Friday, July 14
Literature takes center stage with The New Short Fiction Series, a host of evenings in which actors read from a published work of fiction. This year’s first featured writer is author and poet Carol Schwalberg, whose “The Midnight Lover and Other Stories” will be performed, tonight.
8 p.m. $10. Beverly Hills Public Library Auditorium, 444 N. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-2220.
Spectator – The ‘Truth’ That Lies Beneath
For Josh Bernstein, host of The History Channel’s “Digging for the Truth,” myth-dispelling, artifact-hunting and body-straining adventure are part of his regular routine.
“Digging,” now in its second season, has taken Bernstein from Peru to Greenland to Zimbabwe and Egypt searching for answers to archaeological mysteries, such as locating the lost tribe of Israel and uncovering the Holy Grail.
This Jewish Indiana Jones seems to have the travel bug in his DNA. Bernstein says he traveled from his home in New York to Israel to see family several times prior to age 2.
“My father was born in the Old City of Jerusalem, and I think just by nature the Israeli culture is very pro-travel. They still are today,” he explains. “As far back as I can remember I have always been on airplanes and in other countries.”
Bernstein grew up in a Conservative Jewish household on the Upper East Side, attended Hebrew school, was bar mitzvahed and enjoyed Shabbat dinner Friday nights. After he graduated from Cornell, where he majored in anthropology and psychology, Bernstein spent a year studying Judaic texts for at least 12 hours a day at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem.
While the majority of his fellow classmates continued their studies in rabbinical school, Bernstein opted to explore a different profession: “I wanted to pursue a career in the outdoors and get my knowledge from the same place.”
Bernstein soon began working at the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) a program that teaches a field-based, hands-on curriculum of wilderness survival skills. After moving up the ranks to CEO, and establishing himself as an outdoor survival expert, Bernstein added another occupation to his resume: Television show host.
On “Digging for the Truth,” he is able to integrate his interest in the social sciences and his love of frequenting remote destinations.
“I’m actually physically there with the experts … exploring the actual tombs, temples or pyramids and bringing that to life in a very physical and hopefully accessible way,” he said.
When he’s not filming for the History Channel, Bernstein may be found in New York or Utah, or in Colorado, where four times yearly he continues to run courses for BOSS.
“Digging for the Truth” airs on The History Channel Mondays at 9 p.m., check local listings for additional times. Shows are also available on DVD.
Sweet Sixteen and Ready to Rise
Israelis Do the Riviera
Amid the celebrities and paparazzi crowding the Cannes Film Festival last week, Katriel Schory roamed the bustling boulevard Croisette like a proud parent.
“Israeli cinema has never had such a presence here,” Schory, director of the Israel Film Fund, said via the cell phone that seems attached to his ear.
Yes, Moshe Mizrahi was nominated for the top prize with his 1972 romantic drama, “I Love You, Rosa,” and Amos Gitai competed five times with his edgy, political films, winning a 2000 award for “Kippur.”
“But I’ve attended this festival for 30 years, and we have a higher profile now than ever,” Schory said. “We’re receiving unprecedented recognition in multiple sections of Cannes.”
The evidence may not appear earth-shattering by Hollywood or Cannes standards. By the time the 12-day extravaganza ends on May 28, almost 1,500 movies from more than 90 countries will have screened in the world’s largest international film festival and market. Yet, for the small but growing Israeli film industry, the progress is dramatic, Schory said. The festival will showcase 15 movies — up from nine in 2005 — some during the first-ever Israel film day, he added.
Two Israeli students, selected by a jury that includes American director Tim Burton, will vie against 15 peers in Cannes’ student competition, perhaps the most prestigious of its kind in the world.
Meanwhile, 40-something auteur Dover Kosashvili (“Late Marriage”), was bustling to meetings with more than 60 financiers — part of a 2006 festival program to help 18 promising directors complete new projects.
On the ground floor of the Palais des Festivals, visitors were streaming to Israel’s official booth, according to Schory: “People are asking, ‘What’s cooking?’ ‘What are the new titles?’ It’s completely different than even several years ago, when once in a while someone used to stop by.”
Schory said he is being wooed by leaders of other international film festivals, who previously ignored him.
