senate passed the bipartisan United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act. The vote was 100-1. In August, the House voted to increase sanctions under the Iran Sanctions Act, by a vote of 421-6. And you expect me to stand here and accuse the leader of his party of endangering Israel? I guess what I’m saying, Bob, is the president and I want every American to know there is no daylight between Republican and Democratic support for Israel.

Obama: Look, this doesn’t mean the governor and I will approach every problem in the same way. And it doesn’t mean that we will agree with Israel on every issue. Anyone who tells you that both Republican and Democratic presidents haven’t had strong disagreements with Israel over the years hasn’t cracked a history book. Ronald Reagan fought with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin over the Lebanon war; Richard Nixon threatened sanctions, and George H.W. Bush denied Israel loan guarantees because of settlements. And don’t get me started on Jimmy Carter. We want a strong, secure Israel living in peace with its neighbors. Sometimes we may even disagree with whatever Israeli government is in power over how best to achieve that — but our genuine commitment and support does not waver.

Romney: That’s why we have both stressed the need for the Israelis and Palestinians to come to some kind of agreement. Presidents of both parties have tried — and failed — to broker an accord, not because we like the room service at the King David, but because we understand the status quo is unsustainable and a peaceful, just resolution is in Israel’s strategic interest.

Schieffer: Outstanding, gentlemen. In that spirit, can I suggest you also pledge to find bipartisan solutions to our country’s economic problems?

Obama: Bob, don’t push your luck.

Baseball Cards: Two Different Stories of Obsession and Fantasy


“Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards” by Josh Wilker (Seven Footer Press: $24.95) is a memoir by a now 41-year-old chronic misfit who relates his journey mostly through baseball card collecting and his worship of his older brother.

Wilker especially enjoyed the cards of the occasional Jewish Major League Baseball player. Wilker grew up with Jewish heritage on his father’s side, but except for the occasional professional athlete who entered his ken, he thought of Jews as World War II concentration camp victims—“thin gray prison-clothed victims.”

Always seemingly offbeat, Wilker grew up with a mother who wanted to live a simple, rural life, so left her urban husband to cohabit with a free-spirited man in Vermont. Finding it difficult to make friends at school or anywhere else, Wilker created a fantasy life built around baseball cards that he bought in bubble-gum packs.

His more athletic, less shy older brother sometimes participated in the baseball card fantasy, other times showed no interest.  Wilker (previously author of three nonfiction books for the juvenile market) related not so much to the all-star players as to the fringe players, those who bounced between the major and minor leagues, or stayed in the majors steadily through persistence and luck, more than overarching skills.

A fan of the Boston Red Sox, Wilker became emotionally attached to one all-star, Carl Yastrzemski, but never dared to hope that Yaz would ever notice. Even into adulthood, Wilker drifted and sometimes depended on illegal narcotics to get through the days. He looked to his brother, his mother, her boyfriend and, eventually, to his biological father for affirmation, but found it only sporadically. Nearly age 40, Wilker finally begins to pull his life together because of the long-time frustrated Boston Red Sox winning a championship , because of meeting a soul mate who would become his wife, because of settling in Chicago, because of making peace of sorts with each of his biological parents, because of re-bonding with his brother, who had also fallen on hard times for a while. 

Those who have never collected baseball cards might find it difficult to comprehend their psychological hold on Wilker. Still, this is a candid, clever account of an extraordinary ordinary life as part of an offbeat family.

Dave Jamieson, in his early thirties now, is the author of “Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession” (Atlantic Monthly Press: $25.00). Jamieson collected baseball cards during adolescence, while the memorabilia craze reached its apex of craziness both in its widespread nature and its inflated prices for those who buy and sell. The monopoly held for decades by the Topps baseball card company ended due to government regulatory and judicial rulings. Companies such as Fleer, Donruss and Upper Deck rushed into the commercial fray, making collecting more complicated and, for those truly devoted, more exciting.

Jamieson’s book, which is about what he terms “an American obsession,” contains elements of memoir. Mostly, though, it is a straightforward history of the baseball card market, which took root shortly after the American Civil War. Back then, the cards accompanied tobacco products. Later, the cards accompanied bubble gum and other sugary treats. Eventually, the cards themselves became the primary sales item. Not all that many purchasers cared about the gum.

Prices guides for baseball cards became easy to find, starting with James Beckett III, a statistics professor from Bowling Green University. The price lists disseminated in Beckett’s monthly magazine and in annual book form gave confidence even to pre-teens to buy and sell without feeling foolish.

