November 13, 2018

Members of the Tribe Show Up to Vote

The Midterm Election Day is here and Jewish Americans all around the country are headed to the polls to cast their votes. If you think the famous members of the tribe are skipping out on fulfilling their civic duty, you’ve got another think coming. Here’s a roundup of our favorite nice Jewish celebrity boys and girls who are celebrating Nov. 6 all over social media.  

 

Portman to Direct Herself in Dual Role

Photo by Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

Natalie Portman will be on both sides of the camera in her next project: She’ll direct herself in the dual role of rival advice columnists Ann Landers and Abigail “Dear Abby: Van Buren” in an untitled movie biography.

The Israel-born actress, who made her directorial debut in her native Hebrew with “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” will play the Jewish twin writers, who were born Esther and Pauline Friedman in 1918.

Portman, whose most recent release was “Annihilation,” has completed the drama “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan,” which will premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, and “Vox Lux,” in which she plays a pop star opposite Jude Law. It’s set to debut at the Venice Film Festival next month.

Portman is currently filming “Pale Blue Dot,” in which she stars as an astronaut who loses touch with reality after returning from space.

Genesis Prize Foundation to Hold Competition for Women’s Rights Grants

Screenshot from Facebook.

The Genesis Prize Foundation announced on May 27 that they will hold a competition where Israeli women’s rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) could win $1 million in grants.

These NGOs can apply for the grants on Matan-United Way Israel’s website. According to a press release, the Genesis Prize Foundation is putting an emphasis on the following attributes when determining the grant winner: promoting economic opportunities for women and gender equality, working toward ending discrimination among women in minority groups and helping end violence toward women.

The Genesis Prize Foundation decided to use women’s equality as their theme when they chose Natalie Portman to receive its 2018 Laureate. They will be sticking with that theme even though she decided not to attend.

“Empowering women in Israeli society is an inseparable and integral part of Israel’s social strength,” Matan-United Way Israel CEO Ahuva Yanai said in the press release. “Promoting gender equality of rights and opportunities is an important challenge we are facing. Women lead, donate, volunteer, create and establish, and they deserve respect in both their personal and public spheres. Harming or disrespecting women because they are women is discrimination based on ignorance and we must demolish it.”

The winners of the competition will be announced just before Rosh Hashanah in September. More details can be found at http://www.matanisrael.org.il/?page_id=4676.

Letters to the Editor: Natalie Portman, Teen Mental Health, and Millennials and the Holocaust

Natalie Portman’s Israel Decision

Is Natalie Portman wrong about not visiting Israel to pick up the Genesis Prize? Right? Justified? Anti-Israel? Playing into the hands of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions group? Influential people are lining up on both sides. But strategically, it’s the wrong conversation. There is a bigger, more critical and worrisome story beneath the surface of the Portman controversy that supporters of Israel and believers in Zionism have to wrap their heads around.

Powerful people like her, the people they influence and too many of the next generation are distancing themselves from the current Israeli establishment. We can vociferously argue the drawbacks and merits of everyone’s beliefs, but the fact is we are in danger of losing these people. And we cannot lose them. The ramifications are too great.

If Israel were a product and we were the marketers who saw a growing trend among important segments of the market, that consumers no longer were buying as they once did, we would be doing everything we could to understand why and what needed to be done to shore up our marketplace.

Instead, we just argue, write, voice outrage, support and offer many opinions. All the while, as the marketplace continues to hemorrhage.

Is our job as Israel-lovers to just to keep talking, writing and having conversation? Or is it to understand our marketplace and take action?

Gary Wexler via email

Portman’s refusal to accept her Genesis Prize in Israel makes me very sad. I used to adore her, and now I can’t watch her. Leftist conflict with Israel isn’t new, but do liberals really think they can just turn their backs on Israel and remain Jews, and that their children and grandchildren will still be Jewish? When the Babylonian exiles returned to Jerusalem, those who stayed behind, the first Diaspora, showed great deference and support in rebuilding the Jewish state despite serious controversy. And ever since, Diaspora Jews have cherished the Holy Land.

The miracle of Jewish survival has occurred in part because we don’t just believe in God, we have a deal with God, a covenant, based on our allegiance to the Promised Land. This connection has inspired Jewish hopes and pride, and kept our people together for 4,000 years. Now, as Jews by the thousands make aliyah to escape persecution, and Iran threatens Israel with a three-front war, “progressives” here and in Europe relentlessly slander Israel.

Rueben Gordon via email


Teen Mental Health Help in L.A.

Regarding your story “Making Teen Mental Health a Priority,” (April 27) help for teens with mental health issues is in our own backyard.

Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services (DHMSH) transforms lives by providing quality mental health care and substance abuse treatment from 11 sites and in nearly 100 schools. The agency helps almost 100,000 adults and children throughout Southern California each year. Its suicide prevention center — the first in the nation to provide 24/7 crisis counseling — receives more than 80,000 calls on its crisis line annually and provides support groups for people who have lost loved ones to suicide or have attempted it.

My late mother-in-law, Beatrice Stern, closest of friends with Didi Hirsch and a former DHMSH board member, took a leading role in sparking positive conversations about mental illness by establishing the DHMSH Erasing the Stigma Leadership Awards. What began as a small fundraising luncheon has grown into a large dinner, which last week honored musician Rick Springfield, actor Oliver Platt, pro football player Joe Barksdale and the Born This Way Foundation for their work toward erasing the stigma of mental illness.

Marilyn Stern, Westwood


Liberal Democrats, by Definition

I come from a long line liberal Jewish Democrats. When I married my husband, (who is Jewish), I married out of the “faith” because he is a Republican. I read to him Karen Lehrman Bloch’s column “I Am a Liberal. Are You?” (April 20) to verify his stance on each point she highlighted. He agreed with every line. Turns out Republicans can be liberals, too.

Jan Burns via email


Emotional Links to Israel

Thank you, David Suissa, for reminding me of why I swell with pride when hearing of Israel’s great accomplishments, and why my heart aches when I hear of Israel’s sorrows (“A ‘Better’ Word for Israel,” April 20). Having been born and raised in the United States, and having lived my entire life here, I needed that reminder of why. What an eloquent column that shines the light on two big words: fair and unfair.

Pamela Galanti, Chatsworth


Cartoonist Is Off Base

In light of President Donald Trump’s success at staring down nuclear missiles from North Korea, producing amazingly low unemployment numbers (especially among the poor and most vulnerable), the growth of the stock market and Gross National Product, decimating ISIS, moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, raising workers’ pay and bonuses through tax cuts, and confirming federal judges, the “Trump Derangement Syndrome” cartoon by Steve Greenberg in your April 27 issue was particularly disgusting.

Warren Scheinin via email


The Amazing Metuka Benjamin

Metuka Benjamin could have achieved super success as a leader in politics, business or any leadership role she could have chosen (“Milken Schools President Is Moving On,” April 27). Consumed by her intense love of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, in particular, she applied her skills, talents and magnetic personality to the building of Jewish schools and the relationship with the State of Israel, not just in words and emotions, but with action. She envisioned and built one of the largest Jewish schools in the U.S., complete with a “living bridge” to Israel as a laboratory of Jewish and Zionist identity for Los Angeles students.
For people serious about the relationship between Israel and our 18- to 26-year-olds, Benjamin is just beginning, again. You may want to follow her next move. Stay tuned.

Howard Gelberd via email


Millennials and the Holocaust

The recent Claims Conference study that revealed millennials’ lack of knowledge about the Holocaust is, as Stephen Smith pointed out, due to “an uneven educational environment” (“Mandate to End Holocaust Ignorance,” April 20). The question is: What to do about it? While eight states have Holocaust Study “mandates” that vary in nature — and approximately half of the states have Holocaust teaching “recommendations” — should all states, via federal legislation, particularly, require Holocaust instruction?

One facet of the foregoing is the all-too-often failure to provide financing for Holocaust curriculum implementation. Without dollars for teacher in-servicing, materials and associated educational costs, just how “even” can Holocaust instruction become?

California is a perfect example of an unfunded, via taxes (1986 forward), but funded, via contributions (post 2002, for several years) mandate. Fortunately, for millions of California students, organizations such as Stephen Smith’s USC Shoah Foundation provide rich, ongoing, accessible Holocaust study resources. Still, a national “mandate” without means (i.e., teacher training and related funding costs) should make us cautious about what we wish for.

Bill Younglove, Lakewood


The Middle East Powder Keg

Iran having a base of military operations in Syria must never be allowed (“Collision Course,” April 27). This not only puts Israel at risk, but world peace, as well.

Add Russia’s involvement in the area and you have a recipe for a catastrophe.

George Vreeland Hill via email

Portman’s Words Matter

Photo by Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

In “Portman-gate,” this week’s scandal of sorts, acclaimed Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman has been variously praised as a hero for speaking truth to power or vilified as a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) dupe. She is neither.

It is a cautionary tale of irresponsibly wielding the political power of celebrity in the digital age, and unwittingly sending a powerful message that, apparently, is contrary to the intended message.

As nearly everyone knows by now, Natalie Portman announced in a statement issued on April 20 that she would not travel to Israel to accept the 2018 Genesis Prize. In the original announcement, her spokesperson stated that “recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel.” The prize was to be awarded by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The blogosphere erupted. Portman was praised from the left as a truth-telling hero, and vilified from the right as embracing the BDS movement. So she issued a new statement, apparently intended to clarify her actions. “I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu,” she said. “I treasure my Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema, and dance,” but “the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values.”

Still unclear, at least of this writing, is whether or not Portman feels “comfortable participating in public events in Israel.”

Hopefully, Portman will further clarify her stance, and will announce her intention to re-engage in Israeli public life. But the damage is done. Most will ignore the successive clarifying press releases issued by her people and will regard her simply as the Israeli-American superstar who now despises Israel so much she can’t even go there.