“I used to have to beg them to take our movies,” he recalls. “But this year, the Locarno people insisted that I come to their party and that they want a closer relationship with us. And just a couple hours ago, the woman who schedules the Venice festival came up to me and said she wanted to talk as soon as possible about the latest crop of Israeli films.”
Schory’s Israel Film Fund finances up to 70 percent of all Israeli films with his annual budget of $7 million. He has theories about why Israeli cinema is generating interest at home and abroad.
Back in the 1980s, he said, homegrown cinema revolved around the Middle East conflict, a subject too specific to generate foreign sales. Even Israelis were sick of the topic from the news. In the 1990s, filmmakers focused on what Schory calls “navel-gazing” — movies so tediously personal they bored everyone. (Not to mention that the production values and storylines needed work, critics have said.)
In 1998, less than 1 percent of Israelis bothered to see Israeli films: “Our industry was practically dead,” Schory said.
Then came a new crop of artists armed with superior technical skills they had learned at Israel’s blossoming film schools or by working in the country’s bourgeoning TV industry.
“These directors are focusing on intimate dramas dealing with universal, day to day problems — family and social issues that are part of the life of every human being,” Schory said.
Kosashvili’s 2001 drama, “Late Marriage,” about a man torn between his lover and his immigrant family, was the first such film to “pull us out of our slump,” Schory recalls. It didn’t hurt, either, that the Los Angeles Times called “Marriage’s” hottest sex scene “the longest and most erotic, tender and passionate ever to occur in a serious film.”
The drama not only drew some 300,000 Israeli viewers, compared to around 15,000 for previous films; it also earned a slot in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard competition.
Also in 2001, France signed a co-production agreement with Israel that to date has generated 15 films, including Eran Riklis’ searing and highly acclaimed “The Syrian Bride.” Three years later, American distributors bought 9 of the 20 films produced in 2004, said Meir Fenigstein of the Israel Film Festival.
And Israeli movies sold 2.5 million tickets abroad — 1 million of them in France — the following year.
Many of the new directors depict unflinching critiques of Israeli society, a trend now reflected at Cannes. Yaniv Berman’s 30-minute student short, “Even Kids Started Small,” for example, dissects violence at public schools (see sidebar). Yuval Shafferman’s “Things Behind the Sun” depicts a family paralyzed by secrets.
Kosashvili’s new project, “Kishta,” is another kind of domestic drama, an erotic love triangle set in the third century. Cannes officials are providing invaluable help to the director and his producers as they hustle to raise the additional $3 million they’ll need to shoot the $4 million drama.
“The festival has set up meetings with bigwigs we would not have been able to get on our own,” producer Edgard Tenenbaum said by cell phone between appointments. “It’s also great because we don’t have to fly around the world to pitch.”
All this despite ongoing resentment toward Israel due to the Palestinian conflict — especially in European nations such as France. Schory believes this is one
case where art — and cash — transcend politics.
“No one invests in movies for philanthropic reasons or for any special affection for the Jewish state,” he said. “They invest because they’ve seen Israeli movies sell tickets, and they believe they can recoup their money.”
Not that politics are completely absent from the festival; they never are, he adds. Schory cites a panel discussion he just attended in which a Tunisian producer grilled him about the status of Israeli Arab directors.
Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman, of the controversial suicide bombing saga, “Paradise Now,” is a judge in the top competition this year.
“That won’t affect us, because Israeli films aren’t participating,” Schory said. “But I don’t think Suleiman could be objective about an Israeli film.”
Even so, he adds, Jewish and Arab filmmakers are at least talking to each other, if only to lament the obstacles to co-production.
“At the end of the day, film is a universal language,” Schory said.
And with that, he headed off to meetings at the end of his day.
Wandering Jew – Spiritual Headliners
Bar/Bat Mitzvah – From Saccharine to Satire.
In “The Chosen Image: Television’s Portrayal of Jewish Themes and Characters” (1999), Jonathan and Judith Pearl argue that, although Hollywood movies tend to depict the bar and bat mitzvah as trivial or materialistic (“The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” “The Wedding Singer,” the Ben Stiller role in “Starsky & Hutch”), television has taken a far more nuanced approach: “Often great pains are taken to explain the meaning of the ceremony, its importance to the family, and its significance in Jewish life.”
