It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane — Oy Gevalt, It’s a Jewish ‘Watchmen’


SAN FRANCISCO (JTA)—Who watches the watchmensch? Yes, you read that right—the comic book “Watchmen” is getting a Yiddish makeover courtesy of a British comic writer.

And in fitting with “Watchmen’s” trademark plot twists and surprising revelations, “Watchmensch” has one of its own: Although it’s crammed with Yiddish dialogue, Jewish in-jokes and black hats, its creator isn’t Jewish.

Rich Johnston is known in the comics world as a sort of gossip columnist—he writes a news and rumors column called “Lying in the Gutters.” He also has written several comics of his own, including one about a 17th-century Italian monk combined with elements from the TV show “Smallville.”

Johnston, 36, came up with the idea for “Watchmensch” at a comic book convention.

“I was messing around with friends about titles of comics, and ‘Watchmensch’ is just one that got stuck in my head,” he said in a phone interview from his home in southwest London, where he lives with his wife and two children.

He had an idea for the comic as well: A parody about the murder of a Jewish lawyer. After he wrote about it in his column, Johnston received positive feedback, including an e-mail from Swedish comic artist Simon Rohrmuller, who ended up drawing the book based on Johnston’s script.

The original “Watchmen” follows a group of former superheroes in 1980s America as they investigate the murder of one of their own, the Comedian. The series deconstructs the superhero genre with groundbreaking narrative techniques and an intricate alternate-history plot.

Originally published in a 12-part series from 1986 to 1987, “Watchmen” was a major hit, and is still considered one of the greatest comics of all time. It was named one of Time magazine’s top 100 English-language novels in 2005, and the highly anticipated “Watchmen” movie opened March 6.

It was the No.1 film in America on its opening weekend, bringing in $55.7 million—the most successful opening in 2009.

Thus, it’s no surprise that the series has been parodied in works like “Botchmen,” made by Mad magazine, and now in “Watchmensch.”

“Watchmensch” follows a similar trajectory to its predecessor, starting with the death of the Comedian—known in “Watchmensch” as Krusty the Klown, in homage to the famous Jewish character on “The Simpsons.” Investigating the murder are Spottyman (a takeoff on “Watchmen’s” Rorschach) and Jewish lawyers Nite Nurse (Nite Owl) and Silk Taker (Silk Spectre).

Along the way are numerous insider references to the history of “Watchmen” and comics in general, with particular emphasis on the industry’s Jewish roots.

“It’s a parody of ‘Watchmen,’ the comic book and the movie, and also a satire on the comic book industry, how the artists and the industry worked together for the past 70 years,” Johnston says.

The Jewish theme worked perfectly, he adds, because the history of the comic book is filled with Jewish names—among them Captain America creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg), Superman’s Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and Batman’s Bob Kane (born Robert Kahn).

Siegel and Shuster even make an appearance in “Watchmensch,” in a flashback to the day when they famously sold the rights to the Superman character to DC Comics for a mere $130.

Because Johnston isn’t Jewish, he wanted to be sure he was making an accurate portrayal.

“Once I got [a Jewish element], I’d go online and make sure I got it right,” he says. “I was also able to run skits past a few [Jewish] friends.”

The Jewish elements include Yiddish terms and Chasidic-style clothing, with Spottyman sporting payes and a black hat, and Silk Taker in a modest, high-necked dress. A pet named Balabusta also has a cameo, as does a can of Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda, a classic Jewish icon.

Johnston says the irony is that “I give the most Jewish lines to Spottyman, who’s not Jewish. It’s this secret identity he’s put on.”

Keeping things hidden, he says, is a common theme in comic-book history.

“Even in the early days of superhero comics, Judaism was there but it was disguised,” Johnston explains. “Even the Thing in the Fantastic Four—he was Jewish, but it was never actually said. Only within the last few years was it finally said, ‘Ben Grimm is Jewish.’ It’s long overdue.”

Rachel Freedenberg is a staff writer for the j. weekly.

VIDEO: Heeb Olympics 2008 — Gefilte Fish Wrestling




Four modern-day gladiators do battle for the gold (a lifetime supply of Gold’s mustard) in the Heeb Olympics. For more information, check out www.heebmagazine.com.

VIDEO: Woody Allen and the Jewish robots (from ‘Sleeper’)


Woody Allen is fitted for a new suit by robot Jewish tailors—from ‘Sleeper’

 

Kaddish for Carlin


Everybody keeps asking me whether George Carlin was Jewish.

“I heard he was related to the Karlin-Stoliner rebbe,” a colleague said about the comedian who died this week at the age of 71.

No, not unless the Karlin-Stoliner rebbe’s family was really Irish and Catholic.

“Are you going to do a story on him?” the editor of an East Coast Jewish newspaper e-mailed me.

No, I said, Carlin was not a Jew. When Ben Karlin dies — he’s the guy who created “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” — that’s a story we’ll do. But that’s several decades away.

We assume Carlin was Jewish not just because his surname name is Jew-ish but because his comedy confronted the status quo, the government, the elite, the insiders. He was right up there in the tradition of Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and Howard Stern — the tummler who doesn’t just want the world to laugh, he wants the world to change.

That’s what Carlin’s classic 1971 routine, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” did. Carlin came along and dismantled the idea that a government responsible for Vietnam and Watergate had a right to tell us what was obscene. It was such an obvious and threatening concept, he was arrested at least once after performing it and charged with violating — what else? — obscenity laws.

I was 11 when I first heard that routine, listening to my brother’s copy of Carlin’s “Class Clown” LP in our bedroom. I played it over and over, like a lot of people in my generation. It was liberation comedy, pointing out hypocrisy and greed in our society in a way that even an 11-year-old could understand.

I have been trying to compile a list of performers who’ve been dragged offstage by authorities, persecuted by the government or banned by media conglomerates not because of what they did — drugs, underage girls, etc. — but because of what they had said. By my count, most of these renegades have been Jewish.

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It’s not a long list, but there was Bruce, of course, hounded for his content (and, I believe, hounded for his drugs, because of his content). Stern and his fights with the Federal Communications Commission and the Christian right, which in his case may well be one and the same. There’s Joan Rivers, who’s been banned and re-banned by several shows. And then there’s Carlin, part of the same elite club.

(In his book on the comedians of the ’50s and ’60s, “Seriously Funny,” Gerald Nachman tells how the Los Angeles Police Department even found a Yiddish-speaking detective to monitor Bruce’s act. The detective dutifully filed his report: “Suspect also used the word ‘shtup.'”)

Carlin didn’t stop with government. He went after religion; he went after God. What’s more Jewish than that? The ability to take a fresh look — and by fresh, I also mean crude and challenging — at beliefs we have grown comfortable with is another Jewish comic tradition: Ask Woody Allen; ask Bill Maher.

Here’s a favorite, for old times’ sake, from 1997:

Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man — living in the sky — who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of 10 things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these 10 things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!

But He loves you.

He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing and all-wise; somehow just can’t handle money!

Carlin wasn’t Jewish, but as he looked to Bruce, so generations of Jewish comic soothsayers looked to him. He begat — or at least cleared the way — for Richard Belzer, Roseanne Barr, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Stewart and, of course, Ben Karlin.

“Nobody was funnier than George Carlin,” Judd Apatow, director of “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” told the Los Angeles Times. “I spent half my childhood in my room listening to his records, experiencing pure joy. And he was as kind as he was funny.”

When I watched Larry David in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” try to steal a nail used in “The Passion of the Christ” to put up his mezuzah, I couldn’t help thinking of Carlin’s incendiary statements hadn’t just cleared the way, but bulldozed the boulevard.

Before stand-up, Jews put their observations in print. The Austrian comic essayist Karl Kraus — a big deal in the fin de siècle — nurtured his rage by reading the morning paper then turning loose his pen. Then came the microphone and a way to share the anger, through humor, with the masses.

Carlin had that Jewish talent — standing at a remove from the larger culture and commenting astutely on it. What he was doing on stage, Mel Brooks was doing on film, Norman Lear on television and Stern on radio.

As Carlin became famous and rich and lionized, he didn’t lose his ability to get angry and funny, to rail against the hypocrites of the left and right, the politicians and clergy and businessmen, the environmentalists and the polluters. “I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn,” he said, “and cross it deliberately.”

That’s why it’s not out of line to say a little Kaddish for Carlin.


George Carlin: ‘Religion is bullshit’



Michael Richards — still not Jewish


Judy Toll is one funny valentine


Groucho Marx said anyone can get old—all you have to do is live long enough. But what can you say about a comedian who lived it all in 44 years, as a breakthrough stand-up, gifted improv actor and writer for the hottest HBO comedy show?

Meet Judy Toll.

“Judy was a Jew; I don’t know if you’re aware of that,” comedian Andy Kindler deadpanned. “She came from a long line of Jews.”

Toll also went and took her mother to the Holy Land, married an Oscar-winning filmmaker from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and was loved by so many friends that she even went to therapy with them.

Now, according to the documentary made by her brother, Gary Toll, Judy was “The Funniest Woman You’ve Never Heard Of.” It’s a labor of love that rushes at you through her characters, her lovers, her sketches from The Groundlings, her episodes from HBO’s “Sex and the City” and her family life in Philadelphia.

“The Funniest Woman” is wrapped in anecdotes from creative pals like Kathy Griffin, Wendy Kamenoff, Taylor Negron and Michael Patrick King who detail the more hellish dramas Toll created to jump on stage and talk about. Friends loved this frenetic personality who struggled to turn her pain into our pleasure before succumbing to cancer in 2002.

“What a thing for her to have this terrible affliction when she had such a profound influence on the comedy business,” comedian Rick Overton said. “Her bold character work, the sort of thing that stars have.”

As a child in the 1960s, Toll starred in her family’s living room—mocking in-laws with perfect mimicry and mad-libbing Hawaiian Punch ads.

“I never laughed as hard with anyone as I did with Judy,” her brother said.

Toll and her siblings would stay up until mom Sandy yelled because their father, Jay, had to get up early to get to the furniture store he ran on Market Street in Philly for 40 years. Sister Joanne (now a producer of HBO’s “In Treatment”) helped shoot Super 8 movies—not normal family nachas but scripted, elaborate spoofs.

“Judy often said she had the most fun in her life making our movies,” Gary Toll said.

Groundlings veteran Jim Doughan remembers the Tolls as “the weirdest family I’ve ever encountered.”

From Samuel Gompers Elementary School (Kevin Bacon’s mother was her teacher), Toll launched her career: Suburban theater trouper and “My Fair Lady” fundraisers for the Philadelphia chapter of ORT.

This was followed by her brilliant, disruptive Hebrew school years.

“She jumped off a sofa and broke her leg two weeks before her bat mitzvah,” Gary Toll said. “Probably an early example of her causing drama. Bat mitzvah was a big showcase for her.”

After theater at U Mass, Toll became the first female comic “in the comedy club surge of the early ‘80s,” according to Steve Young, co-founder of the Philadelphia Comedy Works.

“On stage, she did characters and jokes. Off stage, she did Judy. That’s who you fell in love with,” he said.

Kamenoff remembers meeting “this sweet little blond, Jewish angel” while doing her own act there. “Barely 5-foot-1, with this huge personality. I said, ‘Oh my God, I love you, let’s be friends!’” she said.

Toll and Kamenoff shared the kind of adventures particular to stand-ups on the road in the 1980s.

“Madonna was doing her ‘Blond Ambition’ tour,” recalled Kamenoff, now a writer and teacher. “We did our ‘No Ambition’ tour—Utah, Wyoming, Montana. Honky-tonks with screen doors slamming, the stage the size of a desk. These were cowboys who had never seen a Jewish girl in their life. Or a woman comic.”

Judy won them over.

“She didn’t have a censor,” Kamenoff said. “They loved her.”

After arriving in Los Angeles, Toll rose through the comedy ranks.

“When you were around Judy, you laughed a lot,” said actress Edie McClurg, who performed with Toll at The Groundlings Theatre. “She was a pretty and beautiful soul.”

“She was born to do characters,” Gary Toll added.

After seeing Toll creations like Naomi the B.U. feminist and neurotic Sheila Naselstein, who returns matzah when it’s broken, a critic for The New York Times called her, “a combination of Judy Holliday and Gilda Radner.”

Radner was her idol.

Buzzing around Los Angeles with a CMDYGAL vanity plate, Toll worked part time selling Chipwiches at the La Brea Tar Pits and broke through with Groundlings partner Wendy Goldman on a sketch called, “Casual Sex.”

Ivan Reitman bought and produced their play as the 1988 movie, “Casual Sex?” starring Lea Thompson and Victoria Jackson. Upset she wasn’t cast to play herself, Toll instead found success writing sitcoms, appearing in other films and on shows like “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” During the dulled-down comedy club scene of the ‘90s, Toll found a home at Un-Cabaret, an alternative comedy space for stand-ups stretching into storytellers.

“Audiences witnessed a diary of what was going on in her life,” Kamenoff recalled. “She discovered her voice there.”

“Judy always called Un-Cabaret the ‘comedy of love,’” said Beth Lapides, the venue’s co-creator. “That was one of her major themes. And she loved when there was a small audience, because it was so much more intimate.”

At the Un-Cab, wearing her favorite cherry earrings, Toll read new writings or ranted out her hypochondria—“I live in anxiety and fear!”—detailing her calamities in and out of romance, AA, OA and even Scientology. But when a boyfriend found an irregular mole on her back, she really did get sick. Melanoma.

“Judy and our mother took a trip to Israel and Judy was very affected,” Gary Toll said. “She started going back to services and studying. I don’t think Judy would have dealt with her cancer as courageously as she did if Judaism had not been a part of her life.”

She also got the job of her life with HBO’s “Sex and the City,” writing about what she often talked about on stage: women falling for the wrong men. Writer Liz Tuccillo remembered Toll as being “amazingly upbeat in the writers’ room while battling her illness.” One day though, “she told us that she felt like she had lost her sense of humor. She was crying a bit. Soon, however, she started talking about how her sense of humor had moved to Florida to retire. She went on to write some of the show’s funniest lines that afternoon,” Tuccillo said.

Theater: ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’ — populism through a post-punk prism


“Populism, yea, yea!
Populism, yea, yea!”

Sung to an urgent pop beat, this rousing refrain from “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” is bound to stick in your head. Not just because it’s so catchy, but because the show gets you thinking about populism — what it meant to early 19th century America, and what it means to us today. Written and directed by Alex Timbers, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, “Bloody Bloody” is a rollicking, irreverent new bio-musical about Andrew Jackson’s life and leadership — viewed through the lens of “emo” music and 20th century pop culture.

The first American president from humble origins, Jackson pitted himself against authority and privilege. Scarred by early violent encounters, one of which left a bullet in his chest for life, Jackson bled himself in vain attempts to ease his pain. And long before Bill Clinton “felt our pain,” Jackson fashioned his wounds, youthful disappointments and family tragedy into an empathetic persona that appealed to those who felt powerless.

Although this is their first collaboration, Friedman and Timbers each bring impressive credentials to the production. Timbers, 29, is artistic director of the New York-based, Obie Award-winning avant-garde company Les ” target=”_blank”>The Civilians, a New York-based off-Broadway company that conducts extensive interviews to create theater that raises questions about contemporary cultural phenomena. Friedman, composer and lyricist for numerous Civilians productions, most recently penned pop music for the upcoming “This Beautiful City,” an inside look at evangelical Christian churches that probes the intersection of religion and civic life in America, premiering this March at Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that Friedman and Timbers share the conviction that emo — which they describe as hyper-emotional, post-punk rock that’s “so sincere it’s ridiculous, and so ridiculous, it’s heartbreaking” — is an ideal aesthetic to apply to Jackson and his era.

