‘Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg’ — Come See the Picture Shows

Some 30 feature and short movies will explore the Jewish experience, across time and space, at the fourth Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, April 23-30, at Beverly Hills, Westside, Encino, Pasadena and West Hills theaters.

The eclectic menu includes celebrations of such past American Jewish icons as radio’s Molly Goldberg and publisher Hank Greenspun, a look at Israeli lifestyles, and an evening of “Kosher Films & Art.”

Festival director Hilary Helstein has also included films that touch on the Holocaust and European anti-Semitism. However, she has aimed for less-explored perspectives, such as the forerunner of the Shoah and the aftermath as seen by post-war generations.

One such film is “Jump,” the opening night event on April 23.

“Where I Stand: The Hank Greenspun
Story,” Hank Greenspun in a rare relaxed

Set against the background of virulent Austrian anti-Semitism in the late 1920s, director-writer Joshua Sinclair tells the actual story of Philippe Halsman, who was put on trial for the murder of his father, before immigrating to the United States and becoming a legendary LIFE magazine photographer.

Sinclair, who honed his writing skills on “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” and “Cry, The Beloved Country,” draws intense performances from Ben Silverstone as Halsman and Patrick Swayze as his Jewish defense attorney.

Other noteworthy films include:

“At Home in Utopia” explores a time and place, now seemingly another world, when Jewish garment workers left their Lower East Side tenements to build a cooperative apartment complex in the wide-open spaces of the Bronx.

The Coops
“At Home in Utopia” traces the
history of the United Workers
Cooperative Colony – a.k.a.
“The Coops”

Most of the leaders were ardent — though later disillusioned — communists, who believed that they could build a more egalitarian, non-racist and just America, and they were ready to put their bodies and liberties on the line to realize their vision.

These so-called Coops were the first housing to welcome black families; each had a large library in the basement and produced a new generation of idealists and intellectuals.

“Utopia,” by Michal Goldman and Ellen Brodsky, will screen April 27 at the Laemmle Music Hall. On April 28, PBS station KCET will also air the documentary at 10 p.m.

“Not Idly By: Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust” documents the agonizing efforts by Bergson, a militant Palestinian Jew, to arouse America in the early 1940s to the Nazi extermination of Europe’s Jews.

Not Idly By
“Not Idly By: Peter Bergson, America and
the Holocaust” documents the efforts of
Bergson, a militant Palestinian Jew

Based largely on televised interviews with Bergson decades later, the documentary chronicles his rare triumphs, but mainly his inability to break through the don’t-make-waves mentality of the Jewish establishment, hostility of the U.S. State Department and political caution of President Roosevelt.

Director Pierre Sauvage (“Weapons of the Spirit”), noting current threats facing the Jewish people, observed “How can we meet the challenges of the future, if we don’t examine the failures of the past?”

“Not Idly By” screens April 26, but the film is not the only entry in what seems to be a rediscovery of Bergson and of American inaction in the face of the Holocaust.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center will shortly release a film on the same topic, and Bernard Weinraub’s play “The Accomplices,” earlier seen at the Fountain Theatre, gets a new run at the Odyssey Theatre, April 25-June 14.

Sauvage will lead a discussion with the audience after the 2 p.m. matinee on May 3.

“Praying in Her Own Voice,” the
courageous struggle of the religious
group, “Women of the Wall”

“Where I Stand: The Hank Greenspun Story” celebrates the adventures of the larger-than-life crusading Las Vegas publisher, convicted arms runner to embattled Israeli in 1948 and nemesis of Sen. Joe McCarthy. The film by Scott Goldstein is narrated by Anthony Hopkins.

The festival, which will also include panel discussions, is presented by the Westside Jewish Community Center, with support by The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance.

For a list of all festival presentations, their dates, times and locations, visit this article at jewishjournal.com.


Defy Gravity

Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld and I shook hands 20 minutes before we were to jump out of an airplane together at 12,500 feet. It would be my first solo jump. Dan has made some 23,000 — he’s stopped counting except by the thousands.

alt text
Brodsky-Chenfeld smiling as the author falls to earth.


I came to the Perris Skydiving Center, at the eastern end of Riverside County, for two reasons. A publicist for the center had contacted me to promote the National Skydiving Championships, to be held there over Labor Day.

