Aly Raisman joining ‘Dancing with the Stars’ cast


Aly Raisman, the Jewish gymnast who won three medals at last summer’s London Olympics, is joining the celebrity cast of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

Raisman was among the cast revealed by “Good Morning America” on Tuesday for the show’s 16th season, which begins March 18. Others include former figure skating champion Dorothy Hamill, like Raisman an Olympic gold medalist.

Raisman rose to fame last summer with her gold medal in the floor routine performing to the Jewish classic “Hava Nagila,” and in helping the U.S. women's team take the gold. The Massachusetts native also said she supported a moment of silence for the 11 Israeli Olympians who were killed at the Munich Games in 1972.

On “Dancing with the Stars,” Raisman will be partnered with professional dancer Mark Ballas. Other celebrities slated for the cast include Jacoby Jones, a wide receiver for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens; country singers Wynonna Judd and Kellie Pickler; Zendaya Coleman of the Disney Channel; and  Lisa Vanderpump, star of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

U.S. Studios Court Israeli Programmers


Danna Stern, head of acquisitions at YES, Israel’s only television satellite company, was surprised to see that Mark Burnett, reality TV guru and producer of hit shows like “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” had only one framed press clipping in his office: a feature on him that had appeared in Ha’aretz, an Israeli daily.

Stern and her associates get wined and dined every year by television network executives at a weeklong Los Angeles screening of shows in May, during which 2,000 television executives from all over the world sit all day in front of studio screens to view the new fall season pilots for sale.

Hollywood exports are a big business, and U.S. studios sometimes rake in more from international licensing than domestic. Even though Israeli acquisitions account for only 2 percent of overseas television exports, Stern thinks Israel gets special attention.

“They’re always interested way beyond our share in the market — and the same goes for the talent,” she said. “Because we’re a very recognizable country, they’re very accessible to us.”

In addition, she added, most of the marketing people and executives are Jewish, and are “always interested in Israel.”

Stern has mingled with Geena Davis, Teri Hatcher and Jennifer Garner, who take the time to meet with the foreign visitors at studio parties.

“The stars are really interested in hearing what works well,” she said. “They always promise to come [to Israel], but they never do.”

Last month, YES held its first-ever press screening at Israel’s largest cinema complex, Cinema City, in Herzilya, modeling it after the Los Angeles screening, to show-off its newest acquisitions. Among them are: “Prison Break,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “My Name Is Earl,” “Commander in Chief,” “The War at Home,” “Supernatural Invasion” and “How I Met Your Mother.” YES directors believed that the number and quality of acquisitions justified its screening, in which dozens of Israeli reporters got to watch U.S. television for an entire day.

While the new shows will be broadcast early next year, the turnaround time between a show’s U.S. premiere and its Israeli premiere is much shorter than in the past.

YES was founded about five years ago, increasing competition in the Israeli television market. Before that, only one cable company and two Israeli networks, Channel 2 and IBA, vied for U.S. and European shows. Now, YES competes with a whole slew of television outlets: a new Israeli network (Channel 10) and locally run niche channels for lifestyle, music, action, children, comedy, parenting, sports, documentaries and even Judaism.

Prior to this television growth spurt, visitors or immigrants to Israel were hard pressed to find their favorite U.S. TV show on Israeli channels, and if they did, they were stuck with shows from a season or two earlier. “Seinfeld” first aired only after the third season premiered in the United States.

“Everyone is trying to shorten the time because of piracy — people are already downloading shows the next day, so we can’t afford to wait as we usually did,” Stern said

The YES executive said that the current delay of a few months still has advantages. Israel does not air reruns, and a U.S. buzz around a show has enough time to echo in Israel.

YES has been the leader in importing U.S., as well as British, TV shows, including “The West Wing,” “Weeds,” “Entourage,” “The Sopranos,” “The Comeback,” “Arrested Development,” “The O.C.,” “Hope and Faith,” “Scrubs” and more. Last year’s acquisition, “Desperate Housewives,” is the biggest hit. Other shows, like “Nip/Tuck,” “Everybody Hates Chris” and “Lost,” were picked up by other Israeli networks.

Sometimes Israeli buyers view new shows via broadband, but May is the time the big sales occur, when Stern and her associates choose among 30-40 programs. She noted that shows with religious themes, like “7th Heaven” and “Joan of Arcadia,” don’t do well in Israel.

“I think Israelis are a little more sophisticated than the average American viewer,” she said. “They tend to like things with an edge.”

Orit Arfa is a writer living in Tel Aviv. She can be reached at arfa@netvision.net.il.

 

Mensch Seeks Shayna Maideleh


The search is on for “a nice Jewish boy” — and no, this time it’s not your mother who’s looking.

