French film starring Israeli-born actor to satirize anti-Semitism in France

The French film “They are everywhere,” premiering in the fall, will satirize rising anti-Semitism in France.

The film will star Yvan Attal, an Israeli-born actor who starred in “Munich,” Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film about the massacre of Israeli Olympians at the 1972 Munich Games and the Israeli response, according to AFP. The French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg will co-star.

“They are everywhere,” whose English title is “The Jews,” is produced by Wild Bunch Films.

“I was called a ‘dirty Jew’ at school and later I have come up against different kinds of anti-Semitism which marked me out as Jewish,” Attal told AFP. “Most of all it is because of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. People say, ‘You give us such trouble.’ And I say to them, ‘Who is the ‘you’?'”

French Jews have experienced rising anti-Semitism for more than a decade. Last year, terrorists killed four Jews in a siege at a kosher supermarket outside Paris. Last year there were 806 anti-Semitic attacks in France, according to French police, a drop from the 850 in 2014, which featured the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza over the summer.

France is home to about 500,000 Jews.

‘Gaza Girls’ spoof of Palestinian propaganda flagged as incitement in Spain

A Spanish judge recommended the prosecution for incitement to violence of a person who shared on Facebook an Israeli-made music video spoofing Palestinian propaganda.

The No. 1 Court of First Instance and Instruction of Tudela, a municipality located about 200 miles northeast of Madrid, recommended Tuesday the indictment of the unnamed resident, the Noticias de Navarra daily reported.

The reason cited was the resident’s sharing of a 2014 video titled “Kill All the Jews” by the “Gaza Girls” – a fictional Palestinian girl group invented and headed by Orit Arfa, an Israeli artist and right-wing settler activist.

Arfa’s Internet videos, many of which she stars in, include the controversial “Gaza Wrecking Ball” and “Jews Can’t Stop” — both interpretations of Miley Cyrus hits. She was among 9,000 Israelis who lived in Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip before their evacuation in 2005.

Featuring lyrics likes like “exterminate the Zionists, the world will be better for it,” and “kill the Jews, it’s our turn,” the English-language video was produced to “help Hamas out and offer a more feminist, bubble-gum version of their genocidal propaganda,” Arfa wrote in 2014.

Omitting any reference to the video’s satirical nature, the Spanish court described it as “a musical video by the self-styled feminine trio ‘Gaza Girls,’ with English lyrics that incite to hatred and violence against people of the Jewish faith and against the State of Israel, sending clear messages through the lyrics as well as imagery encouraging to kill people belonging to these groups.”

The video was initially hailed by anti-Israel groups but eventually flagged as a parody, Arfa wrote in recounting the reaction. While her spoof was removed as hateful from various social networks, she wrote, the Arabic propaganda videos she was commenting were not.

The prosecution must decided whether to indict as recommended within two weeks.

Cartoon: Use it nicely

How satire happens

On May 4, 1970, when 29 Ohio National Guardsmen shot 67 rounds of ammunition at a group of unarmed Kent State University students protesting Richard Nixon’s expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia, killing four students and wounding nine others, I was the president of the Harvard Lampoon, the nation’s oldest college humor magazine.

Campuses across the country erupted in protests, some of them violent.  Four million students at 450 colleges and universities went on strike.  Some Harvard students may have supported Nixon’s widening of the war, and some may have found a way to forgive the Kent State shooters, but I didn’t know any of them, and certainly not on the Lampoon.  We were furious, and since lampooning is what we did, that’s how we channeled our rage.

Mary Ann Vecchio kneels by the body of a student lying face down on the campus of Kent State University, Kent, Ohio on May 4, 1970, following the shooting of students protesting the Viet Nam War. Photo was winner of Pulitzer Prize. Photo by John Filo/AP

Though I didn’t know it then, this was the same year that Charlie Hebdo first appeared, as the rebranding of a weekly called Hara-Kiri, which had been banned by the French government for a cover mocking the effusive press coverage of former President Charles de Gaulle’s death by contrasting it with the media’s relatively restrained attention to a nightclub fire that killed 146 people the week before. 

The broadsheet that the Lampoon published four days after Kent State didn’t get us banned, but it aspired to the same tastelessness.  Our format was a parody of the treatment Nixon was getting in the establishment press.  We thought the papers were bending over backwards to be respectful toward a paranoid warmonger while showing contempt for student protesters, whom they portrayed as dirty draft-dodging druggies. So we decided to out-do the sycophantic media by dialing the suck-up into the red zone. 

Under the headline “Famous Dick Shrinker to Lobotomize Punks,” we reported approvingly the news that Nixon’s former psychiatrist had developed a pencil-and-paper test to screen American children aged six to eight for “anti-social attitudes and potential for hostile behavior.”  Another item lauded Nixon’s appointment of Tommy, the deaf, dumb and blind pinball wizard immortalized by the Who’s rock opera, as his top advisor, “‘who can tell me all I need to know to run the country.’”

But the story that pushed the envelope farthest was “Tricia Nixon to Wed Jew.”  Mr. Right was a nice boy from Yale studying to be a dentist.  “Asked if marrying outside her faith posed a problem, Trish cooed, ‘Not really.  The ancient Jewish custom of….’” I cringe at the words that came next; they describe the blood libel, and I won’t repeat them here.  That custom, Trish continued, “‘really differs very little from the policies Daddy advocates.  I think every girl wants the man she weds to share those special little pleasures of her Pa.’” 

I can easily imagine a cartoon depicting that scene.  It would resemble any number of cartoons on the cover of Charlie Hebdo, and it would similarly polarize its audience –some finding it wicked, even blasphemous; others, hilariously on target.  If the hate-speech rules on many college campuses today had been in place back then, publishing such a story could well have gotten us hauled up before a disciplinary board. 

What might our defense have been?  The genealogy of satire runs from Aristophanes to Mad Magazine, Voltaire to Colbert, Swift to “South Park,” Orwell to “The Onion” and “The Interview.” Freedom of speech must include the freedom to outrage.  If you have to fight fire with fire, you have to fight indecency with more indecency. Rudeness subverts oppression. Crudeness ventilates orthodoxy.  Laughter strips the emperor naked.  Satire is a check on power. Why else would tyrants and fundamentalists bother to ban and punish it?  “He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries,” wrote Osip Mandelstam in “The Stalin Epigram,” a poem that condemned him to exile and death.  Last month in Cairo, Bassem Youssef, sometimes called the Egyptian Jon Stewart, was fined millions of dollars for satirizing that country’s president and military leaders. Last week in Paris, imps were murdered by fanatics for making fun of fanaticism.

Of course barbarians and dictators can be just as jovial as cartoonists or college kids.  Comedy can kill.  I know there’s a line between humor that dehumanizes and lampoonery that democratizes. If nothing is sacred, nothing is civilized.  But who gets to draw that line, how do you demarcate the holy, without privileging the very authority that parody exists to challenge?

On the back page of the Lampoon’s Kent State broadside, we ran two quotes.  One is an excerpt from Mark Twain’s 1905 essay “The Damned Human Race,” as relevant to 1970 as when he wrote it, and as miserably apt today.  The passage ends with this:

“Man is the Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion – several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself, and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven. He was at it in the time of the Caesars, he was at it in Mahomet’s time, he was at it in the time of the Inquisition, he was at it in France a couple of centuries, he was at it in England in Mary’s day, he has been at it ever since he first saw the light… – he will be at it somewhere else tomorrow.”

The other quote accompanied a drawing of a girl kneeling over the body of a Kent State student, based on a photo by John Filo, who would win the Pulitzer Prize for it.  In that iconic image of terror and grief, her arms are outstretched in agony, her face contorted by a silent scream.  The words are from King Lear:  “Nothing will come of nothing.  Speak again.”

As long as the only animal that has the True Religion is at it somewhere else tomorrow, the obligation of satire will be to speak again.  And to speak against.

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.   Reach him at

Speaking truth to terror

In the wake of the acts of assassination and terror directed by Islamic extremists against the editor and cartoonists at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, a number of media news outlets, including CNN, Fox Cable, the Associated Press, MSNBC, ABC, the British-based Jewish Chronicle and The New York Times, have elected not to show or republish the satirical images of Muhammad and other Muslims that appear to have prompted the violence.  Many of the overlords of these outlets have based their decisions on the need to protect their news personnel from retaliation on the part of extremists. There is another way to describe these decisions: appeasement.  

