Filming Jewry’s greatest stories

Hollywood was largely founded by Jews, who to this day constitute a large percentage of America’s mainstream filmmaking community. Perhaps more than anywhere else, Jews are conspicuously powerful in the moviemaking industry and have been since its inception over a century ago.

Consider our Jewish screenwriters, whose outstanding talents emerged and/or flourished in every decade in the last hundred years:

In the 1920s, Ben Hecht (The Front Page); in the 1930s, Robert Riskin (It Happened One Night) and Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein (Casablanca); in the 1940s, Adolph Green (Singin' in the Rain), Melvin Frank (White Christmas), and Lillian Hellman (The Little Foxes); in the 1950s, Ernest Lehman (The Sound of Music), I. A. L. Diamond (Some Like It Hot), Budd Schulberg (On the Waterfront), Norman Corwin (Lust for Life), and Paddy Chayefsky (Network); in the 1960s, William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid); in the 1970s, Woody Allen (Annie Hall); in the 1980s, Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel (City Slickers), Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally), Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (The Remains of the Day), and Robert J. Avrech (A Stranger Among Us); in the 1990s, Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men), Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind), and Joel & Ethan Coen (O Brother, Where art Thou?); and in the 2000s, David Benioff (Troy) and Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation).

These are perhaps Hollywood's most noteworthy Jewish screenwriters, though they are hardly all of them. Moreover, the abundance and ability of Jewish studio executives, producers, directors, performers, agents, and managers are similarly impressive throughout Hollywood’s history.

It is therefore all the more confounding that an overwhelming majority of the Jewish People’s greatest tales have yet to be given the full silver screen treatment.

An objective observer would perforce conclude that, according to Hollywood, there have been just two seminal events in 4,000 years of Jewish history: the Exodus (our greatest triumph) and the Holocaust (our greatest trauma), with nothing doing in between. Both the Exodus (c. 1250 BCE) and the Holocaust (1933-1945) are historic events of the first magnitude and obviously deserve telling and retelling. But these are far from the only dramatic episodes in the raveled scroll of Jewish history, and it would be a tremendous disservice to our collective heritage and identity to focus solely on them to the exclusion of many other dramas worthy of their own limelight.  

What rationales account for this glaring reluctance to produce Jewry’s many remarkable stories? Two explanations come to mind, one psychological and the other commercial: a) the Jewish filmmaking community’s desire to downplay its influence in Hollywood; b) profitability concerns.

From a communal perspective, the first issue is a real problem. Dead or suffering Jews have never lacked onscreen depiction; living Jews—let alone proud, traditional, thriving Jews—haven’t fared anywhere near as well. This pathological fetishization of victimhood—appeasement through displays of weakness—is a salient aspect of the exile mentality. Diasporic Jews are only ever supposed to be persecuted and oppressed, never strong, confident, heroic, or patriotic. Never victors.

Thus, if actual Jews succeed and attain prominence, they instinctively yet misguidedly seek to minimize this earned feat by emphasizing the helplessness and misery in Jewish history, as repeatedly portrayed on the big screen.

This is a key factor which helps explain why the saga of the Maccabees, for instance, has been indefensibly deprived of filmic rendering. It took Mel Gibson, of all people, just to get their story in development (ultimately to no end). Naturally, for authenticity’s sake, a people’s greatest stories should be told by its own members, and not forsaken by them so as to be culturally appropriated by outsiders. Orphaned narratives may be adopted by unsympathetic caretakers.

But the Maccabees’ story is only one among very many awaiting the cinematic spotlight. What about the eventful reigns of Hezekiah or Josiah, or the transformational Babylonian Captivity, or the momentous struggles of Ezra and Nehemiah to rebuild the Jewish state, or the legendary and faraway Khazar kingdom? Where are the compelling biopics about Queen Helena of Adiabene, Meir Baal HaNess, Saadia Gaon, Rashi, Bishop Bodo, Nahmanides, Pablo Christiani, Don Isaac Abravanel, Joseph Karo, Isaac Luria, the Maharal of Prague and the Golem, Shabbetai Zvi, the Baal Shem Tov, the Vilna Gaon, Moses Montefiore, Henrietta Szold, Hannah Szenes, or lovebirds David and Paula Ben-Gurion, to cite but a sample?

To be perfectly clear, these stories should be told neither because of the strident self-centeredness of identity politics, nor for propaganda, nor to meet any Jewish content quota in the movie marketplace, but simply because they are captivating and memorable stories that deserve mass audiences.

A few historical Jewish films (non-Exodus, non-Holocaust) have managed to surpass the Hollywood gauntlet over the decades, most notably Samson and Delilah (1949), David and Bathsheba (1951), Solomon and Sheba (1959), Esther and the King (1960), Norman Corwin’s The Story of Ruth (1960), Melville Shavelson’s Cast a Giant Shadow (1966), King David (1985), and One Night with the King (2006), although several of these were generated outside of Jewish Hollywood and all of these generally represent exceptions to the rule. They also tend to revisit the same Jewish personages to the exclusion of myriad others never represented in feature films.

As for the question of profitability—the primary concern of commercial producers—precedents proving financial viability exist, validating the further production of Jewish stories. Among the major Jewish stories that have been filmed, The Ten Commandments (budget: $13 million/domestic gross: $80 million), Schindler’s List (budget: $22 million/worldwide gross: $321 million), The Prince of Egypt (budget: $70 million/worldwide gross: $218 million), Munich (budget: $70 million/worldwide gross: $130 million), and Exodus: Gods & Kings (budget: $140 million/worldwide gross: $268 million), for example, convincingly attest to the lucrative possibilities.

Until Jewry’s untold tales are given their due, Jewish Hollywood will be unjustifiably marginalizing its own and perpetuating excessive self-effacement, missing opportunities in so doing.

Until then, Jews the world over will continually hope for the cinematic recognition of their rich heritage, and privately wonder of their kindred in Hollywood, “Ayekah? Where are you?”

Japanese corruption, greed are spilled in ‘Blood’

“Blood,” a new play currently at the Complex on Theatre Row in Hollywood, dramatizes an actual Japanese legal case that unfolded over many years and came to be known as the tainted blood scandal.

Playwright/director Robert Allan Ackerman said his script blends fact and fiction. “The general facts of it are all true,” he said. “Some of the characters are fictionalized. They’re actually condensations of many characters.”

The details of the case are complicated, but, in the end, it was proven that the heads of several Japanese pharmaceutical companies, with the collusion of Japanese government ministers, knowingly imported and sold HIV-contaminated blood products from the United States, all the while assuring the public the products were safe. This continued even after a heating process that killed HIV was developed in 1983 by drug companies in the U.S. 

Some 2,000 Japanese hemophiliacs in need of blood are believed to have contracted AIDS from infected agents during the 1980s.

By 1985, some heated blood products were being imported into Japan; however, the companies apparently wanted to profit from their existing stock of untreated product and continued to sell the tainted materials. They also wanted to develop their own heating process to diminish competition from America. In 1996, a newly appointed Japanese health minister uncovered nine hidden files, which he said were definite proof of the conspiracy. 

Ackerman who worked in Japan intermittently over a 20-year period, said he was there directing a play as the scandal was breaking. He recalled being approached by a Japanese film company that asked if he would be interested in making a movie about the subject. They provided him with extensive research, and he eventually wrote a treatment.

“My friends told me, ‘You’d better not do this. You’re going to get a bullet in your head.’ And so I put the thing away, and I didn’t look at it for years, until just recently, when I thought maybe I could turn it into a theater piece,” he said. “I mentor this Japanese group of actors [the Garage]. And they wanted to do a play, so I said, ‘I have this in my drawer.’ ”

Early in the play, a Jewish-American reporter (Alexa Hamilton) reunites with a Japanese friend (Takuma Anzai), who becomes mysteriously ill and dies. The reporter learns from a Japanese-Korean lawyer (Sohee Park) that her friend was a hemophiliac and regularly injected himself with blood products. She and the lawyer hear about other hemophiliacs in Japan who are dying, and they begin to suspect that blood infected with HIV is the cause. They continue probing, learn from witnesses about the wrongdoing, and eventually encourage AIDS-infected patients to file a lawsuit against five drug companies, the health ministry and the AIDS research committee. 

When the lawsuit begins, the plaintiffs are shielded from view in a tent. They are loath to reveal their identity because of the shame in Japanese culture of having AIDS. Several years into the suit, a teenage plaintiff, who contracted AIDS as a child of about 10, and who wants an apology even more than a financial settlement, takes his boom box out in the street and announces that the government gave him AIDS, thereby making the court case public and attracting a great deal of media attention. The character is based on a real young man who, seemingly miraculously, went from being infected with AIDS to being disease-free. He is now a 40 year-old husband, father and member of the Japanese Parliament.

The musical numbers in the play that feature the government ministers are set to the score of “The Mikado” and contain sharply humorous lyrics. “My idea of making the villains into buffoons and, sort of vaudeville comics, I feel, is a very good choice given what’s going on now in the Republican primary.

“And I think by making them comedic, it reveals their evil without having to write this malicious dialogue that I wouldn’t really know how to write. I was doing it really for theatrical effect.”

Like the reporter in his play, Ackerman is Jewish. Though he said he is not observant, he does feel his heritage, which includes religious grandparents, informs his work.

“I would think my sense of humor — I would think a certain amount of human kindness, if you want to call it that, compassion … has a lot to do with having been brought up Jewish. In most all of my work, I can see that. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that consciously, but I certainly see it as a theme in all of my work. I’m usually drawn to stories that are about somehow repairing the world — speaking truth to power.”

For information about production dates and tickets, visit

A Polish spy named Magda

“I don’t know how I did it, but I did it,” declares 93-year old Magda Kasprzycki, a West Hollywood resident, in the eponymous documentary “Magda.”

The “it” unwinds gradually in the 60-minute film, starting with a sheltered childhood in an affluent, scholarly family in the Polish city of Lwow, through the Nazi conquest of her hometown, her recruitment as a spy for the Polish underground, and marriage to an American soldier.

Both Magda’s father and paternal grandfather were university professors and members of the distinguished Catholic Krzemuski family.

Her mother was a beautiful Jewish woman, but since Polish law required a child of a mixed marriage to follow the father’s religion, Magdalena (her birth name), was raised as a Catholic.

The girl inherited her mother’s good looks and grew into an attractive teenager, with blue eyes and reddish-blonde hair, attributes which provided the key to her later role as a “German” woman, while working for the Polish underground.

On Sept. 1, 1939, the German army invaded Poland, setting off World War II.

Within 10 days, Nazi troops conquered Lwow, but Magda’s family had already taken off for Krakow, and, from there, for Warsaw.

Magda’s father was sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, while her older brother, Adam, joined the resistance movement against the occupiers and was later sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. One of the family’s main concerns was to hide the mother’s Jewish identity from the Nazis.          

In early 1944, Adam recruited his sister to serve as courier and liaison between resistance forces in major Polish cities, and with sympathizers in Vienna and even Berlin.

Magda was perfectly qualified for this assignment. In addition to her “Aryan” looks, she spoke German, Polish and Russian fluently, and under the nom de guerre Magda Heiss, she moved fairly easily through Nazi-dominated Europe.

According to the film, she had a couple of close scrapes with the Gestapo, such as one instance in which an alert agent became suspicious of her Polish-made boots. She bluffed her way through these encounters, once even daring her interrogators to arrest her.

The war’s end found Magda in Berlin, which was quickly divided among the Russian, American, French and British occupation sectors. Magda was fortunate enough to live in the American sector.

Her luck continued when she met Capt. Matthew Kasprzycki, a U.S. Army combat officer of Polish descent. They married, and the happy couple moved to Los Angeles, and the captain managed to bring his wife’s parents and brother, who had survived the Nazi regime, to America.

The Warsaw Uprising on May 12, 1943. Photo courtesy USHMM/Steven Spielberg Archives

The greatest asset of “Magda” is the title character herself, who, during three days of intense interviews, shows considerable charm, wit and recall. Since the film evolved over a four-year period, Magda was a mere 89 during the interviews.

Her life since moving to Los Angeles has not been easy. Her husband, whom she described as “the kindest man in the world,” developed a war-related post-traumatic stress disorder and died some years ago. Magda herself survived breast cancer.

The couple had no children, and Magda’s only living relative is her grandnephew Paul Krzemuski, who is also her caretaker.

Jason Rem, 47, the writer, director and executive producer of “Magda,” is a man of varied interests who has made documentaries on electronic music, the International Medical Corps, Rett Syndrome neurological disorders, the Duke and North Carolina Universities basketball rivalry, and other topics.

He met Magda four years ago through a mutual friend and, he said, was instantly inspired by her story. Nevertheless, it took him three years to complete the project, partially to raise funds while continuing his day job as head of TV productions for the World Surf League.

Rem, who is Jewish, brought in “Magda” for a very modest $24,000, with the volunteer labor of relatives and Hollywood friends. For the film, he mixed various cinematic techniques, generally to good effect. The interviews with Magda are the backbone of the story, but they are augmented by historical newsreel footage (with Hitler regularly popping up giving the Nazi salute), re-creation of certain scenes by young actors, and even cartoon drawings..