“There’s an entire language of the American presidency that’s invented during Jackson’s presidency,” Friedman said. And the invention of populism, he added, can be seen as “disenfranchised boys who didn’t think they were popular in high school getting their revenge.”

By using contemporary teenage idioms and post-punk music alongside 19th century speech and period details, Friedman believes “Bloody Bloody” highlights qualities of each period that might not otherwise be apparent.

“Often, the most simplistic things we come up with — like introducing Monroe’s cabinet to the strains of a Spice Girls song — are really helpful at focusing in on what the thing itself is,” Friedman said.

These pop culture motifs also add lightness and humor to what is — beneath a gloss of irony and absurdity — a serious subject.

A classically trained pianist who didn’t write his first song until he was 24, Friedman thrives on intensive research — whether it’s the hundreds of interviews that form the basis of The Civilians’ plays, or historical research for “Bloody Bloody” — and draws musical inspiration from a seemingly limitless range of styles.

“I approach my work anthropologically,” Friedman said.

For one project, he immersed himself in Senegalese rap — not expecting to actually write a Senegalese rap song, but instead to absorb the sounds in order to pick up a new trick or two.

“It might be about structure, or rhythm, or the way a melody works,” Friedman said.

Listening to other music also helps him concentrate while composing, and anything he hears might suggest an idea for works in progress: “I’ll be listening to my iPod and finally figure out what I want to do on a song … often it’s not even a direct correlation — I’ll hear a Mahler symphony and I’ll think, ‘Oh, “Trail of Tears” [from “Bloody Bloody”] should have a key change right here.'”

With his wide-ranging forays into musical style and his flair for eclecticism, Friedman has created a style that’s not easy to categorize.

“I’m kind of chameleon-like,” he said. For The Civilians’ “Gone Missing,” which recently completed a six-month run at New York’s Barrow Street Theater, Friedman called his score a “pastiche … there’s a Noel-Coward-esque song, a Mariachi number in Spanish, a big rock ballad….”

Friedman’s upbringing may have planted the seeds for his interest in, and facile navigation of, disparate cultural sources.

Raised in Philadelphia by a Jewish father of German descent and a non-Jewish, “Yankee, New England” mother, Friedman attended a Quaker school until college at Harvard. His father is from a family of “fiercely proud” German Jews who identified culturally, but not religiously, with Judaism.

“I was half-Jewish, half-Christian in a confusing way, both sides a little bit nonobservant, went to a Quaker school in the ’70s, when everything like that was very much up in the air,” Friedman said. This gave him a “sense of religious — and nonreligious — possibility” for his own identity.

Although he doesn’t believe that any particular “faith background” influences his work, Friedman believes he’s got his father’s German Jewish sense of “intellectual questioning, of learning for learning’s sake.”

That said, no one in his father’s family has any connection with their European roots, so they are, more than anything else, “Americans first,” he added.

“At this point — after so many generations — what else are you?” Friedman asked.

A very contemporary question, but one that also harkens back to the Jacksonian era, when the presence of Native Americans, Spaniards and African slaves within our borders challenged our ideals of democracy and raised issues of race and ethnicity in America.

What did we then, and what do we now, make of these “foreigners” on our soil?

Books: Shmegegis of old, shmegegis of gold


“Old Jewish Comedians,” illustrated by Drew Friedman, edited by Monte Beauchamp. (Fantagraphics Books, $14.95) www.fantagraphics.com .

“Weep before God. Laugh before people.”
— Jewish Folk-Saying.

Who doesn’t love old Jewish comedians? Those mamzers of mirth and halutzim of humor who paved the road from the Catskills to Vegas as first-generation entertainers. Now comes “Old Jewish Comedians,” a book to honor these slapsticklers and ticklemen of the 20th century. Thirty-two pages of funny faces (all guys), the book is “An Illustrated Gallery of Jewish American Comedians, Comics, Comic Actors, Clowns, and Tummlers Depicted in the Sunset of Their Years.” Artist Drew Friedman’s portraits cover the greats and the greatly forgotten, from George Burns and Buddy Hackett, to Benny Rubin and Joe Smith.

Friedman, whom I first enjoyed for his funny illustrations in SPY Magazine, and whose work currently is seen in MAD, the New York Observer, Los Angeles Magazine and other publications, said that none of the comedians posed for him.

“I have a fairly extensive photo file which was very helpful,” he said.

He’s collected pictures of comedians since he was a child. (Bruce Jay Friedman, the author’s father, appears in “Old Jewish Comedians” in a photo from 1940 in the Catskills with comedian Jackie Miles.)

“Rich reality” is how Leonard Maltin describes Friedman’s style in his foreword. Included in the book are the real names for these “show-business survivors” as Maltin calls them: Shecky Green/Sheldon Greenfield, Freddie Roman/Fred Martin Kirschenbaum, Rodney Dangerfield/Jacob Cohen, Henny/Henry Youngman, et al.

Unfortunately, the only writing in “Old Jewish Comedians” is Maltin’s foreword.

“I didn’t want it to be ‘history’ book,” Friedman explained. “There are already those out there. I wanted their styles to be illustrated in their faces and the context of the drawing. Maltin’s intro puts everything into historical context.”

So where to go if you want to learn more about these Jewish jesters? The ones who didn’t make it because comedy was less marketable back then, 50 years before HBO, Showtime, Comedy Central and clubs expanded stand-up venues are described in detail by Betsy Borns in her 1987 treatise, “Comic Lives.” Most never even flashed the free- wheeling coffeehouse style that Gerald Nachman recounts in “Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 60s.” (Shelley/Sheldon Leonard Berman being the exception, appearing in that 2003 book and this one.)

To really evaluate the book, I went to 92-year-old Irving Brecher. After all, Brecher is old, Jewish and he has not only done stand-up, he wrote for some of Friedman’s alter kackers, like Milton Berlinger (Berle, on the cover), Nathan Birnbaum (George Burns, inside cover), and the Marx Brothers (Julius, Adolph and Leonard, middle two pages of book.)

Book open, over split pea soup and half a pastrami on rye at Label’s Table on Pico Boulevard, I quizzed Brecher about “OJC” who never found the fame of a Moses — Harry Horwitz/Moe Howard or Jerome Levitch/Jerry Lewis, a Jack Chakrin/Jack Carter or Archibald Donald Rickles/ Don Rickles, et al.

— Irv, here’s Harry Joachim.

“That’s Harry Ritz of the Ritz Brothers. Harry was the only one who was talented. Al and Jimmy were nothing.”

— Menasha Skulnik?

“That’s his real name. Great Yiddish comedian. The Yiddish theater was a remarkable place. I wish you’d seen it.”

— Joseph Seltzer?

“Joe Smith of Smith & Dale, the famous vaudeville team. They made a movie called “The Heart of New York,” which is a museum piece. For collectors.”

— Abraham Kalish?

“Al Kelly. Al did double talk. That was his style. He spoke gibberish in vaudeville sketches and all the people would try to be polite.

— While he mocked them?

“No, not mocking them. The audience would laugh. But people in the real world he dealt with would be taken in.”

— Sounds like what Borat does!

“Haven’t seen it. But most comedians couldn’t do it like Al Kelly could. He was unique.”

— Here’s a fellow named Ben Rubin…

“Benny Rubin used to work for me! When he was up in vaudeville. I’d give him a part in “The Life of Riley” radio show. In Hollywood, when they wanted a Jew with a long nose, they’d hire him. The lousy Hollywood producers. He’d make $150. I’d never use a character with a Jewish accent. Like Jack Benny [Benjamin Kubelsky] did with ‘Mr. Schlepperman.'”

— He used a thick Jewish accent?

“I hated it, that very stereotypical annoying character.

— Who played him?

“Artie Auerbach. Listen, do they have Jan Murray in this book?”

— No.

“I’m surprised.”

Friedman said not to worry; Jan Murray/Murray Janofsky will appear in the sequel, “More Old Jewish Comedians,” due in 2008.

Brecher said he hopes the sequel has a bit, or routine, a catchphrase, something from each comedian to go with the pictures.

A wish list of guilty pleasures and goofy gifts


We’ve all been there.

You go to the store, turn on the TV or pick up a catalogue and see something incredibly silly that you never in a million years would buy for yourself (it’s also called a “guilty pleasure”). But you can always say you are buying it for someone else.

So in the grand tradition of the Pet Rock, the Moses action figure and the snow cone machine, The Journal presents the Chanukah gifts you really want but won’t admit it.

Just when you thought Barbie has done it all … the blonde anatomical wonder now comes with Tickle Me Elmo Extreme (TMX) in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the beloved “Sesame Street” character. The 12-inch doll, wearing an oh-so-trendy TMX Elmo shirt, is joined by a knee-high version of the huggable red monster that giggles when you press his belly.

If Elmo isn’t your thing, why not Barbie with a dog — a soft, fuzzy pooch named Tanner that does everything a real dog should, everything. We shouldn’t give away too much … but this Barbie comes with a minimagnetic scooper!

And if Tanner gets lonely, you can buy her Mika the cat, owned by Barbie’s gal-pal, Theresa. The feline (and her owner) come with bowl, toys and — I think you know where this is going — a litter box that Theresa gets to clean. Something tells us that this isn’t quite what creator Ruth Handler had in mind.

Each Mattel doll will run you $19.99.

Attention closet Fanilows: This one’s for you. “Copacabana” king Barry Manilow pays homage to the “classics” in “The Greatest Songs of the Sixties.” The follow-up to his “Greatest Songs of the Fifties” includes renditions of “Cherish”/”Windy” (with The Association), the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” and the Beatles’ ballad, “And I Love Her.” We don’t think these are all the “greatest” hits — but it’s sure close. And if you are itching for some authentic Manilow, rumor has it that when you play “Blue Velvet” backward, it sounds like “Mandy.”

Arista, $18.98 on CD (but a lot of online stores have it on sale).

Minsk and Pinsk. Just try to say the words out loud without smiling. See, it’s funny because they sound alike — “The Big Book of Jewish Humor” says so. The 25th anniversary of the Jewish humor canon, by William Novak and Moshe Waldoks, doesn’t just offer jokes, it gives the methods behind the shtick with the help of some of the biggest names in Jewish humor, through clever cartoons, famous one-liners and stories you just have to use your hands to tell. Why can we make fun of ourselves when others can’t? Because nobody does it better.

(Collins, $24.95) Available in bookstores — probably in a front display marked “Chanukah,” next to the blue-and-white wrapping paper.

You’ve seen ’em hang with Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussycats and Snow White … now come see the team built by Abe Saperstein for yourself. What? You’ve never heard of Abe Saperstein! How about the Harlem Globetrotters?

One of the best-known franchises in the world has been around since 1927, and they’re coming to L.A. Monday, Feb. 19, for a night of laughs and lay-ups. While you won’t find Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal, Goose Tatum, Marques Haynes or “Sweet” Lou Dunbar at the game, we dare you to not start whistling “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

Staples Center at 1 p.m. on President’s Day. $16-$135. Ticketmaster.com.

They say dogs sometimes look like their owners — so how about you, your honey, your baby and Fido get matching T-shirts for a good cause? Friends of Pups for Peace sells the cutie couture, whose proceeds will help stop terrorism around the world by training dogs to sniff out the bad guys. The pups logo comes on tank tops, long sleeve tees, sweatshirts, ties and hoodies — as well as doggie bowls. So you’ll look cute and do a mitzvah.

1-800-699-8930, www.pupsforpeace.org.

X-Men, Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk. You’ve seen the movies, you’ve read the comics, you’ve dressed up and acted out their fight scenes in your backyard (don’t try to deny it). Now Stan Lee, the man behind Marvel Comics, and Rob Thomas, Lee’s assistant editor, let fans see — and hear — how it all began in the coffee table book, “The Amazing Marvel Universe.” Throw in the added scoop of “Marvel vs. DC” and the “Women of Marvel” and it’s an out-of-this-world present. And because it comes in such a cool display case, you can take off that mask when you read it and let your true identity shine through.

$50. $75, if you are an evil genius hell-bent on taking over the world.

You know you loved them the first time, as much as you try to deny it. Now all that e-mail campaigning has paid off, and they are out on DVD, to be enjoyed all over again. Judy Graubart and friends on “The Best of The Electric Company, Volume 2” remind us all that grammar is fun ($39.98); “Northern Exposure — The Complete Fifth Season” features the episode where Dr. Fleischman’s parents come to Cicely for the first time ($59.98); Blanche discovers her Jewish roots (Did I mention her name was Feldman?) in “The Golden Girls — The Complete Sixth Season” ($39.99); and the awesomest ’90s show around, “Beverly Hills, 90210 — The Complete First Season,” taught us two things: They went to West Beverly, and her name is pronounced Ahn-drea ($54.99).

Not sure if they are supposed to be Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero’s favorites or our favorites, but “Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites” is just too unique to resist. The “Where the Boys Are” chanteuse puts her vocal chords to a dozen songs, including “Hava Negilah,” “My Yiddishe Momme” and “Tzena Tzena.” Believe it or not, the album hit No. 69 on the Billboard charts (it was 1961, but still). So maybe the boys were at the deli knocking back a few egg creams.

$19.99. www.thejewishsource.com.

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday the 4th

Support a local band with Jewish roots and global sounds. “Punky, reggae jungle” band ” border = 0 alt=”Treehouse of Horror XVII”>


“The Simpsons'” annual “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween episode airs tonight, featuring three supernatural tales, including one with a Jewish nod called “You Gotta Know When to Golem.” The story has Bart bringing to life a Golem, voiced by Richard Lewis, to do his evil bidding. The segment also features Fran Drescher in the role she was born to play: the Jewish monster’s bride.

8 p.m. on Fox. ” target=”_blank”>www.lamoth.org.

Tuesday the 7th

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“Girl Culture” photographer and documentarian Lauren Greenfield most recently has snapped shots of girls and women residing in Southern Florida’s Renfrew Center, an eating disorder treatment clinic. Their painful struggles with anorexia and bulimia are depicted in Greenfield’s new book of photographs and documentary, both titled “THIN.” Selected images from the publication are on view at Fahey/Klein Gallery through Nov. 25. The film debuts Nov. 14 on HBO.

” target=”_blank”>www.laurengreenfield.com.

Thursday the 9th
” target=”_blank”>www.ivrilider.com.

Friday the 10th

” target=”_blank”>www.dreamhouseensemble.com.

There’s no business like shul business


” target=”_blank”>”V’shamru,” which he composed in 1967 as part of a play he put on in rabbinical school, is sung around the world. For many, his version — “V’shamru, v’ne-ei Yisra-e-el, e-e-et ha-Sha-a-a-bbat” — is the version.

Despite his renown, Rothblum is humble.

“He practices the Jewish concept of tzim-tzum,” musician Craig Taubman said. “It’s the ability to make himself smaller. When you lead with that model, you create an opportunity for other people to shine.”

In 2001, Rothblum introduced an alternative monthly service featuring Taubman, a member of the congregation. Hundreds now flock to the service, called “One Shabbat Morning,” which involves nontraditional elements like acting out the Torah portion and a band jamming on drums and electric guitars.

