Film critic Judith Crist dies at 90

Film critic Judith Crist, a one-time mainstay of the “Today” show and TV Guide, has died at 90.

Crist died Tuesday in Manhattan following a long illness, according to reports.

She was born Judith Klein to parents Solomon Klein and the former Helen Schoenberg, spending her early years in Montreal before returning to her native New York at age 12.

Crist was a woman of many firsts. At the New York Herald Tribune, she became the first female film critic at any major American newspaper, according to The New York Times, working there for more than two decades. She was also the first film critic at New York magazine before moving on to do reviews on “Today” in the 1960s.

Crist, did not mince words and was famous for her sharp tongue, prompting director Otto Preminger to label her “Judas Crist,” according to The Associated Press. In 1974, reviewing the Israeli musical comedy film “Kazablan” for New York magazine, Crist wrote, “You don’t have to be Jewish to dislike ‘Kazablan,’ but it helps. At best, it portrays Jews as stereotypes and clowns.”

In 1987, she was among the many Jewish women to respond to an appeal by Lilith, the Jewish feminist magazine, to campaign for the freedom of Soviet Jewish refusenik Ida Nudel. Nudel was released later that year.

Crist taught at Columbia’s School of Journalism intermittently over the course of more than half a century, and in 2008 she received an alumni award from the school.

Is History Repeating Itself?

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me"? — Rabbi Hillel

Can we learn from history? Is the past a succession of meaningless, unrelated events? Does the rise and fall of nations in the past have

anything to do with today’s world? Are people that much different than they were then? Do they strive after different things, have different desires?

These questions came to mind recently as the similarities between Israel’s geopolitical situation increasingly resembled that of the Jews during the first Roman War. (Some would argue that it more closely resembles 20th-century Czechoslovakia, but that’s another article.)

Huge armies were assembled in ancient Judea. Pitched battles were fought throughout. Great plunder and destruction followed, and Jerusalem was destroyed, its people brutally murdered or sold into slavery. The dispersion of the Jews among their enemies began.

There were those who counseled moderation in those days: These were collaborators, wealthy men and nobles who benefited from the Roman occupation and wanted it to continue. They preferred expansion and trade to a foolish rebellion that could only end in disaster.

The war began in spite of their efforts. Menahem the Galilean conquered the Roman fortress at Masada and then entered Jerusalem in triumph.

Other nationalist movements began to stir throughout the Roman Empire, and Jews in the Diaspora were also moved to send material aid.

But the resources of these Jewish rebels were infinitely smaller than their oppressors, and they were tragically disunited. Their greatest energies were used in fighting one another, further weakening them against the powerful Roman army that had conquered Galilee and stood poised to attack Jerusalem.

The city was now the center of the rebellion, with Jews from all over the country rallying there. Zealots, an extremist organization adamantly opposed to Roman rule and the high priesthood, occupied the Temple precinct and forced the priests to withdraw into the sanctuary.

Things were made more confused by the arrival of many Idumaeans in the city. These men were great fighters, but they were not accepted as Jews, because they were converts. The three principal factions — Zealots, Idumaeans and the elitist collaborationists — now used their time to terrorize one another, creating the contagion of civil war.

Vespasian, the Roman general, twice prepared to attack Jerusalem but hesitated when the Emperor Nero died suddenly. Besides, it was evident by then that the Jews were destroying themselves by their extraordinary disunity. And indeed, the three basic factions in the capital were reduced to two by their fierce internal struggles that persisted, even though a Roman army was just north of the city and poised to attack.

Significantly, the remaining Jewish forces in Jerusalem had a misplaced confidence in their military capabilities. Partly, this was due to religious beliefs; partly it was because of Vespasian’s failure to attack the holy city for three years, even though its gates had been wide open and defenseless. As a result, when the long siege of Jerusalem began, there was no real hope for the defenders.

Ancient Judea lost its bid for freedom when it divided itself into factions and fought one another, instead of the common enemy. Its forces were caught up in their visions of the world, its fighters too certain the real enemy was within.

The result was the fall of the city, followed by a massacre and burning of the Temple and the city. The numbers of Jews killed or taken prisoner was astounding. Thirty-thousand prisoners of war were sold at auction, while many others perished in gladiatorial games.

Writing of those times, Josephus spoke thus: "…. Weary of slaughter, Titus issued orders to kill only those who were found in arms and offered resistance … troops slew the old and feeble, while those in the prime of life and serviceable they drove together into the Temple and shut them up in the court of the women."

Israel today stands imperiled much as she did in Roman times, surrounded by enemies that again threaten her existence. Jews everywhere have formed themselves into factions, unable to see any good in the policies of their political opponents.

There is little uproar over the left’s blindness, no outcry about the right’s dreams of a greater Israel. None of these factions sees anything good about the other, and some would rather demonize or talk down the elected government of Israel than present a united front against the nation’s enemies.

Should we be concerned that history is tragically repeating itself today? Should these happenings frighten those who value liberty and the survival of the Jewish state most?

That is the most important question for Jews to think about in these perilous times.

Stanley William Rothstein is professor emeritus at California State University, Fullerton.

Krusty’s Adult Bar Mitzvah

Krusty the Clown never had a bar mitzvah. It’s a startling confession “Simpsons” fans will hear this Sunday when the Springfield celebrity discovers he doesn’t have a star on the town’s Jewish Walk of Fame.

In the episode, “Today, I Am a Clown,” written by Joel H. Cohen, the sardonic Krusty turns to his Orthodox father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky (Jackie Mason), and Mr. T for help.

Now in its 15th season, “The Simpsons” regularly pokes fun at Christianity via neighbor Ned Flanders and Hinduism through Kwik-E-Mart’s Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. However, it’s been 12 years since the show has done anything more than an occasional Jewish aside via Krusty or his kin.