The extensive footage of war and concentration camp scenes was obtained from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum through Michael Berenbaum of the American Jewish University, who also served as the film’s historical consultant.

Fortunately, Rem said, Magda herself managed to save most of the documents tracing her life’s stages, including swastika-stamped papers, which allowed her to pass as a German during her underground days.

It would have strengthened the film if it had included more concrete details about Magda’s activities as a courier for the Polish resistance.

But on balance, “Magda” adds one more astonishing chapter to the unending saga of horror and heroism during the Holocaust. In the future, Rem hopes to turn “Magda” into a full-length feature movie.

“Magda” will have its world premiere during the Hollywood Film Festival at the Arclight Cinemas on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood.

The initial screening will be on Thursday, Sept. 24 at 3 p.m., and repeated Saturday, Sept. 26 at 3:45 p.m. For tickets and additional information visit or

Magdalena Kasprzycki herself is slated to attend the Saturday screening, during which the producers will also celebrate her 93rd birthday, which fell on Sept. 18.

Regina Cameron and Linda Collins served as the film’s co-executive producers, and composer Gavin Keese as musical director.

Learning Hollywood in the Holy City

Rita (Yijing) Zhang, 22, of Beijing is navigating several historic “walls” as she builds her career as a filmmaker. 

It started in China, where Zhang recently worked as an assistant on the set of Matt Damon’s upcoming film, “The Great Wall.” Now, the international student at Columbia University has set her sights on a different wall — the Western Wall — or at least what it represents: the survival of the Jewish people.

Zhang is one of 22 aspiring filmmakers spending the summer in Israel as part of the second annual Jerusalem Film Workshop, a six-week crash course in filmmaking with the Holy City as their production playground.

“It wasn’t a specific goal to go to Jerusalem and Israel to visit,” Zhang told the Journal during the June 29 orientation, held at Jerusalem’s first American-style, state-of-the-art multiplex, Cinema City. “But it has been somewhere on my mind for a long time to discover this extremely old and interesting culture and how it keeps on surviving for such a long time, similar to Chinese culture.”

Zhang is among the few non-Jewish participants, who hail mostly from the United States and this year include budding filmmakers from Argentina, Croatia, England, France and Panama. They come with a shared passion for filmmaking or Israel — but more often both. 

Judy Kim, 20, is from San Diego and is a film student at Rhode Island School of Design. She felt drawn to Jerusalem because her uncle, an archaeologist, works on digs in Israel. A Christian of Korean descent, she interned last summer for a production company in South Korea that produced documentaries about Israel. 

“This is a good way to collaborate and make one film — and I think that’s closer to what happens in the industry,” Kim said. 

This will be the first time she’ll see her own film through from start to finish; each year, the program divides participants into teams to complete a documentary that will be showcased at the Jerusalem Film Festival, which this year took place from July 9-19, after which they put their energies toward a short fiction film. 

The program is the brainchild of Gal Green-
span and Roi Kurland of Green Productions, an Israeli production company whose most recent pride is the Israeli film “Youth.” The inspiration came during their service in the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) prestigious film unit.

“When we were 18, we went to a film course in the IDF where each soldier that comes to the army, to the film unit, undergoes a month-and-a-half course with the best Israeli filmmakers who come as reserves, and they teach you how to make films,” Greenspan said, speaking from his office in Ramat Gan.

This year, master classes are being given by Israeli industry leaders whose films were either nominated or shortlisted for an Academy Award, including Tom Shoval of “Aya” and “Youth,” himself a protégé of Oscar-winning director Alejandro Inarritu (“Birdman”). Sponsors such as Onward Israel of the Jewish Agency, Bank Hapoalim, United King Films, the New Fund for Film and Television, and the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund have enabled Greenspan to keep costs down to $4,400 per person, covering accommodations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, instruction at the city’s Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts, and equipment and supplies. The City of Jerusalem is an active partner, continuing its trend of offering incentives for filmmakers to shoot in the capital.

Natalie Portman shot her directorial debut, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” in Jerusalem, and Richard Gere recently made the ascent for “Oppenheimer Strategies” by Israeli director Joseph Cedar. NBC Universal’s television series “Dig” was shot on location in Jerusalem last year until Operation Protective Edge erupted. And two animation studios have been built in the city, already drawing the interest of Disney and Technicolor. According to Yoram Honig, director of the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, Jerusalem now holds 20 percent of the market share of Israeli productions, compared to 5 percent two years ago. 

“I believe that when you put the camera in Jerusalem — wherever you put it — you have a film in front of you,” Greenspan said, explaining why he chose to place the program in Jerusalem. “It’s such a complex city that it’s a movie in front of your eyes.”

While the workshop is designed to provide an “Israel experience,” Greenspan said the focus of the program is cinema, not Israel advocacy. This year, teams selected their cinematic subjects from among predetermined organizations or personalities that reflect the broad range of political, cultural, social and religious layers that characterize the city. 

Greenspan’s advice to the neophytes was simple: “Tell good stories, great stories — then your film will be great.”

‘Titanic’ composer dies in California plane crash

Hollywood composer James Horner, who scored the Oscar-winning film “Titanic” and its mega-hit theme song “My Heart Will Go On”, died in a plane crash in southern California on Monday, U.S. media reported.

The aircraft came down in the Los Padres National Forest, north of Los Angeles, triggering a fire that charred more than an acre of brush, local fire authorities said.

Star actors from Russell Crowe to Kirstie Alley took to Twitter to pay tribute to Horner, after trade publications The Hollywood Reporter and Variety reported he had died in his private plane.

Director Ron Howard wrote: “Brilliant Composer James Horner, friend & collaborator on 7 movies has tragically died in a plane crash. My heart aches for his loved ones.”

Horner, 61, won two Academy Awards for his work on “Titanic”, one for the score and one shared with lyricist Will Jennings for best original song – “My Heart Will Go On”, performed by Celine Dion.

Horner also composed the music for “Aliens”, “The Karate Kid”, “Braveheart” and a string of other major films. His scores for “Avatar”, “A Beautiful Mind” and “House of Sand and Fog” earned Oscar nominations.

His attorney Jay Cooper told Reuters he had not heard from Horner since the crash, but could not confirm whether he was on board at the time. “He's an experienced pilot, but I know nothing else,” Cooper said.

The Ventura County Fire Department said the plane crashed at 9:30 a.m. (1630 GMT Sunday) and there were no survivors. The cause of the crash was not immediately known.

Celebrity reactions to Joan Rivers’ death

Meet the Jewish founders of Tinder

Finding dates used to require approaches such as hiring matchmakers, signing up for dancing and cooking classes, attending synagogue, asking friends for help, or, for the least energetic, merely creating a cursory profile on sites such as JDate.

But now, thanks to apps such as the uber-popular Tinder, it takes just one finger and a smartphone to maybe, just maybe, find your one-and-only. 

Launched in 2012, Tinder may now be millennials’ most popular source for matchmaking — possibly even more than friends introducing friends.

Two of the app’s three creators are Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, two Jewish 27-year-olds from Los Angeles who set up shop in West Hollywood with their other co-founder, Jonathan Badeen. (Despite their full work and social schedules, both Rad and Mateen said they make sure to be at their parents’ Shabbat dinner tables every Friday.) They declined to reveal how many millions of people have downloaded Tinder, but they are competing with the most successful matchmaking apps (see: Hinge) in “creating introductions,” Tinder’s raison d’etre.

Available for free on Apple and Android operating systems, Tinder works like this: If Ted, 22, wants to meet someone new, the app starts by pulling information from his Facebook account — first name, age, interests, friends and photos. Then Ted can write a brief description of himself, choose which photos to post and — voila! — time to Tinder.

One after another, pictures of young women — if that’s who he’s looking to meet — will appear on Ted’s screen, along with their first names and ages. Ted can also see whether they have friends or interests in common. 

Clicking on the profile photo of one — say, Victoria, 23 — Ted scrolls through a few more pictures, reads her bio (she describes herself as “compassionate and adventurous” and has an Instagram account) and sees that their mutual Facebook friend is someone he has never met in person. Not sufficiently intrigued, Ted swipes his finger to the left, sending Victoria into the Tinder netherworld. He will never see her again.

Next up is Beth, 21. Bad photo. Easy choice. Swipe left.

Then Jamie, 22. Cute face but strange smile. Swipe left.

It has been only seven seconds since Ted swiped left on Victoria, and he’s coming up on his fourth potential match: Sara, 21. She’s very pretty, has four mutual friends, loves Dave Matthews Band, and she last used the app five minutes ago (Tinder shows that), so she’s definitely actively looking. Swipe right.

Suddenly, a new screen pops up with a picture of Ted and Sara and the words “It’s a Match!” This means Sara must have seen Ted’s profile and swiped right, too. This allows them to send direct messages to each other, share some jokes, exchange phone numbers and then, who knows what?

Gary Oldman defends Mel Gibson, describes Hollywood as ‘town that’s run by Jews’

[UPDATE: Gary Oldman apologizes for Playboy comments]

Actor Gary Oldman defended Mel Gibson for a 2006 drunken anti-Semitic rant and said those who criticized him were hypocrites.

In an interview with Playboy magazine, Oldman said of Gibson, “He got drunk and said a few things, but we’ve all said those things. … The policeman who arrested him never used the word n***** or that f***ing Jew?”

Gibson had said during the rant that “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”

Oldman added, “So they persecute. Mel Gibson is in a town that’s run by Jews and he said the wrong thing because he’s actually bitten the hand that I guess has fed him — and doesn’t need to feed him anymore because he’s got enough dough. He’s like an outcast, a leper, you know? But some Jewish guy in his office somewhere hasn’t turned and said, ‘That f***ing kraut’ or ‘F*** those Germans,’ whatever it is? We all hide and try to be so politically correct.”

Oldman previously had defended Alec Baldwin’s use of an anti-gay slur.

AIPAC vs. Oscars

Anti-Semites say that Jews control Hollywood. And they say that Jews control Washington. But can we control both at once?

The biggest event in pro-Israel Israel advocacy — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference — kicks off this Sunday, the same day as Hollywood’s biggest night, the Academy Awards.

According to the AIPAC conference schedule, the day’s big speakers (Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and AIPAC President Bob Cohen) will have wrapped up by 7 p.m. — early enough for them to catch the red carpet broadcast from Hollywood.

AIPAC evening events going head-to-head with the Oscars include an offsite dinner for AIPAC leaders, a campus awards program titled “Sunday Night Live” and unspecified “special events.”

This isn’t the first time that a major Jewish organization has had to compete with a major television event.

In 1998, the American Jewish Committee scheduled its annual meeting opposite the series finale of “Seinfeld.”

“What the hell are you all doing here? Don’t you know what tonight is?” show co-star Jason Alexander asked AJC attendees  in a video-taped message.

This year’s AIPAC conference continues on Monday and Tuesday, starring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Secretary of State John Kerry, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and musician David Broza.

Gal Gadot signs 3-picture deal to play Wonder Woman

Get ready for lots of Gal Gadot. Turns out the Israeli actress and model won’t just be playing Wonder Woman in “Batman vs. Superman,” as recently reported. She’ll be playing Wonder Woman in three movies.

Gadot revealed the news of her three-picture deal with Warner Bros. on the Israeli talk show “Good Evening With Gai Pines.” She also shared that she’s getting paid a modest $300,000 for the first of the three films, a follow-up to “Man of Steel.”

This kind of frankness when it comes to salary is unusual in Hollywood for sure. It could be she thought the information would stay in Israel, although in that case, she seriously underestimated the passionate devotion of comic book fans. The interview appeared first on Batman News (tagline: “The premier source for all things Batman”). Judging from her last chat with Gai Pines, though, Gadot is simply the type who likes to put it all out there.

“Batman vs. Superman” begins filming in May, and Gadot is quite comfortable in a bikini.

Golden Globes’ Jewish winners

Among the crop of victors at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards were a noteworthy bunch of Jewish Hollywood types.

Best Screenplay, Motion Picture went to Spike Jonze (born Adam Spiegel) for “Her.”

Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie is Michael Douglas, who played Liberace in “Behind the Candelabra.”

Possibly the most controversial of the bunch is Woody Allen, who would have taken home the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement if he had shown up. Diane Keaton accepted on his behalf, and Mia and Ronan Farrow dissed him on Twitter.

Andy Samberg scored twice, winning Best Actor in a TV series, Comedy for his role on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” which was named Best TV Series, Comedy. If you missed his adorable acceptance speech, check it out here. It was one of the evening’s highlights, we think.

See for yourself, via Vulture.

Clergy reflect on Proposition 8

On a wall of the Autry National Center — among Los Angeles Jewish immigrant artifacts, biographies of Hollywood Jewry, above a case of kippot from Uganda — a white banner proclaims in crimson letters: “Beth Chayim Chadashim, Jewish, Gay & Lesbian & Proud.” The banner, used in gay pride marches in the 1980s and ’90s, is part of the museum’s exhibition “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic,” which runs through Jan. 5. Lent to the museum by the world’s first gay synagogue, Beth Chayim Chadashim, (House of New Life), the banner is presented as a symbol of gay liberation in Jewish life.

