Ask Google: Who runs Hollywood? Answer: The Jews


Google says it is fixing a bug wherein users who type “Who runs Hollywood?” end up with the following search result: “the Jews.”

Google search results are the product of complicated algorithms that sometimes return unwanted or offensive results. Many consider the notion that the Jews run Hollywood to be offensive.

A Google spokesman told the U.K. Daily Mail, “This has been flagged to us, we are working to get it removed as quickly as possible.”

After news of the issue made headlines, the top Google search result for “Who runs Hollywood” became an article for Re/code titled “Please Don’t Ask Google ‘Who Runs Hollywood.”

German fund head rejects project containing anti-Semitic stereotypes


The head of a German fund established to compensate victims of forced labor under the Nazis says he regrets an “ambiguous project publication” supported by the fund containing illustrations that “could be seen as containing anti-Semitic stereotypes.”

Martin Salm, director of the 11-year-old Memory, Responsibility and Future Fund, which also sponsors educational programs, said he was sure that the controversial illustrations in the HEAR student exchange publication were “not motivated by anti-Semitism.” But Salm added in a statement that the foundation “cannot permit criticism of societal conditions to be used to delegitimize the State of Israel. We take the misunderstanding surrounding this project as an opportunity to examine our funding practice with regard to this program.”

The student publication raised alarm bells after the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot broke the story last week.

The Future Fund was established after international pressure led German industry to join the government in compensating Nazi-era forced laborers of all backgrounds. The fund also is mandated to support international and domestic educational projects, most of them having to do with commemorating Nazi victims, promoting Jewish life in Europe and promoting human rights and understanding between nations.

It was under this mandate that the fund reportedly had provided more than $28,000 to the HEAR exchange program between students in Nazareth and former East Germany under the auspices of the Europeans for Peace program.

In the resulting booklet, illustrations purport to show differences in educational content offered to Israeli and Palestinian pupils. One depicts a “Jew” standing atop “Jew” history, holding a key to a padlock around “Palestine” history. In another illustration, two classrooms are juxtaposed: An apparently shiny new “Jewish School,”
with five smiling pupils, versus a crumbling “Palestine School” crammed with unhappy pupils.

According to reports, the Future Fund pressured Yediot and its sister publication, Ynet, to withdraw its story about the booklet, suggesting it was unfair. Salm later said in a statement that “he regretted deeply” that the illustrations produced by the teens were “seen as anti-Semitic from the Israeli point of view.” While he said he recognized which images could be seen that way, he was sure “they are not motivated by anti-Semitism.”

Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, told JTA she thought the incident provided an opportunity for the fund to review its procedures.

“They have taken a generic approach that has lost all specificity to the issues of major importance to this foundation,” Berger said. “I do not believe that there is any malice or ill intent on the part of those organizing these programs, but it does not change the fact that the foundation is doing at the moment very little in terms of combating anti-Semitism, promoting a better understanding of Jewish life and advancing an understanding of modern Israel.”

First Impressions


Last week, The Jewish Journal played host to two Muslim journalists.

Umar Cheema and Utku Çakirözer are Daniel Pearl Fellows chosen by the Daniel Pearl Foundation in conjunction with the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships to work for six months in a U.S. newsroom.

The idea is to perpetuate the ideal of understanding embodied in the life of the slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by exposing Muslim journalists to America and American journalism. Not coincidentally, most of the Fellows come from Pakistan, where Danny Pearl was kidnapped and murdered.

Çakirözer, a reporter for the daily Milliyet in Ankara, Turkey, worked at the Los Angeles Times. Cheema, a special correspondent with The News International in Islamabad, Pakistan, was the first Daniel Pearl Fellow to work at The New York Times.

The journalists spend six months at a mainstream American newspaper, followed by a week at The Jewish Journal. We hosted our first Pearl Fellows five years ago, and it began awkwardly. One was from Pakistan, the other from Yemen. I was excited to show them my culture, and since food is the way I forge a connection with new people or places, I took them to Canter’s Deli.

The Pakistani stared at the menu for 15 minutes.

“Please,” he said, “you tell me what to get.”

I suggested lox, bagels and cream cheese.

“What is that?” he asked.

“Salmon,” I said. “It’s good.”

When the plate arrived, the man tried his best. He poked at what must have looked like a Matterhorn of cream cheese, draped with a fish-smelling orange scarf, mounded on a roll the size of a bread loaf. It suddenly looked disgusting to me, too.

“Never mind,” I said, “I’ll get a doggy bag. You should just order the chicken soup.”

“What’s that?” he looked at me again.

“Chicken soup,” I said. Was he kidding?

“No,” he said, “What is a ‘doggy bag’?”

The meals have since become stress-free — we stick to shish kebab and pizza — but the thrust of the conversations has barely changed.

Every year for the past five years, at the end of the Fellows’ week, I lead a public discussion with these journalists on stage at the Los Angeles Press Club, in Hollywood.

And for five years now, journalist after journalist has shared what has now become a commonplace truth about how their fellow countrymen perceive America: self-interested, unilateral, bullying.

The Iraq War was a turning point, of course. People sympathized with America following Sept. 11, and Turks and Pakistanis even supported the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan; they understood it.

But the Iraq War turned into a war against Muslims. Turks saw it threaten the stability of the southern Kurdistan region.

“All problems are local,” Çakirözer said. “Your problem became our problem.”

Pakistanis felt the Americans were punishing them for Al-Qaeda.

“The impression is created that America is part of the problem,” Cheema said, “that they don’t want something good for Pakistan.”

This week’s news of President Pervez Musharraf’s resignation after nine years as Pakistan’s leader only served as a reminder, Cheema said, of America’s hand in propping up a deeply unpopular, anti-democratic leader.

Çakirözer said even if he tries to point out that the Bush administration has little support among Americans, and that its own policies have moderated greatly in the last few years, the negative impressions remain strong.

“Who is more popular in your country,” I asked Cheema, “George W. Bush or Osama bin Laden?”

Cheema was silent for a long time. It’s not that bin Laden is popular, Cheema finally explained, just that Bush is so unpopular. “People only like Osama in reaction,” he said.

It’s a question I’ve been asking for five years, and the response is always the same, always sobering. It leads me to wonder — putting all blame aside — how far the image of this country has fallen in the world’s eyes and if we can regain the ground we’ve lost.

The answer came from Cheema. At 32, he is the next generation of Pakistanis — traditionally Muslim, educated, passionate about his country. I asked him what, if anything, he liked best about America.

“The best thing I like in America,” he told the Press Club audience, “that is the First Amendment. I really like it. Freedom.”

“And I tell you one thing, I don’t know what you got from my first negative answers, but I love this country very much. America has the potential, the capability, to rule the world for another century, but what she’s doing in the rest of the world, she is losing legitimacy. Otherwise, American ideals are dreamed of everywhere in the world. The rags to riches, the pursuit of happiness — at least you are in a position to dream of these things, and they are good things, they make you more creative, more energetic. You are lucky enough to be blessed with so many freedoms, so many opportunities. My friends from Pakistan who live here, when they talk they say, ‘Umar, what you dream of you can do it here.’ And these are the things that give us hope.”

That should give us all a little hope.

Then I asked Çakirözer, from Turkey, what he liked best about America. He said it was something he had never seen in his country, and never seen in all the countries to which he’d traveled. Yet it was something that said a lot about the core values of a rich and prosperous nation.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I think you call them, ‘doggy bags,'” he said.



Brad A. Greenberg’s The God Blog covered Umar and Utku’s visit to the weekly editorial meeting at The Jewish Journal


City Voice: We’re not who we think we are


There is a preconceived notion about the Los Angeles Jewish community being affluent, increasingly conservative and preoccupied with Israel to the exclusion of other issues.

There is some truth in this, as is the case with all preconceived notions and stereotypes. There is also some untruth.

Before the 2004 election, for example, we pundits wrote much about an anticipated Jewish shift to the Republican Party. But on Election Day, Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, received 78 percent of the Jewish vote, according to a post-election study conducted for the Solomon Project by five established political pollsters.

“This number has been remarkably stable over the last three presidential elections,” they said in their report.

And there’s poverty among us. In November 2004, Jewish Journal senior writer Mark Ballon reported on a Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles study that found one in five local Jews earn less than $25,000 annually. In greater Fairfax, with its large senior and immigrant population, the figure was one in three.

Aiming to puncture more stereotypes, I visited the single-room office of the Jewish Labor Committee and talked to the western executive director, Cookie Lommel, an African American woman, a journalist and the writer of books on famous people for young adults. She is, to her knowledge, the first African American woman to head a Jewish organization.

“Stereotypes are hard to kill,” she said. “That’s why I’m here.”
The liberal Jewish Labor Committee was founded in 1934 on the Lower East Side of New York by unionized Jewish garment workers organizing a movement against Hitler’s assault on independent trade unions. The Los Angeles operation began eight months later. Soon their efforts expanded to try to rescue German and East European Jewry. Today, the committee works closely with unions representing teachers and other public employees, supermarket workers, janitors and other elements of the labor movement in Los Angeles.

“We are the link between the organized Jewish community and the labor movement,” Lommel said.

In 1991, as a journalist, she became interested in the airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. She wrote about it for black publications.

Afterward, she started Operation Unity, bringing African American and Latino high school students to Israel, where they worked on a kibbutz. Eventually, that led her to the small Jewish Labor Committee office on the second floor of the Institute of Jewish Education building, a few blocks east of the Beverly Center. Shifting from computer to desk to work table, answering the phone and my questions, Lommel was commander of her one-woman show. Her door was open, and the sounds of a preschool in the yard below provided the background to our chat.

I had called Lommel because it had occurred to me that the news media was not telling the entire Jewish story. We see Jewish Hollywood, Jewish business tycoons and Jewish political contributors, all of them at the top of the economic ladder.

Lommel knows a blue-collar side to Jewish life.

“There is a high percentage of Jews in the membership and leadership of unions,” she said.

Not all of Hollywood’s Jews are studio execs. Plenty are members of IATSE, the union representing technicians, crafts people, artists and stagehands.

Another place where you find large numbers of Jewish members is in the fast-growing unions representing government employees. I can’t think of a grittier, more blue-collar job than being a Los Angeles County social worker, driving through the poorest neighborhoods, checking up on dysfunctional homes, always worried that one wrong decision could leave a kid in the hands of a brutal parent.

Another tough job is being a school teacher. Jews are also supermarket checkers, as Lommel discovered while on the picket line during the 2003-2004 market strike. She told me about a striking checker encountering a longtime Jewish customer, who was shocked at seeing a nice Jewish woman carrying a picket sign. The customer’s surprise reflects how much of the Jewish community accepts stereotypes about itself.

Accepting these stereotypes takes the Jewish community out of the game on important issues vital to poor, working class and middle class Jews.

Certainly Israel is of great importance. The Jewish Labor Council was quick to join other Jewish organizations in protest when the United Teachers of Los Angeles’ (UTLA) 25-member Human Rights Committee planned a meeting at UTLA headquarters to discuss economic sanctions against Israel. The union, which has a total membership of 48,000, decided to deny the use of its headquarters for the event.

But there are issues besides Israel, including one of tremendous importance: the public schools. The people I’m writing about — the teachers, the social workers, the movie industry artists and technicians who don’t work in slow months — can’t afford private schools. They are entitled to send their children to good public schools. It is their right, just as it is the right of every American.

The influential, high-profile elements of the Jewish community are missing in action on this issue. To them, the public schools are a Latino thing or an African American thing. Actually, public education has always been a Jewish thing. And, considering what our community is really like, it still is.

Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. He can be reached at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

Two neighborhoods reveal Orthodox community’s fault lines


When Tali Rosenthal moved to Los Angeles eight years ago, she landed in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood on the Westside. It was near her office, and besides, it was where many of Los Angeles’ Orthodox singles live.

But after five years there, Rosenthal, decided to move to Hancock Park, commonly known as “The Other Side of Town.”

“I was more comfortable in the more serious religious atmosphere,” she said of Hancock Park, where she’s now lived for three years. “I feel like it’s a more dedicated day-to-day Torah life, in the general atmosphere. It’s just a general hashkafa, outlook.”

Ayala Naor, on the other hand, lived in the Hancock Park area for about 25 years. But when she and her husband relocated the family jewelry business from downtown to Pico-Robertson 10 years ago, they, too, decided to move to what they call “The Other Side of Town” — Pico-Roberston. “We felt like the people [in Pico-Robertson] were more along our hashkafa. The other side of town [Hancock Park] seemed to get more and more Charedi, more black hat, and we felt like we wanted to be amongst our own people, with the more Modern Orthodox Zionist outlook,” she said. “I feel more comfortable here.”

The Other Side of Town. It’s a term that implies that there are only two options, and for most Orthodox Jews that’s the case. Despite numerous additional religious communities in other neighborhoods — near the beach or in the Valley — for most Orthodox there really are only two sides of town: the one you live in and the one you don’t.

Hancock Park and Pico-Robertson are only about four miles apart — a 15-minute drive, an hour walk on Shabbat — and yet, increasingly, they are coming to seem worlds apart.

Pico-Robertson is not an official neighborhood; it got its name from the two main boulevards that crisscrosses it. It is a low-key commercial district replete with kosher restaurants, bakeries, synagogues and schools. Bordered by residential neighborhoods like Beverly Hills to the north and Beverlywood to the south, Pico Boulevard has blossomed over the last two decades, becoming the center for Modern Orthodoxy.

