September 26, 2018

Howard Rosenman: Award-Winning Producer Opens Up

What’s it like to be a gay Israel lover in Hollywood? To act with Sean Penn? To be on top of your game at 74? Hollywood wunderkind Howard Rosenman shares his life’s scoops.

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Check out this episode!

Mexodous: Only in Hollywood

Photo courtesy of Rose Auerbach.

A group of anywhere from 10 to 30 people, many of whom have known one another for 20 years, will come together this Passover for their 20th annual seder. Readings will take place from a haggadah written specially for the occasion that will include things like: “This is the bread of affliction. Sometimes it looks like a cracker, but tonight it looks like a pile of tortillas.”

That’s because this seder will take place at El Coyote Mexican restaurant in Hollywood, in what has become an annual tradition known as Mexodous.

Rose Auerbach, a content manager for an entertainment website, has been a regular Mexodous attendee for over a decade and is credited with writing the 15-minute Mexodous haggadah. “That’s Mexodous with a ‘u’ she said, “because tradition!”

Mexodous was born back in 1998, when Eric Halasz and a few friends who knew one another from acting class and didn’t have family in town decided to have their own seder. “But,” Auerbach said, “not a whole seder, because we’ve got stuff to do.”

Hence, the 15-minute haggadah, which Auerbach confessed is shamelessly copied from other sources, “but they’re all credited.” The brevity of the haggadah is one of Mexodous’ defining features. “We wanted to do the whole seder but we just didn’t want to wait three hours to eat,” Auerbach explained.

In its first year, Mexodous was just a handful of friends, all of whom were Jewish, but each year, as the tradition grew, other friends from the acting community joined in, many of whom aren’t Jewish.

“That’s part of what Passover is all about,” Auerbach said. “Getting together celebrating your community.”

“This is the bread of affliction. Sometimes it looks like a cracker, but tonight it looks like a pile of tortillas.” — From the Mexodous haggadah

Why a Mexican restaurant?

“It seemed like a good place to do it,” Auerbach said, “plus the pun [on Exodus] was already there.”

Twenty years in, El Coyote is used to the Mexodous crowd, and the waiters don’t even blink when they see pitchers of water poured into bowls and then salt poured into them.

The “matzot” are indeed tortillas. “It may not be certified kosher, but it’s definitely unleavened bread,” Auerbach said. And if you eat kitniyot (legumes), then you can order the corn tortillas, she added. The herbs are cilantro or jalapeños, the four cups of wine are Sangria. “Although now that Patrón [tequila] has been declared kosher for Passover, we may have to order the fancy margaritas,” Auerbach said. And the charoset is guacamole “because it’s delicious and you can almost build a pyramid out of it.”

Instead of hard-boiled eggs, there are huevos rancheros. “There’s nothing that says the eggs can’t be ranchero,” Auerbach said. Some years, someone brings a lamb shank for the seder plate, but if not, they use beef flautas.

And things “get a little crazy when you make the Hillel sandwich and try to wrap the jalapeño and the guacamole in a tortilla, but that’s part of the fun,” she added.

Also part of the fun are the groan-out-loud industry jokes like, “Moses led his people out of bondage through the Red Sea, just like in the Universal Studios tour.”

Other halachic gems include how Miriam was Moses’ agent, first assistant director and in charge of craft services during the Exodus.

Despite the puns, the short-form haggadah is surprisingly traditional and explains the Passover story in succinct detail. For Auerbach, who grew up secular but whose family always celebrated the Jewish holidays, Mexodous is an opportunity to connect with both her traditions and her friends, especially since her own family moved away from California several years ago. “This really is my family Passover,” she said. “Coming together every year for [Mexodous], we celebrate, we eat … and we pay.”

Indeed, there’s a friendly reminder at the conclusion of Auerbach’s carefully curated haggadah that states: Next year, in Jerusalem, and may all humanity soon be free. Gut yontiff, chag sameach, and don’t forget to tip your waiter.

What’s Happening in Jewish L.A. Feb. 9-15

FRI FEB 9
INCLUSION SHABBAT

Join The Miracle Project and Nashuva for a special Shabbat service in honor of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. Individuals from The Miracle Project, a theater and expressive arts program for individuals with autism and developmental disabilities, will help co-lead Shabbat services at Nashuva, a spiritual community in Los Angeles. 6:30–9 p.m. Free. Brentwood Presbyterian Church, 12000 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. nashuva.com.

CAROL LEIFER AND KEVIN POLLAK

Carol Leifer (left) and Kevin Pollak (right).

Comedians Carol Leifer and Kevin Pollak will unsheathe their rapierlike wits at the Hollywood Improv for what promises to be an evening of irreverent laughs. Leifer is a four-time Emmy nominee for her writing on “Seinfeld,” “The Larry Sanders Show” and the Academy Awards. Pollak began doing stand-up in San Francisco at age 20 and eventually became a regular on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.” Pollak has some serious acting chops, too, with dozens of films to his name, including “A Few Good Men,” The Usual Suspects” and “Casino.” Music provided by writer, actor and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Federman. 18 and older. 7:30 p.m. doors open; 8 p.m. show. $15. Hollywood Improv, 8162 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 651-2583. hollywood.improv.com.

BOOK OF J

Jewlia Eisenberg and Jeremiah Lockwood

Book of J — acoustic guitarist-singer Jeremiah Lockwood of the Sway Machinery and vocalist Jewlia Eisenberg of Charming Hostess — perform the duo’s self-titled debut album. Their folk-revival vibe draws on Yiddish songs of ghosts and police violence, American spirituals and piyyutim (paraliturgical songs) with a queer bent. Expect old-time religion, radical politics, diasporic languages, hard times resolved and destiny fulfilled — plus guests singing along. The “affecting West Coast duo … covers an expansive musical landscape,” The New Yorker wrote of the pair. 9 p.m. $8 full-time students, $10 members, $15 general admission. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

SAT FEB 10
KLEZMER AND BEYOND

Polish cantorial soloists Menachem Mirski and Avigail Geniusz perform klezmer and Yiddish music. On Saturday night, they appear at Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica. On Sunday night (Feb. 11), they perform at Congregation Beth Ohr in Studio City. Accompanying musicians include Yiddish folk singer and cantorial soloist Cindy Paley, clarinetist and accordionist Isaac Sadigursky, and clarinetist Zinovy Goro. Organized by Friends of Jewish Renewal in Poland. Proceeds benefit Progressive Jewish Life in Poland: Beit Polska. Saturday, 7:30 p.m. $18. Beth Shir Shalom, 1827 California Ave., Santa Monica. Sunday, 4 p.m. $18. Congregation Beth Ohr, 12355 Moorpark St., Studio City. (310) 286-9991. jewishrenewalinpoland.org.

’90s BAR MITZVAH DANCE PARTY — PART DEUX

East Side Jews, which calls itself “an irreverent, upstart nondenominational collective of Jews,” invites guests to enjoy all the magic of a 1990s-era bar mitzvah — without the adolescent awkwardness. What’s not to like? 8 p.m. $25. 21 and older. The Box in Silverlake, 1110 Bates Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 663-2255. sijcc.net/east-side-jews.

JEWISH SINGLES PARTY

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a singles mixer organized by Persian-Jewish congregation Nessah features DJ Shaad E Shaad. Persian-style bread, cheese and wine served. Ages 35-55 welcome. ID required. 8:30 p.m. $20 presale, $30 door. Nessah Educational and Cultural Center, 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 273-2400. nessah.org.

SUN FEB 11
JEWISH WOMEN IN HOLLYWOOD: GAMECHANGERS

Celebrating women in Hollywood from Bette Midler to Gal Gadot, a Jewish Women’s Theatre performance and panel examine the evolving role of smart, talented, aggressive and influential women in Hollywood. The morning performance features actress Rena Strober depicting Hedy Lamarr, an Austrian-born actress whom Louis B. Mayer called the “the world’s most beautiful woman,” and who invented a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes. The panel features four women working in Hollywood who discuss those who have broken the industry’s glass ceiling. 10 a.m.–noon. $20. The Braid, 2912 Colorado Ave., Suite 102, Santa Monica. (310) 315-1400. jewishwomenstheatre.org.

“COMING TO AMERICA”

Provoking tears and laughs, local writer and performer Stephanie Satie brings her topical one-woman show to Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC). The show is about 10 women from different parts of the world whose lives have been transformed by their immigration to the United States. Satie shows how embracing life in America can be both liberating and daunting. A short Q-and-A follows. Beverages and Middle Eastern appetizers served. 2:30 p.m. doors, 3 p.m. show. $36 BCC members, $40 general, $50 VIP seating. Beth Chayim Chadashim, 6090 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023. bcc-la.org.

THE JEWISH ARMY TO FIGHT HITLER

Author Rick Richman discusses his new book, “Racing Against History: The 1940 Campaign for a Jewish Army to Fight Hitler,” which presents the previously unknown story of how David Ben-Gurion, Zev Jabotinsky and Chaim Weizmann separately sought American support for a Jewish fight against Hitler. 4 p.m. $5. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1264. wcce.aju.edu.

“CASABLANCA” SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

Celebrated film historian Noah Isenberg discusses backstory secrets about one of the most beloved films of all time, “Casablanca,” including the central role that Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Europe played in its creation. He draws on extensive interviews with filmmakers, film critics and family members of the cast and crew. 4 p.m. Free. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-2401. wbtla.org.

“DRUNK IN LOVE”

The third annual “Drunk in Love” Valentine’s Day Jewish mixer and Midnight Mission fundraiser is an opportunity to meet a Valentine or a new friend, help the homeless and introduce yourself to professional matchmakers Jenny Apple Jacobs of Jenny Apple Matchmaking and Jessica Fass of Fass Pass to Love. Mingling, drinks and panoramic views from the 17th floor of the Angeleno Hotel highlight the evening. Bring items needed for donation to the Midnight Mission, including socks and hygiene products. A portion of the proceeds benefit Midnight Mission. All ages welcome. 6 p.m. $18. West Restaurant and Lounge, inside the Angeleno Hotel, 170 N. Church Lane, Los Angeles. eventbrite.com.

TUE FEB 13
“WHY STUDY JEWISH HISTORY?”

David N. Myers

David N. Myers discusses two of his recently published books. The first, “Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction” (Oxford University Press, 2017), offers a concise account of the entire course of Jewish history in 100 pages. The second, “The Stakes of History: On the Use and Abuse of Jewish History for Life” (Yale University Press, 2018), is an argument for the study of history, and especially Jewish history, as an anchor of memory and an indispensable ingredient for informed civic engagement. Myers is the incoming president and CEO of the Center for Jewish History in New York and is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA. Moderated by Todd Presner. Noon–1:30 p.m. UCLA Royce Hall, 10745 Dickson Court, Los Angeles. (310) 267-5327. cjs.ucla.edu.

“THE JEWISH COMMUNITY IN 2050”

Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion professor Steven Windmueller explores the key factors that will shape American Jewish life for decades to come. 6:30 p.m. Free. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-2384. tbala.org.

“JUDAISM AND THE SELF”

A three-part lecture series examines the relationship between internal Jewish life and external ritual performance, how a religious system relates to the embodied nature of the human condition and how the American-Jewish experience has given rise to new possibilities for individual spirituality. The series kicks off with Shalom Hartman Institute of North America faculty member Steve Greenberg. It continues April 10 with Shaul Magid, a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. It concludes May 8 with Elana Stein Hain, director of leadership education at Hartman. Participants will learn in small groups and pairs. Includes wine and cheese receptions. 7:30–9:30 p.m. $15 per session. American Jewish University, Familian Campus, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (212) 268-0300. hartman.org.il.

THU FEB 15
“LAND OF MILK AND FUNNY”

Avi Liberman

Don’t miss the Los Angeles premiere of local funnyman Avi Liberman’s documentary about America’s stand-up comedians discovering Israel. For years, Liberman has been bringing comedians to Israel on comedy tours to support families who lost loved ones to terrorism. The new film focuses on one of those tours. Featured comics include Wayne Federman, Ralph Farris, Brian Regan and Craig Robinson. 6 p.m. VIP dinner and meet-and-greet with comedians, 7 p.m. film. $25 general, $100 VIP dinner reception and meet-and-greet with comedians. The Writers Guild Theatre, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (213) 254-3162; standwithus.com/milkandfunny.

Man Ray Shows His Hollywood Side

Man Ray’s “Ava Gardner in Costume for Albert Lewin’s ‘Pandora and ther Flying Dutchman’ ” (1950). Photo courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

The artist Man Ray led a productive and celebrated life in Paris, where he was a leading figure in the Dadaist and Surrealist movements of the early 20th century. But that life was interrupted by World War II, forcing the American-born artist to flee war-torn Europe in 1940 and move to Los Angeles, where he lived until 1951, rubbing shoulders with glamorous actors, artists and intellectuals. You can see images from that period at Gagosian in Beverly Hills, where about two dozen of his Hollywood portraits are on view through Feb. 17.

Man Ray’s best-known avant-garde images from the 1920s and ’30s became iconic: a reclining woman reaching her arm toward a giant pair of lips floating in the sky; a woman’s bare back with a violin’s F-shaped holes painted on it; a closeup shot of upturned eyes with glass bead tears; and a woman’s head turned sideways, with her hand holding a carved black mask. He always made a living in Paris shooting for fashion magazines and fashion houses, but upon his return to the United States, he renounced commercial photography in order to dedicate himself to painting.

“He didn’t want to stay in New York because he didn’t want to go back into that middle-class, struggling-artist lifestyle that he remembered from his earlier years. And so he took the risk to go out to L.A. and paved his own way,” said Max Teicher, the exhibition’s curator.

But he couldn’t leave portrait photography behind for long once he entered the world of glamour and wealth of 1940s Los Angeles.

In his 1963 memoir, “Self-Portrait,” Man Ray observed that L.A. “was like some place in the South of France with its palm-bordered streets and low stucco dwellings. Somewhat more prim, less rambling, but the same radiant sunshine.”