Just across the museum’s courtyard, in its Wells Fargo Theater, the gay pride movement and, in particular, the road to marriage equality, came to life at an Oct. 20 symposium, “Faith Meets 8,” linked to the “Mosaic” show. Moderated by Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus, speakers included the Rev. Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), the world’s first gay church, and Rabbi Lisa Edwards of Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), joined by Mormon scholar Joanna Brooks, and USC religion and sociology professor Paul Lichterman.

This November marks the fifth anniversary of the passage of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. Much of the discussion at the Autry centered on the role that conservative religious groups played in the measure’s initial success — prior to it being overturned by the United States Supreme Court last spring — as well as what the speakers described as recent rapid shifts leading up to this year’s resumption of gay marriages.

“What we’re seeing now is this sea change that’s happening in same-sex marriage in state after state, such a sudden change and such a shift from what we saw in 2008,” said Edwards, whose Reform congregation is in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. The rabbi attributed these changes to the hard work of activists, as well as the positive impact that recent same-sex marriages have had, especially on prior opponents. “There’s nothing like getting invited to a wedding … and seeing what a couple is creating together, a family together, to help people let that fear fall away, to break down those boundaries,” Edwards told the audience of about 60 people. 

It was Perry, whom Edwards referred to as “the founding reverend” of the BCC, whose encouragement led to the formation of the Jewish congregation in 1972, and his L.A. church served as the temple’s original home. In 2004, Perry, along with his husband, was among the first litigants to sue the state of California in seeking gay marriage. The Supreme Court overturned Proposition 8 in June, along with the landmark ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act, and in October, New Jersey became the 14th state to legalize gay marriage. Other states, including Michigan, are expected to follow soon. Although Perry emphasized his belief in marriage equality as a civil right, he also found grounding in his faith: “I’m as serious as a heart attack over this issue. … I come from a religious background that told me it was moral to marry … so for me it was a religious issue.” 

The conversation at the Autry also focused on how many Mormons, Evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews voted in support Proposition 8, because they believed same-sex marriages might lead to infringements on their own religious liberties. When moderator Lazarus asked whether religion has impeded social change, the symposium speakers said that faith and progress can go hand in hand, and that it was time to look forward.

In an interview, Edwards said she has been delighted to see her calendar fill up with weddings and noted an influx of younger gay and lesbian couples joining together under the chuppah. “Celebrating Jewishly, and within the law,” Edwards said, “feels so good.”

Is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s ‘Don Jon’ bad for the Jews?

Apparently lots and lots of sex isn’t the most potentially offensive thing about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s latest film “Don Jon.”

The Italian American One Voice Coalition has accused the Jewish actor/director of promoting “racist stereotypes” in the movie, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“Here we go again with the same shop-worn, racist stereotypes of Italian Americans in movies,” said organization founder Emanuele “Manny” Alfano. “It never ends. Levitt, himself the son of proud parents who once founded the Jewish Progressive Alliance and fought for social justice causes, should be ashamed of himself for the negative portrayal of Italians and Jews in his movie.”

In “Don Jon,” Gordon-Levitt plays Jon Martello, a “Jersey Shore”-esque porn addict who falls for a Jewish (and also very Jersey-fied) chick named Barbara Sugarman, played by real-life Jew Scarlett Johansson.

As no specific scenes were cited and we haven’t seen the film ourselves, at this time we here at 6NoBacon will abstain from weighing in. But we’re guessing it probably can’t be much worse stereotype-wise than “Jewtopia,” right?

Finding ‘Jewtopia’

I sat somewhere between anxious and bored in my seat, picking at the polyester threads as they unraveled from the sleeve of my robe. One after one, my classmates were called to the bimah, and in the same sing-song cadence of their bar or bat mitzvah speeches, they started their presentations which all began (at the direction of our teacher) “I am a Jew because … ”.

Our class was comprised of a much smaller group than had made the b’nai mitzvah circuit 3 years before. Now what remained was a group whose parents either guilted them or bribed them to continue their studies through Confirmation (most of them) and those who actually enjoyed learning more about Jewish heritage, prayer and texts (me). But I played along and rolled my eyes during the boring parts.

The Rabbi called the name of one of my classmates once, twice – but no one appeared. “Bueller, Bueller,” the class clown said just loud enough to send a wave of laughter through the room. Suddenly, our giggling was interrupted by what sounded like elephants clomping up wooden stairs.

“I can’t believe he showed up!” Someone exclaimed as our classmate, shirt untucked, hair umkempt and kippah holding on by a half of a pin for dear life, clamored up on stage to give his speech.

He pulled out a piece of crumpled paper from his pocket..

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In producing Jewtopia, Courtney Mizel mixes her passion for the arts with business acumen garnered over decades of experience in the entrepreneurial, consulting, sales, marketing and entertainment industries. She is also the Founding Director of the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, and a voiceover artist. Courtney is most proud of her endeavors in the philanthropic world and of her two amazing daughters, Zoe and Isabella.

Thriller brings gay romance, Mideast intrigue into focus

Filmmakers in Hollywood and abroad long have been fascinated by characters representing different races, religions, nationalities or ideologies who transgress social taboos and barriers by falling in love.

Back in the silent and barely speaking movie era of the 1920s, Jewish boys and gentile girls got together and ignored parental dismay in such love-conquers-all films as “Frisco Sally Levy,” “Abie’s Irish Rose” and, my favorite title, “Kosher Kitty Kelly” — well before such liaisons became commonplace.

It took a few more decades before Sidney Poitier could marry a WASP beauty in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Now it’s the turn of gays, with some of the best work in the genre coming from such Israeli directors as the late Amos Guttman, Yair Hochner and Eytan Fox. The latter’s “Walk on Water,” for instance, hooks up a hard-as-nails Mossad agent, who assassinates Nazi war criminals, with the grandson of his latest target.

A new entry in the genre is “Out in the Dark,” the first feature film of Michael Mayer, a Haifa native and graduate of USC’s film school who now works and lives in Los Angeles.

Meshing a political thriller with a passionate love theme, the film centers on a little-known component of the Tel Aviv mosaic consisting of Palestinian gays who have fled their West Bank villages and towns and now live “illegally” in the permissive Israeli city.

Roy Schaefer, a handsome, well-connected Israeli lawyer, meets Nimr Mashrawi, a Palestinian psychology student, in a Tel Aviv gay nightclub, and almost instantly the two form a deep personal and sexual bond.

Nimr is in the fortunate position of carrying a permit from the Israeli authorities, which allows him to study at a Tel Aviv university and travel freely between the city and his family’s home in Ramallah.

The parents of both men, already embarrassed by their sons’ sexual orientations, are even more upset when they learn about their new love interests.

Roy brings Nimr to his parents’ home for dinner, and while the elders maintain a civil attitude, afterward the mother lets Roy know how deeply she disapproves of his relationship with a Palestinian.

Nimr’s reception in his own home is considerably worse. Nabil, his older brother, is part of a small terrorist band that executes Palestinians who “collaborate” with Israelis, and he hides a cache of weapons in his home.

Although Nimr argues that “you need more than guns to build a [Palestinian] state,” his mother tells him that he has brought shame on the family, and his brother threatens to kills him.

On the Israeli side, the film’s heavy is a state security official who tries to recruit Nimr as a spy, offering the Palestinian “a lot of freedom for a little information.” If Nimr refuses, his permit to study in Tel Aviv will be revoked.

Beset by all sides, the lovers plan an escape to a European country and the outcome of their scheme forms the tense closing segment of the film.

The actors portraying Roy and Nimr are almost as different as their screen personas. Michael Aloni, who portrays Roy, is a veteran actor and one of Israel’s most popular TV stars.

Nicholas Jacob, born in Haifa, is the son of an Arab-Israeli father and an Italian mother, and the role of Nimr is his first acting stint.

Director Mayer, 40, moved to Los Angeles after finishing his Israeli army service. He has produced the documentary “Driving Men,” but for the past 10 years has worked mainly on creating movie trailers.

He became interested in the theme of “Out in the Dark” several years ago, when a friend told him about the impromptu shelters and safe houses set up by Israeli gays —mainly in Tel Aviv but also in Jerusalem — to harbor Palestinian gays facing hostility and threats in their West Bank communities.

There are no precise figures on the number of such gay refugees, but Mayer cited a 2006 study that put the total between 300 and 350. He believes the number is about the same today.

During periods of relative calm, Israeli authorities have granted some study and work permits, but these are now harder to come by, Mayer said.

Israelis involved in setting up the shelters range across the political spectrum, and Mayer said he was careful not to focus his film on the warring ideologies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“There is a certain bond among gays, rooted in shared experiences as outsiders, that transcend ethnic and political differences,” Mayer said.

The director, who is himself gay, likens this bond to a certain camaraderie linking Jews throughout the world, regardless of different views and backgrounds.

In general, he believes, gays in the United States and other countries are more open to racial and social differences than their straight compatriots.

Mayer, together with his co-writer Yael Shafrir and co-producer Lihu Roter, raised about $400,000 to make their film, with about two-thirds coming from Israeli sources, mainly the Israel Film Fund and television Channel 10. The remainder of the money came from the United States.

The “small film,” as Mayer terms it, has done surprisingly well. It is being shown in some 45 countries, from Europe to Taiwan and Brazil, and has won awards at 20 different film festivals.

 “I’ve paid all my investors back,” Mayer said proudly, “and that rarely happens with independent films.”

Mayer, who professes to “love thrillers,” lists a murder mystery among his future projects.

“Out in the Dark” opens Sept. 27 at Laemmle’s NoHo 7 in North Hollywood.

Yakov Smirnoff’s elixir of love

Yakov Smirnoff has been in the comedy business for more than 30 years. He knows how to make people laugh. 

Now, he’s trying to show everyone just how important laughter is when it comes to relationships. 

Smirnoff, who spent the past two decades showcasing his act at his theater in Branson, Mo., has returned to Los Angeles. Through Sept. 21, he’ll be at the Acme Comedy Theatre in Hollywood performing his one-man show, “Happily Ever Laughter,” a mix of stand-up about his personal life and career, as well as a humorous seminar for couples. 

It may seem odd that the comedian, who is best known for his “In Soviet Russia” jokes, would be doing a show about relationships. But he explains that, as somebody who makes people laugh, he felt it was his duty to help couples laugh more together. 

“In a relationship, people experience a lot of laughter. They bond over it. It’s a sign that a relationship is good. People don’t know how to sustain the laughter later on in their relationships,” he said. “As a comedian, I create it on a regular basis. I thought, ‘Wow, I can figure this out.’ And that’s why I’m doing this.” 

Smirnoff saw the awe-inspiring power of laughter when, in the 1980s, he wrote jokes for a speech that President Ronald Reagan gave to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He said that because Gorbachev and fellow Russian politicians laughed along with Reagan, the Cold War came to an end. 

 “Laughter was a byproduct of Gorbachev and Reagan’s relationship,” Smirnoff said. “I know laughter is how we change the world.”

“Happily Ever Laughter” made its Broadway debut 10 years ago. Since then, Smirnoff has taken the show all over the country and tweaked it along the way. 

He’s got credentials that help: a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, and experience teaching courses on relationships at Missouri State University and Drury University, both in Springfield, Mo.

The show begins with a video about “America’s Mural,” a 9/11 tribute mural that Smirnoff anonymously painted (and fronted $100,000 for) after the Twin Towers fell. He talks about his life in the Soviet Union, where he lived in a nine-family communal apartment and shared a room with his parents until he was 26 years old. He said that when his parents were being funny together, they were also showing how much they cared for one another. 

“When I heard their laughter, I put two and two together. I knew I was in the presence of love. Intuitively, I felt love and laughter were inseparable companions.”

Smirnoff and his parents immigrated to New York City with very little money and no knowledge of the English language. He worked in a restaurant and then started pursuing comedy, which led to roles in “Moscow on the Hudson” with Robin Williams, “The Money Pit,” starring Tom Hanks, and “Heartburn” with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. Eventually, he was asked to perform at the White House for Reagan, which led to the speech-writing gig. During that time, he fell in love, got married and had two children — a son and a daughter.  

About halfway through his show, Smirnoff travels from the middle to the side of the stage and shows video clips of fighting and happy couples. He demonstrates that when couples don’t have fun, they suffer. 

This is what happened in his own relationship when, after 12 years of marriage, he and his wife divorced. Although Smirnoff is currently in a relationship, he said that he is attempting to comprehend what happened with his previous one. 

“Part of this work is to figure this out because I couldn’t sustain the laughter in my relationship,” he said. “That’s probably what pushed me to try and understand it.” 

Following the mini-seminar, Smirnoff closes out his show with more stand-up, and touches upon the love he has experienced in his life. He sensed it when his first landlady in New York City gave his family an apartment for $50 instead of $240 and covered the rest, and he observed it after 9/11. Whenever he’s with his kids, he feels the love, and he saw it when he met a couple from Thousand Oaks who have been laughing together throughout their 80-year marriage.  

Through his show, he said he can witness laughter bringing couples together right before his eyes. 

“When I do a show, I watch people walk in and they are distracted and disconnected,” he said. “They are there to get joy from a comedy show. As the show progresses I watch their body language. Twenty to 30 minutes into the show, they’re starting to lean toward one another. Then they hold hands. As the show ends they leave smiling, giggling and walking together to their cars.”