Hancock Park, on the other hand, is an officially designated historic neighborhood replete with Spanish-style mansions and leafy, shaded streets. But when religious Jews talk about Hancock Park, they’re actually referring to a somewhat broader geographic area — one that stretches to the west beyond La Brea Avenue and north to Beverly Drive. But no matter what one calls it — “Fairfax, Beverly, La Brea, mid-Wilshire” — this “eastern” side of the town sports full-time kollels (post high-school yeshivas) and dozens of shteibels (small, intense shuls), where men in black hats and women in wigs roam with more children than the norm of the modern American family. This is the more “yeshiva-ish” side of town.

Over the last two to three decades, each neighborhood has become increasingly homogeneous — some would say isolated — according to its own outlook or philosophy. Each one’s distinct character encompasses all walks of life, from how people dress to what and where they will eat to where they daven (pray), work, study, educate their children and how they choose to live their lives.

“The Charedi, or the fervently Orthodox, argue that the best way to preserve Judaism is to reject as many aspects of modernity as possible and to cut oneself off as much as possible from those that are not one’s persuasion,” said professor Jonathan Sarna, American Jewish history professor at Brandeis University and author of “American Judaism: A History” (Yale University Press, 2005). By contrast, he says, “the Modern Orthodox have argued that the religion is largely compatible with modernity and one does not need to cut oneself off from contemporary culture in order to be a thoroughly Orthodox Jew.”

Pico people watch television, go to the movies, use the Internet, attend secular colleges, and interact with other denominations of Judaism.

The Hancock Park community shies away from much of that, and in the cases of th
ings like the Internet, will limit usage to protect its Torah culture.

This separation between the ultra-Orthodox and the Modern Orthodox communities is reflective of a kind of self-imposed segregation taking place in communities all over the United States, as two factions of Orthodox Jewry discover they cannot exactly co-exist, and are often in conflict with one another on major issues.

But what is the price of this separation?

Many leaders in the two communities will say publicly that the two are separate but equal — different but not in a bad way.

“The fact of the matter is, it’s become more distinct in its philosophical approaches,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City, which, on Pico Boulevard, is one of the main Modern Orthodox shuls. “It’s a fact of life. It’s not to be judged.”

Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob Congregation, also in the Pico-Robertson area, agrees. “There’s no friction, not from where I sit.”

Beth Jacob is the largest Modern Orthodox synagogue in the West, and one of the oldest here in Los Angeles.

But the people who live in the neighborhoods tell a different story. Not one of friction, but of intolerance or discomfort.

Michelle Harlow moved to Hancock Park with her family in 1964. She describes herself as Modern Orthodox, and says that over the years, she watched “more and more black hatters” moving in from the East Coast.

“You go down Beverly and La Brea, and you don’t know what country you’re in — there’s every kind of streimel and peyos,” she said referring to Chasidic dress and garb. “It’s hard for me to go out on Saturday in normal clothes. I feel that I’m being disrespectful to who knows whom. I feel out of place.”

Even though her children and some of her friends have gone to Pico-Robertson, Harlow’s not going to move. Her mother is there, and she wouldn’t be able to get as nice a house in Pico, a neighborhood with a high real estate cost but smaller houses.

Uhry’s Latest Knocks Down Stereotypes


Even at the age of 69, Alfred Uhry has a slight lilt in his voice over the phone. It does not cover up his gravelly timbre, but one can detect the hidden mirthfulness of a former drama teacher.

During the 1970s, Uhry taught drama for seven years at an experimental Manhattan high school that featured the progressive open classroom environment, then in vogue. Students called him Alfred, just as the two students in “Without Walls,” now playing at the Mark Taper Forum, call Laurence Fishburne’s drama teacher by his first name, Morocco.

Although Fishburne’s Morocco is African American while Uhry is Jewish, Uhry has always understood what it is like to be an outsider. He grew up in the South in a German Jewish household nearly devoid of Judaism, so much so that he famously participated in Easter egg hunts and Christmas tree celebrations (much like the family in his Tony Award-winning 1996 play, “Last Night at Ballyhoo”). He points out that while he felt like a “minority in the South, there was a bigger minority than me.”

This is not Uhry’s first play about race. In “Driving Miss Daisy,” his best known work, Uhry explored the relationship between a black chauffeur and an aging Jewish matriarch, played in the 1989 film adaptation by Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy.

However, in “Without Walls,” Uhry deals not only with race but also sexuality. Fishburne’s drama teacher is a somewhat flamboyant gay man. When Anton, a young hunk played by newcomer Matt Lanter, arrives full of energy and attitude at Morocco’s apartment, he disdainfully notes his teacher’s sexuality, then cozies up to him by reciting with much bravado and emotion one of Lysander’s speeches from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” We sense that the homoerotic bond between this teenage male and his father figure will ripen by act three.

Uhry says his play “is not about gay and straight. It’s about limits.”

He echoes what Morocco says late in the play to Anton: “We were never friends. We were needy.”

Given the play’s setting, Manhattan, 1976, such neediness knows no restraints. After all, this was the time, Uhry says, “after the advent of the pill and before AIDS, when pot was looked at as being good for you and sex was everywhere.”

“The ’70s are what the ’60s were supposed to have been,” he adds, which means that “it was perfectly OK for a kid to live with a teacher,” as he says occurred on several occasions at the high school where he taught.

Although comparisons might be made to “Welcome Back, Kotter” or “Fame,” both of which take place at Manhattan high schools during the free-love era, Uhry says he did not think about either when writing his play. Instead, the playwright conspicuously pays homage to “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” Muriel Spark’s novel, later adapted for the stage and the screen, about a teacher plagued by scandal over an alleged affair.

“Without Walls” lacks the tragedy of “Brodie.” There is too much humor, good will and idealism in “Without Walls,” which cleverly plays upon its title, as all the actors break the fourth wall, directly addressing the audience on numerous occasions. Sometimes, we are not sure if we are witnessing a play within a play as Anton and Lexy, another student played by Amanda MacDonald, might or might not be rehearsing scenes from “Brodie.” Other times, when Morocco talks to us, we don’t know if he is talking to a room full of students in his class or to an audience of theatergoers.

When Fishburne, looking bulkier than ever before, stands at the back of the set observing his two pupils, we don’t know if he is stage-directing them, spying on them, or orchestrating their love lives — like Oberon and Puck do to Titania, Bottom, Lysander and their cohorts in the Athenian forest in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Uhry says that he directed “Dream” when he was a high school teacher. He spent years behind the scenes in the world of theater, writing lyrics for Frank Loesser among others, doing regional musicals at the Goodspeed Opera House, teaching drama.

His first play wasn’t staged until 1987, when he was 50. But that play, “Driving Miss Daisy,” won Uhry the Pulitzer Prize and later an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. Since then, he has won two Tony Awards (best play for “Ballyhoo” and best book of a musical for 1998’s “Parade”).

He now lives with his Episcopalian wife on the Upper West Side, where he says that his four children are “half and half of something like every other kid on the Upper West Side.”

For a man who as a teacher used to say, “What’s going on in the home [of the students], you can’t fix,” Uhry now knows what it’s like to be a parent. Just as he now knows what it’s like to be Jewish. At his wife’s encouragement, the family began having seders. Still, he wishes he had had a stronger Jewish upbringing: “I regret that I don’t have a foundation there.”

“Without Walls” runs Tues.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2:30 p.m., 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. through July 16 at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 628-2772.

 

Class Notes – Building Houses, Building Bridges


With the growing frequency of “alternative spring break programs” making them less, well, alternative, USC Hillel added a twist that helped it reclaim moniker. The campus Jewish group teamed up with the USC chapter of the NAACP to build houses in Baton Rouge over spring break in March, using the heavily subsidized service project as an opportunity to build bridges between the two communities.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, “it became obvious to me that we needed to talk about the racial component. That is why we reached out to the NAACP on campus,” says USC Hillel’s Rabbi Jonathan Klein, who admits the program was a throwback to his own college days in the 1980s, when there were efforts to rebuild a broken black-Jewish alliance.

Sixteen Jewish students, 14 African American students and one Asian student spent the week with chainsaws, hammers and raw strength erecting four houses for Habitat for Humanity in Baton Rouge, which took in a huge influx of refugees after hurricanes Katrina and Rita last August.

The students also toured New Orleans, where they met with the national president of the NAACP, and spent Purim with Chabad at Tulane University. Friday night services were at Temple Beth Shalom in Baton Rouge, while Sunday morning found the students at the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.

The students spent time reading and talking about the history of the black-Jewish alliance, from the civil rights cooperation to the challenges of the 1980s and 90s. They talked about stereotypes each community withstands, and studied the biblical origins of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Klein says the students’ conversations went to the very core of what it means to have an ethnic identity.

“I think the black-Jewish conversation is important not just in terms of building an alliance, but it helps Jews understand themselves better,” Klein said.

Camp Bargains Still Available

West Coast camps are reaching out to make a summer Jewish experience accessible to more kids.

B’nai Brith Camp, located on a lakeside campus on the Oregon coast, is offering a 50 percent scholarship to all first time campers entering second, third or fourth grades enrolling in the Maccabee session, June 26-July 3.

The Dor L’dor scholarship is sponsored by the B’nai B’rith Men’s Camp Association, which since 1930 has been supporting the B’nai Brith Camp, run by the Mittelman Jewish Community Center in Portland.

Down at the southern end of the coast, the two-year-old Camp Mountain Chai in Angeles National Forest will match any scholarships campers get from other sources, such as Jewish Federations or foundations. The camp also offers some need- and merit-based scholarships.

For more information regarding B’nai B’rith Camp or the Dor L’dor Fund, call (503) 452-3444 or visit www.bbcamp.org. For information about Camp Mountain Chai, call (858) 535-1995 or visit www.campmountainchai.com.

A Yiddische Summer

Undergraduates living or attending college in Los Angeles are invited to apply for a paid, 10-week internship with Yiddishkayt Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization that promotes Yiddish language and culture.

For information on the internship, funded by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, visit www.yiddishkaytla.org, or contact events@yiddishkaytla.org or by fax to (213) 365-0702.

Classnotes appears the first issue of every month. Please send items to Julief@jewishjournal.com.

 

VH-1 Declares Jews ‘So Jewtastic’


It’s official. According to VH-1, it is now hip to be Hebrew. The music television channel premieres “VH-1 All Access: So Jewtastic” on Dec. 19, making a case for the current trendiness of our tribe.

From Madonna’s rip-off of kabbalah to “The O.C.’s” dreamy Jew teen heartthrob Seth Cohen, the evidence could not be clearer — not that VH-1 is the first to point it out. Articles about Jewish cool have graced various publications over the last year or so. But as trend-spotting goes, a nod from the entertainment and pop culture-driven cable channel isn’t small potatoes. What it may indicate is just how big we’ve gotten.

“America fetishizes ethnicity. We saw it a few years ago with Latinos,” Heeb magazine editor and publisher Joshua Neuman told VH-1 cameras. “We’re at the point now where there’s a bull market for Jewish culture in America.”

In exploring this phenomenon, the show, much like the trend, pays irreverent homage to Jewish culture, featuring Jackie Mason teaching “Yiddish 101” “for all the goyim and shiksas out there,” and comedian Elon Gold asking pointed questions of Canter’s Deli customers, like “Why is there a hole in the middle of a bagel?”

Jewish stars of film and television, comedians, musicians and journalists also chime in with cheeky commentary about the Jewish role in music, comedy and sports, as well as the truth and fiction behind stereotypes about Jewish mothers, neuroses and sex.

And thankfully, the links between Jews and hip-hop are finally confronted, offering answers to long-held questions like: “Are Jews crunk?” and “Why do so many rappers dress like your bubbe from Boca?”

“VH-1 All Access: So Jewtastic” premieres on VH-1 (

Pin Up These Pinups


At last, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Calendar has some real competition — some Jewish competition. The latest thing in girly pinups — with class — is the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute’s (HBI) Jewish + Female + Athlete Calendar. So you can toss that traditional scroll of dates and holidays from your local Jewish mortuary, and instead pour over a showcase of strong, beautiful Jewish women champions.

Everyone knows of Jewish athletes like Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, but how about Judo star Yael Arad, who won Israel’s first Olympic medal? Or Californian Deena Drossin Kastor, who won the bronze in the 2004 Olympic marathon? Or Charlotte “Eppy” Epstien, who fought to have women’s swimming recognized as an Olympic sport?

The calendar profiles 14 current stars and 13 legends from the past. It spotlights both athletic achievements, as well as contributions to the advancement of women’s sports.

“We are always trying to combat negative stereotypes of Jewish women,” said Shulamit Reinharz, HBI’s founding director. “Most people laughed when they first heard about the project and were surprised to learn we had so many high-caliber athletes to choose from, that it was hard to decide who to include,” said Reinharz, whose HBI also created a companion Jewish + Female + Athletes traveling exhibition.

Local legend, Thelma “Tiby” Eisen, 83, played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1943-54.

“Oh, we had the best time,” said the spunky Pacific Palisades resident, who played tennis in Echo Park and softball at the Wilshire Veterans’ complex before being recruited for the league.

“But they would never have had a calendar like this back then. Many people thought playing baseball was unwomanly,” said Eisen, who played for five different teams.

Another featured performer is former U.S. Olympic cyclist Nicole Freedman, 33. She expressed profound respect for the pioneering women who made her career possible.

“When you think how these athletes competed when women weren’t supposed to play sports, or about the Jewish athletes who boycotted the 1936 Olympics, you realize what got us to where we are,” said Freedman, who hopes to race for Israel in the 2008 Olympics.

Calendar sales proceeds will fund HBI and next year’s calendar production.

Eisen still assists the Dodgers and Angels with youth baseball clinics: “You can do anything you make up your mind to do.”

To order the $13.95 calendar, go to hbi@brandeis.edu for information on booking the exhibition.