Those who know Rothblum call him “Moshe” or “Rabbi.” Boni Gellis, Rothblum’s assistant of nearly 11 years, calls him “my rabbi.”

“I like to call him ‘Boss,'” said Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard, who, after 10 years at Adat Ari El, will take Rothblum’s place as senior rabbi. Rothblum has taught Bernhard many lessons over the years, including how to interact with a congregation and preserve tradition.

Rothblum, married for 36 years, with two sons, has also shown his protégé how to balance synagogue and family life.

“He has a very gentle touch,” said Bernhard, 40. “It’s not like he tries to pound these lessons into me. It’s been more by offering up words of wisdom.”

People can relate to Rothblum, said Steve Getzug, 46, who has been a congregant at Adat Ari El for about 14 years and has served on the board.

“There’re the Rabbi Schulweises of the world who are sort of on a different plane. … They’re inspirational, but half of what they say may elude you,” Getzug said. “What I like about the rabbi is that he appeals to me in language that I can understand.”

Performers Go It Alone and Like It That Way


Michael Raynor moves with the balletic grace and cocksure athleticism of a former pickup basketball player and street fighter. He simulates dribbling a ball between his legs with the adeptness of the highly recruited hoops star he once was, then he assumes his grandfather’s boxer’s crouch, takes on the gravelly voice of the onetime Louis Lepke associate and throws the jab. Effortlessly, Raynor switches time periods and voices, at one moment playing his sassy mother with her elbow against her rib, her wrist bent, and then his grandmother, with her stooped posture and her Old World idiosyncrasies.

In “Who Is Floyd Stearn?” playing at the Sidewalk Studio Theater in Toluca Lake, Raynor goes on a Rashomon-like search for the essence of his father, who left the family when the actor was a little boy. Was his father a deadbeat dad? A mentally ill genius? A con man?

The rugged-looking actor’s only props are a chair and a black-and-white photograph of his father with his arm around him as Raynor, the little boy, plays a guitar. Raynor speaks with the sing-song patter of the New York City streets. He is a Jewish man who hails from an older tradition — the Jews of the first half of the last century: tough Jews, who dominated sports like boxing and basketball and served disproportionately in the first two World Wars and in the ranks of gangsters. But he also has a vulnerability mixed in with that toughness, like John Garfield, to whom he has been compared.

Despite courageous performances by actors like Raynor, solo-show performers have been lampooned often by the likes of Martin Short and mocked by many as self-absorbed narcissists, bent on exploring their own navels rather than advancing the art form of the theater. Nonetheless, one-person shows continue to proliferate and provide performers with a unique outlet for meta-theatrical expression.

Stacie Chaiken, who runs a solo workshop in Santa Monica, says the medium is “a way for actors to take control of their destiny,” but she also admits, these shows are “cheap to produce. It’s very easy for a one-person show to travel around.”

There are some big-name Jewish performers like Billy Crystal, who recently toured with his Tony-winning homage to his father, “700 Sundays,” and Eve Ensler, creator of the “Vagina Monologues.” But in recent months, many L.A. theaters have produced one-person shows featuring lesser-known Jewish talent, such as Judi Lee Brandwein, star of “Fornicationally Challenged,” which played at the Hudson Guild and is moving to New York; Linda Lichtman, whose one-person show, “The Bride Can’t Stop Coughing” is playing at the Actors Playpen; and Carla Zilbersmith, a singer and actress who revisits her days on the wedding circuit in “Wedding Singer Blues.”

While each show follows its own trajectory, Chaiken points out that many Jewish-themed plays explore the issue of legacy. These performers describe conflicted feelings about their parents and the aspirations held out for them. As clichéd as such scenarios may seem, they speak to the pain and humor of family, a commonality that usually resonates with audiences.

Zilbersmith, who has a music degree from the New England Conservatory of Music and a theater degree from NYU, cites the lineage of the art form: “The ancient conversation we call theater has always contained some form of solo performance, and I would argue that the most successful solo pieces acknowledge these theatrical roots.”

Those roots surely include King David, who soothed Saul by singing and playing the harp or lyre, troubadours during the Middle Ages who wandered from town to town and entertained crowds, and, in the past century, Lord Buckley, the now-forgotten, Beat-era monologist who started out in vaudeville and later told tales in a bebop idiom that centered on historical and biblical characters like “the Nazz,” a jive take on Jesus. Buckley’s influence could be seen in the work of Lenny Bruce and Bob Dylan, the latter a modern-day Jewish troubadour, who cites Buckley in his recent “Chronicles, Vol. 1.”

Notable works in the field include, of course, Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain in “Mark Twain Tonight!” and Julie Harris’ Emily Dickinson in “The Belle of Amherst,” formal one-person shows about external subjects. In the past 15 years or so, as memoirs, particularly those of addiction and recovery, have staked out a dominant place on the bookshelf, solo shows too have become much more personal, including the work of performance artists and monologists.

Chaiken, who teaches acting and solo performance at USC and who studied with Spalding Gray at the Performance Group in New York, credits Gray with formulating “a me that was very close to the me that was him,” and ushering in a new sensibility for monologists.

Fred Johntz has partnered with Mark Travis for seven years in writing and directing numerous one-person shows, including “Fornicationally Challenged.” Johntz says that performance art by L.A. performance artists such as John Fleck (whose work was denied NEA grants due to its provocative subject matter) and Sandra Tsing Loh are “pretty much in the same vein” as the one-person shows he directs.

The trend in self-involved storytelling, which may have reached its apotheosis in the blog phenomenon, has also led to the dissemination of many factual errors and even hoaxes. Likewise, one-person shows and their variants often could benefit from editing. Many suffer from poor storytelling if not outright posing.

Not surprisingly, there have been parodies even in one-person shows. In “Wedding Singer Blues,” Zilbersmith at one point portrays a performance artist as a brain-dead, pot-headed character who spins naked on a rotating East Village stage.

Women have been among the pioneers in this avant-garde art form. Anna Deveare Smith used journalistic techniques for her solo gigs. In the aftermath of the 1991 Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn and the 1992 Rodney King riots here in Los Angeles, she took to the streets with a tape recorder in hand and captured the colloquialisms that would later inform her award-winning performances in “Fires in the Mirror” and “Twilight: Los Angeles 1992,” respectively.

Most one-woman shows, however, favor sexual politics over political or racial issues.

Lichtman regales us with stories of her liaisons with younger men in “The Bride Can’t Stop Coughing” — a brave performance, not least because she is in her 60s. She invokes Jewish icons like the Dodgers of the 1950s, intersperses her act with Yiddish expressions and speaks in characteristically Jewish syntax when she utters lines like, “Lucky, I didn’t set myself on fire.”

Are Jews particularly well-suited to one-person shows?

Zilbersmith, starring in “Wedding Singer Blues,” now playing at the Coronet Theater, says that while she has a variety of students at the College of Marin in the Bay Area, where she teaches solo performance, those who tend to focus on writing and storytelling are Jewish. But she also notes the strong oral traditions of African Americans and the Irish; she says that most of her friends who are solo performers are African American.

One of Chaiken’s students, Frankie Colmane, wrote and acted in “Body and Soul,” a one-person show about her experience as a French Algerian Jew living in America. With immigration a searing topic both in this country and in France, Colmane’s show, which moved on to the Edge of the World Theater Festival in downtown Los Angeles, transcends Jewishness and speaks to all audiences. Of course, it also speaks to her.

As Chaiken says, “We’re all very interested in ourselves.”

“The Bride Can’t Stop Coughing” plays Mondays, 8 p.m., through July 31 at the Actors Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., Hollywood, (310) 560-6063 or (310) 582-0025.

“Cheerios in My Underwear” plays July 30, 3 p.m. and on selected Sundays, once a month, at the Empty Stage Theater, 2372 Veteran Ave., West Los Angeles, (310) 308-0947.

“Wedding Singer Blues” plays Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m., through July 16, at the Coronet Theater, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 657-7377.

“What’s the Story?” a series of new works-in-progress, plays July 10 and on selected Mondays, once a month, at the Powerhouse Theater, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica, (310) 450-1312.

“Who Is Floyd Stearn?” plays Thursdays, 8 p.m., at the Sidewalk Studio Theater, 4150 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake, (323) 960-1052, (818) 558-5702.

“Zero Hour” opens July 7, plays Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., through Aug. 13, at the Egyptian Arena Theater, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood, (323) 860-6620. Special gala dinner and performance on Sunday, July 9, honoring West Coast Jewish Theater founder Naomi Jacobs.

‘Steins’ Skewers Simcha Rivalry


“Keeping Up With the Steins” proves that you don’t have to be Jewish to make a funny, insider Jewish film, or that if you grow up in the Bronx or went to school in North Hollywood, you become a Jew by osmosis.

Case in point is the son-father team of Scott and Garry Marshall, with the younger one directing the movie and the older one just about stealing the show as a hippie Jewish grandfather, who teaches his yuppie descendants that there’s more to a bar mitzvah than throwing the most lavish party in Brentwood.

The film opens with an aerial shot of a Queen Mary-sized cruise ship, whose bow displays a giant banner “Mazal Tov, Zachary.” The theme of the modest celebration is the last voyage of the Titanic, complete with a huge iceberg mockup, from which emerge a bevy of scantily clad mermaids — and that’s just for the appetizer.

Hosting the simcha is Arnie Stein (Larry Miller), “agent for the stars” and his trophy wife, who met at a Texas wet T-shirt contest.

Among the guests, and gnashing his teeth, is Adam Fiedler (Jeremy Piven, also slick agent Ari Gold in the HBO series “Entourage”), Stein’s business competitor, accompanied by his wife Joanne (Jami Gertz) and nerdy-looking son Benjamin (Daryl Sabara), whose own bar mitzvah is coming up in a few months.

Driving home from the Titanic bash, Adam Fiedler starts obsessing about his own heir’s bar mitzvah party. It’s not enough to keep up with the Steins — he has to put on a bash that will crush and humiliate his rival.

Safaris are so 1990, but renting Dodger Stadium is a possibility. At night, Adam dreams about a line of yarmulke-wearing Laker Girls as a bar mitzvah highlight.

As Adam’s fevered mind nears the breaking point, up pops his father, Irwin (Garry Marshall), pony-tailed and hippie-clad, along with his spaced-out blonde girlfriend Sandy (Daryl Hannah), whom he met on an Indian reservation, where her name is Sacred Flower.

Irwin deserted his wife, Rose (Doris Roberts), and young family 26 years ago, and Adam, who hasn’t seen or talked to his father since, has never forgiven him.

Father-son relations go from bad to worse when Irwin and Sandy go skinny-dipping in the family pool (in public view but backsides only), although the old hippie has better luck bonding with his grandson Benjamin.

Gradually it dawns on the boy, his parents and his up-to-date rabbi (who is busy preparing for his “Bill O’Reilly Show” appearance to discuss “The Passion of the Jews” and is portrayed by Richard Benjamin) that maybe, just maybe, the religious and spiritual aspects of the rite of passage are more important than the prize for the most ostentatious party.

Garry Marshall, born 72 years ago under the good Italian family name of Marscharelli, said that his son, the director, picked him for the grandfather role as “his 10th choice.”

In truth, agreed Scott Marshall, 37, he had first tried to cast Carl Reiner or Mel Brooks, but both balked at the skinny-dipping part. When he finally approached his father, the latter asked who would be his pool partner. Told it would be Hannah, Garry Marshall quickly agreed.

During a joint interview at the Marshall family-built and run Falcon Theatre in Burbank, father and son noted their qualifications as honorary Jews.

Garry, whose credits as comedy writer, producer, actor and director (film, television and now opera) stretch from “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” of the 1960s, through TV’s “Mork and Mindy” to such films as “Pretty Woman” and the recent “The Princess Diaries 2,” pointed to his Bronx boyhood and accent.

However, his real education came as decades-long comedy writer, when he was thoroughly indoctrinated with Jewish and Yiddish humor by his fellow scribes.

Scott, directing his first full-length feature film, passed the ethnic test when he had to convince “Steins” producer A.D. Oppenheim that he could do justice to the script by Mark Zakarin, even if he wasn’t Jewish.

“I told the producer that I married a Jewish woman, and therefore, in a way, I have a Jewish mother,” Scott Marshall said. “Luckily, that was close enough.”

He further strengthened his case during the interview by referring to “bubbe’s latkes” and his education at the Oakwood School in North Hollywood.

“When I was in seventh grade, I went to over-the-top bar mitzvahs all the time,” Scott Marshall recalled. “At that age, it was about the only place you could meet girls and socialize.”

He met his future wife at the school and even tried his hand at writing a youthful bar mitzvah party script.

“Steins” was shot in 25 days in Brentwood and other parts of Los Angeles, with the synagogue scenes filmed at Adat Ari El in Valley Village.

After shooting three separate bar mitzvah ceremonies or parties for the movie, Scott Marshall noted “Through this experience, I feel I have finally become a man.”

“Keeping Up With The Steins,” a Miramax film, opens May 12 at selected theaters.

 

Humor in ‘Eat’ an Acquired Taste


When Rabbi Mordecai Finley, leader of the nondenominational congregation Ohr HaTorah, saw the new Passover comedy “When Do We Eat?” — he loved it.

“I laughed and laughed and laughed,” he said. He saw the movie three more times, and each time he liked it better.

Hap Erstein, the film reviewer for Florida’s Palm Beach Post, had a different reaction.

Since seeing the movie about a dysfunctional family trying to make it through a Passover seder, “a bad taste has been left in my mouth,” Erstein said.

Where Finley saw a story about the “redemptive power of a seder,” Erstein saw “mean-spirited and low-targeted humor.”

By now, the creators of the film, which has played in film festivals around the country and opens in theaters today, have come to expect such polarized reactions to their movie. Viewers either love it or hate it.

“When Do We Eat?” centers on the Stuckman family, which includes grandfather Artur (Jack Klugman); father Ira (Michael Lerner), who tries to lead “the world’s fastest seder”; his neglected wife, Peggy (Lesley Ann Warren); and their children.

Daughter Nikki (Shiri Appleby) works as a sex-surrogate. Son Ethan (Max Greenfield) recently became Chasidic, but has a hard time resisting the wiles of his sexy cousin, Vanessa (Mili Avital). Youngest son Lionel (Adam Lamberg) is an autistic obsessed with the number seven. Jennifer (Meredith Scott Lynn), Ira’s daughter from a previous marriage, is a lesbian and brings her African American girlfriend, Grace (Cynda Williams), to the seder. Zeke (Ben Feldman), a teenage stoner, slips his father some ecstasy halfway through the meal.

Salvador Litvak, the film’s 40-year-old director and producer, co-wrote the screenplay with his wife, Nina Davidovich, 38. The way they see it, “When Do We Eat?” fits into a current trend of “in-your-face, proud-to-be Jewish” cultural statements, from Matisyahu, the Chasidic reggae singer whose latest album topped the charts last month; to “Go for Zuker,” the recent German Jewish comedy about a dysfunctional family; to the irreverent, New York-based Heeb magazine.

“Some people get it, some people don’t,” said Litvak, an observant Jew who wears tzitzit and wakes up at 6 a.m. everyday to study Talmud. While “When Do We Eat?” opened the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, it did not make it into the Boston or New York Jewish film festivals.

“The people who get it,” he said, “are the people who can laugh at themselves.”