Spending time with collectors, retail dealers, auctioneers, museum curators, manufacturers, baseball players and their union representatives, Jamieson cobbles together an interesting examination of a hobby that turned into big business.

Steve Weinberg is a regular contributor of book reviews to The Jewish Journal.

Producer Josephson’s vision for a new fairy-tale princess stars in Disney’s ‘Enchanted’


One of Barry Josephson’s first forays into the world of fairy tales was in an elementary school production of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Although the “Men in Black” producer doesn’t remember which dwarf he played, that glimmer of the land between “once upon a time” and “happily ever after,” started him on the path to creating Disney’s latest film, “Enchanted,” opening in theaters Nov. 21.

In the grand tradition of classic Disney fairy tales, this part-animated and part-live-action musical begins in the fictional land of Andalasia, where a young maiden named Giselle (“Junebug’s” Amy Adams), sings to her woodland friends, meets a prince (“Hairspray’s” James Marsden), encounters an evil queen (Academy Award-winner Susan Sarandon) and gets pushed into a well that transports her to modern-day Times Square, where she runs into a nearly engaged/cynical divorce lawyer/single father (“Grey’s Anatomy’s” Patrick Dempsey). Well, maybe that last part is new to the genre.

“Enchanted,” asks the question ‘what if,’ which is so intriguing,” Josephson said of the script that first came to his attention in the late 1990s.

But bringing a new fairy tale to life turned out to be about as daunting as slaying a dragon. There hasn’t been a new Disney princess since Jasmine in 1992’s “Aladdin.” Josephson said he read the Grimm brothers’ stories and Disney classics in order to give a backstory to Giselle, who believes that your soul mate is the person who can finish the line in your duet.

“What was thin in the original script was: What is Giselle’s story?” he said. “She thinks she understands the world, so [director] Kevin [Lima] wanted to start her dilemma in the animated world. Then she comes to our world, where there is even more put upon her.”

“Our world” was Josephson’s dream come true.

“This movie was a fantasy come true,” said the New Yorker. “I grew up on 90th [street, between] Park and Lexington. It was the greatest thrill on the planet to film there — I really wanted to see the city sparkle.”

And sparkle it does, thanks to composers and lyricists Alan Menken (“Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast”) and Stephen Schwartz (“Pocahontas,” “Wicked”), who third collaboration created a half-dozen new songs for the film: from the sweet opening, “True Love’s Kiss” to the Central Park grand production number, “That’s How You’ll Know” to the incredibly romantic ballad, “So Close” and the new Carrie Underwood song, “Ever, Ever After,” which is already being played on Radio Disney.

However, Josephson said his favorite tune is a nod back to his “dwarf” days.

“I really love ‘The Happy Working Song,'” he said of a number that takes place in live-action as Giselle tries to clean up Dempsey’s dirty apartment (think Snow White). We won’t spoil the surprise by mentioning which creatures show up to help.

And even though Josephson said he doesn’t plan to break into song while getting ready for Chanukah, he isn’t opposed to infusing his life with a little fairy dust: “If you make a movie like this, it makes you sort of joyous,” he said.

The artist Elimelech, the comic David Steinberg


Saturday the 17th

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Fantastical images by female artists are on view at the Finegood Gallery in Flight of Fancy 2007 art exhibit, which opens today. With titles like “Samson and Delilah” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the paintings include imagery inspired by religious and literary works, as well as music.

Feb. 18-March 11. Feb. 18, 1-4 p.m. (opening reception). March 11, 1-4 p.m. (closing reception). 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 885-0430.

Monday the 19th

Two special events for families with special-needs kids occur this week: Today, at the Zimmer Children’s Museum, HaMercaz sponsors a Family Playday that includes a craft activity, play time and pizza all around. (Reserve early, as space is limited.) And, Sat., Feb. 17, at Shomrei Torah Synagogue, “Tefillah B’Yachad…Together We Pray” is a monthly Shabbat program with song, dance, prayers and storytelling.

“Family Playday”: 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. $7.50 (adults), free (children). 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8800, ext. 1251 or sblitzstein@jfsla.org.

“Tefillah B’Yachad”: 11 a.m.-noon. Free. 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 346-0811.

Tuesday the 20th

The golden age of Polish poster art is celebrated in venues throughout our city over the next three months. “Polish School of Posters” is California’s first large-scale exhibit of original work from the 1960s-1980s, an era of award-winning poster art in communist Poland.