Â

Kingsley’s ‘Twist’ on a Dickens Thief


Time-honored Jewish stereotypes and caricatures have fallen on hard times in recent movies.

Al Pacino’s complex and heart-wrenching portrayal of Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” put a human face on the vengeful moneylender. And in the German film “The Ninth Day,” Judas is exalted for enabling Jesus to fulfill his divine mission.

Now comes Ben Kingsley in a new movie version of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” where he endows Fagin, the trainer of young thieves, with some notably redeeming features.

For one thing, in contrast to stage and screen predecessors, the film’s Fagin is not identified or depicted as a Jew, a far cry from the “very old, shriveled Jew, whose villainous-looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted hair,” created by Dickens nearly 170 years ago.

Director Roman Polanski, last triumphant in the Oscar-winning “The Pianist,” follows the original story, while managing to reshape Fagin through some judicious editing.

Orphan boy Oliver Twist, brought up in a hellish workhouse for the poor, escapes his indentured service with an undertaker and is recruited by the Artful Dodger into a ring of juvenile thieves, exploited and mothered by the said Fagin.

The film has much going for it. On a huge backlot in Prague, Polanski recreated an early-19th-century London that is breathtaking in its crowded alleys, color and misery, and it unfolds like a succession of paintings on canvas by master cinematographer Pawel Edelman.

The milieu is as much the legendary Calcutta of ill repute as the London of old, with its jostling humanity, filth and vice — a place where residents throw their slop out of windows on streets and passersby.

As Fagin, Kingsley’s nose is elongated and his posture stooped, but he has shucked the preposterous proboscis sported by Alec Guinness in David Lean’s 1948 film, as well as Ron Moody’s nasal inflection in the 1968 musical production of “Oliver.”

Instead, Kingsley, or Sir Ben as he is properly addressed, said in a phone interview that he had adopted an east to southeast London dialect, “not exactly cockney.”

At times that dialect defies understanding, but not enough to mar an impressive performance. And he’s never better than in softer moments, as when he nurses the wounded Oliver back to health.

Eleven-year-old Barney Clark in the title role, one of a number of pleasant discoveries in the predominantly British cast, does his character proud. The famous scene in which the starving workhouse boy dares to ask for more food remains a classic.

But the carefully cast minor roles also stick in the mind, such as the undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry, and his shrewish wife (Michael Heath and Gillian Hanna); the pompous beadle, Mr. Bumble (Jeremy Swift), and the judicial terror, Magistrate Fang (Alun Armstrong).

As for Fagin, could it be that having a Jewish director (Polanski) and a Jewish screenwriter (Ronald Harwood, who also wrote “The Pianist”) tilted the film, perhaps subconsciously, toward a more humanized Fagin? Kingsley himself has a Jewish grandparent on his mother’s side.

Kingsley wouldn’t go that way, although Harwood suggested that Polanski, who survived the Holocaust in the Krakow ghetto and in hiding, identifies with the lost childhood of Oliver, through whose eyes the story unfolds.

Polanski, rather than Steven Spielberg, was first considered as the director of “Schindler’s List,” but declined because the subject was still cut too close to his own childhood experiences, Kingsley related.

Kingsley, for has part, has committed a substantial portion of his career to reminding the world of that great evil.

“I have played Simon Wiesenthal, Anne Frank’s father and Itzhak Stern in ‘Schindler’s List,’ Kingsley said. “These films are part of my consciousness and I am passionately committed to.”

As for his Fagin, Kingsley said he did not set out to counter previous stereotypes of unmitigated Jewish villainy, but rather used two thespian devices to get into the role. One was to evoke the figure of a junk dealer Kingsley knew as a 9-year-old in Manchester, who “had teeth like a horse, green hands from handling metal, a stooped walk, high-pitched voice, and was always wearing at least three layers of overcoats.”

The actor also created his own “backstory” for Fagin’s character, in which the young Fagin was orphaned early in life and raised by his immigrant Russian Jewish grandparents, who spoke no English.

“My Fagin had to fend for himself, lived on the streets and decided to become the most adept street kid he could,” said the Academy Award-winning actor.

From a historical perspective, the Fagin created by Polanski and Kingsley can perhaps be best understood by considering the evolution of Jewish portrayals in films over the past 100 years. In the early silent movie era, the Jew, along with the Irish and blacks, was generally pictured as a buffoon, although he sometimes appears as a nasty moneylender.

In those days, as now, the movies reflected the racial attitudes of American society. We must remember that America evolved into a truly pluralistic society only recently,” said cultural critic Neal Gabler, author of “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood” (Random House, 1990)

The 1920s featured love and conflict among America’s quaint ethnic minorities, led by “Abie’s Irish Rose” and including such forgotten epics as “Frisco Sally Levy” and “Kosher Kitty Kelly.”

The first real talkie, “The Jazz Singer,” had as its subtext the conflict between being an American and a Jew, a struggle deeply felt but never admitted by the immigrant Jews who founded the movie industry.

The reflections raised in “The Jazz Singer” did not evolve into greater sensitivity, but rather the exclusion of ethnicity, especially Jewish characters, on the screens of the 1930s.

“For instance, the great Jewish actor Paul Muni could play Zola, Juarez, Pasteur and a Chinese farmer, but never a Jew,” said Gabler in a phone interview.

Jews reappeared tentatively in World War II features, when the melting pot bubbled with patriotism. In film after film, the grizzled sergeant yelled out, “All right, Williams, Johansson, Kowalski, Marconi, Goldberg and Sanchez — hit the beach.”

The first post-war film to confront American anti-Semitism at some depth was “Gentleman’s Agreement,” produced in 1948 by Darryl Zanuck, who was, not so incidentally, the only non-Jew among the major Hollywood moguls of the day.

The breakthrough for Jewish characters (and out-of-the-closet Jewish actors) came in the 1950s through ’70s, riding on three popular waves: the rise of the ‘in’ Jewish novelists — including the Mailer, Roth, Uris, Malamud and Simon — whose best-sellers drew on the author’s happy or miserable childhood; the creation of Israel, which gave Hollywood an updated frontiersman vs. Indians theme, and, most importantly, the rise of the black, Latino and Jewish identity movements, which made ethnic differences not only respectable but saleable.

Since then, the “Jewish” and Holocaust film has become a genre almost unto itself, confident (or, say the critics, self-hating) enough to portray its Jewish characters, warts and all.

By the 1990s, a Hollywood observer could say, tongue in cheek, that “In the old days, all Jews had to be Americans. Now all Americans have to be Jews.” To underline this thesis, Gabler cited the character of George Constanza of “Seinfeld” fame.

“George is supposed to be Greek, but he is obviously Jewish,” Gabler said.

“Now Jewish ethnicity is not only celebrated but is the standard,” he added, and barring a major upheaval, he sees little foreseeable change.

“The movies sometime precede, but generally reflect, society’s standards,” he said. “Such standards change at a geological pace and, despite the current upswing in conservatism and nativism, I don’t think there will be any turning back of the clock.”

“Oliver Twist” opens Sept. 23 in Los Angeles.

 

First Person – Death by Oprah


Oprah Winfrey is doing a show about “Ethnic Men Who Reject Their Own Women.” I am invited as an expert witness because I speak and write about the ugly stereotypes Jewish men have created about their wives and mothers.

You’ve all heard the jokes: the nagging wives, the frenzied mothers and, worst of all, the Jewish American Princesses. I am not amused by stories about JAPs who are spoiled and whiny and can’t cook and hate sex. I mean, no fair. I love sex — well, at least I did until I got Tivo. And I can cook very well, thank you; I just prefer not to. So what if I’d be willing to pay extra for a house without a kitchen?

Anyway, courtesy of Oprah, I now get to speak out on behalf of maligned Jewish women. And, courtesy of Oprah, I’m going in style. Her staff flies me to Chicago, first-class.

This turns out to be a big mistake — though I suppose I should resist blaming Oprah.

You see, I’ve got this problem with food. If someone else is paying, and I can have whatever I want, I just lose all control. It’s like there’s this tape in my brain that keeps playing over and over from my immigrant mother: “Finish your plate! Little children in Europe are starving!”

My friend Sandra’s mom had her own version: “Eat whatever you want — and the rest put in your mouth!”

So I’m on the plane, and the chirpy stewardess says, “Hi there! For your hors d’oeuvres, would you care for smoked salmon, caviar or paté?”

And what do I say? “Yes!”

I follow that with a stuffed Cornish game hen and a hot fudge sundae. Oy!

I wobble off the plane and a limo whisks me to my luxurious hotel just in time for dinner. Oprah Winfrey is trying to kill me — or is this an initiation rite or a test of some sort? Or maybe it’s like a drinking game where the winner is the last one to fall under the table. Didn’t Oprah have an eating disorder at one point? She ought to know better.

I don’t feel so good. All my body really wants is a nice cup of chamomile tea, but I tell my body to mind its own business. I sit down for a five-course dinner with beef Stroganoff. (I don’t usually eat red meat, but it’s the most expensive thing on the menu.) My body is angry with me. But the starving little children in Europe must be so happy!

Hours later, I am seriously unwell. I can’t sleep. What am I going to say on the show tomorrow? How can I convince people that Jewish women deserve respect? As I toss and turn, I indulge a favorite fantasy about a Jewish woman president. She would trim the budget by asking everyone to “Please bring a dish to the Inaugural Ball.” She would exchange guns for violins, and shut down prisons because they attract a “criminal element.” She would practice tough love, and demand social activism with the motto, You live here, too: I expect you to help with the housework!

I finally fall into fitful sleep, and at 5:30 a.m. I get a wake-up call. I’m sicker than ever, but unfortunately breakfast arrives. I force down eggs Benedict and a stack of buttermilk pancakes. Hey, it’s paid for. At 6:30 a.m., the limo arrives to take me, sick and nauseous, to the studio.

It’s showtime!

I’m ushered into the Green Room (how appropriate) with other guests, and introduce myself to another woman.

Me: “Hi, I’m Annie Korzen.”

Her: “How do you do, my name is Dr. Judith Cohen.”

Her mother named her “Doctor?” I think not.

There’s also a Chasidic rabbi: “Hello Rabbi, I’m Annie Kor….”

He pulls away like I’ve got leprosy: “Excuse me! But the only woman I am allowed to touch is the mother of my 24 children.”

We enter the studio. Lights, camera, action!

The first speaker is a single Jewish professional man: “I never date Jewish women. They look alike, they think alike, the only thing they’re interested in is the size of your wallet!”

It’s my turn; I want to bury this jerk with cutting wit and irresistible charm. But, it seems, clumps of Stroganoff in Benedict sauce are clogging my esophagus. I think I’m running a fever, and I am about to represent Jewish women by vomiting in front of 22 million people. With wit and charm in digestive cardiac arrest, pure animal venom takes over: “Same to you and double!”

The day after the show airs, I hear my son talking to one of his friends on the phone: “No way, that wasn’t my mother. I mean, not my real mother. Duh, you didn’t know I was adopted?”

My husband makes a feeble attempt to console me: “Don’t worry about it. Who watches Oprah anyway?” Yeah, right.

I guess the old saying is true, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

For information about Korzin’s Aug. 13 show at Steinway Hall, see calendar

Annie Korzen is a writer and actress best known for her recurring role as Doris Klompus on “Seinfeld,” and her humorous essays on NPR’s, “Morning Edition.”

Â

Enemy Ties


 

I hadn’t been to a Tel Aviv bar for a while, and I was craving one. I had recently returned from a vacation to Los Angeles, where there were no worthwhile singles bars. Last call for alcohol in Los Angeles is 2 a.m., and a good Jewish girl like me prefers to pick up and be picked up by Jewish men.

That’s why Eliezer, a new bar on Ben Yehuda Street, was a relief for me and also for my friend, Tali, who had just returned from her native Melbourne. Inhaling the smoky air and swaying to the rock music, we reveled in the dozens of masculine men around us.

“Welcome to Israel,” we proudly toasted. “Where you know the men in the bars are Jewish.”

A beer and two vodka shots later, I let my guard down and scoped the scene, looking for hot prospects. Gradually a group of short, stubby men surrounded us. I sighed. None of them had been on my radar, but, nevertheless, we all danced and laughed and flirted.

Suddenly, a man in a gray shirt and gray tie walked in. I was not particularly attracted to him, but I noticed that his tie was practically strangling him. I gestured to him to take it off. We were in a bar, not a conference room.

Tali and I continued to dance and flirt, and the man in the tie passed us by, stiff-necked. I motioned to him again to take the thing off.

Finally, we headed out to go salsa dancing, and I noticed the man in the tie had taken it off and began waving it like a flag, signaling me over.

“Congratulations,” I said. “That’s much better.”

“Where are you from?” he said in an unidentifiable accent.

“I’m from Israel, but originally from L.A.,” I said. “Where are you from?”

“I’m Palestinian.”

“Oh,” I said. “Palestinian.”

No wonder he wore a tie to a bar. Israelis just don’t do that.

“Are you Jewish?” he asked.

“I’m very Jewish,” I said proudly.

There I was. Face to face with the enemy, in a Tel Aviv bar. I immediately recalled the Stage nightclub bombing in Tel Aviv a week earlier, and I looked for a backpack strapped to his waist, but he was strapless. I was safe, but I couldn’t help but provoke confrontation. I wasn’t about to be fake or polite or cordial just because he was Palestinian. A Tel Aviv bar, to me, did not provide sanctuary.

“You know, I’m very right wing,” I said.

I didn’t think he understood what I said or what I meant, or maybe he didn’t want a bar brawl, because he ignored my comment and instead asked me where I lived.

