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.

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.

What We Talk About When We Talk About #MeToo


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.

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]

Change? Not So Fast


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.

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]

What Should Our Community Do After Weinstein?


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.

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

Fixing Hollywood’s Shameful Culture


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.”

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

When Bad People Happen to Good Art


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.

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

How the Weinstein Sex Scandal Began a Movement Against Silence


‘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. 

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Where Were the Liberals When Weinstein Betrayed Them?


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

Could Gal Gadot become the biggest Israeli superstar ever?


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

Jason Drucker takes ‘Wimpy Kid’ lead in stride


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.

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

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


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.

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.

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


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

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

Jessica Biel discovers that she’s a little bit Jewish


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.

The cast of Nebsu. Photo courtesy of Yosi Vasa.

Groundbreaking TV comedy introduces Israelis to their Ethiopian neighbors


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.”

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

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


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.

Direct Download

Billy Crystal attending the Samsung Studio at SXSW 2015 in Austin, Texas, March 15, 2015. Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Samsung.

Billy Crystal on being Jewish, playing ball and more


The inimitable Billy Crystal is back on the road. The six-time Emmy Award-winning comedian, actor, producer, director and writer — most recently of a book of essays, “Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys” —  is currently touring the U.S. with his new show, “Spend the Night with Billy Crystal.”

The show, scheduled to tour through April, promises to feel like an intimate chat with the audience  — a blend of standup with a “sit-down” interview with Crystal, moderated at many shows by comedian and actor Bonnie Hunt. Crystal, who lives in Los Angeles, will tell stories, talk about the world as he sees it, reflect on his life and show some film clips from his long career.

Of course, the popular nine-time Oscar host has numerous iconic films and roles to choose from: The title character in the quintessential rom-com “When Harry Met Sally;” the grouchy “miracle worker” in “The Princess Bride;” Mitch, a New Yorker heading toward a midlife crisis who goes on a cattle drive with his buddies in “City Slickers;” and in “Analyze This,” a shrink to Robert De Niro’s mob boss.

But before he was charming millions, Crystal, 68, was entertaining his family and friends while growing up in the quaint beach town of Long Beach, New York. Then a predominately Jewish and Italian town, Crystal describes it as the “perfect place to grow up.” He often references his beloved hometown in his act, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s battering of New York in 2012, Crystal and his wife of nearly 47 years, Janice, helped raise more than one million dollars to help Long Beach rebuild and rebound.

Crystal’s early childhood, back in the 1950s, was filled with music and laughter. His mother, Helen, was a talented tap dancer and singer. His father, Jack, worked six days a week at two jobs — as a jazz promoter and manager of the family’s popular New York City record store. Jazz greats like Billie Holiday — who were friends of his parents — would frequent their home.

Crystal and his dad would spend most Sundays together watching baseball games. Their relationship was chronicled in Crystal’s Tony Award-winning one-man show “700 Sundays” (also adapted into a book and HBO special), named for the number of Sundays he spent with his father before his dad died of a heart attack when Crystal was only 15.

The only thing Crystal ever aspired to do as much as comedy was play baseball for his beloved New York Yankees — in fact, he says the highlight of his long career came in 2008 ,when he signed a one-day contract with the team in honor of his 60th birthday.

In a phone interview with JTA, Crystal looked back on his family, his Jewish identity, his long career and the “one thing” that keeps him going.

JTA: You seem to be a celebrity who wears your Judaism as a badge of honor, and not in a self-hating sort of way. Would you agree?

Billy Crystal: I do. I mean, I still make fun, but it’s not about Jews — it’s about my Jews, it’s about my relatives. It’s not generalizations.

What are some of your favorite parts about being Jewish?

You mean, besides the circumcision?

You remember that, huh?

Yeah, oh yeah, that’s why I’m an insomniac. I’m waiting for that guy to come back in the room.

What else do you love about being Jewish?

The storytelling, the warmth, the sense of humor. My dad was strict about the holidays. We honored them, we went to temple. I like the ritual, and the caring for our planet that’s written into so many of the works I read in Hebrew school.

How do you compare when you were just starting out in showbiz 4o-plus years ago to touring with your new show today?

It all feels the same. I don’t think I’ve stopped working since the eighth grade. Backstage, when I was on Broadway, felt the same as it did backstage when I was getting ready to do a school play in high school. It’s that same energy of confidence, a little bit of nerves … The moment you go out, you release and say, ‘OK, I’m ready, here I come.’ It’s kind of an intoxicating feeling to go out and entertain people.

That’s why, after all these years, I’m going back on the road with this show … At this age and this point in my career, to still have the hunger I did as a young man is a great feeling.

Besides signing to a one-day contract with the New York Yankees, what’s another of your proudest professional achievements?

I was the first American comedian to perform in the Soviet Union back in 1989 in an HBO special called “Midnight Train to Moscow.” It was a Russian-speaking audience [with] some Americans. Gorbachev was in power, the [Berlin] Wall had not come down yet, and [I felt honored] that HBO trusted me. I found all these relatives that I didn’t know I had there [in Russia]. But performing there and being an ambassador, if you will, for American humor in that country is something I look back on with great pride.

What did your father teach you during those “700 Sundays,” before he passed away?

Besides teaching me a love for comedy, a love for reading, a love for baseball, he also taught me about doing the right thing. My dad was a civil rights giant in his own quiet way, in that he was one of the first promoters to integrate jazz bands. So the house, yes, was filled with Jewish relatives with stories, but sitting next to them was Zutty Singleton, who was a great jazz drummer, or Tyree Glenn, who was Louie Armstrong’s trombone player, or any of these other great musicians. They were all just friends. My family label — Commodore Records — produced “Strange Fruit,” which is Billie Holliday’s epic song about lynching. It took a Jewish family to produce that record, to write that song.

How did your father’s premature death shape your life and your relationship with your mother?

I was 15 and was dealt a bad hand. You can’t help but be angry, and I was angry and had to learn to live with that, and to deal with my mother, who was suddenly widowed and forced back into the workforce. [Being] back home alone with her, while my brothers were away at college, made me grow up really fast. I admired her strength — at the age of 50 she was suddenly back in the workforce. Three sons in school and we all graduated college because of her. You watch that and learn what parenting is really about, and what being a son is really about. My mom sent me on a path of trying to do the right thing in my life and also valuing every moment that you live.

What’s your secret to your happy, healthy and long marriage?

We still feel that we’re dating. After all these years, and all the things that we’ve been through, and all the joys and sadness that we’ve shared together — right from the beginning: You’re 18 and you have to tell the in-laws [that] you’re going to be a comedian.

But Janice’s faith in me, her trust in me, her strength when things aren’t going well. Our key is we keep laughing, we keep talking and we keep loving.

I’m going to remind you about a scene from your own movie, “City Slickers.” Curly, a cowboy, asks your character, Mitch, if you know the secret to life. Then, Curly holds up one finger and says “One thing.” What I took Curly to mean is that each of us have to find that one thing that give our lives meaning. What is that one thing, or maybe a couple of things, that give you purpose?

The purpose is Janice and the kids, and continually doing right by them and right by myself. That’s the most important thing … and in my job, I have a purpose. I have a mind that still loves to create and I follow that deeply.

Cindy Sher is the Executive Editor of Chicago’s JUF News.

Disability inclusion faces long road in Hollywood


If there is one thing that Jews love, it’s films. And with this being Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, it is a great time to look at disability themes in the latest hot movies. Of the nine films nominated for best picture, four have themes or sub-plots related to disability.