When reporters, editors and media bosses praise the courage of those who were killed for drawing and printing the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo but simultaneously buckle under to the terrorism that prompted the Paris massacre, they are hedging their bets, sacrificing solidarity with the principle of freedom of expression for the sake of their own safety. They have not hesitated — and rightly so — to broadcast and print the recent spate of cartoons drawn in tribute to the murdered staff of Charlie Hebdo, etchings that movingly attest to the motto of free people that “the pen is mightier than the sword.”  At the same time, however, the appeasers in charge of many of the major media outlets have chosen to fear the sword more than stand by the pen in their going dark regarding the satirical cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo. I am not an artist, but if I were, I would immediately draw a cartoon that illustrates the hypocrisy of much of media.

Some of the controversial covers from Charlie Hebdo.

That the satire of Islam, and indeed other religions, depicted in the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo are offensive to some people of faith is frankly beside the point.  What is on point is the principle that terrorism and all forms of violent intimidation of the press are never justified, regardless of the content of what is printed or broadcast by the news media. Like many Zionists and Jews, I am offended on an almost daily basis by what I consider biased reporting on Israel.  I apply my anger to the writing of op-eds, letters to the editor, Facebook and Twitter posts, and speeches to protest what I believe are bad journalism and stupid commentary. I also take a lot of antacids. What I never do, what I would never do, is use or advocate violence as a means of chilling free expression. In a democracy built and defended by brave men and women committed to unfettered freedom, there is no excuse for appeasing those who espouse limited liberty and censorship of the press. Being offended is part of being alive. What matters is how, once offended, a person responds. For those who are very well paid to report and comment on the news, cowardice is not a justifiable option.  Such cowardice dishonors the memory of those murdered in Paris.

What I never do, what I would never do, is use or advocate violence as a means of chilling free expression.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), with which I have been proudly affiliated for over 20 years, routinely publishes a collection of the vilest anti-Semitic cartoons that appear in the media, especially in Europe and the Middle East. These cartoons, which tend to justify terrorism against Jews, Israel and its supporters, are hurtful to me, ADL, many other Jews and decent people of all faiths. Nevertheless, ADL reprints these cartoons in an effort to educate the public about the evils of anti-Semitism and religious bigotry. ADL understands that publishing truth to terror, however painful, is the best way to accurately depict those whose intolerance often breeds violence. ADL’s wisdom and courage should serve to shame those media sources that have chosen to appease those who react to freedom of expression with homicidal rage. (These views are mine.  I do not write on behalf of ADL or any other group.)

Some news outlets, like the Huffington Post, the Washington Post and the Daily Beast, have reprinted the relevant, satirical cartoons from Charlie Hebdo. They deserve high praise for their courage. As for myself, I am proud to have written this piece and have my name affixed to it. I am an American, a Jew, a Zionist and a resident of Los Angeles. To those who would respond to my op-ed with violence, I say: Come get me, you bastards.

Bruce J. Einhorn is a former federal judge, an adjunct professor of law at Pepperdine University, and a Jewish communal and human rights activist.

Lights, Camera, Shalom! Major Movie Studios Producing Slew of Pro-Israeli Films

Ten major film studios are currently in production on projects that promote a decidedly pro-Israeli narrative. In famously liberal Hollywood, such a development has left mouths agape and set tongues a wagging.

Since the Jewish state began defending itself from the approximately 4,000 rockets that Hamas has hurled at it, the overwhelming amount of Tinseltown's producers, directors, actors and studio moguls have remained mute to the plight of millions of Israeli citizens fleeing for their lives.

Yet while such silver screen luminaries as Penelope Cruz, Rihanna and Selena Gomez have criticized Israel's response to the rocket attacks, a string of top Hollywood A-listers recently signed a petition backing Jerusalem and condemning the terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip.

Evidently, the statement, initiated by a group called Creative Community for Peace and signed by close to 200 Hollywood heavyweights, has tapped a reservoir of goodwill towards Israel. Shortly after the publication of the letter condemning the “ideologies of hatred and genocide which are reflected in Hamas’s charter,” movie studios such as the Walt Disney Company, Viacom and Time Warner announced they had greenlighted several projects that will convey a more balanced version of recent events in the Middle East. Among the planned cinematic offerings:

1)    There's Something about Bibi

2)    When Arik Met Sari

3)    Dimona is Forever

4)    The Hummus Games

5)    West Bank Story

6)    Not without my Jachnun

7)    Lawrence of the Arava

8)    Mad Mashal: Beyond Iron Dome

9)    Fajr on the Roof

10) A Sabra Named Desire

A satirical neologism becomes a weapon in the fight over Ukrainian Jewry

At first glance, the red menorah symbol adorning the black T-shirt worn by Igor Kolomoysky doesn’t seem too strange for a casually dressed Ukrainian Jewish billionaire who has poured millions into Jewish causes and also happens to be a newly appointed regional governor in eastern Ukraine.

However, a closer inspection of the menorah reveals that it’s actually a Jew-ified variant of Ukrainian nationalist symbols accompanied by the enigmatic inscription “Zhidbanderovets,” which translated means “Yid-Banderite.”

The photo, which became something of a Facebook hit, turned out to be a fake. “It’s a photoshock,” the image’s creator, Kiev-based satirist and Putin critic Dmitriy Chekalkin, told the Ukrainian Jewish website Evreiskiy.Kiev.UA, describing a photoshopped image meant to shock.

The image has garnered thousands of likes and shares from Russian-speaking Facebook users , drawing a mix of online approval and outrage amid tensions over the Ukraine crisis and the stance of the country’s Jews.

So what on earth is a “Yid-Banderite”?

A “Banderite” refers to admirers of the late Ukrainian nationalist figure Stepan Bandera, who fought alongside — and later against — the Nazis in the 1940s and whose troops massacred Ukrainian Jews.

The term “Zhidbanderovets” has been popping up recently to describe Jewish supporters of the Ukrainian revolution.

“This neologism describes Jews who are allied with Ukrainian nationalists. For the most part, these same Jews use the term,” the Evreisky.Kiev.UA article explained.

These Jews are using the term to mock those who accuse the new Ukrainian government of anti-Semitism. After all, if the new government is so anti-Semitic, would so many Ukrainian Jews like Kolomoysky be supporting it?

According to Evreisky.Kiev.UA, a new Odessan joke has emerged that sounds a similar note:

OLEG: You’re a fascist and a Banderite!

SHMUEL: I know. Everyone’s saying it. Our whole synagogue is like that!

The appearance of the term “Zhidbanderovets” speaks to how Ukraine’s Jews and historic anti-Semitism have become heated points of contention in the fight over the country’s future.

Bandera does have his fans among contemporary Ukrainian revolutionaries. The iconic red-and-black flag of Bandera’s UPA, Ukrainian Insurgent Army, was a frequent sight in Independence Square, the epicenter of Ukraine’s winter revolution. The city of Lviv, a stronghold of Ukrainian nationalism, even has a street named after Bandera.

For some Ukrainians, especially in western Ukraine, Bandera represents a heroic tradition of fighting for self-determination — against the Soviet Union, and eventually against the Nazis.

But for many Russians and Jews, Bandera is a dark symbol of Ukrainian ultranationalism and its excesses. An article on the website of Yad Vashem states that ”Bandera and his people considered the Soviets and the Jews their main enemies.”

Bandera initially collaborated with the Nazis against the Soviet Union, briefly establishing an independent Ukrainian republic in 1940 under German protection. In addition, Bandera’s followers were responsible for bloody pogroms, as well as the ethnic cleansing of Poles from what is today western Ukraine.

“Banderite” is one of the many terms — along with “fascist” and “neo-Nazi” — that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies have used to describe Ukraine’s current government, which came to power after the violent ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Natan Khazin, a former Israeli commando who led a street-fighting team in Kiev during the recent Ukrainian revolution, seems unconcerned about being labeled a “Banderite.”

“As soon as I heard it, I said that I’d rather be called a ‘Zhido-Banderist’ than a ‘Zhido-Muscovite,’” Khazin said in an interview with an online Ukrainian media outlet (translated by the Forward).

