Hollywood conflicted on candidates as California primary date nears

Steven Spielberg, arguably Hollywood’s most influential citizen, co-hosted a fund-raiser early last year that netted $2.1 million for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.

A few weeks later, Spielberg joined DreamWorks partners Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen in throwing a fund-raiser for Barack Obama, Clinton’s chief rival for the Democratic nod, that yielded $2.2 million.

Spielberg has since formally endorsed Clinton and given the U.S. senator from New York the maximum donation of $2,300. But he has also contributed the same amount to Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, and the primary campaigns of Democrats John Edwards and Bill Richardson — who has since dropped out of the race.

The director of “Schindler’s List” may have been hedging his bets, but a more charitable explanation is that Spielberg, like most of Jewish Hollywood, has been genuinely conflicted in his choice of candidates.

Barbra Streisand, Rob Reiner, Michael Douglas, Bette Midler, and former Paramount chief Sherry Lansing are backing Clinton, but they also have contributed to Obama, Richardson and other Democratic candidates.

Katzenberg and actor Paul Newman are in the Obama camp, but they have signed checks as well for Clinton and other candidates.

“At this point, I still don’t know what Democrat I’ll vote for, I am still learning,” said Deborah Oppenheimer, an Oscar winner for her documentary on Jewish refugee children.

Similarly, director Paul Mazursky noted, “I am leaning toward Hillary, but I wouldn’t be upset if Obama won. The first priority is to find the best person who can undo the damage of the last eight years,” referring to President Bush’s tenure.

With the California primary coming up on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, the time to make up their minds is running out.

Andy Spahn, the veteran political adviser to Spielberg and other top Hollywood Democrats, said, “There is tremendous excitement this year, but also indecision because all our front-runners are so attractive. Furthermore, by moving up the primary date, Californians will finally have a real say in the selection of the Democratic standard-bearer.”

Hollywood loves a new face and talent, which partially helps account for the Obama strength in what has been considered solid Clinton territory for the past 15 years.

More Obama supporters and contributors in the movie, television and literary world include actors Larry David, Leonard Nimoy, Gene Wilder, Rosanna Arquette, producer Norman Lear, ex-Disney chief Michael Eisner and author Michael Chabon. Another author, Norman Mailer, sent a $200 check shortly before his death.

The Illinois senator’s most glamorous fan is actress Scarlett Johansson, who has a Jewish mother and lists her religion as Jewish. Natalie Portman is also reportedly backing Obama.

Lined up behind Clinton are actors Billy Crystal and Fran Drescher, fashion designer Calvin Klein, Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, studio head Harvey Weinstein, talk-show host Jerry Springer and media mogul Haim Saban.

Republicans, particularly Jewish Republicans, have always been a modest minority in Hollywood, and most for now are leaning toward former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, according to writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd, the dean of Tinseltown’s Jewish conservatives.

Actor Adam Sandler has attended a Giuliani fund-raiser and contributed $2,100 toward his campaign. Giuliani’s list of supporters also includes actress Melissa Gilbert and director David Zucker.

Another of his backers is Jon Voight, who is not Jewish but has appeared on many Chabad telethons and has close ties to the Jewish community. An e-mail under Voight’s name has been widely circulated asserting that no other candidate has “closer ties and understands, respects, and loves the Jewish people as does Rudy Giuliani.”

In a class by himself in terms of spreading his support is singer Barry Manilow, who has contributed equal sums to such disparate candidates as Clinton, Obama and another Democrat, Joe Biden, as well as Republican Ron Paul.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the entertainment industry has funneled $386,000 to McCain and $376,000 to Giuliani, with no other Republican candidates listed.

If anything has lessened the focus on politics, it is the drawn-out writers’ strike, which has deeply affected all crafts and ranks in the entertainment industry.

Casting director Margie Simkin reported that some writers are using their enforced unemployment to campaign in other states.