I almost made myself more explicit by adding: “If I were a soldier with a gun, and this were a battle line, I would shoot you. By the way, I entertain the idea of transfer.”

But I stopped myself. This was a bar, I reasoned. He wasn’t the enemy, he was a descendant of Abraham who wanted to break Islamic law and have a drink. I had to respect him for that. So I dropped the politics and told him I lived in Tel Aviv.

“Israeli women are hotter than Palestinian women, aren’t they?” I said, trying to find some common ground.

“No, no.”

“Why, do you like it when they are covered from head to toe, with those veils?”

“Well, women in Ramallah are not so hot. Yes, Israelians are hot,” he said awkwardly.

It seemed like that was the first time he used “hot” in that context.

I told him I had to go, and he presented his tie and said: “For you.”

“What?” I said. “I can’t take this.”

At first, I felt bad. It looked expensive, and don’t most Palestinians live in dire poverty?

Then I thought about the implications: I take this tie, and my hands are tied. I’d forever have to remember that one night a Palestinian gave me an expensive tie, and that he was nice to me. I’d have to question all my stereotypes and generalizations, and recognize that there are good, normal, generous Palestinians who just want peace, who just want to be my friend, who just want some fun.

I couldn’t take the tie.

But then I looked down at its elegant striped pattern. It would look smashing with a white tank and hip hugging jeans, I thought. He insisted, so I gracefully accepted.

“Thank you,” I said, smiling, and blew him a kiss.

As we sauntered out, Tali, a pro-peace activist, said, “You see, they’re not all bad. You’ll switch sides.”

“Hmm,” I said. “Maybe.”

As long as I felt good and stylish with the tie on, I couldn’t resent the fashion benefactor or his people.

I woke up the next morning, both me and the tie hungover in bed, alone.

I glared at it, frightened. Is this the first step toward my own private reconciliation with the Palestinians? If I keep it, is it a personal symbol of possible peace? Or should I just burn the thing?

Eventually, I hung it in my closet as the accessory that will forever go down in my wardrobe as “the tie the Palestinian gave me.” It’s not an enemy tie I’m ready to make, but it’s an enemy tie I’m ready to wear.

A friend told me that wearing a tie is a proven pick-up technique. It worked well for Abbas. Maybe it’ll work for me.

I’ll wear it next time I go to a bar. And when I do, I’ll use it to pick up and tie up a hot Jewish Israeli man, and I’ll have a Palestinian to thank for it.

Maybe then we could start talking about reconciliation.

Orit Arfa is a writer living in Israel.

 

Even Maidelehs Don Pasties


Jewish girl stereotypes get tossed — including one you might have heard about them being prudes — when “Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad” makes its West Coast debut this Thursday night at Tangier.

As creator and emcee Susannah Perlman describes it, the variety show features comedy, spoken word, music and burlesque acts that speak to the Jewish condition, performed by women who have appeared on Comedy Central, HBO, MTV and late night television.

Vanessa Hidary presents a spoken-word piece about being a “Jewish Mamita” (a Jewish girl who doesn’t look Jewish at all), and a dreadlocked singer/songwriter Michelle Citrin plays folky, melodic music.

“One of the things in bringing these women together is that they were very unconventional in what one thinks of as a Jewish woman,” Perlman said.

The show is very much about “defying stereotypes and at the same time embracing them,” she added.

Which brings us to the burlesque dancers.

Yes, Perlman affirmed, women will be removing their clothing in an act titled “Hassidic Strip.” Only pasties and men’s “tighty-whities” with blue stars of David will remain.

“When you tell people there are going to be Jewish women taking off their clothes you get a better crowd than Kol Nidre,” Perlman said.

But she also described the show as a celebration of being Jewish, even if it’s “not as kosher.”

“I think there are a lot of secular Jews who are looking for things to connect culturally and they don’t want to do the synagogue or JCC singles mixer. These things are a little played out for this type of crowd,” she said.

The burlesque, she said, is just “tongue-in-cheek fun.”

Rounding out the night’s festivities with some klezmer that rocks will be Golem, the hip Jew’s answer to Eastern European shtetl music.

Because, as Perlman put it, “Even hipsters need community.”

March 3, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. at The Fold at Tangier in Silver Lake. March 4, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. The Don Cribb Theater in Santa Ana.

Sunrise, Sundance, Swiftly Fly the Films


 

“When you’re a falafel king/you’re a falafel king all the way/from your first alef-bet/till your last dying day…” OK, maybe that’s not exactly how the musical spoof, “West Bank Story,” begins, but the short film indeed opens with a cadre of snapping dancers taking on the guys on the other side of the tracks. Yet, in this 22-minute film, instead of Maria and Tony, we have David and Fatima, and the war is not between the Jets and the Sharks, but between the Jewish Kosher King and the Palestinian Humus Hut next door. You can probably guess the rest, but hopefully, since the short was directed and co-written by L.A. native Ari Sendel, you’ll get a chance to see it here soon.

“West Bank Story” was one of a handful of Jewish-themed films screened at the Sundance Film Festival, which ended Sunday night in Park City, Utah. With the deafening chatter around this small town about which studio picked up which film for how many millions of dollars, it’s hard to sniff out, not the hottest films — but the most Jewish. While hordes of ecstatically friendly moviegoers snaked around the corner hoping to get into a screening of “Hustle and Flow,” the feature about a pimp-cum-rap star from Memphis (which Paramount got in a $16 million deal), I’m desperately trying to sell my extra ticket to a midnight showing of “Odessa Odessa” (I’d take $5-$10), a documentary that follows elderly Ukrainians in Odessa, Brighton Beach and Ashdod. A six-minute short from Israel, “Meet Michael Oppenheim,” which, through photographs and sweet narration, attempts to trace filmmaker Roni Aboulafia’s family history in Israel, preceded the 96-minute doc.

All roads seem to lead to Israel in the Jewish films at Sundance, even those not directly about the Holy Land. Take “Protocols of Zion,” documentarian Marc Levin’s personal journey to uncover the resurgence of this anti-Semitic screed since Sept. 11. He starts off at the site of the World Trade Center, talking to people who blame the Jews for the tragedy, and then goes to Middle America and the home of the White Supremacists and other Holocaust deniers. Levin veers away from the “Protocols” to Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” and then to the streets of Patterson, N.J., to speak to the Palestinian street kids, he ends up — where else? — at the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, finding the “Protocols” at the root of all these problems (not without the help the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper and the Anti-Defamation League’s Rabbi Abraham Foxman). “Protocols” has been picked up so far by HBO, with an airdate as yet undetermined (they’re hoping to sell it to the big screen first).

Perhaps it’s a paranoia arising from “Protocols” that I begin to see Jews everywhere at Sundance (well, we are running all of Hollywood, aren’t we? When Levin tries to get someone on the phone to discuss Jews in Hollywood, he gets passed around from Norman Lear to Larry David to Rob Reiner and back to Lear again). When I randomly attend “Palermo Hollywood,” a feature from Argentina, I am surprised to discover that one of the main characters turns out to be Jewish (nicknamed by his friends “the Jew”), and is running away from his wealthy political family that maintains its standard of living despite the financial crisis.

But the most prominent Jewish film here at Sundance is “Wall,” a French/Israeli documentary about the security “fence” being built in Israel.

“I was surprised to find that there are many Jews that are pro-peace in Israel,” one foreign journalist told me when she exited the film. Indeed, director Simone Bitton presents a moderate look on both sides of the concrete and barbed wire structure, as she interviews “regular” Palestinians and Israelis, i.e. not the fanatics, the leaders and the spokespeople, but those who live adjacent to the $1 billion project that is meant to bring security to Israel. Bitton is half-Arab and half-Jewish, which is probably why — with her fluent Hebrew and Arabic — she is able to have frank conversations with both sides. The picture won a Special Jury Prize in the World Cinema Documentary category, so I’m sure it will be available for viewing soon.

In searching out films with a Jewish or Middle East subject matter, I came across “Planet of the Arabs,” a six-minute compilation of clips portraying the Arabs in American film and television.

Dr. Emmett Brown: “Oh my God, they found me, I don’t know how, but they found me. Run for it, Marty.”

Marty McFly: “Who?”

Dr. Emmett Brown: “Who do you think? The Libyans!”

Filmmaker Jacqueline Salloum shows this clip from “Back to the Future” and more — from “Lawrence of Arabia,” to “The Muppet Show,” to (Gov.) Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “True Lies” — to tell audiences to “turn off your televisions,” to avoid these negative stereotypes.

Perhaps the fictional and real characters in the “Planet of the Arabs,” “The Wall” and “Protocols of Zion” will one day be like Ahmed and Mahmoud, and David and Fatima from “West Bank Story,” who, after their stores burn down, realize how much they have in common, and make falafel sandwiches together.

 

Idea of Dumb Bush Voters Lacks Reality


 

As the furor over the election dies down, with unseemly whining from sore losers and unseemly gloating from sore winners, certain stereotypes of Bush voters continue to command currency among disgruntled liberals. One of them is that Bush supporters, and conservatives in general, are dumb, ignorant and out of touch with reality.

This notion has been bandied about with quite a bit of smugness. Some on the left, taking an ironic cue from the widely reported comments of a “senior Bush adviser” to reporter Ron Suskind, have begun calling themselves “the reality-based community.”

The idea that Bush voters are reality-challenged is based partly on surveys showing that a large percentage of Bush supporters believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or a program to develop them. Many also persist in the belief that Iraq had substantial ties to the Al Qaeda. Other Republicans who support tougher environmental and labor standards incorrectly assume that Bush favors these positions as well.

Is this a damning indictment of Bush voters and conservatives?

George Mason University law professor David Bernstein, a libertarian who was highly critical of both candidates in the past election, points out on the Volokh Conspiracy blog that in other surveys, Republicans have on average scored higher than Democrats on knowledge of political issues than Democrats — although voters across the board tend to be woefully ill-informed. Bernstein speculates that in the more recent polls, ignorant Bush supporters were likely to pick answers flattering to Bush, while ignorant Kerry voters did the opposite.

Is it possible that Republican voters are likely to fall for the administration’s spin on the issues? Of course.

But is there any evidence that Democratic voters are less likely to fall for their own side’s spin or to buy into their own side’s myths? Not really.

I’m willing to bet that if you asked people whether it’s true or false that Bush wanted to allow higher levels of arsenic in drinking water after he took office (a charge made in a MoveOn.org ad), many more Kerry supporters than Bush supporters would have said it was true. Yet this claim has been conclusively debunked as a lie by New Republic writer Greg Easterbrook, who is no conservative and no Bush supporter.

Democrats, I suspect, would also be much more likely to believe that if the Florida recount in 2000 had not been halted by the Supreme Court, Al Gore would have won the state and the election. In fact, a 2001 review of the Florida ballots by a media consortium concluded that both the recount in several Democratic counties that Gore had requested and the statewide recount of undervotes that was actually under way would have given a victory to Bush (although Gore could have won under some other recount scenarios).

And, no doubt, far more Kerry supporters than Bush supporters believed Kerry’s groundless claim in a campaign stump speech that 1 million African American votes weren’t counted in Florida.

A particularly amusing instance of the “Americans voted for Bush because they’re so dumb” trope occurred in a post-election discussion in Slate. Laura Kipnis, a professor of media studies at Northwestern University, noted that “the United States ranks 14th out of 15 industrialized countries in per capita education spending.”

In fact, comparisons conducted by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have found that only four countries — Switzerland, Austria, Denmark and Norway — spend more per pupil on primary and secondary education than the United States. We also spend a higher percentage of our gross domestic product on education than most other industrialized nations.

But Kipnis’ statistic — for which she was unable to provide a source, saying that she used it in her last book but currently had no access to her notes — fits neatly into the stereotypes of American stupidity and greed.

In other news, a poll conducted on Nov. 3 showed that 13 percent of all voters believed Bush had stolen the election. That adds up to about a quarter of Kerry voters.

Another 10 percent believed that he had won it “on a technicality.” After Salon, a strongly anti-Bush online magazine, published an article debunking various election fraud theories, the author, Farhad Manjoo, was deluged with e-mails asking if he was on the Republican payroll.

“Reality-based,” indeed.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a columnist at The Boston Globe.

 

That ’70s Fro


Where can you see all-in-good-fun Jewish stereotypes spoofed alongside 1970s kitsch, such as waterbeds, fondue parties, disco, leisure suits and bad perms? Check out the movie remake of the ’70s cop series, "Starsky & Hutch," Hollywood’s latest TV overhaul, which stars Ben Stiller as uptight but righteous David Starsky.

The Jewish cop is so intense, he’ll destroy cars to catch a purse snatcher; apparently, he’s overcompensating due to a weird Jewish mother complex (his late mom was a revered cop). The film spoofs Jewish custom when he places a donut, rather than a rock, on her grave.

Many of the other laughs stem from his odd-couple pairing with Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson (Owen Wilson), a charming, rule-bending blond (read: WASP) slacker. If the story unwinds like "a romantic comedy between two straight men," according to director Todd Phillips, it’s clearly an interfaith romance, a marriage of opposites.

When a corpse washes up on the beach, the gung-ho Starsky pounces on the case; Hutch suggests they push the body back "and hope it floats to the next precinct." During a visit to "ghetto snitch" Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg), Hutch requests a cocktail; Starsky wants "seltzer with a little lime." Hutch chooses bland undercover disguises; Starsky hams it up as in-your-face "Morrie Finkel, of Finkel’s Fixtures," whose shag is fiercer than Farrah Fawcett’s.