“What,” I asked, “does that have to do with The Jewish Journal?”

“Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld,” the publicist said.

The other reason I came to the skydiving center was to do something I’d always wanted to do: jump.

The chance to make my first jump under the guidance of Brodsky-Chenfeld, who happens to be Jewish, was worth challenging my wife’s strict no-skydiving-while-still-a-father rule. Brodsky-Chenfeld has won 16 national and eight international championships. In a sport that demands athleticism and death-defying cool, Brodsky-Chenfeld is world-renowned. In the skydiving world, he’s known as Dan B.C.

“He draws the best competitors from all over the world,” said Larry Bagley, who oversees competition for the United States Parachutist Association. “You think: Dan B.C. is the person I want to be when I grow up, if I ever grow up.”

That Dan B.C. is Jewish has to be counterintuitive. Take away the short, illustrious history of Israeli combat paratroopers, and you won’t find many Jews jumping out of airplanes. History has taught us that danger will find us soon enough without our having to chase it.

“My parents,” he told me as we walked toward the small, waiting airplane, “yeah, they probably prefer I did something else.”

Family lore has it that Brodsky-Chenfeld, who is 43, was jumping off his bunk bed as a 5-year-old growing up in Columbus, Ohio, using his pillowcase as a parachute. He got his first real opportunity at 18, at Ohio State University, and he was hooked. Soon he was running a nearby drop zone, working his way up the ranks of divers in the nascent sport of skydiving.

Competitive skydiving looks like daredevilry, but Brodsky-Chenfeld and others are out to prove it is a demanding competition, as deserving of Olympic status as skiing or gymnastics.

“All people usually see are the stunts,” Brodsky-Chenfeld said. “They never see the sport.”

Divers exit the plane going 90-100 m.p.h. at 12,000 feet. As their bodies reach terminal velocity, 120 m.p.h., they begin a series of timed maneuvers, building human formations of four to 16 divers in a required sequence. Plummeting toward the ground at 200 feet per second, they guide their bodies into place with tremendous delicacy and discipline. They must do all this in 35-50 seconds — then separate, pull their ripcords and land.

A photographer, who is part of the jump team, records the formation for the judges, who determine winners on a point system. At the Labor Day weekend competition at Perris Valley Skydiving, visitors can watch 750 skydivers compete in 26 events — the largest national event in history.

“You can fly up there,” Brodsky-Chenfeld said. “You can go forward, backward, spin around. You surf the air like you surf water.”

The sport involves rigorous physical conditioning combined with meditation. Since divers get very little actual airtime to practice, they rehearse on the ground and push themselves to visualize linking sequences in their minds. Brodsky-Chenfeld, who is general manager of the skydiving center, also trains teams from around the world, including Israel.

He’s proud of that, and of the Star of David configuration he organized at the Los Angeles Jewish Festival in 1996 — 48 skydivers jumping from three planes. Until last year, he also held the record for organizing the world’s largest link-up: 300 divers from 14 planes.

But the challenge of the sport itself is his primary passion, and Brodsky-Chenfeld combines an athlete’s well-muscled frame with a calm, confident Zen-master demeanor.

As he walks me toward the waiting airplane, I look down and notice he is wearing sandals.

My skydiving instruction — which the skydiving center paid for — began in front of a video monitor in a small room. On screen, a lawyer with no discernable personality –“I represent the skydiving school. I am not your lawyer” — informed me that skydiving can lead to serious injury or death. By signing the eight-page waiver, he said, I cannot sue, and if I do sue, I most likely will not recover damages, and that, if I am able to win damages, I must understand the school is not insured.

“Now that I’ve covered all the grim legal aspects,” the lawyer concludes, “why don’t you go and have some fun and be safe.”

You can do a tandem dive harnessed to an instructor, or you can take a four-hour course, then jump accompanied by, but not attached to, two jumpmasters. I chose the latter, and paid very, very careful attention.

“The ground can come up on you very fast,” instructor Josh Hall said. “Skydivers think a lot about the ground.”

Landings, though, are soft, thanks to a new generation of glider-like parachutes. Those old mushroom shaped ones, Hall explained, created nothing but “human lawn darts.”