“I have a writer friend who told me he was going to New Hampshire to campaign for the Democrats,” Simkin said. “When I asked him for which candidate, he said, ‘Whoever will have me. I just want to be part of the process.’ “

Cover stories
Brad A. Greenberg:
So Cal Jews’ primary colors are red and blue
Raphael J. Sonenshein:
And now the ‘Jewish primary’ begins
Tom Tugend:
Hollywood conflicted on candidates
Arnold Steinberg:
God, race, and politics
Candidate profiles
Hillary Clinton Barack Obama John Edwards Mike Huckabee
Rudy Giuliani John McCain Mitt Romney Ron Paul
Why I back ______________
Hillary Clinton
By Susie Stern and Steve Grossman
Barack Obama
By Mel Levine
By Rep. Robert Wexler
John Edwards
By Marc Stanley
Rudy Giuliani
By Sen. Norm Coleman
John McCain
By Lloyd Greif
Mitt Romney
By Mark Paredes

Rags for richies, LOL

Rags To Righteousness
Jay Firestone, JewishJournal.com video and fashion maven, covers the sweat-shop free fashion show
An assortment of sweatshop-free clothing made its way down the runway Sunday night, Nov. 4, at the Writers Boot Camp in Santa Monica. Sponsored by IKAR and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), in cooperation with the Garment Workers Center, “Rags to Righteousness” strutted its awareness for sweatshop-free clothing through a hip and stylish fashion show.

With more than 200 people in attendance, clothing vendors set up shop, as community members modeled the clothing for the evening’s guests.

Kippot, scarves, T-shirts, hats, shorts and jewelry were all on display by the various vendors.

PJA program associate Zachary Lazarus described the event as “creating space for the people to buy sweatshop-free clothes, so we can raise concern and act justly as a community in the world.”

While all the items were “kosher,” they were also surprisingly fashionable.

Participating vendors included Justice Clothing, No Sweat Apparel, Mayaworks, Global Goods Partners, Ethix Ventures, Nueva Vida Sewing Coop, Chiapas Project and Union Jeans and Apparel.

For video and more information, visit For more information, please visit





— Jay Firestone, Contributing writer

From The Blog

Laughter is not only the best medicine, it’s also the best fundraiser.

Comedians + Hollywood venue + food + worthy cause + young Jewish professionals = a really successful benefit.

The Jewish Federation’s Entertainment Division put this tried-but-true formula to work for Laugh Out Loud 2 on Thursday, Nov. 1, at the Laugh Factory, and the result was predictably fabulous. It raised nearly $50,000 to send inner-city kids to Camp Max Straus, which is operated by Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters.

More than 250 professionals employed in the entertainment industry, from CBS, NBC, Creative Artists Agency, United Talent Agency and 3 Arts Entertainment shelled out $150 a ticket for a night of shmoozing, noshing and chuckling.

The Federation managed to line up an impressive group of entertainers — Jeff Garlin, Chelsea Handler, Bill Bellamy and David Spade. Chris Kattan filled in for Jerry O’Connell as the night’s host.

Elan Gold rocked the house. The up-and-coming cutie bounded onto the stage with his energetic, edgy Jewish humor.

To top off the night with a little insanity, bad boy Dov Davidoff’s hyper routine had the crowd doubled over with laughter.

In addition to the evening’s fun, 1,000 underprivileged kids are going to have next summer at a camp geared specifically to their needs.

— Dikla Kadosh, Contributing Writer

Bill Bellamy, Chris Kattan, Michael Rotenberg
Bill Bellamy, Chris Kattan and Federation Entertainment Division Chair Michael Rotenberg.

Charlie Rose brought his roundtable discussion to Los Angeles, but not a single member of the press was invited to listen. Only serious bigwigs in media and technology attended an exclusive event at Pacific Design Center to launch a $350 million endowment campaign to expand biomedical research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, William Gates Sr. and Vera Guerin joined the incomparable television host for an intimate and candid conversation before the medical center’s “most generous donors” as a gesture of gratitude on behalf of Cedars-Sinai.

rosalie wise sharp
Rosalie Wise Sharp wondered how it came to pass that she’d be traveling in private jets as the wife of Four Seasons hotelier Isadore Sharp, when both husband and wife were raised in families that emigrated from Polish shtetls with no indoor plumbing. She revisits her childhood and family history in a new book, “Rifke: An Improbable Life,” and recently appeared in Los Angeles at the Four Seasons for a luncheon to discuss her memoir.