In addition to the photoshopped Kolomoysky picture, Chekalkin — who identified himself on Facebook as a Hebrew speaker — has created several satirical “Zhidbanderovets” images. He gave Bandera’s UPA flag a Jewish makeover, cleverly illustrating the term “Zhidbanderovets” with a menorah, a Star of David and even peyot juxtaposed with UPA colors and the Ukrainian national symbol, a trident.

JTA contacted Kolomoysky’s representatives in Dniepropetrovsk, where he has been appointed to serve as governor, to ask about the doctored image and the term that comes along with it.

“Yes, the Dnepropetrovsk residents have called the governor a ‘Zhidobanderovets’ for some time,” Kolomoysky representative Marina Kozinetz said. “But this joking term has neither an anti-Semitic nor an anti-Ukrainian subtext.”

Yom HaAtzmaut special: California on Hebrew [VIDEO]

California on Purim [VIDEO]

MUSIC VIDEO: ‘All I want for Christmas is Jews’

Relax—it’s comedy

Approximate lyrics:

I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas is…

I wont ask for much this Christmas
I dont even wish for snow
Just want a Jew who runs show business
Speilberg, Stiller Ari Gold
I will make a list and send it
Of my choices for St. Nick
Seinfeld, Zach Braff and Jon Stewart
Are the boys with a big schtick.
Cause I just want them here tonight
Holding on to me so tight
Ill take Zac Efron too
all I want for Christmas is Jews.

Menorah lights are shining
So brightly everywhere
And the big box office
Makes Jews millionaires
They may have killed our savior
Thats not the best behavior
Thats ok he rose again three days later
and now Im an active J-dater

Oh I dont want a lot for Christmas
Gentile boys are such a bore
Goldman, Weissman, Cohen, Levy
These are names that I adore
Oh I just want a chosen one
Hebrew boys are so much fun
Make my wish come true
Baby all I want for Christmas is


Comedy trio HotBox is behind the video:

Style: Stand-Up
Joined: February 07, 2007
Last Sign In: 2 hours ago
Videos Watched: 586
Subscribers: 48
Channel Views: 2,469

HOT BOX is a comedy variety show starring stand-up comedians Julia Lillis, Claudia Maittlen-Harris and Melissa McQueen. The show is kind of like that Rosie O’Donnell variety show… only funny. And fewer fat chicks. We’ve got sketches, stand-up, videos, singing (off key), dancing (out of sync)…

Basically, there is so much awesome stuff in a Hot Box show that we better watch out or we might get hijacked by Somali pirates.

You may have seen/heard HOT BOX at/on…
– 2008 Edinburgh Fringe
– 2008 Los Angeles Comedy Festival
– 2006 New York Underground Comedy Festival
– National Lampoon Radio
– Maxim Radio
– drinking at a bar near you


The spirit of Jonathan Swift, Rotbart should apologize


It Can’t Happen Here

I was shocked by Rob Eshman’s article wherein he found an unnamed organizer telling him that a coalition of blacks and Mormon leaders have begun laying the groundwork for a 2012 ballot initiative that would ban Jews from marrying Jews (“It Can’t Happen Here,” Nov. 14). I immediately went to my spiritualist, and he put me in contact with that great English satirist, Jonathan Swift, so I could get his opinion on the article and on Proposition 8.

As a Westside liberal Democrat and Barack Obama supporter who voted yes on [Prop.] 8, I needed assurance that my position was correct. Swift agreed with me that homosexuals should have all the contractual rights and obligations that heterosexuals get when they enter into a marriage contract. Swift also agreed with me that the word marriage should not be changed in its meaning and that some word should be found for homosexual contracts.

He also agreed that modifying the word marriage to include homosexuals, in fact, changes its meaning, thus giving confusion to the English language. It would be the same as if we eliminated either the word homosexual or heterosexual from English and applied only one of those words to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.

I hope that Mr. Eshman, who is a journalist and words craftsman, agrees with my position.

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles

Your very poor attempt at satire was the most appalling article to come out of this newspaper, particularly since you decided not to include the disclaimer in the printed copy of the paper. I suggest you grow up and take it on the chin.

Proposition 8 did not pass because the majority of Californians did not agree with it. Smearing other minority and religious groups is a shameful act that is not becoming of us Jews. I’m sure our Mormon and African American friends agree.

Dalia Moghavem
Los Angeles

By concocting a story about a black-Mormon coalition conspiring to ban Jews from marrying each other, Rob Eshman tries to scare the 8 percent of Jews — and 52 percent of Californians — who voted for Proposition 8 into changing their minds about gay marriage. With all the subtlety of an after-school special, he attempts to teach us a lesson in intolerance. The comparison, however, is ridiculous.

The op-ed piece’s anti-Jewish conspiracy fantasy — labeled as satire on The Journal’s Web site but, irresponsibly, not in the paper — does not lend legitimacy to the argument that homosexuals’ legal rights have been trampled upon by the passage of Proposition 8.

Those rights are secured by domestic partnership laws. For those against Proposition 8 because of church-state separation issues, then I’ll counter that gay marriage should never have been voted on and passed by the California Supreme Court. Once it was, the church-state line had already been crossed, and the people of California needed to be heard.

Through our democratic process, Californians have spoken. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman. I guess if gay rights activists, the ACLU and Rob Eshman disagree, then democracy be damned.

Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles

In your Nov. 14 “It Can’t Happen Here” column, you failed to make an important point. If the proponents of an anti-Jewish marriage initiative want to outlaw Jews marrying Jews, should they not be condemned for failure to propose — using the same “logic” — that Mormons not be allowed to marry Mormons, blacks not be allowed to marry blacks, Christians not be allowed to marry Christians, etc., etc?

Do those advocates — using any degree of common sense — think their biased proposal can, under any circumstances, be constitutionally upheld?

Joseph Ellis
Woodland Hills

Your editorial, “It Can’t Happen Here,” mocked the passage of Proposition 8 and its ban on same-sex marriage by suggesting that one day Scripture might be used to ban Jews from marrying Jews.

However, the ban on same-sex marriage has nothing to do, necessarily, with either Scripture or equal rights. The demand for same-sex marriage, with its eligibility to adopt children, denies the biological reality of male-female differences and ignores children’s developmental needs, which same-sex marriages could never provide, no matter how loving the two dads or two moms might be.

It is bigoted to deny that men and women are different and that these differences are precisely what children need from their parents as role models and as sources of male and female nurturing. Yet, ironically, by rejecting the other gender as sexual partners, homosexuals validate these male-female biological and psychological differences.

No homosexual couple has ever, or could ever, produce a child, and only traditional male-female marriage reflects the undeniable, biological reality of male-female differences, with their necessary psychological consequences for children’s healthy development. Biology trumps social agendas, and adults’ desires are secondary to children’s needs.

Bob Kirk
via e-mail

The people of California have now spoken twice, and they’ve made it resoundingly clear that they don’t want gay marriage. The majority rules in this country.

Your protestations simply sound like sour grapes.

Charles Zucker
via e-mail

In “It Can’t Happen Here” Rob Eshman erroneously stated that the Mormon Church gave $22 million in support of Prop. 8. That number is an estimate of the amount members of the Church donated to Prop. 8 at the urging of the Church. Also, the column was satirical, or, rather, was an attempt at satire.

Political Apology

As an open-minded Jew and Green Party member, I would like to apologize to other open-minded Democrat and Green Party Jews for Dean Rotbart’s fear-mongering and hate-inspired article (“I Apologize for the Jewish Vote for Obama,” Nov. 14).

Rotbart needs to realize that the Jews of today are not the scared and uninformed Jews of the past. Jews of today use the Internet, communicate with all religions, including Muslims, and still manage to love Israel and care for other Jews.

Saying that Jews in America do not care about Israel because of an Obama vote is ridiculous. More Jews chose to vote for Barack Obama because he is against the war in Iraq, wants to help the poor and middle class and is far more intelligent than both John McCain and Sarah Palin combined.

Rotbart wants us to feel guilt, regret and fear; the very emotions that the conservative party and our past presidential party have been trying to make us feel for years now. I’m happy to say that we voted for change, and the days of Jews being stuck in an uninformed past are over.