For example, “Manchester by the Sea” features themes of mental health, alcoholism and drug use. Likewise, “Moonlight” includes story lines surrounding drug addiction. “Arrival,” a science-fiction film, includes a child who has cancer.

Fences,” a film that has received multiple accolades for its racially diverse themes, also includes a disability storyline. The older brother of lead character Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), Gabe Maxson (Mykelti Williamson), sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during World War II. Children in the neighborhood often torment Gabe. When Troy bails Gabe out of jail for disturbing the peace, Troy unknowingly signs a paper that routes half of Gabe’s pension to a psychiatric hospital, forcing Gabe to be institutionalized.

Williamson does not have a disability himself, which is quite common when it comes to casting actors portraying people with disabilities. The Ruderman White Paper on Disability in Television found that non-disabled actors play more than 95 percent of characters with disabilities on television. When asked by the Los Angeles Times about playing the role of someone with a TBI, Williamson acknowledged the many variables and “different levels of injury and effect” of someone with a TBI.

In the full-length documentary category, “Life, Animated,” a film about Owen, a boy with autism (who happens to be Jewish), is nominated. The film shows how Owen, a young man who was unable to speak as a child, and his father are able to connect through Disney animated films.

One film that exemplified the positive portrayal of disability this year is the animated “Finding Dory,” but it was not nominated for an Oscar. It was the No. 1 film at the domestic box office last year. Financial successes like this film show that positive portrayal of disability is a winning theme. In “Finding Dory,” disability is not something Dory needs to overcome, but something she needs to learn to live with, accept and work with to accomplish things “in her own Dory way.”

But while these films include disability themes, no known actor or other individual with a disability was nominated for an Oscar. As previously noted, more than 95 percent of characters with disabilities on television are played by non-disabled actors. When a non-disabled actor mimics someone from any minority group, whether it be racial or disability, he takes a job from an actor who genuinely has that characteristic and perpetuates that group’s under-representation in the industry.

Including disability in diversity

Fences,” “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures” are nominated for best picture and have been noted to be racially diverse. In addition, six Black actors have received nominations, which is a record high.

“The studios and major film distributors really gave it to us this year,” said Gil Robertson, the African American Film Critics Association’s co-founder and president. “By any measurement, it’s been an exceptional year for Blacks in film. From comedies to high-quality dramas and documentaries, 2016 will forever represent a bonanza year for Black cinema, and all cinema really.”

In a statement, Robertson also spoke of the importance of other minority communities, listing out the “Asian, Hispanic, Native American and LGBT communities,” but he failed to include the disability community — a common occurrence even among the best intentioned.

People with disabilities are the largest minority in America, with almost 1 in 5 Americans having a disability. Yet the disability community often is forgotten in diversity conversations.

According to GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), fewer than 2 percent of scripted television characters (15) have disabilities. In addition to the lack of representation in general, what does exist is misleading. Almost all portrayals of people with disabilities in media are white, despite the fact that disability impacts all ethnicities. According to a recent report by the Media, Diversity, & Social Change (MDSC) Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, only 2.4 percent of all speaking or named characters in film in 2015 were shown to have a disability and none of the leading characters were from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups. “Depictions of disability are not only marginalized,” the report says, “they also obscure the true diversity of this community.”

It is important to note that anyone can join the disability community at any point in time and that people with disabilities come from all communities — including the African-American, Asian, Latino, Native American and LGBTQ communities.

Advocating from within

Meryl Streep, who spoke out about the importance of not mocking people who have disabilities during her Golden Globes lifetime achievement award speech, has marked another lifetime achievement — her 20th Academy Award nomination.

Our group, RespectAbility, previously called on Streep to “walk the walk” when it comes to full inclusion of people with disabilities. Actors with influence like Streep’s have the power and influence to ensure that television and movies include people with disabilities that feature accurate and positive portrayals. This includes not only characters but the actors themselves — as well as employment positions on the other side of the camera.

Streep is a three-time Academy Award winner who has been nominated for a record 20 Oscars and 30 Golden Globes. Change takes a lot more than pointing fingers at someone else’s shortcomings. It takes personal action and leadership. As one of the world’s finest artists and actors, she has tremendous power. How great would it be if the next time she was cast in a film or television show she simply asked the script writers to ensure that the diversity of the roles, including people with disabilities, reflected society at large?

Brad Sherman

Brad Sherman

Thankfully, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) is doing something about it. On Feb. 21, his office is hosting a series of meetings to help us inaugurate a Community of Practice comprising key stakeholders to move the needle on two important core issues: inclusion and diversity in Hollywood and employment of people with disabilities. Sherman will gather leaders in philanthropy, workforce development and the entertainment industry who care about diversity, inclusion and employment in Hollywood for people with disabilities. If you want to be a part of this, please email me at JenniferM@RespectAbilityUSA.org. Your help is needed.

Think about it — only 37 percent of Los Angeles residents ages 18 to 64 who have disabilities are employed, compared with 71 percent of people without disabilities. Los Angeles has an opportunity to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities through sustained partnerships across the public, private and philanthropic sectors. We know from other states and localities that sustained leadership and best practices can empower more people with disabilities to enter the workforce. For example, in the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montgomery County, Md., more than 50 percent of working-age people with disabilities have jobs or are pursuing careers. There is a critical opportunity for leaders from Los Angeles to team up and learn what can be done about this critical challenge so that people with disabilities in the greater Los Angeles area can have a better future.

What people see and hear affects what they think and feel — and what they think and feel has life-and-death consequences. People with disabilities lack access to health care, education and employment opportunities. Medical professionals withhold treatments due to valuing people with disabilities less than those without disabilities. This ranges from OB/GYNs recommending abortions for fetuses with nonfatal, prenatally diagnosed conditions to orthodontists not placing braces on patients because of prejudice. Women who use wheelchairs are many times more likely to die from breast cancer because so few mammogram machines are ADA accessible.

A major Princeton study showed that people with disabilities are seen as warm, not competent. Similarly, a Cornell Hospitality Quarterly study revealed companies are concerned that people with disabilities could not do the required work. Thus, employers who are largely impacted by what they see out of Hollywood do not want to give people with disabilities a chance.

An increase in positive, diverse and accurate portrayals of people with disabilities on television and film can significantly help end stigmas that limit their health and lives. Award-winning actors, producers and directors can use their immense talents to help fight stigmas and advance opportunities for the 22 million working-age Americans with disabilities, only 1 in 3 of whom has a job today.

RespectAbility wants to see many more great shows come out of Hollywood like A&E’s Emmy-winning and stigma-busting docuseries “Born this Way,” starring diverse young adults with Down syndrome who achieve in education, employment and good health. There should be more role models like those in ABC’s “Speechless,” NBC’s “Superstore” and “Finding Dory.”

In addition to television shows and movies highlighting disability, RespectAbility calls on Hollywood to include people with disabilities in all television shows and movies like Dr. Arizona Robbins, an accomplished doctor on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

There is good work being done by SAG-AFTRA, GLAAD, the Media Access Awards, and other key leaders from the television, film and disability community. However, much more must be done to tear down stigmas that undermine people with disabilities’ chances to receive the education, training and employment opportunities we need to succeed, just like anyone else.

Big stars can do a lot. But so, too, can showrunners, creative executives, writers, casting agents, actors and others. Changing hearts, minds and behaviors takes great messages, delivery systems and message repetition. Diversity and inclusion processes also are needed inside networks and studios so that diversity and accurate portrayals become natural and consistent.


Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, who has a disability and is the mother of a child with disabilities, is the president of RespectAbilityUSA.org, a nonprofit fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. She can be reached at JenniferM@RespectAbilityUSA.org.

Play about Chaplin’s ‘Great Dictator’ echoes politics of today


In the late summer of 1939, Europe’s statesmen and generals were worrying about whether and when Adolf Hitler would launch his military to start World War II.

In Hollywood, the gossip mills were grinding about Charlie Chaplin. The beloved tramp of the silent movie era, it was rumored, was embarking on his first speaking role. And not just in any movie, but in a biting anti-Nazi satire called “The Great Dictator.”

Both events, one world-shaking, the other less so, come together in the Theatre 40 production of “The Consul, the Tramp and America’s Sweetheart,” which bears some resemblance to current events in America. It will run through Dec. 18 at the Reuben Cordova Theatre in Beverly Hills.

The title characters are, respectively, Georg Gyssling (played by Shawn Savage), the German consul in Los Angeles, tasked with pressuring Hollywood moguls from making any movies that might reflect badly on the Third Reich (or include Jewish actors); Chaplin (Brian Stanton); and Mary Pickford (Melanie Chartoff), America’s sweetheart of the silent screen and now the most powerful woman in Hollywood as co-founder (with Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith) of the United Artists studio.

There is a fourth character in the play, Miss Hollombe (Laura Lee Walsh), Pickford’s sassy new secretary, who provides for the audience background on ’30s  Hollywood

In the opening scene, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper has just revealed that Chaplin plans to direct and star in “The Great Dictator,” with United Artists as producer and distributor.

Gyssling arrives at Pickford’s office to stop the project. He points out that Germany, including the recently absorbed Austria, is Hollywood’s third-largest market, after the United States and England. Of course, any insult to the Führer would result in a German boycott of all Hollywood films.

Pickford immediately calls in Chaplin, and while the actor and consul exchange a few insults, she phones some other Hollywood moguls, all of whom urge her to kill the project, rather than offend Hitler and lose the German market.

That part of the play touches on the still-controversial issue of whether Hollywood’s studio chiefs and power brokers, predominantly Jewish, were complicit in vetoing anti-Nazi movies during the ’30s to maintain a low profile and continue the screening of their films in German theaters.

To execute the film’s death warrant, the principals scheduled a meeting for Sept. 1, 1939, which turned out to be the day Germany invaded Poland. Though the United States officially was neutral, President Franklin D. Roosevelt let it be known that he expected Hollywood to turn out strong anti-Nazi films to buck up the Allies’ fighting spirit — and nobody was willing to go against the commander in chief.

 “The Great Dictator,” released on Oct. 15, 1940, became a huge critical and commercial success, as well as a high point in Chaplin’s career. His opponent, Gyssling, returned to Germany and was put in charge of anti-American propaganda after the U.S. entered the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. 

Jules Aaron, the play’s award-winning director, noted in an interview with the Journal that the play would open nine days after the U.S. presidential election, and he pointed to some analogies between the main characters in the 1939 and 2016 settings.

 “The Mary Pickford persona is that of a very smart, very powerful woman, often resented for holding a powerful position usually reserved for men, certainly a problem that Hillary Clinton has had to deal with,” Aaron said.

On the other hand, Nazi consul Gyssling seems unable to censor himself or keep from making nasty cracks (“I’ll wring your little Jewish neck,” he tells Chaplin at one point). In a director’s touch, Gyssling keeps circling Pickford during their encounter, similar to President-elect Donald Trump walking around and in front of Clinton during their second debate.

In that sense, Aaron observed prior to the U.S. election, the play is “unfortunately” still relevant.

John Morogiello, the author of “The Consul” and 28 other produced plays, got the idea for his current drama after reading an article about Gyssling, a regular at Hollywood parties, long after the latter’s death. An ardent fan of old movies, Morogiello said that by the late ’30s, Chaplin felt he wanted to make an impact beyond his film persona as a silent clown and risked his career on his first talkie.

The actual circumstances surrounding the near death of “The Great Dictator” differ from those of the play but in a sense are as dramatic as the playwright’s imagination. All the characters in the play, aside from the secretary, actually existed, but their interactions were rather different.

For one, there never was a meeting between Chaplin, Pickford and Gyssling, Morogiello said. The consul’s job was, indeed, to keep Hollywood from making anti-Nazi films, but in real life, he would have turned to the man powerful enough to censor or abort movie projects — Joseph Breen, enforcer of the movie industry’s Hays moral code and a notorious anti-Semite. One clause in the code forbade any Hollywood film to insult the head of a foreign state, and in real life Breen himself would have confronted Pickford and told her to scuttle any idea of producing “The Great Dictator,” Morogiello said. (In actuality, Breen did not get involved in this particular case.) 

There is one more Jewish aspect in the play, but Morogiello asked it not be revealed so as to not spoil the surprise for audiences.

“The Consul, the Tramp and America’s Sweetheart” runs through Dec. 18 at  the Reuben Cordova Theatre in Beverly Hills. For tickets and more information, visit Theatre 40.

Lessons from a summer of sexual assault


I remember driving home from a high school party one night during junior year while my best friend vomited in the back seat. In so many ways, it was a quintessential portrait of youth: one lanky 17-year-old sprawled over the back seat, throwing up alcohol into a bucket, while another tried not to get pulled over by the police for driving after curfew. 

When we got back to my house, my mother was waiting up to help me with Caroline (not her real name), who was so sick we considered taking her to the hospital to have her stomach pumped. She was totally out of it: eyes closed, mumbling incoherently, unable to walk on her own or dial a phone number. My mother, being the tireless caretaker that she was, insisted I get a good night’s sleep while she stayed up until 4 a.m. holding Caroline’s head over my bathtub.  

By late morning, Caroline was awake and had climbed into bed with me. She had a very distressed look on her face. “I need to talk to you,” she said. “I don’t remember what happened to me last night. Did I hook up with someone?”

The only clue Caroline had that some sort of sexual activity occurred was the fact that when she woke, her underwear was on inside-out. She remembered making out with someone early in the night, but not much else. When she called that person, he said, “Yes, we had sex.” But she knew it was rape. 

Before a single word of this was repeated to anyone, the guy enlisted a squadron of friends to intimidate her into silence. Besides, his friends said, he was a really bright student and “a good guy.” He “never meant any harm.” 

The drama of the episode died down pretty quickly and was never reported. But I imagine the trauma of having been violated while passed out never entirely faded for Caroline, whom I lost touch with after college. 

I thought about this episode countless times in recent months, because the summer of 2016 will be remembered, at least in part, as a time when the national conversation focused on sexual assault and may have even shifted in the direction of redemption for some of its victims.

For far too long, perpetrators of sexual assault have gotten all the attention, all the benefit of the doubt, and all the best lawyers, so to honor this summer’s awakening, I want to instead focus on four examples of women who have reclaimed their voices and helped redirect America’s culture of impunity toward a culture of accountability.

1. On June 3, a female reporter for BuzzFeed posted the wrenching letter to the court written by the 23-year-old woman sexually brutalized by Stanford University freshman Brock Turner. When her message went viral, a woman who had found herself beaten down and betrayed by the system was empowered to realize her strength as an engine of moral conscience. 

“Nobody wins,” she read aloud in the courtroom the day the judge sentenced her attacker to a measly six months in prison (in the end, he was released after serving only three). “We have all been devastated; we have all been trying to find some meaning in all of this suffering.” 