Eventually the partners narrow in on cocaine wheeler-dealer Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn), who is part-wannabe mobster, part-nouveau riche suburban Jew. His family’s upcoming simcha is more tsuris-provoking than Starsky and Hutch: "Like I don’t have enough problems," he kvetches to an associate. "My daughter’s bat mitzvah is turning into a total nightmare."

The nightmare escalates when the cops crash the bat mitzvah at Feldman’s faux Tudor estate, where the reception is one of those garish ’70s affairs (Feldman’s wearing pink polyester with his yarmulke).

The Jewish Stiller, for his part, was drawn to the film because as a kid he idolized the streetwise, chutzpahdik Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser). "Every Jewish kids’ hero," he has said.

Growing up in New York, the dark-haired Stiller would pretend to be Starsky while some blond kid on the block was Hutch.

Starsky’s Jewfro is the butt of a joke in the movie when Hutch sneers, "Why don’t you go get another perm?"

The Jewish cop’s reply bristles with indignation: "For your information, my hair is naturally curly."

"Starsky & Hutch" is in theaters now.

Unacceptable


After The New Republic’s Gregg Easterbrook wrote in his online column that Jewish executives in Hollywood "worship money above all else," he apologized.

Every group in some way lives up to its stereotypes, and even knows that about itself — otherwise there’d be no specific humor within each tribe or dismay about the tribe within the tribe. Tribes and nations have opposing codes, and smaller groups within bigger nations or cultures will always suffer for the differences. None of us live without summary judgments of other tribes, in the largest sense of that word. The scapegoat mechanism is biological, and a civilized person, knowing this, doesn’t bring his uglier opinions forward, because he knows that our summary judgments belong to the same rough instinct as road rage. We feel it, we control it, and sometimes we slip.

The problem with summary judgment is that for every particle of truth, the scapegoat mechanism uses the lie to protect us from the mirror. This is called projection, or as the founder of Christianity said, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye, with never a thought for the great plank in your own?"

As far as I know, Halliburton and the big defense contractors who got the no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq are controlled by Christians, but no one would say of them that Christians are warmongering profiteers bent on destroying America’s middle class to immiserate all but a few million families, who will then refeudalize the world. Or no one would say of Disney that because some of the largest holders of Disney stock, the Bass and Disney families, are Christians, we can say that Christians exploit the Jews’ undeniably fluid understanding of numbers to make the Christians rich and give some Jews the illusion that financial partnership equals social acceptance. Then, when the Jews are no longer needed, like, say, Andrew Fastow at Enron, the Christians hang them, or even, as with Dennis Kozlowski, the old-line WASPs use the crimes of anyone outside of their tribe to obscure their own role in the conspiracy. No one would say of them that Christians worship money, just because of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

So who is guilty for Columbine? Blaming mass culture for destroying society isn’t new. Blaming the Jews for the destructive mass culture is also not new. Read "Mein Kampf." "Scream" and "Kill Bill" were written and directed by Christians. Is Easterbrook saying that Wes Craven and Quentin Tarantino were abducted in the night by Jews, their blood drained for the matzah and replaced with monster-movie Jew juice? Or that Christians, going back to ancient Rome, have an uncontrollable lust for images of blood, which the Jews exploit?

What is unforgivable in this is the phrase "worship money above all else."

Some may think that Easterbrook absolves himself of anti-Semitism with his aside that there are Christian executives who also worship money. But framed as it is, he puts the Jews in first position at the blood-soaked money altar. We started it. When you say the Jews worship money, when you say that Jewish executives worship money above all else, when you say that Jews don’t care about the screams of the innocent, you’re talking like a Nazi.

Easterbrook wrote: "Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice."

Otherwise, what?

Adding to the distress, Leon Wieseltier, his editor at The New Republic wrote, "Insofar as Gregg’s comments impute Jewish motives for everything that Jews do, insofar as they suggest that everything any Jew does is intrinsically a Jewish thing, they are objectively anti-Semitic. But Gregg Easterbrook is not an anti-Semite."

Wieseltier is wrong. Writing without an editor, or cautious self-censorship, Easterbrook wrote what he really thinks: that the Jews control everything, and that the Jews, for their own good, should remember what happened in Germany. There is no support possible for Easterbrook, the damage has been done and the Jews have been hurt. The apology is not accepted.


Author Michael Tolkin is the co-writer of “Changing Lanes,” which has been named the Best Picture of the Year by Catholics In Media. His most recent novel, “Under Radar,” is published by Atlantic Books.

Q & A With Darren Star


Darren Star doesn’t want you to know that he spent a portion of his bar mitzvah money to buy himself a subscription to Variety, the entertainment industry’s bible. It’s been written about before, he claims. But it’s just too good a story not to include it. Because somehow it sums Star up perfectly: The sweet 13-year-old bar mitzvah boy with his eye on the prize — Hollywood — even then. A far better investment than a pen set.

Star, the creator and executive producer of three of the last decade’s most popular television phenomena — "Beverly Hills, 90210," "Melrose Place" and the three time Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning HBO comedy series "Sex and the City" — is being honored Monday night with the Tisch Industry Leadership Award at the National Foundation for Jewish Culture’s third annual Jewish Image Awards.

As co-creator and executive producer, Star is currently in production on "Miss Match," a romantic "dramedy" starring Alicia Silverstone, which makes its debut Friday, Sept. 26 on NBC. He is also adapting the memoirs of Jewish photojournalist Deborah Copaken into a feature film for DreamWorks.

Hollywood screenwriter Andrea King, a former journalist who grew up in Potomac, Md., with Star, spoke to him about — what else? — Jewish images in Hollwyood.

Andrea King: What impact do you think the depiction of Jewish characters on TV or in film plays in shaping our views of ethnic or religious groups?

Darren Star: It’s easy to fall into a stereotypical depiction of a Jewish person. And when characters are identified as Jewish, it broadens peoples concepts and awareness of who Jewish people are. Living in large cities, I think we’re under the assumption or misconception that these stereotypes are a joke, but in fact I think in areas where people don’t know Jewish people their ideas of who Jewish people are often formed by the media.

AK: What are the hallmarks of a successful Jewish character?

DS: I think the hallmark of a successful Jewish character is not to think or define that person as Jewish. First, you want to create a well-rounded character whom people can identify with and find areas of commonality with so they realize that they have similarities as well as differences.

I think people are very familiar with the "Jewish stereotype." The challenge now to creating a Jewish character is to go beyond the stereotypes and try to define what identifies that person as being Jewish in a unique way (i.e., their values, etc.). To me the trick is to create an interesting character whose religion is another layer to who he or she is.

AK: Which Jewish characters in film and television do you think have been great?

DS: I like Tom Cruise in "Mission Impossible." That’s my favorite Jewish character. I assume anyone that good-looking, smart and athletic has to be Jewish.

AK: Why do you think it is that film and TV seem better at conveying Jewish ethnicity than Jewish spirituality?

DS: Very little spirituality of any kind is conveyed in film and television. People are basically uncomfortable dealing with religious themes in entertainment. Entertainment is something that brings people together, thus spirituality in film and TV is presented in a broader context without being religion-specific. Unless we’re talking about "The Exorcist."

AK: When you write or create Jewish characters are you more conscious of helping to define the "Jewish Image" in culture?

DS: I try to think about creating a good character first. It think it’s dangerous to get too wrapped up in creating an archetypal Jewish character. Successful Jewish characters are successful Jewish characters. Period. I go out of my way to avoid creating stereotypical characters, but being Jewish myself, my values and my sensibilities inhabit the characters I create. And just because characters aren’t necessarily identified as Jewish doesn’t mean that they can’t be Jewish. Your family, your past is always part of the characters you create. I came from a close family that has a great sense of humor, told a lot of stories, and I think that sense of family definitely is infused through my work…. Also, classic Jewish comedy of Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Jim Brooks has a huge influence not only over my work, but over everybody working in TV today.

AK: Why do you think the Jewish Image Awards are important?

DS: It’s easy to fall into a stereotypical depiction of a Jewish person, and when characters are identified as Jewish it broadens peoples concepts and awareness of who Jewish people are. Living in large cities, I think we’re under the assumption or misconception that these stereotypes are a joke, but in fact I think in areas where people don’t know Jewish people, their ideas of who Jewish people are often formed by the media.

AK: Is there any Jewish content on "Miss Match?" [Samantha Daniels, whose life it’s based on and Alicia Silverstone, the star, are both Jewish.]

DS: There’s a universality about this character, she could be Jewish, but we’ve chosen not to make her religion a factor in the story.

As a storyteller, identifying a character’s religion becomes an important part of what you are telling the audience about your character — thus, sometimes it’s relevant and sometimes it’s not.

I don’t think I win the award for creating the most Jewish characters, but growing up in an area where there were a lot of Jewish people, it feels very normal for me to populate my world with Jewish characters. I see them in my world and in my life, so it feels odd not to have them around.

AK: Carrie in "Sex and the City" seems Jewish because she’s played by Sarah Jessica Parker, but she has no ethnicity. Was that a conscious choice?

DS: Yes, I feel that definitely, Carrie Bradshaw, in many ways, can be considered a Jewish character. She wasn’t specifically written as a Jewish character, because there was a universality to her, but a lot of her qualities people would attribute to someone who is Jewish. But it wasn’t necessary to define her as any religion.

The character I have most tried to break Jewish stereotypes with is Kim Cattrall’s character on "Sex and the City" — sex-crazed and blonde…. Now, there’s a Jewish stereotype broken!

Jewish Trojans — Oxymoron No More


"There’s a Jew wearing a yarmulke," a drunk member of Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi shouted to a shocked Jacob Faturechi as he rode his bike down fraternity row at the University of Southern California (USC) in 1996.

"I think that it was a novelty to see a Jew at USC that was out of the closet," said Faturechi, adding that at the time he had only recently become more observant. "It was unusual to find a Jew who wasn’t looking to assimilate in the neighborhood."

But that was then.

Today, just steps away from USC’s fraternity row — which has historically been a symbol of the university’s typically all-white culture — lies the new site of the campus Chabad House. The 6,500-square-foot Victorian home, which Chabad is in the process of renovating, will be the third site that the organization will occupy since outgrowing its first two locations in the past three years.

"When we first came, a lot of people didn’t think we’d be around for too long. It’s been so long since there’s been a traditional Jewish presence on campus," said Rabbi Dov Wagner, who founded Chabad at USC in September 2000 and now serves as its director. "But the vibrancy of Jewish life has been picking up here so much. I think people now realize that it’s an integral part of the university."

Fifty years ago, one would have been hard-pressed to find the terms "Jewish life" and "USC" used in the same sentence. But these days their integration is evident in many aspects of daily campus culture.

The modern Hillel building sits proudly across the street from the center of campus. There is a partial-kosher meal option and university housing that is reserved for Jewish students requiring kosher kitchens. Approximately one-third of the faculty and half of the deans at the university are Jews. And the university’s dean of religious life is a Reform rabbi.

But the fact that the Jewish presence on campus is so strong is no accident. In recent years, USC’s administration has been proactive in attracting Jewish students. Dr. Steven B. Sample, USC’s president, has made tremendous efforts to make Jewish students feel comfortable at the university. And the university is only one of two in the country that employs a college recruiter in its admissions office whose sole responsibility is to recruit Jews.

Still, there are skeptics that wonder whether USC’s motives are "kosher," questioning whether the Jewish community is being courted for its financial means or academic reputation. But as far as USC’s administration and faculty are concerned, the university is only making up for lost time.

"Every major university in the country has a strong affinity toward the Jewish community, and we are one of the last to not have that trust relationship," said Rabbi Jonathan Klein, director of USC Hillel.

But old stereotypes are difficult to overcome. Some Jews still associate USC with the "von KleidSmid Era" — when Rufus B. von KleidSmid, thought by some to be a Nazi sympathizer, served as president of the university from 1921-1947, and then became the university’s chancellor until his death in 1964.

"Depending on who you believe, [von KleidSmid] was somewhere between liking Germans and being a Nazi," said Rabbi Susan Laemmle, who was appointed as USC’s dean of religious life in September 1996, the first rabbi in the country to hold such a position.

Although there were no formal quotas in place during von KleinSmid’s administration, it is rumored that only one Jewish student per year was admitted to the university’s law and medical schools. In 1946, also during von KleidSmid’s presidency, a cross burning took place on the lawn of a Jewish fraternity house.

Anti-Semitic activity didn’t end after von KleidSmid’s death. In 1978, USC was accused of planning to fund a Middle East Center using money from American companies doing business with the Saudis, according the Los Angeles Times. In 1986, fraternity and sorority members were suspended after members painted anti-Semitic slogans and "Jew Week" outside a Jewish fraternity that had won a "Greek Week" competition.

In recent years, university administrators have gone to great lengths to change the school’s reputation to attract more Jewish applicants.

Unquestionably, the greatest progress has been made since Sample arrived in 1991. Known for his desire to increase diversity on campus, over the years Sample has vowed to crack down on hate incidents and forge relationships with various religious and ethnic institutions.

Sample, who does not give press interviews, has worked to mend the university’s relationship with Los Angeles’ Jewish community. He is credited with the establishment of the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life, strengthening ties with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) — where more than 600 USC undergraduates take Judaic studies courses each year — and appointing investor Stanley Gold, as the university’s first Jewish chairman of the board of trustees.

"Sample has been spectacularly helpful for Jews and other groups at USC," said Gold, who attended USC law school in 1967. "He is a very inclusive fellow and he’s helped bring about this multicultural environment on campus. He’s welcomed Jewish students and they’ve come."

One result was to hire a full-time recruiter of Jewish students. Currently, Jessica Pashkow serves as USC’s senior assistant director of undergraduate admission. Her territory includes West Los Angeles, the West San Fernando Valley, the state of Colorado and every Jewish day school from San Diego to Santa Barbara.