Smirnoff said that since he knows how to make people laugh, he has the obligation to make a difference in the world. 

“I felt I was given this quest to figure this out because I’m a comedian, and I have this talent. However, I also have this brain, [as well as] the desire to figure out the parts, dissect it, and say, ‘Here’s how it works. Here’s how happiness works.’ I want to contribute to the pursuit of happiness. You can pursue it. I want to help people to know now.”

The ACME Comedy Hollywood Theater is located at 135 N. La Brea Avenue.  Performances will be August 24, 28 & 31 and September 7, 14 and 21 at 8:00PM.  Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door, and can be purchased online at or by phone at (877) 779-2568.

Alicia Silverstone opens vegan breast milk sharing service

It seems Mayim Bialik isn’t the only vegan Jewish actress/author in Hollywood who happens to also be an outspoken breastfeeding advocate.

While Bialik has provided advice to fellow moms, Alicia Silverstone is now providing them with actual breast milk. According to Us Weekly, Silverstone, mom to Bear Blu, 2, and author of The Kind Diet, has just launched Kind Mama Milk Share, a service for vegan mothers unable to produce enough milk on their own.

In a recent blog post Silverstone wrote of a woman in her community who had trouble nursing due to a breast reduction surgery and didn’t feel comfortable accepting donor milk because “it was almost impossible to figure out what kind of lifestyle choices the donors had made.”

Using someone else’s breast milk—and insisting that person be a “clean eater”– might seem extreme, but Silverstone is no stranger to extreme baby-feeding methods. Last year she uploaded a video of herself practicing premastication, i.e., transferring prechewed food from her mouth to Bear Blu’s.

“I can understand that [pre-chewing] would make some people feel uncomfortable possibly, because it’s new to them,” Silverstone told ET. “But I do want to let you know that this has been going on for thousands of years. [It's] still going on all over the place. And it’s natural.”

We’re just hoping there are no plans for a Kind Mama Prechewed Food Share on the horizon.

Summer Sneaks calendar



More than 20 dramas, documentaries, comedies, foreign language films and shorts will be shown at seven venues from Thousand Oaks to Beverly Hills. Highlights at the eighth annual L.A. Jewish Film Festival include tonight’s star-studded opening-night gala celebration with the premiere of the comedy “Putzel,” starring Susie Essman (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and Melanie Lynskey (“Two and a Half Men”); “Neil Diamond: Solitary Man,” a documentary on the music icon; “Becoming Henry/Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir,” with Polanski addressing every aspect of his celebrated and controversial life; “My Father and the Man in Black,” the untold story of Johnny Cash and his talented but troubled manager; and “When Comedy Went to School,” the closing-night film, which presents an entertaining portrait of the country’s greatest generation of comedians. A program of the Jewish Journal. Sat. Through June 6. Various times, locations. $40 (opening night gala), $7-$12 (films). (213) 368-1661.


Based out of Mishkan Omanim (The Artists’ Studio) in Herzliya, Israeli artist Hofshi returns to Los Angeles with her latest exhibition, “Cessation,” which explores the relationship between the artist, topographical patterns and her perception of the environment and man through works on paper, installations and woodcutting. Sat. 7-9 p.m. (opening reception). Through July 27 (Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.). Shulamit Gallery, 17 N. Venice Blvd., Venice. (310) 281-0961.



One of Israel’s foremost singer-songwriters and co-founder of the world music ensemble Sheva, Ben-Ari combines traditional Jewish ethnic chants with rock, soul, reggae and pop. Guest artist Mooke, an Israeli rapper and former frontman of Shabak Samech, also performs on the last stop of Ben-Ari’s U.S. tour. Mon. 7:30 p.m. $45 (advance), $55 (door). Avalon, 1735 N. Vine St., Hollywood. (323) 462-8900.



Mandy Patinkin

Beloved for his Broadway turns in “Evita” and “Sunday in the Park With George” as well as numerous roles on screens big (“The Princess Bride,” “Yentl”) and small (“Homeland,” “Criminal Minds,” “Chicago Hope”), the Tony and Emmy winner performs popular standards and Broadway classics while backed by the Pasadena POPS, conducted for this concert by Eric Stern. Sun. 8 p.m. $81-$153. John Anson Ford Theatres, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., Hollywood. (323) 461-3673.



Direct from Broadway, following a critically acclaimed sold-out run, the pop singer-songwriter brings hits like “Mandy,” “Copacabana,” “Looks Like We Made It,” “I Write the Songs” and “Can’t Smile” to adoring Fanilows during a three-night engagement at the Greek. Fri. 8 p.m. Through June 16. $9.99-$249.99. The Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 665-5857.



Judy Gold, the 6-foot-3 Jewish mother of two, is bringing her big, critically acclaimed off-Broadway hit to the Geffen. A one-woman show and homage to the classic sitcoms of Gold’s youth, including “The Brady Bunch,” “The Partridge Family” and “Facts of Life,” “The Judy Show” covers life, love, show biz and ultimately her quest for her very own show. Through July 28. Tue. 8 p.m. $57. The Geffen Playhouse, Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater Season, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-2028.



The road warriors from the East Coast jam band scene blend the sounds of Simon and Garfunkel and the Beach Boys with tribal drumming. Led by nice Jewish boys Ryan Miller and Adam Gardner on guitars and vocals and Brian Rosenworcel on percussion, the band joins groups Barenaked Ladies and Ben Folds Five for the “Last Summer on Earth 2013” tour.  Sun. 7 p.m. $37.75-$77.75. The Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 665-5857.

THU | JUNE 27 


The acclaimed author of “Coraline,” “The Graveyard Book,” the comic book series “The Sandman” and the award-winning fantasy novel “American Gods” discusses his well-received new novel, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” with Entertainment Weekly’s Geoff Boucher. Gaiman’s first work for an adult audience in eight years, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” follows a middle-aged man who returns to his childhood home, where he is confronted by a past too strange, too frightening and too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy. Thu. 8 p.m. $40-$103. Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. (818) 243-2539.

SUN | JUNE 30 


The Hollywood legend you’ve never heard of — who guided the careers of celebrities Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Neil Diamond and Joan Rivers; championed the making of the “Woodstock” film, saving Warner Bros. in the process; and discovered martial arts sensation Bruce Lee — discusses his memoir, “Bruce Lee, Woodstock and Me.” “I’ve pretty much seen and done it all,” writes Weintraub. “Or at least as much as any nice, Jewish, Ritalin-deprived, Depression baby could ever hope to see and do.” Sun. 2-4 p.m. Museum admission rates apply: $10 (adults), $6 (students, seniors), $4 (children, 3-12), free (children under 3). Autry National Center, Griffith Park, Los Angeles. (323) 667-2000, ext. 326.

WED | JULY 10 


Pulitzer- and Tony-winning playwright Bruce Norris follows up his monster hit “Clybourne Park” with this mind-scrambling comedy that distorts the audience’s perspective and poses profound questions about the choices we make. Directed by Tony-winning director Anna Shapiro (“August: Osage County”), “A Parallelogram” follows Bee, for whom the past, present and future collide when strange new revelations rock her seemingly normal suburban life and take her down a rabbit hole. Through Aug. 18. Wed. 8 p.m. $30-$50. Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown. (213) 628-2772.


Beth Lapides


Idiosyncratic blends with the conversational to form actress, writer and producer Lapides’ weekly stand-up showcase. Over its 25 years of existence, “Uncabaret” has fostered the careers of stars Kathy Griffin, Margaret Cho and Jeff Garlin. This time the magic happens at the summer series Grand Performances. Fri. 8 p.m. Free.  Grand Performances, 300-350 S. Grand Ave., downtown. (213) 687-2159.


Celebrate the creative universe of artist, illustrator, animator and toy designer Gary Baseman, whose whimsical exhibition, “The Door Is Always Open,” is currently on display at the Skirball. The festive “Into the Night” soiree features live bands, DJ sets, gallery explorations, art making, film screenings and a special appearance by the artist himself. Ages 21 and over. Fri. 9 p.m.-1 a.m. $15 (advance), $20 (door). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.



Celebrating America’s great composer, SongFest 2013 partners with Grand Performances to present a concert, the centerpiece of which will be the unpublished “Songfest: A Cycle of American Poems for Six Singers and Orchestra,” a 1977 song cycle by Bernstein. Other works include favorites from “Candide” and “West Side Story.” Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie Bernstein, will recite the poems. Sat. 8 p.m. Free. Grand Performances, 300-350 S. Grand Ave., downtown. (213) 687-2159.



Featuring contemporary design, exceptional objects and multimedia, this 14,000-square-foot permanent exhibition offers a unique take on Los Angeles: Inside a suite of four galleries, a visually striking canopy symbolizes the sweep of history and leads visitors through major sections or historical eras: the pre-Spanish landscape, the Mission Era, the Mexican Rancho Era, the early years of the American Period, the emergence of a new American city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and L.A. as a global city of the 21st century. Sun. 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. $12 (adults), $9 (seniors, college students, ages 13-17), $5 (ages 3-12). The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 763-3466.


In the season two premiere, the staff of “News Night,” led by anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), producer Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) and cable news president Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) chase a mysterious tip, which leads to a story that ultimately spins out of control. New arrivals to the Aaron Sorkin series include actress Marcia Gay Harden, who plays a litigator defending the station from a termination suit. Sun. Free. 10 p.m.

THU | AUG 1 


The acclaimed Israeli composer and musician resets Hebrew prayers and poetry to Indian devotional music. Part of the Skirball Sunset Concert series, presenting musical traditions from around the world. Thu. 8 p.m. Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

SAT | AUG 10 


Southern California-based klezmer band Mostly Kosher’s bandleader and singer Leeav Sofer and Janice “Rachele the Matchmaker” Mautner Markham on violin celebrate Jewish culture. They perform songs and stories from across the globe as part of the family series “Big!World!Fun!” at the Ford. Sat. 10 a.m. $5 (adults), free (ages 12 and younger). John Anson Ford Theatres, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., Hollywood. (323) 461-3673.


The Zev Yaroslavsky Signature Series continues with the Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Led by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, Complexions troupe brings its athletic, lyrical, technically proficient and seasoned choreography and dancers to the Ford stage. The evening also includes local favorite Lula Washington Dance Theatre, a creative outlet for dancers in South Los Angeles. Sat. 8 p.m. $45-$85. John Anson Ford Theatres, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., Hollywood. (323) 461-3673.

TUE | AUG 20 

Itzhak Perlman


The melding of the Israeli-American violinist’s soulful tone and virtuosic technique with Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot’s tenor highlights tonight’s concert performance, “Eternal Echoes: Songs and Dances for the Soul.” This program includes beloved Jewish liturgical and traditional works in arrangements for chamber orchestra and klezmer musicians. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Klezmer Conservatory Band and conductor Russell Ger also appear. Tue. 8 p.m. $1-$136. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 850-2000.

SUN | AUG 25


Encompassing dance and music from Russia, Argentina, Israel and the United States, the orchestral ensemble’s performance, “Cultural Collaborations,” features the orchestra and Argentinian tango dancers Miriam Marici and Leonardo Barrionuevo performing the U.S. premiere of “Go Tango!” along with a musical look at the familiar story of Tevye the Milkman (“Fiddler on the Roof”) in the symphonic suite “Reb Tevye.” The evening continues with violinist Kobi Malkin, who is featured in the world premiere of Sholom Secunda’s “Violin Concerto,” and closes with a return to dance with the world premiere of “Israeli Country Dances Suite,” which highlights 10 different forms of dance popular in Israel over the years, ending in a rousing horah. BODYTRAFFIC dance ensemble acts out the interpretation. Sun. 7:30 p.m. $30-$50 (general), $20 (students). John Anson Ford Theatres, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., Hollywood. (323) 461-3673.



Baseman’s solo exhibition, “Base Man” — featuring the works of the artist, illustrator, animator and toy designer — runs through the fall at the Venice-based Shulamit Gallery. Born in 1960 to Polish-born Holocaust survivors, Baseman began his career as a successful illustrator in the 1980s, then transitioned into fine art in 1999, gaining wide recognition for his whimsical work. Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Shulamit Gallery, 17 N. Venice Blvd., Venice. (310) 281-0961.

How the Jews changed Los Angeles

“Los Angeles today is the bellwether of American style and taste and culture. Los Angeles Jewry is the bellwether of American Jewish life. … Los Angeles Jews are God’s people and they live in the City of the Angels.”

— “Guide to Jewish Los Angeles,” published by the Jewish Federation Council in the 1980s.

When Los Angeles was incorporated as a city in 1850, eight Jews, all bachelors, were included on the population rolls. Today, according to the best estimates, somewhere between 600,000 to 650,000 Jews live in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, with figures varying depending upon who does the estimating, how they define the geographical boundaries and, indeed, the definition of who is a Jew.

During the intervening 163 years, not only has the size of L.A.’s Jewish community evolved again and again, but so too has its neighborhood concentrations, social standing, occupational preferences and political clout.

On May 10, the Autry National Center in Griffith Park will open its doors to arguably the most ambitious attempt to encapsulate this vibrant history in its exhibition, “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic.”