“Man Ray really brought art into photographs, portraits specifically, in a way that was unique for the time.” — Max Teicher

Emmanuel Radnitzky was born in Philadelphia in 1890, the oldest child of Russian-Jewish immigrants. In 1912, the Radnitzky family changed its last name to Ray in reaction to ethnic discrimination and anti-Semitism. Emmanuel, nicknamed “Manny,” changed his first name to Man and eventually began to use the full name Man Ray. A true Renaissance man, he explored painting, photography, sculpture, printmaking, film, poetry and prose.

In Los Angeles, he met a dancer and artists’ model, Juliet Browner, whom he married. He had moderate success as a painter, with a series of solo shows, including a highly regarded 1948 show at the Copley Galleries in Beverly Hills. His images of Hollywood stars helped keep him afloat financially.

Man Ray was introduced to the Hollywood elite through patrons such as Walter and Louise Arensberg, and through two of his friends, the directors Jean Renoir and Albert Lewin. That connection allowed him to shoot Ava Gardner in costume for “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman,” a 1951 film that Lewin directed (and Man Ray did some set design for). In his photo, Gardner is bare-shouldered in an elegant sequined dress, looking off to the side, with a playful smile on her lips. A color version of the photo is displayed in the film on her character’s bedside table.

His portrait of Jennifer Jones was taken in 1944, the same year she won the Academy Award for best actress for her starring role in “The Song of Bernadette.” She is wearing a plaid dress, reclining in a chair next to a chandelier and holding what looks like a cross-stitch in progress. That photo, and one of actress and dancer Tilly Losch, were published in Harper’s Bazaar. Other subjects include actresses Ruth Ford, Leslie Caron and Paulette Goddard, and composer Igor Stravinsky.

“They’re very stylized,” Teicher said. “Now we’re used to seeing images like this. You think of [Richard] Avedon. You think of some of the great photographers of the second half of the 20th century. That’s what they’re known for. But earlier, that wasn’t necessarily the case. And so Man Ray really brought art into photographs, portraits specifically, in a way that was unique for the time. And I think he brought that talent to L.A. during these important years.”

Man Ray’s deadpan humor comes through in his self-portraits. “Self-Portrait With Half Beard” shows the artist looking seriously at the camera, the left side of his face shaved and the right side with a scruffy beard. In another, he is sitting and chatting on a street curb on a Hollywood set of Paris with his close friend, the conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp, with a street sign in French behind them.

Only one of the photographs makes a direct reference to the war. In 1945, Man Ray photographed James Roosevelt, the oldest son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt. After working in Hollywood for a few years as an assistant to motion picture producer Samuel Goldwyn, Roosevelt served as a Marine Corps officer during World War II and received the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism. He is photographed in his uniform with military awards pinned to his chest.

Another striking photo is of Isamu Noguchi, a Japanese-American artist and landscape architect who was known for his sculpture and public works, his furniture designs and for designing stage sets for Martha Graham dance productions. Noguchi is shown in profile, his eyes cast downward and to the side in a contemplative pose.

Man Ray, who returned to Paris in 1951 and died there in 1976, did dabble in Hollywood moviemaking, writing for fellow surrealist Hans Richter’s 1947 experimental film, “Dreams That Money Can Buy.” But he mostly eschewed a Hollywood career.

“He was photographing everybody. He was friends with the most celebrated actors and actresses,” Teicher said. “But deep down he was an artist, and he was an outsider.”

“Man Ray’s LA” is on view through Feb. 17 at Gagosian in Beverly Hills.

Rest in Peace Cookie

Last week my remarkable friend Alli passed away. She was a mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, Hollywood superstar, and wonderful human being. I loved her very much and haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of how much I am going to miss her. We knew each other for almost a decade and there is no aspect of my life she did not touch and make better. She was an inspiration to all who were blessed to know her.

Alli taught me patience. She bided her time and waited things to be as she wanted, rather than accept something that was less than she deserved. She taught me forgiveness. She forgave me for things I may not have been able to forgive her for, because she knew it would bring peace. She taught me self-kindness. She would not allow me to punish myself when things out of my control went wrong.

She was an entertainment powerhouse who left her mark on Hollywood. Every person reading this blog loved at least one of her movies. From American Pie to The Bourne Identity, The Hunger Games to Cinderella, Rogue One and the upcoming Han Solo, Alli loved the movies and it was an absolute privilege to have a front row seat to watch her work her magic. She was a truly brilliant producer.

Allison Shearmur was a lot of different things to me. She was my boss, friend, confidant, therapist, life coach, mentor, sister, mother, and sparring partner. We laughed and cried, got along and butted heads. She was my go-to person for absolutely everything. She knew every single thing about me. We kept each other’s secrets and never judged our choices. She was my family.

I worked for Alli for many years, and when I decided to move on to a new job, she said she would not accept my letter of resignation because there was a typo in it, and so it did not count. When I told her I was looking for a husband, she told not to find a husband, but to find an Ed, who was her beloved. When I questioned myself as a mother, she assured me I was doing great and my son proved that daily.

She taught me the importance of spending money on good bedding and pillows. She made me buy something just for me once a month. She valued honesty, kindness, and faith. We shared a Jewish worldview and spent the high holidays together. She respected and encouraged the role Judaism played in my life, and we often talked about our religion. We spoke of wanting to pass our faith onto our children in ways that would inspire them to embrace it.

Alli loved her children, husband, family, home, and career. Allison Shearmur also loved me, which makes me a very lucky girl. I will spend the rest of my life looking forward to seeing her again. I will talk to her often and have her in my prayers always. Our last words to each other were I love you, and she will continue to guide me. I love you Alli, and until we see each other again, I will be keeping the faith.

Eddie Jacobs: Bringing the Holocaust Home to a New Generation

Eddie Jacobs is the co-founder, with scholar and author Michael Berenbaum, of Berenbaum Jacobs Associates, which seeks to transform the “traditional” Holocaust museum — such as Yad Vashem in Jerusalem or the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles — by broadening its relevancy for present and future generations. In this interview, Jacobs, a one-time rising actor on Broadway, explains how this concept is being applied to new museums being built in Cincinnati, Dallas and the Balkan nation of Macedonia.

Jewish Journal: Is there a need for transforming “traditional” Holocaust museums? If so, why?

Eddie Jacobs: The museums you mention are groundbreaking historical museums that transformed the way in which the public views the subject matter of the Holocaust as well as how historical museums may present difficult and complex narratives. To a great extent, the new generation of museums is a result of the success of those mentioned. Ever-expanding interest in the subject, unexpected attendance rates, and visitor and educator encouragement have forced these — and new institutions — to expand their subject portfolio into broader realms.

JJ: If so, how do you visualize this transformation?

EJ: From a programmatic standpoint, it means a broader menu of subjects. Where once just the Holocaust story was told, we now see forays into other atrocities and genocides, human rights, tolerance and civic responsibility. Further, new technologies have been developed allowing expansion of the exhibition palette. Virtual-reality survivor testimony is now being incorporated where students can ask questions of a three-dimensional holographic projection of an actual Holocaust survivor. Virtual “tours” of concentration and death camps have been methodically and realistically constructed. As technology progresses, the challenges facing the educator and museum designer to find a balance between genuine reality and virtual reality become ever more complex.

“New technologies have been developed allowing expansion of the exhibition palette.”

JJ: How do you make the memory of the Holocaust meaningful to generations born after the actual Holocaust?

EJ: The first thing that we must do is to legitimize that question. We always begin our museum experiences with an orientation space meant to introduce our visitors to the journey ahead. At the very top of the agenda is to ask that fundamental question: “Why should I care about this event?” “How does it touch me today?” “I know that it was awful, and it’s very sad, but what relevance does it have in my life and reality?” We answer these questions by saying that the purpose of the exhibition they are about to see will allow each of them to draw their own answers and conclusions to those very legitimate and important questions.

JJ: What are some of your major projects at this time?

EJ: In March, the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia is opening in Skopje on the 75th anniversary of the near total destruction of that community. There, we have the opportunity to tell the story of a Jewish community in existence since Roman times, their special relationship to Alexander the Great and his inclusion in the Talmud, the Golden Age of Spain and subsequent expulsion, Ladino culture, and then the particular Holocaust narrative that befell that community. In January of next year, we will be opening the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum. The first part of the museum is a unique Holocaust narrative which transitions into a groundbreaking exhibition on human behavior and how we all can create a better world. In Dallas, 18 months from now, the Dallas Holocaust and Humanity Museum will open, featuring a singular Holocaust narrative which seamlessly transitions into a human rights exhibition, and culminates in an innovative exhibition called “American Ideals, Reality and Repair.”

There are other projects in the works, but these represent some of the upcoming highlights.

JJ: Among Hollywood filmmakers, you occasionally hear the phrase “Holocaust fatigue” to indicate that the general moviegoer — not necessarily Jewish — may be getting tired of the subject. What is your view?

EJ:  My view is, of course, biased. That said, check out the attendance levels at the ceaseless flow of Holocaust-related movies, books, art shows, dance works, theatrical presentations, museums etc. As stated above, the methodology that we have created in transmitting these stories strikes universal chords. Hence their popularity despite the difficult subject matter. There is also a statement of profound humanity. For in all that darkness, the sparks of kindness and compassion we discover continue to inspire us. And the example of the survivors, in their resilience and grace, elevates us.

Episode 72 – #metoo and the Power to Forgive

On October 5, 2017, only a few months ago, a report published in The New York Times shook the foundations at the epicenter of America’s film and television industry – Hollywood. More than a dozen women accused the hugely successful film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, abuse and rape.

These allegations brought about a wave of accusations against prominent male figures in film and TV. It gave birth to a movement named #metoo and recently another movement named Times Up both aimed at empowering women to speak up against sexual violence and misconduct.

One year before this seismic report, there was a warning tremor. A tremor that was nonetheless seismic for the person reporting. A journalist from the Los Angeles Jewish Journal published an essay titled: “My Sexual Assault and Yours, Every Woman’s Story.” That journalist’s name is Danielle Berrin. Danielle refrained from naming names and instead conveyed her experience, her trauma and the devastation she felt from this once idolized man.

Soon it became clear that this man was the prominent Israeli journalist, Ari Shavit. Shavit apologized, begrudgingly, and stepped down from the public stage. Israel’s media world was shaken to its roots.

Danielle Berrin joins us today to talk about her story, the #metoo campaign and how, after the ashes settle, we might be able to build a better future.

Danielle Berrin on the Jewish Journal and Twitter

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Felix Maximilian, Tel Aviv’s Hottest German Fan

Orit and Felix at a Tel Aviv cafe.

 

Gorgeous/Blonde-hair, blue-eyes (“Aryan looking”)/Over 180 m/Comfortable with intimate scenes.

This was the breakdown I posted on Facebook in search of an actor for my “Sanctified” music video that would serve as a trailer to my new novel, Underskin, about an Israeli-German romance spanning Berlin and Tel Aviv. (Warning: sexual content). No, this was not a ploy to make my art come true, but I will admit to good fortune in having to search for a beautiful German man whom I get to “sexually harass” on screen.

Felix Maximilian, a seasoned German actor who has starred in several German television shows, and who is about to shoot an international television show starring Tim Roth, heard about my casting call via a friend, and he could not resist the compliment. I could not resist his headshots (and body-shots and reel). He would make the perfect Sebastian! (Just read Underskin’s first chapter to understand.)

In between his traveling to Turkey, London, and Amsterdam, we met at a Berlin café, and I realized that he is not only gorgeous, but also kind and cool. Better yet: he loves Tel Aviv, having visited the city already three times, for both work and pleasure. His international agent also represents Gal Gadot, and his current modeling agency is based in Tel Aviv.

Maximilian grew up in the Bavarian countryside in a village named Falkenstein. He knew already at a young age he wanted to be an actor even though in his village “acting” was not considered a profession. In his teens, he travelled Europe and Asia as part of a famous boys choir because he sings, too. Upon earning a BA in Performing Arts from the University of Arts in Berlin, he starred in musical theater throughout Germany. But he set his sights on television and film.

“With my initial experience in musicals, I realized when I went into film and television that Germany thinks in a lot of boxes,” he said. “People warned me the business here is different in Los Angeles where actors are interdisciplinary. I was told here that when you do musicals you can’t be a real ‘actor.’ But I’m glad that I’ve proven them wrong. Germany’s industry is still in developing, but the quality of movies and TV shows are getting better and better.”

Felix is not an actor to think inside the box, which led him to take up an indie gig like mine. The project intrigued him, especially if it meant shooting in Tel Aviv.

“I love Tel Aviv because it’s very similar to Berlin,” he said to me another time over vegan, raw cheese at Berlin’s “Rawtastic” restaurant in which nothing on the menu is cooked. “It’s very free, the people are not small-minded, they’re open, and the food is amazing. It has an alternative vibe which is like in Berlin.”

Maximilian went vegan in the past few months and could not stop raging over his very active Instagram feed about all the yummy Tel Aviv vegan joints he tried. The municipality (and vegan associations) should have paid him.

But while Maximilian is a head-turner in Israel for his “exotic” German looks, he doesn’t think he’s so special– part of his charm and kindness.

“Here, in Berlin, I’m so average. I’m handsome average.”

And people wonder why I love Berlin so much. And he also has excellent taste in books.

“I loved your book,” he wrote me during his travels to Thailand where he sweetly posed with it against his perfect abs on the beach. “I felt stimulated. I laughed. I cried. It made me think and I learned. A must read for all Tel Aviv lovers!”

Hopefully, this is the start of a beautiful professional relationship. Following the shooting of “Sanctified,” he starred in the first of my new webisode series for Achgut.com in which I play Germany’s “shrink.” This first episode of “Germany on the Couch with Dr. Orit” touches upon a theme in my novel: Jewish-German Holocaust reconciliation.

Mrs. Maisel and the Jewish Revolution

Screenshot from Twitter.