Pashkow tailors her recruitment presentations to fit each individual student body, depending upon whether she is visiting a public school or a private day school. At a Jewish school she will talk more about Jewish life on campus, such as kosher food options, whereas at a public school, she is more discreet.

"If I’m going to a public high school I’ll say certain things about myself where students who are paying attention will know that I’m Jewish and will then be able to ask me questions," Pashkow said, noting that she often mentions her previous position with USC Hillel and her master’s degree from HUC-JIR. "[I give] little sort of not-so-subtle hints so that the Jewish students that were listening will feel more comfortable asking me questions."

Pashkow also reads the applications for every Jewish high school student who applies to USC. But since USC’s application does not ask students to state their religious affiliation, the only way that Pashkow can identify Jewish students is if they self-identify through their college essay or in a resume of extracurricular high school activities that USC requests from each prospective student.

Each identified Jewish student receives a copy of "Jewish Life at USC," a brochure describing the variety of Jewish options and programs on campus.

Pashkow’s efforts appear to be working. Since the university began keeping track of its Jewish students four years ago, the number of Jewish applicants has more than doubled and the number of those enrolled has more than tripled.

According to Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, USC’s Jewish students currently number 3,000 and make up approximately 10 percent of the total student population — greater than every school in the California State University and University of California system, with the exception of UC Berkeley (10.5 percent) and Cal State Northridge (10.5 percent).

Pashkow largely attributes the rise in the number of Jewish students at the university to the significant rise in the university’s academic standing over the past few years, thus making the university more attractive to Jewish families. Over the past six years, the average GPA and SAT I scores among students in USC’s incoming freshman class has increased by approximately 8 percent. According to the Office of Admission, students admitted for fall’s 2003 freshman class posses an estimated GPA of 3.99 and an average SAT score of 1342 (out of 1600).

"Because of the history of USC and because of the rivalry with UCLA, I think USC was not seen in the same academic light," Pashkow said. "I think that was a big factor with a lot of Jewish families, that they really think we know that Jews in general care very much about education and are an educated people."

But at a time when the University of Michigan has come under fire for an affirmative action program that President Bush called "fundamentally flawed," some see negative motivations behind USC’s outreach to the Jewish community. Critics question whether Jewish students are being recruited to undo old stereotypes.

Pashkow denied such claims and noted that although she is focused on recruiting Jewish students, all students — including Jewish students — must fit admissions requirements.

"People are misunderstanding that even though we’re recruiting Jewish students, we also want them to be smart," Pashkow said. "They have to have all the other criteria. It’s not just because they’re Jewish that we’re going to admit them."

Michael Thompson, vice provost and dean of admission and financial aid, also denied such claims.

"We are no more interested in you because your mother or father may have been generous to the university," Thompson said. The university’s admissions process is "blind to that," he added, noting that USC is working to expand the diversity of its student body and that Jews are not the only ones that feel courted.

If diversity at USC was Sample’s goal, he is succeeding. Today, USC’s Jewish students are highly identified and empowered students, often coming from leadership positions in high school Jewish organizations like United Synagogue Youth, North American Federation of Temple Youth and B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. They are involved in almost every Greek house on campus, including USC’s two Jewish fraternities, Alpha Epsilon Pi and Zeta Beta Tau, and one Jewish sorority, Alpha Gamma Gamma. And they are active in a range of Jewish organizations that include Chabad and Hillel, which was accredited for its standard of excellence by the national Hillel in April. (JAM, the Jewish Awareness Movement, a Jewish outreach organization, is also coming to campus this year.)

Currently, the university’s greatest challenge is in attracting Orthodox students to campus.

"We’re located away from the Jewish center of gravity of Jewish life in L.A.," Laemmle said. "There’s no kosher butcher or major synagogue and that makes it feel like it’s out of touch Jewishly. That’s our biggest trouble in attracting Orthodox students."

But USC is doing its best to compensate, and is working to become more accommodating to traditional Jewish students and nurturing to those looking to advance their spiritual growth. It hopes to expand its now partial, kosher meal plan and its SChalom housing, university apartments where Jewish students live alongside Muslim students.

Ben Alayev, an Uzbek immigrant whose family moved to California to escape religious persecution, became Orthodox during his time at USC. He said that the diversity at the university provided him with a comfortable environment in which to explore his spiritual identity.

"At a university you have your studies, but you’re also supposed to grow as a person," said Alayev, who is working on completing a master’s degree in international relations. "USC is a really great place for that, because the tolerance that you see at USC you won’t see any other place."

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Laemmle Theatres serves up more Jewish documentariesthis weekend under the banner of their cleverly titled screening series “Bagelsand Docs.” At Laemmle Monica, early risers can catch “Undying Love,” a film thatrecounts the stories of young couples whose relationships were affected by WorldWar II. “Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good,” and “Ruthie and Connie: Every Roomin the House” will also be shown as part of the morning screening series thisweekend, at the Laemmle Fallbrook and Sunset 5, respectively. Bagels notincluded. www.laemmle.com

.

Sunday

Short and stout? Think again. Encouraging a reexamination of such houseware stereotypes, Long Beach Museum of Art unveils its new exhibition today, “Teapots Everywhere.” Designs by Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring are just two of the more than 250 mold-breaking variations featured in the show. Other contributors include Cindy Sherman, Ron Nagle and Tony Marsh, promising kettles in every size, shape and material imaginable.11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Sunday). Runs through Sept. 14. $5 (general), $4 (students and seniors), free (children under 12 and for everyone on the first Friday of the month). 2300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. (562) 439-2119.”Mona Lisa/Van Gogh” by Noi Volkoy.

Monday

Zehava Ben lends her unique voice and singing style totwo new CDs that manage to feature many of the same Israeli standards and, atthe same time, sound completely different. In “Beit Avi” (“My Father’s House”)Ben is accompanied by the Symphonic Orchestra of Hadera, lending a soulful,classic Mediterranean sound to songs like “Hanasich Hakatan” (“The LittlePrince”) and “Zemer Noge” (“Sentimental Tune”). In “Laroz Variations,” Ben’spairing with top Israeli electronic music producer Haim Laroz adds trance beatsfor a world-fusion treatment of those same melodies and others. $15-$17. www.israel-music.com

.

Tuesday

The tale begins when Ivy League-educated Richard Rubin takes a job as a reporter in the small Mississippi town of Greenwood. Part coming-of-age story, part courtroom drama, “Confederacy of Silence: A True Tale of the New Old South” dispels some assumptions about the New South just as it corroborates others, and is out in paperback this month.Atria Books, $14.

Wednesday

Do you aspire to hobnob, but can’t afford thegrand-a-plate dinners quite yet? Benefiting Lifeline to Argentina, an emergencyrelief project that helps Argentine Jews, Charity Stars sponsors an artexhibition and wine tasting on the beach in Santa Monica. At $25 a ticket (inadvance), it’s a good deed you can afford, plus excellent preparation forplayers-in-training. 7:30-10:30 p.m. $25 (in advance), $35 (at the door).Hamilton Galleries, 1431 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 936-5674 orcharitystars@yahoo.com

.

Thursday

Grab a date and head out for good jazz and good food tonight. Steve March Torme (as in Mel Torme’s offspring) performs at The Vic in Santa Monica, the upstairs part of the romantic Victorian. Expect some old standards like “Blue Skies” and “Stardust,” both from his new album “The Essence of Love.” Just be sure to make a reservation. That’s the only way you’ll find out the password required to gain entry to this modern-day speakeasy.8 p.m. and 10 p.m. $10 (cover). 2640 Main St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (888) 367-5299.

Friday

Jennifer Maisel’s “The Last Seder” tells the story of a family’s last gathering before the father, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, will be placed in a care facility. Through the course of the play, the ritual of the seder becomes a channel for the family’s healing. Having helped launch the careers of playwrights like Christopher Durang and Wendy Wasserstein, the Ensemble Studio Theatre (through their West Coast branch, “The L.A. Project”) presents a staged reading of this new play tonight and Sunday.8 p.m. (June 27 and 29). $10. Theatre/Theater, 6425 Hollywood Blvd., fourth floor, Hollywood. (213) 368-9552.

Meyer: Hero or Anti-Hero?


“A Jewish friend of mine loves ‘The Sopranos,'” Italian American actor Joe Bologna said with a groan. “I told him, ‘How’d you like to see a show called “The Goldsteins” about white-collar criminals and the biggest shyster is Izzy Goldstein?”

Bologna isn’t about to play Izzy, but he is the co-author and star of a monologue he said breaks ethnic and gangster stereotypes. In “Meyer,” he portrays Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky — previously depicted in films such as “Bugsy” (1991) — as both a ruthless thug and a pathetic alter-kacker. At the beginning of the play, the character sips Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Soda and kvetches about Israel denying him citizenship under the Law of Return.

While Bologna usually eschews mobster roles, he was receptive when Richard Krevolin asked him to co-author “Meyer” in the 1990s. The 38-year-old Jewish author (“King Levine”) told Bologna he’d interviewed Las Vegas hoteliers who’d described Lansky as “ice-cold” and others who remember him passing out candy while walking his Shih Tzu. He said his fascination with the gangster began when a con-man bilked his Connecticut neighbors by posing as Lansky’s nephew around 1980. “This guy played into the Jewish reverence for the tough Jew,” Krevolin said. “So I began wondering, was Lansky an American Jewish hero or was he an anti-hero?”

Audience members were so divided on the issue that they screamed at each other after “Meyer’s” debut in San Diego several years ago. But Bologna — best known for writing and performing comic plays with his wife, actress Renee Taylor — sees the mobster as poignant. Lansky’s persona reminds the actor of his gruff father, who also grew up in a cold-water tenement but chose the family shoeshine business over the mob. “Lansky decided not to ‘carry a lunch pail’ and ultimately paid the price,” said Bologna, 67. “And that’s tragic. It’s Shakespearean.”

“Dream” a Reality for Ethiopian Teens


For three months in 1984, Routhy Wonvimgen’s family walked from Ethiopia to Sudan in order to reach Israel. "They walked barefoot and had very little water or food," she said of her family’s part in Operation Moses, one of Israel’s efforts to help Ethiopian Jews.

"They walked by night and hid by day. My mother was pregnant and my grandfather died on the way," said Wonvimgen, who was born two months after her parents settled in Petah Tikvah.

Now 18, Wonvimgen’s was one of eight Israeli Ethiopian students who visited Los Angeles last month to share their experiences as immigrants and black Jews with students at several Los Angeles Unified School District high schools. Now in its 10th year, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Children of the Dream program brings the Jewish students to 13 cities around the United States.

"This program helps dispel all these stereotypes that you have about Israel," said Bette Weinberg, ADL’s director of youth programs. "Everyone’s image of ‘Jewish’ is Eastern European. This breaks that barrier and engages the non-Jewish community in learning about the people of Israel. Often, all they hear about is the politics about Israel." In addition, she said, it helps the Israeli students reconnect with their Ethiopian heritage. "There’s a rich Jewish history in Ethiopia that we don’t want to lose," Weinberg said.

The students spent time at nine high schools, including Jordan, Kennedy, Bravo, Fairfax, Hamilton, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, Narbonne, Downtown Business Magnet and Dorsey.

Like most of her fellow travelers, Wonvimgen couldn’t help but notice how surprised Americans were upon learning that she was both black and Jewish. "In Israel, everyone is interested in our being Jewish, but not [our] color. Here in Los Angeles, blacks and Jews are thought of very separately," she said.

Nevertheless, Los Angeles-area students found common bonds with their Israeli counterparts. "One African American boy said, ‘I never knew I had Jewish brothers and sisters,’" Weinberg recounted. "Also, some of the Asian students came from Vietnam. The struggles and loss in their immigration stories isn’t all that different from [that of] the Ethiopian kids."

Donald Singleton, a government teacher at Dorsey High School in South Los Angeles, hosted the student visitors in some of his classes. "The Ethiopians had questions about the violence in South Central Los Angeles and my students asked them about violence in Israel," Singleton said. Both sets of teens were united in that each knew about the violence in their respective areas, but weren’t personally affected. Singleton also noted that his students dispelled myths about American teenagers. "The Ethiopian kids were surprised about the type of discussions we are having," Singleton said. "They thought [the conversations] were very enlightening. They realized our students are very astute about government and politics and weren’t focused on drugs and sex."

Judy Weinstock, a mother of four who has hosted Children of the Dream participants since 1994, believes the program is important for Jews, as well as the non-Jewish population. "If you’re involved in the Jewish community, you tend to think Jews are one type, one color and one language — and they’re not," said the L.A. resident.

The Israeli students will be visited by some of their new friends this spring; the ADL will choose nine American teens of different ethnicities to travel to Israel. If the group is unable to travel to Israel, they will learn about the multiethnic history of the United States by visiting Washington, D.C.

A few nights before leaving Los Angeles, 17-year-old Shoshana Dessay reflected on her time in the United States. "The best part was visiting the schools and the fact that we meet a lot of different people and broke the stereotypes about black and Jewish people," said the Beersheba teen. "That makes me feel good."

When Worlds Collide


Much has been written about Jewish talent working in the entertainment industry. But what happens when you’re a sought-after Jewish writer who also happens to be observant?