Rotbart, kindly leave your racist views out of The Jewish Journal!

Rob Joseph
Los Angeles

I want to let Dean Rotbart know that he should not include me in his apology to the most reactionary forces in America for my proud vote for President-elect Barack Obama.

Those of us who voted for Obama are actually following a political philosophy that has been a central part of Jewish life in America. Jewish immigrants started many of the labor unions in this country; they supported the civil rights movement and social programs to help the poor.

Mark Elinson
Los Angeles

As one of the nearly eight out of 10 Jews who voted for Barack Obama on Nov. 4, I strongly reject Dean Rotbart’s apology on my behalf. I voted with hope, pride and confidence for a candidate who represents the best in what America is and what America can become.

How dare Rotbart reduce my vote to political correctness and voting for the feel-good candidate.

While The Jewish Journal can and should print the opinions representing a range of views, I would urge The Journal to stop short of providing space, and thereby legitimizing, this type of hateful speech.

Ronni Hendel-Giller
Los Angeles

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and gave demagogic credence to the poisonous venom that spews like raw sewage from the convoluted minds and mouths of conservative television and radio hosts.

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and embraced hatred, bigotry and fear, while eschewing the traditional Judaic values of love, acceptance and hope.

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and want the continuation of the war in Iraq, a war that has left Israel with more enemies and fewer choices and options to chose from.

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and abandoned the majority of non-Jews who elected a president that carefully addresses the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio and seeks to end the Wild West shootout that has become the Republican substitute for thoughtful diplomacy.

And finally, I apologize for Rotbart and his ideological cousins at the RJC, who believe that in Orwellian doublespeak, a fact is an epithet and a falsehood is the truth.

Marc Rogers
Sherman Oaks

I have never written a letter in response to an opinion piece before, but I was so troubled by what you wrote, I felt compelled to respond.

Your assertion that those of us who voted for Barack Obama don’t have good sense or the intellectual maturity is condescending and elitist. Your fear of Obama is nothing more than Republican talking points that I have heard bellowed from every host of a FOX News show. Get a new narrative — this one clearly didn’t work.

Your veiled comparison of Obama to Hitler was the last straw. Obama is not even president yet, and the reason why we are “teetering perilously on the brink of catastrophe” is because of President Bush, Dick Cheney and all the other neocons that John McCain embraced in his campaign.

I hope in the weeks and months to come, your ears will hear what we hear (an intelligent, pragmatic voice in the White House) and your eyes will see what we see ( a world standing with the United States again). Instead of publicly apologizing for the 78 percent of Jews that did see past the fear-mongering, angry rhetoric and lies, you should be thanking us.

Debby Pearlman
via e-mail

Dean Rotbart’s opinion piece, in which he apologizes to Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin for the Jewish vote for Barack Obama, was wildly off the mark and remarkably offensive.

Rotbart and others who share his view need to take a close look at themselves in the mirror. Do they want to continue supporting people like Ann Coulter, who said that Jews need to be “perfected,” and Sean Hannity, who invited Andy Martin, an anti-Semite, as a guest on his show?

While I do not believe Rotbart to be an anti-Semite, nor do I believe that Rotbart thinks that Jews need to be perfected, I do know that the 78 percent of Jewish voters who, according to exit polling, chose the Obama-Biden ticket have no need to apologize.

You do deserve an apology for Rotbart’s use of “the gathering clouds of Holocaust II” and his outright statement that the “nuclear holocaust won” in this election.

Rotbart does need to write an apology letter; he just addressed it to the wrong people.

Marc R. Stanley
Chairman, National Jewish Democratic Council,

I guess Dean Rotbart would have voted for President Bush again if he had had the choice. Talk about hubris. No wonder his insulting viewpoint is considered, if one counts the votes, flawed by the vast majority of the Jewish voters and clearly shortsighted.

Israel needs not only a committed ally in the United States but also a competent ally if it is to achieve all of its goals. Most American Jews seem to agree that what benefits Israel most is a strong and internationally respected America.

Norman Schulman
Beverly Hills

I just read Dean Rotbart’s brilliant tongue-in-cheek apology for the Jewish vote for Barack Obama. The tip-off, of course, was his naming of Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and Mike Gallagher as deserving of an apology.

These talking heads — with Rush Limbaugh — have committed one of the worst of Jewish sins, i.e., malicious gossip. Rotbart even repeats some of them in his positive take on guilt by association and fear-mongering.

Unfortunately, as Rotbart points out, there are about 22 percent of Jewish voters who will look upon his opinion piece as being serious, which supports President Lincoln’s observation that you can fool some of the people all of the time.

Gilbert H. Skopp

The Kids Are All Right

I wanted to thank Marty Kaplan for his article, because it helps me to believe that maybe others in your generation can look upon mine with kindness and appreciation (“The Kids Are All Right,” Nov. 14).

We have been told our entire lives that we’re indifferent, apathetic, lazy and isolated. On election night, one chant united us in our enthusiasm for the country: “Yes we can.”

Mickey Slevin
via e-mail

It can’t happen here

A coalition of black and Mormon leaders have begun laying the groundwork for a 2012 California ballot initiative that would ban Jews from marrying Jews.

Flush from the passage of Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state, the leaders say they want to extend the ban to Jews whose emphasis on in-marriage, they say, contravenes Scripture and promotes intolerance and segregation.

“In-marriage is against Scripture,” said one organizer. “We are all God’s children. It sends a message that one group’s blood is too good to mix with another group’s blood.”

“What are we,” the organizer added, “chopped liver?”

Defending what is bound to be a controversial measure, the organizer said strong support for the passage of Proposition 8 in the black, Latino and Mormon religious communities proved that, in four years, more “so-called civil rights” could be reshaped by popular will.

As evidence, he cited pro-Proposition 8 statements from Dr. Frederick K.C. Price, who leads the 22,000-member Crenshaw Christian Center.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Price on behalf of Proposition 8. “Let us stand with God in saying the definition of marriage must not change.”

At the urging of their church leaders, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the Mormon Church, donated an estimated $22 million to promote Proposition 8 and backed Web sites urging voters to support it.

A letter sent to Mormon bishops and signed by church President Thomas S. Monson and his two top counselors called on Mormons to donate “means and time” to the ballot measure.

“Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan for His children,” Monson wrote.

The authors of the anti-Jewish marriage initiative say when leaders believe they have Scripture on their side, they can get their followers to fix any flaws in any constitution.

“People choose to remain gay, and people choose to remain Jewish,” said an organizer. “Why should the majority of us be forced to honor that choice?”

The Jewish prohibition against intermarriage is commonly attributed to a biblical passage, Deuteronomy 7:3: “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.”

But one church leader said they have an entirely different interpretation of this passage.

“It only applies to Hitties and Amorites,” he said, “and I don’t see a lot of them around.”

By his calculation, the Torah only prohibits intermarriage if the children that result from such a union are turned away from their Jewish faith.

“Moses married Tziporra, who was the daughter of a Midianite priest,” said the preacher. “Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, was a convert. Queen Esther, who saved the Jews from Haman in the Purim story, was married to the Persian, non-Jewish King Ahashverus.”

“Don’t tell me the Bible doesn’t understand intermarriage.”

Asked whether he wasn’t simply asking voters to impose their interpretation of the Bible on a minority group, one black church leader countered, “Well, what do you think we did with Proposition 8?”

The organizer admitted that the initiative to ban Jewish-Jewish marriage was the first step toward other initiatives to ban kosher slaughter and ritual circumcision, two widespread Jewish practices that the Christian gospel does not follow.

Defending this plan, one organizer cited Pastor Beverly Crawford of Bible Enrichment Fellowship International’s defense of her support for Proposition 8: She wasn’t saying no to gays, she told the press, but “yes to God” and doing what “the Lord Jesus Christ” would do.

“We think the same rule should apply to all laws, not just marriage laws,” said one organizer. “We’re not saying no to Jews. We’re saying yes to Jesus.”

Organizers know they will face a tough battle — but just among Jews. Some 78 percent of Jewish voters in Los Angeles opposed the ban on gay marriage, and just 8 percent supported Proposition 8, according to exit polling by the Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.

Meanwhile, a relative handful of Mormon, black and Catholic leaders stood against their churches on Proposition 8. Contacted by The Journal, these leaders said their position was rooted in Scripture and the principle of the separation of church and state. They said they hoped their small example would convince more of their church members to oppose future attempts to curtail civil rights.