Erstein, in his review in The Palm Beach Post, labeled the movie “lowbrow sitcom” and charged Litvak with “trafficking in broad caricatures and ethnic stereotypes.” In an interview, Erstein said the movie reminded him of “Meet the Fockers” and “There’s Something About Mary,” comedies that use crude jokes to target the lowest-common-denominator viewer.

What bothered him about this movie, Erstein, 56, said, was the way it portrayed Judaism.

“It’s taking cheap shots at it,” he said.

Here lies the central contention, the age-old question: Is this movie, ultimately, good for the Jews?

“Some people seem to have a reaction that it isn’t good for the Jews,” said Davidovich, who co-wrote the film. “I think that’s a short-sighted reaction, because the cause of anti-Semitism through the years — well, a large part of it — has been people’s perception that we think we’re better than them. In this movie, we’re portraying Jews as no better than anybody else.”

But no worse than anyone else, either, Litvak added, explaining that the family was made to be outrageously dysfunctional for comedy’s sake.

Davidovich stressed that she went out of her way to contradict stereotypes.

“What drives me nuts,” she said, banging a fist on her skirt, “is in popular culture, Jewish women are always portrayed as unattractive, big-mouthed, annoying, bossy women” and “Jewish men are always portrayed as dorky, nerdy, nebishy, insecure, self-effacing.”

So, she chose an all-Jewish, good-looking cast.

Davidovich and Litvak insisted that in the end, their film comes down on the side of Judaism. The movie shows that the Jewish religion, and the Passover seder in particular, can provide a framework for personal redemption, Litvak said.

Rabbi Mark Blazer, the 38-year-old leader of Reform Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita, agreed: “This [movie] can really show people what the Passover seder can do, that it can be a really transformative experience.”

Blazer also sees the movie as part of a trend toward Jews’ opening up about Judaism in popular culture. For years, Jews who produced TV shows and movies shied away from discussing their Jewishness on screen, he said. But today, Jews are finally willing to explore the essence of their religion in their art.

Blazer attributed the opposing reactions to the movie to “a generational gap.” Younger Jews do not feel as anxious about seeing Jews portrayed in a negative light as those born closer to the time of the Holocaust, he said.

“Some see this movie, and they worry about the message that it sends,” he said. “They’re worried that it’s going to contribute to anti-Semitism.”

But “for us,” he added, “we don’t have that same level of discomfort.”

For more information on showtimes, visit ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jewishjournal.com/home/preview.php?id=15595

 

‘Voodoo’ Jew Finds Love, Truth in Haiti


“Madame Dread: A Tale of Love, Voodoo and Civil Strife in Haiti” by Kathie Klarreich (Nation Books).

According to a Creole proverb, truth is like oil in water; it always comes to the surface. Kathie Klarreich’s first book, a memoir of her years in Haiti, is a tale of truths — personal, religious and political.

The title, “Madame Dread: A Tale of Love, Voodoo and Civil Strife in Haiti,” comes from the nickname given to her by the kids in her Port-au-Prince neighborhood. In Haitian tradition, women take on the first names of their husbands; in her case she was named for the dreadlocks of her boyfriend (who later became her husband). She also refers to herself as a “Voodoo Jew.”

The book is timely reading as Haitians took part in long-postponed national elections on Feb. 7, aimed at restoring democracy, two years after the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Klarreich’s impressionistic writing goes far in explaining the ongoing political turbulence that rocks the Caribbean nation — once known as the Pearl of the Antilles, it is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

On the eve of the elections, Klarreich was in Haiti, reporting for Time magazine. In an e-mail she wrote, “It’s sort of bittersweet to be covering elections again, seeing how much people want change and how slow it’s been to come.”

From the time of the author’s first visit to Haiti in 1986, the place got under her skin in ways that go beyond words. Something about the warmth and graciousness of the people, the landscape, the vibrancy and color of the place and the music touched her in a profound way. A second visit in 1988, with the goal of spending three weeks researching handicrafts for her San Francisco shop, turned into a stay of more than 10 years.

The book opens in September 1988 with gunfire, when Klarreich found herself a front-row witness to a coup d’etat, the first of several she’d experience. Information was scarce, and she was not sure what had happened or where to find safety, but following her instincts she made her way to a friend’s home. She was then unsure whether to remain in Haiti, and it was her worried mother, who in a long-distance phone call advised either to “get involved or get out,” who convinced her to stay.

Another friend suggested that since she was in the midst of history being made, that she try reporting. She made contacts, wrote and rewrote, and got published in the San Francisco Chronicle and broadcast on Pacifica Radio. After a quick and determined study of what makes a good reporter, she took on more assignments and soon found that major newspapers, magazines and television networks were calling her. As years passed, she felt less the foreign journalist and more as though she were recounting the history of her own country.

Soon after the 1988 coup, she went with a friend to hear a traditional music group perform at the National Theater, and when she first saw the drummer, “it was as though someone sliced a vein from my heart into the center of his.” Several months later, she met Jean Raymond and, ever aware of their differences in culture, education and economics, fell deeply in love. Their first son was born on the same day as another coup d’etat, in 1991, while they were in San Francisco. Jean Raymond felt displaced in America, homesick for Haiti, so he returned and she joined him later on.

Klarreich writes with honesty and humility, aware of the privilege of her upper middle-class background and ability — not shared by her Haitian friends — to leave at any point if the dangers, frustrations, government corruption and violence were to become too difficult to bear. She writes of adjusting to weeks with only 10 random hours of electricity, being mistaken for a CIA agent, losing a dear friend to assassination and interviewing political leaders. The memoir is also the story of her self-discovery as she pushes herself “to pare down the clutter” of her life.

Her curiosity about all things Haitian led her to experience the voodoo tradition. She attended a five-day traditional ceremony and while dancing, was surprised at her writhing bodily reactions, as though spirits possessed her.

“I was not a nonbeliever, but at each foreign juncture with the spiritual, I had only my Jewish spiritual upbringing as a frame of reference. This didn’t fit in that box. It didn’t fit anywhere. No feelings any rabbi evoked though any sermon I’d ever heard came close to reaching this kind of religious experience,” she writes.

Her husband is a practitioner of voodoo and she is not, although she says that learning about voodoo has helped her to better understand the country and it history. In their home in Haiti, she would light Shabbat candles, with his ritual items nearby. She now lives mostly in Florida, where her 14-year-old son goes to school, and she travels frequently to their home in Haiti, where her husband is primarily based.

In a telephone interview from Key Biscayne as she was about to leave for Haiti, she explains that voodoo is very much misunderstood, promoted by Hollywood as having to do with sticking pins into dolls and some sort of black magic. She’s pleased that her openness “allowed me to just observe and take in what it was. In this post-9/11 world, we have to come to other people’s religions with open minds and not be judgmental.”

Klarreich, 50, grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland where her father served as a city councilman, and she says that one of the gifts her family gave her was travel, exposing her to many places from a young age. Her Jewish upbringing prepared her for her adventure in Haiti, and “for life in general. My parents set the stage for me to feel confident in making decisions and gave me space to do so.”

Now, when she looks at photos of her earlier self in Haiti, she sees how much her white skin makes her stand out, but she always felt accepted. Most Haitians, she says, don’t know much about Judaism, or Middle East politics.

“It’s a very isolated island, with its own language,” she said. “I’ve often thought this to be part of their larger political problem, that they’re so insular.”

Her mother suggested that she call the book “What’s a Nice Jewish Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?” The book took her about a decade to write, with several rewrites until she found a way to tell the story, which she does well. She begins each chapter with a Creole proverb — like “Love turns your head around” and “The lamp won’t light without a wick” — as Haitians invoke idiomatic sayings frequently.

“It’s part of Haitians’ charm; they see the world with humor, with joie de vivre,” she says. “We hear awful things about violence and poverty, but 8 million people get up and make do, often under great duress, and they do it with laughter and grace and creativity. I have tremendous respect for the way they have overcome so many difficulties.”

For Klarreich, Haiti remains a country “full of unpredictable flaws and wonders.” Each time she arrives, she’s enchanted anew.

“Haiti has taught me that there is not only one way to look at a situation, but infinite ways to create a solution, with humor and devotion, heart and determination as key ingredients.”

 

Spectator – A Poet’s Slam-Dunk


Jewish summer camp introduces young Jews to many things — sports, arts and crafts, drama classes; Eitan Kadosh, a 1999 National Slam Poetry champion, “learned that sex isn’t always like pizza.”

He also learned how to entertain people, playing one of the brothers in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

But he realized that he “much preferred reading my own material,” he said.

In college, he wandered into an open-mike night at a coffeehouse and got a good response from the audience. From there, he began writing poetry. Possessing an infectious love for language, the 30-year-old Kadosh created his own major at Cal-Berkeley, graduating with a degree in spoken-word poetry and performance.

For many years after college, he toured the country, often performing at Hillels at various universities, as well as at non-Jewish venues. In more recent years, he has remained in Los Angeles, working on his master’s of fine arts at Cal State Long Beach and performing locally at clubs.

With a gift for diction, Kadosh explores the cultural absurdities and political hypocrisies of America, dedicating one spoken-word poem to SUVs, and another to the cheese at the heart of America.

He said that he has been influenced by the Beat poets, particularly the “cadences and rhythms of Ginsberg, each stanza as long as a breath.” Lawrence Ferlinghetti, he said, “sounded so good when read aloud.”

Kadosh wanted to “take the energy” of these Beats and “combine it with more technical precision and craft.”

Many of his poems do not have a Jewish theme to them, but his act, titled “Too Neurotic,” is unmistakably Jewish, not so much in its subversive humor, a humor that may recall George Carlin as much as Jewish comedians, as in his frenetic delivery, which is evocative of Gene Wilder’s nebbish Leo Bloom in the original “The Producers.”

Not unlike Bloom, who keeps repeating, “I’m wet, and I’m hysterical,” Kadosh in his piece, “Waiting for Isaac,” melts polar ice caps, sleeps in the gutter on street-sweeping day, eats nothing but Denny’s, then repeats with exasperation, “But it wasn’t enough.”

His refrain sounds like the antithesis of the Passover song “Dayenu,” even if he is not dealing with plagues. But in “Waiting for Isaac,” he probes the origin of Jewish progeny. For that, we will wait.

Eitan Kadosh performs “Too Neurotic” on Jan. 17 and 18, 8 p.m., at the Fountain Theater, 5060 Fountain Ave., (323) 663-1525.

 

Spectator – ‘Sit Down’ Standup With David & Co.


In an age of assimilation, a couple of generations removed from the ghetto, can Jews still be funny? Yes, says David Steinberg, host of the new talk show, “Sit Down Comedy With David Steinberg,” which premiered this past Wednesday on TV Land. “Kvetching is funny. That’s what Jews do,” he says.

Mostly middle-class and divested somewhat of their ethnicity, comedians like Larry David, Jon Lovitz and Jerry Seinfeld, whom Steinberg directed many times on “Seinfeld,” retain a Jewishness, if not in the subject matter of their material, then in their style or delivery.

Steinberg says that Seinfeld uses the historic Jewish trope of beginning a joke with a question, not unlike the way Sholom Aleichem’s characters answer a question with a question, while David, who appears on the second episode of “Sit Down” airing Wednesday, is not “afraid to go as far as he can in creating a stereotype” about Jews. Lovitz, another one of Steinberg’s guests, is Jewish “in his look, in his face, the lying character.” Steinberg traces a direct line from Jack Benny’s penny-pincher to Lovitz’s liar.

Perhaps the guest who comes closest to the traditional Jewish comedian is a non-Jew, George Lopez, who hails from East Los Angeles, once home to a community of Jews, now a barrio. Lopez wields his Latino ethnicity the way that many past Jewish comedians — from Al Jolson to Lenny Bruce and even to Steinberg himself –used to wield theirs.

Steinberg has always been comfortable with his Jewishness. He refused to Anglicize his name years ago when the networks asked him to. “In America,” he says, “they want you to be American first, something else second.”

Raised in Canada, Steinberg grew up Jewish first in an Orthodox household.

He once joked that “David Steinberg is not the name of a star. David Steinberg is the name of an accountant.”

Steinberg has no desk or sidekick, like Johnny Carson, on whose show he appeared more than any other guest but Bob Hope. He gives no opening monologue, just a brief introduction. Unlike James Lipton, he draws little attention to himself, sitting in an egalitarian two-chair layout and permitting a younger generation of comics to shine. That may be a unique legacy for a comedian. Then again, his book of biblical humor coming out next year boasts the eponymous title, “The Five Books of David.” Well, who said comedians can’t be self-referential?

“Sit Down Comedy with David Steinberg” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on TV Land.

 

The Real World: Warlord


Imagine an Uzbek warlord who takes time between mortar attacks to remove his clothes and display his manhood in the bunker. Now, imagine that he willingly does this for a camera operator, who films the chieftain and his family for an “Osbournes”-meets-“Sopranos” reality-TV show.

It sounds almost plausible in the age of “The Apprentice” and “Survivor.” But, in fact, this is the setup for a fictional reality-TV show at the heart of Peter Lefcourt’s new novel, “The Manhattan Beach Project” (Simon & Schuster, $24).

Lefcourt, who quips that he is “a card-carrying Jew,” will discuss his latest social satire at the Jewish Book Festival, which will run from Oct. 30 through Dec. 11. The event is organized by the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys and will feature a wide range of writers.

It will kick off with Bruce Bauman discussing “And the Word Was,” his debut novel about the aftermath of a Columbine-type tragedy on the life of a doctor. Also appearing will be Ursula Bacon, author of “Shanghai Diary,” a memoir about a young girl’s journey from Europe to Shanghai at the time of the Holocaust.

Bookended by scenes at a Debtors Anonymous meeting, “The Manhattan Beach Project” takes off when a bankrupt CIA agent convinces a down-on-his-luck producer — a fellow debtor — to pitch a reality-TV series about the daily activities of a warlord in the former Soviet Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan. The warlord has the typical dysfunctional family: a mistress, an angry wife who never leaves her room, a lesbian daughter, one teenage son who is an onanist and another who joins the Taliban. Unbeknownst to the producer, the rogue agent has turned the warlord’s basement into a safe house for pirated videos, the ultimate no-no in Hollywood.

With or without a Jewish theme, “The Manhattan Beach Project” skewers Hollywood the way Tom Wolfe lampooned Wall Street in “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Lefcourt shows the callowness of these show biz Masters of the Universe.

Over the past 30 years, Lefcourt has written and produced television dramas like “Cagney & Lacey” and miniseries like “The Women of Windsor,” but it’s his novels that most closely reflect his comic sensibility. His best-known prior book, “The Dreyfus Affair,” depicts with dark humor a gay romance set in homophobia-ridden big league baseball.

“The Dreyfus Affair” has been optioned several times by movie studios but never produced, so Lefcourt is intimately familiar with the reptilian nature of Hollywood executives in the mold of Sammy Glick, and the difficulties in getting a project green-lighted.

Lefcourt cites no particular inspiration for “The Manhattan Beach Project,” but says that he was “so attached to” producer Charlie Berns, hero of his first sardonic novel on Hollywood, “The Deal,” that he wanted to bring him back. Berns, an erstwhile Oscar-winning film honcho, resurrects his career in “The Manhattan Beach Project” by entering the world of reality TV, which Lefcourt calls “the crack cocaine of the TV business. It’s addictive, debilitating and noninformative…. It seems to have peaked, but it will be with us, in one form or another, for a long time, like a flu epidemic.”