Brodsky-Chenfeld and my other jumpmaster, Kai Wolf, told me the key is to breathe and relax. They smiled a lot and took deep, exaggerated breaths. Other than the fact that I was wearing a jumpsuit and a parachute pack in an airplane whose side door slid wide open at 8,000 feet, it was just like a Pilates class.

I’d done my research and knew, rationally, that skydiving was somewhat safer than general aviation, but certainly less safe than not skydiving.

“Think about it,” Larry Bagley said later. “There’s a slim chance that it’s his turn and your turn to go at the same time.”

On April 22, 1992, Brodsky-Chenfeld and 22 other skydivers climbed into a de Havilland Twin Otter at Perris Valley, ready for another round of practice. At 700 feet, water in the fuel supply stalled the engine and the plane plummeted nose first into the ground. The pilot and 15 skydivers died — one of the worst aircraft accidents in skydiving history.

Brodsky-Chenfeld was pulled from the wreckage. He suffered a broken neck, a collapsed lung, numerous broken bones and internal injuries. His close friend James Layne, sitting across from him in the airplane, died instantly.

Brodsky-Chenfeld spent six weeks in a coma, and has no recollection of the crash.

In the hospital he’d lost 40 pounds, and wore a halo screwed into his skull to limit his movements while his broken back tried to heal. A wrong move or a fall could have paralyzed him for life, let alone jumping again out of an airplane.

“There was never any doubt in my mind that if I could physically do it, I would,” he said. “It’s the job I love.”

Just months later, Brodsky-Chenfeld, still in a neck brace, began competing. His team, Arizona Airspeed, took the bronze in the November 1992 Nationals. In 1995, Airspeed beat its trans-Atlantic archrivals, the French Excaliburs, to win an international gold medal.

If it sounds like the movie “Rocky,” it reads like it, too — a screenplay of Brodsky-Chenfeld’s ordeal has begun circulating through town.

Brodsky-Chenfeld said the accident didn’t change his view of skydiving, but of living.

“I understood how fragile it all is,” he said. “I woke up in a different world than the one I passed out in. There were people gone whom I was close to. So you learn to make sure you get the most out of each moment, and make sure the people who mean the most to you know they do.”

Brodsky-Chenfeld met his wife, Kristi, when she came to him for skydiving lessons She went on to make more than 300 jumps, but left the sport when she became pregnant with their first child. He carts around his two children, ages 10 and 6, in a white Volvo station wagon.

“It’s a safe car,” he explained.

I have two children, too, and they’re the last images in my mind before I leap out between Brodsky-Chenfeld and Wolf, into the air.

The feeling is indescribable — a sensation of flying, not falling. My mind frizzes between sensory overload, sheer terror, and wonder.

A videographer, Mike Kindsvater, is circling me with a camera. When I watch later, I’ll see my lips frozen in fear, and Brodsky-Chenfeld, smiling broadly.

At 5,000 feet I wave the instructors away, pull my cord and swing upward, suspended by my thankfully perfect chute. I spend the five-minute float down uttering prayers of thanksgiving, curses and exultations.

When I land, I want to take the next plane up and do it again.

I told this to Dan B.C.

“Yeah,” he said. “You have to get up there to understand.”

The USPA National Skydiving Championships will be held Aug. 23-Sept. 11. For more information, visit www.skydiveperris.com or call (800) 759-3483.


Free Fallin’

I’m riding shotgun in Hawthorne’s truck, and we’re on our
way to jump out of a plane together. As the truck bumps along to
Perris Valley, I’m having one of those moments where the
same word keeps repeating itself in my head: “requiem.” Requiem, requiem, requiem.
My brain has been saying it all day.

Hawthorne is a writer and the object of my affection. Riding
out to the sky-diving school, we discuss the word “requiem.” I joke that “Free
Fallin'” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will be my requiem, should my
skydiving video survive me. Granted, I’m nervous about the jump. But I’m
nervous about the day as well. It feels like a possible turning point in our
relationship. “Requiem,” while dramatic, is feeling like a particularly
appropriate theme.

We discuss other good words too, like “effuse” and
“equinox.” We discuss lots of things. That’s what we do. Hawthorne’s a good
talker, and more rare, a good questioner. I’m not one for personal confessions,
but he draws me out. Even while he’s driving, he’s figured out a system for
watching the road and me at the same time, of looking into my eyes with his —
which are bright blue, by the way.