But Proposition 8’s supporters said they feel the wind at their backs, and they are going forward with their next initiative. Asked how he could possibly succeed in denying the civil rights of a minority based on one narrow interpretation of the Bible, one organizer summed up the feelings of the Jewish-Jewish marriage opponents.

“We did it once,” he said. “We can do it again.”

Yes, this is satire. No such proposition is in the works, or even a gleam in any group’s eye. The Jews have not been singled out for discrimination, just homosexuals. So why worry?

Frank Zappa/The Mothers of Invention: ‘It can’t happen here!’

VIDEO: Heeb Olympics 2008 — Gefilte Fish Wrestling

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

VIDEO: History will be made in Beijing

Director Oren Kaplan (Miriam & Shoshana hardcore gangstas) offers this 60-second ‘commercial’ for the 2008 Beijing Olympics

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

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


Armageddon Survival 101

A nuclear bomb, an alien invasion, the rise of the machines or some mad genius' evil plan … the question is no longer if the world will end, but how it will end. And with so many potential catastrophes on the brink, making the necessary preparations to ensure survival may be a tad overwhelming.

That's why Rob Kutner's “Apocalypse How” (Running Press, $12.95) makes the perfect companion to surviving the end of the world … because it plans for not only a variety of earth-shattering events, but also provides a step-by-step guide so you can “turn the end of times into the best of times,” Kutner writes in the book.

“It starts when you open your eyes in the morning. Maybe you're awakened by the sounds of random gunfire, or the howling of souls being cast into the lake of fire,” Kutner writes. “But at least it's not that godawful clock-radio buzzer.”

In his comedic how-to style guide, Kutner paints a picture of prosperity, independence and new challenges over a reality of lost limbs, endless instability and blood and destruction. Goodbye job, family, social norms, it's now every man, woman, child, intelligent ape, alien or disfigured mutant for themselves.

Kutner's manual is divided into several chapters, which include food and survival, housing, clothing; social life, fitness and health, recreation, and career, wealth and power. Bonus features in the manual include several questionnaires, quizzes, charts, games and continuous footnotes in each chapter.

In the rare case that you do survive, and in the rarer case that you find a suitable, mostly human mate, Kutner provides a section on weddings titled, “The Big Day (well, the other one, anyway).” The post-apocalyptic wedding vow, “In sickness and in …anyway, moving on…” accurately depicts how you and your future spouse would see some unique challenges foreign to many preapocalyptic couples.

Promo for the book

Because the idea of an Armageddon is nothing new to religion, Kutner also includes several theological responses to the end of the world.

“Judaism — The exiles will be gathered to Israel, the dead resurrected and all humanity will live in a redeemed world,” he writes. “For sinners, not so much an eternity in hell as an eternal sense of guilt.”

However, when asked which movement of Judaism has the best chance for survival, Kutner provided the obvious tongue-in-cheek answer, “Reconstructionism,” he said in an interview. Adding, “of course, Chabad would also stand out on top.”

Kutner, a writer for the “Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” and former columnist for The Jewish Journal, grew up in a Reform Jewish environment and attended a Christian school at an early age. While he admits that traces of the book are related to his experiences as a Jew in a Christian elementary school, it's also coupled with his Jewish ideology of “the whole olam habah [world to come] thing,” Kutner said.

Of course, if the apocalypse has any indication of the coming of the Mashiach, Kutner said he's expecting “the biggest Birthright trip ever…. It would also free up The Federation to focus on other campaigns, like meals on horseback.”

Fear of an Obama Planet grips some Americans

As soon as I saw The New Yorker cover spoofing right-wing fear mongering over Barack and Michelle Obama, my first thought was that my friend, Sanjay, in Mumbai, India, hada point about Americans and stupidity.

What was it but stupidity that left so many Americans gullible to right-wing accusations that Obama was that turban-wearing, Osama bin Laden-loving Muslim on the magazine’s cover, bumping fists with his militant, rifle-toting wife, Michelle, as the American flag burned in their fireplace.

Where was Barry Blitt’s cartoon months ago, when a loud “So what?” might have nipped in the bud those ridiculous “Obama is a secret Muslim” rumors? So this Muslim, at least, was relieved to see the stupidity lampooned so starkly.

But as soon as I began to revel in the caricature, a little dismayed hand-wringing began. Because now the very people who were offended by right-wing accusations about Obama were acting offended by a cartoon lampooning those very same right-wing machinations. It is as if America has gone mad, or worse, gone brainless.

I remember a dinner-table conversation in Mumbai a couple of weeks ago when Sanjay — an architect and businessman — turned to me quite earnestly to proclaim, “Americans are inherently stupid.”

“How do you live with them?” he asked.

There we were — an Indian and an Egyptian — discussing America over dinner at the Royal Yacht Club, built by British colonialists for the enjoyment of white privilege and off limits to us brown people back when they ruled India.

Then Manique, a Sri Lankan woman, joined the conversation to tell us that during a visit to the United States a few years ago, someone actually asked her if they had bread in Sri Lanka. I asked her, half-jokingly, if it was the same American who asked my dad at an Athens hotel over dinner years ago whether we had fruit in Egypt.

More than just shocked amusement, these incidents show why all of us would vote for Obama if we could. He would never ask us if we had bread or fruit in our countries. Why? Obama is much like us. He has traveled. He has lived abroad. And he has family in several countries. He has a different script for what an American is. He is an American who is comfortable as a citizen of the world — with or without his lapel pin.

This is what makes the right-wing “secret Muslim” accusations and the stupid gullibility surrounding them all the more ludicrous and imperative to lampoon — just as Blitt does in this week’s New Yorker.

Those howls of “offensive” and “tasteless” flung at The New Yorker suggest to me Blitt’s ability to lampoon not just the right wing but even some on the left wing who have promoted fears about Obama.

Wasn’t it Hillary Clinton’s campaign that leaked pictures of Obama in Somali traditional garb, looking just like that crazy figure on the cover of The New Yorker? And didn’t Clinton herself suggest that white, working-class America wouldn’t vote for black, hypereducated Obama?

And wasn’t it The New York Times that published an op-ed by a right-wing commentator that was such an ignorant and embarrassing display, claiming that Obama wasn’t Muslim enough and would be hunted by Muslims because he had abandoned the faith of his father — who was an atheist, by the way.

Just as we were amused at how confounded Americans are that we, too, have bread and fruit in our countries, the Obamas confound because they don’t fit with in simplistic boxes meant to keep them securely in their place. They’re not at all the black stereotype, and it seems to scare the hell out of some Americans.

Jack White points out in an essay on The Root Web site: “We are all, including Obama, in a place we never really thought we would be, and it has knocked us off our feet. We don’t know how to act. We don’t have a plan. We’re searching for our equilibrium. And until we regain our footing, we can expect all sorts of bizarre behavior from people who ought to know better. Hold on to your hat.”

Which is why methinks the outrage over Blitt’s cartoon is less an issue of genuine offense and more a case of “the lady doth protest too much.” It touches on a fear of the world changing much too fast for many Americans to keep up.

The New Yorker cover ridicules an America that is being left behind, grappling with quaint notions of Muslims in regulation turban and white robe and militantly angry black women. And whether other countries have bread or fruit.

We, the children of a post-colonial world, don’t fear an Obama planet. It has been our world for a long time. We’re happy finally to see the growing success of one of our own.

No, I didn’t mean a Muslim. Stop hyperventilating.

Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning, New York-based journalist and commentator, and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues.

Kaddish for Carlin

Everybody keeps asking me whether George Carlin was Jewish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But He loves you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Carlin: ‘Religion is bullshit’

Michael Richards — still not Jewish

Miriam and Shoshana — the hardcore Jewish gangster girls from Pico-Robertson

Video by Oren Kaplan

How Hollywood’s Hunt ‘Found’ Elinor Lipman’s novel

Elinor Lipman, writer of smart and often hilarious modern-day social satire, considers herself “the luckiest writer.” Her first novel, “Then She Found Me,” well-received when it was published in 1990 and selling steadily ever since, has inspired the film of the same name — starring, co-written and directed by Helen Hunt — that opens in theaters this Friday.