Most … will regard her simply as the Israeli-American superstar who now despises Israel so much she can’t even go there.

Portman, however, is no predictable anti-Israel agitator. To the contrary, her lifelong connection with Israel is bona fide and documented. She’s a native Israeli, born Neta-Lee Hershlag in Jerusalem. She directed and starred in the Hebrew language film adaptation of Amos Oz’s novel “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” She has long vocally opposed Netanyahu’s policies, once noting that she found “his racist comments horrific.” Still, she has previously criticized those who utilize their celebrity to “shit” on Israel. “I don’t want to do that,” she said.

Yet, that is precisely what her original announcement did. It quite clearly signaled that she was boycotting Israel, at least for the time being. That incendiary but remarkably imprecise statement was unabashedly hypocritical. Portman is, after all, also a fierce critic of President Donald Trump. Yet, she is hardly retreating from public events in the United States. Rather, she has been a fixture at the women’s marches, and has participated in the robust anti-Trump protests. She has not retreated from the Hollywood awards scene either, and it’s a safe bet to assume that she won’t decline to accept an Oscar next year because she is distressed about “recent events” in the Trump administration.

Portman states unequivocally in her latest clarification that “I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it.” She may deny that her actions give support to BDS, but she’s wrong. They do. BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti said that “this latest rebuff to Israeli cultural events and accolades, coming from an Israeli-American superstar, is arguably one of the strongest indicators yet of how toxic the Israel Brand has become, even in some liberal circles in Hollywood. I can sense our South Africa moment coming closer.”

And on the other end of the political spectrum, Knesset member Rachel Azaria of Netanyahu’s coalition partner Kulanu party gets it, too. She sees Portman’s cancellation as “a warning light.” “She is totally one of us, identifies with her Judaism and her Israeliness,” Azaria said.

Celebrities of Portman’s stature have a responsibility to carefully vet the wording and reasoning of public pronouncements that they know will have significant impact. Those who love Israel but wish to criticize the government must remember: Tailor your public criticisms accurately and carefully, but don’t inadvertently give aid and comfort to those who deny the very legitimacy of the Jewish state.


Stuart Tochner is an employment attorney in Los Angeles.

The Portman Snub: A Calm Assessment

All sober analyses must begin with simple facts we can all agree on.

Fact: Actress Natalie Portman agreed to visit Israel to receive the Genesis Prize, often called the “Jewish Nobel.” Terms were set, the date was set, and organizers were preparing. Portman appointed a person to be in charge of allocating the prize money to organizations in Israel that work to empower women — organizations of her choosing.

Fact: The Academy Award-winning actress then canceled. Her explanation remains vague. She indicated her decision was related to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s participation in the event. But she knew all along that he was coming. The actress’ representative said that “recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel” but didn’t specify which “recent events.” Is she snubbing Israel over the Gaza unrest, over the fate of recent non-Jewish immigrants, over Israeli Supreme Court battles, over Netanyahu’s hair style? I assume it’s not the latter but I don’t know what it is. Maybe she’s got something up her sleeve that we didn’t take into consideration. Maybe when the case is laid out it will seem more convincing than it is now.

These are facts. If you doubt these facts — if you think she never wanted the prize, or if you think she did have clear explanation of her motivation — there’s no reason for you to keep reading this column.

Now we move from facts to analysis, which must include three main questions: 1) What was Portman’s objective? 2) Did she meet her objective? and 3) What was the price for meeting her objective?

Because we agree that Portman never provided a clear explanation for her decision, we must try to guess her motives. Possibilities include: 1) She didn’t want to visit Israel; 2) She didn’t want to stand next to Netanyahu; 3) She wanted to protest one of Israel’s policies;  4) She wanted to change public opinion in the United States; 5) She wanted to change public opinion in Israel;  6) She wanted to please certain friends or fans. And the list can go on.

Portman made Israelis even more suspicious of liberal Jewish Americans.

Because her motive is unknown, it’s difficult to determine if she accomplished her goal. Portman, who holds dual Israeli and U.S. citizenship, won’t visit Israel nor stand next to Netanyahu. Maybe she changed some minds in the U.S., but about what is unclear. Some people are using her decision for their agendas — one assumes it’s about Gaza, another that it’s about non-Jewish immigrants. Portman’s decision didn’t seem to change the opinion of Israelis on any of the debatable subjects. But it’s possible that, thanks to her, more Israelis are now convinced that relying on the support of Jewish Americans would be a mistake. And yes, we can assume that a certain circle of friends is now satisfied — but perhaps there also also friends who are now angry.

What was the price we all pay for her miscalculated (my term) decision? Although alleging she is against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Portman assisted those wanting to boycott Israel. She became a role model for those wanting to see U.S. Jews and Americans in general alienate Israel — a trend that could put Israel at increased risk. She made Israelis even more suspicious of liberal Jewish Americans, lowering the chance that they will ever heed the advice of those like Portman.

Portman’s cancelation enraged some Israeli politicians. Most of them aren’t policymakers, and they are merely utilizing Portman as a political punching bag. Netanyahu, to his credit, didn’t run with this issue (as of this writing). Portman deserves a harsh rebuke, but Israel will gain nothing from picking a fight with the popular actress. In fact, it ought to examine whether Portman’s move was deliberate, vicious and a first in a planned campaign — or whether it was truly a miscalculation.

Portman should have done her homework before insulting Israel. Israel would be wise to do its own homework before it insults her back.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

What the Israeli Left Can Teach the American Left

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

“The American left is quite different from the Israeli left,” said American-born Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi during a talk last week in New York City. “There is a sobriety, a maturity, to the mainstream Israeli left that you often don’t find here.”

Right on cue, a few days later, Women’s March organizers Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory were back in the news, this time over derogatory statements about the Anti-Defamation League’s involvement with anti-bias education at Starbucks; and Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman, the 2018 Genesis Prize winner, decided to boost her American-leftist status by announcing she would boycott the award ceremony in Israel.

All of which will no doubt give Halevi, who moved to Israel in 1982, more to talk about as he embarks on a tour for his new book, “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor,” out in May.

While the American left celebrates victimhood, Halevi said, “Zionism is a profound rejection of victimhood.” Even the Israeli left finds victimhood “incomprehensible.”

“There’s no nobility to being a victim,” said Halevi, who as a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute has been active in coexistence efforts with American Muslims. Indeed, there isn’t. But somehow, following lockstep with Palestinian propaganda of the past 50 years, leftist (i.e., illiberal) propaganda has ennobled certain victims (notably not all victims) to the point of sainthood.

The maturing of the American left would entail an understanding that it’s been played.

As Portman, whose family moved to the U.S. when she was 3, essentially took the Hamas/BDS line in citing “recent events” when detailing her decision not to attend the prize ceremony, Halevi talked about how in Israel “the Jewish army is treated like a Jewish life force: our soldiers are our children and our security.” Meanwhile, members of the far-left group Breaking the Silence, which aims to monitor the Israel Defense Forces, are considered “pariahs in Israel — no one takes them seriously.” Perhaps most notably, “there’s never been a serious draft resistance in Israel. Our army is us.”

How does Halevi recommend maturing the diasporic left, especially young Americans? “We need to tell our truths, our story — who we are, what our experiences have been,” he said. And we need to do it in the “traditional form of one generation passing on our stories to another. We need to stop worrying about whether millennials will ‘get it.’ We need to stop indulging millennials.”

Indeed. What has this indulgence led to? Two-thirds of American millennials surveyed in a recent poll could not identify what Auschwitz was, and 22 percent said they had never heard of the Holocaust.

At the same time, millennials — and much of the left in general — believe that every aspect of our existence must be politicized. They have been taught that there is no separation between life and politics.

As Hen Mazzig, an Israeli writer and speaker, put it in an open letter to Portman in The Jerusalem Post: “It’s not about criticism, which we welcome here, it is about the way you do it, at this moment in time. I know you are used to a different type of political debate in the U.S., but we don’t need you to bring it here.”

The truth is, the American left — in its current descent into illiberalism — can learn a lot from the Israeli left.

“Palestinians threaten with their powerlessness,” Halevi said. It is the same powerlessness or victimhood that promotes anti-Semitic propagandists like Sarsour and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to positions of influence on the U.S. left. It is the same victimhood that enables Muslim migrants in Europe to kill or maim Jews on a routine basis.

The maturing of the American left would entail an understanding that it’s been played. That ideas like “intersectionality” and “identity politics” have been manipulated for nefarious propagandistic purposes by individuals and groups whose sole mission is to single out and malign the Jewish state.

Ironically, just as Israel and Arab countries are becoming allied in a fight against Iran, the American left puts Sarsour on a panel about anti-Semitism; and Palestinian professors and activists rewrite Jewish history on a daily basis at American universities.

Creating an atmosphere where Israeli-born Americans like Portman feel a need to regurgitate the Hamas/BDS line in order to retain status on the left is as evil as it is brilliant. Can real liberals like Halevi and Mazzig help put the American left on a corrective course? Let’s hope so.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic.

Don’t shoot the messenger: On Natalie Portman

When the Genesis Prize Foundation announced last November that the Israeli-born actress Natalie Portman would be the recipient of this year’s prize — often described as the “Jewish Nobel” — it offered Portman the highest praise:

“Without a doubt, she is a role model for millions of young Jews around the world.”

That compliment now seems both prescient and alarming.

Since Portman has decided to reject the prize and boycott the ceremony in protest of Israel government policies and practices — saying she did not wish to attend an event at which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be present — what must those millions of young Jews think now? And what does it mean that the most high-profile cultural censure of Israel to date has not come from the invidious Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, but from one of our own?

It is worse than a pity that Portman chose to rebuke Israel with her boycott. As Jane Eisner wrote in The Forward, couldn’t she have gone to the ceremony and given a killer human rights speech in Netanyahu’s face? If she wishes to protest Israeli policies, I wish she would say which ones. Or does she want us and the world to think the entire Israeli government, despite a robust democratic opposition, is a total disgrace?