"When worlds collide" might as well have been the subtext of a recent panel hosted by Sinai Temple’s Kesher Sinai group, which engaged David Sacks ("Third Rock From the Sun"), Ilana Wernick ("King of Queens"), David Weiss ("Clockstoppers") and Marv Silbermintz ("The Tonight Show with Jay Leno") on the subject of Hollywood values and pressures conflicting with Jewish ethics and ritual. The evening — the first union of the Congregation Mogen David-based grass-roots singles group Aaron’s Tent and Kesher Sinai (formerly Sinai New Leadership) — included a java-fueled, post-panel singles mixer, courtesy of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

Aaron’s Tent founder Aaron Kemp moderated the evening, which took place in April and was co-chaired by Kesher Sinai’s Faranak Rostamian and Cindy Stogel. Kemp, a Screen Actors Guild contractual lawyer, opened the discussion on a facetious note.

"I thought I would grow up to love my gentile partner and have comedic episodes with my non-Jewish in-laws," said Kemp, mocking the historical portrayal of Jews on television sitcoms.

Responding to the influence of such stereotypes, Weiss said that he was more impacted by Rat Pack-era celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. than network television’s tendency to put Jewish males in interfaith relationships with WASPy women.

"I did not want to grow up to be a one-eyed black Jew, but I did want to marry Meredith Baxter-Birney," admitted Weiss, an observant Jew who, for a brief spell, converted to Christianity on his quest for spiritual satisfaction.

"I thought the entire world was Jewish growing up," said Silbermintz, raised on 79th Street and Broadway in Manhattan. "I thought Popeye and Batman were Jewish." Silbermintz became a staff gag writer on "The Tonight Show" in 1992, after years of sending Leno unsolicited jokes.

Wernick was not aware of Jewish representation on television while growing up, but added, "I was really excited to find out that the actor who played ‘The Fonz’ was Jewish in real life."

Panel members told personal anecdotes about the lines of sensitivity toward Jewish content drawn behind the scenes. Wernick touched on the inherent Jewishness of Jerry Stiller’s character on "King of Queens," which portrays characters of Italian heritage. She also said that behind the scenes, she has become the arbiter of what is and is not Jewish.

"It’s like I’m a rabbi on the show," Wernick said. "By default, I become that because I’m the most Jewish one there."

Sacks, a veteran of two long-running sitcoms — "The Simpsons" and "Third Rock" — set the record straight regarding his connection to Jewish-themed episodes on both series. He came onboard as a writer on "The Simpsons" after completion of the episode in which Krusty the Clown is revealed to be Jewish. But Sacks did have a hand in the "Third Rock" episode in which the alien family adopted the surname of the Solomons and declared their human alter egos Jewish. However, the idea was not his.

Weiss summed up his working relationship with his non-Jewish writing partner this way: "I’ll write on Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday, you’ll write on Shabbos and yontif." The pair, which penned a "Rugrats" Chanukah special, is currently scripting "Shrek 2."

The panel also discussed the line between homage and stereotype onscreen. Weiss lamented the day when Nickelodeon jettisoned the overtly old country Grandpa Boris from the "Rugrats" after the character raised the ire of the Anti-Defamation League, which deemed Boris too stereotypical. Silbermintz, whose father is Columbian and mother Dominican, became hardened to people referring to him as Puerto Rican. He dislikes the air of sensitivity and political correctness.

"You think the Italians are offended by ‘The Godfather,’" he said, laughing, "they love it. It’s like the Torah to them, and ‘The Sopranos’ is like the New Testament."

Wernick spoke of having to overcompensate in all areas and devote 110 percent in all areas in order to justify leaving work early to observe Shabbat on Friday evenings, when "King of Queens" tapes.

"My bosses are all nonobservant Jews, and they’ve been fantastic about the whole thing," she said.

During the question-and-answer period, an audience member asked the panel to comment on why so many Jews in Hollywood do not publicly back Israel. Silbermintz observed that the sole celebrity not mincing words about his support of Israel is Howard Stern, to which Kemp interjected, "Yeah, except he won’t admit that he’s a full Jew on his own show."

The Name Game


When we were little, my brother and I realized that whenever we asked if someone was Jewish, my mother would answer by simply repeating their name, as if that said it all.

“Irving Fishbaum? Ira and Esther Lefkowitz? C’mon.”

We decided to see if we could induce this behavior and selected the perfect test case. When she came home one day, we ambushed.

“Mom, are Simon and Garfunkel Jewish”?

She looked at us, lowering her head and raising her eyebrows. “Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel? C’mon.”

That was before we understood that names could be obviously Jewish, that any name containing “gold,” “silver,” “green,” “fish,” “blatt,” “baum,” “stein,” “feld” or “witz” was usually a dead giveaway. That was before we knew that Shapiro was Shapiro and Kaplan was Kaplan. Kaplan? C’mon. This is still a family joke and if she’s distracted, you can sometimes get her to do it to this day.

“Mom, is Itzhak Pearlman Jewish?”

“Itzhak Pearlm — oh, stop it.”

If Jewish names are on a scale of one to Hadassah Lieberman, mine may be a one.

It’s possible I’m the Jew with the least Jewish name ever. Teresa is misleading enough — the name of more than one Catholic saint. Strasser just takes it on home. You may remember Major Heinrich Strasser, a Gestapo officer in the film, “Casablanca.” Yes, the only Strasser anyone’s ever heard of is one of film’s most famous Nazis.

I may as well be named Noelle or Brandy. In fact, I once had a Hebrew-school teacher that was so vexed by my name she just took to calling me Rachel. I stopped correcting the poor woman and simply answered to the name Rachel for the next three years.

When I was 20, an editor at a Jewish newspaper walked up to my desk on my first day of work, didn’t introduce himself, didn’t shake my hand, just looked at me and asked, “What’s a Jew doing with a name like Teresa?” I told him he could call me Rachel if it would make him feel better.

My parents insist they did me no wrong by not calling me Jodie or Debbie or Stacy. Teresa is a good Hungarian name they say, my great-grandmother’s name, although she was called Tess.

Until recently, I’ve always appreciated having an ambiguous name. It’s nice to reveal your ethnicity only when you feel like it, when it feels safe, when it’s your choice. Now, however, I wonder what it would have been like to be called Ruth Oppenheimer or Shoshana Hirshfeld. My life would have been totally different as Mona Moskowitz, who isn’t kidding anyone.

Growing up, I never really liked the sound of Jewish surnames, their Germanic bite, all the connotations and stereotypes from which I was happy to distance myself. I planned to do away with my own surname, vague as it may be, and fantasized about becoming Teresa Willis or Teresa McBride. I figured I’d marry a guy with a nice vanilla moniker, and that would be that. I could monogram my way into belonging. I’d have a name people could spell and pronounce.

I tell you, I must be undergoing some major self-acceptance because out of nowhere, Jewish names are starting to sound downright … sexy.

As an adult, I’ve always planned to keep my last name if I got married, but I still play the dating name game, taking surnames out for a spin. Teresa Cohen? Teresa Goldstein? I still enjoy the sheer, unabashed WASPiness of Teresa Tyler or the incredible misdirect of Teresa Puccinelli, but I no longer cringe from Teresa Saperstein.

I once dated three guys named Todd in one year. Today, I say bring on Daniel, Abe, Gabe and Isaac. A David is just plain hot, a Joshua even hotter. And as I write this, with only the rarest exception (Lipschitz isn’t easy for anyone, is it?), a last name cannot be too Jewish. The more Jewish, the more texture, the more history, the more character.

Think about it, if America’s most famous “alleged” shoplifter were still Winona Horowitz, would she be any less gorgeous? What if Sarah Michelle Gellar, another ambiguously named Jew, had a different name? What if America’s sweetheart was Sarah Michelle Greenbaum? I think I like it.

As a Jew, your name identifies you. I never wanted to run from that, but I welcomed the option to “pass.” Now I wonder what it would be like to remove all doubt. “I’m Teresa Blumenfeld, nice to meet you. Yeah, Blumenfeld.”

When my stepdad was rushed to the hospital one New Year’s Eve, the ER doctor introduced herself as Dr. Wallerstein. When she left the room, my mother and I looked at each other, comforted for no good reason really, and whispered in unison, “Dr. Wallerstein? C’mon.”

Selling Israel to Progressive Latinos


Although progressives’ cause-of-the-month is criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, it has been endemic in the Latino left for years.

These progressive Latinos claim solidarity between themselves and Palestinians based on their supposed shared experience of being "people of color" resisting an invading "white" conqueror. Many Latino student organizations have formed alliances with Muslim and Arab groups in support of Palestinians, while rarely acknowledging Jewish groups, and often standing in direct opposition to them. The Palestinian-Latino left relationship is so entrenched that in the 1980s, for example, members of La Raza Unida Party (a Chicano political party) sent a delegation to meet with Yasser Arafat to discuss their respective situations.

This stance in and of itself is not anti-Israel, although it can easily be construed as such when fringe groups like La Voz de Aztlán are mistaken as an accurate reflection of the sentiments of the Latino community. But Latino students’ championing of the Palestinian cause should cause concern for Jews, since the end result can be an entire generation of Latinos who equate Israel with a terrorist state not worthy of existing.

As a young Latino progressive, I believe in the state of Israel, despite what I feel to be sometimes unfair actions towards Palestinians. I’m sure that many of my peers who protest against Israel and claim allegiance with Palestinians would feel the same way I do if they knew the special ties between them and the Jews, and how the ideal of Israel can serve as an example for us and our parents. This week, with the opening of the Latino-Jewish festival, would be a good time to start.

Amid a Southern California demographics change of increasing Latinos, and with more Latinos involving themselves in politics, it is imperative on the behalf of Jews to show Latinos why Israel is important. Moralistic and theological arguments are not enough; the best way to do this, is for Jews to reconnect with a community that they have largely ignored for decades and emphasize still-salient ties. Latino-Jewish relations are currently at the point where each side has a set construct of the other community, making it complicated and nearly impossible to understand each groups’ special issues. If Latinos and Jews cannot relate on a personal level, then how can Latinos be expected to support an idea as complicated and special as Israel?

Each side’s respective dehumanization of the other must be changed before any discussion of Israel is brought into discussion. Many Latinos stereotype Jews as uncaring Westside socialites who never bother to venture into the Latino sections of Los Angeles. Conversely, some Jews see Latinos as unmotivated Third World migrants and are weary of their growing political clout.

One starting point in breaking down these stereotypes is pointing out the likeness of the Latino and Jewish immigrant experience. Like their Eastern European Jewish counterparts of the 20th century, Latino immigrants today flee repressive regimes and horrific economic conditions in search of a better life in the United States. By each side taking note of this, Jews can better understand the current situation of many Latinos, and Latinos can view the Jewish success story as an assimilation model to emulate.

Having connected on such a personal and historical level, Jews can start explaining Israel in an immigrant context that can be better appreciated by Latinos. For example, Jews have always raised money to support Israel. Many Latino immigrants, likewise, remit much of their hard-earned pay to improve living conditions in their home countries. But Israel is rarely depicted as an immigrant project and Latinos instead have to navigate through mainstream media reports of American government (as opposed to community) funding for Israel. If Latinos were to know the individual monetary (not to mention personal) investment proffered by Jewish Americans to Israel, Latinos would be much more concerned about its gradual destruction, since the parallel between Israel and their home countries would be unmistakable.

Viewed this way, the actual meaning of Israel will become a common theme that can be considered a shared ideal for both groups. Dispossession from their ancestral homelands is a central tenet of the Jewish and Latino experience, and Jews have managed to stake a claim to what was once theirs. Though Latinos are not seeking a homeland for themselves, they nevertheless pine for the land of their youth, back before it was ravaged by revolutionary and economic chaos. Emphasizing Israel as the culmination of an immigrant dream, rather than a God-mandated search, would play much better for overwhelmingly Christian Latinos who could care less about the religious aspect of Israel.

To make all of these points possible, the historical Jewish-Latino relationship in this city — one that has been largely forgotten by both sides — must be renewed. The barbed-wire fence surrounding the still-magnificent Breed Street shul is the only reminder for today’s Latinos that Jews once lived among them in Boyle Heights. Jews forget that their support of councilmember-turned-Congressman Ed Roybal, during the 1950s, was one of the first indicators of Jewish political influence in traditionally anti-Semitic Los Angeles, and also paved the way for other cross-ethnic coalitions that continued up to last year’s mayoral race. Though inroads have been reestablished by the Jewish and Latino elite, the common communities on both sides must be included in this dialogue in order to begin having a fuller understanding of Israel by all — most importantly, the students.

It’s up to American Jews themselves to reach out and teach us in the Latino community. If they don’t, then Jews shouldn’t be surprised when they see a young Latina claiming she is a Palestinian, denouncing Israel as a terrorist state.

Messing Up Stereotypes


When Debra Messing heard she’d been cast as Woody Allen’s girlfriend in his new romantic romp, “Hollywood Ending,” she shrieked.

“I was in my car, and I almost caused an accident,” gushes the spunky, green-eyed redhead, best known as the kooky Jewish gal pal to a gay lawyer on NBC’s “Will & Grace.” “I come from a Jewish family from New York, so Woody Allen is almost mythological to me. To star in one of his movies — I was over the moon.”

Messing plays Lori, a ditzy tart of an actress dating a washed-up director (Allen) with one last shot at success. Never mind that the pairing is, well, ironic: Allen’s known for depicting not-so-nice Jewish women (think the nagging mom from “New York Stories”), while Messing’s overturned every Jewish female stereotype on television. Forget pathetic Melissa from “thirtysomething” and obnoxious Vicki from “Suddenly Susan.” The fictional Grace Adler is a hip, gorgeous, lovably klutzy interior designer with way-cool clothes and an unabashedly Jewish sensibility. The character spouts Yiddishisms, reminisces about Camp Ramah, confesses to eating a burger on Yom Kippur and describes her excitement at being profiled in the Jewish Forward. When Grace breaks up with her latest inappropriate beau, she chants, “Baruch Atah Adonai, I’m gonna die alone.”