“The Manhattan Beach Project’s” overarching metaphor, show biz as a top-secret, clandestine society, where anyone can be whacked, has always been apt, particularly in recent times. He’s no fan of Michael Eisner and his ilk, and concludes his acknowledgments by sarcastically thanking Eisner for “going down with the ship.”

Would Mikey have green-lighted “Warlord”? According to Lefcourt, Eisner would have “yellow-lit it” — keeping it at arm’s length “in case it blew up in his face.”

Peter Lefcourt will read and discuss his book on Sunday, Nov. 20, at 2:30 p.m. at Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, 1434 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena.

Also at the festival: The Jewish Journal will co-sponsor a Nov. 30 event with author Ruth Andrew Ellenson, editor of “The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt.” For festival information call (626) 967-3656.

Shticking It to the Classics


My 5-year-old thinks “My Yiddishe Mama,” the soulful ballad immortalized by Sophie Tucker in 1928, is a rock anthem. The version he learned didn’t come from a dusty old record, but from a CD released in 2004 by the group, Yiddishe Cup, called “Meshugeneh Mambo.”

This is not your grandmother’s Jewish music. Like other recent Jewish parody CDs, “Meshugeneh Mambo” carries on the tradition of Jewish humor popularized by such forbearers as Mickey Katz and Allan Sherman. Although the lounge acts of the Catskills have all but vanished, a few intrepid souls are bringing a modern brand of Borscht Belt humor to a whole new generation.

Yiddishe Cup’s album combines soulful klezmer ballads, doo-wop and, of course, Latin flair. The title track sets the tone, promising “No frailech [joyful] hora can compare/ to shaking your Yiddishe dierriere/ to the lovely Mesugheneh Mambo.”

The group’s rendition of “My Yiddishe Mama” throws in homage to James Bond’s “Goldfinger” and the theme song to “The Patty Duke Show.” Listen closely and you will hear spoofs of “Star Trek,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Outer Limits” scattered about in the traditional melodies and remakes of comedy routines created in the 1950s.

Newer artists like Yiddishe Cup have learned from the old comedic masters that classic Jewish humor relies on cleverness rather than anger. The best comics “tell a story that is visual and makes you think,” said Simon Rutberg of Hatikvah International on Fairfax Avenue. “Using the word ‘shmuck’ doesn’t make it Jewish.”

Instead, skilled artists allow listeners to recognize themselves and the universal truths behind the tales and tunes.

One artist who stresses ruach (spirit) over raunch is Michael Lange. The director, whose credits include “Life Goes On” and “The X-Files,” has released several titles under his Silly Music label. In November, Lange will release “A Kosher Christmas,” a collection of popular yuletide melodies coupled with decidedly Jewish-themed lyrics. It’s a strange experience indeed to hear the traditional orchestrations — think bells, trumpets and choral harmonies — as singers croon about litigation, food, guilt and family (categories that Lange refers to as “the four cornerstones of the Jewish experience.”)

In “Such a Loyal Son Am I,” a take-off on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” a mother and son alternate kvetching about one another: (Him:) Not so easy with this mother/Still a loyal son am I. (Her:) Not a doctor like his brother/Such a shanda [shame] I should cry. “Greensleeves” is re-imagined as “Greenstein,” an ode to the singer’s childhood crush, Tiffany Greenstein.

And, of course, food plays a significant role, as in “Harvey Weisenberg” (to the tune of “Good King Wenceslas”): “[which] Soup would he pick, wondered he:/Lentil, borscht or chicken/As he ate he thought with glee:/This is finger lickin’….

Lange previously created two Broadway musical parodies. “Goys and Dolls,” released in 2002, uses the original melodies of “Guys and Dolls” to tell the story of a young man who begins dating a non-Jewish woman, while “Say Oy Vey” re-imagines “Cabaret” as the story of two seniors who find romance at synagogue bridge night.

Musicals are also the targets of spoofs created by the group Shlock Rock, whose founder, Lenny Solomon, hails from a long line of cantors. Their 2003 release, “Almost on Broadway,” transforms “Maria” from “West Side Story” to “Tekia”: “Tekia! I’ve just heard the sound called Tekia!”

Shlock Rock boasts 23 albums to its credit, ranging from original compositions to children’s music to parody. The group’s nine other parody CD’s display an impressive range of musical styles, Judaic knowledge and humor. In one, for example, Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” becomes “49 Days to Count the Omer,” while in another, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin morphs into “Learning to Do the Hora.” And you’ve got to wonder what kind of mind would think of transforming the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” into “Rabbi Akiva”: “Rabbi Akiva had straw for a bed/Love thy neighbor like thyself is what he said.”

While they’re amusing to listen to, be forewarned: The lyrics stick with you. So when the time comes for my son to join his kindergarten classmates for the annual holiday assembly in December, he’ll be easy to pick out. He’ll be the one singing “Goys Rule the World.”

 

L.A. Authors Break the Heroine Mold


 

California purists who like to shop local, travel local and eat local will have no problem reading local. Among the season’s offerings of new books are several impressive works by Los Angeles-based writers.

Although the many writers at work in this city choose different genres, four novelists — Maggie Anton, Merrill Joan Gerber, Lynn Isenberg and Rochelle Krich, all fine storytellers — will be particularly visible this fall, reading from and talking about their new books at venues around town (for listings, see facing page). Two of the novels are contemporary tales set in and around Los Angeles, another is a story that takes place in Florida in the 1950s and the fourth is a historical novel set in medieval France. Anton’s is a debut novel and the others are by veteran writers.

The novels are so different in tone, style and theme that it’s difficult to identify any common L.A. sensibility, but these women are writing within miles of one another, probably looking out over some of the same landscape.

As “Six Feet Under” ends its run, Isenberg’s “The Funeral Planner” (Red Dress Ink, $12.95) breaks new ground as a novel involving bereavement. It’s the story of building a business, with doses of romance, challenges of friendship and family, with old rivalries and new partnerships. The book is full of humor and has been the spark of a new business.

Since writing the novel, Isenberg, a media developer, took her idea of planning one’s own very personal funeral in advance — at the heart of the novel — and turned it into an actual business, Lights Out Enterprises. This is a case of fiction inspiring reality. She wrote the book soon after her own brother and father died a year apart to the day, causing her to have lots of grief to deal with — along with much experience with funerals.

The novel’s main character, Madison Banks is an L.A.-based overachiever, a risk taker determined to build a successful business before she dies. She comes up with the idea for a personalized funeral ceremony after sitting through a dreadful canned eulogy for a dear friend, given by a minister who never met the 31-year-old woman. Her business plan is to work with individuals and their families ahead of time to create funerals that are celebrations of life rather than a mourning of death: She doesn’t seek to eliminate the grieving process but, rather, hopes to influence the way people deal with grief.

Banks always wears a watch that has the internal mechanisms showing through the Lucite face: She likes to know how all things work. Not a practicing religious Jew, she does have an affinity for ritual, Jewish and self-invented ones — they give her a sense of stability. She realizes that most of the people working in the funeral business are the sons and daughters of others who’ve worked in this business; they think largely in traditional terms, while she is able to think, so to speak, out of the box. Her business is geared to baby boomers who “want to validate their lives by giving meaning to their deaths.” Although the business initially fails, she remains determined and is open to new interesting developments in her life. The novel, from a publisher specializing in chick lit, makes for entertaining reading, and might inspire some readers to look up Lights Out.

The author, a self-described avant-garde content creator, producer and narrative marketing strategist, is the author of two previous novels, including “My Life Uncovered.” Her television credits include “Youngblood” and “I Love You to Death,” and she is the founder of the Hollywood Literary Retreat.

No question, the young women in the vintage photograph — seen peeking out the windows through Venetian blinds — on the jacket of “Glimmering Girls: A Novel of the Fifties” by Gerber (Terrace Books, $24.95) are looking at guys. And they’re trying not to be seen, while hoping to be seen.

This is a novel of college life, set at a time when college girls wear leather-heeled loafers and rarely go out without girdles. These coeds set their hair in large foam rollers, live in a strict-curfew dormitory where “four feet on the floor” is the rule when men visit and follow the dictum: Marry before graduation or be lost forever. “Glimmering Girls” is a period piece and also a coming-of-age story, particularly for Francie, a transplanted New Yorker who is one of the few Jews at the University of Florida.

Francie is also unusual in that she’s not at all desperate — like many of her classmates — to become engaged before graduation. While her roommate reads Bride’s magazine, she writes a paper on D.H. Lawrence’s “Sons and Lovers.” During her senior year, she accepts an invitation to move out of the strict-curfew dormitory with two more worldly girlfriends into a house off-campus, sharing it with the boyfriend of one and a pair of male twins.

She doesn’t want to be a teacher or nurse — the chosen professions of those young women not marrying immediately — but wants to be a writer, although she doesn’t know what that means. As she nears graduation, she muses, “All her life she has been in a long tunnel, and finally she is about to burst into clear air and open skies.”

Gerber writes of these women’s adventures, their longings and their self-discovery with sensitivity, quiet humor and an authority that a reader guesses is born of knowing that era intimately. The author of many novels, short-story collections and nonfiction works, she teaches fiction writing at the California Institute of Technology.

Krich brings back her appealing Orthodox sleuth, Molly Blume, in her newest suspense novel, “Now You See Me…” (Ballantine, $13.95), to be published in October.

Recently married to a rabbi and author of a new true-crime book, Blume gets drawn into a case involving the daughter of a well-known rabbi who had been her teacher. The high school girl disappears, it seems, with someone she met in an Internet chatroom. The family refuses to turn to the police, in fear of the reputation of their daughter — and ultimately the entire family — in their close-knit Orthodox community in Los Angeles.

Blume visits the chatroom, struggles to get the girl’s classmates to speak openly with her, calls in favors from friends in the police department without revealing details of the missing girl and unravels some interlocking mysteries in trying to solve the case, which ultimately involved a murder. Krich’s distinctive style is to mix in details about Judaism, about the Orthodox lifestyle in particular, with the clues.

The chatroom where Hadassah meets the person who lures her to meet him is called Jspot — it’s a place where religious kids talk anonymously about sex, drugs and other subjects that are otherwise difficult to discuss in their lives. Her parents are shocked to learn that their daughter would frequent this site, and they also learn other facts of her life that are surprising. The intricacies of the plot can’t be described without giving away details key to the pleasures of discovery for readers.

The book’s epitaph is from the book of Genesis, when Dinah, the daughter of Leah, is taken by Shechem, prince of the land. “He loved the maiden and spoke her heart.”

Maggie Anton’s first novel (and the first in a projected trilogy) is inspired by her own adult study of the Talmud. Every talmudic student quickly learns of the work of the great medieval French scholar Rashi, whose commentary appears in every printed Talmud. Another column on the page includes the work of the tosaphists, the grandsons and disciples of Rashi. Anton’s book “Rashi’s Daughters — Book One: Joheved” (Banot Press, $15.95) tells the forgotten story of the generation of women sandwiched in between. She imagines what the personal and intellectual lives of the three daughters, Joheved, Miriam and Rachel, might have been like. Little has been written of them, although they played a crucial role in Jewish scholarship.

Rashi is an acronym for Rabbi Solomon Yitzhak ben Isaac, who was born in Troyes, France, in 1040. The novel is published on the 900th anniversary of his death.

At a time when most women were illiterate, Rashi learned Talmud with his daughters. From the time of the birth of their new sister, the two elder daughters, Joheved and Miriam, began a bedtime secret ritual of studying Talmud, which readers can follow. When it is time for the family to begin thinking about a betrothal for Joheved, even though she is quite young, she makes it clear that she desires to marry a scholar. Indeed, she marries a young man who is a former student of her father. The book includes an absorbing, detailed account of the process of betrothal and marriage.

The novel is also the story of the French Jewish community in medieval times, and the daily lives of Jewish women, many of whom were vintners, merchants, midwives and mothers.

In researching the book, the author who works as a clinical chemist, visited Troyes, Rashi’s birthplace where he founded a school, consulted with scholars in medieval and Jewish studies and read books in English, French and Hebrew. l

Sandee Brawarsky is the book critic for The Jewish Week.

Signings and Such


Signings and Such
Lynn Isenberg:
“The Funeral Planner”
Thurs., Sept. 29, 7 p.m.: Village Books
1049 Swarthmore Ave. , Pacific Palisades (310)454-4063.
Tues., Oct. 18, 7 p.m.: Dutton’s Bookstore, 447 N. Canon Drive,
Beverly Hills, (310) 281-0997.

Merrill Joan Gerber:
“Glimmering Girls:
A Novel of the Fifties”
Tues., Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.
Reading and talk in conjunction with Jewish Book Month.
Borders at the Westfield Santa Anita Mall, 400 S. Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, (626) 445-1320.

Rochelle Krich: “Now You See Me…”

Sun., Oct. 2, 12:30-1:30 p.m.: (panel)
10 a.m.-6 p.m. (fair), “Gals with Guns: How Female Authors Have Reshaped the Modern Mystery Novel.” Moderated by Linda Palmer. Panelists: Rochelle Krich, Naomi Hirahara, Taylor Smith and Carolyn Wheat. Signing to follow. Fourth annual West Hollywood Book Fair, 647 N. San Vicente Blvd.
Los Angeles, www.weho.org/bookfair.

Mon., Nov. 14, 7 p.m.: Duttons of Beverly Hills, 447 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 281-0997.

Tues., Nov. 15, 5 p.m.: Book ‘Em, 1118 Mission, South Pasadena,
(626) 799-9600.

Wed., Nov. 16, 7 p.m.: Mysteries To Die For, 2940 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, (805) 374-0084.

Thurs., Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m.: Barnes & Noble, 16461 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 380-1636.

Sun., Nov. 20, 12:30-1:30 p.m.: Mystery panel moderated by Nathan Walpow. Panelists: Rochelle Krich with Jerrilyn Farmer and Robert Levinson.
Jewish Federation, Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, 258 West Badillo St., Covina, (626) 967-3656.

Mon., Nov. 21, 7 p.m.: Mysterious Galaxy,
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., San Diego, (858) 268-4747.

Maggie Anton:

“Rashi’s Daughters — Book One: Joheved”

Sat., Sept. 24, 2 p.m.: Donald Bruce Kaufman-Brentwood Branch L.A. Public Library, 11820 San Vicente Blvd. (at Montana Avenue), Los Angeles, (310) 575-8273.

Fri., Sept. 30, 8 p.m.: Shabbat services at Temple Or Ami, 26115 Mureau Road,
No. B, Calabasas,
(818) 880-4880.

Sun., Oct. 23, 10 a.m.: Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles,
(310) 277-2772.

Thurs., Oct. 27. 12:30 p.m.: Jewish Studies Department, CSUN Grand Salon in the University Student Union (just west of Parking Lot G4 off Zelzah Avenue), Northridge, (818) 677-3007.

Tues., Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.: Long Beach JCC Jewish Book Fair (In conjunction with Cal State Long Beach’s Jewish studies department) Barbara and Ray Alpert JCC, 3801 E Willow St., Long Beach, (626) 426-7601.

The Circuit


Founder Farewell

Jonathan Jacoby, who helped found the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) in 1993, will move his primary residence from New York to Los Angeles in October and, shortly thereafter, step down as IPF’s executive director. Jacoby has been a leading participant in efforts to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict for the past 20 years. The announcement was made, with “regret,” by Seymour D. Reich and Marvin Lender, president and board chair, respectively, of IPF, the organization that advocates an active American engagement in bringing about Israeli-Arab peace. It has its headquarters in New York and an office in Washington, D.C.