But OK, I get it. Portman didn’t want her acceptance of the prize or her presence at the event to be seen as an endorsement of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. As a citizen of Israel, she’s entitled to her dissent. That’s what Israeli democracy is about. We can be proud that one of Israel’s democratic strengths is that it can tolerate criticism.

That problem is the collapse of peace talks and the idea and promise of a two-state solution.

At this point, I’m far less interested in whether Portman’s decision to refuse the Genesis Prize makes her a hero or a traitor. Scores of outspoken Jews in the opposing camps have issued their views over the past week, exacerbating an already painful situation. I don’t really care what your personal politics are, when an Israeli Jew rejects an Israeli honor, it should hurt. It signifies that the Jewish world has a big problem on its hands, far more disruptive than Jewish disunity. Portman isn’t the problem, she is a reflection of that problem and a harbinger of how much worse it could get.

That problem is the collapse of peace talks and the idea and promise of a two-state solution.

Yes, the two-state solution. Remember that old thing? You should, because it’s the only thing that could end the terrible occupation that has been a stain on Israeli and Jewish consciences for more than five decades. And, because the alternative to a two-state solution spells political and moral catastrophe for the Israel we love.

Maintaining the status quo — the current one-state solution — means more and more boycotts. It means international isolation. It means more and more Jews turning away from the Jewish homeland because they can’t conscience a triumphalist Israel over a virtuous one. The alternative to a two-state solution is personified by Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement and an enemy to the idea of a Jewish state, who said: “I can sense our South Africa moment coming closer.”

I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that South African apartheid didn’t end with a two-state solution. (Never mind that the comparison between Israel and South Africa is intellectually unsound; most people aren’t educated enough about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to know the difference, and as we all know, even fake news gets traction.)

Portman may not be the tipping point, but the tipping point may come if “millions of young Jews around the world” choose to follow in her footsteps and alienate the Jewish state when there are millions of reasons to love it. The tipping point is coming when the actions of those young Jews will be hard to distinguish from the actions of the BDS movement. Be angry about that outcome, but don’t dismiss it.

Whatever one feels about Portman’s decision or the “liberal American Jews” who might disappear in a generation, we should care about the reasons why they would want to distance themselves from Israel in the first place.

We should also want to find a way to get them back.

Portman’s Blunder? She Said Yes.

Natalie Portman must be a conflicted soul. In 2015, she told the Hollywood Reporter she was “very upset and disappointed” by the re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was very much “against” him, but that she didn’t want her criticisms to be “used by adversaries of Israel.”

Two years later, in November 2017, Portman was selected by the Genesis Prize Foundation to be its fifth laureate, receiving a grant of $1 million to donate to charitable causes.

As part of the vetting and selection process, Portman was made aware that the prime minister’s office and The Jewish Agency for Israel were partners in the project. She was told the prime minister (whom she disliked so much) would attend the ceremony. His participation was apparent in numerous pictures from previous galas.

Nevertheless, when she received the award, she released this statement:

“I am deeply touched and humbled by this honor. I am proud of my Israeli roots and Jewish heritage; they are crucial parts of who I am. It is such a privilege to be counted among the outstanding Laureates whom I admire so much.”

Last week, five months after making that statement, Portman changed her mind and announced she wouldn’t attend the ceremony in Israel.

A representative said that “recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel” and that “she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.”

What happened in five months to cause her to change her mind and publicly shame Israel? Well, we know what didn’t happen — Bibi and Israel did not change their stripes.

After a public outcry, caused in part by the vagueness of the statement, she released a second statement via Instagram, saying that she “chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony.”

The focus on Netanyahu created another public relations problem for Portman: She always knew Bibi would be part of the ceremony. She knew this was a prime minister event as much as a Jewish Agency event as much as a Genesis event.

So, what happened in five months to cause her to change her mind and publicly shame Israel? Well, we know what didn’t happen — Bibi and Israel did not change their stripes. It’s still the same Bibi she dislikes and the same Israel of her “roots” and “heritage.”

In other words, there is no good, rational explanation for her global ambush of Israel. Portman knows the power of celebrity. She knows that Genesis picks famous people precisely because of their outsized influence to bring positive change to the world. She knows that Israel is already one of the most maligned countries on earth, and that her actions, as she once said, can “be used by adversaries of Israel.”

She knows all that, and she still chose to use her fame to nourish Israel’s enemies. This may be why Portman has received so little support for her decision, even among many Bibi critics. She allowed her disdain for one man to cloud her judgment about a whole country.

If Portman was so concerned about appearing to endorse Netanyahu, she had no business saying yes in the first place. But once she said yes, if she didn’t want to appear to insult a country she claims to love, she had no business saying no.

This is not about criticism of Israel. Portman has every right to criticize Israel — everyone does. There’s probably more public self-criticism going on in one day in Israel than in the whole Middle East.

But Portman didn’t criticize Israel — she boycotted the country. Her action communicated to the world that she’s so turned off by Israel she can’t even live up to her commitment to attend a ceremony in the country. By shutting out Israel, she also shut out nuance and complexity, advancing the one-sided, tired, Israel-hating narrative that puts all the blame on the Jewish state for whatever goes wrong.

If Portman was so concerned about appearing to endorse Netanyahu, she had no business saying yes in the first place. But once she said yes, if she didn’t want to appear to insult a country she claims to love, she had no business saying no.

I can think of one silver lining in this debacle. All the attention on the Genesis Prize means that more attention will be given to the real purpose of the initiative — how to use the prize money to make the world a better place.

Contrary to what many people think, it is Genesis that has the final say on how the prize money is allocated. The laureate only chooses the category, which this year is advancing women’s rights and equality.

In the summer, Genesis will announce grantees in Israel. In the fall, it will announce grantees in North America. With the help of matching funds, the Genesis Prize Foundation hopes to grant up to $3 million this year to help empower women’s causes.

How ironic. The country Portman insulted will follow through on its commitment to help some of her favorite causes. Maybe by Rosh Hashana she’ll release a third statement saying “I’m sorry” and “Thank you.”

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Natalie Portman Speaks Out at the Women’s March

Natalie Portman speaks at The Women's March Photo courtesy of WENN.com

Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman speaks at the Women’s March in Los Angeles on Jan. 20. It’s estimated that more than 1 million women and men took to the streets in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and other cities. The marches — which followed the recent groundswell of allegations of sexual harassment by men in prominent entertainment, business and political positions that spawned the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements — were held a year after the first Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Actresses Eva Longoria (far left), Viola Davis, Alfre Woodard, Scarlett Johansson and Constance Wu also spoke at the Los Angeles rally.

“Folks, Time’s Up!” Babs has a message for the Foreign Press

34 years ago, a verklempt Barbra Streisand accepted a Best Director Golden Globe Award for her work on “Yentl.” “This award is very meaningful to me. I’m very proud because it also represents, I hope, for so many talented women,” she told the audience. The crowd ruptured in applause.

Last night, Streisand, yet again, took to the Golden Globe stage, this time to present the award for Best Drama. But first, she made sure to mention that since 1984, no other woman has received Best Director. “Folks, time’s up!” she said.

Streisand is only woman to have won Best Director at Golden Globes

"Folks, time's up!" The last time a woman won "Best Director" at the Golden Globes, it was Barbra Streisand for Yentl in 1984.

Posted by Jewish Journal on Monday, January 8, 2018

 

This year, no women were nominated for the Best Director category, a fact which did not go unnoticed. “And here are the all male nominees,” actress Natalie Portman said before reading out the list while presenting Best Director with Ron Howard.

 

What’s Happening in Jewish L.A. Nov. 16-23: Vulture Festival, Dennis Prager and ‘War of the Worlds’

FRI NOV 17
“WHY JUDAISM MATTERS”

During a Kabbalat Shabbat service, Temple Israel of Hollywood Rabbi John Rosove discusses his new book, “Why Judaism Matters: Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to His Children and the Millennial Generation.” Rosove’s work, presented in the form of letters from a rabbi to his sons, is a guidebook for Reform Jews who find it difficult to engage with Jewish orthodoxy, beliefs, traditions and issues in the 21st century. A dinner follows services and the discussion. 6:30 p.m. Free. (RSVP required for dinner). Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330. tioh.org.

“BERNSTEIN ON STAGE”

John Mauceri conducts the New West Symphony in an evening of the music of Leonard Bernstein, honoring the centennial of the famed composer’s birth. The concert will also feature the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, the Women of Areté Vocal Ensemble, the California Lutheran University Choir, Suzanna Guzmán, Davis Gaines, Celena Shafer and Casey Candebat. 8 p.m. Tickets $58–$73. Valley Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. Also 8 p.m., Nov. 18, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; 3 p.m., Nov. 19, Oxnard Performing Arts Center, 800 Hobson Way, Oxnard. (818) 677-3000. valleyperformingartscenter.org.

GRATITUDE SHABBAT: CELEBRATING UNITY AND THANKSGIVING

Wilshire Boulevard Temple brings together its Rabbi Susan Nanus, the American Jewish University Choir led by conductor Noreen Green, and the BYTHAX Gospel Choir led by composer, vocalist and conductor Diane White Clayton in a joint Shabbat concert that mixes poetry, prayer and song. A community Shabbat celebration follows. 7:30 p.m. Free. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Glazer Campus, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-2401. wbtla.org.

“A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM”

Comedy — tonight! An ancient Roman slave tries to gain his freedom by helping his master woo a young woman in the bawdy farce “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. Ancient Rome is turned on its ear in this raucous Tony Award-winning musical featuring mistaken identity and dizzying plot twists. (Intended for adult audiences; may contain adult language and situations.) 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 2 p.m. Saturdays; 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Dec. 31. Tickets $45–$52. Garry Marshall Theatre, 4252 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank. (818) 955-8101. garrymarshalltheatre.org.

SAT NOV 18
VULTURE FESTIVAL L.A.