They’re right, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. For the first, say, 30 years of television, it was a far more cautious medium than the cinema. It either didn’t treat the religious aspect of people’s lives (there were no b’nai mitzvah on, say, “The Goldbergs”), or it treated religion with an earnestness that would make us squirm today. By the 1980s, it was acceptable to poke gentle fun at a rite like the bar mitzvah. And in the 1990s, when television shows like The Simpsons and South Park were fearlessly lampooning and satirizing everything, nothing was sacred, not even religious practices.
Here, then, are 10 memorable TV b’nai mitzvah, moving over the years from well-meaning, almost saccharine reverence for ritual to critical, even scathing send-ups.
1. “The Bar Mitzvah of Major Orlovsky,” 1962. In this installment of “General Electric Theater,” Orlovsky, a Russian defector, falls in love with Miriam Raskin, the widowed daughter of a rabbi. Although Orlovsky fell away from religion as a child fleeing home, serving in the Russian army — he reconnects to his tradition through Miriam, who is preparing to celebrate her son’s bar mitzvah. Orlovsky returns to Judaism and decides to become a bar mitzvah.
2. “Car 54, Where Are You?” 1963. Joey Pokrass, about to become a bar mitzvah boy, is afraid no one will attend his big day; his father is a widely loathed landlord, and the Pokrass name is mud in town. So officers Toody and Muldoon bring over prisoners from night court to watch Joey at the bimah; others show up, too, persuaded by the cops’ genuine pleadings. Old Man Pokrass is so touched at this outpouring for his son that he mends his ways and begins to fix up his tenants’ apartments. “Yesterday my son was bar mitzvahed,” he says, “but it was me who became a man.”
3. “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” 1966. TV writer Buddy Sorrell, played by Morey Amsterdam, has been acting funny, ducking out of the office for unclear reasons and with odd excuses. His co-workers Rob and Sally speculate whether he’s having an affair, but it turns out that he’s been meeting with a rabbi: As a young child, he had to work and was unable to become a bar mitzvah, and now he is planning to rectify the omission from his youth.
4. “Archie Bunker’s Place,” 1981. Stephanie, the young Jewish girl whom Archie and Edith adopted after her mother’s death, wants to celebrate a bat mitzvah on this successor to “All in the Family.” Stephanie’s biological grandmother gets involved in the planning and insists on a big, lavish affair, but Stephanie will have none of it. After a synagogue service in which she chants in Hebrew alongside a rabbi and a female cantor, Stephanie has her party back at Archie’s house. It’s the one time Archie Bunker wears a yarmulke, and Rob “Meathead” Reiner isn’t even around to see it.
5. “Diff’rent Strokes,” 1984. Arnold, the young, black adopted son of “Mr. D,” attends a friend’s bar mitzvah and is attracted to a religion that gives a 13-year-old boy cash and premature adult privileges, which, he thinks, include getting into X-rated movies. Arnold consults a rabbi about converting, but when he hears about some of the challenges of Judaism — learning Hebrew, fasting on Yom Kippur — his interest cools. At the end of the episode, he goes to church with his father.
6. “The Wonder Years,” 1989. Kevin, played by Fred Savage, is jealous of his friend Paul, who is about to become a bar mitzvah. Kevin is moved when, having dinner at Paul’s house, he sees Paul’s grandfather give him, in anticipation of the big day, not a TV or watch but a prayer book that his father had given him. Kevin goes home and asks his parents, “What are we?” His parents fumble about, come up with a few bland European ancestries. Since it happens to fall on his birthday, Kevin, overcome by a jealousy he can’t quite name, refuses to attend Paul’s bar mitzvah. Paul is understandably wounded. In the end, Kevin relents, showing up at the synagogue in time to see Paul read from Torah. The episode ends with the two boys dancing a rousing hora.
7. “Seinfeld,” 1997. “The Serenity Now” episode features this fine exchange among Elaine, a bar mitzvah boy, and his father:
Elaine: Congratulations, Mr. Lippman.
Lippman: Oh, Elaine. My boy’s a man today. Can you believe it? He’s a man.
Elaine: Oh, congratulations, Adam. (Adam zealously French-kisses Elaine.)
Adam: I’m a man!
Later, both Mr. Lippman and the rabbi hit on Elaine.