But fans of Lipman’s novel should be forewarned: Don’t judge the movie by its book. Hunt spent nearly 10 years nurturing this project and in the process changed many of the novel’s particulars — adding and deleting characters and sub-plots, altering motivations. Yet the film is faithful to the heart of the story and retains Lipman’s signature balance of wit and pathos.

In the novel, 36-year-old, never-married high school Latin teacher April Epner, adopted daughter of Holocaust survivors Trude and Julius, is a no-nonsense, plain-Jane kind of gal — but one with a sure, quiet sense of self and a quick wit. Out of the blue, shortly after Trude dies (and less than two years after Julius’ death), a mysterious stranger appears with a message from April’s birth mother, employing stealth and melodrama to tell her, “I represent someone from your past … would that be welcome news?”

Thus begin the misadventures of the shy schoolteacher and her overbearing, confessional-talk-show-host birth mother, Bernice Graves. In Lipman’s novel, April struggles for self-definition — and compassion — in the face of Bernice’s glaringly different personality. Her turmoil is buffered by a blossoming love she shares with the equally retiring yet charmingly wry school librarian, Dwight Willamee.

Lipman, though neither adopted nor an adopter of children herself (she and her husband have one son), had nevertheless long been intrigued by the emotional conflict and drama inherent in birth-parent/adoptive-child reunions. When a friend found his birth mother when he was in his 40s, Lipman decided to further explore the subject and make it the focal point of her novel.

In Hunt’s film version, Bernice (Bette Midler, delivering some of the film’s funniest lines) and April (Hunt) similarly navigate the minefield of their budding mother-daughter relationship, but there’s no shy librarian in sight. Instead, April marries, then is summarily dumped by, her man-child fellow teacher (Matthew Broderick) and subsequently falls in love with the also recently dumped, nurturing father (Colin Firth) of one of her kindergarten students. The film’s April, nearing 40, desperately wants a child; this becomes a central theme in the movie.

Hunt explained that she was drawn to the originality of the novel and to “the way Elinor surprised me in the story.” She initially tried to acquire the film rights in the early 1990s, but the book had already been optioned — before it had even hit bookstores — by Sigourney Weaver’s production company, which rebuffed Hunt’s overtures for involvement.

Several years later, after Hunt had won four Emmys for her role in the NBC hit comedy series, “Mad About You,” and the 1997 Best Actress Oscar for her performance opposite Jack Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets,” she was finally able to secure the rights to Lipman’s book.

Meanwhile, not surprisingly, Lipman had been wondering if the film would ever be made.

“I got a call from Helen Hunt’s manager on the day my mother died [in 1998],” Lipman said; the call “was like a little ray of sunshine in an otherwise sad time.”

Despite Hunt’s fondness for the novel (“the novel is perfect,” she said), she wrestled with the screenplay for nearly five years, trying to translate what she considered a “subtle, internal” story into an external, visible story that would work on screen.

One solution was to have April want a baby; Hunt felt that would externalize a longing that remains inchoate in the novel. It was also a deeply personal addition for Hunt, who said she “wanted a baby very much during the time I was working on the script.” She now has a 3 1/2-year-old daughter with television producer and writer Matthew Carnahan.

When Hunt read an essay on betrayal by Jungian psychologist James Hillman, she finally “found her north star about what she wanted to explore in the film,” Lipman said.

The central theme of the film became, “You can’t really love until you’ve made peace with betrayal,” Hunt said.

So, in the film, April becomes both a victim and perpetrator of betrayal, who at times feels betrayed by God.

Hunt, whose paternal grandmother was Jewish, also made April more of a religously observant Jew, in order to give her protagonist “a deep sense of tradition [and] a specific version of faith that doesn’t back away from the difficult questions,” she said.

VIDEO: It’s Not Fair – Let The Jews In Hollywood!

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If Borat has offended … then he’s done his job

Virtually everyone who has already seen the comedy “Borat” at film festivals and invitational screenings has found the film uproariously funny.

But with its nationwide opening set for Friday, the question now is whether a mass, mainstream audience will also get the film’s satiric sensibilities, or, rather, be offended by its political incorrectness and by its lead character, who is a raging anti-Semite.

“Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” is a “mockumentary” starring British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat Sagdiyev, a cheerfully impudent, male-chauvinistic Kazakh journalist. He road-trips across America, speaking comically mangled English and constantly doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. His interactions mostly are with unwitting, everyday Americans who have been led to believe by filmmakers that Cohen’s alter ego, Borat, is the real thing.

The humor in the film, which is directed by Larry Charles, is sometimes raunchy, especially a nude wrestling match between Borat and his heavyset producer, Azamat Bagatov (Kenny Davitian). And it is sometimes bitingly politically satirical — “We support your war of terror,” Borat tells a rodeo crowd before massacring “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Borat fears Jews so much he has nightmarish hallucinations when forced to board with an elderly Jewish couple. He and his producer also choose to drive across America because they’re scared Jews would hijack their plane, “like they did on 9/11.”

Cohen, 35, is a modern-day Ernie Kovacs in his ability to subsume his personality in his comic creations. He is best known in the U.S. for playing the gay French NASCAR driver Jean Girard in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” But in Britain he became a star as the obnoxiously slow-witted rapper/talk-show host Ali G, which acquired a cult U.S. following when HBO’s “Da Ali G Show” was broadcast in 2003. Borat was a character on that show.

Because “Borat’s” anti-Semitism is so flagrant, the film raises some ethical questions. Is Cohen, who is Jewish and studied history at Christ’s College at Cambridge, crossing a line with his character’s anti-Semitism? And is his rendering of the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan as a stewpot of anti-Semites, child abusers, prostitutes and generally crude people too cruel?

According to, Cohen was born in the London-adjacent suburb Staines to a middle-class Jewish family — his father, originally from Wales, was the owner of a London menswear shop. Cohen has what the site calls an “active Zionist background,” including involvement in the Jewish youth movement Habonim Dror. His mother is an Israeli-born Iranian, and, according to, he told NPR in a 2004 interview that he wrote his college thesis on Jewish involvement in the American civil rights movement.

Borat’s anti-Semitism has folkloric, fantastical roots in his nation’s culture, as depicted in the film. It envisions, for instance, a “traditional” Kazakh “Running of the Jew” event, similar to Pamplona’s “running of the bulls.” And the Kazakhs are portrayed as simple, backward peasants — Borat mistakes a hotel elevator for his room in New York and carries a chicken onto the subway.

“I saw the movie yesterday,” said Roman Y. Vassilenko, an ambassadorial assistant and press secretary for Kazakhstan’s U.S. embassy, when interviewed last week. “Like Jonathan Swift wrote ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ and invented a country, Lilliput, to make a satire of England, this is the same thing. He invents a Kazakhstan in order to make a satire of a very different country.”

Just to make sure the public realizes that “Borat’s” Kazakhstan is not the real one, the embassy has released an official statement on the movie. It reads in part: “Kazakhstan, a Muslim majority country, is home to 130 ethnic groups and 40 religious faiths. Pope John Paul II, who visited Kazakhstan in 2001, called our country ‘an example of harmony between men and women of different origins and beliefs.'” (The nation has a sizeable Russian Orthodox minority.)

Cohen himself isn’t talking. Or, rather, he’s talking only in character. Two weeks ago, he came to Santa Monica’s Shutters on the Beach resort hotel for a “Borat” press conference, standing at a podium with an official-looking Kazakhstan emblem on it. Tall and dressed in a neat if staid suit, bearing a bright smile to contrast with his dark bushy brows and hair, he did what amounted to a comedy act. Questions had to be submitted in advance.

“Good evening, gentleman and prostitutes,” he began, in halting, bumbling, heavily accented English. He said he admired “mighty warlord George Walter Bush” as a “very strong man but perhaps not as strong as his father, Barbara.”

Asked whom he’d most like to meet, he mentioned “fearless anti-Jew warrior Melvin Gibsons. We in Kazakhstan agree with his statement Jews started all the wars. We also have evidence they killed off the dinosaurs. Hurricane Katrina, too. They did it.”

Cohen’s satiric target may well be America and its anti-Semitism, believes Joel Schalit, managing editor of the liberal Jewish magazine Tikkun. And in “Borat,” he may be drawing from world history to get at it.