Forget the skydiving, this guy could kill me. I haven’t
jumped yet, but it’s all over for me, anyway. I’m too scared to confront him
with my feelings, and too scared to find out the depths of his. Taking the leap
out of a perfectly good airplane somehow seems far less scary.

I realize it all sounds very fifth grade, but this guy is so
beautiful that my usually healthy self-image fails me. We’re so unlikely even
as friends. He, a 6-foot-1 Irish Catholic farm boy from Ohio, with blond curls
and a rough past, and me, a nice Jewish girl from a good home in the Valley.
But somehow our relationship evolves: He teaches me fighting stances; I teach
him bits of Hebrew. He’s taken to calling me Yofi, a Hebrew word that means
great. I particularly love the nickname because of its other meaning: beauty,
which Hawthorne doesn’t know.

It’s my birthday today. Taking stock, life’s pretty good, if
maybe a little on the dull side. Am I where I want to be? Do I have success,
wealth, love? I’m forced to settle for a small amount of the first two, and a
healthy, albeit platonic, dose of the third for right now. Life holds no drama,
so I might as well jump out of a plane — especially if Hawthorne’s going with

I’m secretly hoping the day will bring us closer together.
Doesn’t it mean something that he chose to go skydiving with me? Perhaps facing
death will make him confront his true feelings. We’ll reach the ground so
caught up in the moment that we’ll just have to kiss, or, at the very least,
maybe I’ll feel emboldened enough to tell him how I feel. I’ve anticipated 100
scenarios, with the kissing one a clear favorite, but up in that plane, that’s
suddenly the last thing on my mind.

We’re both given a tandem partner — a professional sky diver
to whom we’re strapped for safety. I’m going first with my partner, Mike. My
mouth’s gone dry and my top lip sticks to my teeth as I smile goodbye at Hawthorne.
Then Mike and I move to the opening on the side of the plane and perch at the
edge. I’m prepared to jump, but turns out it’s more of a fall. Or a little-kid
dive, actually. Like how 5-year-olds will stand at the side of the swimming
pool, and point their hands out in front of them in the best mimic of diving
form they can muster, but then just kind of fall in, hands and feet first.
That’s me. At the edge of the plane, down on one knee, I lean forward, taking
Mike with me, and suddenly, it’s just us and gravity.

Back arched now, arms and legs splayed out, all I feel is
wind, so much wind I’m breathless. I’m taking in gulps of air, swallowing hard,
eyes wide open at the sky around me — the beautiful orange sunset and wink of
crescent moon. And I guess Hawthorne jumps after me, but I don’t look. I am
consumed. The earth may swallow me up.

One solid minute, then a sudden jerk and I’m vertical. Mike
pulled the chute and we’re floating back down to earth, laughing
uncontrollably, beyond euphoric.

We touch down safely and I’m immediately swept up in
Hawthorne’s enormous bear hug, which is wonderful, even without the kiss I’d
wished for.

For a while, we just sit in the diving school’s bar, sipping
beers, grinning stupidly and talking the way we always do — about everything
real, except how I really feel about him. And I guess I feel I’ve conquered
enough fear for one day. There’s always next year for emotional bravery. Â

Keren Engelberg is the calendar editor for The Journal

Teen Founds Jump-n-Jive Minyan

Most Shabbat worshippers expect decorum. But Adat Ari El’s new Jump-n-Jive minyan is different. Its founder, Aaron Kaychuck, describes the monthly Saturday morning service as “upbeat neo-Chassidic egalitarian.” The service is unusual partly because it combines traditional Conservative liturgy with exuberant song and dance, set to the beat of an African hand-drum. It is also distinctive because Kaychuck, who leads the congregants in prayer, is 15 years old.

In creating Jump-n-Jive, Kaychuck was inspired by his summers at Camp Ramah, his teachers at Milken Community High School, and the Chassidic songs and stories of the late Shlomo Carlebach. Rabbi Jonathan Bernhard oversees the services, which attract both teens and adults. In Kaychuck’s terms the “raw energy” of the teens is nicely balanced by the adults’ mature seriousness. True, grownups tend to be inhibited at first, but “the more teenagers there are, the more the adults warm up.”