8. “Sex and the City,” 2000. Publicist Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall, is hired to help plan the party of Jenny Brier, a precocious, young New Yorker. “My father has invited over 300 of his most powerful friends to this event,” Jenny tells a skeptical Samantha. “They’re not all coming. The Clintons can’t make it, of course. But like I told Daddy, we’ll be lucky if we can swing this for under a mil. But what do I know? I’m just a kid.”
9. “Frasier,” 2002. Eager to put in a fine performance at the bar mitzvah of his son (who is being raised by his ex-wife, Lilith), Frasier wants to deliver a brief blessing in Hebrew. When he accidentally infuriates his Hebrew tutor, a Star Trek fan, Frasier is deceived into memorizing the blessing in Klingon. At the big event, Frasier chants, “Pookh lod wih le koo…” then concludes, “Shabbat shalom.”
10. “The Simpsons,” 2003. Krusty the Klown, the prodigal son of Rabbi Hyman Krustofski, is moved to celebrate an adult bar mitzvah when he discovers that he cannot get a star on the Jewish Walk of Fame without having passed that milestone. In a nod to reality TV, Krusty’s bar mitzvah becomes a television special, a big spectacle that infuriates his rabbi father, voiced by Jackie Mason. But at the end, to reconcile with his father, Krusty celebrates a low-key affair at the synagogue.
Mark Oppenheimer (markoppenheimer.com) is the author of “Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005).
Evan Alexander Morton
Graybeards Pull Off Israel Election Upset
Just as the polls closed in Israel last month, I was finishing up listening to BBC Radio, planning to switch the dial to hear the first exit poll predictions on a local station.
But exactly as the clock struck 10, I was amazed to hear the BBC itself switching to Tel Aviv for live election coverage. Naturally, the three main Israeli television channels were fighting tooth and nail to claim the largest audience share, but the internal Israeli political situation was also No. 1 on all the international news stations my TV cable caught. Pundits and politicians were broadcasting interviews to New York, London and Atlanta, happy to bask in the warm limelight of mass media.
And it only took a very few minutes for the great upset of 2006 to become obvious: Israeli politics were shaken to their core by dark horse newcomers belonging to a party few had heard of. Close to a quarter of a million Israelis voted for the Pensioners Party, also known as GIL (age), a party run by nonpoliticians that didn’t even exist three months ago; a party founded only after the regular political parties ignored the pleas of its constituents and relegated their demands low on the totem poll. This party’s platform doesn’t contain one word about the burning issues of security, peace or national borders. It’s a sectarian party whose raison d’etre is the selfish concerns of its own electorate.
In fact, the platform of the Pensioners Party focused exclusively on their own hearts and their own pocketbooks: pension rights, social security, health care improvements, drug coverage, nursing home expenditures. Not exactly the most explosive issues in the explosive Middle East.
Sure, the networks would dissect the results to report that Ariel Sharon’s Kadima Party had squeaked into first place in the absence of its founder, who was knocked out of political life by a stroke. They would mull over the dramatic decline of the Likud Party led by ever-ambitious former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They would analyze the rise of the far right, the decline of the far left and the shifting power balances in Israel’s 120-member parliament.
But these were all eclipsed for the whole country by the emotional story of a group of exultant seniors who might look more at home on a park bench than childishly pouring champagne over each other at a victory celebration.
For the first time, a retired persons party had garnered enough votes not only to enter the parliament but to win seven seats. The big parties — the same politicians who had hitherto ignored them — soon began sheepishly begging at the pensioners’ door offering incentives to join a coalition. Like ancient societies that bestowed power and honor upon their elders, it became the turn of the graybeards to return triumphant.
How they scored this upset is a treatise in brilliant strategy. Recognizing that many young voters are disillusioned by current politicians and disappointed in this year’s tedious campaign, the old turned to the young for support. Instead of not voting at all, they argued, make your vote count by doing a good deed for a worthy cause. They hired young advisers, garnered young volunteers and spread the word at coffee shops and places of entertainment.
But it was the new tool of the now generation — the Internet — that perhaps clinched the victory.