Sarah Silverman

James Franco.

Lena Dunham.

Natalie Portman.

Hollywood Jews, including Sarah Silverman, James Franco, Lena Dunham, Natalie Portman, Damon Lindelof, Eugene Levy, Rachel Bloom and Joshua Malina are among the stars appearing at this two-day festival in Hollywood. From a panel on “Stranger Things”: Inside the Upside Down, to a discussion with the women behind HBO’s “Girls” on The Panel of Their Generation (or at least a panel of a generation), this is the ultimate festival for any pop-culture fan. Organized by politics and culture magazine Vulture. Through Nov. 19. 11 a.m. Saturday–9 p.m. Sunday. Various prices. The Hollywood Roosevelt, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. vulturefestival.com.

“WAR OF THE WORLDS”

The Los Angeles Philharmonic, featuring Israeli-American opera director Yuval Sharon, up-and-coming Jewish composer Annie Gosfield, and members of the L.A. Phil New Music Group, re-creates Orson Welles’ 1938 original radio script, incorporating Gosfield’s satellite and machine and industrial sounds. Admission to the concert includes entry into “Noon to Midnight,” which lets attendees roam Walt Disney Concert Hall for a day of pop-up performances featuring L.A.’s top new-music ensembles. Noon, 2 p.m. $25-$58. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111. S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 850-2000. laphil.com.

DENNIS PRAGER

Nationally syndicated radio host and New York Times best-selling author Dennis Prager will discuss “Supporting Israel and Maintaining Conservative Traditional Values in America’s Contemporary Cultural Climate” during a special Shabbat morning service. After the service, the founder of Prager U will participate in a Q-and-A session over a catered lunch. Childcare available. Seating is limited. 9:30 a.m. $40 members, $60 nonmembers. Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 475-7000. sephardictemple.org.

SUN NOV 19
“NAZISM IN THE U.S.”

Beth Ribet, who holds a doctorate in social relations from UC Irvine and a law degree from UCLA, discusses Nazism in American institutions and history, its relationship to white supremacy and what it means today. Attendees explore opportunities to mobilize and respond. Coffee and bagels served. Co-sponsored by Sholem Community and LGBT congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim. 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Free. Westside Neighborhood School, 5401 Beethoven St., Los Angeles. (310) 984-6935. sholem.org.

MAAGALIM CYCLING EVENT

Israeli and Jewish families with special-needs children come together for a day of cycling, karate, fitness, pumpkin decorating and more. Professional cyclists will
provide instruction to those who have never ridden a bike. Israeli Scouts (Tzofim) will attend and partner with kids with special needs. Organized by Maagalim, a new organization aiming to provide more opportunities for inclusion for special-needs families. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Free. IAC Shepher Community Center, 6530 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills. (818) 288-8108. maagalimcircles.org.

“HITLER, MY NEIGHBOR: MEMOIRS OF A JEWISH CHILDHOOD, 1929-1939”

Historian Edgar Feuchtwanger participates in a talk and book signing for “Hitler, My Neighbor: Memories of a Jewish Childhood, 1929-1939.” The book is Feuchtwanger’s account of being a young boy from a prominent German-Jewish family in Munich when Nazi party leader Adolf Hitler moves into the building across the street. The boy watches from his window as terrible events unfold. 3 p.m. Free (RSVP required). Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 100 S. The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704. lamoth.org.

CAROL LEIFER AND WENDY LIEBMAN

The two headliners at Whizin’s Stand-Up Comedy Showcase have starred in comedy specials on HBO, Showtime and Comedy Central. Carol Leifer is a four-time Emmy Award nominee for her writing on “Seinfeld,” “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Saturday Night Live.” Wendy Liebman has performed on late-night shows hosted by Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, and was a semifinalist on “America’s Got Talent.” 4 p.m. $25. David Alan Shapiro Memorial Synagogue Center, American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777. wcce.aju.edu.

“E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL IN CONCERT”

American Youth Symphony (AYS), a laboratory for skilled high school musicians, performs John Williams’ legendary score for “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial,” accompanying a screening of the iconic Steven Spielberg film. AYS Music Director Carlos Izcaray and conductor Jon Burlingame lead the symphony. The event features a Q-and-A with industry leaders, moderated by Burlingame. 4:30 p.m. $11-$15. Royce Hall, UCLA, 10745 Dickson Court, Los Angeles. (310) 470-2332. aysymphony.org.

MON NOV 20
“NIGHT OF 80 SHABBATS”

Today is the final day to register as a host for the Builders of Jewish Education’s (BJE) “Night of 80 Shabbats” on Dec. 1, when
Shabbat dinners are served in homes across Los Angeles. The initiative marks the 80th anniversary of BJE. Young adults and millennials who host a dinner could be eligible to receive $10 per person in food expenses, up to $150, from One Table, which brings Shabbat to people of all backgrounds who are in their 20s and 30s (restrictions apply). For additional information, visit bjela.org/night-80-shabbats-0.

REZA ASLAN AND RABBI SARAH BASSIN

Join Reza Aslan, best-selling author of “Zealot,” and Rabbi Sarah Bassin of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills as they discuss God and the concept of the divine, from prehistoric times to today. Part of the Behrendt Conversation Series, in partnership with Chevalier Books. A copy of Aslan’s new book, “God: A Human History,” is included with the price of admission. 7 p.m. $25 online; $35 at the door. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Corwin Family Sanctuary, 300 N. Clark Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-3737. tebh.org.

INTERFAITH THANKSGIVING SERVICE

Seven congregations comprising the Pacific Palisades Ministerial Association, including Reconstructionist synagogue Kehillat Israel, participate in an annual evening of prayer, music, readings, meditation and fellowship. A patio reception with hot beverages and other refreshments follows. 7 p.m. Free. Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine Temple, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 459-2328. ourki.org.

“SUDDENLY, A KNOCK AT THE DOOR”

Writer Eitan Katzen is visited by a bearded man, a survey taker and a pizza delivery woman in this original play by Robin Goldfin, based on stories by award-winning Israeli author and filmmaker Etgar Keret. Brandishing weapons, these visitors hold the writer hostage and demand a story. For these three strange muses, Katzen begins to weave his tales, played out on the stage by the same characters holding him captive. The staged reading is directed by Jeff Maynard. Free with RSVP required. 8 p.m. Lenart Auditorium, Fowler Museum at UCLA, 308 Charles E. Young Drive North, Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081, ext. 108. international.ucla.edu/institute.

For more events in Jewish L.A., visit http://jewishjournal.com/calendar/.

Felicity Jones replaces Natalie Portman as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in biopic

Felicity Jones at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on May 1, 2017. Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for People.com

British actress Felicity Jones will portray Jewish Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a biopic after Natalie Portman dropped out.

Shooting of “On the Basis of Sex” was slated to begin this month in Montreal, according to Variety.

Portman, who is Jewish, had been attached to play Ginsburg for at least four years while the film project was stuck in development.

Jones starred as Jyn Erso in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and in “Inferno” with Tom Hanks. She received a best actress Oscar nomination for her role in “The Theory of Everything.”

Ginsburg was the second woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

The film, which is being directed by Mimi Leder from a script by Daniel Stiepleman, deals with Ginsburg’s struggles for equal rights and what she had to overcome in order to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice, according to IMDB.

Ginsburg, 84, was appointed in 1993 by President Bill Clinton and remains one of the court’s most liberal voices. During the past election campaign, in a move rare for justices on the high court, Ginsburg said in several public comments that Donald Trump was unfit for office. Trump called for Ginsburg to resign and questioned her mental acquity. Ginsburg later apologized, calling her remarks “ill advised.”

Oscars salute a city of stars — and many are Jewish

Photo by Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

Oscar belted out “City of Stars” on Jan. 24, with a special nod to Jewish talent, as the 89th Academy Award nominations were announced at 5:30 a.m. local time.

The uplifting musical “La La Land” danced off with 14 nominations, including one for best picture — tying the records of “All About Eve” and “Titanic,” thanks mainly to two former Harvard roommates, Justin Hurwitz and Damien Chazelle, both 32.

Hurwitz (see profile on Page 63) received nods for musical score and original song (with Benj Pasek’s lilting lyrics) for both “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).” Chazelle was nominated in the director and screenplay categories.

Chazelle told the Jewish Journal last year that his parents, although Catholic, were dissatisfied with their son’s education at a church Sunday school so they enrolled him in the Hebrew school of a liberal synagogue.

Over the next four years, Chazelle recalled, “I had that period of my life where I was very, very into Hebrew and the Old Testament, and then I went with my class to Israel when we were in the sixth grade. I don’t think they even knew I wasn’t Jewish; I was, like, ‘passing.’ ”

Two noted thespians were nominated in the lead actress race: Jerusalem native Natalie Portman for her role as former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in “Jackie,” and veteran French star Isabelle Huppert in the French film “Elle.”

Huppert, who plays a successful businesswoman who plots an elaborate revenge on the home intruder who raped her, is the daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. Her parents were married while France was under Nazi occupation, with her father hiding his Jewish roots.

In the lead actor category, a nod went to American-British actor Andrew Garfield, whose paternal grandparents were Jews who emigrated from Eastern Europe to London. He stars in “Hacksaw Ridge,” the story of the only conscientious objector ever awarded the Medal of Honor.

The movie also earned a nomination for director Mel Gibson, still living down his anti-Semitic outbursts of the past. However, actor and director got along well, with Garfield declaring in a TV interview, “I am proud to be Jewish.”

Also in the running for outstanding achievement in direction is Kenneth Lonergan for the critically acclaimed “Manchester by the Sea.” Lonergan’s mother and stepfather are Jewish.

“Joe’s Violin,” a film by Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen, made the cut in the short documentary category. It explores the friendship between a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor and a 12-year-old Bronx schoolgirl and how the power of music can brighten the darkest of times.