Reich and Lender have formed a committee to seek a new executive director and said Jacoby will continue to serve in that position until his replacement begins, at which time his IPF role on the West Coast will be determined.

A Sure Bet

More than 300 young Iranian Jewish professionals attended Eretz-SIAMAK’s second annual Casino Night held at its Tarzana cultural center on Saturday, July 23. Guests enjoyed the easy-going sounds of a live jazz band while gambling at the poker, craps and roulette tables. A portion of the evening’s proceeds was donated to Cure Autism Now, a national nonprofit organization seeking to find a cure for autism.

“We wanted to raise awareness and funds for autism research because it has really impacted the Jewish community but hasn’t received much attention” said Alan Fakheri, chair of the Eretz-SIAMAK Young Professionals Committee.

Federation Feast

South Bay women feasted on a generous serving of warmth and humor as well as a delicious lunch at The Federation’s South Bay Council annual Women’s Division fundraiser. The Heart and Spirit Event, held in May at the Depot Restaurant in Torrance and hosted by comedian chef extraordinaire Michael Shafer, raised more than $73,000.

Shafer’s performance was part cooking class, part stand-up comedy. Those who weren’t laughing too hard learned how to prepare a delicious, kosher Shabbat dinner. Event co-chairs Zvia Hempling and Iris Lee Knell were delighted with the ladies’ enjoyment of their day as well the overwhelming success of the fundraising effort.

“This was definitely among the South Bay Jewish community’s most successful events ever,” said Robin Franko, director of the South Bay Council. “I could not be more excited about the support, encouragement and dedication of our close-knit community.”

Beth Labelson, Suzan Waks and Leslie Werksman were recognized at the event for their generosity and each received the Lion of Judah pin, which is awarded to women who make a minimum gift of $5,000 to The Federation’s annual campaign.

For more information on South Bay programs, call (310) 375-0863 or visit www.jewishla.org. — Julie M. Brown, Contributing Writer

Young Fighters

The young professionals of Los Angeles recently turned out to support the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Young Leader’s Committee annual Summer Soiree to reaffirm their commitment to leadership in their battle against hated and prejudice.

The party mood didn’t deter for one moment the seriousness of efforts to curtail the ever-present ravages of anti-Semitism and bigotry.

These young professionals believe in securing fair and just treatment for everyone and are shaping the future of this important effort through leadership roles in the agency’s many human relations, community service and civil rights programs.

They invite others to become involved as a donor, board member, committee volunteer or Salvin Leadership Institute participant. This annual fundraiser was designed to not only raise funds but awareness.

The evening featured food, dancing and an opportunity to win prizes and to name a martini.

All proceeds benefited the ADL’s fight against anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry.

For more information, call (310) 446-8000.

Briskin at the Beach

Entering the next chapter of its 83-year history, Temple Beth El and Center of San Pedro is excited to welcome Rabbi Charles Briskin as its new spiritual leader. He brings youthful energy and a passion for learning, worship, social justice and community building to Temple Beth El.

“Temple Beth El has a wonderful history and reputation,” Briskin said. “It is known to be a community of genuinely caring and friendly families, served by a solid group of devoted lay leaders and an excellent team of talented and well-established professionals.”

Briskin, his wife, Karen, and toddler son, Ezra, come to Temple Beth El from the San Francisco Bay area. There, Briskin served as the associate rabbi of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, where he worked with Rabbi Janet Marder, a national leader in the Reform movement.

Temple Beth El serves Reform Jews from the Beach Communities, Torrance, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the Harbor Area in its two locations: the main synagogue building in San Pedro, and the Temple Beth El Peninsula Family Center in Torrance.

For more information on upcoming events to welcome Briskin, call (310) 833-2467.

 

Schneider’s Deuce Is Wild Again


In his grossout-doofus comedies, Rob Schneider plays the ultimate schlimazel. He gets pummeled, maced, urinated on and tossed about like a hirsute rag doll. Expect no reprieve when he returns as America’s favorite prosti-dude in “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,” the sequel to 1999’s sleeper success, “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.” Besides the requisite physical abuse, the “he-ho” will again service “Janes,” such as a giantess who dresses him in a diaper and an accident victim with a male appendage in lieu of a nose.

It’s the kind of raunch-fest made famous by Schneider’s mentor and producer, Adam Sandler, although Sandler’s persona is more class clown than class wimp. Both performers have been lambasted for their juvenile, belch-ridden films, but Schneider also has been attacked for turning himself into a human punching bag. Yet, like Sandler, he is among a handful of comics (think Mike Myers) who star in their own name-above-the-title films.

As to why he plays a schlimazel, a loser who’s the butt of every joke, the actor — who is half-Jewish and part Filipino — said he relates to the underdog.

“I love how directors used Jimmy Stewart as an Everyman, so I like to play a guy who’s slightly less than the everyman,” he added. “I want viewers to look at me and say, ‘My life’s s–, but that guy’s got real problems.”

He identifies with Deuce because “things just end up happening to him and he thinks it’s going to be great and it’s always horrible,” he said. “He imagines his life would be better if he just had this or that, but the way he tries to get it, he makes his situation way worse, and he has to struggle and scrape to barely get back to where he was in the beginning.”

The self-deprecating, affable Schneider could be describing his own life — at least until “Bigalow” grossed more than $100 million. Even Schneider’s forbears experienced Deuce-worthy humiliation: His maternal grandfather, an Army private, was unceremoniously shipped off to the Philippines after bedding his captain’s wife. There, he married a native woman. Their daughter, Pilar, eventually moved to San Francisco; as president of a club for single parents in 1961, she snatched up and wed the group’s only male member, Marvin Schneider, a real estate broker.

Because Marvin was a secular Jew who loved comedy, the Judaism in Rob’s childhood home focused primarily on humor: Mel Brooks’ comedy albums and joke-telling at Uncle Norm’s.

The Jewish humor provided a survival tool for Rob, an anxious child with a stammer that made the girls snicker.

“One day the kids were laughing at me, and I told a stupid joke but it killed, and I’ve been the funny guy ever since,” he said.

He began performing stand-up at age 15; by 1991, he was a regular on “Saturday Night Live,” although the show’s 100-hour work week and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle almost killed him.

“After four years I found myself in the hospital with kidney stones, a broken ankle, staples in my throat from thyroid surgery and tubes everywhere,” the 40-year-old said. “I had to make sure to get out of bed in time to get into the wheelchair to make it to the toilet.”

Four months later he quit the show; his new work — playing repulsive sidekicks in bad movies — placed him, figuratively, “in the career toilet,” he said.

“I was the least likely person you’d ever expect to become a movie star,” he said.

That was until his “Saturday Night Live” buddy Sandler cast him in nine of his own highly successful films and bankrolled “Deuce” in 1999. The film was inspired by Paul Schrader’s “American Gigolo,” wherein supermodel Lauren Hutton hires an escort, “which was ridiculous,” Schneider said. “Any woman can walk into a bar and get a guy. So I thought, ‘If there were women who truly needed gigolos, they’d have gigantic feet or have uncontrollable swearing syndrome, and it would be nice if there was a sweet guy who tried to make them feel good about themselves.”

The sequel takes Deuce to Amsterdam, where prostitution is legal, but all the “high-class” gigolos are being murdered. During production there, Schneider peeled off his magenta threads to visit the Anne Frank house, a sober pilgrimage he makes every time he’s in Amsterdam.

“To me, Anne Frank is the human face of the Holocaust,” he said.

While critics have denounced his films as demeaning of unattractive women, Schneider insists he uses laughter to advocate tolerance.

A Los Angeles Times reviewer agreed in 1999 when he wrote that “Deuce” “encourages adolescents to respect the dignity of all persons, even the height and weight challenged.”

Schneider said his persecuted character couldn’t help but have Jewish blood. He added, laughing: “I know for a fact Deuce Bigalow is circumcised — because I am.” But don’t expect a sequel titled “Deuce Bigalow: Rabbi Gigolo.”

“I wouldn’t want to alienate the goyim,” he said.

The film opens today in Los Angeles.

 

Cooking Up a Meaningful Plot


“To make really great falafel, crunchy on the outside and smooth and light on the inside, you must use only Bulgarian chickpeas,” British playwright Robin Soans said. “Next, you soak them in water for eight hours.”

Soans, who talks in the sonorous tones of the veteran Shakespearean actor he is, knows whereof he speaks.

He is, after all, the author of the play “The Arab-Israeli Cookbook,” whose characters spend a good deal of stage time preparing a feast’s worth of delicacies, including falafel, humus, gefilte fish, and a dish that combines stuffed zucchini and stuffed vine leaves with chicken.

Despite its title and the food, the play at The Met Theatre employs culinary arts not as an end, but a means to explore the complex and emotional Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I didn’t want to write an agitprop or political play, but talk about the human condition of everyday people,” Soans said.

Soans developed his storyline shortly after he was approached by two London directors, one Jewish and the other Arab, who were aiming for a different play about the Middle East conflict.

The directors started making contacts in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and last year Soans traveled to the region for five weeks of intensive interviews.

“Both Jews and Arabs are passionate about food,” Soans said. “They have that in common. I thought if I started out talking to them about their love of cooking, I could find out about the daily lives, without getting right away into their hostilities and grievances.”

“I did about four interviews a day and talked to about 80 people, purposely avoiding extremists and politicians,” Soans said. “I never used a tape recorder — it puts people off — and took notes sparingly.”

Blessed with a retentive memory, Soans recreated the conversations and shaped them into a “verbatim play,” a technique he used in his previous works.

The same approach marks his current London play, “Talking to Terrorists,” in which terrorists, hostages and politicians of different nationalities explore what it is that transforms an ordinary man into a mass killer.

“Cookbook” proved a critical success in Britain. The current American premiere is directed by Louis Fantasia, who has staged plays in at least 10 countries.

My cooking skills and interests extend to boiled eggs and barbecued hot dogs, but this drama was still deeply engaging. Without downplaying antagonisms and grievances, the play focuses on the preoccupations of daily life amidst a constant, back-of-the-mind danger and fear of death.

In 10 scenes, nine actors represent 40 characters, with the Arab-Jewish-Anglo-Iranian-Australian cast alternately playing Jewish and Arab men and women.

Partisans of both Israel and the Palestinians will find different segments to affirm or reject.

In one scene, Yaacov (Ric Borelli), a Jerusalem bus driver, notes the incessant strain of sizing up each bus passenger as a potential killer and recalls how a suicide bomber blew up the bus driven by a close friend in front of his eyes.

At another point, an elderly Arab graphically describes the stench, poverty and hopelessness of a refugee camp that holds 15,000 people. In the next scene, the same excellent actor, Ismail Abou-El-Kanater, plays a Jewish guest lifting up his glass in a “l’chayim” at a Rosh Hashanah dinner.

Often, the uncertainty of life is brought home by an off-hand comment. A Palestinian woman proudly shows off her vegetable garden, then points casually to a front gate with 18 bullet holes.

Providing a much-appreciated feisty humor is Rena (Jill Holden), a middle-aged American immigrant, who views the situation through the eyes of an insider-outsider.

“We try to live a normal life on the surface, but underneath there are cracks,” she muses.

Asked why she is not returning to America after her husband’s death, Rena explains that in Israel she has found the profound, deep friendships she never formed in New York.

Soans’ play shows perspectives from both sides of the Green Line, but he acknowledged that the British are not always so even-handed.

“We are a liberal country and tend to side with the perceived underdog, in this case the Palestinians,” he said. “Perhaps we need to be more sophisticated about our sympathies.”

Performances of “The Arab-Israeli Cookbook” are Thursdays-Sundays through June 26 at The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave. (near Santa Monica Boulevard and Western Avenue). Thursday performances are followed by discussion between cast and audience. $15-$20. (323) 957-1152. For additional information, including detailed recipes for dishes prepared on stage: www.TheArab-IsraeliCookbook-LA.com.

 

The Circuit


Help: A Laughing Matter

Laughter and love marked the occasion of the annual Laughing Matters luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel to benefit the L.A. Free Clinic. Celebrities and civic notables coifed and dressed to the nines were on hand to lend their humor and presence to the lustrous event that helps the clinic serve those in need of medical attention. West Hollywood Mayor Abbe Land, who announced her candidacy for Paul Koretz’s (D-Los Angeles) assembly seat next year, opened the festivities and introduced Laughing Matters co-founder Greta Furst.

The packed crystal ballroom was treated to personal antidotes from such glitterati as Jamie Lee Curtis who publicly and humorously thanked fellow panel member Jack Klugman for her first acting role on his “Quincy” series. Klugman joined other notables including Theodore Bikel, Barbara Minkus, Charlotte Rae, Ed Asner and Yuppie and “Preppie Handbook” author/writer Lisa Birnbach, as mistress of ceremonies Renee Taylor, introduced as the “love of his life” by husband Joe Bologna, led the panel members in an enjoyable diatribe of personal reminiscences and humorous antidotes.

Other notables including civic leader Soraya Melamed, Annabelle Wasserstein Award honoree Barbara Fox and Gay Parish attended the luncheon. Also on hand to honor Fox and join in the laughter were her son-in-law, Beverly Hills School Board member John Millan; Fox’s daughter, Gail; and her husband, Judge Elden Fox; school board president Alissa Roston; and Bonnie Webb, wife of Beverly Hills Vice Mayor Steve Webb. Guests bid on the silent auction items before a delicious lunch and afternoon of laughter.

For information about the L.A. Free Clinic, call ( 323) 330-1670.

Mink’s New Hope

Tanya Mink was recently named vice president of development for City of Hope. The center for biomedical research and treatment center for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, appointed Mink, an accomplished professional with 25 years of experience in academic fundraising, to oversee responsibility for advancing City of Hope’s relationships with private foundations and supporting the fundraising and volunteer development efforts of City of Hope’s Beckman Research Institute.

Mink is the former vice president for college advancement at Harvey Mudd College, where she was chief development officer. Previous to this, she held a variety of fundraising positions at Caltech, including director of corporate relations, director of the Campaign for Caltech, director of principal and major gifts and director of the Biological Sciences Initiative.

“I am excited and honored to join City of Hope,” Mink said. “With a history of scientific distinction and compassionate care, the institution is an important and positive force for biomedical advancement. I am eager to do my part in supporting this tradition of accomplishment.”

For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.sholem.org or call (818) 760-6625.

A Full Nelson

The Women’s Alliance for Israel Political Action Committee (WAIPAC) held an afternoon tea and briefing with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) on May 4 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Vice president and event coordinator Nancy Klemens introduced Nelson, who spoke on U.S.-Israel relations and his experiences in the Senate. After Nelson gave his speech, he opened the floor for questions and several WAIPAC members asked about the situation in Israel including the senator’s feelings on disarmament and airspace over Israel.

Nelson made his position clear that he does not believe in giving monetary aid to the Palestinians until they disarm.

“We need help the people with computers, jobs, skills and economy, ” he said.

Nelson described the women’s group as “a very warm group with a lot of good ideas. We may have the same ideals but different ideas about how to carry them out,” he said.