By a quirk of legal interpretation, the Internet is not covered under the Israeli law prohibiting electioneering in the media. This allowed youth-targeted sites like Nana, which receives about 320,000 hits a day, mostly from those ranging in age from 18 to 21, freedom to give heavy exposure to the Pensioners Party. Running a series of articles under the title, “The Young Vote for the Old,” streaming videos where famous young entertainers adopted the cause of the aged in need and opening blogs, this Web site, largely staffed by young people, promoted an intense electoral fad that has altered the Israeli political map.
Articles on the senior party appeared with increasing frequency, many written by a young law student helping to finance her studies by moonlighting as a reporter. To what extent did this unexpected deluge of information about the “invisible” elderly help to sway hitherto disenchanted, cynical or ambivalent young voters to cast ballots for gray power? The phenomenon could have been merely a symbolic protest or it could have had sentimental implications, as evidenced by people quoted as casting a ballot “to help my grandparents.”
Now these grandparents have won themselves a potentially key role on a wide range of crucial issues for Israel’s body politic.
Helen Schary Motro teaches at Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law and wrote “Maneuvering Between the Headlines: An American Lives Through the Intifada” (Other Press, 2005).
Spectator – ‘Soprano’ Sings on Jewish Couch
A month into the new and perhaps final season of “The Sopranos,” it’s high time to consider our favorite TV mobster’s predilection for Jews.
Of course, “The Sopranos” features its share of corrupt Jews as well as several marginally anti-Semitic wiseguys. Yet Tony Soprano has evinced a decidedly philosemitic streak.
The tradition — in life and in fiction — of Jewish ties to the Mafia is a rich, albeit rocky, one. Tony’s cinematic predecessor, the original Godfather, Vito Corleone, famously respected and did business with Hyman Roth, but never trusted him. Tony, on the other hand, not only trusts but loves Herman “Hesh” Rabkin, a mob-connected retired record producer who was close to Tony’s late father. Judging from his unwillingness to take Hesh’s money, Tony has more respect for his father’s old friend than he does for the Italian-blooded members of the family.
And the feeling extends beyond Hesh to other characters and situations. But the most important Jewish element on the show is not a character but a process: psychoanalysis.
As Tony’s megalomaniacal mother put it: “Everybody knows that it’s a racket for the Jews.”
The twist is that while Tony decides to engage in a quintessentially Jewish form of soul-searching, he settles on an Italian woman, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, a paisan as Tony says, to be his guide.
But, in the end, this Italian woman blocks his Jewish road to redemption. She means well, and makes some morally courageous stands, but Melfi’s judgment is ultimately clouded by the exhilaration of treating a charismatic Mafioso, hampering her ability to help trigger a meaningful transformation in Tony.
This dynamic contrasts sharply with the one between Tony’s wife, Carmela, and a psychiatrist recommended by Melfi, a stern white-bearded fellow named Krakower (first name: Sigmund).
“You must trust your initial impulse and consider leaving him,” Krakower tells Carmela during their first and last visit. “You’ll never be able to feel good about yourself. You’ll never be able to quell the feelings of guilt and shame that you talked about, so long as you’re his accomplice…. Take the children — what’s left of them — and go.”
Carmela resists the advice.
“You’re not listening,” Krakower says sternly. “I’m not charging you because I won’t take blood money. You can’t either. One thing you can never say: You haven’t been told.”
Krakower’s harsh advice underscores Dr. Melfi’s failures. The best she can do is help Tony become a more effective mob boss, not a better human being.
“The Sopranos” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.
Ami Eden is executive editor of The Forward. For a longer Soprano riff, visit www.forward.com/hbo.
7 Days in The Arts
7 Days in The Arts
Saturday, March 18
Tonight’s Writers Guild 2006 Screen Laurel Award goes to “that member of the guild who … has advanced the literature of the motion picture through the years….” This year, that guy is writer-director Lawrence Kasdan, responsible for “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi” and “The Big Chill,” to name but a few. The public is invited to attend this evening’s tribute and reception, which includes a screening of Kasdan’s “Grand Canyon” and an on-stage Q-and-A. There’s also a screening series of Kasdan films going on all weekend long at the Writers Guild Theatre.
Sat. evening tribute: $25. Weekend screening series: $45 (weekend package), $30 (screenings only), Free (minors accompanied by paying adults, daytime screenings only). 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (323) 782-4692.