“Your damage was concrete,” she said to her attacker, “stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen. … You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”

Her voice, full of outrage and humanity, articulated a story so vivid it read like poetry, and so truthful it held all perpetrators of sexual assault and their enablers to account where the U.S. justice system had failed.

2. A month later, on July 6, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson announced she had filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against then-Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. This triggered a volcanic eruption at Rupert Murdoch’s media company, with scores of women coming forward to tell their stories of having been harassed, exploited, manipulated and belittled by Ailes, who had presided over the network with an iron first and silver spoon for two decades.

Laurie Luhn, Marsha Callahan, Kellie Boyle and Shelley Ross are just a handful of the women who took their stories to the press and refused to be cowed into silence any longer. After being pressured by Murdoch and sons, Ailes resigned in disgrace (but with a reported $40 million in severance) on July 21.

3. In August, as Hollywood multi-hyphenate Nate Parker stood to gain increased status and acclaim ahead of the October release of his film “The Birth of a Nation,” about the Nat Turner-led slave rebellion that took place in Virginia in 1831, the writer and activist Roxane Gay took to the pages of The New York Times with an op-ed on “The Limits of Empathy” — especially when it comes to Hollywood stars (think: Woody Allen and Bill Cosby).

In 1999, Parker and his roommate at Penn State University, Jean McGianni Celestin (who would become a writing partner on “The Birth of a Nation”), were accused of raping a young woman. The details are ugly and too complicated to list here, but it’s worth noting that the victim attempted suicide twice before finally ending her suffering in 2012. She left behind a son.

“I have my own history with sexual violence, so I cannot consider such stories with impartiality, though I do try,” Gay wrote in the Times. “It is my gut instinct to believe the victim because there is nothing at all to be gained by going public with a rape accusation except the humiliations of the justice system and public scorn.

“I want to have empathy for [Nate Parker], but everything he says and does troubles me,” she continued. “We’ve long had to face that bad men can create good art. Some people have no problem separating the creation from the creator. I am not one of those people, nor do I want to be. … I can no longer watch ‘The Cosby Show,’ for example, without thinking of the numerous sexual assault accusations against Bill Cosby. Suddenly, his jokes are far less funny.”

4. This new openness hit closest to home, however, when a friend and leader in our community came out as a sexual assault survivor at a public gathering in May. The event was organized by California State Sen. Ben Allen, who chose to honor Oscar-winning filmmaker Amy Ziering with a “Woman of the Year” award for her change-making documentary films “The Invisible War” and “The Hunting Ground,” both of which focus on the scourge of sexual assault — in the military and on college campuses. Ziering had invited her friend, Samara Hutman, executive director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust at Pan Pacific Park, to introduce her, and for the first time, Hutman told her story publicly of having been molested by a neighbor as an 8-year-old girl. 

“For somebody who has had an experience of sexual assault, violence, abuse, I have a very thin sensitivity to people being wronged and it not being talked about,” Hutman told me when I called her afterward to talk.

She decided to speak out because she was inspired by the courage of all the women in Ziering’s films who shared their stories at great personal risk. 

“Her movies are literally doing the thing that we talk about with students in our [Righteous Conversations] workshops, which are about using media and film to shine a light on things that are hidden and broken,” Hutman said. “We teach them that if you can use your camera and your voice to shine a light, you can change the culture. And Amy was a pinnacle example of somebody who had done exactly that — she kind of shattered the silence.”

There is almost never an upside to a woman telling her story — whether to the world or to the police. As Gay points out in her op-ed, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, “out of every 1,000 rapes, 344 will be reported to the police, 63 of those reports will lead to an arrest, 13 cases will be referred to a prosecutor, seven of those cases will lead to a felony conviction and six of those perpetrators will serve prison time.”

It is nothing less than an act of spiritual resistance and moral courage for a woman to come forward with her truth about sexual assault. And so I celebrate all the brave women of the summer of 2016 and beyond, who speak out in the face of great peril; I also celebrate the women who have been unfairly bullied into silence, including my high school best friend who suffered greatly and never saw justice.

“You’re never going to have a world in which there is not brutality,” Hutman said. “We’ve never seen a time in history where it is a utopian, cruel-free world. So if you take that as a given, that there’s going to be trouble between people, it seems like the best thing we can do is be vigilant against the possibility.”

And let us say, Amen.


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

Los Angeles history: Jews shined among stars on Hollywood minor league team


While the Dodgers battle for a playoff spot with a Jewish player, Joc Pederson, patrolling center field and a Jewish president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman, heading the front office, let’s turn from the pennant race to recall that the franchise is not Los Angeles’ first baseball team to have Jews in such prominent roles.

In 1938, Herbert Fleishhacker was the Jewish owner of the Hollywood Stars, a minor league team in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) that, beginning in 1939, played at Gilmore Field, near the sites of the Grove and CBS Television City today. He was responsible for bringing the team back to L.A. from San Francisco. (The Stars’ first incarnation played here from 1926-1935.)  Through the team’s run, which ended in 1957, Jews filled key roles on the field, with players such as infielder Murray “Moe” Franklin, outfielder Herb Gorman, pitcher Herb Karpel and former longtime catcher for the New York Giants Harry Danning, who, after his playing days were over, served briefly as a coach.

Off the field, Jews also played an important role in promoting the team.

The stadium, which opened in 1939 and seated nearly 13,000 fans, was located in the heart of the emerging Jewish Fairfax district and drew many Jewish fans, including attorney and local judge Stanley Mosk, who would go on to fame as a long-term associate justice of the California Supreme Court. On the other side of the law, “mobster Mickey Cohen occupied a box right behind the Stars’ dugout,” the Los Angeles Times reported in 2009.

From the late 1930s until the Dodgers arrival from Brooklyn in 1958, L.A. fans were caught up in the rivalry between the Hollywood Stars and their PCL archrivals, the Los Angeles Angels, who played in Wrigley Field, located near USC and now site of the Gilbert Lindsay Recreation Center. To gain access to better players, the Stars worked out an affiliation agreement with the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1949 season, and after the 1950 season, had one with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

​A 1950 Hollywood Stars team photo includes, in middle row, Murray “Moe” Franklin (far left) and Herb Gorman (fourth from right). Photo courtesy of Mark Macrae Collection

Happily watching many of the Stars’ home games was 9-year-old Bruce Littman.

“We sat in the cheap seats,” Littman said, remembering making the drive with his family from their Compton home to Gilmore Field. “Often, we would go with the CJCC [Compton Jewish Community Center] Men’s Club.” At some games, Littman said, he would even get to see a fellow congregant on the field

“Moe Franklin was a member of the temple,” he said.  “On occasion, [Moe also] played on the [shul’s] men’s club team, but to be honest, the other synagogues objected, understandably,” he said with a laugh.

Franklin (1914-78) was born in Chicago, where, at Schurz High School, he lettered in baseball and soccer. At the University of Illinois, from which he graduated, he was a star player and member of the Jewish fraternity. He was 27 when he played in his first major league game with the Detroit Tigers in 1941. The last game in his brief Tiger career was in 1942. 

“My dad would have had a bigger career [in the majors], but he spent his prime years, ages 28 to 32, in the Navy during the war,” said his son, Dell Franklin, who has written about Moe’s years in baseball.

After World War II, Moe Franklin played for several minor league teams, but his favorite, according to his son, was the Stars: “He thought the team,” which had several other former big leaguers, “was a great mix of guys. They all loved each other.” Exemplifying that relationship, when the elder Franklin wanted to add a room addition onto his Compton home, it was some of his teammates, offseason workers in the building trades, who helped him, the younger Franklin said.