The exhibition focuses in particular on two historical interactions — the impact of the Jewish community on the evolution of Los Angeles and the way the city, with its multiethnic population, has changed and molded its Jewish residents, in the process creating a Jewish persona distinct in attitude and lifestyle from its East Coast and Midwestern cousins.

At the exhibition’s entry, visitors are introduced to two disparate neighborhoods deeply linked to the evolution of Los Angeles Jewish life — Boyle Heights and Hollywood — and then to the first of the display’s three chronological divisions.

This first section, titled “Remaking Los Angeles/Making Los Angeles (1850-1900),” illustrates the distinctive fact that Jews were part of the city, and indeed of much of the American West, from the beginning, and were not just later immigrants to already well-established cities and towns.

Using maps, models, artifacts, business correspondence and broadsides as emblems of the rich fabric of the region, the show’s curator, Karen S. Wilson, introduces viewers to the community and to the Hebrew Benevolent Society, founded in 1854 as the raw city’s first charitable organization.

The first synagogue, Congregation B’nai B’rith, which evolved into today’s Reform Wilshire Boulevard Temple, followed in 1862, and its ornate architectural home is represented by an elaborate column capital as well as an early embroidery of the Ten Commandments.

Stone capital from exterior synagogue column, circa 1896, courtesy of Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Life was hard on the new frontier, so early  on in Los Angeles people were judged mainly by their labor, not by their religious or ethnic background. In such an environment, “bigotry was a luxury,” Wilson noted.

The next era, titled “Growing Pains,” spans the first 50 years of the 1900s, a period that proved a setback from the era of equality.

With the completion of the nation’s transcontinental rail links in the late 19th century, white Protestants, mainly from the Midwest, poured into Southern California, bringing with them anti-Semitic attitudes. As a result, social and commercial clubs and institutions, frequently founded by Jews, came to exclude them.

In one response, Jews created “an empire of their own” by inventing the movie industry, led by men with names like Zucker, Goldwyn (born Shmuel Gelbfisz, later Anglicized to Samuel Goldfish) and Mayer as the founding fathers. The immense legacy of the early history of the industry, and its impact on the region, is telescoped in the Autry show, represented by a single camera used in the shooting of “The Squaw Man” in 1918 and the program for the 1923 premiere of “The Ten Commandments” at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre.

The impresario Sid Grauman, who four years later would open the even gaudier Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, also illustrated in the exhibition, demonstrated that the Jewish impact on Hollywood extended well beyond just film producers and directors.

Linking two Jewish eras in the West, Grauman as a boy traveled with his father to the Yukon as Gold Rush prospectors.

Set of film “The Squaw Man,” 1913, Los Angeles Public Library Collection.

Jews also composed much of the popular music of the era, which can be heard at listening stations in the galleries.

Throughout the decades, the resident Jewish community was enlarged and invigorated by the arrival of newcomers. The early 20th century saw the arrival of Jews mainly from Eastern Europe, augmented by some from Mediterranean countries. In the 1930s, Jews exiled by the Nazi regime became major figures in the city’s intellectual and artistic life, and various artifacts and letters illustrate the attempts of film director Billy Wilder, conductor Otto Klemperer and composer Arnold Schoenberg and their émigré circle to establish themselves in the New World.

As Los Angeles’ Jewish community grew, it also laid the groundwork for new social service agencies, medical institutions (as well as fundraising techniques), including the City of Hope and the precursor of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, founded as the Kaspare Cohn Hospital in 1902 by businessman Kaspare Cohn.

The exhibition’s third and final epoch, titled “Possibility & Prosperity (1950s-2000s),” features the contributions of Jewish entrepreneurs and professionals in developing vast suburban housing tracts and new architectural styles, fashions and artistic expressions.

[‘Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic’ exhibition related events and programs]

In politics, Jews who once played prominent roles behind the scenes stepped out in front, such as the young City Councilwoman Rosalind (Roz) Wyman, who was instrumental in bringing the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team to Los Angeles in 1958.

One photo from that era, showing Wyman with the great Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax, encapsulates the rise of a new generation of young Jews entering — and succeeding — in fields generally considered non-Jewish domains.

Locally, as elsewhere, Jewish involvement has helped to nourish the fine arts and artists, and the donations in those arenas have, in turn, helped to add to the social stature of the major givers.

The Jewish community made major strides in bridging a deep-seated social separation with other religious and ethnic groups, through gifts to create — together with the Protestant establishment philanthropists — the new Music Center. One of the largest donors was Mark Taper, whose name continues to grace the landmark theater.

Design protesting the Vietnam War by Lorraine Art Schneider, “Primer,” 1966.

Jews also played a major role in helping to elect Tom Bradley as the city’s first black mayor, backing the civil rights movement, and, in later years, fueling the anti-Vietnam War protests.

The convergence of the black community with the Jewish world can be felt in a recording from 1965, when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood, which can be heard at an exhibition listening station. Among other community actions saluted here is the drive by young Jewish activists to help their brethren in the Soviet Union and to establish the first gay and lesbian synagogue. Los Angeles is also home to the first Holocaust museum, established by survivors.

Two iconic American figures, Mattel’s Barbie and Ken, make an unexpected appearance in the show, illustrating innovative Jewish thinking in updating historical artifacts, such as dolls, to meet the tastes of a new city and generation.

These icons were created by Ruth Handler, the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland and part of a rising cadre of women entrepreneurs; she named Barbie, introduced in 1959, and Ken after her own daughter and son. Always keeping up with the times, Handler, then president of Mattel, also introduced African-American and Latina Barbies in 1980.

Located toward the end of the exhibition is a “public square” that encourages visitors to share their own views of L.A.’s Jewish future, in line with the city’s “particularly Western ethos of unfettered reinvention,” as Wilson put it.

Initial planning for this exhibition started as far back as 2003, on the heels of the Autry’s “Jewish Life in the American West” exhibition, which drew the largest attendance in the museum’s history, up to that time.

Wilson, the Kahn postdoctoral research fellow at the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, was appointed as guest curator in 2007. She acknowledged that even with 5,000 square feet of floor space, 150 artifacts, 80 photographs, two listening stations featuring more than 50 songs, five videos and two spoken-word audio excerpts, visitors will inevitably find gaps in this presentation of Los Angeles Jewish life and history.     

For instance, Wilson said, the show includes little mention of the city’s many eminent rabbis or its prominent Jewish neighborhoods, nor does it cover the rise of the garment industry or the role of Jews here in law enforcement and politics.

However, Wilson emphasized that the main aim of the exhibition — in line with the Autry’s primary mission — is to look “outwardly” at the interactions of Jews with the rest of Los Angeles, rather than “inwardly” to the makeup of the Jewish community.

Given this outlook, she said, “It was inevitable that representative choices would have to be made, with a few ‘case study’ institutions standing in for hundreds of others. … The history of the Jews in Los Angeles is so rich and ever evolving.

“If this exhibition leaves us wanting more,” Wilson said, “then we have done a good job.”

Much additional information will be available through a richly illustrated catalog, also titled “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic,” published by the Autry and University of California Press and available at the museum’s store. In addition, an extensive program of talks, symposia, film screenings, musical events and city bus tours will be offered during the exhibit’s run through Jan. 5 of next year. (See additional story for highlights.)

For additional information, visit or phone (323) 667-2000.

From Yiddish cartoons to Woody Allen, a Tent for young adults

During a recent Friday at the Writers Guild on Fairfax Avenue, scenes from Woody Allen films screened after clips from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Lenny Bruce records were passed around the room, and conversation centered on Jewish assimilation in American life and its connection to Jewish funnymen onscreen.

“That was the paradox,” said Tony Michels, an associate professor of American Jewish history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He explained to a group of young adults taking notes how an increasing number of Jewish actors in the ’60s and ’70s played Jewish roles, despite Jewish assimilation being at its all-time high.

This was typical discourse for Tent: Comedy — one part adult education and another part social experience, for 20- and 30-somethings interested in Jewish comedy and connecting it to their personal relationship with Judaism.

 “Modern culture [like comedy] can inspire us to think imaginatively about what Jewishness means. And vice versa,” says the initiative’s Web site,

Taking place in Los Angeles from March 17-March 24, Tent: Comedy was the first program of Tent: Encounters With Jewish Culture, an initiative organized by the Yiddish Book Center based in Amherst, Mass. It included 20 participants, aged 19-30.

Topics ran the spectrum. When it comes to comedy, being creative is not all that different from “doing” Jewish, according to L.A. screenwriter and producer Jill Soloway (“Six Feet Under,” “United States of Tara”).

 “Your body has to receive great jokes, great character turns, great plot twists. You can’t think of it. … You have to let it come to you, and that’s kind of like Shabbat,” Soloway told the group — half of whom were from Los Angeles and the other half of whom were from the East Coast.

Morning session at the Writers Guild. Photo by Tim Dolan

Soloway appeared in a Q-and-A on March 22, capping off nearly a week filled with activities, including outings to see live stand-up performances from big names like Jeff Garlin and Sarah Silverman; an improv workshop, “Standing Up, Standing Out: How do You Perform Jewishness?” led by Michaela Watkins, formerly of “Saturday Night Live”; and a writing workshop where New Yorker writer Yoni Brenner offered critiques of participants’ work. There were also discussions led by Michels, the program’s scholar-in-residence, on topics “Is there such a thing as Jewish humor?” “What makes Jews funny (or not) to others?” and “Theories of Jewish comedy, from Sigmund Freud to Rabbi Joseph Telushkin” and more.

Some from Tent were lucky enough to meet Garlin, following a taping of the comedian-actor’s podcast, “By The Way, In Conversation With Jeff Garlin,” during which he interviewed up-and-coming-star Tig Notaro, at Largo at the Coronet.

Largo, where shows cost up to $35 (the free admission to shows was part of the appeal, participants said), was among the many comedy clubs in L.A.’s vibrant scene that were visited by the group. The Writers Guild of America headquarters served as home base for Michels’ lectures and for Q-and-As with guest speakers.

At Upright Citizens Brigade, a Hollywood comedy spot that draws indie comics, the Tent group showed up for an open-mic night, joining budding comics and wannabees from around the city. Thirty minutes before showtime, everyone interested in getting five minutes onstage signed up, and 10 names were drawn for a lottery. Two of the Tent participants were chosen to perform.

Michels’ presentations earlier in the day were meant to be rigorous and academic, but they unintentionally gave space for participants to reflect on personal experiences. His playing of a string of clips from “Annie Hall,” “Seinfeld” and “Meet the Parents,” where the Jewish protagonist is eating with a non-Jewish family and his Jewish idiosyncrasies are heightened, prompted Ilana Straus, a senior at Yale University, to share a story of when she was 12 years old and studying for her bat mitzvah while away at summer camp. The only Jew in her bunk, her fellow campers gathered around her while she was studying her haftarah, gaping at something they’d never seen before.

Her story and the scenes from the film call attention to the non-Jew’s “perception of the Jew,” said Straus, a 22-year-old English major who is interested in becoming a television writer.

Straus and the 19 others had different levels of experience in writing and performing and different reasons for being there. Which was precisely the idea.

“I wanted it to be a comedy workshop both for fans, people who are comedy fans and people who love comedy and are interested in the Jewish culture,” Tent executive director Joshua Lambert said.

Lambert, who is also the academic director of the Yiddish Book Center, spent three days with the cohort. During one of Michel’s lectures, everyone jumped out of their seats to get a closer look of a cartoon from an out-of-print Yiddish satirical magazine that was featured onscreen. It was the moment where Tent: Comedy became everything Lambert hoped it would be.

“What Tent is really about is the transition from that moment happening and seeing them going to see Jeff Garlin and Tig Notaro and hanging out with Jeff Garlin after that and batting around his ideas about Israel and Israeli politics,” he said. “That combo of things somehow is what I think the program is about.”

Oscars win awards for sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and racism

Was anybody else offended by the not-very-subtle onslaught of sexist, racist, homophobic and anti-semitic “jokes” at the Oscar ceremony on Sunday night?

It seems as though the Oscar writers think that Hollywood is so liberal that it can get away with making offensive comments because everyone knows that they are “just joking.”

I don't agree.

At a time when America is facing an epidemic of gun violence and debating how to limit the spread of assault weapons, host Seth McFarlane thought it would be clever to make a joke about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

“Daniel Day-Lewis is not the first actor to be nominated for playing Lincoln,” McFarlane said. “Raymond Massey portrayed him in 1940′s Abe Lincoln in Illinois. I would argue, though, the actor who really got inside Lincoln's head was John Wilkes Booth.”

[ANOTHER TAKE: Seth MacFarlane: Not an anti-Semite]

Perhaps hoping to win an award for “most racially insensitive” comment, McFarlane joked about Lewis' habit of staying in character during the filming of Lincoln, even when the cameras were off. “If you bumped into Don Cheadle in the studio lot,” McFarlane said, looking at Lewis in the audience, “would you try and free him?”

McFarlane also made outrageous remarks about Adele's weight, gays, women, Latinas, and Jews.

It would be difficult to pick a winner in the “most sexist comment” category. McFarlane sang a juvenile song, “We Saw Your Boobs,” about movie scenes where former Oscar nominees posed topless. Referring to the decade-long quest to find Osama bin Laden by Jessica Chastain's character in Zero Dark Thirty, McFarlane said it was an example of women never being “able to let anything go.” To those women who lost weight before attending the Oscar ceremony, McFarlane said: “For all those women who had the 'flu,' it paid off … lookin' good.”