Sunday, March 19
Film legend Eli Wallach and his wife and fellow actor Anne Jackson get personal tonight only, in a special one-night performance of “Bits and Pieces,” a collection of poetry, scenes, tales and letters that tells the couple’s story. The event benefits Theatre 40 professional theater company on its 40th birthday.
7 p.m. $25. Reuben Cordova Theatre, Beverly Hills High School Campus, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 364-0535. www.theatre40.org.
Monday, March 20
American Israel Defense Forces’ sisters-in-arms discuss their experiences volunteering to fight for Israel in an event sponsored by the Pacific Southwest Branch of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. They share their stories at the University of Judaism this morning.
10:30 a.m. $6. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. R.S.V.P., (310) 476-5359.
Paddi Bregman, left, and Ruth Giden.
Tuesday, March 21
April Fools comes early at the Skirball. Their “twice monthly on Tuesdays” free film series honors comedy duo Abbott and Costello beginning with today’s screening of “The Naughty Nineties.” Attend later this month to see “One Night in the Tropics.” In April, see “Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein” and “Little Giant.”
1:30 p.m. (March 21 and 28, April 4 and 18). Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.
Abbott and Costello in “The Naughty Nineties.”
Wednesday, March 22
William Shatner, the Rockumentary? Apparently it’s just the beginning. Tonight, TV Land begins airing new series of its “Living in TV Land” music-reality hybrid show, with the ex-Captain Kirk as their first subject. In this episode, they boldly go everywhere Shatner goes, into the recording studio where he records his spoken-word albums, to Trekkie conventions and his home. Future, um, “rock star” subjects include Barry Williams, Fred Willard, Sherman Hemsley, Adam West and Davy Jones.
10 p.m. www.tvland.com.
Thursday, March 23
Tonight, the Skirball presents Langston Hughes’ words as the poet intended them to be heard — accompanied by jazz. Hughes’ ’60s poetry series “Ask Your Mama” told of America’s history of racism and of African American civil unrest in the late 1950s and 1960s. In those lines, Hughes included musical cues, and today the Ron McCurdy Quartet follows them, layering jazz music onto the spoken-word performance. Adding a visual element, images of the Harlem Renaissance by African American artists and photographers will be projected.
8 p.m. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.
Friday, March 24
The Purim parties just won’t stop. Tonight’s variation at Valley Beth Shalom features a Persian-themed Shabbat dinner and musical program. “A Night in Shushan: The Mystical Music of the Middle East” is its title, and the show features The Yuval Ron Ensemble with guest singers and dancers Iman Sufi and Tamra Henna. Come for the meal or just the music.
8 p.m. 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. R.S.V.P. for dinner, (818) 530-4009. www.vbs.org.
Tamra Henna. Photo by Sherif Sonbol
7 Days in The Arts
Forget March — Try Midseason Madness
The Olympics drama is over. The Oscar drama is over. The TV ratings drama is just beginning. Now that the networks have a handle on what worked in the fall (ABC’s “Commander-in-Chief”) and what didn’t (CBS’s “Head Cases”), it’s time to make room for some midseason replacements that — if they do well — will return to the schedule this fall.
With shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost,” ABC is now the place to be for dramas and dramedies. But how will a new family comedy fare on a network that was once home to uber-sitcoms “Full House” and “Growing Pains” — and is now the place to find “Freddie” and “Rodney” (yeah, we haven’t seen them either)?
“Sons & Daughters” (Tuesdays at 9 p.m.), created by Fred Goss (who also stars) and Nick Holly, is ABC’s answer to critically acclaimed but ratings-deprived “Arrested Development.” The modern-day family comedy about the Walker/Halbert siblings and their parents and children is a mix of improvisational and scripted humor, although it is hard to tell which is which.
Goss plays Cameron Walker, whose second wife, Liz, is Jewish. As a result, in the first episode, evil Aunt Rae tells their young daughter, Marni, that the family is going to hell. While Aunt Rae is napping, the kids use a marker to draw a Hitler mustache on her face, and Henry, Cameron’s resentful teenage son from his first marriage, gets it all on camera.
Cameron is based largely on creator Goss’ own life — he is married to a Jewish woman and is raising his kids Jewish — and facing prejudice from some of his family members.