“When I was 7 or 8, my dad would take me to the ballpark,” especially on Saturdays and Sundays, Franklin said, recalling the days spanning the 1949 and ’51 seasons, when his father played for the Hollywood Stars.

A timely team addition, when the Hollywood Stars won the PCL title in 1949, Moe Franklin “had the game-winning homer to clinch the pennant,” his son said, remembering how, during the home games, he got to live out the dream of many boys his age — hanging in the dugout. “The guys all taught me how to play baseball. By the time I was 9, I was playing baseball with 12-year-olds,” he said.

“I couldn’t wait to get down there,” Franklin said. The players nicknamed him “Little Meat,” and, after his dad, “Little Moe.” Though not a batboy, he did help out by cleaning the players’ spikes and conditioning their bats in a process called boning. 

“You get a big bone, almost like a Coke bottle, and you knead the barrel of the bat to get it firm,” explained Franklin, who remembers doing it for Gorman, his father’s roommate on the road and best friend on the team.

Moe Franklin sports the early-’50s “shorties” uniform worn by the Hollywood Stars players. Photo courtesy of Dell Franklin

That friendship was cut short in a shocking manner. In 1953, during a day game, the first of a doubleheader after both Franklin and Gorman had been traded to the San Diego Padres of the PCL, Gorman “had a heart attack out in left field and he died,” Dell Franklin said. “The whole stadium just went hush. My dad and somebody else carried him in. He had a young wife, named Rosalie,” who was at the game. “It was a terrible, terrible day.” 

While with the Stars, Moe Franklin, who never played on Yom Kippur, only experienced anti-Semitism once, Dell Franklin said. When his father was playing third base, “there was a guy who popped off on the Sacramento team. He was in the bullpen and he was getting on Gorman,” who was playing outfield. “When the Sacramento player came in, my dad got up out of the dugout and knocked him on his ass,” Dell said of his father, who was also a championship boxer. 

The elder Franklin also threw the first punch in 1953 when a player for the Stars, attempting to steal third base, where Franklin was playing for the Angels, came in high with spikes — touching off a legendary brawl, broadcast live and later covered in Life magazine, in which 50 police officers were called in to break up the fight.

However, for most of the games, especially those at Gilmore Field, Dell Franklin has more pleasant memories, like seeing at the ballpark the other Hollywood stars, such as Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Kim Novak and Anne Bancroft.

After the 1938 season, Victor Ford Collins, Fleishhacker’s attorney along with Robert H. Cobb, owner of the Brown Derby restaurants, bought the team. “In order to raise funds, the two men formed the Hollywood Baseball Association, and to promote their Hollywood Stars baseball team sold small amounts of stock to numerous Hollywood civic leaders and movie stars,” including George Burns and Grace Allen, Harry Warner, Cecil B. DeMille, William Frawley, Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper and Gene Autry, according to Stephen M. Daniels, writing for the Society of American Baseball Research.

Helping to get the word out to Los Angeles about the stars, both on the field and off, was their publicity director, Irv Kaze. As part of his job promoting the team, Kaze would get on the phone to stars such as Groucho Marx to let them know when their favorite Stars were going to play, reported Jim McConnell for MILB.com, Kaze, who had a weekly talk show on KRLA (formerly KIEV) from 1992 until his death in 2002. The morning he died, according to a story in the Jewish Journal, “Kaze had attended services at the Congregation Ohev Shalom, where he was a longtime active member.” Kaze was also an inductee and board member of the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

The team is still remembered for its “cool” uniforms. “The Hollywood Stars would play in Bermuda shorts,” remembers Littman of the team’s experiment with “shorties” in the early 1950s. 

“I used to wonder what they did when they slid into base,” Littman said. “That’s gotta hurt.”

Hollywood classic ‘Ben-Hur’ gets modern remake


“Ben-Hur”, the 1959 movie epic that won 11 Oscars, has received a Hollywood revamp — but its makers say the famed chariot race still relies on humans and horses, not special effects.

“Boardwalk Empire” actor Jack Huston takes on the role for which the late Charlton Heston was named Best Actor, playing the young Jewish noble Judah Ben-Hur, who is sent into slavery by Roman occupiers but returns to take his revenge.

“If you think about the climate of the world today — and this movie is set 2,000 years ago — you realise the world hasn't changed that much,” Huston said at the film's Tuesday premiere.

“Being a beautiful action movie with all of the thrills and excitement, it's still a very serious movie for our time.”

Producer Mark Burnett said that for the chariot-racing sequence — nine minutes long in the original — special effects had been used only for crash scenes.

“The actual horses were ridden and driven by the actors. It was 32 horses, eight chariots round and around that arena at full speed, sometimes on one wheel,” he said.

“When the horses have crashes, that's all special effects — but the rest of the racing is all the real horses with the actors.”

“Ben-Hur” hits cinemas worldwide from Wednesday.

Key nominees for the 2016 Emmy Awards


The nominations for the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards, the highest honors in U.S. television, were announced on Thursday by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. 

The following is a list of nominations in key categories for the Emmy Awards. Winners will be announced at a ceremony in Los Angeles on Sept. 18:

BEST DRAMA SERIES

“The Americans”

“Better Call Saul”

“Downton Abbey”

“Game of Thrones”

“Homeland”

“House of Cards” 

“Mr. Robot”

BEST COMEDY SERIES

“black-ish”

“Master of None”

“Modern Family”

“Silicon Valley”

“Transparent”

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

“Veep”

ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Kyle Chandler, “Bloodline”

Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”

Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”

Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”

Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”

Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”

ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

Claire Danes, “Homeland”

Viola Davis, “How to Get Away with Murder”

Taraji P. Henson, “Empire”

Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”

Keri Russell, “The Americans”

Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Anthony Anderson, “black-ish”

Aziz Ansari, “Master of None”

Will Forte, “The Last Man on Earth” 

William H. Macy, “Shameless”

Thomas Middleditch, “Silicon Valley”

Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”

Laurie Metcalf, “Getting On” 

Tracee Ellis Ross, “black-ish”

Amy Schumer, “Inside Amy Schumer”

Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie”

BEST LIMITED SERIES

“American Crime”

“Fargo”

“The Night Manager”

“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

“Roots”

ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE

Bryan Cranston, “All The Way”

Benedict Cumberbatch, “Sherlock”

Idris Elba, “Luther”

Cuba Gooding Jr, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

Tom Hiddleston, “The Night Manager”

Courtney B. Vance, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR TV MOVIE

Kirsten Dunst, “Fargo” 

Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”

Audra McDonald, “Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill”

Sarah Paulson, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

Lili Taylor, “American Crime”

Kerry Washington, “Confirmation”

VARIETY TALK SERIES

“Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”

“Jimmy Kimmel Live”

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”

“The Late Late Show with James Corden”

“Real Time with Bill Maher”

“The Tonight Show”

REALITY COMPETITION PROGRAM

“The Amazing Race”

“American Ninja Warrior”

“Dancing with the Stars”

“Project Runway”

“Top Chef”

“The Voice”

Getting ‘UnREAL’ with Shiri Appleby: Actress dishes on playing a Jewish, feminist antihero


In the world of television, Rachel Goldberg is a rare character: a Jewish, female antihero.

She’s the main character in “UnREAL,” a scripted drama on Lifetime about the behind-the-scenes world of a “The Bachelor”-type reality show called “Everlasting.”