Referring to Latina actresses Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek — both of whose English is impeccable — McFarlane said: “We have no idea what they're saying, but we don't care, cause they're so attractive.”

After singing the “We Saw Your Boobs” song with the Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus, MacFarlane made a point of explaining that he wasn't actually a member of the chorus, as if being gay was something to be ashamed of. MacFarlane also observed that the show's producers had invited the cast of Chicago to perform on the telecast because “the [Oscar} show isn't gay enough yet.”

Perhaps the most offensive comments were made by “Ted,” the talking stuffed bear who bantered (through McFarlane's voice) with actor Mark Wahlberg about Hollywood's domination by Jews. If putting those words in the mouth of a talking bear is supposed to make these remarks cute and cuddly, it didn't work with me.

The set-up was Ted's desire to gain acceptance with the Hollywood “in” crowd — which he said were the Jews — so he could attend a post-Oscar orgy party. After Ted begged Wahlberg to tell him where the orgy would be held. Wahlberg spilled the beans, saying that it would be “at Jack Nicholson's house.” This was a not very subtle — and not very funny — reference to a 1977 incident that occurred at Nicholson's home, where director Roman Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl. Polanski pleaded guilty but fled to Paris before he was sentenced.

Remarking on all the talent assembled at the Oscar ceremony, Ted said to Wahlberg: “You know what's interesting? All those actors I just named are part Jewish,” referring to Joaquin Phoenix (who has a Jewish mother), Daniel Day-Lewis (ditto), and Alan Arkin (whose parents, in fact, were both Jewish).

“What about you?,” Ted asked Wahlberg. “You've got a 'berg' on the end of your name. Are you Jewish?”

Wahlberg explained that he is Catholic. Ted responded: “Wrong answer. Try again. Do you want to work in this town or don't you?”

To gain favor with the Hollywood crowd, Ted claimed that he was Jewish, that he “was born Theodore Shapiro,” and that “I would like to donate money to Israel and continue to work in Hollywood forever.”

When Wahlberg called Ted an idiot, Ted responded: “We'll see whose an idiot when they give me my private plane at the next secret synagogue meeting.”

Ted's (or, in reality, McFarlane's) remarks about the “secret” Jewish cabal that controls Hollywood, discriminates against non-Jews, and is tied to Israel were not clever and witty. They were anti-semitic.

I'm certain that many film industry folks sitting in the audience were uncomfortable with the barrage of offensive comments throughout the evening. I'm not a prude and I believe it is OK to make fun of one's foibles. But McFarlane’s (and Ted’s) comments did not simply poke fun at specific individuals. They targeted entire groups. Sunday night's Oscar show crossed that invisible line between satire and bigotry.

As a progressive and a Jew, I found these comments outrageous, and I'm confident that many of the millions of Americans watching the show on TV were also offended by the bigoted stereotypes about women, gays, Latinas, and Jews throughout the broadcast.

Of course, there were no hooded sheets, burning crosses, N-words, or “fag” jokes. But bigotry comes in various shades. Sunday night's Academy Awards ceremony was ugly and unfunny.

Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy department at Occidental College. His most recent book isThe 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

‘Saving’ the best Lincoln for last

It’s a good time to be Abraham Lincoln, Hollywood star.

In recent months alone, you’ve had Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator,” “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter,” and, of course, Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-contender “Lincoln” hitting the silver screen. A National Geographic Channel adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s bestselling “Killing Lincoln” also arrives this month.

Now, there’s “Saving Lincoln,” which debuted in 20 cities on Feb. 15, including an exclusive engagement at Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills. It enjoyed a robust premiere at the Alex Theater in Glendale on Wednesday night.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled,” said Nina Davidovich Litvak, who co-wrote the movie with her husband, Salvador Litvak. “The film was really in doubt for the longest time.”

Part of that doubt seems tied to a certain Lincoln project by one world-famous Jewish director behind such international hits as “E.T.” and  “Schindler’s List.”

“Obviously, there’s a plethora of Lincoln projects right now, but there had not been a Lincoln movie for a long time,” Litvak said of when he began his Lincoln journey 12 years ago.

“We had no way of knowing what their approach would be,” Litvak said of Spielberg’s film. “Thankfully, they just did the last four months of his life and focused on the passing the 13th amendment through Congress.”

“Saving Lincoln” stars Tom Amandes as the titular prez, Lea Coco as Lincoln confidant Ward Hill Lamon, Penelope Ann Miller as Mary Todd Lincoln, and a cast that includes Robert Craighead as Secretary of War Edward Stanton and “The Office” star Creed Bratton as Sen. Charles Sumnor.

What makes Litvak’s take so interesting, the director noted, was that this was “Lincoln [and] the whole Civil War from the perspective of his closest friends,” including Lamon, “the Rodney Dangerfield of history” (not included in Spielberg’s “Lincoln”).

“Saving Lincoln” spans the time from Lincoln’s political rise just before he was elected president through the end of the Civil War. It covers missed tactical opportunities in the war and personal setbacks, as the Lincolns lost children, one to typhoid, another to the battlefield.

A macro version of events compared to Spielberg's micro, Litvak, in under a million dollars, succeeds in delivering an expansive overview of Lincoln's blood-drenched presidency while honing in on such personal attributes as Lincoln's gift for gab and his sense of humor. A particularly fascinating moment comes post-victory, as a crowd boos the president's attempts to lead his audience in a round of “Dixie,” which Lincoln aims to “return to the national songbook.”

Unlike Spielberg, Litvak focuses on the myriad assassination attempts on Lincoln’s life, from an early botched mission by John Wilkes Booth to the yellow fever-tainted rags sent to the White House from Barbados.

What attracted producer Reuben Lim to the Litvaks’ project was that this movie was “about the man and not just the politician,” he said. There was also Litvak’s desire to film without sets, on a green screen, and incorporate archival photography into the movie’s backdrops.

As his first film, “Half-Life,” demonstrated, Lim comes from a special effects background, so he went about keeping the movie’s “cine-collage” technique under budget in a unique way, turning to special effects program students at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University to work on “Saving Lincoln” in a mutual exchange benefiting both the filmmakers and the budding CG animation professionals. The resulting stylized film looks like a hybrid of Spielberg’s movie and Ken Burns’ “Civil War” documentary.

The Feb. 13 premier's dessert reception became a de facto reunion for the cast of “Saving Lincoln,” who filmed their parts a year and a half ago. Amandes compared making the movie to an animated feature, since so much happened in post-production. He likened the performances to theater.

“If you notice, a lot of the scenes were done in one take,” said Amandes, who found his period-piece role a hearty challenge. “I love playing with the language.”

Adding a layer of meaning for him: the actor hails from Richmond in Lincoln’s native Illinois.

Miller told the Journal how her role transcended her typical “ingenue roles.” Researching the part, she learned just how important Mary was in indoctrinating Lincoln to abolitionism, and how determined she was to marry a U.S. president even before she met Abraham.

The ultimately irony about “Saving Lincoln” is that the filmmakers, on a shoestring $700,000 budget, did not shy away from depicting the entire Civil War, including battle scenes, whereas Spielberg’s $65-million film focused on just a few months before the war’s end and eschewed battleground recreations for Congressional process.

“We’re the Lincoln of Lincoln films,” Davidovich Litvak said. “He was humble and poor, he had no advantage. We had no money, limited resources. But you don’t have to have money or make billions to make a good film.”

“Saving Lincoln” runs Feb. 15 – 21 at Laemmle Music Hall and will be available digitally via iTunes and on DVD via Amazon.

Holocaust, Jewish themes remain prominent among foreign Oscar offerings

The long-forecast “Holocaust fatigue” among filmmakers and their audiences has not yet arrived, judging by the entries for 2013 Oscar honors by producers and directors in numerous countries.

Each of a record 71 foreign — meaning non-English-speaking — countries has submitted its top film, ranging alphabetically from Afghanistan to Vietnam.

So broad a representation of the world’s tastemakers and opinion-shapers, though hardly scientific proof, tends to reflect the topics and themes likely to attract home audiences.

So, just as in Hollywood, there are lots of movies on love in all its permutations; high and low comedies; and spy, action and detective thrillers.

But also entered are five movies that deal directly with the Jewish fate during the Nazi era and its aftermath, one film with talmudic roots and one on the wartime clash between Russian and German armed forces.

Also of special interest to Jewish moviegoers are the Israeli entry, and, after an absence, a Palestinian film.

Probably the least-expected entry is “Lore,” submitted by Australia. While the Aussies speak in what might still be considered colonial dialect, that would hardly be considered a foreign language by the standards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

But “Lore” features an all-German acting and -speaking cast. The title character is a 14-year-old girl, the daughter of a high-ranking SS officer and his like-minded wife, who are arrested by Allied authorities in the closing days of World War II in Europe.

Lore is charged by her mother to take her four younger siblings, one still a baby, across rubble-strewn Germany, pass through the Russian-occupied zone and find the farm of her grandmother in American-ruled West Germany.

Along the way, Lore is befriended and protected by a young man, to whom the adolescent girl is physically and emotionally attracted. To her horror, the Nazi-suckled Lore discovers that her protector seems to be one of the despised and evil Jews she has been taught to hate all her life.

The only Australian part of the film is its director, Cate Shortland, and under the Academy rules, that entitles her country to enter “Lore” as its own.

Shortland, who with the Journal during a visit to Los Angeles, was asked why she would make a film on this particular topic and in a language she doesn’t speak.

“I have long been interested in totalitarianism and, especially, what it does to children,” she said, adding that it was challenging to view ultimate evil from the perspective of the perpetrators.

Her decision was reinforced by her marriage to a man whose German-Jewish parents arrived as refugees in Australia, and by her own conversion to Judaism four years ago.

Aside from “Lore,” the other four entries dealing with the Holocaust were made in Eastern European countries dominated in the postwar decades by communist regimes, which largely ignored the extermination of its Jewish populations during World War II.

One of the entries is from Macedonia and another from Serbia, two countries established by the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

“The Third Half,” by Macedonian director Darko Mitrevski, has some of the elements of a Hollywood product — poor boy falls in love with rich girl, and the underdog team beats the champion.

In this case, a scruffy, low-class workingman and part-time soccer player pursues the aristocratic daughter of a rich Jewish banker, and his laughable provincial team beats the league’s top team.

What sets “The Third Half” apart is the time — 1941 — and the locale of Macedonia, occupied by Nazi ally Bulgaria. The occupiers introduce all of Hitler’s racial agenda, including the graphically depicted humiliation and deportation of the Jews.

Bulgaria, which saved its own Jews but turned the Jews of occupied Macedonia over to the Germans, has bitterly protested the film as a perversion of history. According to Mitrevski, Bulgarian authorities have retaliated by blocking talks for Macedonia to join the European Union.

The director remains unfazed. “I am fascinated by the individual stories of Holocaust survivors,” he said. “There should be 11 million such movies of Jewish, Gypsy, homosexual and political survivors.”

In Serbia’s submission, “When Day Breaks,” an elderly music professor, who has always considered himself a Christian, discovers that he is the son of Jewish parents, who left him with a farmer’s family and later perished in the Holocaust.

As the stunned professor wanders through present-day Belgrade, he finds that few people remember the war years or that the city’s neglected fairground served as a concentration camp for the city’s Jews. With his musician friends, he set about to establish a memorial on the site.

Like the professor, “I cannot not remember,” said director Goran Paskaljevic in a phone interview. “If we forget the crimes committed during World War II, and later in Bosnia, that opens the door to new crimes.”

The Czech Republic’s entry, “In the Shadow,” starts as a film-noir detective story, but as it evolves, it leads to the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic show trials of the 1950s, staged by the communist regime in Prague.

The Holocaust targeted not only Jews, but also other “racially inferior” people, particularly the Romas (Gypsies). Hungary, an Axis partner during the war, relives this past in its Oscar entry, “Just the Wind.” The movie depicts the murder of five Romani families in an isolated village and the subsequent trial of the suspects.

“White Tiger” is an enigmatic Russian film that centers on some of the devastating tank battles between German and Soviet forces during World War II. The title character is a massive German tank, which appears suddenly to destroy its Russian opponents and just as suddenly disappears into the void.

Critics have interpreted the film’s underlying theme as pointing to war as a natural part of the human condition or as a representation of the German lust for power and domination, which will fade away for some time and then suddenly reappear.

The Latvian movie, “Gulf Stream Under the Iceberg,” goes back to the biblical and talmudic legend of Lilith, the reputed first wife of Adam, who in subsequent reincarnations controls men through her sexual attraction.

Israel’s contender, “Fill the Void,” wrestles with profound issues of faith within the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) community of Tel Aviv. Director Rama Burshtein, a New York native who became fervently Orthodox after making aliyah, focuses the film on whether 18-year-old Shira will follow her mother’s wishes to marry the husband of her older sister, who died in childbirth.

Shira is caught between the strictures of her community — whose rituals and lifestyle are depicted in loving detail and not without humor — and personal choice.