I was delighted when “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” won the Golden Globe for best television series — but not for the reason you think. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is as Jewy as it gets. It is witty and humorous and deserves its award. But more than its laughs and giggles, Hollywood — and the rest of us — really need the very serious and timely message hidden in this overtly Jewish show.

We are witnessing a massive cultural shift in Hollywood and Western culture. For decades, abusive behavior and mistreatment, especially toward women, went unchecked. As the most powerful people in Hollywood summarily announced at the Golden Globes, “Time’s up.” The revolution is well underway.

The trouble with revolutions, though, is the extremist nature of revolutionaries. People who upheave society are not just rebels, they are zealots. Average people don’t take on city hall. Hollywood and Western culture desperately needed drastic change, and it took the strength, courage and near-recklessness of incredibly brave revolutionaries to inspire this transformation.

As is often the case with revolutions, initially the #metoo movement brought everyone together. But the subsequent hedging and handwringing by more moderate voices was inevitable. The pushback began. It was then followed by the pushback to the pushback as people quickly retreated from the harmonious center to their partisan corners.

“Mrs. Maisel” embodies the Jewish secret to resolving this vicious cycle.

In the show, 20-somethings Miriam and Joel Maisel are living out their scripted lives along with their two children in 1950s New York City. Everything changes when Joel confesses to an affair and Miriam, or Midge, as her friends call her, kicks him out. As per “the script,” Midge’s parents expect a quick reconciliation, but when Joel apologizes and begs for a second chance, Midge goes off-script and says no. Viva la revolución!

The trouble with revolutions, though, is the extremist nature of revolutionaries.

Midge’s rebellion leads her on a winding road to a bright future as a trailblazing female comic and a strong, powerful woman. The most impressive part of Midge’s personal cultural revolution is that her path is entirely original, yet she manages to include multiple parts of her previous, scripted life in her new life. In other words, Midge does not innovate at the expense of her entire past. She rejects all that is bad in the script and embraces all that is good. Her parents, her family, her fashion, her etiquette, her femininity, her Judaism and her sentimentality are all brought along into Midge’s journey.

In the season’s final scene (mild spoiler alert), Midge confirms her identity is independent from her past but also rooted in that same past when she creates her stage name: Mrs. Maisel. Despite the fact that she is divorcing Mr. Maisel, and despite the fact that she is an independent woman, Midge appropriates the name she was given and turns it into the name she chose.

In some ways, this frames Midge as a moderate revolutionary — a feminist hero toppling society’s conventions, gently. Midge’s foil in the show is her manager and adviser, Susie Myerson. She is the other kind of revolutionary. Susie is completely cut off from her family, she dresses and acts androgynously, and she has enough chips on her shoulder for herself and for Midge. There’s nothing gentle about Susie.

Some may think that a gentle revolutionary is weaker than a scorched-earth revolutionary. But the historic Jewish cultural revolutions of deity, ritual, philosophy, literacy and justice were not scorched-earth revolutions. We validated and valued the past while molding the present to create a better future. We have adapted and adopted from every culture we have visited on our 2,000-year Diaspora journey. We have created Judaisms that are unique to their time and place, interpretations specific to different academic spirits, and rituals that connect us to our surroundings. We are the gentle revolutionaries.

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is the story of Jewish revolutions retold for a postmodern world. To inspire Hollywood’s cultural revolution, we needed scorched-earth revolutionaries. Now, to make Hollywood’s cultural revolution stick, we need gentle revolutionaries.


Eli Fink is a rabbi, writer and managing supervisor at the Jewish Journal.

Smashing Idols in Tinseltown and Beyond

According to the familiar Midrashic legend, Abraham’s father, Terah, was a craftsman and salesman of idols. But Abram (Abraham’s original name) scoffs at the adults who worship idols. Having watched his father make the sausages, so to speak, he can’t worship them.

While Terah is away, Abram smashes all of the idols except the largest one, placing an ax in its hand. When Terah returns, he’s furious. Abram explains that the idols had brawled until one idol emerged victorious. Terah is incredulous: “Idols don’t destroy idols,” he says, “people do.” Abram smiles. “Exactly,” he says. “So, why worship them?” Terah hauls Abram to the royal court of Nimrod, where he is sentenced to death by fire. According to the legend, God saves Abram from the crucible.

Idol smashers are courageous and strong. Many Abrams have emerged from the current cultural crucible. These heroes break false cultural idols. They slay producers like Harvey Weinstein, directors like Brett Ratner and actors like Kevin Spacey. As we overturn boulders, the hideous creatures hiding beneath are scurrying blindly into the sunlight. We’re experiencing a massive cultural revolution — listening to victims of alleged abuse and believing them.

Today’s idol smashers are shaking Hollywood, and its edifice is wobbling. To some, Hollywood is a cesspool of vice run by vile, abusive men. As Hollywood idols are smashed, only debris remains. And the scornful public’s instinct is to discard Hollywood’s art, once beautiful and inspirational.

But there’s a more optimistic view.

Hollywood isn’t monolithic. It’s comprised of more victims of alleged abuse than reputed abusers. For every Hollywood villain, there are many heroes, people who succeed without harming others.

Hollywood also has its superheroes, people trying to change the world.

Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman in the DC Extended Universe. In real life, she stood up to Ratner, who has been repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct. Gadot made it known that she wouldn’t work on a “Wonder Woman” sequel if Ratner were involved as a producer. Warner Bros. responded by dropping Ratner from the film.

Today’s idol smashers are shaking Hollywood, and its edifice is wobbling.

When Jimmy Fallon returned to the “Tonight Show” a week after his mother’s death, he told viewers that his mom “… would squeeze my hand three times, and say, ‘I love you.’ Last week, I was in the hospital, and I grabbed her hand and squeezed. ‘I love you.’”

During the same broadcast, Taylor Swift debuted her song “New Year’s Day,” which happened to include the lyrics, “You squeeze my hand three times in the back of a taxi. … ”

Swift wasn’t a scheduled guest. Producers had invited her to add a special touch to Fallon’s return show, and she agreed without hesitation. When she serendipitously sang “squeeze my hand three times,” there were tears all around. Afterward, the two stars embraced, overwhelmed with emotion. Swift’s brilliant performance and unbridled support for Fallon were heroic.

Drake may be the biggest superhero of all. Performing on Nov. 15 in Sydney, the artist was mid-song when he stopped to chastise a man for reportedly groping women in the audience. Drake’s righteous indignation and public calling-out is the stuff of superheroes.

If you need further reassurance that Hollywood is not a cesspool, see the feature film “Wonder,” a remarkable 100-minute sermon on kindness, acceptance, love and magnanimity. “Wonder” grabs you by the soul and, in the words of Henry Ward Beecher — used beautifully in the film — “carries up the most hearts.” It’s a reminder that no one does inspirational and powerful storytelling better than Hollywood.

One by one, false idols are falling. Morality pundits at Fox News, hypocritical politicians (left and right), Silicon Valley misogynists and Hollywood Neanderthals have been exposed and destroyed.

After Abram smashed the idols, he discovered God, the Creator. Not made of stone, wood or clay, Abram’s God was the maker of stone, wood and clay. Abram partnered with the Creator to teach morality and kindness, and together they changed the world.

We should celebrate the destruction of Hollywood’s false idols, but we should not discard Hollywood and all of its culture. Instead, let’s replace those idols with the Hollywood stars who light up our world with love and kindness.


Eli Fink is a rabbi, writer and managing supervisor at the Jewish Journal.

Israeli, Muslim Women Team to Fight for Equality in Hollywood

From left: Lee Broda, Shani Atias, Noa Tishby, Azita Ghanizada. Photo by Gerri Miller

Stories of sexual misconduct and abuse, workplace discrimination and pay inequality have dominated the headlines recently, drawing attention to issues women face every day in Hollywood. But for women of Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian heritage, there are additional issues of stereotyping and racism that make getting ahead that much harder.

Women Creating Change hopes to counter that through networking, creative collaboration and bridging the long-standing divide between Jews and Israelis on one side and other Middle Easterners on the other.

The new organization, founded in June by Israeli actress-producer Lee Broda, held its inaugural event on Nov. 18 at Los Angeles Community College, featuring a panel discussion, workshops on writing and branding, as well as one-on-one mentoring sessions.

“It’s one thing to talk about empowering women and another to actually make it happen,” Broda told the Journal. “We’re bringing the Arab-Muslim and Israeli-Jewish worlds together to create opportunities, refer each other, hire each other. We’ve connected writers with producers. There already are results.”

Broda acknowledged that “there are issues on both sides” that may make it uncomfortable for some Israelis and non-Israelis to work together at first. “But just by understanding and talking about it, we can be a voice and show our communities that it is possible to find common ground. It’s a small shift that we’re making, but we’re hoping it will trickle down,” she said.

Israeli actress, singer and activist Noa Tishby (“The Affair,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”), the daughter of a feminist mother whose father was Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, never faced discrimination as a young actress in Israel. “It never occurred to me that women can’t do the same things men can,” she said on the panel. “Then I moved to the States, and people wouldn’t even take meetings with me because I’m Israeli and a woman. It was shocking to me.”

Tishby talked about being bumped from a project she created and said she’s been “humiliated and propositioned” in the past. Nevertheless, she said, “It’s important that we acknowledge the difficulties. We will not win all the time. It’s going to continue to be hard. But we should not shy away from trying.”

“We will not win all the time. But we should not shy away from trying.” — Noa Tishby

Actress Azita Ghanizada (“Alphas,” “Complete Unknown”), who was born in Afghanistan, has often faced negative ethnic stereotyping in her acting career. But the Jewish creators of “Alphas” changed her character from Chasidic to Muslim when they cast her. And the character she plays in the forthcoming “Kilroy Was Here” originally was written as Latina but is now a Muslim. She sees both “small steps” as a victory for diversity and inclusiveness.

Ghanizada is encouraged that filmmakers like Ava DuVernay “see things through a differently colored lens” and believes Women Creating Change “is a step in the right direction. It creates an open dialogue between women from different regions of the world,” she said. “We have similar stories based on common threads of how we grew up and what we struggle against. There are way more similarities than differences created by politics and religion.”

Moroccan-Israeli actress Shani Atias, who has a recurring role on “Ten Days in the Valley” (returning to ABC on Dec. 23) will appear in the Starz series “Counterpart” in January. The younger sister of Moran Atias (“Tyrant”) will play the title role in the biblical movie “Jezebel” and star in “The Color Red,” a short film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She’s a founding member of Women Creating Change.

“With SAG-AFTRA, Women in Film, and other great organizations backing us up, we’re already one step ahead of the game,” she said. “The next step would be passing laws and regulations that [state] you have to hire a certain amount of women, and that women have to get paid equally. It has to start with us.”

Gal Gadot is GQ’s Woman of the Year

IsraelI actress and all-around badass Jewess role model Gal Gadot has been named GQ’s Woman of the Year. Gadot joins GQ Men of the Year Colin Kaepernick, Stephen Colbert, and Kevin Durant. GQ has been doling out this honor for 22 years and Gadot is only the fourth Woman of the Year.

Gadot is also in the news this week because according to a Page Six report, she will not sign on for a Wonder Woman sequel unless Warner Brothers dumps disgraced producer Brett Ratner. Warner Brothers denies the story.

 

 

 

Larry David Creates Firestorm After Saturday Night Live Jokes on Holocaust and Weinstein

In a controversial opening monologue, Saturday Night Live host Larry David ignited a firestorm with controversial jokes connected to the Holocaust and accused sexual harasser Harvey Weinstein.

David, of “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” fame, noted the discomfiting pattern that many of the alleged sexual harassers who have been in the news are Jewish. “I don’t like it when Jews are in the headlines for notorious reasons,” he said in the monologue. “I want ‘Einstein Discovers Theory of Relativity,’ “Salk Cures Polio.’ What I don’t want? ‘Weinstein Took it Out.'”

This sent him on a tangential riff, musing about his “obsession with women,” wondering what it might have been like had he been in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. Would he still be checking out women in the camp? He comes up with some conversation starters a person in a camp might use, to highlight the absurdity of trying to think of pickup lines in a concentration camp.

The reaction was immediate.

Many deride the joke as disrespectful, while others strongly hold that we should be focusing our anger on the people who oppress others, not those who joke about that oppression.

See the video here:

 

Larry David Goes One Cringe Too Far

With his appearance on Saturday Night Live this past weekend, Larry David, the undisputed king of cringe-comedy, may have finally crossed a line. It is a symbolic line, admittedly, one that artists draw for themselves both morally and aesthetically.  But it is a line nonetheless.

Of course, it’s not a line David would ever hesitate crossing again.  He’s taken that same devilish step many times in the past—all for laughs.

His monologue on SNL, however, doubled down on a theme that properly deserves to be forever buried and left alone.  That’s what we do with the dead, especially the victims of mass murder.  A certain amount of piety is expected, and one never dreams of desecration with such nightmarish events.

David pivoted from the recently disclosed sexual predations of certain men in the entertainment industry, making the unpleasant association that many of them happened to be Jews, to his own unseemly wolfish behavior.  Apparently, so indiscrete are his sexual urges that he can imagine checking out Jewish women in a concentration camp.  In fact, he gave a national audience a glimpse of David hypothetically approaching an attractive woman with death in her immediate future, and testing out pick-up lines.

Appalling, but perhaps not surprising.  David has been flirting with the Holocaust for many years.  And he keeps coming back, not taking no for an answer, a nebbish with a libido for bad taste.  Except the Holocaust is not a love interest.  It is an unsightly atrocity, incapable of attraction of any kind, and on any human scale.

This is the same man who conceived a Seinfeld episode in which Jerry was making out with a girl during a screening of Schindler’s List.  And another in which a disagreeable fast-food proprietor was renamed “The Soup Nazi.”  An episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm riffed on the Reality TV show, The Survivor, in which a winning contestant squared off at a dinner party with an actual survivor of a death camp, comparing their relative suffering.  In still yet another, a man with numbers tattooed on his forearm turns out not to be a Holocaust survivor, but rather just someone who temporarily inks his lotto ticket number each week so as not to forget.