 

Roasting Woody Allen — Gently


One could call “Who Killed Woody Allen?” a “benign revenge comedy.” Co-authors Tom Dunn, Dan Callahan and Brendan Connor wrote the whodunit after Allen allegedly withdrew the rights to his play, “Death,” from their theater company in 2001. The playwrights say they had already rented a theater, hired 15 actors and were a week into rehearsal when they received the news. “So we decided to move from Woody Allen’s ‘Death’ to Woody Allen’s death,” Dunn said.

The black comedy is set at Allen’s funeral, with his celebrity friends as suspects. But it’s more of an homage than a roast. (Number of Soon-Yi gags: one.)

“We’re huge Woody fans, and we respect him too much to take potshots,” Connor said.

“We’re comedy writers in large part because of his influence,” Dunn said.

In fact, the 32-year-old authors have been in love with Allen’s films since they attended Holy Trinity High while growing up in Levittown, N.Y. The childhood friends viewed Allen movies together such as “Mighty Aphrodite” and “Manhattan Murder Mystery.”

Of why these Irish Catholics admire the Jewish auteur, Connor said, “It’s hysterical the way he captures uniquely New York neuroses.”

Dunn, for his part, said, “We really connected to Woody’s thoughtful absurdist humor. We drew on that when we started doing improvisational comedy together in high school.”

The friends moved from improv to sketch comedy to founding their Empty Stage Theatre Company around 2000. The goal was to produce lesser-known works by well-known authors; after staging an obscure David Mamet piece, the Allen fans set their sights on “Death.” According to Dunn, Allen granted the rights to one production but declined when the opening dates changed. “We were totally shocked,” Dunn said.

Eventually the “Death” rights issue inspired a play about Allen’s last rites; but the piece doesn’t dis Allen. In fact, the authors invited the filmmaker to opening night, assuming he’d get a kick out of the tribute. Instead, they received a letter from Allen’s attorney, Irwin Tenenbaum: “Mr. Allen appreciates your invitation but is unable to attend,” states the letter, which The Journal viewed on a Web site. “Since I have not read the play and am unfamiliar with its contents, I trust that you have adhered to and stayed within the parameters of applicable law with regard to the use of my client’s name and character. I reserve all of my client’s rights with regard to this project, should events prove otherwise.”

Actually, the play makes relatively few references to Allen. Rather, it focuses on the shenanigans of the funeral’s self-absorbed celebrity guests, who include a stammering Diane Keaton (Jillann Dugan), a kvetchy Alan Alda (Ed Moran) and a creepy Christopher Walken (Peter Loureiro). The stars pay their last respects rather disrespectfully, treating the service like a photo-op, a chance to glean publicity and promote their films.

The funeral itself is structured like an awards ceremony, with Oscar host Billy Crystal (Christopher Wisner) as emcee. “Sitting shiva, cover the ‘mirra,’ it’s going to be a Jewish funeral tonight,” Crystal sings in an Oscar-style medley. The stars continue their shameless mugging even as a detective arrives to interrogate them (we’re told Allen’s ex, Mia Farrow, has been cleared because she was in Angola at the time of the murder, “auditioning children to adopt.”)

“The play is a satirical take on celebrity culture,” Dunn said. “Of course, we’re spoofing what we want the most — celebrity — and the irony isn’t lost on us.”

“Who Killed Woody Allen?” is apparently moving the authors closer to that goal. The play ran for eight months off-Broadway, earned rave reviews and will have its Los Angeles debut Sept. 22, directed by Dunn, with most of the original cast in tow.

The co-authors, meanwhile, are pitching TV and film projects, including the movie rights to “Who Killed Woody Allen?” “We even asked Woody if he was interested in directing,” Dunn said. “But we haven’t received a response.”

“Who Killed Woody Allen?” runs Sept. 22-Oct. 3 at the Improv Olympic West Theater, 6636 Hollywood Blvd., in Hollywood. For tickets, $18, and information, call (323) 960-4412 or visit www.plays411.com/wkwa.

For more information about the play, visit www.whokilledwoodyallen.com .

Jewish + Humor = ‘Jumor’


Groucho Marx once said that there’s no such thing as an old joke if you’ve never heard it before.
And maybe two young Jewish filmmakers heard that maxim and decided they’d find fresh material for their 45-minute
documentary, “Jumor: A Journey Through Jewish Humor.”
Laguna Beach local Aaron Krinsky, with co-director and his Yale University pal Scott Kirschenbaum, explored their
Jewish humor heritage by interviewing more than 30 Jewish elderly residents at 14 Jewish nursing homes, including Heritage
Pointe in Mission Viejo. On Sunday, Sept. 5, the Jewish Community Center 532-seat theater will showcase the
Krinsky-Kirschenbaum saga, a 18,000-mile, six-week summer trip before their junior year.

“‘Jumor’ is a look into our own culture through our elderly community,” Krinsky said. “The more homes we visited,
the more we realized we were interested in the stories itself, not the comics who told them.”

The directors, inspired by the humor of other great 20th century comedians, delved further into the gift of
laughter in their own culture. They found through reflections by the film’s subjects that life in a shtetl, faith
and use of Yiddish serve as a basis for Jewish humor.

“Years ago, Jewish young men and women did not have the same opportunity as non-Jews to create their own
[opportunity],” said Lillian from Miami. “When they met each other they did not say, ‘Oy vey, this is going on
and that is going on,’ they said humorous stories. They had to learn how to laugh at themselves otherwise they
would be crying all the time.”

Film subjects included a 106-year-old woman from Los Angeles and a vibrant 102-year-old, Sylvia Harmatz., who
appears to have a great memory for a good joke.
“The residents were thrilled to have the two young men come to perform and speak with them about the topic of Jewish
humor,” said Rena Loveless, director of Mission
Viejo’s assisted-living facility Heritage Pointe. “There was a warm reception to the film when it was shown at the
facility. The residents were happy to be apart of this project.”

The duo’s filmmaking technique is unorthodox. To establish rapport with their subjects, Kirschenbaum performs a
stand-up act based on the stories and jokes of their generation of comedians, while Krinsky is in the sidelines
filming the reaction of the crowd. After the show, each home’s directors select a handful of the most articulate
residents to deliver their own wisecracks.

speaking on similar subjects creates momentum for the topics and shows the stories coming directly from the people who lived them.

“We used the editing process to create a sense of fabric, of knowledge coming directly from the people’s mouths to establish
an attitude and tone in the film,” Krinsky said. “This film is about more than Jewish humor, it is a generation talking and telling
a story.”
Along their voyage, the filmmakers start sensing parallels between their own impressions of Jewish culture and those of their elderly
subjects. Each day was a new exploration of both the subject and the subject’s cultural history, and how a sense of humor binds Jews
together.

“It is not just about our culture and ‘Jumor,'” Krinsky said. “This movie slowly became more about them [the elderly residents]
and us [filmmakers], where you do not laugh at the participants, but with them.”

Join one of the filmmakers for the 45-minute viewing of “Jumor,” followed by a talk on the documentary in the JCC theater, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 5, One Federation Way, Irvine. Requested donation $5 (general), $3 (seniors, children). For information, call (949) 435-3400.

Pico’s Familiar Slice


The balabus is back.

Howard Weiss, who opened Los Angeles’s first kosher pizza shop in the mid 1970s, has reopened his famed Kosher Nostra, and he’s looking to reclaim the glory days of over-sized slices and relentless puns that made the first Kosher Nostra a community institution.

The new Nostra is a tiny storefront on Pico Boulevard east of La Cienega Boulevard, just a block or two outside the beaten path of kosher establishments on Pico.

Since he opened a couple months ago, Weiss said, he’s been living in something of a time warp. The kids whose fingers he used to slap off the counters come in with their own little ones. Teenagers who bore the brunt of Weiss’ temper when they piled into the place after a Saturday night YULA basketball game now come in as staid 30-somethings, awash in nostalgia (and with more money in their wallets).

But Weiss will need more than nostalgia to succeed in today’s kosher market.

When he opened 25 years ago, there were maybe five or six kosher restaurants around, including Pico Kosher Deli (est. 1968), Nosh N’ Rye and a couple of others, according to the Southern California Jewish Historical Society. By 1982, there were 15 kosher restaurants, marking the beginning of the growth spurt that would bring us to close 100 kosher eateries in Los Angeles and the Valley today.

At 71, Weiss, a Tevye lookalike with tired blue eyes and a bushy beard encroaching on his face, says he’s ready to work hard to compete, but the heavy sigh and the slow shrug that accompany his determination say otherwise.

His decade in Israel in the 1990’s hasn’t fully erased the pain of the collapse of his original kosher empire, which included Peking Tam, Pepe Tam and China on Rye, with branches in the city and the Valley. That expansion and an accompanying partnership went sour in 1990. The site of the old Kosher Nostra at Fairfax Avenue near Third Street became Pizza World, owned by Darren Melamed, Weiss’ longtime manager.

The new locale is decidedly more cramped, and Weiss is still working on the décor, but some things haven’t changed. As always, Weiss has staked out a corner table where he does crosswords and assaults diners with deadpan humor, although he’s taken "Marijuana Pizza: $45" off the new menu. Above him hangs the beaten-copper miniature storefront with the "Mikveh in Rear" sign and just to the right of the counter hangs Weiss’ own answers to FAQs — the original framed poster which he printed not on a computer long before there was such a thing as FAQs (and before the words "Kosher Nostra" Googled up an anti-Semitic email-propagated rumor).

It’s too early to say whether he’ll make it. This incarnation of Kosher Nostra might turn out to be just a historical hiccup. But in a kosher community that after 25 years of growth is just now reaching an age of maturity, there might be room for a bit of nostalgia, a bad Jewish mother joke and a slice of pizza that, even with all the competition, still holds its own.

Test-a-Jew


Back in high school, I had a crush on a Protestant girl, Joan Reid. She told me that her mother encouraged her to date — and even marry — Jewish guys because: a) They’re smarter and work harder; b) They make great fathers; c) They don’t get drunk and beat you. I told Joan her mom was absolutely correct, and then spent the rest of the year attempting to leverage that information into getting Joan’s bra off. But I digress.

The fact of the matter is, Jewish men are in demand, not just among Jewish women, but among non-Jewish women, as well. Similarly, there are non-Jewish men who have a thing for Jewish women. All well and good. The problem is that some of these gentiles are signing up on Jewish singles sites like JDate and raiding our people. They’re going Hebrew fishing.

Oh, sure, some of these "pretenders to the faith" will admit up front that they’re not Jewish, but many will not. It’s false advertising. Bait-and-switch. They’ll get a Jewish man or woman to fall in love with them, and only then reveal their dark secret. Shame! But, assuming this matters to you, what can be done about this treachery? Nothing. How can one determine if said potential romantic partner is, in fact, a Jew? One can’t. That is, one couldn’t — until now.

Fellow Jewish singles, no longer will a non-Jew take advantage of your good will and trusting nature. No longer will non-Jews toy with your affections. No longer will you give yourself, body and soul, to a, for want of a better word, Lutheran, only to find out that he or she grew up in a household in which the only time "Jew" was even mentioned was in conjunction with the terms "devil horns," "owning show business" and "killing our Lord."

Yes, our days and nights of uncertainty and betrayal are over. For, as a public service to my faith, I have created a fool-proof means of determining whether your potential life partner is one of the Chosen People. Now, admittedly, I am still perfecting and fine-tuning my Test-a-Jew creation. But, just to get you started, here is a brief sampling. Feel free to try them on your dates. But I beg you, if they answer incorrectly, can’t answer correctly immediately or get a glazed look in their eyes, run!

Test-a-Jew Sample Questions

1) Abba is:

a. The secret code word for getting into the hottest bar mitzvah parties.

b. A Swedish band famous for cheesy music that’s still popular, God knows why.

c. The Hebrew word for "father."

2) Mezuzah is:

a. The personal form of "Youzuzah."

b. A small parchment scroll written by a scribe and affixed to the doorpost, containing the first two paragraphs of the Shema.

c. The sound made in the throat when ingesting a matzah ball that’s too dry.

3) "Gut Shabbos" is an expression meaning:

a. Good Sabbath.

b. Shabby Guts.

c. We still own show business — pass it on.

4) Which of the following sentences uses the word shpilkes properly?

a. Did you shave your shpilkes today?

b. I had shpilkes before my big job interview.

c. Would you prefer some of the chocolate or the coconut shpilkes?

5) Which of these best describes Haman?

a. The villain of the story of Purim.

b. The last name of the one Orthodox Jew who plays professional hockey.

c. The menu term immediately preceding "cheese sandwich."

6) Kashrut is:

a. The condition immediately preceding bankruptcy.

b. Jewish dietary laws.

c. His real last name before he became "Neil Diamond."

I think you’ll agree with me that a test like this will do much to weed out the Jew-pretenders. If this situation is left unchecked, trust me, one day you’ll wake up to find your kids have blond hair, straight noses and think a shnorer is someone who makes a lot of noise in his sleep. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You’re welcome.

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional
stand-up comedian and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He
can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net.

Writing Well Is the ‘Best Revenge’


It’s 7 p.m. on a recent Monday at Samuel French book store in Studio City, and Stephen Fife is hanging out, waiting for more people to show up for a reading of his new memoir, “Best Revenge: How the Theater Saved My Life (And Has Been Killing Me Ever Since).”

The person responsible for promoting such events is abroad, he says, creating a publicity glitch that’s resulted in, well, hardly anyone turning out to the reading, save for eight friends and fans. It’s a fitting snafu, given that Fife’s hilariously caustic memoir covers everything that can go wrong with anything to do with the theater — and why he perseveres.

“Revenge” revolves around a 1998 staging of his acclaimed adaptation of Sholem Asch’s Yiddish classic, “God of Vengeance,” directed by his idol, the legendary Joseph Chaikin. The book recounts Fife’s misadventures during that Atlanta production — such as his frantic attempts to find free places to crash — between astute insights into the play, the American theater and his colorful past.

Fife, 51, describes growing up an “upper-West-Side-private-school Jew,” the proverbial “black sheep” of his privileged family. He recalls earning good reviews and no money for plays such as his Pinteresque Holocaust saga, “Mickey’s Home”; suffering criticism while adapting “Vengeance” for Manhattan’s Jewish Repertory Theater in 1992 and his unabashed envy of successful playwrights. (During the reading, he asks at least two people if they’ve read Donald Margulies’ adaptation of “Vengeance,” which — as he gleefully notes in his memoir — Chaikin disliked.)

In an era in which showbusiness autobiographies often present the author as hero (think Neil Simon’s “Rewrites”), Fife “carves out a niche for the less-than-gorgeous dramatists of the world,” according to American Theatre magazine. “[He] is unafraid to tell the unattractive truth from the worm’s eye view, to reveal his own schadenfreude, to swipe at colleagues for real and imagined slights.”

“Fife offers a dirty-thoughts-and-all self-portrait in extreme close-up, in the model of early Philip Roth,” another publication, Creative Loafing, said.

Looking artsily rumpled in black jeans and a T-shirt at the reading, the playwright comes off more like an affable, self-deprecating cynic; he smiles politely when a woman gushes, “You have wonderful, self-effacing humor, kind of Larry David-ish.”

Fife is less prickly than David, but he does take umbrage with American Theatre’s claim that his “Revenge” digs at people to get even.

He wrote the book for different reasons, he says during an interview in his sunny, cluttered Santa Monica apartment. He got the idea back in 1998 when, while reeling from a difficult divorce, he unexpectedly realized his 18-year-old dream of working with Chaikin.

“I had in mind a memoir that would deal with the actual experience of theater and would convey a visceral sense of dedicating yourself to an art form you love, regardless of whether you are successful,” he says.