In the Palestinian film, “When I Saw You,” Tarek is a precocious 11-year old, who flees his West Bank village after the Six-Day War and ends up with his mother at a refugee camp in Jordan.

Seeking freedom and adventure, Tarek leaves the camp and falls in with a group of militant anti-Israel fighters.

The motion picture academy will winnow down the 71 foreign entries to an initial shortlist of nine semifinalists and is scheduled to announce the results on Dec. 21. Subsequently, five finalists will be made public on Jan. 10. The Oscars will be presented on Feb. 24.

Among film critics, the favorites for the top prize are Austria’s “Amour” and France’s “The Intouchables,” which were both nominated for Golden Globe awards. However, Israel’s “Fill the Void” and Australia’s “Lore” also are considered likely contenders, and the selection committees for best foreign-language film are well known for their often-unexpected choices.

In the meantime, though, the academy has already announced its 15 nominees for best documentary choices. Included are “5 Broken Cameras” by directors Emad Burnat, a Palestinian, and Guy Davidi, an Israeli; and “The Gatekeepers” by Israel’s Dror Moreh. “The Gatekeepers” consists of lengthy and surprisingly frank interviews with six former heads of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, discussing the past and likely future of the tumultuous regional conflicts.

As protests rage over anti-Muslim movie, the cast claims it was misled by script

Protests over an anti-Muslim film continued outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, while in Yemen security guards fired at demonstrators who stormed the U.S. Embassy gates.

On Thursday in Yemen, the protesters tore down the American flag and burned it, according to reports. The protests in Cairo continued late Wednesday, a day after protesters climbed the embassy walls and tore down and tried to torch the American flag.

Security reportedly was increased at U.S. embassies and diplomatic missions around the globe in the aftermath of the violence allegedly incited by the film “Innocence of Muslims.”

The two-hour film, which attacks the Islamic prophet Muhammad, was seen as leading to the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. diplomats in a rocket attack on Tuesday at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. The protests were sparked by the translation into Arabic of a trailer for the movie.

In a statement sent to CNN, the 80 members of the cast and crew said they were “grossly misled” about the film, which they believed was a historical movie about life in the Arabian Desert.

“We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved,” the statement said according to CNN. “We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred.”

Anti-Muslim dialogue was dubbed in after the filming, an unnamed actress, who also said there was no Muhammad character in the script, told CNN.

The actress said she spoke to the director Wednesday and “He said he wrote the script because he wants the Muslims to quit killing,” CNN reported. The director reportedly told the Wall Street Journal that “Islam is a cancer.”

Media outlets, including JTA, had reported that a man calling himself Sam Bacile, who said he was the film's director and producer, claimed that he was an Israeli American real estate developer. But a consultant to the film, Steve Klein, a self-described militant Christian activist in Riverside, Calif., told the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg that the film's director is not Israeli and that the name is a pseudonym.

Bacile told the Associated Press that he went into hiding on Tuesday night, speaking to international media from an undisclosed location.

Klein told Goldberg that some 15 people were associated with the making of the film, all American citizens and most evangelicals.

Klein was called an “extremist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which said he is “Secretary and Founder” of Courageous Christians United, a group that protests outside of mosques and abortion clinics.

A high-ranking Israeli official in Los Angeles told JTA Wednesday that extensive inquiries among Hollywood insiders and members of the local Israeli community failed to turn up a single person who knew a Sam Bacile.

The Israeli government in Jerusalem could not turn up any citizenship records under that name, while California officials reported that no real estate license had ever been issued to a Sam Bacile.

Media bloggers and columnists are questioning why Bacile would claim that the $5 million film was paid for by “100 Jewish donors,” calling it a set-up. Blogger Edward Blackthorn ( raised some basic questions as to why $5 million was needed for a film described as “unprofessional” by the Hollywood Reporter, and expressed doubt that any producer could find 100 financial backers for such a dubious enterprise.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Sep. 15-21, 2012


“With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story”
The feature-length documentary explores the life of the 89-year-old, comic-book legend, co-creator of the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Hulk. Directed by Terry Douglas, Nikki Frakes and William Lawrence Hess, “With Great Power” highlights Lee’s Depression-era upbringing, his early years at Timely Comics, his military service during World War II, the dawn of Marvel Comics and more. Narrated by Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber), the doc features interviews with Kevin Smith, Patrick Stewart, Samuel L. Jackson and Eva Mendes. A Q-and-A with the filmmakers follows the screening. Sat. 7-9 p.m. $10. Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St., downtown. (213) 617-1033.


High Holiday Food Drive 2012
SOVA needs your help. This Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles program, which provides free groceries and an array of support services to more than 12,000 individuals each month, is collecting canned beans, meat, tuna, dry milk, pasta, noodles, rice, dry soup, peanut butter, toiletries and other items. Drop-off locations include the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles as well as participating synagogues and day schools. Sun. Through Sept. 26. The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Call (818) 988-7682, Ext. 116, to find drop-off locations in your area.,


The Grammy nominee appears live in support of his latest record, “Spark Seeker.” Like its predecessors, the new album — Matisyahu’s fourth — features a blend of reggae, hip-hop, beat boxing and spiritual lyrics, but also showcases traditional ancient sounds and electro beats. Expect to hear lead single “Sunshine” as well as other new tracks, and older material off of albums “Light” and “Youth,” during tonight’s performance. Opening bands include reggae-rock ensembles Dirty Heads and Pacific Dub. Tue. 6:30 p.m. $27.50. Hollywood Palladium, 6215 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (800) 745-3000.


“Sarin Zakan & Eshel Ben-Jacob: Bacteria Art and Eco-Fashion”
Israeli fashion designer Sarin Zakan, who creates eco-couture clothing that blends science and art, makes her U.S. debut at the Pacific Design Center. Zakan’s work — including collars and dresses — features patterns formed by bacteria. Her pieces will be displayed alongside the work of her mentor, Tel Aviv University physics professor Eshel Ben-Jacob, who is called the godfather of bacterial art patterns. Wed. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Free. Through Nov. 9, Mon.-Fri. Pacific Design Center, 8867 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 657-0800.


Mitch Albom 
The best-selling author of “Tuesdays With Morrie” and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” sits down with Rabbi David Wolpe to discuss his new book, “The Time Keeper.” Albom’s novel follows the inventor of the world’s first clock, Father Time, who, after being punished for trying to measure God’s greatest gift, is given a chance to redeem himself by teaching two people — a teenage girl about to give up on life and a wealthy old businessman who wants to live forever — the true meaning of time. Admission includes a copy of the book. Thu. 8 p.m. $20 (Sinai members), $25 (general). Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3243.


Martin Amis and Matthew Weiner
Matthew Weiner, the marvel behind “Mad Men,” appears in conversation with Martin Amis, a master of ironic prose (“Money: A Suicide Note”). A postwar British writer of fiction, nonfiction, short stories, essays and reviews, his new novel, “Lionel Asbo: State of England,” follows the problematic relationship between a thuggish and lottery-winning English uncle and his nephew. Though experts in different mediums, Weiner and Amis share a fascination with the lives of the privileged in their respective works. Fri. 7:30 p.m. $20. Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 855-0005.

French singer-songwriter and actor Michel Jonasz embodies Abraham, his cantor grandfather, in this one-man show. Set before his death, the play follows Abraham as he recalls his deepest memories — his childhood, escaping from Poland, meeting his wife, his deportation to concentration camps, and the joys and sorrows of existence. In French with projected English translations. Fri. 7:45 p.m. Through Sept. 22. $50 (general seating), $75 (premium). Theatre Raymond Kabbaz, 10361 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 286-0553.

The Hollywood treatment

“Fundamentally, your job is not that different from my job,” screenwriter Alex Litvak told a room full of rabbis assembled at American Jewish University for the annual High Holy Days conference sponsored by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

While most of the 165 attendees were off attending sermon workshops on topics ranging from social media to Mussar, about 20 opted to touch-up their Torah with insights from film and TV. Rabbi Jon Hanish from Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills began the session by asking a panel of eight Hollywood writers what was on their minds this year.

“Why am I here?” one said. “Materialism,” another said. “Political and social divisiveness,” a third added. 

It was a fun but unorthodox match, bringing Hollywood currency to holy categories. 

“I’d want to know what King David’s approval rating would be in the digital age,” said Seth Kurland, a sitcom writer and producer best known for his work on “Friends.” “You think of him probably as courageous and compassionate, but he kills Bathsheba’s husband! Even he must have had a Yom Kippur day; he must have asked, ‘Do I want to define my life by moments of weakness or moments of strength?’ ”

This second annual Professional Writers Workshop, which paired some of Hollywood’s finest with the rabbinate’s most fastidious, looked like an episode of “In Treatment,” offering the best sermon therapy money can buy (and for the bargain conference price of $150). In cross-denominational groups of three, the questions ranged from the practical (“Should I start with a question, crack a joke or tell a story?”) to the philosophical (“What would you say you’re trying to say in this sermon?”) to the political (“This is the time to go for it — make the big point!”). It was classic Freudian role-reversal, with the rabbis in the hot seat and the writers going righteous.

“I don’t know if by the end [of this session] we’re gonna pitch you sermons or you’re gonna pitch us TV shows,” said David Kendall, creator of ABC Family’s “Melissa & Joey” who also worked on older hits like “Growing Pains” and “Boy Meets World.” 

In one group, Rabbi Elie Spitz of Congregation B’nai Israel in Orange County puzzled over how to make a trite topic like tzedakah sexy. He worried about sounding “canned” and “predictable,” but even more so, Spitz said, “There is discomfort in asking for money on High Holy Days, when people want to be spiritual.” To which Kendall offered straightforward advice on the merits of truth: “Say, ‘It feels horrible to talk about this,’ ” Kendall said. “In writer’s terms we’d say, ‘Let’s hang a lantern on it,’ which means you’re going to do something obvious. If something is unavoidable in the plot or exposition, you ‘hang a lantern on it.’ ”

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills’ Rabbi Laura Geller suggested that Spitz tell a story about an event that changed his relationship to money. “That takes people to very personal places,” she said.

But just how deep can you go, she wondered. “How personal can you get?” she asked Kendall. “My sermon is about growing older; about how we devote so much energy and resources to youth. Well, what about me? I’m not dead yet. How vulnerable do I get in speaking about my own fears about aging; how my mother’s getting older? How much do congregants really want their rabbi to reveal?”

Get intimate, he said. A message becomes more memorable if tied to a resonant or relatable story.

Things were less fraught for Rabbi Mark Kaiserman, who will serve this year as interim rabbi at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley after the retirement of 36-year-veteran Rabbi Stephen Einstein. 

“Which gives me the luxury of reusing sermons,” Kaiserman joked to his Hollywood helper, Sam Baum, creator of Fox’s “Lie to Me.”  

“And,” Baum added guilefully, “you can swing for the fences.” 

Rabbi Daniel Feder was more interested in milking Baum for entertainment tips. “I always try to have one or two chuckle moments,” Feder said. “Maybe you could suggest, ‘Put Humor Here.’ ” 

Baum rejoined his request with plot-development 101: “I try to force myself to write a single sentence that gets at the core of the story,” he began. “The first couple of minutes are crucial to creating the feeling that there is a hand quietly guiding you.” And, as Hollywood proverbs go, action must follow inspiration. “It is crucial that in the last two minutes there is something actionable — you have to give the character something to do, not just something to think about.”

It is telling that the people who usually do the teaching were so willing to be taught. And perhaps a little bit ironic that those who often self-protect from congregants felt safe among storytellers with the world’s largest soapbox.

But as writer and producer David Sacks, known for shows “3rd Rock From the Sun” and “Malcolm in the Middle” encouraged, be fearless! Don’t be cowed into feel-good Torah. Although this hardly compelled Rabbi Miriam Hamrell of Ahavat Torah in Brentwood: “Last year I gave a sermon on Israel, and people had a hard time with it,” Hamrell said. “People said, ‘We’re not here to hear politics. We’re coming here to heal, to listen, to open our hearts.” In the wake of that, she said, she had to lead a decompressing discussion circle.

Monica Henderson Beletsky, a Harvard graduate who writes for NBC’s “Parenthood” got a kick out of the strange and wonderful convergence of Hollywood and holy themes. 

“It’s so funny,” she said, “one rabbi wrote about being in a personal prison and another wrote about happiness, and they both came to the same conclusion. And, you know, we’re working with a similar theme on our show, but I can’t tell you about it.”

Hanish, an organizer of the event, said the confluence of high-minded rabbis with highly accomplished writers is a good fit.

“Rabbis know a thing or two about writing, but rabbinic school is about academic writing, and we end up writing things that are too intellectual and not connecting on a human level. Film writers understand how to write to the general populace and get deep messages across.”

And, of course, Hollywood is always seeking good material, a plentiful resource in the life of a rabbi.

“The writers get just as much out of it as the rabbis,” Hanish said. “They come for fun, but they get rejuvenated. Afterward, they’ll say, ‘I was on the fringe of my Judaism, but these rabbis understand today’s world’ —and some consider returning to Judaism.”

For Dahvi Waller, who won an Emmy for her work on “Mad Men,” things got a little too close for comfort. Last year, after a Jewish Journal article covered her session at the workshop, she was bombarded by requests for help from rabbis all over the country. “I can’t say ‘no’!” she gushed, explaining why she didn’t want her session to be written up this year. “They wanted way more than an hour of my time.”