The show will include 80 CYRK — Polish circus/art — posters at Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica opening this week; 40 jazz posters at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City, opening Feb. 24; and 40 Jewish posters at the University of Judaism on Feb. 25.

In March and April, Weidman Gallery and Voila Gallery will participate, as well, and film posters will be displayed at Laemmle Theaters in conjunction with the Polish Film Festival LA and the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival. West Hollywood’s Bar Lubitsch and Santa Monica’s Warszawa Restaurant also get in on the action.

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Thursday the 22nd

This weekend offers a last opportunity to catch Mark Kemble’s drama, “Bad Hurt on Cedar Street.” The play about an Irish-American family of characters, each with secret demons, has been well received — as has a performance by Israeli-American actress Iris Gilad, as a mentally disabled adult daughter.

$18-$22. Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., Hollywood. (323) 655-7679, ext. 100. Botox-aided pianist: Oscar documentary nod a ‘gas’

You’re Scentsational!


When a guy — let’s say me, for the sake of argument — is lacking a romantic partner, every bit of attention I get from any woman, even a complete stranger, takes on heightened significance and pleasure. Because I don’t have a wife, girlfriend or lover, a simple smile from any woman passing me on the street is very likely to be the only, and certainly the most intimate, female contact I can expect all day. You might think that’s sad. You might feel sorry for me. And, yet, I accept it. I more than accept it — I appreciate it, am grateful for it — OK, I even treasure it. Yes, that’s right — I often treasure the smile of a woman I don’t even know. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, she’ll both smile and say “Hi,” “Hello” or “Good morning.” So I get to experience both her smile and her voice — double bonus. Triple bonus if you factor in the visual pleasures of seeing her. And a big quadruple bonus if all the above is combined with what is perhaps my favorite of the four elements — her fragrance as she passes by. That’s right, the scent of a woman.

OK, I know what you’re thinking: “This guy’s creepy. Some unsuspecting, innocent woman passing him on the street smiles, says good morning and had the audacity to apply perfume — and suddenly he thinks he’s in a relationship.”

First, in my defense, I’m not quite that delusional. I realize I mean nothing to these women beyond being a friendly smiling face. And yet … sometimes, as that powerful quadruple bonus kicks in — the visual, the smile, the greeting and the fragrance — I’ll close my eyes, inhale that fragrance deeply as we pass one another on the sidewalk, and allow myself one quick and innocent indulgence — the momentary fantasy of what it might be like to be in a romantic relationship with this particular woman. And I would guess a lot of guys do this. Hey, come on, can you blame us? In ancient Egypt, women used perfumed creams and oils as a prelude to lovemaking. Am I expected to wipe that thought from my mind as a woman’s lingering fragrance envelops me as she walks by? Of course not. In fact, if you were to order a transcript from my brain describing a few of these “encounters,” you might find something of this nature….

Sally Citrus — A refreshing fragrance for an energetic, sporty woman. We bond over tennis, hiking and biking. Over the years, we travel to exotic, little-known locations and thrill to new experiences. Eventually, we tire of one another and each drift into a series of meaningless affairs before bidding one another a deeply saddened farewell forever.

Leslie Lavender — A warm and caring scent of a woman who finds genuine fulfillment in giving to others. Together, we offer our free time to a multitude of charitable organizations, and then come home and offer ourselves freely to one another. Our relationship is founded on such honesty that even after she decides to return to her first husband, I share with her my progress on the anti-depression medication I take daily.

Olivia Oriental — A blend of excitement and mystery. Musks and precious woods are complemented by exotic essences. Our lives are luxurious, dramatic, sexy, sensual. We live fast, eat well and drive expensive sports cars. Unfortunately, one of these sports cars crashes suddenly while taking a mountain curve in Monaco, killing us instantly.

Have you picked up on the pattern? Each one of my romantic fantasies starts out with great promise and excitement, and ends disappointingly, if not tragically — just like my actual romantic relationships! What gives? Aren’t fantasies supposed to be all good? Well, I can’t worry about that right now. I’ll let my shrink sort it out. And I especially don’t want the women I encounter to worry about it. To them I’d just like to say it’s not you; it’s me. I’d also like to thank them. For their appearance, smile, greeting and fragrance. And Sally, Leslie, Olivia — to the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world. Even if it is just for 30 seconds — and even if you don’t even know his name.