So much for Never Again.

Yes, David’s entire act is predicated on projecting discomfort in his audience, forcing them to watch characters disgraced beyond redemption.  George Costanza, David’s doppelganger, was an enduring fool of humiliation, placed in recurring, squirming situations.  David took the Borsht Belt and twisted it into a straightjacket of Jewish self-loathing.

In France, the comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala has incorporated crude concentration camp humor (and jokes about gassing Jews) into his act.  And because of such material, he is routinely banned from performing and has been convicted for engaging in racial hatred.  In Belgium, he was imprisoned and forced to pay a $10,000 fine for inciting hatred.  In America, for expressing self-hatred, and mocking the Holocaust, David was honored with guest-hosting duties on SNL.

Of course, freedom of expression is a hallmark of American democracy.  David is merely taking extreme artistic liberties with his comedic imagination—Holocaust survivors be damned.  Moreover, unlike Dieudonne, David is himself a Jew.  Shouldn’t he be given the same leeway African-American comedians receive when their material invokes the “N-word”?  After all, concentration camp victims were known to tell jokes to each other in order to keep their spirits up and maintain their moral survival.

But those were their jokes to tell; they owned the experience, and they weren’t ribbing each other for laughs alone, one skeleton to another.  And there are still survivors living among us.  Isn’t there some gentleman’s agreement about un-ripened events “too soon” for comic exploitation?

And as for France and Belgium, they are democracies, too, with artistic licenses of their own.  They just happen to believe that common decency and a respect for the dead should not be debased for the sake of nervous laughter.

Larry David may have finally gone one cringe too far.  Surely, he didn’t violate any laws, other than the one of nature—with something as supremely unnatural as Auschwitz, go find another gag line.

But after all these years, shouldn’t the Holocaust be able to take a joke?  Actually, it can’t, and what’s more, it shouldn’t have to.


Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist and Distinguished Fellow at NYU School of Law where he directs the Forum on Law, Culture & Society.  He is the author of “The Golems of Gotham” and “Second Hand Smoke,” among other fiction and nonfiction titles.

What We Talk About When We Talk About #MeToo

Actor Adam Sandler said it was a "friendly gesture" that was "blown out of proportion" when the actor recently touched actress Claire Foy's knee on a talk show. Photo via a screenshot.

Since news broke in October of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of alleged rampant sexual violence and assault, women have come out in force to tell their stories of being on the receiving end of unwanted sexual behavior.

As the Weinstein effect has taken down journalist Mark Halperin, former Amazon executive Roy Price, Oscar-nominated writer-director James Toback, and public intellectual Leon Wieseltier, social media has become the site of confessionals.

Nearly 2 million posts have appeared with the hashtag #MeToo in response to a tweet from actress Alyssa Milano asking those who had been “harassed or assaulted” to speak out.

The five-letter hashtag collapsed everything — from rape to crude humor to being stared at on a train — into a single, powerful catch-all category. Any stripe of sexual misdeed was recognized as part of a mass culture of violence by men against women.

Then an Australian journalist named Benjamin Law launched another campaign, #HowIWillChange, with men confessing their deeds and promising to change their ways.

“Facebook’s algorithm are not the way to combat the plague of abuse.” – Sivan Rahav Meir

Law wrote in a series of tweets that men need to recognize they “don’t need to be a perpetrator to be a bad guy.” Questioning allegations, Law wrote, is the equivalent of being a quiet bystander while watching an offense take place.

Men’s #HowIWillChange vows included promising to not interrupt a woman speaking or ask at a job interview how many female executives are with the company, and to shut down catcalls.

Perceived improprieties are now immediately taken up by Twitter. Recently, appearing on a British talk show, actor Adam Sandler touched English actress Claire Foy’s knee.

In the social media whirl that followed, some called Sandler’s act inappropriate and asked whether he would have touched the knee of a man in the same setting. (He had, in a recent interview with Dustin Hoffman). Sandler’s spokesperson said it was a “friendly gesture” that was “blown out of proportion.” A representative for Foy said the actress took no offense.

Sivan Rahav Meir, an Israeli journalist and popular Torah lecturer, characterized the social media approach to addressing sexual assault as dangerously unhealthy.

“Facebook’s algorithms are not the way to combat the plague of abuse sweeping through society, and they may possibly be harmful,” she wrote on her blog.

Rahav Meir cautioned that the indiscriminate outpouring of personal anecdotes may unintentionally normalize sexual assault, giving the mistaken impression that all women have been or will at some point be abused.

“The nonstop flood of heartbreaking stories with the accompanying violence is exaggerated and too intimate,” continued Rahav Meir. “There is a total mishmash of posts between the serious cases of abuse and those of mild harassment as if they are all equally offensive. However, the story of a woman who once had an unpleasant or unwelcome comment directed at her is not in any way connected to a woman who is the victim of a violent assault who requires professional therapy.”

While online indictments of nameless alleged perpetrators may raise awareness, they hold no guilty parties to account and contribute to a “sensationalis[t] and gossipy” exercise, she wrote.

Instead, Rahav Meir encouraged women to work the legal system to crush sexual violence.

Trading sober assessment, exacting definitions and legal action for frenzied narrative and confused terminology can have disturbing consequences. It’s a trend that has been playing out on America’s college campuses.

Shortly before the media were consumed with Weinstein and company, the country’s institutions of higher learning released campus security reports containing three years’ worth of data, as universities that participate in federal financial aid programs are required to do annually under a policy known as the Clery Act.

The reports lack clarity. “Consent,” a word that sits at the core of the conversation about sexual violence, especially on campuses, has no uniform definition in Clery Act reporting. An offense classified as “dating violence” must have occurred while the victim and alleged offender were in a relationship, yet there are no clear parameters for what constitutes a “relationship” — and college students often aren’t engaged in relationships in any traditional sense. “Stalking” is defined as causing “substantial emotional distress” on at least two occasions, but the report offers no specific measure of what that looks like.

Federal reporting that most people don’t look at may not have direct impact on this national conversation but may signal the rabbit hole we have headed down: victims left to navigate a confusing landscape, alleged offenders robbed of their legal right to know what they have been accused of and adjudicators who are unqualified to handle the psychological or legal elements of sexual offenses.

Campuses again offer a useful corollary when considering the numbers. The hundreds of thousands of posts in recent weeks suggest that every woman is the victim of a sexual offense and every man an offender.

As Law, the journalist, wrote, he had to “acknowledge that if all women I know has [sic] been sexually harassed, abused or assaulted, then I know perpetrators. Or am one.”

On campus, an oft-cited claim is that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted during her time in a U.S. college. The statistic originated in a widely disputed 10-year-old survey, but its results have been replicated in surveys by individual universities and in a larger report published by The Washington Post.

Critics cite overly broad definitions and concerns with the reports’ methodologies when disputing the horrifying statistic.

A similar argument already has begun to take hold over #MeToo.

Washington Post writer Lisa Bonos asked those who might be shocked at the number of posts to “consider this: There are far more stories of #MeToos than the number of posts on Facebook.”

Women may be holding back because they don’t think their stories rise to the level of #MeToo, or they may not be ready to share them on such a public forum, Bonos posited. But many more stories are out there, she assured her readers.

Meanwhile, an anonymous writer at the free speech-promoting site Quillette offered a hypothetical breakdown in which he attempted to demonstrate that the internet “can cause an awareness campaign to go viral with millions of posts even if it is raising awareness of something that affects only a small percentage of the population.” In his experiment, 812,500 #MeToo posts were quickly generated if 5 percent of Milano’s 3.25 million Twitter followers participated, and then each of those followers in turn had five friends who posted.

“Of course, this analysis does not prove that abuse is rare; it only shows that the success of #MeToo does not prove the contrary,” according to the author, a software engineer.

Each day, women continue to reveal painful stories of personal and professional lives derailed by influential men who systematically violated them. We easily can be transfixed in disgust and communal shame. But for the national conversation to move forward and force away the lies and grime that have hid sexual assault, it cannot stay boxed into hashtags and tweets.


Rachel Frommer is a reporter with the Washington Free Beacon.

Change? Not So Fast

Harvey Weinstein attending the 'Can A Song Save Your Life?' premiere at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival on September 07, 2013 | usage worldwide (Newscom TagID: dpaphotosthree087710.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

There is great excitement among feminists in America that our culture finally is heeding the voices of women.

Over the last several weeks, hundreds of women — millions, if you count Twitter — have come forward with their tales of alleged sexual harassment, assault and rape, mostly against men who have wielded their power to extort sexual acts. Throughout the media, this was heralded as a watershed moment, and we have since been inundated with grandiose declarations that a “sea change” has occurred in the way we understand and acknowledge sexual predation in the workplace and elsewhere.

The only sea change I detected at this gathering was the fish of the day.

A handful of accused men even faced consequences, albeit not legal ones: Harvey Weinstein was fired from his own company, expelled from the motion picture academy and abandoned by his wife. Journalist Mark Halperin was dismissed by NBC News. Leon Wieseltier, weeks from launching a new publication, was dumped by his financial backer, Laurene Powell Jobs. All this after Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly already had been fired from Fox News, though not without multimillion-dollar compensation packages.

“Our consciousness has been raised,” declared journalist Rebecca Traister.

But I say: Not so fast.

Last week, I had dinner with two high-level film producers, both male, and two women who worked for one of them. The only thing we discussed for three hours was Harvey Weinstein and the sexual politics of the entertainment industry.

And let me tell you something: The only sea change I detected at this gathering was the fish of the day.

Both male producers agreed that Harvey Weinstein is an “ugly, pock-marked, smelly bully.” But a rapist? Not so much.

“Most of the women accusing Harvey made a deal with the devil,” one of them said. “If you go to a man’s room at 11 at night, you know what you’re in for. And believe me, I stayed down the hall from him at the Hotel du Cap in Cannes, so I saw the processional of actresses who knocked on his door at all hours.”

So, I guess sexual assault is permissible if it occurs after 11 p.m.?

Next, I was told “the vast majority” of women accusing Weinstein of sexual impropriety really were trading sex for career advancement.

If that’s true, I asked, shouldn’t more of his accusers be movie stars?

When I puzzled over the fact that so many women would claim abuse if they had made “deals” with Weinstein, I was told their confessionals were born of shame for having prostituted themselves early on.

I brought up the actress Annabella Sciorra, who told The New Yorker that Weinstein violently raped her in the early 1990s.

“I’ve known Annabella Sciorra for many years,” one of the producers said, going on to offer a preposterous claim intended to disparage her.

“If you don’t want sex,” the other admonished, “why would you open the door to a man in the middle of the night?”

Actually, “It wasn’t that late,” Sciorra told The New Yorker. “Like, it wasn’t the middle of the night, so I opened the door a crack to see who it was. And [Weinstein] pushed the door open.”

I also asked about Rose McGowan, who suggested Weinstein raped her in 1997. She, too, was callously dismissed.

And when the subject turned to other infamous Hollywood abusers, I was lectured on how “each year, 2,000 young actresses come to L.A. and they will do anything — anything — to be famous.”

I got the feeling these producers feel like victims themselves, since so many young women must use them for parts.

“It’s called ambition,” one of them said.

“Decades ago, I was desperate to sell a TV show and I slept with the female executive who could give it the green light. So I closed my eyes during the act and fantasized about someone else. We do what we must.”

Consensual sex is the sort of ordeal that afflicts men in power.

But when it comes to women, any objections I made about gender inequity, discrimination, intimidation, subjugation, threats, lawyers and hush money were batted away. Even the women at the table referred to one known Hollywood predator as “sweet.” When I suggested he, too, soon would be outed, one producer got so “sad” he skipped his appetizer.

“It’s a witch hunt,” one of them declared.

And he is scared. Because, just like Weinstein, these two are old guard “dinosaurs” whose era serving as gatekeepers to the entertainment industry, with its attendant sexual perks, will soon become extinct.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

What Should Our Community Do After Weinstein?

Harvey Weinstein attending the 'Can A Song Save Your Life?' premiere at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival on September 07, 2013 | usage worldwide (Newscom TagID: dpaphotosthree087710.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

For a crime as pervasive as sexual assault, the general response to Harvey Weinstein’s alleged misdeeds was appropriately uniform: Nobody was surprised. Or at least, in hindsight, they realized they shouldn’t have been. Men abusing their power is perhaps the world’s oldest professional hazard, and it goes without saying that no culture is immune — certainly not our own.

If the Jewish community hopes to adhere to our golden rule of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, we must articulate a strategy to address the sexual assault and gender inequity in our midst. Among Jewish female leaders, there appears to be a resounding consensus on the form this remedy should take: In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the burden falls on Jewish men to rectify the injustices of sexual assault.

“I think what this whole Weinstein thing uncovered is the need for male colleagues to speak up about these things, as well,” said Rabbi Laura Geller, rabbi emerita of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and the first woman ordained on the West Coast. “What the Jewish community could be doing, which it’s not doing, is really encouraging male colleagues to call out behaviors that they know are wrong.”

Rabbi Sarah Bassin, associate rabbi at Temple Emanuel, attended a rabbinic fellowship conference the week after the Weinstein allegations became public. There, she spoke to colleagues about preventing sexual harassment and assault. She said she focused on the way our desire to be part of the in-group recalibrates our moral compasses, and she implored men in particular to push past the fear of upsetting a friend and rebuke those who make off-color jokes about women.

Bassin, who delivered a sermon about her own sexual harassment in 2014, said she was gratified when a male colleague asked for her advice on how to write a responsible sermon about sexual assault that doesn’t exacerbate the problem.

“The greatest challenge [to addressing sexual harassment and assault] I’ve witnessed over the last week is a proclivity for men to turn toward a defensive posture, to say, ‘Well, I haven’t done it,’ ” Bassin said.