A team of scouts is scouring the Diaspora for the ideal single Jewish man for a new Israeli reality television show. Once selected, the bachelor, who according to producers preferably will be good looking and “financially secure,” will come to Israel for the summer, when 15 young Israeli women will compete to capture his heart.

“We all grow up in Jewish houses and we know the dream of Jewish mothers is that their son finds a nice Jewish girl,” said Gadi Veinrib, a producer for the show, to be called — what else? — “A Nice Jewish Boy.”

The bachelor will be sent to Israel “to meet the nice Jewish love of his life,” he said.

The show’s producers will be holding casting calls for the show in New York, Los Angeles and a European city in the next few weeks. There may be teleconferences in Australia as well.

Producers are trying to get the word out via Jewish organizations.

Already they have been flooded by hundreds of queries from the United States, Europe, Australia and South Africa, many from Jewish women offering their brothers, friends and cousins for the job.

In Israel, there also has been a huge response from women hoping to be among the pool of bachelorettes. Scouts also are searching for female contestants at university campuses, clubs and bars. The show is also considering including Jewish women from abroad as contestants, said Veinrib, who was among the production team of the hit Israeli reality TV show “The Ambassador.”

The reality series is to take place over the course of three months. It will be set in a luxurious villa, complete with a pool and a lush garden, in central Israel. The young women will live there, and — as in the American ABC show “The Bachelor” — will be courted by the man on individual dates. Every week another bachelorette will be eliminated, and by the end of the show, producers hope, the man will have found his future mate.

The producers are looking for women in their early 20s to mid 30s and for men from their mid 20s to mid to late 30s. Interested? Send photos and a C.V. to the show at kuperman@hot3.co.il.

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7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Having survived the eight days, you’re back to breaking
bread, but questions about the Passover holiday still linger. Jim Long claims to
have the answers for all you questioners and nonbelievers. His new book “The
Riddle of the Exodus” seeks to prove that the Passover story really happened,
based on “newly revealed historical evidence.” Order it and decide for yourself.
$15. “>www.morningstarevents.com

.

Monday

Like cops and doughnut shops, like Rodgers and Hart, like Gershwin and Gershwin, Jews and American popular music just seem to go together. Coincidence? Jacqueline Bassan doesn’t think so — and she expounds her theory in the pages of her new book, “From Shul to Cool: The Romantic Jewish Roots of American Popular Music.” Head to Valley Beth Shalom today to hear more about it.

11:15 a.m. 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.

Tuesday

The Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity offers an original option for commemorating Yom HaShoah and the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising this evening — a dramatic musical suite titled “Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 1943.” Composed by Yale Strom and performed by the Center’s ensemble, Synergy, the program is co-sponsored and hosted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance.

7:30 p.m. $18 (general), $15 (members), $10 (students). 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 772-2452.

Wednesday

Props to Cal Rep for their good timing, as they open their not-so-France-friendly production of “Diary of a Chambermaid” this week. The story focuses on Celestine, a chambermaid who begins a new position with an eccentric French family and is eventually seduced by each of the various men in the household. Written as a critique of French bourgeois hypocrisy during the Dreyfus affair, some would say the message still resonates today.

7 p.m. (Tuesday-Thursday), 8 p.m. (Friday), 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. (Saturday). $15-$20. Edison Theatre, 213 E. Broadway, Long Beach. (562) 432-1818.

Thursday

Cantors Chayim Frenkel and Meir Finkelstein have put
together a unique salve for the wounds that terrorism has inflicted on Americans
and Israelis. Titled “Nishmat Tzedek (A Righteous Soul),” it’s a CD and book
set; nine inspirational writings by Jewish thinkers as well as nine photographs
of Israel by award-winning photographer Eric Lawton, coincide with each of the
CD’s nine movements, which are based on the “Yizkor” (Memorial) service. $50. “>www.kcet.org

.

Hollywood, History and the Holocaust


Two celebrations took place in Los Angeles recently, and "Max," a new film about the young Adolf Hitler, opens today.

In a peculiar way, all three events are related.

The first celebration seems straightforward enough — at least on the surface. Sara and Charles Levin, who preferred not to give their real names, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in November, along with their three children, their spouses, their grandchildren and about 40 friends.

The guests, aside from sharing their affection and pleasure at being together for the anniversary, were silent about a central fact: Sara Levin and her husband are survivors. When Sara was 13, she and her family were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau where Dr. Josef Mengele stood at the receiving line scrutinizing each person; some he sent directly to the gas chambers, others to the work force.

It is a story whose details Levin sometimes shares with schoolchildren and other visitors to the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, where she volunteers three days a week as a docent. But it is a story she has never told her three children. She came close years ago when her oldest son, then 10, was watching a television drama about the Holocaust. "That could have been your mother," she told him, pointing to the screen; she was horrified when he burst into tears.