Rachel is played by Shiri Appleby, who’s best known for her lead role as Liz Parker on “Roswell”; more recently she played Adam’s nice Jewish girlfriend, Natalia, on “Girls.” Rachel is complex in the way that all humans are complex — though she masterfully encapsulates the neuroses commonly found in highly driven people in certain industries. She’s manipulative yet self-sabotaging, vulnerable yet strong and, perhaps most of all, extremely good at her job.

Like its main character, “UnREAL” smacks of authenticity — that’s because one of its co-creators, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, spent three years as a producer of “The Bachelor.” Shapiro based “UnREAL” on her experiences there — from the punishing hours to producers being rewarded for making contestants cry on camera

The first season of “UnREAL,” which aired last June and is now streaming on Hulu, was met with acclaim, with many praising its feminism and originality.

“UnREAL” offers a singular meditation on stardom, media mendacity, sexism, and competition among women,” D.T. Max wrote in The New Yorker.

Jewish references are sprinkled throughout the series, such as the time Rachel memorably said, “sheket b’vakasha,” Hebrew for “be quiet” — or, more aptly, “shut up.” And, this being about “the industry” there are loads of Jewish characters, too, from this season’s Jewish contestant, Yael (Monica Barbaro) — called “Hot Rachel” by the crew, thanks to her passing resemblance to Appleby’s character — and Rachel’s new love interest, Coleman Wasserman (Michael Rady), who was brought on to replace Rachel as the show’s on-set boss, or showrunner.

Next week’s episode, the mid-point of the second season, was directed by Appleby herself — something she’s long wanted to do. (In fact, Appleby got the “Girls” gig because she was shadowing a director of the show.) Appleby tells JTA that this episode will find Rachel dealing with the aftermath of a disturbing assault by her ex-boyfriend, as well as follow a Confederate flag-bikini wearing “Everlasting” contestant as she brings the African-American suitor to her Southern hometown.

In addition to directing more episodes next season,  “I’m trying to get other directing [jobs] on other shows,” Appleby says.

JTA spoke to Appleby about her own Jewish background, playing a complex antihero and more.

JTA: What was your Jewish upbringing like? I’ve read that your father is Ashkenazi and mother is Sephardic. Did you grow up with traditions from both?

Appleby: I grew up going to Hebrew school. We celebrated all the holidays. I was bat mitzvahed. My parents are involved in the temple. Judaism has been a huge part of my life.

Is it still?

Yes, it is. Our family is still very close. We still celebrate everything. I still have a Jewish identity.

Is it important to you to play Jewish characters?

It’s not something that I actively seek out, but when it is a Jewish character, I can definitely relate to it.

Do you know if the character of Rachel was always written as Jewish, before you landed the part?

I think she was Jewish, but I don’t think it was for her to be as Jewish as she’s become. I think that has a lot to do with me just improvising and throwing things out, and the writers liking it.

We’re seeing more female antiheroes like Rachel on television. As a woman, what’s it like to get a part like this?

It’s incredible. It’s best-case scenario, obviously. I didn’t realize that it was as groundbreaking as it is, but it’s interesting to be a part of it and to be a part of the conversation.

Do you always agree with what Rachel does?

I don’t agree with everything that she does, but at the same time, I understand why the writers are doing it and I’m playing a character. You don’t need to agree with everything that she does to tell the story.

What do you think of her as a person?

I feel for her. I feel empathy for her. I don’t think she knows what would make her happy. She obviously has a hard time trusting the world and that’s a really unfortunate way to navigate life.

What are your hopes for Rachel going forward?

I hope that she learns to trust, quite honestly. Just to trust the world around her. I think that would be a huge step.

Yamashiro: The mountain palace built by Jews


Yamashiro, the famous Hollywood restaurant with a Japanese-style building and name, served its last meal by its longtime owners recently, before changing hands and reopening under a new operator. The venue has long been known to generations of Angelenos and tourists as an Asian-fusion restaurant with a hilltop view of Hollywood and beyond, but what is less known is that the building and terraced grounds, both historic cultural landmarks, were the creation of two German Jewish middle-aged bachelors, Adolph and Eugene Bernheimer.

Walking the paths and stairs of Yamashiro’s surrounding gardens, stopping to take a photo of the site’s more than 600-year-old imported Japanese pagoda, or its giant golden Buddha, a visitor wonders how this “mountain palace,” as the name Yamashiro means in Japanese, came to be. Originally the Bernheimer residence, it was completed in 1914, when Hollywood still had orchards and fields. The Los Angeles Times, describing the main villa in 1914 as both a “Wonder-house of California,” and a “feudal fortress with a metropolitan setting,” noted the “striking strangeness of it all.”

The Bernheimer brothers, Eugene Elija (1865-1924) and Adolph Leopold Avraham (1866-1944), were born in Ulm, Germany, and came to the United States in 1888. Their father, Leopold, was in the dry goods business. Along with their brother Charles (1864-1944), at the turn of the century they were the principal owners of Bear Mill Manufacturing Company of New York, a maker of cotton products and an exporter-importer of “Oriental goods” for the American market, which made them wealthy. In 1904, a list of members and contributors of United Hebrew Charities of New York includes Eugene and Adolph in both categories.

Adolph Bernheimer 1943

Traveling extensively throughout Asia, Adolph and Eugene developed a taste for Chinese and Japanese art and began to collect it. Much of their history was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, and the building is also on the list of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monuments. 

The brothers arrived in Los Angeles in 1911, and in 1913 they purchased from prominent developer Hobart J. Whitley seven acres of hillside property overlooking the former Rollins estate, which today is the site of the Magic Castle. The brothers hired New York architect Franklin M. Small (with supervising local architect Walter Webber) to design an appropriate house to exhibit their growing collection of Asian art. Completed in 1914, it preceded the nearby Asian-inspired Chinese Theatre, which opened in 1926.

Japanese craftsmen lived in tents on the property’s hillside while helping to build the house and gardens, according to Tom Glover, whose father bought the building and surrounding property from Leo Post and Bernard Brown in 1948, and whose family only recently sold it. The building was authentically Japanese, Glover said, and designed after a temple near Kyoto. The Department of the Interior application notes “the design [is a] prominent example of orientalism as applied to architecture,” and “is based on seventeenth-century Japanese architectural traditions.”

Yet, it also had touches that were modern for its time, including hot water and vacuum systems. “A lot of the interior,” selected by Adolph Bernheimer, “was supplied by a Kyoto art dealer,” Glover added.

In an article in the Times on Nov. 15, 1914, a writer exhorts the charms of the “Japanese Villa.” Adolph’s den is described as “done in red silk, with a dazzling painting of a woman” predominating. There was also a bedroom light (we don’t know whose) and an electrolier in the form of an “inverted athlete swinging from a trapeze.”

The main house was square and two stories high, with its exterior clad in Japanese-inspired half-timbering and smooth white stucco. There were two wings with living quarters — one for each brother. In a touch of what the Times in 1914 called “sinister romance,” the newspaper reported it was “rumored” that the brothers had “made a pact that no women shall ever enter the place as an invited guest.” Dispelling that rumor, however, the Aug. 11, 1915, edition of the Los Angeles Herald reported that “Marcus M. Marks, president of the borough of Manhattan, Greater New York City, and his wife and family” and “[Los Angeles] Mayor and Mrs. [Charles] Sebastian” were invited as “guests of Eugene and Adolph Bernheimer, at their Hollywood villa.”

Creating for their mountain palace a movie-like setting, the terraced grounds were filled with lush gardens, waterfalls, goldfish and a private zoo of exotic birds and monkeys. Miniature bronze houseboats floated along tiny canals and through a miniature Japanese village.