“The greatest challenge [to addressing sexual assault] I’ve witnessed over the last week is a proclivity for men to turn toward a defensive posture, to say, ‘Well, I haven’t done it.’” – Rabbi Sarah Basin

Rabbi Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, said the Jewish community has made immense progress in eliminating the gentlemen’s agreement-like silence surrounding sexual assault among our own. When he began his career as a rabbinical school professor in the early 1980s, he said, it was common to hear about certain rabbis who had a “zipper problem” and were simply moved to another congregation after a slap on the wrist.

In 2000, journalist Gary Rosenblatt wrote a cover story for The New York Jewish Week that revealed three decades of alleged teen sexual abuse by prominent New Jersey Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who later was sentenced to seven years in prison, and accused the Orthodox Union of turning a blind eye.

“At least for the Jewish press, that was a major turning point,” Sarna said. “Earlier, reporters wouldn’t touch a story like that.”

More recently, in October 2016, Danielle Berrin wrote a story in this paper detailing her sexual assault by a renowned Israeli journalist. Ari Shavit, who subsequently named himself as the perpetrator, was forced by media scrutiny to resign from his post at Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

“It’s nothing new that there are predatory men, but what’s changed is the response,” Sarna said. “Punishment has generally been swift and unforgiving.”

Geller agreed that there’s been a profound cultural shift in how we hold men accountable in the Jewish community, and attributes much of the change to institutionalized sexual harassment policies and formalized complaint processes. For example, in 1991, the Central Conference of American Rabbis established an ethics code addressing sexual harassment by its members.

Beyond sexual assault policies, however, is the imperative that employees and staff at Jewish institutions are thoroughly trained, both in the expectations of workplace conduct and their options for reporting violations.

Eli Veitzer, incoming president and CEO of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, said his organization has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and holds annual mandatory trainings for supervisors and staff, where they review complaint procedures and whistleblower policies.

“The challenge is to make sure the issue [of sexual harassment] remains in the forefront,” Veitzer said. “In order to address that, we don’t just train a new hire once and then forget about it. The way to do that is frequency of training.”

Maya Paley, director of advocacy and community engagement at the National Council for Jewish Women L.A. (NCJW/LA), said sexual harassment education is important in the workplace but also needs to start at a much earlier age.

Paley directs NCJW/LA’s program “The Talk Project,” which enables teenagers to conduct workshops at local schools about sexual assault and rape culture. Through her work, Paley said she’s heard many stories about sexual assault among teenagers at Jewish high schools and summer camps.

Paley said she thinks the Jewish community too often is shocked when a sexual predator happens to be a Jew, as is the case with Weinstein and Leon Wieseltier, the former editor of The New Republic, who apologized Oct. 24 after several women accused him of sexual harassment.

Leon Wieseltier.

 

“The worst thing that the Jewish community could do after a story like Harvey Weinstein’s is to say that this is an isolated case and it doesn’t reflect our community,” Paley said. “[Our community] needs to take a hard look in the mirror.”

Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America and creator of the anti-domestic violence website JSafe, said one challenge the Jewish community faces in addressing sexual violence is its minority status, which engenders a fear of tarnishing its reputation in the public eye. Further, the tight-knit nature of the Jewish community creates a reluctance to ruin the names or risk losing the financial support of prominent families.

Moreover, it’s important to note that the vast majority of institutional stakeholders with the power to hold predators accountable ultimately are men.

“We’re still living in a male-dominated Jewish community,” said Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “We can talk around it and make excuses for it, but that is what it is. The way that Judaism is constructed and the way institutions have been led are built around that.”

Sanderson said Federation prioritizes empowering women and creating a clear path for women, LGBTQ individuals and other marginalized groups to achieve leadership positions at Jewish organizations.

By and large, though, it is Jewish women who hold up the mantle of supporting fellow Jewish women who face sexual harassment.

“When it comes to sexual assault, there’s been so much burden on women forever,” Paley said. “Let’s take the burden off of women. We are tired. We are exhausted.”

An earlier version of this post incorrectly indicated Rabbi Sarah Bassin spoke about being  a victim of sexual assault.

Fixing Hollywood’s Shameful Culture

FILE PHOTO: Harvey Weinstein arrives at the 89th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, U.S. on February 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

The past month has seen the near implosion of Hollywood. That’s because of the revelations about mega-powerhouse Harvey Weinstein’s regular habit of allegedly sexually assaulting and harassing women, and the apparent industry-wide willingness to look the other way.

Many on the right have correctly condemned the left’s reticence to talk about such issues when applied to heroes of the left (see, e.g., former President Bill Clinton and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy); in response, many on the left have rightly condemned the right’s newfound willingness to look the other way when its own oxen are gored (see, e.g., then-candidate Donald Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape, the late Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes).

We all should be on the same side regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault. That doesn’t mean that we have to agree to avoid voting for those who engage in such activities (although I have done so and think doing so would be a good rule of thumb); it’s quite possible to openly admit the evils of a candidate and still feel that the candidate would be a better legislative alternative than his or her opponent. It does mean, however, that “whataboutism” is perhaps the worst response to stories of sexual harassment and assault: Just because Clinton did it doesn’t mean that Trump’s behavior is acceptable, and vice versa.

Putting partisanship aside, the question next becomes how to curb such behavior. In this arena, there’s truly only one solution: changing the prevailing societal standards, and naming individuals. The latter is easier than the former, of course — it’s a tragedy that major stars and starlets who knew about Weinstein’s reputed predations did nothing for years. It’s difficult to expect young, up-and-coming actors and actresses to speak out when victimized: Few will believe them, their careers will be ruined and they are eminently replaceable in a city where every barista has a script and every waitress wants an audition. But those who already have established themselves do have an obligation to protect those aspiring actors and actresses from predators.

Why hasn’t that happened?

This raises institutional issues in Hollywood, and the requirement that societal standards change. Hollywood has been replete with sexual assault and harassment from the very beginning. Despite its supposedly feminist credentials, Hollywood has made the general choice to favor a libertine version of feminism — with consent as the only important value — over the stricter version of feminism that decries power relationships driving sexual relationships.

Unfortunately, the first version of feminism hasn’t just won out in Hollywood, it’s won out in society more broadly, pressed forward by Hollywood. Society now condemns any limits on sexual relationships, and sees “consent” as a binary value; transactional sex is just fine, in this view, and cannot be condemned. This makes it incredibly difficult to police both sexual assault and harassment because the same set of facts can be seen as either people doing what they want to do to get ahead, or sexual exploitation. Removing meaning from sex means treating it as a purely physical act, degrading both sex and those who participate in it.

The result: more sexual confusion and less willingness to step forward and condemn egregious conduct.

Hollywood has made the general choice to favor a libertine version of feminism – with consent the only important value.

Here’s what we need, then: some rules. We need to know about — and uniformly condemn — exploitation of women by powerful men. We need to know about — and uniformly condemn — the Hollywood casting couch, which has been joked about for decades and treated as a way of life for that same amount of time. And we, as a society, have to let Hollywood know that if it doesn’t change its ways, we will take action: We will stop seeing their movies, stop watching their television shows. We will not participate in making people wealthy and famous so that they can abuse others, or watch silently as that abuse takes place.

We should listen to and respect women who tell their stories of sexual harassment and assault. But this can’t be just another hashtag campaign. We must have hard conversations because sexual dynamics are fluid and difficult to police. If we don’t, Weinstein will be just a blip — and then things will go back to business as usual until the next Weinstein crops up.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the conservative podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

When Bad People Happen to Good Art

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Bad people can make and love good art. Can good people love bad people’s art?

Judgy words, I know. But certain kinds of conduct bring out the Jeremiah in me.

Harvey Weinstein is a producer, not a director or writer, but entertainment is a collaborative enterprise. Even if the Academy Award-winning women who’ve thanked him from the stage did that from fear of his power, he wielded it over women, men, money and media not only for alleged sexual assault, but also to get movies made. “Shakespeare In Love,” “The King’s Speech,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Lion,” “The Artist”: Whatever favorites of yours the Weinsteins produced, he was arguably as essential to their existence, let alone their success, as their directors, writers and actors.

I realize I’m making Harvey Weinstein as responsible for his output as Roman Polanski, Bill Cosby and Woody Allen are for theirs. I do that to use his disgrace as a prompt to wrestle with the pleasures that art and entertainment can offer even when they cohabit with behavior by their creators that makes you want to throw up.

I admit my ambivalence. Do I have to strike “Chinatown” from my top-10 list because Polanski pleaded guilty to raping a 13-year old? Does still finding “The Cosby Show” funny make me the comedian’s co-conspirator? From its first seconds — that glorious montage, that Gershwin — Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” floored me. But after he left Mia Farrow for her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi; after their adopted daughter Dylan claimed he sexually assaulted her at age 7; after Mariel Hemingway said he tried to seduce her when she was a teenager: Has “Manhattan,” a story about a 43-year old hitting on a 17-year old, now become a symptom, a confession, a cry for help? Or is it just the same movie?

It goes beyond entertainers. I’ve been crushed by enough biographies and memoirs of writers, painters, architects and other artists whose work I admire, but who turn out to be brutal spouses, monstrous parents, racists, fascists and worse, that I’m tempted to swear off their life stories entirely.

One example: I loved “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” until I found out what an anti-Semite T.S. Eliot was. I still don’t know how to process that. I curse how it distracts me from the text. I’m discomfited by the enjoyment I can still get from his poetry. It makes me question the gospel of the liberal arts — the faith that the humanities humanize. If poetry didn’t civilize Eliot, what makes me believe it lofts his readers?

I’ll never forget my first encounter with these words from George Steiner, which led me to become his pupil: “We know that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to his day’s work at Auschwitz in the morning.” If you say such a man is reading or hearing wrongly, you’re begging the question. The problem isn’t misinterpretation; it’s the secular church that we’ve built from the arts. It’s a miracle, not a mission, when aesthetic pleasure makes for moral enlightenment.

Hollywood is a business, not a religion, but its stories touch deep chords, and they shape how we see the world and ourselves. When Oscar winners say that their pictures depict “the triumph of the human spirit,” there’s some unctuous self-congratulation in that, but also a truth. Of course a lot of inane schlock gets made and makes money. Some of it is so violent and degrading that I can’t bring myself to watch, and I fear that it serves as a kind of curriculum for some of its viewers. But gorgeous, uplifting work gets done, too, and though some stories include — may even require — violence, sex and foul language on the journey to their endings, those pictures can move moral mountains.

Harvey and Bob Weinstein produced some schlock and some beauts. Both brothers had awful reputations as people to work for and with. Now, because some 50 women have had the courage to accuse Harvey, we know chapter and verse on being a bully and pig in Hollywood. On that evidence, the soaring movies his name is on did nothing to enlighten or redeem their producer. But it would be a pity if his grossness were to deprive us of the light that those creations let shine.

How the Weinstein Sex Scandal Began a Movement Against Silence

FILE PHOTO: Film producer Harvey Weinstein attends the 2016 amfAR New York Gala at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan, New York February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

‘You Need to Decide’

I used to consider it a badge of honor that Harvey Weinstein once threatened me. By some twisted Hollywood calculus, it sort of meant you had made it.

It was during the awards season of 2012, after I had written a profile of Michel Hazanavicius, the director and screenwriter of the silent film “The Artist,” which Weinstein was peddling for the Academy Awards (it later won for best picture). Not long after the story appeared, I was surprised to receive a note from Weinstein.

“You are a poet of prose,” it read.

It struck me as an absurdly hyperbolic compliment for a 1,200-word newspaper story. But I was delighted that one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood seemed to like my work.

But then came another email, this one from his publicist: “Saw the piece! It’s great,” she wrote, adding, “One smallish thing … can you call me?”

It turned out Weinstein was bothered by one of the quotes I used from Hazanavicius, and he wanted me to take it out of the story. I explained to the publicist — repeatedly — that I couldn’t change the piece.

Then my phone rang. It was Weinstein.

“Danielle,” he said firmly, “this is the first time we’ve worked together. You need to decide if you want Harvey Weinstein to be friend — or foe.”

For 20 minutes, he enumerated the reasons why this one quote would be ruinous to the film, the filmmaker and its chances at the Oscars. I reiterated what I had told his publicist — that I wouldn’t change the quote or take it out. If Hazanavicius wanted to clarify the comment, I said, I could add an editor’s note.

Weinstein became angry.

“Danielle,” he said firmly, “this is the first time we’ve worked together. You need to decide if you want Harvey Weinstein to be friend — or foe.”

I held my ground, citing the demands of journalistic ethics. But that incensed him even more. “You’re a stubborn Jewish girl,” he finally said, “just like all the other Jewish girls I’ve dated.”

Then he hung up.

That mild episode came to mind earlier this month when allegations were made public that Hollywood’s notorious, Oscar-decorated mogul reportedly had spent three decades abusing his power to sexually harass and assault women — most of them colleagues and employees. It surprised no one in Hollywood that Weinstein was a bully — he’s been using his power to intimidate and coerce industry colleagues, from reporters to studio executives, since he first started in the business. Not even Michael Eisner, the former CEO of the Walt Disney Co., was spared Weinstein’s legendary wrath. The reported lengths to which Weinstein would go to get what he wanted were illimitable. No one was immune.

But the revelations of alleged extreme sexual misconduct over decades revealed the extent to which Weinstein’s expectation of complicity and compliance had subsumed an entire industry. Either you were one of his many alleged victims, sexual or otherwise, or you were indifferent to the machinations of a tyrant. It’s only Hollywood, many thought. Anything goes.

Not anymore. The public response to the stunning accusations against Weinstein was swift and nearly unequivocal.

Through the media, long pent-up rage and outrage exploded into cultural consciousness, and a suffocating silence around the oppression of women in the film industry turned into a symphony of comeuppance.

Within days of the initial report published by The New York Times, the Weinstein Co. suspended him indefinitely, and half of the company’s all-male board resigned. When The New Yorker published a second, more detailed and damning report, Weinstein was fired.

In the days that followed, the floodgates burst open, as more and more women — including famous and powerful celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie — stepped forward with their allegations of abuse. An industry whose constitution depended on an “open secret” policy of ignoring and condoning the exploitation of women had finally reached a crescendo: Would it regress into defensiveness or start pulling out its rotted root system?