Fife began scribbling notes during rehearsals of Asch’s 1905 drama, about a shtetl pimp who raises his daughter “purely” upstairs while getting rich off the brothel below. The inevitable production problems ensued: Fife says he was appalled, for example, when a promotional poster depicted a drawing of a naked woman dangling from a Star of David (to add insult to injury, the woman didn’t even look Jewish). Then, a community leader denounced the play as “an attack on Jewish businessmen” and the production hung in the balance until the leader attended a rehearsal and approved the show, Fife says.

Behind the scenes, the playwright continued to fight with his girlfriend, who had helped him find a place to stay in Atlanta but was chagrined when he refused to buy his host a thank-you gift.

OK, so he may have burned some bridges in Atlanta, and “Revenge’s” tell-all stories aren’t pretty, but then again, “Blood has to be spilled for comedy to be truly funny,” he says.

“People like to gloss over the nastier sides of things,” he adds. “But I wanted to present the truth about the journey of the playwright, warts and all.”

He doesn’t spare himself: “I think I come across as a pathetic character, for the most part,” he says. “I show my professional insecurities and my rocky history in my relationships, including a number of e-mails that were quite unflattering, in which my girlfriend speaks of me as a ‘constantly rebelling little boy.'”

The playwright appears to have made progress, since he currently shares his apartment with said girlfriend, now his “life partner,” and their 5-year-old daughter. He’s also become the literary director of a new Los Angeles area theater, Pacific Stages, whose debut production is his own black comedy about dating, “This is Not What I Ordered.” Thus far the production has had at least one crisis, a problem with an actor who, in Fife’s words, was “just mugging like crazy.”

So the theater is continuing to save his life, and to kill him.

“I have a play opening this week,” as he told participants at his reading. “So obviously, I’ve learned nothing.”

“This is Not What I Ordered” runs May 28-June 27 at the Zephyr Theatre in Hollywood. For tickets, $20, call (323) 655-TKTS. “Revenge” readings are scheduled for June 6 at Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice, (310) 822-8392; June 9 at Book Soup in West Hollywood, (310) 659-3110; and June 12 at Borders Books and Music in Hollywood, (310) 659-4045.


Excerpt from Stephen Fife’s "Best Revenge: How the Theater Saved My Life and Has Been Killing Me Ever Since":

Not that it was a pleasant thing to admit, but there comes a point when many of us stop being good sports and start wishing some ill-will on our more favored peers, no matter how talented they are. And Donald Margulies was a talented playwright, whose play "Sight Unseen" had recently won the Pulitzer Prize. Since then, he had been dubbed the official "Jewish-American Playwright" in some press-sanctioned ceremony to which (as usual) I had not been invited. My own Jewish play "Mickey’s Home" had been beaten out several times by his plays, in one case actually getting knocked off a theater’s roster when a new play of his suddenly became available. (That theater’s artistic director, the very picture of WASP gentility, had actually said to me: "Well, you couldn’t expect us to do two Jewish plays in one season, could you? We have subscribers.")

But now Margulies had crossed the line, he had climbed into my wheelhouse and made it personal. Five years after my version of "God of Vengeance" had been produced at Playhouse 91 on New York’s upper East Side — receiving 17 rave reviews and selling out the last few weeks, despite losing our big-name star during rehearsal — I received a call from a literary associate at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, offering me 30 pieces of silver (alright, 20), to be on a panel discussing a production of The Donald Margulies version of "God of Vengeance."

I had put down the receiver and silently screamed at the playwright’s decibel (which not even dogs can hear) and then phoned a friend of mine who worked at Long Wharf. She had smuggled out a script, meeting me in the parking lot of a large shopping center, where I had to read the 200-plus page script on the spot, as if I was Julius Rosenberg memorizing state secrets. In the end, that production was canceled (another 20 pieces of silver down the drain), but his version was out there, hanging over my head. So what if it had 25 characters and included a full klezmer concert? I mean, he was Donald Margulies, the darling of regional theater, the state-sanctioned "Jewish American Playwright" — so what chance did my script have, right? Except Joe Chaikin liked my version better. Yeah. He loved my version, and he was going to direct it. The Joe Chaikin.

Being a Woman in Wasserstein’s World


"My father loved me dearly, but I’m not a Jewish American Princess," playwright Wendy Wasserstein said. "I’m a Jewish mother, but I’m not Molly Goldberg."

Which is why Wasserstein — among the most articulate voices of a generation of women who came of age in the 1970s — often peoples her plays with complex Jewish women.

In "Uncommon Women and Others," wry, vulnerable Holly Kaplan is the lone Jew among recent graduates of WASPy Mount Holyoke College. In "Isn’t It Romantic," aspiring writer Janie Blumberg bucks her parents’ pleas to marry the nice Jewish doctor she doesn’t love. In "The Sisters Rosensweig," the titular siblings include "a self-loathing Jew, a practicing Jew and a wandering Jew," Wasserstein said.

"Her plays have always dealt with strong, diverse Jewish women," said Olivia Cohen-Cutler of the MorningStar Commission, founded by Hadassah.

MorningStar, which promotes such images in the media, will grant Wasserstein its Marlene Marks Woman of Inspiration Award at the Jewish Image Awards on Sept. 22.

Speaking from her Manhattan apartment, the amiable author — who won a 1989 Pulitzer for "The Heidi Chronicles" — said she "set out to write plays in which characters were Jewish and talked about being Jewish. After all, my grandfather was a playwright who wrote in Yiddish and my humor comes from growing up Jewish in Brooklyn."

Another motivation was the popular culture that seemed to marginalize people like her.

"I always felt, growing up, that nobody in the movies ever fell in love with the Jewish girl," she said. Love prospects were of paramount importance to Wasserstein’s parents, who sent their awkward preteen off to the Helena Rubenstein Charm School at age 12. The conflicting message from dad Morris, a textile manufacturer, and mom Lola, a flamboyant housewife, was "be your own person but get married, get married, get married," the never-married Wasserstein, 53, said. When she remained single after graduating from Mount Holyoke and the Yale School of Drama, they telephoned her to sing, "Sunrise, Sunset."

No wonder the fictional Holly in 1977’s "Uncommon Women" complains about the 7 a.m. phone calls from parents asking, "are you thin, are you married to a root-canal man, are you a root-canal man?"

In 1983’s "Isn’t It Romantic," Wasserstein elaborates on the particularly Jewish pressure "to marry a lawyer and to be one." But 28-year-old Janie’s parents are so desperate, "they even bring up a Russian cab driver for her to marry," the author said.

She began 1992’s "Sisters Rosensweig" while she was living in London and fielding remarks such as, "You’re terribly Jewish."

"I became interested in writing about American identity, female identity and Jewish identity," she said.

In the play, Sara, the eldest sister, tries to obliterate her Judaism while "faux furrier" Merv, just back from an American Jewish Congress mission to Budapest, endeavors to remind her. Middle sister Gorgeous Teitelbaum, a garrulous suburban mom and sisterhood president, nudges her two unwed sisters to marry.

"She very much has the cadences of my mother, who is capable of meeting you, looking you over and talking about your skin," Wasserstein said. The author’s alter-ego is little sister Pfeni, a 40-year-old unmarried travel writer whose biological clock is ticking.

As Wasserstein wrote the play, her biological clock was also ticking. She was in the midst of a decade of fertility treatments that resulted in a life-threatening pregnancy and a daughter, Lucy, in 1999.

The experience has prompted her to start a novel that will feature a whole new range of Jewish women.

"It’s making me think even more about the particular relationship between Jewish mothers and daughters," she said.

While Lola continues to carp about Wasserstein’s unmarried status ("I’m a walking shandeh, she said), the dynamic has changed since Morris died last year.

"For all the nagging, you look at your mother as someone very precious," Wasserstein said.

She sees herself as a different kind of Jewish mama from Lola — and certainly from 1950s TV mom Molly Goldberg.

"Recently, Lucy and I were looking at the Hope Diamond in Washington, D.C., and I said, ‘Darling, when you grow up you meet somebody nice to get you something like that.’ And then I said, ‘Or, you can buy it for yourself.’"

For more information or to R.S.V.P. for the Sept. 22 Jewish Image Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, call (818) 761-2812.

Life After ‘Sex’


DEJA VEWISH: When you meet yet another great Jewish woman who is so similar in either looks or personality that for all intents and purposes, she could be you (or so you wish).

Like Cindy Chupack, I’m “Between Boyfriends.” I’m also a single Jewish woman in my 30s in Los Angeles who knows a lot — and has written a lot — about relationships, although I can’t seem to form that everlasting one.

But unlike Chupack, I’m not a writer or executive producer for HBO’s “Sex and the City,” and I haven’t just come out with a terrific new book titled “The Between Boyfriends Book: A Collection of Cautiously Hopeful Essays” (St. Martin’s Press) based on my columns for Glamour magazine, headed by phrases I’ve coined such as “LONE RANGERED: To have had a relationship end in a mysterious and annoying way — with no goodbye, no answers, just the vague feeling that you have no idea who that man was.”

(Also, no one has ever called me “cautious” and few find me “hopeful,” and so maybe I’m not a sweet redhead from Tulsa, Okla., but on the other hand, we both look more like each other than like Sarah Jessica Parker.)

THE EVIL “NOT I”: When your life is going so swimmingly well that you try not to have too many expectations lest the ayin hora cause you to lose it all.

“I never expected this little book to be on the best-seller list,” Chupack said about the book’s recent ranking at 27 on the New York Times Bestseller List following her appearance on the “Today” show. “That was kind of exciting, even if that was it for it!” (As of press time, it was down to 35.) “My dream was that it would just get to the right people and they would give it to friends and it would take off that way,” she said.

Chupack expresses the same quiet wonder towards her successful TV career. After working on “Coach” and two seasons of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” she moved to the burgeoning “Sex and the City,” which was only in its second season (this, despite her father’s admonition not to leave a successful show for an unknown). “Sex” is up for 13 Emmy nominations on Sept. 21 — including one for “I Love a Charade,” an episode Chupack co-wrote, and one for Best Comedy Series. “Just to be nominated — and I know that everyone says that — it is huge to me, because I really feel like a kid from Oklahoma; it’s really extraordinary.”

FREE TO BE JEW AND ME: When you come from a small town with very few Jews and think Judaism is something you should keep quiet — and then find yourself living bicoastally and working in comedy writing, where nearly everyone’s Jewish and you learn it’s something you don’t have to hide anymore.

Chupack grew up Reform in a city with some 2,000 Jews and two synagogues — one Reform and one Conservative. After attending college at Northwestern University, she moved to New York and then to Los Angeles to pursue TV writing.

“Once I started comedy writing, it was odd to be around so many Jews. I was more self-conscious about talking or bringing it up,” Chupack said. “I don’t know if I realized that to what extent until I got away from Oklahoma. I remember my teacher asking me to explain Chanukah to the class, and just wanting to fit in and not really stand out, so it’s odd to be working in Hollywood where being Jewish is almost the norm.” (There are “four and a half out of seven ” Jewish writerson the show, Chupack said.)

HOK ME A FAYGELEH: When your parents don’t bug you about getting married because the first time you did — to the greatest guy, a Jewish doctor from a fabulous family — he turned out to be gay.

It’s almost a decade since Chupak’s divorce (see Chapter 10: “IMPOSTER COMPLEX: What a relationship columnist might feel when she is not currently in a relationship, has not been able to maintain a relationship, does not have any prospects for a new relationship, nor does she even have a funny term for this predicament.”), and these days Chupack only dates Jewish men.

“I would prefer to marry someone who’s Jewish,” she said, because most Jews have a “built-in sense of humor, just because we’ve had to develop one; it’s one of our survival instincts or something.” She finds humor really sexy, and likes Jewish family values, “but we haven’t cornered the market on that,” she said.

Does she get parental pressure? “My parents wholeheartedly approved and loved the guy I married, so they’re real hands-off now,” she laughed.

How do they feel about their daughter working on such a risque show? Chupack said that they’re in on the joke, “but they’ve started to understand that some other people might be shocked, so they don’t blanketly tell everyone to watch.”

More disturbing, Chupack said, is that the show has opened up a dialogue she never wanted to have with her parents. “One time after the ‘Tuckus Lingus’ episode, which I wrote, my father said, ‘I hope you don’t actually go through everything you write about,’ and I told him ‘No!’ I don’t even want to discuss that kind of stuff [with him].”

J-DATEALOUSY: The envious feeling in others when they discover that you have a better experience on an internet dating Web site (even though it might be due to a better attitude).

Toward the end of the book (Chapter 34: “RETRODATING: Reconnecting with one of the first boys you ever kissed in order to get back in touch with your own dating innocence and joy.”), Chupack was dating Guy, her boyfriend from when she went on a teen tour to Israel. But alas, Chupack is “Between Boyfriends” again, and back on JDate.

“I [once] got very briefly on Nerve.com and somebody wanted to wrestle, and it scared me,” she said. “So I got off and went back on JDate, because I’ve never been scared on JDate. I might have been uninspired…” she joked, but says that the men on the site seem ready to have a real relationship. “So it’s kind of a relief.”

JDating was actually going to be an episode on “Sex” last season — but it got cut. “When Harry and Charlotte broke up, we thought she would go on JDate and get about 2,000 hits, and [executive producer] Michael Patrick King had a really funny draft of a script that had her on JDate and just feeling overwhelmed … but we ended up doing the scene with the three yentas instead.”

TALKING TACHLIS: The process of eventually getting through all the things you have to talk about to get to what you really want to talk about.

Speaking of Harry and Charlotte, Chupack said they are currently writing the last season, which will air in January, and they are trying to figure out how much they will keep alive the Jewish issue for Charlotte.

“I think it will probably have some sort of presence, because when Charlotte does something, she goes all the way. It wasn’t a means to an end for her; she really fell in love with the religion, and we wanted to make it seem genuine, because that’s what happens so often when people convert. I’ve known so many people who convert, and they’re often more devoted than the rest of us who grew up with it and might take Judaism for granted,” Chupack said.

As to the important question of what’s going to happen to Carrie and soon-to-be beau Mikhail Baryshnikov, Chupack is keeping mum.

“We know basically what we think should happen at the end, but that’s what we’re doing right now, checking it against what we feel like is happening onscreen.”

And as to the biggest heartbreaker of them all — Mr. Big — Chupack said he’ll be back.

“You’ll see him a little bit, probably. You can’t just dispose of Big,” she said. “We have been on long enough to test the theory, ‘Can people change?'” she said. “With Big, we’re testing, what can you believe about him, what’s he capable of, and would that ever change?”

FRAU FA’BITTERSWEET: That lump in the throat you experience when something great is about to end, even though something better might be in store for you.

“I’m feeling very bittersweet about [the show ending],” Chupack said, because “I’m very aware that I may never have a job I love this much and work with people that I love this much and be so proud of what we’re doing….But yet I feel proud of our decision to end it while it’s still on such a high note.”

While HBO has offered Chupack her own show, and she has a few romantic comedy scripts up her sleeve, she isn’t thinking about that just yet. She’s just enjoying her last season writing for “Sex and the City.”

“It just feels like one of those crazy moments in time where all the planets align and we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.”


Cindy Chupack will be reading “Between Boyfriends” on Tuesday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m. at Dutton’s, 11975 San Vincente Blvd., and Wednesday, Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in The Grove.