She and her husband decided never to tell the children a word about those dark teenage years in Europe. Instead, she recounts it in a low, calm understated voice to strangers — keeping the memory alive of those who survived, as well as of those who perished.

The second celebration is also a personal story, but in quite a different vein. On Dec. 5, the Shoah Foundation and founder Steven Spielberg celebrated the foundation’s eighth anniversary with a grand dinner that raised more than $500,000.

Today, Spielberg is both Hollywood’s most influential director and one of the city’s leading Jewish figures. It is no exaggeration to say that his film, "Schindler’s List," had a tremendous impact on his own life. He used the profits to establish the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation in 1994 which videotapes and preserves the testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses.

The foundation also produces documentaries — eight thus far, including the Oscar-winning "The Last Days" (1998).

Ironically, Spielberg’s "Schindler’s List," along with other American portrayals, has turned out to be the most effective educational narratives produced about the Holocaust — even though the U.S. relationship was a distant one, while the European connection was far more direct and involved. Nevertheless, such American films as "Judgment at Nuremberg" and "The Diary of Anne Frank," and the television miniseries, "Holocaust," have been far more influential and have made a much deeper impact, here and abroad, than any European film.

"There is a sense, and the reception of Spielberg’s film confirms this, in which one thing doesn’t have reality in this culture until Hollywood says it does," Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic’s literary editor, told a television interviewer.

Years ago, Elie Wiesel registered his objections to the American films about the Holocaust: The experience had been too horrific, and television and movies only led to banality. He denounced the television miniseries, "Holocaust," as soap opera, but then was shocked to discover that a New York Times poll (later declared inaccurate) had shown that 22 percent of American adults had doubts about the genocide. Better to establish the Holocaust as a cultural fact in the American landscape than worry about trivializing it, he concluded.

But now we have a new film, "Max," which presents us with a portrait of Adolf Hitler as a young German war veteran struggling to become an artist in 1918, befriended by a fictitious Jewish art dealer, named Max Rothman.

Historians have objected to the portrait as being sympathetic because it concentrates on Hitler’s personal anguish as a young rejected artist, and not on the destruction he left behind in Europe, or the genocide that followed from his commands. "Max" seems to explain his subsequent behavior and, in the process, comes to rationalize it. Others have complained that the film only serves to distort history and to trivialize the past.

The process of changing Nazi history in films and television actually began some time ago in films and television. From Chaplin’s "The Great Dictator" to "Hogan’s Heroes," from Ernst Lubitsch’s "To Be or Not to Be" to "The Grey Zone," World War II and the Holocaust have been told almost solely from the point of view of the victors and the victims.

Now the story is beginning to shift once again, in a way that is disturbing, but perhaps inevitable. Films like "Max," and the planned CBS miniseries on Hitler’s life, will examine the Holocaust from the point of view of the perpetrators. We, the consumers of mass culture, undoubtedly will have to learn to live with this fact.

The cultural reality of our lives is that we must learn to come to terms with Sara Levin and the Shoah Foundation’s eyewitness tapes, no less than the dramatic Hollywood fictions that inevitably fight to replace history itself.


Gene Lichtenstein is the founding editor of The Jewish Journal.

Chanukah-Style Reality TV


If you were beginning to feel that too much time had passed since you last saw dancing bearded rabbis on television, then fear not, because West Coast Chabad, the organization that sponsors the “L’Chaim” telethon, is broadcasting a special Chanukah party on KCAL-TV Channel 9 each night of Chanukah.

“Chanukah, the Miniseries,” two-minute segments directed by Stephen Kessler, is aimed at inspiring viewers to participate in Chanukah by watching the menorah being lit.

The program has two parts. In the first part, Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad, will say the blessings and light the menorah. Each night there will be a different celebrity with him, for example, Darryl Sabara of “Spy Kids,” who will also give a personal message about the Chanukah experience.

Then the Hollywood Klezmer Band will play, and a group of students, immigrants, community leaders, celebrities and, of course, bearded rabbis, will kick up their heels and dance the hora in celebration of the Festival of Lights.

“This is a project that takes the concept of pirsumei nissah, spreading the miracle of Chanukah to the next level,” said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, the group’s public relations director. “Years ago, people felt that Chanukah should be kept in the house, but thank God it has turned into this [public] beautiful thing.”

“This show is a good way to expose people to the menorah experience,” he said. “You have to imagine that if they had television 1,000 years ago, someone would have done it then.”

“Chanukah, the Miniseries” will be shown sometime between 4:15 p.m. and 4:25 p.m. nightly from Nov. 29-Dec. 6. The program will also be simulcast on AskMoses.com.