You could call her the anti-Seinfeld: “I remember thinking Jerry’s friend Elaine was Jewish, then learning she wasn’t,” the Emmy-nominated Messing, 33, told The Journal. “Then I thought, Seinfeld’s friend George must be Jewish, but his last name was ‘Costanza.’ It’s like the sensibility was Jewish but the characters weren’t. Which is why I encouraged the ‘Will & Grace’ writers to include more Jewish references for my character. I thought it would be great if Grace were open and unapologetic about being Jewish; if her Jewishness were just a fact, the way it’s a fact that Will is gay. I thought it would be neat and an inside joke for my family if we could have smart jokes that revealed Grace’s Jewishness, while at the same time making her endearing to the audience.”

“Will & Grace” co-creator Max Mutchnick, agrees: “Grace doesn’t fall into any of those categories that have stereotyped Jewish women,” he told The Journal in a 2001 interview. “She’s strong, she’s pretty and she’s a proud Jewish woman.”

If Messing projects a certain vulnerability as Grace, it’s because she’s had some practice. “I never felt beautiful growing up,” confides the 5-foot-8 actress, who was born in Brooklyn but raised in rural Rhode Island. “I didn’t think my big hair was attractive. It took me a long time to come to terms with my looks.”

It didn’t help that Messing — the daughter of a jewelry executive active in the Rhode Island Jewish Federation — was one of only a few Jews at school. When she was in the third grade, a boy pushed her and called her a “kike” (around the same time, a swastika was painted on her grandfather’s car). “I felt the desire to lie and say I was sick on Yom Kippur, because kids got mad and thought it was unfair I got the Jewish holidays off and Christmas, too,” Messing recalls. “I did feel different being Jewish. I felt like an outcast throughout elementary school.”

She escaped into the Jewish milieu of Woody Allen’s films, which were de rigueur in her childhood home. Messing also nursed a wicked crush on actor Dustin Hoffman, became a bat mitzvah at a Reform temple and trekked to Brooklyn to visit her Jewish relatives. During one such visit, her mother, Sandy, a onetime professional singer, took her to see “Annie” on Broadway. Messing, then 7 years old, leaped out of her seat and declared, “I’m going to be Annie one day.” By the age of 16, she was playing the role in a high school production, though her parents insisted she attend college before drama school.

So Messing was off to Brandeis University, where she says the heavily Jewish population proved “shocking but, ultimately, a relief. It was amazing to not feel ashamed, to not have to make excuses for my holidays and to meet people who’d had similar family experiences.”

After graduating summa cum laude from Brandeis, Messing earned a master’s degree in theater from New York University and became the quintessential struggling actress — until her father revealed he’d invested her bat mitzvah money and parlayed it into $30,000. The funds helped sustain her until she began landing roles such as a scheming sister on “NYPD Blue” and Jerry’s elusive ideal girlfriend on “Seinfeld.”

In 1995, Messing snagged the lead in the Fox series, “Ned and Stacey,” though she bombed her initial audition. “They said I was too wholesome,” she recalls, with a groan. “They wanted a neurotic Jew from New York, and I said, ‘Hello, I’m right here.'”

If Stacey was Jewish in name only, Grace Adler is anything but. While “Will & Grace” broke ground in 1998 as one of the first network series to feature an appealing gay main character, it was a first for another reason: “There [hasn’t] been a more positive role model for Jewish women on television in the past 50 years,” as the Forward put it.

Messing, oddly, expresses surprise when told about the Jewish community accolades. “No one’s articulated that to me, but I consider it a huge honor and a privilege,” she says. “I had hoped Grace would be to Jewish people what Will is to gay people.”

While Grace has never seriously dated a Jewish man, Messing wed Daniel Zelman, an actor-screenwriter, in a ceremony conducted by a rabbi in September 2000. The couple attended High Holy Day services in Los Angeles last year (they live in the Hollywood Hills), though Messing describes her Jewish identity as “more cultural than institutionalized.” She performs her share of tzedakah by supporting charities such as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and Best Friend’s Pet Sanctuary.

Another Messing contribution to the Jewish zeitgeist: “Will & Grace” director James Burrows calls her “Juicy,” the Jewish Lucy, because of her prowess for physical comedy. Anyone who remembers the exploding water-bra episode understands why critics agree she’s a sexier, contemporary incarnation of Lucille Ball. Even Allen noted Messing’s comic ability and cast her in a cameo in his 1998 film, “Celebrity.”

The audition, she recalls, was unorthodox: Before asking her to read, she says, “Woody stared at me for 30 seconds, and I stared back.”

Starring in “Hollywood Ending” also proved daunting. “Woody doesn’t give you the entire script, which is the actors’ bible, so that’s very disarming,” Messing says. “Then he sort of leaves you alone for a long time and doesn’t say anything and just lets you find your way. Often you don’t rehearse and you get only one take; it’s so fast it makes your head spin.”

Messing’s career trajectory has been equally head-spinning. She’s appeared on every magazine cover from Cosmo to Glamour and recently flexed her dramatic muscles by portraying Richard Gere’s doomed wife in the “The Mothman Prophesies.” She says her goal is “to work within all mediums and to switch genres as often as possible.”

Playing the very un-Grace-like Lori in “Hollywood Ending” has helped. “It’s been an amazing experience,” she says. “To star in a Woody Allen movie — as his girlfriend, no less — has been a real-life Hollywood ending for me.”

The film opens today in Los Angeles and May 15 at the Cannes Film Festival.

Something in Common


Interfaith relations between Christians and Jews have become a feel-good cliché among the well-meaning and a target of satire, a la Tom Lehrer’s “National Brotherhood Week,” among cynics.

For readers in either category, the two-hour documentary, “Jews and Christians: A Journey of Faith,” provides a first-class history lesson and an antidote against oversimplification and easy stereotypes. The documentary will air Dec. 7 on PBS station KCET, starting at 10:30 p.m.

Despite appearances of no less than 40 academics and clerics, the film is much more than 120 minutes of talking heads. Producers Gerald Krell and Meyer Odze, both Jewish, illustrate the evolution of the two faiths, their similarities and divergences, with close-ups of religious ceremonies, exchange visits between synagogues and churches, focus groups discussing stereotypes of the “other” and sidetrips to Jerusalem and the Vatican.

The film is based on the book, “Our Father Abraham: The Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith,” by professor Marvin Wilson, an evangelical Christian.

Particularly intriguing for the layman are the parallels between biblical events and Jewish celebrations and their replication in different forms among Christians.

A seder scene, with the breaking of the matzah and blessing of the wine, is followed by a depiction of Holy Communion, with its consecration of the wafer and the wine.

Purification through baptism is based on cleansing at the mikvah, with one Christian scholar referring to John the Baptist as “John, the mikvah man.”

The baptism of Jesus and his 40-day fast in the desert is linked to the Israelites’ passage through the Red Sea and 40-year wandering in the desert. The singing of the “Yigdal” by a cantor at the end of the Sabbath is followed by a church choir rendering exactly the same melody to the words of “God of Abraham Praised.”

Perhaps most striking is the common theme of a loving father sacrificing his son, expressed in the Torah through Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac and in the Christian Bible through God allowing the crucifixion of Jesus.

There is no attempt to gloss over the differences between the two faiths or the history of Christian persecution of Jews.

Jewish scholar Stephen Katz notes about the Holocaust, “You cannot get from the New Testament to Auschwitz directly … on the other hand, you could not have Auschwitz had you not had the long prehistory made possible by Christian anti-Judaism.”

From the Jewish perspective, a rabbi laments that the only tie between an observant and a secular Jew may be a common suspicion of Christianity.

One of the obvious differences between the two faiths is that Christians believe that Jesus is the messiah, while the Jews are still waiting for him.

In a humorous “resolution” of the theological debate, Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, a left-of-center Orthodox theologian, visualizes the arrival of the messiah at his first press conference when he is asked, “Is this your first or second coming?”

And the messiah responds, “No comment.”

A comprehensive study guide, organized around the majorthemes of the documentary, is available through Auteur Productions by calling(866) 299-6554, or through the Web site www.jewsandchristiansjourney.com .

‘Over’ and Out


Actor-writer Dan Bucatinsky calls his charming romantic comedy, "All Over the Guy," opening today in Los Angeles, his "’It just happens to be’ movie."

In the film — about mismatched gay lovers and their straight best friends — three of four main characters just happen to be Jewish, two happen to be gay, but none fit stereotypes, he says.

Brett (Adam Goldberg) is a furniture designer who says "buttercup" instead of "yellow" — but is straight. His lover, Jackie (Sasha Alexander), is a Jewish woman who’s had a nose job, but doesn’t visit the manicurist. The gay romantic lead, Eli, is Bucatinsky ("The Opposite of Sex"), a 30-something actor who is usually relegated to playing nerds and creeps. "I wanted to tweak all the familiar cliches," explains Bucatinsky, whose film includes cameos by his pals Christina Ricci and Lisa Kudrow.

His New York Jewish upbringing also defies stereotypes. His Argentinean émigré dad had the unlikely name of Julio Bucatinsky. His émigré mom, like Eli’s, was a well-meaning if touchy-feely therapist who discussed private parts at the dinner table.

Bucatinsky began acting in temple Purim plays, continued at Vassar and eventually penned and starred in a sardonic comedy, "I Know You Are, But What am I?" — about lovers who meet on a blind date. A couple years ago, he rewrote the play into "All Over the Guy," partly inspired by his own fear of blind dates. "For me, they’re an opportunity to be axe-murdered," jokes the actor, who nevertheless met his longtime partner, "Opposite of Sex" director Don Roos, on a blind date.

Less scary was performing love scenes with his straight "Guy" co-star, Richard Ruccalo, who in real-life dates sexy actress Tiffani Thiessen. "Rich is so secure in his sexuality, he could totally throw himself into the role," Bucatinsky says.

Jewish Girls Rule


I have a pint-sized Jewish ex-girlfriend named Lori who once asked if I thought that Jewish girls were better lovers. It was a funny question. Better than what? I had to think about it. It never occurred to me that there was some kind of tacit competition going on, pitting the home Jewesses against the visiting teams from the other major religions.

Who judges this contest? How do I get in on that action? Do the other girls even know that this is a medal sport? Are the gentile girls honing their seductive skills at cotillions — ballroom dancing with those little white gloves and learning how to be courtesans — while our princesses are at Hess Kramer summer camp playing softball? Who’s in charge here?

“You’re miles ahead of the Muslims,” I said, “but I think the Hindus have a lot going for them with that ‘Kama Sutra.'”

There is little reliable research in this field. Still, I felt it was important to get a statistical sampling that would stand up to the scrutiny of the most pedantic scholars, so I asked my friend Mickey.

I know Mickey from Hebrew school in the old country, Encino, so he ought to know about this stuff. He said there are two ways you can look at this thing:

(a) There’s no difference at all, at least none associated with religious affiliation, or

(b) Jewish girls are either better or worse, and it has everything to do with the Jewish part.

“It depends on what you want,” he said. “If you just want to fool around, anyone will do. breaking up with non jewish girl is easier to do. Breaking up with a Jewish girl is like that song ‘Hotel California’: ‘You can check out anytime you’d like, but you can never leave.'”

“Score that round to the gentiles,” I said.

“But when you’re done having fun, and you want to settle down, marry a nice Jewish girl. All things being equal, they make for better partners.”

“Aren’t you stereotyping?” I asked.

“Yes, I am,” he said. “But doesn’t that make it so much easier to understand?”

Let’s confront those stereotypes: We only half-jokingly refer to our girls as “princesses.” We treat them like princesses and expect them to make a reservation for dinner — just like mother used to make. All the snide, inside jokes about them being hard-to-please, diet-obsessed shop-a-holics? Consider that the alternative is someone who gladly accepts mediocrity and doesn’t care about how she presents herself. At least our team came dressed to play.

Don’t believe me? Go to one of those fly-over states (any of the states in the middle that Bush won) where we are conspicuously absent, and take a look for yourself. Those broads look horrible!

Hair? Wrong. Clothes? Wrong. Shoes? Wrong. Jewish girls kick their tuchis. Why? Because our gals are hard-to-please, diet-obsessed shop-a-holics. You go, girls!

As for the perception that they’re pushy, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. They let you know where you stand. I’ll take an aggressive JAP over a passive-aggressive WASP any day. Less covert manipulation makes for a fair fight.

Jewish girls are much more business-like. They call you back. Gentiles are working off a whole different deal. I don’t know if it’s a part of the gospels or “The Rules,” but somewhere in their religious training was the idea that they should not call boys on the telephone, except under extreme duress. (Think of Annie Hall and the spider.)

Jewish girls know what’s what. They have great doctors, or they are great doctors. They know whom to call. They’re resourceful. They know when things go on sale, which is important because they buy a lot of stuff.

But the best thing about Jewish girls: they get it. They’re in on the joke (like, for instance, this column). You don’t have to explain stuff to them. You start the book in the middle. You say “Dayenu,” and they know what you mean. Say “Ma Nishtana,” and they nod. Their mother is exactly the same as yours, only different. They understand us and our mishegas better than the other gals do. Their nurturing side may lean toward smothering, but there are worse things, like indifference.

It’s hard enough getting any two people together, and when you put qualifiers on it that they have to be thus and so, it gets harder still. But even if Jewish girls aren’t demonstrably better, they’re at least as good as the competition, and, given a toss-up, I’d give them the edge.

Then, factor in that they’re on my side, in my tribe, and that makes them better. As if there were ever any doubt, Lori.

Smith is rooting for the home team @ www.lifesentence.net.