The Bernheimers had succeeded in raising the flag of Asian art and design in L.A., but their own foreign backgrounds flagged a different kind of attention. With the rise of strong anti-German sentiment during World War I (a rise in anti-Semitism may have played a role, as well), the German-born brothers were suspected of some kind of espionage up in their serene foreign-looking retreat. “For weeks, ever since war was declared,” read a piece in the Herald on April 25, 1917, “it has been a favorite pastime of rumor circulators to proclaim the home as an arsenal. … A thorough search at the request of Mr. [Adolph] Bernheimer disclosed nothing of more importance than the usual appurtenances of a well-ordered home.”

Perhaps to stop the suspicions, in 1918 each brother bought a $5,000 Victory Bond. In 1921, their home was “thrown open to the public,” as the article in the Times put it, for the Committee of Foreign Relief to conduct an afternoon and evening benefit “for the children of Poland and Serbia.”

Around 1924, apparently still upset over the war-time suspicions, as well as the city’s building an unsightly water tower behind their home, the Bernheimers sold their palace.

In 1924, Eugene, living in San Francisco as a “retired capitalist,” died unexpectedly. (Both brothers are buried in the Salem Fields Cemetery in Brooklyn along with other prominent Jewish families like the Guggenheims and Shuberts). In Eugene’s will, the millionaire, in addition to leaving bequests for family members as well as his nurse, left $5,000 to the Jewish Philanthropic Society of New York. In 1925, with much of the brothers’ art collection and furnishings having been auctioned off, Adolph’s attention turned to the Pacific Palisades, where he had purchased from Alphonso E. Bell an ocean-view property for another Asian-themed project called Bernheimer Oriental Gardens, turning it into a tourist attraction where, as the brochure said, “the Orient Meets the Occident.” But this project lost favor during World War II due to anti-Asian feelings and because Adolph was of German heritage. By the early 1950s, all of the structures were demolished.

In the 1920s, the Yamashiro property became headquarters for the “400 Club,” whose members included Hollywood’s motion-picture elite, such as actors Lillian Gish and Ramon Novarro. Later in the ’20s, it became a brothel, and during the Depression, tours of the garden were offered for 25 cents.

During World War II, after Pearl Harbor and with the rise in anti-Japanese sentiment, the Yamashiro house and gardens were vandalized and many of the decorative elements were stripped. Yamashiro’s distinctive Asian architecture was disguised and the estate became a boys military school.

By the time Glover’s father purchased the property, the house had been turned “into an apartment house,” according to Tom Glover. “He began to tear off all the coverings; he was going to tear it down, but when he started to pull off all the sheetrock, underneath was silk wallpapers and carved wood,” said Glover, who recalls at age 9 helping to dig sewer lines on the property. Eventually, his father won a liquor license in the state’s lottery, opened a little bar, and as the place grew in popularity, he opened up more rooms.

 “Gray Line tours, sometimes six buses a night, would come up,” recalled Glover, who for several years lived in an apartment on the property that had been fashioned from the monkey house. By 1972, Tom Glover had taken over and started serving food along with the drinks.

This year, Yamashiro was sold for nearly $40 million to the JE Group of Beijing, “a hotel operator known for refurbishing historic properties on its home turf,” according to the Times. There will be few changes to the site, except for sprucing up the aging buildings, Kang Jianyi, chairman of JE, told the Times.

Yet, on June 12, the restaurant closed. Glover said it “will be taken over by another operator.” 

“I didn’t want to sell,” said Glover, who managed the restaurant for 50 years. His extended family had gone to court and forced the sale.

Over the years, he added, Yamashiro has also “been the location for many bar mitzvah parties and Jewish weddings.”

It’s “been heartbreaking to leave,” he said.

Have an idea for a Los Angeles Jewish history story? Contact Edmon J. Rodman at edmojace@gmail.com.

Improv booker has thriving lab for humor experiments


When Jamie Flam arrives at the Hollywood Improv at noon every day, he’s prepared to spend the next 12 hours booking and producing shows, negotiating deals with talent and agents, and watching live comedy. 

A soft-spoken 39-year-old from Granada Hills, Flam always wanted to be in entertainment. However, he never thought that becoming the artistic director and booker of the club would be in his future.  

“I was afraid of the Improv, to be honest,” he said. “It seemed like it was difficult to get booked at and an impenetrable force.” 

Since 2010, Flam has worked to revitalize the now-thriving Lab, a side room at the club where up-and-coming comedians can get stage time and show producers are able to experiment. When he was first brought on, the space was empty, so Flam started reaching out to producers at his former gig at the Westside Eclectic (now the Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica). Soon enough, the Lab was hosting 50 shows a month. 

While the main room will feature headliners like Dane Cook, Joe Rogan and Maria Bamford, the Lab hosts live podcast recordings, a comedy show that’s also a spelling bee, and Comedy Living Room, which started in a house in Hollywood. 

“I like shows that bring people to a different world and universe,” Flam said.

Aside from making sure that the Lab is up and running, he also books comedians for the other shows in the main room. It’s not easy, as he once tweeted: “Booking a comedy club is 1 percent booking, 99 percent apologizing.” 

 “I really don’t like having to say no, which is something I have to do all day, every day,” he said. “There is only so much stage time for hundreds and hundreds of amazing performers in the city. I’m constantly having to tell comedians and the industry that, unfortunately, I’m not able to get them and their acts up onstage.”

When Flam isn’t handling the bookings and producing other people’s shows, he works on his own. He’s one half of the comedy duo the Spanglers, with Vanessa Ragland. Together, they’re a fake husband and wife who wear flamboyant vests and riff off each other onstage. It’s in the vein of Andy Kaufman, Neil Hamburger, and Marty and Bobbi Culp, the fictional singing husband and wife that Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer played on “Saturday Night Live.” The Spanglers perform at Van Jam, their show at the Improv that features comedians, a live band and storytellers. 

The artistic director also hosts Gatekeeper, a podcast in which he interviews the decision-makers in comedy. Episodes have included talks with Adam Eget, who books the Comedy Store in Los Angeles; Zoe Friedman, the daughter of the Improv founder Budd Friedman and senior vice president of development at Blue Ribbon Content; and Bart Coleman, booker of “@midnight” on Comedy Central. On a recent installment, Flam chatted with Todd Glass, a stand-up comedian who performs at the Lab once a week.

 “I love everything Jamie has done,” Glass said in a phone interview. “He makes comedy an event. From the minute you walk into the Lab, you see that the room is artistically appealing. That’s everything in comedy. It’s not just a little bonus.”

Comedian Sarah Silverman, a regular at the club, also had praise for Flam’s work. “Jamie Flam has created this jazzy, alternative safe haven with the Improv Comedy Lab, and I love it,” she said. 

Flam developed his talent for booking and producing shows when he was in his 20s at Westside Eclectic. Although that was his first official job in comedy, he knew from a young age that he wanted to be involved in show business. 

“I was a musical theater nerd in elementary school,” he said. “That exposed me to performing and producing shows and being comedic onstage. I played Mr. MacAfee in ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’ It was my big moment.”  

The Flam family has been in L.A. since 1905, but he’s the first to work in entertainment. His parents own Flam’s Lock & Key in Sherman Oaks, and his grandmother had a shop called Angela’s Typewriter. 

Flam, who celebrates the Jewish holidays, grew up going to Hebrew school and had his bar mitzvah at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge. He enjoyed watching “SNL,” along with the comedy of Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey and “Weird Al” Yankovic. 