The winners will be crowned Feb. 26 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. The ceremony will be broadcast to 225 countries and territories worldwide.

JACKIE *Movie Review*

In JACKIE, Natalie Portman’s Jackie Kennedy consciously controls history’s memory of JFK’s assassination and presidency through her calculated interview with a reporter played by Billy Crudup.  The movie also stars Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig and John Hurt.

There’s a line in JACKIE that stuck with me.  It’s when Jackie says “for royalty you need tradition and for tradition you need time”.  It perfectly encapsulated the movie and Jackie Kennedy’s ultimate goals for her family.  In the midst of the horror of JFK’s assassination and Jackie Kennedy’s own combination of sadness and guilt, she wants her husband—and by extension herself—not to fade into oblivion.

The movie balances showing both sides of the formidable Jackie Kennedy, who is seemingly in control, with the inner turmoil she faces as she struggles to keep herself afloat.  The cinematography reflects that struggle through the use of a shaky, hand-held camera during specific scenes.  It also felt like Jackie was an outside observer of her own life; she was present physically but still apart.

The use of light also reflects Jackie’s inner turmoil.  When she greets the unnamed reporter at her home, she opens her door and sees bright light.  In fact, the light is so blown out that it offers a sense of heightened realism, as though Jackie’s looking into the light but cannot get there yet herself.  I also interpret it as an unforgiving light, representing how she feels about herself at the time.  These interpretations are reinforced during the movie multiple times.  For instance, during a flashback when someone tells Jackie that she has her whole life still ahead, she remarks that it’s a cruel comment.  As bright as her life might seem having been First Lady or looking back knowing about her subsequent marriage to Aristotle Onassis, at this point she is a young mother who has lost two children, she’s lost a husband, she has no home of her own and fears she will have to start selling off furniture just to feed her children.  Her desire to build a legacy for JFK is means for securing a future for herself as well, an inclination that is hard for her to even admit.

Jackie’s internal struggles are also literally reflected back to her during specific scenes with mirrors, which represent multiple facets of a person and personality in traditional film analysis. For more about these scenes and other themes in JACKIE, take a look below:

—>Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

Natalie Portman calls her babies ‘good luck charms’ as Oscar speculation swirls

Actress Natalie Portman said her babies are “good luck charms,” when asked about early Oscar speculation for her latest movie.

“I think they’re good luck charms in life,” Portman, 35, told Entertainment Tonight in an interview aired Sunday, “They’re the best things. The best main miracles.”

The Israeli-born actress, pregnant with her second child, is promoting the upcoming biopic, Jackie, in which she portrays former First Lady Jackie Kennedy. The film is scheduled to open on December 2.

She was pregnant with her first child, Aleph, now 5, when she won her first Oscar for Best Actress in 2011.

“I don’t necessarily connect it [to winning an Oscar],” she said. “But it is certainly a joy.”

Portman is slated to play Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish female U.S. Supreme Court justice, in another future film.

Natalie Portman pregnant with 2nd child

Natalie Portman is expecting a second child with husband Benjamin Millepied.

An unnamed source confirmed the news to Us Weekly on Thursday.

Portman, 35, was comfortable showing her new baby bump Thursday during the premiere of her film “Planetarium” at the Venice Film Festival. Us Weekly reported that the Jewish Oscar winner for “Black Swan” rubbed her stomach on the red carpet.

Portman and Millepied, 39, who coached her in ballet on the set of “Black Swan,” have a 5-year-old son, Aleph. The family, who lived in Paris for two years while Millepied headed the Paris Opera Ballet, recently moved to Los Angeles.

The Israeli-born actress’ other highly anticipated film, “Jackie,” in which she portrays Jackie Kennedy, premiered at the festival on Wednesday and garnered positive reviews. Portman described the role as the most “dangerous” of her career.

“[E]veryone knows what she looked like, sounded like and has a kind of idea of her,” Portman told Variety on Wednesday.

Portman is also slated to play Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish female U.S. Supreme Court justice, in another future film.

The personal, the universal and the Zionist vision

The afternoon audience of slightly senior people seemed filled with anticipation about  Natalie Portman’s rendering of “A Tale of Love and Darkness.”  It may have been the kind of giddy pride that comes when a celebrity legitimizes the audience’s interest.   For some members of that audience—and for this reviewer– the anticipation was reversed because one of the most famous writers of the Hebrew literary renaissance, Amos Oz, was being represented in a medium that has often eluded the other literary greats of Israel.  (There are super Israeli movies and TV shows these days, but few renderings of novels onto film.)   And, indeed, while it has been the celebrity of actor-director Natalie Portman that has caught early attention before the movie was released, she manages to play a subdued and self-effacing role in the movie itself.   Attention is concentrated, then, on what counts;  the quality of the movie and its convincing acting , and the skill with which a long and somewhat shambling original narrative has been made accessible as a movie.   (I won’t cite some of the tidbits that make the book so memorable, but the English translation is wonderful, so curious readers might want to take it on.) 

It’s a universal story, to be sure, even though it is set within modern  Jewish history’s most crucial epoch.    A family escaping the escalation of tragedy in Europe finds its own tragedy in the emerging Palestinian Jewish nation: the wife’s  longing (melancholy become illness) regarding a lost Europe is made more gruesome in the dingy life the family leads in the twilit cellar: three rooms for eating, sleeping and hovering over a brilliant son—a pictures that was much a part of Jerusalem in the 1940’s.  Many émigrés tried to supplant the cafes of Europe’s capitals but they become the failed efforts to establish that elegance on the hardcscrabble soil of the middle East—(although Tel Aviv eventually got close).  That sometimes comic failure merges, in this movie, with a father’s hopes of becoming an important scholar mocked by the trivial realities of the bookish life,  (see the movie “Footnote”)  ; and the momentous historical event that is taking place in the midst of this Chekhovian tale of loss and darkness are all seen through the eyes of young Amos Klausner ( to become Amos Oz when his mother dies and once he abandons his father for life on a kibbutz. ) 

The movie cannot replicate what Oz achieved in nearly 600 pages: a weave of personal tales and national events, and the perspective of a grown man—identified as the legendary Amos Oz– who refracts the witness of his childhood persona, and along the way tells stories about the development of the new nation. Portman chose the intimate story—the family story—and managed some of the historical momentousness through film clips of war, occasional narration of desultory relations with friendly Arabs, and descriptions of the constant disappointments of these urban pioneers.

Portman avoids the danger of telling too much; but she does capture a few of these great episodes on film.  One of the best is a hurried excursion to the local pharmacy for the weekly phone call to siblings in Tel Aviv”(excerpted in The New Yorker) :  “Hello, how are you, how’s the weather; nothing new here; we’ll call you next week”—it is, in one way or another the universal tale of every immigrant Jewish family caught up in pre-technology confusion.  But in pre-state Israel a special resonance—the alienation that Amos Oz loves to associate with Chekhov.  Every family event from social visits to efforts to plant a little garden in the yard is accompanied by tears of failure and alienation.  And, as in Chekhov, sometimes in this movie one wonders whether there isn’t a bit too much melodrama.  But melodrama suits these people who bear every burdensome fantasy of pained and obsessed parents about their lyrical child.  (In one scene, he adumbrates the literary greatness that was to become Amos zoz  by evading bullies through his story telling.)  In brilliantly acted scenes, Amos is the upbeat pole of the tragic dyad. 

Once the audience settles down, and realizes that even the singular event in modern post-Holocaust Jewish history can become  a personal story, all can be forgotten or put aside to experience a contorted intensity that is both personal and national.     

The audience can return, upon reflection after the movie has ended, to the alienation that must have been felt by so many of these urban pioneers, forced to live in the crowded and dusty streets of Jerusalem, longing for the sonatas and preludes of Central European music, stressed by the contrast between middle eastern dust and the grandeur of Europe’s rivers, bridges and culture.  The Klausner family was, then, caught off guard by new landscape new language and new and unexpected disappointments because the  the “New Man” of near erotic fantasy first had to go through a period of profound loneliness.

As the poet Lea Goldberg wrote in her poem Tel Aviv 1935:

How can the air of this little city/bear so many/childhood memories, abandoned loves, and rooms that have emptied out somewhere.  …

{they are like} pictures blackening in a camera…

Goldberg’s poem is not known to many Americans; but its theme of estrangement is condensed in this remarkable movie; for Goldberg, Tel Aviv, for Oz and Portman, Jerusalem.   

What for Oz was a complex interweaving of the national story with his personal biography, and of humor with unbearable tragedy, becomes a personal story of a young boy’s sense of the struggles of one family to find a place in the illusion of the new land, while the daily reality mocks the illusion.  Yet the illusion prevails, or at least hopes for the fulfillment of that illusion.  People may have gathered because the movie is set in Israel, but they wound up seeing a serious movie at last that isn’t per se about “the situation” or about a specific kind of Israeli or a singular political struggle, or a screed about the greatness of Israel: but a deep and real story about how life looks to a boy who was to become one of Western literature’s masters of words and story. I do think we are supposed to know that this is Amos Oz we are talking about—that the movie is more than just anyone’s story.  But it is everyone’s story as well. 

When Oz was interviewed for “Writer’s Block” at Temple Emanuel about a decade ago, he insisted on breaking down the distinction between biography and fiction—into the word narrative.  People who study narrative know that point of view, selection of material,  and the refractions of individual memory play a huge part in what eventually finds its way into a written narrative or a movie.  A child’s eyes in the memory of an adult man, and two great artists—a writer and a director-actress  have brought to life a movie that bears watching even if you’re not caught up in the hum and buzz of contemporary Israel.  If you are part of the Jewish-political-historical gossip, you will enjoy a double reward that proves that sadness depicted beautifully promises its own kind of elevation. 

William Cutter is Emeritus Professor of Hebrew Literature, Herbew Union College, Los Angeles

Meet the accent coach who taught Natalie Portman to sound like an Israeli for her new film

While making the film “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” Natalie Portman had to put her palm in front of her mouth, repeat Hebrew words and feel how the air hit her skin.