The show airs in the “Commander-in-Chief” spot through mid-April, and while it isn’t a typical comedy (no laugh track), you might find yourself laughing at the similarity between its family and yours.
ABC also ventures into the CBS stronghold of crime solving with “The Evidence” (Wednesdays at 10 p.m., starting March 22). In every episode, the audience plays detective with inspector Sean Cole (Rob Estes) and Cayman Bishop (Orlando Jones), who get help from Dr. Sol Gold (Martin Landau).
The whodunit takes place in San Francisco (one of the few places “C.S.I.” hasn’t been) and kicks off each episode with Gold presenting clues from a videotaped evidence log. The show then goes to the day the crime was committed, and viewers can play along with the detectives as they find each clue, determine its meaning, put the pieces together and solve the crime.
Landau, who won an Oscar for portraying Bela Lugosi in 1994’s “Ed Wood” and picked up a 2005 Jewish Image Award for his work in “The Aryan Couple,” told The Journal that he’s happy to play a Jewish character again.
“They always cast me as Italian,” said Landau, who has recently been Anthony LaPaglia’s father, Frank Malone, on the CBS drama, “Without a Trace.”
If the show can draw viewers from NBC’s staple, “Law & Order,” expect it to hang around until the fall.
Switching channels, the WB (soon to be CW) adds a new guys-who-can’t-figure-out-women-but-aren’t-sure-why comedy to its lineup with “Modern Men” (Fridays, 9:30 p.m., starting March 17), from executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
Twentysomething childhood friends Tim (Josh Braaten), Kyle (Max Greenfield) and Doug (Eric Lively) each have problems with the women — or lack thereof — in their lives and seek the advice of life coach Dr. Victoria Stangel (Jane Seymour).
Adding to the mix is Tim’s dad, Tug (George Wendt), a former NFL player, and law school student and sister, Molly (Marla Sokoloff), the catalyst for the men seeking professional help, who tells them: If women don’t need men any more, it’s up to men to make women want them.
Sokoloff has been seen on the small screen as Lynette’s cutie-pie nanny on “Desperate Housewives” and as the firm’s receptionist on the late ABC drama, “The Practice.” The actress-singer-songwriter told The Journal that she enjoyed playing a young Jewish woman in “The Tollbooth” (for which she won a Jewish Image Award). She is so much fun to watch that maybe it’s time for her to get her own show.
The male-dominated sitcom concept can either work (CBS’s “Two and a Half Men”) or tank (NBC’s “Four Kings”). If “Modern Men” can keep the numbers of its lead-in — “Reba” — on a evening lineup filled with female-geared shows, it might end up in the former category.
The Donald is back for another round of hirings and firings — well, mostly firings, on the latest round of “The Apprentice” (Mondays at 9 p.m.). This year’s crop of candidates includes Orthodox Jews Lee Bienstock, 22, and Daniel Brody, 31.
Bienstock, a business analyst and Cornell University graduate who counts Israel among his top travel destinations, has already made one trip to the boardroom after his team, Gold Rush, lost the first challenge of the season. Bienstock escaped unharmed but was told beforehand by project manager Tarek Saab not to throw blame Saab’s way for the loss or Bienstock would become a “target.”
In the second episode, Bienstock became project manager, and his team won — but some early mismanagement on his part could have easily lost the task for Gold Rush. Past seasons have shown that the “young guy” always gets fired before the final two — usually for not having enough experience or being too cocky.
Brody, an alum of Yeshiva University and founder of Brody Sport, a designer brand of activewear, was also on the Gold Rush team but escaped a visit to the boardroom. In the second episode, he showed he can be relied upon to do what is asked of him. The New Jersey native and father of two could break the “entrepreneurs don’t get picked” reputation the show has exhibited so far.
Bienstock and Brody both went to shul for Rosh Hashanah during the week three task — much to the chagrin of fellow teammates, specifially 37-year-old Lenny Val, a Russian-born New Jerseyite who, when Brody said they would be gone, said, “This is f—— stupid,” and then pointed out several times in the episode that even though he is Jewish, he wasn’t taking off.
Val told Bienstock and Brody that if Gold Rush loses, he would blame them — and continued to do so after their team indeed lost their task. Though neither Bienstock nor Brody was taken to the boardroom, Val was and told Trump that he is Jewish and could have taken off, but he felt the team was more important. Trump told Val, who was not fired, that he could have chosen to take off — but “that’s life.”