These days, he said his favorites are Silverman, Glass, Pete Holmes, Louis CK, Chelsea Peretti and other “performers who lay it all on the line onstage. I like authenticity and performers that take chances and do weirder material.” 

While having to say no to comedians and industry professionals is difficult, Flam said that seeing great comedy live at the club is inspirational. “I love watching an audience that is totally out of their own heads and connecting with the performers, and creating unique experiences that people can’t get anywhere else.” 

One day, Flam hopes to own a production company, write and produce for television, have a musical on Broadway and open up a theme park. 

“I want it to be called Flamtasia,” he said. 

Although he was only half-joking, Flam said that, realistically, he strives to continue putting ideas out into the world. 

“To always be creating is the main thing,” he said. “I want to create things and take people to another place that is enchanting and magical.”

"J.A.P. Battle Rap" on "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend". Screenshot from YouTube.

On TV today, Jewish characters and themes come into their own


The entertainment industry is famously full of Jews, from actors and writers to lawyers and studio heads. (We even have a Jewish-Israeli Wonder Woman now.)

But until recently, if you were watching television and wondering, “What are Jews like? What is meaningful to them?” you’d have no idea.

Sure, there are the old, superficial stereotypes. Jews and humor are a binding association that stretches back decades — even further than the character Tim Whatley who converted to Judaism “for the jokes” in a 1997 episode of “Seinfeld.” Maybe TV shows in December would show a menorah or offer a perfunctory “Happy Chanukah,” but there was never any further discussion. Actual depictions of Jewish life, customs, observance, tradition or meaning were very rare.

Compare that to today’s landscape, where characters keep kosher, battle golems and rap about seder plates. Nowadays, you almost can’t avoid overt Jewish themes, hidden symbolism, and even substantial narratives on anti-Semitism and Jewish identity.

On ABC’s “Agent Carter,” which takes place in the 1940s, audiences learn in the first season that Mr. Edwin Jarvis, butler of Howard Stark (future father of Iron Man Tony Stark) and Agent Carter’s partner in espionage, was discharged from the British Royal Air Force for crimes committed to save his Hungarian-Jewish wife.

And let’s talk about the 613s. This number, correlating to the number of mitzvot in the Torah, has popped up in so many television universes in recent years that it can’t be an accident. In the original science fiction series “Heroes” (2006-2010), genetics professor Mohinder Suresh lives in apartment 613, and in “Heroes Reborn,” which premiered in September, the major action takes place on June 13 (6/13).

On the ABC hit “Scandal,” the secret branch of the government is B-613. In the first season of FX’s “Fargo,” 613 is the street address of main character Lester Nygaard; in Episode Two, the amount of ransom money demanded is $43,613. I don’t know what the odds are of that occurring randomly, but I think if you add a lot of Jewish writers into the mix, the odds just keep getting better.

When it comes to mystical events, including Jewish and Hebrew references has become a no-brainer. We’ve seen golems on “Supernatural,” “Grimm” and “Sleepy Hollow.” And on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” the agents discovered an ancient chamber marked by the word “maveth” (Hebrew for “death”), that turned out to be a portal to a desolate and demon-filled alternate universe.

While one could explain away such references as winks from Jewish writers to Jewish viewers, the equivalent of a Carol Burnett ear-tug to members of the tribe, we’re still seeing not just a proliferation of these references, but a deepening exploration and consideration — even by non-Jewish characters — of what it means to be Jewish.

In Season Two of “The Knick,” Cinemax’s 2015 medical drama set at the fictional New York Knickerbocker Hospital at the turn of the 20th century, Dr. Bertram Chickering realizes he’s the only gentile working at Mount Sinai Hospital. Using Yiddish he learned from Eastern European typhoid patients — the only Jews he’s met previously — he earns some acceptance from his peers and catches the eye of Genevieve, an adventurous reporter who is Jewish.

Michael Angarano as Dr. Bertram Chickering in “The Knick.”

When his mother is stricken ill with cancer, Chickering complains to a former colleague that the head of surgery, Dr. Zinberg, won’t do experimental procedures (although Zinberg later changes his mind). “I have to say I feel like it’s because he’s a Jew,” Chickering says. “I believe being a universally despised race has stiffened their resolve to never act rashly and risk being thought a failure in the eyes of a hostile world.”

And while Whatley may have joined Judaism for the jokes, in Season Three of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,” inmate Black Cindy converts to get access to the kosher meals in prison. But by the end of that season, she finds meaning in her Jewish identity, taking the name “Tova,” and even getting her mikveh miracle in the final episode, as the inmates discover a hole in the prison fence and jump into a lake — immersing themselves, if only for a few minutes, in a ritual bath of freedom. Black Cindy’s embrace of Judaism becomes a catalyst for transformation and possibility, and fixes their broken world.

Black Cindy (center) converts to Judaism in “Orange Is the New Black.”

Speaking of mikvaot, the imagery of water, rebirth and reinvention also permeate Amazon’s “Transparent,” a show in which the patriarch of a Jewish Los Angeles family comes out as transgender. Its first two seasons are filled with Jewish themes and details: the family’s attitude toward Jewish ritual, identity through food, observance of Yom Kippur, a character who is a rabbi and helps them find connections and meaning within Judaism … the point keeps getting hammered home. “Transparent” is so Jewy that I wouldn’t be surprised if, in some communities, watching the show was a core requirement for conversion programs.

As for the CW’s wacky musical comedy “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” it drops Jewish references in nearly every episode. And what’s interesting is that many of these references reflect the current state of not-necessarily-religious Jewish identity. Consider the recent “J.A.P. Battle Rap” in which protagonist Rebecca Bunch battled her childhood nemesis Audra Levine with rap lyrics like, “We were egged on like seder plates” and “ ’Cause we’re liberals / progressive as hell / though of course I support Israel.” She also issued a threat to her opponent to “sheket b’vaka-shut-the-hell-up.”

The content was strongly — and proudly — Jewish, if not exactly glatt kosher. I don’t know why the “Will it play in Peoria?” network people didn’t object to these references as being too obscure, but I’m glad they didn’t.

And let’s not forget about Israel. A recent episode of “Broad City,” titled “Getting There,” featured protagonists Abbi and Ilana encountering obstacles as they try to get to the airport for their big trip to an unnamed location. They almost miss their flight, as the gate attendant says to them, “You are two lucky Jews.” As they enter the plane, they’re greeted by their ponytailed “Birthmarc” trip leader, Jared (Seth Green), who promises that the trip will teach them “all about Judaism, its rich history and — I’m looking at the two of you — its reproductive future.” He then starts a chant — “Jews! Jews! Jews! Jews!” — among the trip participants.

Abbi explains to Ilana that the trip is “about our souls … we’re going to find ourselves in the mother land.” Jared tells the besties — who are appalled by the fact that they’re not sitting together — that it is “a free trip to Israel sponsored by your living ancestors, so we’re seated according to match potential.”

The episode ends with a shot of the airplane’s screen: they’re flying “El Ol” and credits roll as the “Birthmarc” participants continue to chant “Jews! Jews! Jews!” The next episode, titled “Jews on a Plane,” debuted April 20 on Comedy Central.

Seeing Jewish culture, identity and exploration reflected on television — beyond the cliché tropes of circumcision or bagels or an unwillingness to pay retail — is good for us all. It creates nuance in conversations between Jews and other cultures, and engages Jews of all stripes in an active process of discovering Jewish identity, showing us that there’s more than one way to be, live, speak, act, write, produce Jewish.

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