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Sep. 9-13, 2012


A renowned writer and dramatist whose favorite topics were anti-Semitism, love, sex and death, Arthur Schnitzler chronicled turn-of-the-century Vienna. A Getty staged reading of Schnitzler's journals and correspondence portray a conflicted Austrian Jew who is not afraid to ask difficult questions. Held in conjunction with “Gustav Klimt: The Magic of Line,” a panel discussion with filmmaker Peter Schnitzler, Schnitzler's grandson, and Schnitzler expert Lorenzo Bellettini follows. Sun. 4-7:30 p.m. Free (reservation recommended). Getty Center, Harold M. Williams Auditorium, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300.

Television icon Larry King hosts the 32nd annual Chabad telethon, featuring celebrity guests and, of course, dancing rabbis. Proceeds benefit Chabad of California's programs and institutions, including schools, summer camps, community outreach centers, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, crisis intervention and support for children with special needs. Sun. 8-11 p.m. KTLA.

MON | SEPT 10 

Actor-singer Ben Goldberg's one-night-only musical exploration looks at the biggest decision every infant Jewish boy never got to make. The performance features music by Meat Loaf, U2, Cole Porter, Hootie and the Blowfish, and many others. Mon. $10. Rockwell, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 661-6163.

Interested in representing the United States at the 19th World Maccabiah Games next summer in Israel? Maccabi USA is holding masters-level tennis tryouts today for men and women, ages 35 and older, at Mountain Gate Country Club. Buffet lunch included. Mon. 9 a.m. (arrival, check-in), 10 a.m. (tournament begins). $40 (application fee), $50 (participation fee), $30 (additional guest). Mountain Gate Country Club, 12445 Mountaingate Drive, Los Angeles. (215) 561-6900.


The community television station honors the High Holy Days with four documentaries during the month of September, including “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles,” a story of how a family stays spiritually and physically connected through tradition; “The New Beginning,” which examines the ancient origins, evolution, symbols and traditions that have come to define the High Holy Days; “18 Voices Sing Kol Nidre,” which tells the story of the most sacred prayer in Judaism through the tales and anecdotes of those who have been touched by it; and “Where Birds Never Sang: The Story of Ravensbruck and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camps,” which looks at Hitler's largest concentration camp designed for women. Wed. Through Sept. 20. “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles”: Sept. 12, 2:30 p.m.; “The New Beginning”: Sept. 13, 10:30 p.m.; “18 Voices Sing Kol Nidre”: Sept. 16, 4:30 p.m.; “Where Birds Never Sang”: Sept. 20 at 10:30 p.m. For additional airing times, visit


Time magazine columnist Joel Stein hosts an evening of confessions. Just in time for the New Year, comedians, writers, celebrities and audience participants reveal their biggest regrets in an attempt to clean the slate. Folk-pop duo the Wellspring performs. Co-sponsored by Reboot and the Jewish Federation's Young Adults of Los Angeles. Thu. 7-10 p.m. $15 (advance ticket), $18 (door). Acme Comedy Theater, 135 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8324.

The Israeli-American master violinist performs Tchaikovsky's “Violin Concerto.” One of the world's most renowned classical musicians, Perlman has won more than a dozen Grammy awards, taken part in the inauguration of President Barack Obama and played with every major orchestra. Conductor Bramwell Tovey leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the final classic concert of the season with Johannes Brahms' “Hungarian Dances Nos. 10, 4, 5,” Tchaikovsky's “Violin Concerto” and Antonin Dvorák's “Symphony No. 8.” Thu. 8 p.m. $1-$133. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and “The Yiddish Policemen's Union” appears in person to read passages from his new novel “Telegraph Avenue.” Set in Berkeley at the end of the summer of 2004, record store co-owners Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe and their midwife wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffee, face personal and professional problems that test the strength of their relationships and businesses. Writer Mona Simpson (“My Hollywood”) leads a post-reading discussion and Q-and-A with Chabon and his wife, author Ayelet Waldman (“Red Hook Road”). Thu. 7:30 p.m. Free. Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000.

Mayim Bialik nearly loses thumb in car accident

Actress Mayim Bialik seriously injured her hand in a car accident in Los Angeles.

A car filled with tourists crashed into Bialik’s car on Wednesday in Los Angeles on Hollywood Boulevard, TMZ reported.

Bialik, 36, who stars in the “Big Bang Theory” and was a child star in “Blossom,” nearly lost her left thumb in the accident, according to TMZ, which reported that the digit was almost completely severed.

Hours after the accident, Bialik tweeted that she was “In pain but will keep all my fingers.” She added, however, that her husband was typing for her.

In addition to being an actress, Bialik is a neuroscientist and writes about Jewish parenting.

The ‘cinematic Zionism’ of Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks shows no outright sense of shame or victimhood in his humorous films, but his Jewishness is there without ambivalence, according to experts.

“There is a simple pride and comfort in his Jewish skin,” Gabriel Sanders, director of public programs at The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, told “It’s cinematic Zionism.”

As a heat wave continues to blanket the New York area this summer, film buffs are taking advantage of a free series of comedies at the Jewish heritage museum called “Mel Brooks on Film: The Spoof is in the Pudding.” 

Featuring six award-winning films from the 1970s and 80s, the series runs through Aug. 8. Brooks’ parodies and satires are cult favorites and box office hits, and Brooks is one of only a handful of performers that have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony award. 

Born Melvin Kaminsky in Brooklyn, NY, his father’s family consisted of German Jews from Danzig while his mother’s family were Ukrainian Jews from Kiev. His father died of kidney disease at 34, when Brooks was only 2 years old. 

In John Wakeman’s book World Film Directors, Brooks explained his reaction to his father’s death. “There’s an outrage there,” Brooks said. “I may be angry at God, or at the world, for that. I’m sure a lot of my comedy is based on anger and hostility. Growing up in Williamsburg, I learned to clothe it in comedy to spare myself problems—like a punch in the face.”

Over the top and often like the punch in the face Brooks described, the humor in his films is muscular self-confident, as opposed to Wood Allen’s neurotic style.

“We had a Woody Allen series last year and that was successful, so we wanted another iconic Jewish director,“ Sanders told “It’s been interesting to see how different the two are. Brooks’ preoccupation with Nazis is not unique to just one of his movies. It’s not only Nazis he goes after, but the powerful.”

In 2001, Brooks told U.S. News & World Report that he was never crazy about Hitler. “If you stand on a soapbox and trade rhetoric with a dictator you never win,” Brooks said. “That’s what they do so well, they seduce people. But if you ridicule them, bring them down with laughter, they can’t win. You show how crazy they are.”

Mel Brooks in “Young Frankenstein.” Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox.

The Jewish heritage museum’s series includes comic gems such as “Silent Movie,” “History of the World Part I,” “High Anxiety,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Blazing Saddles,” and “To Be or Not to Be.”

According to Wakeman, after World War II, Brooks started working in various Borscht Belt resorts and nightclubs as a drummer and pianist. Another Williamsburg resident, Buddy Rich, taught Brooks how to play drums and he started earning money that way at age 14.

Kaminsky changed his professional name to “Mel Brooks” after being confused with the well-known Borscht Belt trumpet player Max Kaminsky. After a regular comic at one of the nightclubs was too sick to perform one night, Brooks started working as a stand-up, telling jokes and doing movie-star impressions. He also began acting in summer stock in Red Bank, NJ, and did some radio work. He eventually worked his way up to “tummler” at Grossinger’s, the most famous of the Catskill resorts.

Sanders invited Leonard Quart, professor emeritus of cinema at the City University of New York (CUNY) Grad Center and contributing editor of Cineaste, to give a talk before the Brooks film series opened.

“Brooks’ films are never subtle. They cartoon, parody, have no use for good taste, and are laugh-out-loud-funny,” Quart told “He has no use for sacred cows.”

Quart said Brooks’ films use Yiddishisms freely but, more importantly, are deeply embedded in a sense of Jewish victimization and oppression. 

“He sees comedy as a relieving of the pain of historical intolerance and of being an outsider,” Quart said. “The films make us laugh and sometimes make sharp satiric points about racism, politics, and religion. Yes, they are zany comedies, but they also can provide trenchant commentary on social mores and history.”

Eventually Brooks found more rewarding work behind the scenes, becoming a comedy writer for television. In 1949, his friend from the Borscht Belt days, Sid Caesar, hired Brooks to write jokes for the NBC series The Admiral Broadway Revue, paying him $50 a week. In 1950, Caesar created the revolutionary variety comedy series, “Your Show of Shows,” and hired Brooks as a writer along with Carl Reiner, Neil and Danny Simon, and Mel Tolkin.

Brooks never forgot what Caesar did for him and cast him in his film, “Silent Movie.”

“When we showed ‘Silent Movie’ the other night, he’s merciless with big money. Much of the movie has Mel going around to different stars trying to get them to be in his silent movie. He makes fun of them. He really is a kind of equal opportunity comic,” Sanders said.

Still, some may claim that Brooks’ films continue to push the boundaries of good taste. Quart agrees with this claim. “Yes, he can be vulgar, scatological, and outrageous. But for me, his films are too innocent, even sweet-natured, to draw blood, even though Brooks believes ‘comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.’”

To most, however, Mel Brooks’ films remain relevant.

“How do we define comedy’s relevance? If it’s able to make us laugh, escape our lives, and, at its best, make astute sharp social and psychological points, it’s relevant. I wouldn’t say all of Brooks’ work meets those criteria, but he does meet some of them,” Quart said.

Seth Rogen waltzes to a dramatic beat in new movie [Q & A]

He’s better known for big studio comedies like “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express”, but Seth Rogen strays from his beaten path when he stars in the low-budget comedy-drama “Take This Waltz.”

Directed by Canadian actress/filmmaker Sarah Polley, and opening in U.S. theaters on Friday, the movie sees Rogen starring opposite Michelle Williams, who is better known for dramatic roles in films like “Blue Valentine”.

Rogen plays a cookbook author with an alcoholic sister (Sarah Silverman) who doesn’t seem to notice that his wife (Williams) has fallen for the handsome artist (Luke Kirby) that lives across the street.

Rogen, 30, talked with Reuters about working with Williams, and his upcoming directorial debut in “The End of the World”.

Reuters: “Take This Waltz” is about a woman’s marriage failing because she’s in love with someone else. Not exactly a subject matter you’re associated with. How did this project come about?

Seth Rogen: “I’m not one of those actors where filmmakers that I admire ask me to be in their movies. I meet them at parties and they’re nice to me, but they never ask me to work with them. Sarah Polley is one of the first filmmakers that I’ve really liked that asked me.”

R: There is no trace here of the man-child roles you often play in your other movies. It’s probably your most serious role to date, wouldn’t you say?

S.R.: “It’s probably closer to what I am in real life. I think I’m one of those people that when fans meet, they’re often very disappointed because I’m kind of quiet and shy. I think they expect me to have one of those hats with two beer cans strapped to my head and strippers on either side of me. So it was nice to do something where I didn’t have to be really funny all the time.”

R: How did you enjoy working with Michelle Williams?

S.R.: “She was very impressive. A lot of our scenes were emotionally demanding. The emotional turmoil that actors put themselves through at the drop of a hat is not the type of stuff I normally do.”

R: We seem to know more about Michelle Williams’ character than yours. What’s the back story you gave him?

S.R.: “I think a lot of people aggressively stay stagnant, almost like a gauntlet that’s thrown down. For Lou, the test of the relationship is ‘Can we not change.’ He thinks if it’s strong enough to not change, that means it’s strong enough to last. But that’s not realistic or how real relationships are.”

R: You’re currently making your feature directorial debut with writing partner Evan Goldberg on the comedy “The End of the World” that you also star in. How do you like directing?

S.R.: “It was a little daunting because the movie itself is technically complicated. The story is something we’ve been working on for years and years. There have been several moments where I feel like, ‘I can’t believe we pulled this off!’ But those wonderful moments have been shattered by the stress of ‘We’re not going to finish what we need to shoot in time!’”

R: In that film, everybody plays a heightened version of themselves. You’ve got a lot of your friends in there like James Franco, Jonah Hill and Jason Segel. But also people like Rihanna and Emma Watson who seem unlikely to hang with your crowd in real life.

S.R.: “It’s James Franco’s party in the movie. And the truth is, sometimes you go to a party and you can’t believe who’s there…I’ve had random famous people show up at my parties where I’m like, ‘What the heck is this person doing here?’ That’s what we wanted to tap in to.”

R: How did you nab Rihanna?

S.R.: “I read in an interview once that she was a fan of some of our movies. When we were working on this film, we thought, ‘She seems not to hate us. She could be a good person to ask.’ We got her on the phone, explained it to her and she agreed to do it. She was really funny, she improvised and did everything we asked her to do. And she seemed to have a good time.”

R: You act, write, direct, produce and are considered to be on Hollywood’s A-list. Ever feel like you’re on top of the world?

S.R.: “As a Jewish person, you generally hate yourself, but there’s moments where I feel that way.”

Reporting by Zorianna Kit, editing by Jill Serjeant and Carol Bishopric