“I see a film like ‘Borat’ as a very roundabout, tongue-in-cheek way of exploring that,” Schalit said.

A parallel can be drawn between Cohen’s imaginary Kazakhstan and the early 20th-century Russian peasants who accepted the fraudulent, anti-Semitic “Protocols of Zion” (which told of a Jewish plot to run the world) as truth and staged pogroms. (Kazakhstan, formerly a part of the Soviet Union, gained its independence in 1991.)

“By evoking that example, Cohen’s timing couldn’t be better,” Schalit said. “There remains a populist strand of anti-Semitism in the U.S. that is the parallel of pre-Bolshevik Russian anti-Semitism. And it’s emanating from the quarters of the religious right.”

Josh Neuman, editor of edgy, youthful Jewish humor magazine Heeb, thinks American Jews will get Cohen’s “Borat” and not be offended.

“I think Jews understand the power of satirical narratives, because we understand the power of narratives in general,” he said via e-mail. “[There’s] a desire to poeticize the absurdity of stereotypes rather than arguing against them. I think the former is much more effective than the latter.”

And, Neuman said, Cohen also has another target.

I think [he] is satirizing how mainstream anti-Semitism is around the world, but also and perhaps more importantly I think he’s satirizing a Western bourgeois notion of people from distant lands, their customs and beliefs. I think that he pulls it off with immense subtlety and creativity.”

“Borat” plays in theaters starting Nov. 3.

The operatic model of a punk rock major satire

Mixing punk rock and opera may be about as heretical as it gets, yet that is precisely what Julien Nitzberg, librettist and lyricist of “The Beastly Bombing,” now playing at the Steve Allen Theater, has done.

Despite being the grandson of Austrian composer Hans Knauer, who conducted his own operetta, “Eva,” in front of Kaiser Franz Josef, the Bronx-born Nitzberg was first drawn to the punk scene. He sported a mohawk in high school where he founded a literary journal titled Piss With Ink. He played “noise guitar with the emphasis on guitar” for a “hard-core punk band in the line of the Dead Kennedys.”

“We played superhard, superfast, superloud,” Nitzberg said, pointing out that his band also earned the reputation of being “allegedly a Republican punk band” because they wrote songs like “We Love Reaganomics.”

No one will accuse him of being a Republican any longer, nor will anyone miss the irony, indeed sarcasm, of “The Beastly Bombing,” a mock Gilbert & Sullivan-inspired opera that lampoons our current Republican president and his two daughters, while also poking fun at white supremacists, Al Qaeda and Chasidic Jews.

Yes, Nitzberg, who is Jewish, does not spare Jews from his wit and has even written one jaunty song with the refrain, “I hate the Jews.”
Stephen Schwartz, composer of “Pippin” and “Godspell,” was apparently so offended by Nitzberg’s politically incorrect opera that he referred to it as the “most morally unredeemable musical he had ever read.” According to Nitzberg, Schwartz said that he would try to prevent “The Beastly Bombing” from finding a venue.

Ultimately, Nitzberg did find a willing sponsor in Amit Itelman, artistic director of the Steve Allen Theater. Itelman embraced the musical’s Sept. 11 parody, just as he had once embraced provocateur Bill Maher by producing “The Hollywood Hell House,” a production that starred the host of “Real Time,” who was famously fired by ABC after saying that the Sept. 11 pilots did not lack courage.

Just as former punk rocker Nitzberg has returned to his pedigree in opera, so has Roger Neill, who composed the music to “The Beastly Bombing.” Neill had also grown up as “a thrasher” on guitar.
“My heart is of a head banger,” he said. Yet before finding the electric guitar at the age of 12, Neill had played flute and piano and began composing classical music at 10. Many years later, he got a doctorate in musical composition from Harvard.

Neill met Nitzberg in the mid-1990s, when Nitzberg was directing his own script for the film, “Bury Me in Kern County.” The underground film, which the press material refers to as a “white trash black comedy,” toured the festival circuit, playing at South by Southwest and Palm Springs among others. It represented the first collaboration between Nitzberg and Neill, who composed the score.
Their present collaboration, “The Beastly Bombing,” may make for a funnier evening than a night at the Improv or the Groundlings.
Nitzberg, who believes that irony should never be dead under any circumstances, writes with a kind of literary diction that is rare in the theater. How often does one hear lines like “Ablophobia is fear of palindromes”? Or, “I’m agog, they don’t know about ZOG”?
ZOG stands for Zionist Occupation Government. It is the acronym used by the musical’s two white supremacists and two Al Qaeda operatives, all of whom plan to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. Their plans are interrupted when they fall in love with each other and with two ditzy presidential daughters, who introduce them to the drug Ecstasy.

Only Mel Brooks has tread this far, but Brooks didn’t have his president, unmistakable with his gray hair and fly-boy outfit as a George W. Bush prototype, dance a waltz with a lascivious gay Jesus. Nor did Brooks have a Catholic priest, wearing red women’s underwear, speak openly of molesting young boys.

In short, Nitzberg and Neill skewer every sacred cow imaginable while writing a series of catchy, raucous tunes. Some titles like “I am the Bravest President” conspicuously recall Gilbert & Sullivan (“I am the monarch of the sea”), but the songs are far too subversive to be other than a wry homage given “Julien’s crazy lyrical content,” Neill said.

A “superannuated Echo Park punk rocker” with an “Old World Austro-Hungarian sensibility,” in Neill’s phrase, Nitzberg will always straddle the worlds of punk rock and opera. And he will never lose his sense of humor.

As Nitzberg said, “I want people at my funeral to be making jokes. I want them to put hoops in the water and afterward use my body to play Skee-ball.”

“The Beastly Bombing” plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. at the Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., through Nov. 18.

For tickets, call (800) 595-4849.

Photo by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

Defying Nazis? Sure! It’s all in a days work

Of all the books written on German militarism, “The Captain From Koepenick,” by German playwright Carl Zuckmayer, is not only one of the great all-time satires, but penetrates to the heart of the matter more pointedly than a dozen treatises.
The play premiered in 1930 and immediately earned its author a place on the Nazis’ enemy list. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Zuckmayer was a marked man, more for his political views than for his mother’s descent from an assimilated Jewish family.
The title character, Wilhelm Voigt, is a petty criminal who tries to go straight as a shoemaker after his release from prison. Every attempt to get a job is foiled by the German bureaucracy and by employers who will only hire men who show proof of army service.
In desperation, the middle-aged Voigt buys a second-hand captain’s uniform from a pawnbroker, puts it on and, suddenly, every good German stands at attention and obeys his every command.Though the time and setting are pre-World War I, during the Kaiser’s reign, the mentality it skewers was sadly confirmed during the Nazi regime.
After returning from wartime exile, Zuckmayer wrote the movie version, starring Heinz Ruehmann, the comic German everyman.
Rarely shown in the West, the film is part of a 12-week retrospective of works by German director Helmut Kaeutner, now under way at the Goethe Institut in Los Angeles.
Also part of the series is Kaeutner’s second major hit, “The Devil’s General,” starring the great German actor Curt Juergens. The 1955 movie was one of the first post-war attempts to examine the recent Nazi past. At its center is a popular World War II Luftwaffe general, torn between loyalty to his country and his disgust with the Nazi regime.
Kaeutner wrote the 1929 screenplay for the classic “The Blue Angel,” starring Marlene Dietrich, and made his directorial debut in 1939 with the film, “Kitty and the World Conference.” It was immediately banned by propaganda minister Josef Goebbels for its allegedly pro-British attitude.
Nevertheless, the director stayed active during World War II with pictures that largely ignored war and ideology, and he reached his artistic peak in the 1950s.
Also scheduled are films dealing with the post-war East-West German divide, as well as a number of nonpolitical romance movies.
Weekly screenings, through Nov. 28, start at 7 p.m. at the Goethe Institut, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., No. 100 “The Devil’s General” will be shown Oct. 5, and “The Captain From Koepenick” on Nov. 28. Admission is $5.

Fighting Fire With Satire

The anti-Semitic fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks so appalled alternative journalists Joshua Neuman and David Deutsch that they went scurrying to their keyboards.