In the 1991 episode, “Like Father, Like Clown,” Bart Simpson studies and quotes from the Talmud to help reunite the estranged father and son. Krusty (nĂ© Hershel Krustofsky) was disowned when he became a clown, rather than following the long-standing family tradition of entering the rabbinate (“A jazz singer, this I could forgive,” Rabbi Krustofsky says. “But a clown!”).

Rabbi Krustofsky returns to help his son study for his big day — which he originally opposed for the young Hershel, fearing that he might make a mockery out of it. When Krusty realizes that his show’s shooting schedule has him working on Shabbat, he brings in Homer Simpson as a guest host.

Unfortunately, Homer wins over the audience with buddies Lenny, Moe and Carl and talk of everyday subjects like doughnuts. Krusty, in turn, gets canned.

In a bid to reclaim his audience, Krusty turns his bar mitzvah into a reality TV show, slating the event for Isotope Stadium and inviting Mr. T to read from the Torah.

What else might we expect from a “Simpsons” bar mitzvah? In keeping with tradition, maybe a little “D’oh.”

“Today I Am a Clown” airs Sunday, Dec. 7, 8 p.m. on Fox.

Healing the ‘wounds’

When rabbi and author Jan Goldstein was suddenly faced with the news that his 12-year marriage was ending — leaving him with primary custody of his three children — he felt his life was ruined, until he learned to make sense of his pain.

In his new book, "Sacred Wounds: Succeeding Because of Life’s Pain" (Regan Books, $24.95) Goldstein recounts his personal journey of self-actualization and offers a nine-step process toward transforming pain into empowerment.

"The pain is not going away. But it’s going to serve a purpose in our lives if we let it," said Goldstein, an award-winning poet, playwright and screenwriter, who is now happily remarried.

In addition to being instructional, each chapter includes a story about someone who has taken one of Goldstein’s nine steps. In "Step One: Acknowledging the Wound," Goldstein tells the story of Debrah Constance, a woman who overcame the obstacles of her three failed marriages, alcoholism, cancer and a near-death car accident, and used her own experiences to establish A Place Called Home, a safe house that today provides a nurturing environment to several hundred 9- to 20-year-olds in South Central Los Angeles. In the book, Constance says, "Coming to terms with my wounds has meant acknowledging and believing in myself. It has also meant learning to believe in others."

Goldstein said that while the book is always relevant, it is especially applicable in today’s time of war.

"The images and losses have an impact on all of us … and what they ought to be doing is reminding us what’s really important," he said.

Jan Goldstein will discuss and sign "Sacred Wounds: Succeeding Because of Life’s Pain" on Tuesday, April 22 at 8 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 111 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 585-0362.

One Day More

This week, we break the linear reading of Torah to honor the holy day of Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of assembly, a day added to the seven days of Sukkot. Midrash Rabbah (29:36) explains Shemini Atzeret by way of an analogy: A king invites the whole country to a feast. When it is over and the people are returning home, he turns to his children and begs them to stay a little bit longer saying: "Your departure is painful to me."

We have gathered with God to celebrate the feast of the earth’s bounty, and now God says to us: "Wait, don’t go just yet. Spend one more day with Me, for your separation pains Me."

One way to understand this is to note that in Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17, the Torah reading assigned to Shemini Atzeret, the holy day itself is not mentioned. We can read about Shemini Atzeret in Leviticus (23:36) and Numbers (29:35-39), but not here. Why? Because staying with God one more day should be an act of love rather than an act of obedience. God wants us to stay with Him, and we want to stay with God.

Shemini Atzeret, then, is a day to linger with God. And what does this lingering involve? We are to come before God with "whatever your heart desires — cattle, flocks, wine, alcoholic beverage, or anything that your soul wishes; you shall eat it there before God and rejoice — you and your household" (Deuteronomy 14:26).

Notice the difference between whatever your heart desires and anything that your soul wishes. The heart desires things: cattle, flocks, drink. The soul wishes for company: eating before God with your loved ones. The heart rejoices when it has something to rejoice over. The soul rejoices when it has someone to rejoice with. For seven days we rejoice over the bounty that God has given us. On the eighth day we rejoice with God.

See this in terms of the midrash above. The king invites the whole country to his feast. When the feast is over, the people leave. His children, too, prepare to depart, but he says to them: "Linger with me yet another day, for your departure pains me. Being separate from you distresses me." Only his children are invited to stay with the king; only those most intimate with God feel the call to stay one more day.

But isn’t Shemini Atzeret obligatory on all of us, and not simply those who feel called by God to God? Yes, God is calling each of us — even if we don’t hear the call. The obligation to linger gives us the opportunity to hear the call. It is as if once the din, tumult and partying of Sukkot has quieted down we can finally hear God calling to us: stay with Me one more day.

What is staying with God? The Kotzker Rebbe once asked, "Where does God dwell?" He answered his own question saying: "God dwells wherever you let God in." Staying with God means staying open to God; staying open to God means seeing the Divine in, with and as all that is. It is realizing that God is ein sof (unbounded) and that there is no thing that is not God — for that would put a limit on God. Rejoicing with God means rejoicing with your family and the world. Rejoicing with God means embracing the world with godliness.

Why just one day? Because "one day" means "this day," and "this day" — today — is all we have. Our sages tell us to do teshuvah (repentance) one day before we die. Since we don’t know when that day is, one day becomes today. The same is true here. God is saying to us: "I am glad your heart rejoices in all the things I have given you, but now put those things aside and rejoice in Me and My company." If you rejoice in the company of God today, you will rejoice with God forever, for today is the only day you ever have.