If Portman felt her breath, it meant she was saying the words in an Israeli accent — or something close to it. Along with directing, writing and starring in the 2015 Hebrew-language film, which hits U.S. screens on Friday, Portman had to learn how to speak like an Israeli housewife in the 1940s.

Portman was born in Jerusalem but grew up in the United States, so her fluent Hebrew came with a heavy American inflection. In the movie, an adaptation of Amos Oz’s 2002 autobiographical novel of the same name, Portman plays Oz’s mother, Fania, a Russian immigrant living in Jerusalem during the time surrounding Israel’s independence in 1948.

To study the accent, Portman hired Neta Riskin, 39, an Israeli actor known for her role in “Shtisel,” an Israeli show about a haredi Orthodox family. For three months during filming, Riskin and Portman practiced daily, covering vowels, consonants, syllable emphasis and sentence flow.

Riskin said she read the film’s script 200 times.

“I can’t tell you how hard it is to act not in your language,” said Riskin, who spoke to JTA while on an acting stint in Germany, where she was performing in both German and English. “It’s like walking with crutches. They’re not your legs. They’re artificial. To do a full movie in that is amazing.”

What made the project more difficult was that prestate Israelis spoke differently 70 years ago than their descendants do today. Back then, Riskin said, the population had a “mixed multitude” of accents, from local Middle Eastern pronunciations to different shades of European. The contemporary Israeli accent, Riskin said, emerged as a composite of all those.

To be true to her character, who originally is from present-day Ukraine, Portman would have had to adopt a Russian accent. But Riskin thought that would sound like a parody next to the neutral accents of the other actors, who were native Israelis.

“The problem with Natalie is that there were Israeli Russian, Polish, Arabic accents that were legitimate accents, [but] there was only one accent that wouldn’t work and it was American,” Riskin said. “We decided to leave something that sounded foreign, but you don’t know where it comes from.”

Most observers, said Riskin, assume the hardest part of an Israeli accent is pronouncing guttural consonants like the “het” and “resh,” which aren’t so much pronounced as gargled. But Portman had no problem with that; she got hung up on the vowels.

While American English has an array of vowel sounds, the Israeli vowel range is limited. So when Americans pronounce a Hebrew word that features the same vowel twice, like “keshet,” which means rainbow, they tend to change the second “e” into a short “i,” so the word almost becomes “keshit.”

“You need to know how to connect the words in a way that it sounds natural, so you don’t sound like a robot,” Riskin said. “In Israel it sounds much simpler to have one vowel, but for Americans it’s a lot harder to get used to.”

Israeli vowels are pronounced near the front of the mouth, Riskin said, while American sounds come from further back. By putting her palm in front of her lips, Portman could tell how her breath was flowing and where the sounds were coming from.

Riskin also made sure Portman was emphasizing the right syllables and parts of a sentence. While English intonation tends to stay level, Hebrew words and sentences have the emphasis on the last syllable and word. To coach Portman through her word flow, Riskin would have her move her hand along with the word’s undulations, as if she were a symphony conductor.

When a word in the script was difficult for Portman to pronounce correctly, she and Riskin would try to find an easier synonym. The changes fit with Portman’s character, who was meant to speak a relatively basic Hebrew. Her husband, a librarian and author, used more complex words.

Language itself is a theme of the movie. Portman’s character tells stories throughout the film, which also focuses on how words are related. The narrator, Fania’s son Amos, notes the similarity between the Hebrew words for earth (“adamah”), man (“adam”), blood (“dam”), the color red (“adom”) and silence (“d’mamah”).

“We wanted her Hebrew to not be at a high level,” Riskin said. “We wanted everyone to have something a little strange in their language.”

This isn’t the first time Riskin has helped an actor perfect an Israeli accent, but she said the job isn’t in high demand. Hebrew isn’t a widely spoken language outside Israel, and some other actors who portray Israelis don’t seem to care whether they get it right. Riskin was particularly irked by Adam Sandler’s turn in “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” a 2008 comedy in which he plays a Mossad agent.

“That drove me crazy,” she said. “That was a Yiddish accent, not an Israeli accent. They speak that way in Brooklyn or in a shtetl, but not in Israel.”

Native speakers of a language, said Riskin, have a quality called “Sprachgefuhl” in German, which means a natural feel for the language’s idioms. It’s impossible to get anyone there in a matter of months, Riskin said, but Portman came close. Riskin said she was “in awe” that Portman not only acted but directed a full film in her second language.

“She needed superpowers to do this all together,” Riskin said. “Even if we cleaned up all of the American characteristics, there would still be a shade of foreignness. If Natalie had stayed in Israel another year, she would have sounded like a sabra.”

Natalie Portman teams up with ‘Homeland,’ ‘Friends’ producers on HBO miniseries

Natalie Portman will star in and executive produce an HBO miniseries adaptation of Karen Joy Fowler’s 2014 novel “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.”

The Israeli-born actress is working together with “Friends” producer Marta Kaufmann and Kaufman’s production company Okay Goodnight, IndieWire reported Friday. Gideon Raff, the Israeli producer of the hit show “Homeland,” adapted from the Israeli series “Prisoners of War,” will be an executive producer.

Okay Goodnight is also adapting the Israeli TV series about haredi Orthodox Jews, “Shtisel,” into a series for Amazon, Business2Community reported.

In other news related to Portman, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” her directorial debut, will be released in United States theaters later this month.

The film, based on a memoir by Israeli novelist Amos Oz, premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

 

Portman’s directorial debut is a bitter-sweet Israeli homecoming

Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman made her directorial debut with a film sympathetic to the Holocaust-haunted refugees who founded her native Israel, but she bristles at the idea that the portrayal might be patriotic.

Instead, she considers “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” her screen adaptation of Israeli novelist Amos Oz's grimy, erotic and bitter-sweet work, a meditation on the shortfalls of national ideals in a land riven by the Palestinians' rival claims.

Asked during the drama's commercial premiere in Jerusalem on Thursday if the project was meant to be pro-Israeli, Portman told Reuters: “Absolutely not … I actually find it surprising to hear it described as a patriotic film because, for me, much of it has to do with the disappointment of the dream.”

She said she sought to convey, as the dovish Oz argued, that Israel's early self-image as “utopia for a land of orphans who came out of the Holocaust (was) maybe blind to some of the realities on the ground – and here we are this many decades later”.

The Hebrew-language film, in which Portman also stars as Oz's suicidal mother, focuses on Jewish hardship in a Jerusalem besieged by Arab forces in the 1948 war of Israel's founding. It also touches on the resulting dispossession of Palestinians.

Though Portman waived payment, the film's slim $4.2 million budget drew on support from the rightist Israeli government, which is keen to promote the country's locations for foreign productions and push back against pro-Palestinian boycott calls.

Portman took these into account in planning the shoots – which, she said, were all on Israeli land and avoided West Bank and East Jerusalem territory occupied in the 1967 war, where world powers would like to see a Palestinian state set up.

Critical reception for “A Tale of Love and Darkness” has been mixed, suggesting limited international reach. Trade publication Variety called it a “drearily empathetic” film that would rely on Portman's star power to market. Britain's Guardian called it “a serious, well-made adaptation” of Oz's book.

In May, the Hollywood Reporter quoted Portman as saying she was “very much against” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He had been re-elected two months earlier after rallying his constituents by warning of the left-wing clout of the country's Arab voters – remarks she condemned as “horrific”.

On Thursday, Portman, who was born in Jerusalem and moved to the United States at age three, was more guarded on Israeli affairs.

“I do obviously love this country and I am also quite critical of it, as I think every engaged citizen should be,” she said. “I believe in this country and I believe in the people – that it can be the best version of itself.”

Portman, now 34, said “A Tale of Love and Darkness” had offered her a form of completion, in requiring that she reclaim her forgotten Hebrew.

“It was very meaningful for me,” she said. “It's weird when your first language, and maybe the language of your emotions, of your childhood, is sort of missing.”

In defense of Natalie Portman

Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman is taking a pretty good beating in the Jewish community for her remarks on the Holocaust during a recent interview with a British newspaper, The Independent, to promote her directorial debut, “A Tale of Love and Darkness.”  Her sin? She raised thought-provoking questions about how much educational emphasis to put on genocides other than the Holocaust, especially as part of a Jewish education.

[RELATED: Portman should be commended, not criticized]

In 2007, Portman went to Rwanda for a gorilla trek and, while there, visited a museum devoted to the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s, which she had not been taught about in the Jewish schools she had attended in the United States at that time. As she told the interviewer, “I was shocked that the [genocide] was going on while I was in school. We were learning only about the Holocaust, and it was never mentioned and it was happening while I was in school.”

Portman’s paternal great-grandparents died in Auschwitz, she was born in Israel and, as a young actress, she played the title role in a revival of “The Diary of Anne Frank” on Broadway. Nonetheless,  she was essentially accused of being an airhead from Hollywood who didn’t understand the unique nature of the Holocaust. Colette Avital, the chairwoman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, accused her of having a “limited” understanding of the Holocaust, which “cannot be compared with other tragedies.” Auschwitz survivor David Mermelstein charged her with dangerously “minimizing the importance of a Holocaust education.” Aaron Goldstein opined in The American Spectator, “If an Israeli-born Jew whose ancestors were killed at Auschwitz doesn’t understand what separates the Holocaust from all other acts of genocide then we have a very big problem.”