They didn’t fire off letters to the editor or pen learned treatises documenting that the Jews in fact were blameless for transforming a swath of lower Manhattan into a smoldering graveyard.

Instead, they conspired to register their anger and reveal the truth through other means: They chose satire to expose what they called the “utter ridiculousness” of the various Jew-blaming canards concocted immediately after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

“The Big Book of Jewish Conspiracies,” published in April 2005 by St. Martin’s Griffin, is a compendium of Jewish conspiracies through the ages as seen through the eyes of, say, Woody Allen or Mel Brooks.

“We don’t know what goes on in the minds of people who really believe in Jewish conspiracies,” the authors say in the book’s introduction, “but we feel pretty sure of one thing: They don’t like to have those beliefs laughed at.”

Mocking every conceivable anti-Semitic stereotype, the book “reveals,” for example, that the Jews poisoned the wells of Europe in order to create a market for bottled water, that a Berlin pharmacist actually fomented World War I and that psychoanalysis was invented as a way to hypnotize wealthy and powerful non-Jews.

As for Sept. 11 itself, the book discloses that Rabbi Chaim Schnitzelbaum of lower Manhattan orchestrated the whole thing because the World Trade Center was blocking his view of New Jersey.

Acknowledging that some might find the book to be in bad taste, its co-authors — Neuman is the editor and publisher of Heeb magazine and Deutsch is its humor editor — stress in the introduction that their motives were pure and that “the subjects satirized in this book are indeed serious ones.”

They also concede that using satire to ridicule anti-Semitic conspiracy theories could backfire if “some idiot” were to read the book and think “he had unearthed a piece of serious scholarship.”

Contacted shortly before the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, Neuman said he was dismayed that the “delusional pronouncements” triggered by the terrorist attacks have continued unabated.

“We had hoped that the book would signal the end of some of these ridiculous notions,” he said. “Unfortunately, it coincided with an explosion of conspiracy theories about Jewish machinations.”

Does poking fun at these theories and their propagators ever help? Perhaps, according to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups.

“Satire and ridicule can sometimes damage the credibility of these people in the eyes of their followers,” he said. “Although the bulk of this needs to be addressed factually, at some point you’re left with satire and not much else. At some point, factual arguments become almost pointless.”

— RG

Bar/Bat Mitzvah – From Saccharine to Satire.

In “The Chosen Image: Television’s Portrayal of Jewish Themes and Characters” (1999), Jonathan and Judith Pearl argue that, although Hollywood movies tend to depict the bar and bat mitzvah as trivial or materialistic (“The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” “The Wedding Singer,” the Ben Stiller role in “Starsky & Hutch”), television has taken a far more nuanced approach: “Often great pains are taken to explain the meaning of the ceremony, its importance to the family, and its significance in Jewish life.”

They’re right, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. For the first, say, 30 years of television, it was a far more cautious medium than the cinema. It either didn’t treat the religious aspect of people’s lives (there were no b’nai mitzvah on, say, “The Goldbergs”), or it treated religion with an earnestness that would make us squirm today. By the 1980s, it was acceptable to poke gentle fun at a rite like the bar mitzvah. And in the 1990s, when television shows like The Simpsons and South Park were fearlessly lampooning and satirizing everything, nothing was sacred, not even religious practices.

Here, then, are 10 memorable TV b’nai mitzvah, moving over the years from well-meaning, almost saccharine reverence for ritual to critical, even scathing send-ups.

1. “The Bar Mitzvah of Major Orlovsky,” 1962. In this installment of “General Electric Theater,” Orlovsky, a Russian defector, falls in love with Miriam Raskin, the widowed daughter of a rabbi. Although Orlovsky fell away from religion as a child fleeing home, serving in the Russian army — he reconnects to his tradition through Miriam, who is preparing to celebrate her son’s bar mitzvah. Orlovsky returns to Judaism and decides to become a bar mitzvah.

2. “Car 54, Where Are You?” 1963. Joey Pokrass, about to become a bar mitzvah boy, is afraid no one will attend his big day; his father is a widely loathed landlord, and the Pokrass name is mud in town. So officers Toody and Muldoon bring over prisoners from night court to watch Joey at the bimah; others show up, too, persuaded by the cops’ genuine pleadings. Old Man Pokrass is so touched at this outpouring for his son that he mends his ways and begins to fix up his tenants’ apartments. “Yesterday my son was bar mitzvahed,” he says, “but it was me who became a man.”

3. “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” 1966. TV writer Buddy Sorrell, played by Morey Amsterdam, has been acting funny, ducking out of the office for unclear reasons and with odd excuses. His co-workers Rob and Sally speculate whether he’s having an affair, but it turns out that he’s been meeting with a rabbi: As a young child, he had to work and was unable to become a bar mitzvah, and now he is planning to rectify the omission from his youth.

4. “Archie Bunker’s Place,” 1981. Stephanie, the young Jewish girl whom Archie and Edith adopted after her mother’s death, wants to celebrate a bat mitzvah on this successor to “All in the Family.” Stephanie’s biological grandmother gets involved in the planning and insists on a big, lavish affair, but Stephanie will have none of it. After a synagogue service in which she chants in Hebrew alongside a rabbi and a female cantor, Stephanie has her party back at Archie’s house. It’s the one time Archie Bunker wears a yarmulke, and Rob “Meathead” Reiner isn’t even around to see it.

5. “Diff’rent Strokes,” 1984. Arnold, the young, black adopted son of “Mr. D,” attends a friend’s bar mitzvah and is attracted to a religion that gives a 13-year-old boy cash and premature adult privileges, which, he thinks, include getting into X-rated movies. Arnold consults a rabbi about converting, but when he hears about some of the challenges of Judaism — learning Hebrew, fasting on Yom Kippur — his interest cools. At the end of the episode, he goes to church with his father.

6. “The Wonder Years,” 1989. Kevin, played by Fred Savage, is jealous of his friend Paul, who is about to become a bar mitzvah. Kevin is moved when, having dinner at Paul’s house, he sees Paul’s grandfather give him, in anticipation of the big day, not a TV or watch but a prayer book that his father had given him. Kevin goes home and asks his parents, “What are we?” His parents fumble about, come up with a few bland European ancestries. Since it happens to fall on his birthday, Kevin, overcome by a jealousy he can’t quite name, refuses to attend Paul’s bar mitzvah. Paul is understandably wounded. In the end, Kevin relents, showing up at the synagogue in time to see Paul read from Torah. The episode ends with the two boys dancing a rousing hora.

7. “Seinfeld,” 1997. “The Serenity Now” episode features this fine exchange among Elaine, a bar mitzvah boy, and his father:

Elaine: Congratulations, Mr. Lippman.

Lippman: Oh, Elaine. My boy’s a man today. Can you believe it? He’s a man.

Elaine: Oh, congratulations, Adam. (Adam zealously French-kisses Elaine.)

Adam: I’m a man!

Later, both Mr. Lippman and the rabbi hit on Elaine.

8. “Sex and the City,” 2000. Publicist Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall, is hired to help plan the party of Jenny Brier, a precocious, young New Yorker. “My father has invited over 300 of his most powerful friends to this event,” Jenny tells a skeptical Samantha. “They’re not all coming. The Clintons can’t make it, of course. But like I told Daddy, we’ll be lucky if we can swing this for under a mil. But what do I know? I’m just a kid.”

9. “Frasier,” 2002. Eager to put in a fine performance at the bar mitzvah of his son (who is being raised by his ex-wife, Lilith), Frasier wants to deliver a brief blessing in Hebrew. When he accidentally infuriates his Hebrew tutor, a Star Trek fan, Frasier is deceived into memorizing the blessing in Klingon. At the big event, Frasier chants, “Pookh lod wih le koo…” then concludes, “Shabbat shalom.”

10. “The Simpsons,” 2003. Krusty the Klown, the prodigal son of Rabbi Hyman Krustofski, is moved to celebrate an adult bar mitzvah when he discovers that he cannot get a star on the Jewish Walk of Fame without having passed that milestone. In a nod to reality TV, Krusty’s bar mitzvah becomes a television special, a big spectacle that infuriates his rabbi father, voiced by Jackie Mason. But at the end, to reconcile with his father, Krusty celebrates a low-key affair at the synagogue.

Mark Oppenheimer ( is the author of “Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005).