Comedy writer Mark Miller can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net or at

Sweet Indulgence at Chocolate Spa


The Spa at the Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pa., is every chocolate lover’s fantasy. With bowls of silver-wrapped kisses (certified kosher) seemingly everywhere, and hot cocoa waiting by the fire, it may be the world’s only spa that actually encourages guests to consume the stuff between treatments.

For the truly addicted, a menu of chocolate-themed services fulfill hedonistic dreams of being wrapped in melted chocolate, soaking in a tub of frothy chocolate ambrosia, playing in a chocolate mud bath and much more.

The town, dubbed “the Sweetest Place on Earth,” was built around the eponymous chocolate factory, producers of certified kosher chocolate. The spa, which was designed by the award-winning TAG Galyean and in size from its original 17,000-square-feet in 2004, overlooks beautiful gardens and reflecting pools.

On a recent visit, I warmed up with the Chocolate Fondue Wrap (an hour for $105). Spa-goers are metaphorically “dipped” in a heavenly sauce, then wrapped up to rest like a chocolate bar.

I wasn’t really smothered with melted chocolate but the experience came surprisingly close. In fact, the “fondue” spread on my skin smelled so good, I asked if I could taste it. My friendly female spa attendant warned me off. And a good thing, too. The fondue combines warmed dark Moor mud — rich in organic minerals offering therapeutic benefits for muscles, joints and skin — with the spa’s proprietary scent, the “Essence of Cocoa.” Together, the ingredients simulate the look, feel and aroma of melted milk chocolate.

Great spa treatments resemble a kind of gracefully choreographed performance, and this was no exception. When I entered the treatment room in my cushy spa robe, my attendant explained she would leave while I undressed and draped myself discretely. She quickly returned to exfoliate my skin with a dry body brush to promote circulation, then applied the chocolate mud from neck to toe and wrapped me in a lightweight thermal space blanket — just like the silver wrapper of a Hershey’s bar. She left me to “bake” in the light of chocolate-scented candles and the sound of soothing recorded classical music.

She washed off the “chocolate” with a soothing, multiheaded Vichy Shower, which conveniently swung over the treatment table.

As an encore, she applied a layer of the spa’s cocoa body moisturizer. That left me inhaling the faint smell of chocolate the rest of the day. Armed with the Hershey spa logo skin brush as a souvenir, my skin felt remarkably soft and my muscles and mind relaxed.

Meanwhile, my friend Helen indulged in the Chocolate Bean Polish, another signature chocolate service. This 30-minute treatment ($60) also begins with a scrub — a loofah brush that served as Helen’s souvenir. Next, it combines the gentle exfoliation of cocoa bean husks and walnut shells. And it, too, finishes up with a softening application of cocoa body moisturizer.

The spa offers an array of other chocolate-themed treatments and packages. The Chocolate Dipped Strawberry exfoliates the skin with strawberry seeds and pumice. The Hershey Peppermint Patty incorporates an invigorating peppermint exfoliating scrub. Either treatment is followed by the Chocolate Fondue Wrap. Each combination lasts 90 minutes for $165.

Other favorites include the Herbal Meadow & Sea Scrub, which softens and exfoliates skin using crushed herbs, meadow flowers, sea salt and oils (30 minutes, $60) and the Cocoa Massage (50 minutes, $95; 80 minutes, $150).

Prior to our treatments, Helen and I rested in a lounge overlooking beautiful gardens and a reflecting pool. We also took time out in the scented aromatherapy room, complete with chaise lounges, fruit and mineral water. Later in the day, we were the only participants in what became a private Hatha yoga class on the picturesque, indoor pool deck. We also dined on a kosher fish-in-foil lunch at the luxurious spa restaurant and worked out in the state-of-the-art gym.

To re-create a chocolate spa experience at home, the spa also shares its recipe for the Whipped Cocoa Bath treatment:

Exfoliate with a loofah or skin brush. Then add 1/8 cup Hershey’s Unsweetened Cocoa Powder and 1/3 cup instant nonfat dry milk to your bath while it fills up. Add one teaspoon of the spa’s signature Whipped Cocoa Bath. If you have a whirlpool tub, turn on the jets and enjoy your soak. After your bath, slather on cocoa, milk and honey or peppermint moisturizer.

The Spa at The Hotel Hershey is located at 100 Hotel Road, Hershey, Pa. For information, call (800) 437-7439 or visit