With all respect to her critics, I think Portman was attacked for something she didn’t say. Fairly read, Portman only argued that we must be sure to educate Jewish students about other genocides. That’s a long way from saying that other genocides are comparable to the Holocaust; indeed, she stated that she was not making “false equivalences.” In fact, there is no equivalence between the Holocaust and other genocides. The Holocaust is different in so many ways that it’s sometimes hard to know where to begin. For me, the key distinguishing feature from other genocides is that never before or since has a state harnessed every human, scientific and industrial resource at its disposal for the purpose of eradicating an entire people from the face of the Earth, down to the last baby. Or, as writer Adam Gopnik put it in The New Yorker a few years ago with reference to Anne Frank: “That a modern state was searching, at great expense and at a cost to its own war effort, to find a fifteen-year-old girl in an attic in Amsterdam in order to get her on a train bound for a concentration camp in Poland showed something new in the theatre of human action.” If properly taught, the significance of the Holocaust will not be diminished even if, at the same time, high school students also are told that, in the span of little more than three months, an ethnic group in Rwanda hacked to death 800,000 people solely because they were from a different ethnic group.  

Now, I don’t think Portman’s critics are literally advocating that other genocides should not be on a Jewish school’s curriculum. Rather, where I think Portman hit a nerve is the deep fear that Jews will lose ownership of the Holocaust through its universalization as a symbol of man’s inhumanity to man when, as Auschwitz survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel put it, it was about “man’s inhumanity to Jews.” The way to address that concern is not to scorn Portman but to begin a dialogue over how we can have it both ways: teaching a new generation about the truly distinctive and Jewish nature of the Holocaust while also ensuring that students know about the Rwandas and Srebrenicas. Said another way, I think “Never Again” can retain its uniqueness even while we draw upon the Holocaust to remind ourselves why we must stop genocides wherever they occur. 

So, thank you, Natalie Portman, for starting an important discussion.


Gregory Wallance is a writer, lawyer and human rights activist.  He is the author of “America’s Soul in the Balance:  The Holocaust, FDR’s State Department, and the Moral Disgrace of an American Aristocracy.”

Natalie Portman should be commended, not criticized

Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman clearly hit a nerve when, in a recent interview with the British newspaper, The Independent, she questioned the validity of the type of Holocaust education she had received growing up.

“I think a really big question the Jewish community needs to ask itself, is how much at the forefront we put Holocaust education,” she said.

“Which is, of course, an important question to remember and to respect, but not over other things … We need to be reminded that hatred exists at all times and reminds us to be empathetic to other people that have experienced hatred also. Not used as a paranoid way of thinking that we are victims.”

[RELATED: In defense of Portman]

Specifically, she expressed dismay at only having been taught about the Holocaust in a vacuum, as it were, without also learning about other more contemporary atrocities such as the Rwandan Genocide.

Ms. Portman did not say that Holocaust education should be eliminated. On the contrary, she emphasized that “it must be taught.” Her concern is that it “can be subverted to fear-mongering.”

Ms, Portman probably could have expressed herself more artfully. While insisting that “I don’t mean to make false equivalences,” she appears to be equating the Shoah with – rather than relating it to – other genocides. Nonetheless, the essence of her comments is valid.

There are two distinct ways of ingraining the Holocaust into our collective consciousness. The first posits the event as a solely Jewish martyrology in the spirit of Tishah be'Av and a succession of countless subsequent deadly brutalities to which Jews and only Jews were subjected over the centuries. In this memorialization, the Warsaw Ghetto fades into Auschwitz fades into Treblinka fades into Babi Yar fades into Bergen-Belsen in a dirge-like recitation of suffering, without respite but equally devoid of purpose other than, perhaps, to instill in young Jews the sense of paranoia to which Ms. Portman refers: You, too, they are warned repeatedly, could also become a victim of obsessive anti-Semitism, and if that happens you will be all alone, abandoned by all but your fellow Jews.

The other approach to Holocaust remembrance sets the implementation of Hitler's Final Solution of the Jewish Question squarely into its historical – as opposed to a quasi-mythological – context. While it acknowledges the Holocaust as the epitomic manifestation of genocide, as the ultimate consequence of bigotry and hatred as official public policy, this pedagogical model also recognizes that other genocides such as the slaughter of the Cathars during the Albigensian Crusade of the 13th century and the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century occurred before the Shoah, and that subsequent genocides – Rwanda, Srebrenica, Darfur – have taken place since.

Some of the criticisms of Ms. Portman’s comments have been over the top. “I am shocked,” one Holocaust survivor told the Jerusalem Post. “The Nazis tried to erase the Jewish people from the face of this earth – 6 million. Before she talks about the Holocaust, she should go to Auschwitz with a survivor, she would never compare the Holocaust to anything else.” Ephraim Zuroff, director of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, groused that Ms. Portman’s “success in the movie world does not turn her into an expert in history or on genocide. If she wants to express her sympathy with all victims of such tragedies, this is definitely not a smart way to do so.”

I, for one, am far more sympathetic to Natalie Portman’s sentiments, especially since I know them to reflect prevalent attitudes toward the Shoah among large segments of the post-Holocaust generations, both Jews and non-Jews. The students who take my courses on the law of genocide and war crimes trials at the law schools of Columbia and Cornell Universities want to learn about the Holocaust, but not in isolation.

My own views in this regard are clear. As my teacher and mentor Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel has eloquently said, “the Holocaust was a unique Jewish tragedy with universal implications.” World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder wrote in The New York Times last year that it is precisely because “the Jewish people understand all too well what can happen when the world is silent” that Jews in particular must not remain silent when Yazidis and Christians are persecuted and murdered by ISIS in the present-day Middle East. Ms. Portman correctly concludes that such universal implications of the Shoah are all too frequently ignored in contemporary Holocaust education.

The Holocaust is indeed unique – not worse and certainly not more tragic – among genocides because of its enormous, continent-wide scope, because of the complexity and systematic methodology of the annihilation, and because of the willing participation of much of not just German but other societies. At the same time, none of us should ever engage in comparative suffering.

I tell my students that from the perspective of the victims of genocides or their families, all of whom share a common humanity, it really makes no difference if they were murdered in a gas chamber or with machetes. Acknowledging such a fundamental moral truth in no way detracts from the preservation and perpetuation of Holocaust memory.

The integration of Holocaust education into Jewish education requires a balancing of competing imperatives: conveying the enormity and uniqueness of the Shoah without alienating the very audiences we most need to reach. Natalie Portman should be commended, not criticized, for making the need for such a proportionate approach a topic of discussion.


Menachem Z. Rosensaft is General Counsel of the World Jewish Congress and editor of God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children of Holocaust Survivors (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2015)

Natalie Portman says Jewish community is too focused on the Holocaust

Natalie Portman has more ties to the Holocaust than some of her fans might realize. Portman’s great-grandparents were killed in Auschwitz and the Jewish actress played Anne Frank in a 1997 Broadway adaptation of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Her latest project, a Hebrew-language adaptation of Amos Oz’s memoir “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” is partly set in pre-state Israel as the Holocaust looms on the horizon.

On Friday, however, in an interview with the United Kingdom’s Independent newspaper, Portman said that the Holocaust has been the focus of too much attention from some in the Jewish community.

“I think a really big question the Jewish community needs to ask itself, is how much at the forefront we put Holocaust education. Which is, of course, an important question to remember and to respect, but not over other things,” Portman said. “We need to be reminded that hatred exists at all times and reminds us to be empathetic to other people that have experienced hatred also. Not used as a paranoid way of thinking that we are victims.”

Portman emphasized that she thinks modern anti-Semitism should be differentiated from Nazi ideology.

“Sometimes [the Holocaust] can be subverted to fear-mongering and like ‘Another Holocaust is going to happen.’ We need to, of course, be aware that hatred exists, anti-Semitism exists against all sorts of people, not in the same way. I don’t mean to make false equivalences, we need it to serve as something that makes us empathetic to people rather than paranoid,” Portman said.

The 34-year-old, who won an Oscar in 2011 for her role in “Black Swan,” explained that she formed this opinion in 2007 during a trip to Rwanda. She said she was “shocked” to realize that she was “only learning about the Holocaust” while a modern genocide was occurring in Africa.

The rest of Portman’s interview yielded some other interesting tidbits, such as the fact that she has been working on “A Tale of Love and Darkness” since 2007 and that she loves playing Jewish women. Portman’s next Jewish role will be the title character of an upcoming Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic.

“I keep saying to my agent, I’m so lucky that small Jewish women have done a lot of interesting things,” Portman joked. “There are just a lot of small dark-haired Jewish women, or small dark-haired women and I’m just the small dark-haired actress.”

Watch the Hebrew-language trailer for “A Tale of Love and Darkness” below.

Portman says directing Cannes debut film was a challenge

Natalie Portman played a ballerina in the grip of psychological trauma in “Black Swan”, but the Israeli actress said she had lots of support while directing her first film, about the childhood of Israeli intellectual Amos Oz, shown in Cannes.

Portman both directs and stars in “A Tale of Love and Darkness”, based on Oz's autobiographical novel of the same name focusing on his relationship with his mother Fania, who committed suicide when Oz was 12.

Oz's mother, played by Portman, was a Polish Jewish refugee from a moneyed family who felt lost in the poverty and violence in Jerusalem during the period surrounding the formation of the Israeli state in 1948.

In Portman's movie, she yearns for the forests of her childhood and spins fabulous tales to entertain her son, until despair totally darkens her life

“It's been a really incredible experience,” Portman told Reuters in an interview on Sunday, talking about the making of the film which garnered mixed reviews after its screening out of competition at the Cannes International Film Festival.

“It's been really challenging but I think that every challenge has helped me grow more and luckily I've had many people around me – my family, my friends and my crew who helped me so much throughout that I felt so well supported that it was never an existential crisis during it.”

Trade publication Variety called the result a “drearily empathetic” film that would rely on Portman's star power to sell it, while Britain's Guardian called it “a serious, well-made adaptation” of the book.

Asked why she had wanted to direct a film, she said: “The way to feel alive is to change and to try new things, to stimulate yourself, to be afraid, do things you're afraid of.”

Portman said adapting Oz's novel brought the actress closer to the writer and intellectual, who is one of the darlings of the Israeli left and a longtime supporter of the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I've gotten to know him more and more throughout the process. Now I feel like family.