The reason Harvey Weinstein allegedly was able to get away with his abhorrent behavior for so long is because the perception of his power cowed others into submission and silence. His mythic status in an industry that prides itself on pandering to human fantasy further reinforced the powerlessness of his reported victims. Everyone wanted what Weinstein was selling: dreams, access, wealth, fame. His power was individual, but it also was industrial, supported by the belief that Hollywood’s prevailing patriarchal system would protect the engines of its own existence. And so for too long, his alleged victims and collaborators internalized a sense of helplessness in the face of crassness and corruption. They chose to preserve a poisonous status quo, whether out of ambition, resigned complacency or fear.

Now we can see that Weinstein’s accusers weren’t the only ones “crushed” under the weight of transgression: An entire industry acquiesced to an unspoken rule that what matters is human achievement, not human dignity. Not everyone committed a crime, but everyone sinned. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself; in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

Weinstein, through a spokesperson, issued a statement “unequivocally” denying “[A]ny allegations of non-consensual sex … ”

From Complicity to #MeToo

“I know that everybody — I mean everybody — in Hollywood knows that it’s happening. He’s not even really hiding. I mean, the way he does it, so many people are involved and see what’s happening. But everyone’s too scared to say anything.” — actress Emma de Caunes, accuser

“Everything was designed to make me feel comfortable before it happened. And then the shame in what happened was also designed to keep me quiet.” — Lucia Evans, accuser

“I wish I could have done more. I wish I could have stopped it.”  — executive at the Weinstein Co.

When it comes to encapsulating the most appalling part of the Weinstein debacle, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens put it best: “Of all of the dismaying and disgusting details of the Harvey Weinstein saga,” he wrote, “none is more depressing than this: It has so few heroes.” And maybe none.

In an age of social media self-aggrandizement, it is astonishing how many consciences shrank from the courage to intervene. For three decades, Weinstein’s reported bad behavior ensnared everyone — from his accusers, to his boardroom, to the famous actors, directors and film executives with whom he worked, to reporters who were eager to do his will in exchange for access to his world.

It is a fitting irony that in an industry where everyone tries so hard to look good, so few had the guts to do good.

Weinstein’s reported behavior has been described as “an open secret”: the subject of an Oscar joke, red-carpet interviews, even late night TV. Everyone knew, we’re told. It was “a conspiracy of silence,” as actress Glenn Close put it. So it seems even more unseemly that an industry associated with championing causes and giving charity would abet systemic corruption and then play dumb.

Yet here’s George Clooney on the subject: “I’ve known Harvey for 20 years. He gave me my first big break as an actor.  … He gave me my first big break as a director. … We’ve had dinners, we’ve been on location together, we’ve had arguments. But I can tell you that I’ve never seen any of this behavior — ever.”

Perhaps in a horror story without heroes, the least you can do is act clueless. But with no one to save the day, the burden of truth telling falls to the damsels in distress. Although it is too much to ask to flout fear, trauma, helplessness — someone has to go first.

The reason Harvey Weinstein allegedly was able to get away with his abhorrent behavior for so long is because the perception of his power cowed others into submission and silence.

It took 30 years for enough brave women to break their silence about Weinstein and share their stories with The New York Times and The New Yorker. Our country has a history of brave, lone voices erupting from time to time — from Anita Hill to the women who accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct while he was on his way to the White House. Now the long-sleeping giant is awake. And for the first time, it isn’t one or two or a dozen women accusing one individual, but a rising chorus of women’s voices determined to end the “conspiracy of silence” around sexual assault.    

What the “MeToo” hashtag phenomenon reveals is just how commonplace the experience of assault and harassment is for women in the United States. By press time, the #MeToo campaign spilled over from Twitter to Facebook, where it was tagged 12 million times. Countless people shared their stories of alleged rape, assault and harassment, whether it occurred at work, school or home, during childhood or adulthood, among the famous or not-so-famous. Celebrities America Ferrera, Debra Messing, Lady Gaga and Anna Paquin used the hashtag, as did some men in a show of solidarity.

The outpouring was intergenerational. Even women who came of age in earlier eras finally felt this was the moment to speak up. The Forward’s editor-in-chief, Jane Eisner, told a story of alleged sexual harassment that took place early in her career and the toll silence took on her conscience.

“What if that editor preyed on someone else after me? What if my silence translated into complicity, and what if that enabled harm to continue? What if I’m somehow guilty, too?” Eisner wrote. “That’s the insidious aspect of sexual harassment. The victim becomes isolated in a prison of her own making and unwittingly allows the exploitation to continue.”

Now that so many of these stories are meeting the hot glare of the spotlight, will anything really change?

Philosopher Edmund Burke famously said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” But it is a failure of imagination to imbue only men with moral will. To right the wrongs in our society and in our world, women also must be elevated and empowered to live in accordance with their conscience.

From Trauma to Teshuvah

I felt trapped. … I was very afraid of him. … I opened the door terrified. …

The most excruciating and uncomfortable hour of my life. … I was so horrified. … He overpowered me. … I was disgusted with myself. … I had eating problems for years. … I have nightmares about him. … Just talking to you about it, my whole body is shaking. … I’ve been damaged.  — statements from Weinstein’s accusers, cited in The New Yorker

“I think now is the right time, in this current climate, for the truth.” — former executive, the Weinstein Co.

The reign of Harvey the Great is over. And to the others just like him: Beware. Hell hath no fury like millions of women scorned.

As Hollywood stories go, the Weinstein saga is by every measure a tragedy.

Today, tomorrow, the next day will bring another news cycle, perhaps a new alleged predator unmasked, but this story will never be over for the women who lived it; their suffering is irreparable. The feelings of pain, violation and helplessness inflicted upon them is something they must live with. It is no small triumph that an alleged abuser of power has been brought low, but Weinstein is one accused perpetrator in a world of many. Just because he finally was outed doesn’t mean the trauma ends for his reported victims, or change the fact that the world these women inhabited was unsafe and unfair.

What the public revelation of Weinstein’s reported pestiferous behavior brought into harsh relief is that he is not alone.

“Mr. Weinstein may be the most powerful man in Hollywood to be revealed as a predator, but he’s certainly not the only one who has been allowed to run wild,” writer and actress Lena Dunham wrote in The New York Times. “His behavior, silently co-signed for decades by employees and collaborators, is a microcosm of what has been happening in Hollywood since always and of what workplace harassment looks like for women everywhere.”

Actress and director Sarah Polley wrote that she gave up acting nearly 10 years ago because she grew tired of feeling “humiliated, violated, [and] dismissed” on set.

“It wasn’t worth it to me,” she wrote in the Times, “to open my heart and make myself so vulnerable in an industry that makes its disdain for women evident everywhere I turn.”

Hollywood, as an industry, is culpable. But so are we. And it on us to ensure that Weinstein and Hollywood do not become the sole scapegoats for a more pervasive problem, one that cuts across industries, communities and political aisles. If our whole society is sick, then our whole society must atone and reform.

Calls for institutional change are beginning. Some are urging Hollywood’s talent agencies to institute policies forbidding professional meetings in hotel rooms; others are calling on the guilds to defend and protect industry workers who come forward with accusations of harassment.

Most notably, however, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences board of governors voted to expel Weinstein from the academy, citing a new no-tolerance policy.

“[T]he era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over,” read the academy’s statement.

It is now up to those who averted their eyes from this problem to end the dark legacy of “the casting couch” in all of its ugly iterations. There should be no impunity for those who flout the rules of basic human decency. The epidemic of bullying and intimidating women; of using sexual violence to diminish or suppress them; of extracting sexual favors in exchange for career advancement needs to end not only in Hollywood, but in all halls of power.

It is time for a cultural cheshbon ha-nefesh (accounting of the soul) to account for the state of our soullessness.

“We need to look at ourselves,” Polley wrote. “What have we been willing to accept, out of fear, helplessness, a sense that things can’t be changed? What else are we turning a blind eye to, in all aspects of our lives? What else have we accepted that, somewhere within us, we know is deeply unacceptable? And what, now, will we do about it?”

The reign of Harvey the Great is over. And to the others just like him: Beware. Hell hath no fury like millions of women scorned. 

Where Were the Liberals When Weinstein Betrayed Them?

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

When I first heard about the Harvey Weinstein scandal, my initial reflex was to see it through a Jewish lens: Oh no, I thought, not another Jewish scandal. As anti-Semitism reaches a tipping point, this is the last thing we need.

And then I read The New York Times story detailing three decades of sexual misconduct, and the stories that have come out since then. Sickening stories that, as a woman and as a mother, make my blood boil. Stories that would make me sever ties with a man who was capable of just one of them, let alone dozens. Stories that have apparently been an “open secret” in Hollywood for years.

As an outsider looking in, I am dumbfounded that the women of Hollywood, the women of the Democratic Party, would keep silent about these transgressions. For what? His money? His glamorous parties? His ability to “make your career”? After a certain point, you don’t get to claim that you’re a feminist, that you support women’s rights, if you know that there is a very powerful man destroying the emotional fortitude of young women on a daily basis.

As an independent, I have no dog in the Democrat versus Republican hyper-partisan mega-fight. Both sides play up the scandals of the other side, and play down the scandals on their own side.

But as a liberal, as a feminist, I care about women subjected to repeated abuse — verbal, physical, psychological, sexual. And so I ask the liberal women of Hollywood: How could you let this happen for three decades? I ask Hillary Clinton: How could you take money from this man?

I ask the liberal establishment: How could you allow your hatred of the GOP — and we’re talking pre-Trump here — to undermine your ability to honor your own principles? To stop you from stopping Weinstein from scarring yet another young woman’s life?

We have come to over-politicize nearly everything. If it’s bad for the other side, we go hysterical. If it’s bad for our side, we stay quiet. If the abuser is a right-winger like Bill O’Reilly, the left goes ballistic. If it’s a Democratic lion like Harvey Weinstein, it goes silent.

Perhaps the ugliest episode of the Weinstein saga is that, according to a report by Sharon Waxman at The Wrap, the Times gutted a story on Weinstein’s sexual misconduct in 2004, after coming under pressure from Weinstein and his liberal Hollywood pals. How many women would have been spared the scars of sexual abuse had this predator been called out earlier?

While the Times’ explosive piece on Weinstein should be applauded, the “paper of record” was one of his enablers. “So pardon me,” Waxman writes, “for having a deeply ambivalent response about the current heroism of the Times.”

There’s nothing ambivalent or partisan about the moral depravity of using power to abuse women. To its credit, the Times published an op-ed by Bari Weiss that nails this point: “Will Liberals Give Weinstein the O’Reilly Treatment?” In her piece, Weiss notes that “prominent feminists like Gloria Steinem didn’t waste any time discarding sexual harassment guidelines when it came to Bill Clinton’s sexual predations as president. Principle rapidly gave way to partisanship and political opportunism.”

The one good that can come from all this is a deep self-reflection on the part of everyone who knew what was going on but chose to remain silent. Some liberals, like Meryl Streep and Lena Dunham, have begun to speak up. Of course, now that Weinstein’s star has dimmed, it’s a lot easier to show outrage.

Streep, who has worked with Weinstein for years, says she didn’t know anything about the overt daily harassment — he was known for throwing tables at employees when he was angry — and huge financial settlements. Perhaps she didn’t. But with her statement of outrage, Streep now can go back to attacking the right for its moral failings.

To redeem politics and scale back the cynicism that is corroding our discourse, both sides must choose moral principles over politics. We can’t hate “the other party” more than we hate sexual predators or Islamic terrorists. Every time we put politics ahead of what’s obviously right, we put another nail in the political coffin.

We’re running out of nails.  


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and curator. Author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday), her writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

Episode 47 – From Game of Thrones to Genius, Ania Bukstein is taking on Hollywood

“When Game of Thrones aired last year, I went to L.A […] and I met the casting team for Genius. And she told me: Listen, I have an audition for you. And I taped for Mileva, for his [Einstein’s] wife. Then, a week after, I got a phone call: come to London to meet Ron Howard. […] I met with Ron and I read for him and I didn’t get the part. I cried for a month… Maybe two.”

Not too many people can write Game of Thrones on their acting resume, and probably only one Israeli. Anya Bukstein grew up in Moscow in the time of the USSR. She moved to Israel with her parents at age 8 and began her acting career at age 12 with her performance in the Israeli film A New Country – a performance for which she was nominated for an Ophir Award, Israel’s most prestigious acting accolade. Since then, Anya has had quite a few acting gigs, both on stage and on the screen, most recently performing alongside Jeffery Rush in National Geographic’s Genius, a drama series about the life of Albert Einstein.

Singing and playing the piano since childhood, Ania decided to expand beyond the screen and in 2013 she released 8 tracks on her eponymously named debut album. She’s released a few successful singles with world renowned DJ Offer Nissim and she’s now finishing up her second album.

Today we’re talking to Anya Bukstein and we’ll try to steer clear of any Game of Thrones spoilers.

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Could Gal Gadot become the biggest Israeli superstar ever?

Gal Gadot in the 2017 film “Wonder Woman.” Photo by Clay Enos/DC Comics

Try to think of the most famous Israelis in history. Not necessarily the most consequential or “important” ones — like any number of Nobel Prize winners or behind-the-scenes Middle East peace deal negotiators — but those who are most universally recognizable.

Most lists would likely include a pioneering role model (Golda Meir), a supermodel who once dated Leonardo DiCaprio (Bar Refaeli), its seeming prime minister for life (Benjamin Netanyahu), a politician with crazy hair (David Ben-Gurion), a war hero with a pirate-style eye patch (Moshe Dayan) and a virtuoso violinist (Itzhak Perlman).

Some might even mistakenly include a fictional character — Ziva David, the former Mossad agent on “NCIS,” America’s most-watched TV show, who is played by a Chilean actress.

But a new name may soon go at the very top of the list: Gal Gadot (pronounced “gahl gah-DOTE”).