Rye Humor

The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Lenny Bruce, Jackie Mason, Woody Allen and, of course, Seinfeld. The history of American comedy is the history of America’s funniest Jews. But while being Jewish and funny has never been mutually exclusive, comedians in days of yore mostly kept their Jewishness offstage. Times are changing, and with multiculturalism comes a new brand of Jewish comedian.

Recently, The Journal caught up with three comics whose Judaism informs their act and whose career informs their Judaism. Cathy Ladman quips about her intermarriage; Mark Schiff brings his comic pals to perform at an Orthodox shul fund-raiser; and Larry Miller views stand-up as Talmudic discourse.

“People think Jews are funny because we’ve been oppressed, but I shake my head very quickly and very firmly at that,” Miller says. “I say, ‘No, comedy is intrinsically Jewish and something Jews are very good at and really right for. Because we’re people of the book, word and thought.'”

Jews don’t lift weights. They ask other people, ‘Would you help me pick those up, please?’

Every New Year’s Day for the past 20 years, comedian Mark Schiff has flown to New York to have lunch with his comic best buddies Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser and Larry Miller.

“We have a club that meets once a year,” Schiff explains. “It’s called ‘The Funniest Men in America.'”

Schiff has known Seinfeld and Reiser since the three hung out together every night in the comedy dives of New York in the ’70s. Like his friends, Schiff went on to regularly appear on “The Tonight Show” (he was one of Johnny Carson’s favorite comics) and to create an act that kvetches about the irritating minutia of life.

He complains about parents, grandparents, his wife. He imagines a set of “unmotivational tapes,” dispensing such advice as “Get a bottle of whiskey and a pie and go back to bed.” He describes the frustrations of shopping at a supermarket: “I can never find people who work in these stores. I was in the meat department. I saw a guy in a white coat –blood all over the thing. I said, ‘Excuse me?’ He goes, ‘I don’t work here.'”

Schiff, an observant Jew, also makes comic observations about Jews. “There are no Jewish bank robbers,” he says. “The reason is that they’d have to say, ‘Put your hands up and get on the floor.’ But Jews can’t handle that. They’d say, ‘No, no, get up, you’ll get dirty.'”

Schiff decided he wanted to become a comedian at age 12, when his parents took him to see Rodney Dangerfield perform stand-up comedy in the late 1960s. “I was mesmerized by all the laughs, the love, the attention Dangerfield was getting,” says Schiff, who grew up in a Bronx sixth-floor walk-up where “Everyone was always complaining and yelling and threatening…I never felt heard when I was a kid. I never felt understood. And I had to find a way to be understood or go crazy.”

Stand-up comedy provided the outlet, and so did Schiff’s first Showtime special, “My Crummy Childhood,” in 1993. “My mother always used to say, “Do socks belong on the floor?'” he recalls, in his act. “I can’t wait until my parents get old and they come to live with me. I’ll say to them: ‘Do teeth belong on the floor?'”

Schiff began his journey to observant Judaism 12 years ago, when an Aish HaTorah Bible class convinced him that there was a better way to fill his inner emptiness than with the fleeting attention he received onstage.

Since then, he has joined two Orthodox synagogues, Anshe Emes and B’nai David-Judea, and he has convinced the Funniest Men to perform at an Anshe Emes fund-raiser. More recently, Schiff, a former staff writer on “Mad About You,” co-wrote an episode in which Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt observe Shabbos — sort of. In the episode, the characters meet an Amish man and are inspired to experience 24 hours without electricity.

“Words are important in Judaism, so I try not to slander anybody in my act,” Schiff says. But gently complaining about his wife is OK. “I don’t see it as LaShon HaRah. I see it as a bit of kvetching so I feel better.”