“I've played his mother, in a way, so in a strange way it feels like he's my child and I'm so proud of him,” she said.

Over the past 20 years, Portman has appeared in films such as “v for Vendetta”, “Thor” and “Star Wars”, and won an Academy Award for her role in “Black Swan”.

Natalie Portman to portray Jackie Kennedy in new film

Oscar Award-winning actress Natalie Portman will portray Jackie Kennedy in a movie about the first four days in the life of the former first lady after the assassination of her husband President John F. Kennedy.

Variety reported on the new role for Portman, who is Jewish and a native of Israel, on Wednesday.

The film goes into production at the end of 2015, according to Variety. The movie will be produced by Darren Aronofsky, who directed Portman in “Black Swan,” for which she won her Academy Award for best actress in 2010.

The announcement comes several days after Deadline Hollywood reported that Portman will star as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On the Basis of Sex,” which will follow Ginsburg’s obstacles-filled career on the road to becoming the second female justice and the first Jewish female justice on the high court. That film also is expected to start filming by the end of the year.

Portman is making her directorial debut with “A Tale Of Love And Darkness,” which premieres this week at Cannes. The film is based on the memoir by Israeli author Amos Oz and is largely in Hebrew.

Moving and Shaking: Amos Oz, Ari Shavit, Natalie Portman and Cantor Yonah Kliger

“I love Israel even at moments I cannot stand it.”

Israeli author Amos Oz has complicated feelings about the Holy Land, and he wasn’t afraid to share them during a conversation with journalist Ari Shavit at a recent gala celebrating the fifth anniversary of the UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies.

The May 5 event at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts raised close to $900,000 and featured UCLA Chancellor Gene Block presenting Younes and Soraya Nazarian with the Visionary Award — more recognition for the $5 million endowment the two set up in 2010 to transform the university program into a full-fledged center — but the evening’s centerpiece was Oz.

Oscar winner Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”) presented the author with the UCLA Israel Studies Award, a sculpture made by Soraya Nazarian titled “Strong Roots, Grounded.” The award honors extraordinary individuals in the fields of academia, public service, business or the arts and includes a $10,000 prize.

“As both an Israeli and an American, I understand well the importance that Israel is,” Portman said before presenting the award to Oz in front of 400 people. “Truthfully, for its amazing achievements as well as its many, many challenges.” 


Natalie Portman presented the UCLA Israel Studies Award — a sculpture by Soraya Nazarian — to Amos Oz. Photo by Vince Bucci

Portman directed and stars in a 2015 film adaptation of the best-selling Oz memoir, “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” She plays Oz’s mother in the film, which is slated to debut at the Cannes Film Festival this month and which Shavit said Oz had a chance to watch during a private screening the morning of the event.

As emcee of the evening, Shavit conducted an onstage interview with Oz following the award presentation, during which Oz called Israel “the most vivacious, the most fiery society on Earth. … It’s neither a country nor a nation but a fiery collection of arguments.”

Shavit, for his part, drew comparisons between Israel and California: “Most Israelis want Israel to be California, and we have so much in common with California. We have the same orange groves, the same high-tech, the same beach boys and beach girls, the same blue skies, the same shortage of water.”

Oz countered, “I would like Israel to be more galvanized intellectually than California.”

The talk ended with Oz saying he doesn’t believe in happy endings — they are neither true to real life nor present in his writing. But ultimately, the writer said, “The human story … is one of gradual improvement.” 

The evening concluded with a dinner at the Beverly Hills venue’s terrace. Musicians Jacqueline Rafii, Jack Bastian and Cole Brossus performed, with Rafii singing “Happy Birthday” to Oz, who turned 76 on May 4. 

The assembled crowd included Oz’s wife, Nily; Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel and his wife, Myra Clark-Siegel; Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, executive director of Hillel at UCLA; Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple; media mogul Haim Saban; president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jay Sanderson; and Los Angeles City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield

Sharon Nazarian, daughter of Younes and Soraya Nazarian and chair of the UCLA center’s community advisory board, was among the participants in the program.

The UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies is housed alongside other international studies departments at the university and educates students about life, culture, politics and more in contemporary Israel. 



Cantor Yonah Kliger. Photo courtesy of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

Cantor Yonah Kliger of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills (TEBH) is joining the clergy of Temple Judea in Tarzana on July 1. The move follows nearly two decades of service — and a lifetime of involvement — with his current congregation. Kliger attended day school at TEBH and celebrated a number of life cycle events there, including his bar mitzvah, confirmation and wedding. 

“This has really been my spiritual home and professional home,” he said. “There are very mixed feelings about leaving the comfort and safety of a place that has nurtured and supported me lovingly for so long, but I kind of feel like I am having my Abraham moment when he was called to lech lecha, he was called to go. … I am also very excited to be starting something new, a new professional adventure.” 

Kliger told the Journal he will miss working at the congregation where he co-created the popular Shabbat Unplugged service and started an educational program for post-b’nai mitzvah students. TEBH Student Cantor Lizzie Weiss is going to serve as interim cantor while the synagogue conducts a nationwide search for a successor, according to TEBH Rabbi Jonathan Aaron.

According to the Temple Judea website, Kliger’s responsibilities will include serving as co-director of the synagogue’s b’nai mitzvah program alongside Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot; tutoring religious school students and teaching in the early childhood center. His hiring completes a clergy team that includes Senior Rabbi Joshua Aaronson and Assistant Rabbi-elect Sam Spector.

TEBH will honor the departing cantor’s “19 years of inspiring service, spirited song and passionate leadership at Temple Emanuel” during a May 30 event, according to the TEBH website. The synagogue is gathering congregants’ anecdotes, including written memories, photos and more, to publish in a book that will be presented to Kliger that night.

“There’s going to be lots of singing and music and laughter, and it’s going to be a great event,” said Aaron, who began working at the synagogue the same year as Kliger. “There’s going to be a lot of crying, too, to tell you the truth.” 



From left: Kathy LaTour, co-founder of Cure magazine; Valerie Harper; Denise Weiner; Carson Weiner; nurse Laura Vasquez; Peyton Lexi Weiner; Anthony Weiner; and Mike Hennessy Jr., president of Cure Media Group. Photo courtesy of curetoday.com

Laura Vasquez, a nurse at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, was this year’s winner of Cure magazine’s 2015 Extraordinary Healer Award for Oncology Nursing.

A third-generation nurse, Vasquez was nominated by Anthony and Denise Weiner for the award after she assisted their daughter, Alexa, who died from brain cancer several years ago. She was the only nurse who was able to bond with Alexa, who entered the hospital at age 5, and convince her to accept her shots, according to an essay that Denise Weiner wrote.

“Laura knew that [Alexa was a master of stalling], and she was the only one who could give her a shot in under an hour’s time because they just got each other,” Weiner wrote in the essay.

The Weiners flew out for the April 23 ceremony honoring Vasquez, who was chosen among several finalists. The event took place in Orlando, Fla., in conjunction with the Oncology Nursing Society’s 40th annual Congress. Actress Valerie Harper delivered the keynote.

It was a hot ticket: Anthony Weiner told the Journal in a phone interview that there were approximately 1,000 nurses in the room — and “hundreds who couldn’t get in.” 


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

Natalie Portman to star as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in new movie

Natalie Portman will star as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a new film.

“On the Basis of Sex” will follow Ginsburg’s obstacles-filled career on the road to becoming the second female justice and the first Jewish female justice on the high court, Deadline Hollywood reported. President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993.

The producers are hoping to start filming by the end of the year.

Portman, who is Jewish and a native of Israel, is making her directorial debut with “A Tale Of Love And Darkness,” which premieres next week at Cannes. The film is based on the memoir by Israeli author Amos Oz and is largely in Hebrew.

Natalie Portman joins Israeli initiative to help Syrian refugees

We didn’t think it was humanly possible, but Natalie Portman has gone and inspired us yet again. This time, The Times of Israel reports, the actress, director, and  adorable mom has donated money and clothing to Syrian refugees via Operation Human Warmth.

The initiative is the result of several Israeli organizations—the youth group Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed, the social and education organization Dror-Israel, and Israeli Flying Aid, a global humanitarian organization–coming together to collect winter supplies for those displaced by the civil war in Syria.

Portman, who who is currently in Israel working on her directorial debut, an adaptation of Amos Oz’s novel “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” learned of the project through Israeli friends.

“When I heard about Operation Human Warmth I felt deeply moved and compelled to get involved,” she said in a statement. “In the middle of a brutal winter, these children have no shelter and their lives are in serious jeopardy from the cold. I am proud to take part in an operation where Israeli youth of all backgrounds are taking action to help out those whom need it most.”

Portman is no stranger to the whole mitzvah thing. The Israeli-born do-gooder has served as an ambassador for the microfinance organization Fincasupported environmental causes, and encouraged teenage girls to pursue careers in science. Have we mentioned how much she inspires us?

Natalie Portman’s husband says he is converting

French choreographer Benjamin Millepied, the husband of Jewish actress Natalie Portman, told an Israeli newspaper that he is converting to Judaism.

Millepied told the Hebrew-language Yediot Acharonot in an article published Wednesday that he is “in the middle of the conversion process.” He added that he hopes the process will “come to an end soon and I will become a Jew.”

Becoming Jewish is “very important for me,” Millepied told the newspaper.

The couple is in Israel through March as Portman casts the movie that she is directing based on “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” a book by Israeli author Amos Oz.

The couple will relocate to Paris, where Millepied will work as director of dance at the Paris Opera Ballet

Portman said in September in an interview with the French magazine Madame Figaro that she is interested in becoming a French citizen.

“I don’t have the French nationality, but I would be love to get it. But I don’t know if it’s possible because I already have an American and an Israeli passport,” she said.

Portman and Millepied, who have a son named Aleph, were married in a Jewish wedding ceremony last year.