The actress and model is set to star in the upcoming remake of “Wonder Woman,” a film based on the legendary DC Comics series that hits U.S. theaters June 2.

[MORE: Why casting Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman really matters]

Starring in the average Hollywood superhero blockbuster instantly makes any actor an international sensation — but this isn’t your average superhero flick. “Wonder Woman,” featuring one of the few iconic female superheroes, carries the kind of symbolic weight that could turn Gadot into a global feminist torch-holder for decades to come. (That’s assuming the movie doesn’t tank, that she’ll continue to appear in sequels, and that feminists will accept a role model whose everyday outfit is essentially a one-piece bathing suit.)

For those who don’t know her yet, Gadot, 32, has long been a household name in Israel, where she has been a supermodel since winning the Miss Israel pageant at 18 in 2004. Unlike Refaeli, the famed Israeli model she is often compared to, Gadot is known, too, for carrying out her mandatory two years of military service in the Israel Defense Forces. And if you’re wondering: Yes, she is married (to Israeli real estate businessman Yaron Versano).

Gadot scored a part as an ex-Mossad agent in the fourth film of “The Fast and the Furious” franchise in 2009 — in part, she has said, because director Justin Lin was impressed with her military experience. Since then she has had a few other small roles in Hollywood films, such as “Date Night” (starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey). Her first appearance as Princess Diana of Themyscira (Wonder Woman’s real name) came in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” starring Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill in 2016.

Gadot, 32, shown in a scene from “Wonder Woman.” Photo by Alex Bailey/DC Comics

 

So she isn’t yet widely known outside of Israel (except maybe to a hardcore cadre of “Fast and Furious” fans), but her public profile is about to radically change. “Wonder Woman” isn’t an amazing piece of art, though it will likely satisfy fans of the other over-the-top superhero films released in the past decade or so. It is projected to perform at least as well as some of its male-centric counterparts, such as “Captain America” or “Thor,” at the U.S. box office (at least $65 million to $83 million) and should rake in hundreds of millions of dollars around the world.

Beyond the numbers, “Wonder Woman” must also bear the weight of the feminist anticipation that has been building steadily around the film for years. The hype only increased when a female director (Patty Jenkins) took over the project in 2015, making “Wonder Woman” the first female superhero film to be directed by a woman.

And Gadot is actually already well on her way to becoming embraced as a feminist icon. Last fall, she was included in a U.N. ceremony honoring the Wonder Woman character as an honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls. (The United Nations soon dropped the character as an honorary ambassador after staffers there complained that the comic book superheroine was “not culturally encompassing or sensitive.”) Gadot recently proclaimed that Wonder Woman “of course” is a feminist in an Entertainment Weekly interview that is being cited across the internet. From her lack of underarm hair to the kind of shoes she wears, everything is being analyzed through a feminist lens.

It won’t hurt Gadot’s popularity that she seems to be, as the original Wonder Woman character was in the comics, sculpted from clay by a god. On screen, she has a magnetic quality — simultaneously graceful, elegant, tough, athletic and bursting with sex appeal.

How popular will Gadot become? It’s hard to say. Other recent female superhero movies have starred actresses who already were well-known, such as Jennifer Garner in “Elektra” and Halle Berry in “Catwoman.” Neither movie made much of an impact. Hollywood is also prone to reboot its most popular franchises, swapping out actors and diluting a star’s connection to a character (see Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield in the various Spider-Man films, and the many actors linked to Batman and Superman).

Cast member Gal Gadot poses at the premiere of “Wonder Woman” in Los Angeles on May 25. Photo by Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

 

One thing is for sure: Gadot will go down in history as a distinctly Israeli actress. Unlike Natalie Portman, an international superstar and Oscar winner who was born in Israel but left at age 2, Gadot speaks English with an Israeli accent. She talks openly about being from a small Israeli city, Rosh Haayin, and her love of the Israeli character.

“In Israel, people have chutzpah,” she said in a recent cover story in Marie Claire. “People take issue with it, but I’d rather have that than play games. Here, everyone’s like, ‘We love you; you’re so wonderful.’ I prefer to know the truth, not waste time.”

So if Gadot finds the the superstardom she seems headed for, Israel will have a new most famous face.

Jason Drucker takes ‘Wimpy Kid’ lead in stride

Jason Drucker stars in the new film “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.” Phoro courtesy of Erica Tucker

More than 2,000 boys competed for the starring role of Greg Heffley in the new film “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.” Jason Drucker of Miami, 11, got the part.

“I was a huge fan of the series. I never thought I’d be in the movie,” Jason said by telephone.

Jason began acting in 2013 with a recurring role on the Nickelodeon series  “Every Witch Way.” He’s also been on the TV show “Chicago Fire” and played the lead in a short film called “Nightmarish.”

His role as Greg Heffley was his most challenging yet.

It was an incredible experience,” Jason said. “I never realized that being a lead in a film would be so demanding of my time. I realized I’m pretty good under pressure.”

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” the fourth movie in the franchise, follows Greg as he and his brother Rodrick convince their parents to take a road trip to their grandmother’s house for her 90th birthday celebration. Their true motivation, however, is to go to a video game convention. Alicia Silverstone and Tom Everett Scott play the boys’ parents.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking, but it was exciting when I booked it,” he said of his audition. “That happened two weeks after the screen testing. Then the shoot was around 10 weeks long.”

In the film, the Heffley family owns a pet pig that was “a bunch of fun to shoot with,” Jason said. “I never would have thought I could shoot a movie with a pig. Her real name was Charlotte.”

Jason is balancing his sixth-grade studies and acting by taking classes online and working with on-set tutors. It was especially challenging while shooting “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

“It was a bit too difficult to work out regular school with my acting career,” he said. “On set, it’s always a bunch of fun because I’m doing what I love and I’m able to pursue it. When I had any free time on set, they would have me in school. My tutor was there in case I needed help. That was definitely a life saver.”

When Jason was filming in Atlanta, his parents and other members of his family would stay with him on set. He is the second of three brothers, just like Greg Heffley. Though his siblings tried acting a few years ago, Jason is the only one still pursuing it.

“My close friends and my whole family are really supportive, and maybe more excited about the movie than I am,” he said.

Though he hasn’t begun preparing for his bar mitzvah, Jason attends Sunday school every week at Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla. “I go and learn about the Jewish culture and language,”  he said.

Jason and his family do not have plans to move to Los Angeles for his career, but he will be visiting the area to promote the movie.

“I don’t really prepare for the red carpet,” he said. “I get in my suit or whatever I’m wearing and I go out there with confidence and smile for the camera.”

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” opens in theaters May 19.

3 Israeli directors’ films top influential LA Times critic’s picks

Richard Gere as Norman Oppenheimer in “Norman.” (Niko Tavernise/Sony Pictures Classics)

Three films directed by Israelis took center stage in the film listings of the Los Angeles Times’ senior critic Kenneth Turan.

In Hollywood few newspaper items are scrutinized more intensely than the film reviews and rankings in the Los Angeles Times, making Friday’s list a boon for the films and their directors.

The top spot in the “Our Movie Pick” section went to Joseph Cedar’s “Norman,” which tracks the ups, and mainly downs, of a small time New York fixer.

“Subtle, unsettling, often slyly amusing and always unexpected,” Turan wrote, adding: “This delicate, novelistic character study is what more American independent films would be like if more had thoughtful adult themes and gravitated toward nuance and complexity.”

The next Israeli pick on the list was Emil Ben-Shimon’s “The Women’s Balcony,” centering on a clash between a strict Orthodox rabbi and his more permissive congregants. Turan judged it as “an unapologetically warm-hearted comedic drama, a fine example of commercial filmmaking grounded in a persuasive knowledge of human behavior.”

Finally, a half page of the paper was devoted to Asaph Polonsky’s feature debut “One Week and a Day,” which, of all unlikely topics, focuses on a short-tempered father played by Shai Avivi, who is  sitting shiva for his son who died of cancer. The father forms an unlikely alliance with the young stoner  played by Tomer Kapon, who supplied his dead son with marijuana.

“’One Week and a Day’ keeps an impeccable balance between absurdity and sadness, comedy and heartbreak,” Turan observed. “Increasingly outrageous, but always plausible, it applies its pitiless, pitch black sense of humor to a very particular situation (i.e., sitting shiva.).”

Both Cedar and Polonsky were born in the United States, but moved to Israel with their parents at a young age.

Trish Vradenburg, TV writer who put spotlight on Alzheimer’s, 70

Trish Vradenburg. Photo courtesy of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s.

Trish Vradenburg. Photo courtesy of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s.

Trish Vradenburg, a television writer and advocate to end Alzheimer’s disease, died on April 17. She was 70.

A spokesperson for the family declined to disclose the cause of death, but in a phone interview, her husband, George, chairman and founding board member of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s, described his wife’s death as “sudden.”

Vradenburg and her husband co-founded UsAgainstAlzheimer’s, which aims to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research and discover a cure by 2020 for the progressive disease, a type of dementia, after her mother, Bea Lerner, died of Alzheimer’s in 1992. Vradenburg wrote a semi-autobiographical play about her mother, “Surviving Grace,” about a sitcom writer and her mom battling Alzheimer’s together.

Vradenburg was born Patricia Ann Lerner on May 9, 1946, in Newark, N.J. She began her career as a speechwriter in the U.S. Senate after graduating from Boston University, where she studied political science, in 1986. She was a television writer for “Designing Women,” “Family Ties” and “Kate & Allie”; published the novel “Liberated Lady”; and wrote for the New York Daily News, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal and Woman’s Day.

Judaism was important to Vradenburg, though she was a secular Jew. “She identified deeply with being Jewish and [I] converted to Judaism because she felt so deeply about her religion,” George, a former AOL executive, said. “I found this great depth in this community and purposefulness in the community.”

The couple resided in Washington, D.C., at the time of her death. They lived in Los Angeles and moved to Washington after George was offered a job with AOL. The two were married for 48 years at the time of Vradenburg’s death.

“A piece of light in the universe has gone out,” George said. “There is a brightness that will be dimmed.”

Her survivors include her husband, George; daughter Alissa Vradenburg and son-in-law Michael Sheresky; son Tyler Vradenburg and daughter-in-law Jeannine Cacioppe Vradenburg; brother Rabbi Michael Lerner and sister-in-law Cat Zavis; and four grandchildren.

A private funeral service was held April 20 in Los Angeles at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary. Lerner and Temple Israel of Hollywood Rabbi John Rosove led the service. A public memorial service in Washington is scheduled for May 9.

Moving and Shaking: IFF holds annual luncheon, synagogues collect items for refugees, Saban on Walk of Fame

From left: Israeli actress Sapir Azulay, Israeli-American film producer Avi Lerner, talent agent Adam Berkowitz, Israeli actress and producer Noa Tishby, IsraFest founder and executive director Meir Fenigstein, “House” creator David Shore and Israeli actor Alon Aboutboul (in front) attend the IsraFest luncheon. Photo by Pal Photography.

Meir Fenigstein, founder and executive director of the Isra-Fest Foundation, which brings Israeli films to Los Angeles each year as part of the Israel Film Festival (IFF), knows how to thank his supporters. Several months before each festival, he invites them to a luncheon at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills.

Fenigstein made aliyah with his family three years ago after residing in Los Angeles for many years. He continues to run the IFF from his new home in Israel and through frequent visits to L.A.

This year, the luncheon honored David Shore, creator of the television show “House” and a board member at Save a Child’s Heart, with the IFF Visionary Award; Adam Berkowitz, co-head of the television department at Creative Artists Agency, who has been instrumental in selling numerous TV shows, including “Seinfeld” and two Israeli series, “The Greenhouse” and “Fauda,” with the IFF Career Achievement Award; and Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Max Webb with the IFF Lifetime Achievement Award.

Webb delivered the most moving speech of the event, recounting his 12 years in labor camps and six concentration camps, and the promise he made to himself, his mother and to God. “I made a vow that if I get out of this hell, I’ll help others in need, the Jewish people and Israel,” Webb said.

After building a real estate empire in California, he kept true to his promise and donated millions of dollars to charity organizations, hospitals and the State of Israel.

During the event, Webb celebrated his 100th birthday (his actual birthday is March 2) and blew out candles on a cake presented to him by Fenigstein, while guests sang “Happy Birthday.”

IFF will take place Nov. 7-22 at various Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


Temple Beth Am members Gary Bachrach (left) and Mathis Chazanov pose behind of a U-Haul truck loaded with donated household items for refugee resettlement in San Diego.  Photo by Tyson Roberts.

Temple Beth Am members Gary Bachrach (left) and Mathis Chazanov pose behind of a U-Haul truck loaded with donated household items for refugee resettlement in San Diego. Photo by Tyson Roberts.

What began as a partnership between Temple Beth Am and B’nai David-Judea to collect household items for refugee resettlement in San Diego grew into a community-wide effort involving six local Jewish organizations, with a daylong collection effort on March 16 dubbed “Project Hope.”

A rented truck driven by Beth Am member Tyson Roberts began to make its rounds at 7 a.m., stopping at private homes as well as multiple synagogues. Community members donated furniture, toiletries and other everyday necessities. The following day, Roberts delivered the donations to Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFSSD), which helps resettle refugees from around the world. By March 17, some of the items collected already had furnished apartments for two Afghan families, JFSSD said.

Temple Beth Am’s Refugee Taskforce led the collection drive, partnering with Camp Gilboa. Roberts’ daughter, Shoshana Roberts, spearheaded Camp Gilboa’s involvement as her bat mitzvah project, working with the camp’s executive director, Dalit Shlapobersky.

The other Jewish institutions involved were IKAR, Temple Mishkon Tephilo in Venice and Kehilat Israel in the Pacific Palisades.

The effort collected dining sets, sofas, armchairs, toaster and microwaves ovens, a crib and more. It was the second iteration of Project Hope, following a previous collection last August.

Tyson Roberts said he hopes to hold a third donation drive this summer. “A lot of people, as I was loading the truck, were like, ‘Wait, I still have stuff!’ ” he said.

More information and a list of items requested by the JFSSD can be found online at tbala.org/get-involved/project-hope.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


From left: Mayor Eric Garcetti, David Foster, Haim Saban and Simon Cowell come together to celebrate Saban receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo courtesy of Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

From left: Mayor Eric Garcetti, David Foster, Haim Saban and Simon Cowell come together to celebrate Saban receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo courtesy of Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce honored Haim Saban with a star on the Walk of Fame in front of the Egyptian Theatre at 6712 Hollywood Blvd.

Lionsgate, the film studio behind “Saban’s Power Rangers,” now in theaters, nominated Saban, an Israeli-American media producer, businessman and philanthropist, for the honor.

Saban, the creator of the “Power Rangers” television show, expressed his gratitude to Lionsgate during the March 22 ceremony “for your belief in the ‘Power Rangers’ franchise, and for your unconditional support for the launch of the ‘Power Rangers’ movie … [which,] Baruch Ha-Shem, with God’s help, will be a resounding success.”

The fee for installing a star on the Walk of Fame is $40,000 and the sponsor of the nominee is responsible for the cost. The money benefits the nonprofit Hollywood Historic Trust.

Attendees included Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leron Gubler, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, musician David Foster and former “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell.

Saban is a member in the Hollywood Walk of Fame Class of 2017 in the Television category, joining Sarah Silverman, Jeffrey Tambor and George Segal.

Bill and Hillary Clinton congratulated Saban for receiving a star on the Walk of Fame in a letter that was published on the website of Variety. “This well-deserved honor is not only a testament to your decades of groundbreaking contributions in the entertainment industry,” the letter from the former U.S. president and his wife, the former senator and presidential candidate, says, “but to your enduring generosity and efforts to advance good causes across America and around the world.”


Sean Phil, an Agoura Hills resident and former Israel Defense Forces officer, leads a training exercise for teenage students at “Israel 200.” Photo courtesy of CTeen Conejo.

Sean Phil, an Agoura Hills resident and former Israel Defense Forces officer, leads a training exercise for teenage students at “Israel 200.” Photo courtesy of CTeen Conejo.

Feb. 5 Israel solidarity event titled “Israel 200” — which aimed to draw 200 student attendees — attracted 120 teenage students in grades 8 through 12 to Chabad of North Ranch. The event featured workshops, a buffet lunch and discussions that included “Israel — Why Should I Care?”

Organizers were Rabbi Mendy Friedman and Mushka Friedman, co-directors of CTeen Conejo.

“We may be thousands of miles away [from Israel], but the events going on there are of utmost importance to Jews and people of conscience all over, including teens,” Mushka Friedman said in a statement.

Speakers were from StandWithUs, the Jewish National Fund and other organizations, including Israel Defense Forces (Ret.) Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, founder of Our Soldiers Speak. Additionally, students participated in a boot camp training that “pushed them to discover inner strengths and the ability to go beyond themselves,” a press release said.

CTeen Conejo describes itself as “a community organization under the auspices of Chabad that is dedicated to encouraging teens to make the world a better place.”


From left: Erez Goldman, Oded Krashinsky, Naty Saidoff, Michael Michalov, Guy Bachar, Miri Shepher, Mazal Hadad, Danny Alpert, Adam Milstein, Tamir Cohen, Amnon Mizrahi and Shawn Evenhaim attend the Israeli American Council gala. Photo by Linda Kasian.

From left: Erez Goldman, Oded Krashinsky, Naty Saidoff, Michael Michalov, Guy Bachar, Miri Shepher, Mazal Hadad, Danny Alpert, Adam Milstein, Tamir Cohen, Amnon Mizrahi and Shawn Evenhaim attend the Israeli American Council gala. Photo by Linda Kasian.

More than 1,000 people attended the ninth annual Israeli American Council (IAC) gala dinner at the Beverly Hilton hotel on March 19.

Guests included Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, whose support has helped the IAC open 12 regional offices across the United States since a group of Israeli-American leaders founded the organization a decade ago in Los Angeles.

IAC has grown steadily since its establishment, holding community events such as the Celebrate Israel festival and operating a variety of programs, including Eitanim, which connects high school students to Israel as they prepare for college and develop professional skills.

IAC National Chairman Adam Milstein discussed the importance of the organization for the future generations of Israeli Americans.

“As I think about the future and look 10, 20, 50 years down the line, I’m not sure if I will be here, but I know the IAC will be. We are creating a grass-roots movement that will last for generations for Israel, for America and for the Jewish people,” he said.

Additional speakers included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was introduced as the city’s first Jewish mayor; radio host and Journal columnist Dennis Prager; and Holocaust survivor David Wiener, who was the gala honoree in recognition of his philanthropy and passionate involvement with many organizations that support Israel and Jewish life.

Wiener told his heart-wrenching story of survival, saying, “The best day of my life was the day the State of Israel was established.”

Mentalist Lior Suchard emceed the evening. During his performance, he guessed correctly the name of one woman’s first love, one of his many mind-reading tricks.

During the fundraising portion of the evening, attendees pledged more than $2 million in support of the organization, including IAC board member Naty Saidoff’s pledge of almost $600,000.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. n

Jessica Biel discovers that she’s a little bit Jewish

When you realize that Bat Mitzvah money is coming. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

The celebrities who appear on genealogy shows are almost invariably in for a surprise, like a criminal in their family tree or a British royal in their web of relatives. Some, like Dustin Hoffman — who broke down in tears on “Finding Your Roots” last year — delve into their Jewish ancestry deeper than they ever have before.

Others, like actress Jessica Biel, who appears on this Sunday’s episode of TLC’s “Who Do You Think You Are,” discover Jewish roots they didn’t know they had.

Biel — who is also Mrs. Justin Timberlake — achieved fame at age 14 when she was cast in the long-running TV series “7th Heaven.” She has appeared in a number of films since, receiving acclaim for roles in “Ulee’s Gold” and “The Illusionist,” among others.

She and Timberlake had a child in 2015, and she says her status as a new mom intensified her interest in her own family — which she didn’t know much about. Family lore on her mother’s side was that Jessica was part Native American, either Chippewa or Cherokee. There was also a legend about a Civil War soldier shot in the back by his commanding officer while wading across a river.

Jessica was also under the impression that the Biels came from a German town named Biel. After investigating with TLC’s genealogists and historians, she discovered she was the great, great granddaughter of Morris and Ottilia Biel, who emigrated from Hungary (then the Austro-Hungarian Empire) to Chicago in 1888.

The Biels were Jewish, and Morris at first found work as a cloak cutter in the garment business.

Jessica Biel

Jessica Biel found some surprises in her family tree on the show “Who Do You Think You Are.” (Courtesy of TLC)

To say that Jessica was surprised is putting it mildly. She also seemed moved.

“I felt my whole life I’ve really not had any religious community at all,” she says.  “I want something. Interestingly, we’re talking about a people with a really, really rich cultural community.”

Biel has plenty to discover about Jewish culture. Later in the episode, she notes: “My friends are really into this. They say they’re going to throw me a bar mitzvah.” (A bat mitzvah is the correct term for a girl’s coming of age ritual.)

There was another surprise awaiting her. Morris eventually went to work for a bank and became prominent enough in his community that the Chicago Tribune ran a photo of him and Ottilia on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary.

To follow up on all of this, Jessica had a DNA test, which proved she was eight percent Jewish.

“I’m really interested into diving into this Jewish culture a little more,” she says at the end of the episode.

Groundbreaking TV comedy introduces Israelis to their Ethiopian neighbors

The cast of Nebsu. Photo courtesy of Yosi Vasa.

TEL AVIV (JTA) – Last week, Israelis for the first time saw a black lead character on a homegrown, primetime television show.

Nebsu,” a half-hour comedy, focuses on an Ethiopian man who is married to an Ashkenazi Jewish woman. Misunderstanding ensues.

“There is definitely a lot of cultural confusion in the show,” Yosi Vasa, the star and co-creator of the show, told JTA. “But the great thing about comedy is when the audience laughs, that means they get it. So that’s progress.”

Following a series of sometimes violent protests between Ethiopian Israelis and police in recent years, the creators of the new show think comedy is called for. They hope that by making light of the frictions between Ethiopian immigrants and the broader society, they can promote mutual understanding.

“People went out to [the highway] Ayalon South and demonstrated with anger. People wrote columns,” co-creator Shai Ben-Atar said in a promotional video, referring to 2015 demonstrations protesting police brutality against Ethiopians. “Our demonstration is a demonstration of love. We come to the audience with love. We come with characters full of love.”

In the March 9 premiere, Vasa’s character, Gili, steps out of his suburban house to run an errand. A police officer driving by stops and demand his ID, which he has left inside the house. Moments later the officer is aggressively frisking Gili against the trunk of his car.

Vasa, 41, said such incidents are part of his reality, which many Israelis find difficult to believe. But one evening last year, the show’s third co-creator, Liat Shavi, had a firsthand look. After saying goodnight to Vasa, who had stopped outside the office in Tel Aviv to smoke a cigarette, her cellphone rang.

“Suddenly he’s calling me, and I don’t understand. He’s speaking unclearly, and he says, ‘Come here for a second,’” Shavit recalled in the promotional video. “So I look across the street and I see him standing there with a police officer.”

Ben-Atar adds: “He didn’t care about the fact that he was arrested. He just really wanted us to see that it actually happens, and that was really comedic.”

Roni Akale, the director-general of the Ethiopian National Project, said most Israelis don’t get where Ethiopians are coming from because they live largely separate lives.

Ethiopians, who make up just 1.5 percent of the population, tend to be clustered in poor areas of the country, with many living on the periphery. They have the highest poverty rate among Jews in Israel, and are stopped, arrested and incarcerated at much higher rates. Their children perform worse in school and finish fewer years than the general population.

“Nebsu” co-creators Yosi Vasa, left, and Shai Ben-Atar. (Reshet)

“Israeli society doesn’t know us because we are not in their environment. They don’t see how we live,” Akane said. “Maybe this show can highlight the good things that happen in the Ethiopian community.”

What Israelis have seen in recent years is Ethiopians protesting in the streets alleging widespread discrimination. The April 2015 demonstrations were a response to video footage showing a seemingly unprovoked police assault on an Ethiopian Israeli soldier. Thousands of members of the community joined demonstrations across the country, sometimes clashing with police officers.

“Nebsu” brings Ethiopian culture into Israeli living rooms, and mashes it up against mainstream culture to comedic effect. Gili has had the kind of life that taught him how to pick locks and hot-wire cars while his blond wife, Tamar, played by Merav Feldman, comes from a privileged background.

Although Gili and Tamar are simpatico, their families and the rest of society are another story. Tamar cannot believe that Gili’s mother wants to slaughter a goat that her daughter has adopted as a pet. And Gili struggles to eat his mother-in-law’s bland Ashkenazi cooking.

Tamar is often outraged by the injustices Gili faces and wants to set them right, whereas he has learned to keep his head down. An exception in the first episode is when Gili explodes at the neighbors, accusing them of changing the locks on their doors because they fear him. Worn out after a racially charged day, Gili turns out to have misjudged the situation.

“There are a lot of times you find yourself in a very white environment, so you see things you would probably see differently if you were surrounded by Ethiopians,” Vasa said.

Vasa’s family came to Israel from a remote Ethiopian village as part of Operation Moses in 1985, one of several daring government operations to rescue Ethiopian Jews. The eight of them settled in coastal Netanya, and he bounced between government boarding schools for Ethiopians. As a theater and education student at the University of Haifa, he and a classmate created a series of videos that went viral in the Ethiopian community.

“All they had for media was some videotapes of TV from Ethiopia, which were sold at grocery stores,” Vasa said. “So we started selling our tapes at the same stores. The tapes started getting copied and passed around, so they didn’t show us the money, but it was a great thing to do for us and for our community.”

Reversing the usual Israeli order, Vasa joined the army after university, performing in the storied theater unit that entertains troops. After his three years of service, he developed a one-man comedy show with Ben-Atar called “It Sounds Better in Amharic,” which he still performs. He met his now-wife at an English-languge  version of the show in San Francisco. Like Tamar, she is a non-Ethiopian Israeli, but her ethnic background is half Ashkenazi and half Mizrahi Jewish.

Vasa sees the Ethiopians as just “another Israeli immigration story,” and thinks racism toward his community will fade, as it has toward Mizrahi Israelis. Attitudes toward Arabs, he said, is a separate issue.

“Arab Labor,” a comedy that ran for three seasons between 2007 and 2012, similarly broke down cultural barriers in Israel, in its case between Jews and Arabs. Nevertheless, its Arab-Israeli creator, Sayed Kashua, eventually left the country, despairing that “an absolute majority in the country does not recognize the rights of an Arab to live.”

Vasa started working on “Nebus” in 2012. After he shopped the show to production companies for several years. Reshet picked it up two years ago. Tamar Morom, who heads the Israeli production company’s scripted series department, said the pitch immediately struck everyone as a “good idea.”

She also said the timing was right.

“Probably it wouldn’t have worked five years ago,” Morom told JTA. “There were a lot of demonstrations and not very pleasant issues between Ethiopians and police in the last two years. So it’s not that it’s calm now. I think it’s just the right time to criticize our society.”

Podcast – FAUDA: the Israeli Netflix TV hit with co-creator Avi Issacharoff

Fauda is currently streaming on Netflix. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

From HBO’s In Treatment to Showtime’s Homeland, Israel has become a prominent exporter of quality content for the American television industry. As an emerging studio, Netflix wasn’t about to miss out. They set their eyes on Fauda.

Fauda is one of the most successful and critically acclaimed Israeli TV shows in recent years. It tells the story of Doron, a member of a covert anti-terror unit in the Israeli military, whose world is split in two, between his undercover identity and his life back home.

Three months ago, Netflix acquired Fauda for global distribution. Avi Issacharoff, Fauda’s co-creator and an analyst of Middle Eastern affairs for Walla News and The Times of Israel, joins 2NJB to tall about the show and its worldwide success.

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