It will be intersting to see how Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah play into the next few episodes.
The Journal gives a warm send-off to syndication heaven to a trio of longtime shows: NBC’s Sunday night political drama, “The West Wing” (also on Bravo), which ends its term with an election that could go either way); The WB’s Monday night family drama, “7th Heaven,” which spent 10 years offering a wholesome look at a reverend, his wife, their Jewish in-laws and seven kids who got into more trouble than the Bradford children on “Eight Is Enough”; and NBC’s Thursday night sitcom, “Will & Grace” (on Lifetime and the WB), which brought gaydar and tons of guest stars to the small screen, along with Grace’s (Debra Messing) humorous nods to the holidays: “I mean, the holidays are all about … misery and … obligation … and the Maccabees riding an elephant, or whatever the hell Chanukah is about.”
Spectator – Oh My God, It’s Season 10!
Songs of the South
It appears Fox TV’s “American Idol” has a Jewish contestant heading to the finals. Twenty-seven-year-old Elliott Yamin from Virginia, auditioned for the pop star search and singing competition in Boston, and has gone on to make it into the top 24, and then, on March 9, into the top 12.
With eliminations weekly, it’s still open how much farther Yamin will go. As of press time, he remains in the game, however eliminations now take place weekly on Wednesdays, with the public voting by telephone Tuesday evenings to determine who moves on to the next round.
If commentary by judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell are any indication, Yamin should continue to do well. Their remarks have been almost unanimously favorable, and even notoriously harsh Cowell strongly praised Yamin in two out of three recent performances. After Yamin’s performance of Stevie Wonder’s “If You Really Love Me,” Cowell went so far as to tell him, “I think potentially you are the best male vocalist we’ve ever had.”
Yamin has never had any formal vocal training, but keeping up on American Idol isn’t the first hurdle he’s faced in his life. The young singer is open about his struggle with juvenile diabetes, for which he wears an insulin pump. He also recently revealed on the air that he is 90 percent deaf in one ear.
Regardless of the final outcome, however, Yamin said in an interview on the show’s Web site he feels “a total sense of pride and accomplishment” for making it this far.
Weisz Gets Gold; ‘Munich’ Out in the Cold
Spectator – Oh My God, It’s Season 10!
They've fought Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Barbra Streisand. And now the boys from “South Park” — Eric, Kyle, Stan and Kenny — are back for more in their 10th season on Comedy Central, beginning March 22.
Since the animated show's launch on Aug. 12, 1997, “South Park's” Matt Parker and Trey Stone have eviscerated celebrities, politicians and trends with their irreverent, sardonic wit. But the show can be especially vicious when it comes to religion.
The Dec. 7 season nine finale, “Bloody Mary,” angered Catholics with a not-so-flattering portrayal of a Virgin Mary statue and Pope Benedict XVI, broadcast on the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The show also took pot shots at Scientology last season by animating the faith's science-fiction-like tenets with the legend: “This is what Scientologists actually believe.”
Jews get a lion's share of attention on “South Park.” And it's the show's central Jewish character, Kyle Broflovsky, voiced by Jewish co-creator Stone, who serves as the lightening rod for such gags.
While many remember Kyle singing about being “A Lonely Jew on Christmas” in the first season, the show's watershed Jewish moment was the season three episode “Jewbilee.” Kyle and his adopted brother Ike go to Jew Scouts, where they try to stop Elder Garth of the Synagogue of anti-Semites, who wants Jews to pray to Haman.
In season six, the show knocked the Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance with the episode “Death Camp of Tolerance,” featuring a send-up of “Schindler's List,” complete with black-and-white footage of kids being forced to finger paint scenes of racial harmony by Nazi-like guards.
Other Jewy episodes include season two's “Ike's Wee Wee,” featuring Kyle panicking because he thinks his brother will have his penis cut off during his bris; season six's “The Biggest Douche in the Universe,” during which Kyle runs off to a New York yeshiva named Jewleeard; and season eight's “Passion of the Jew,” in which Kyle hopes to convince his synagogue to collectively apologize for the death of Jesus after seeing the “Passion of the Christ.”
In a show that features Jesus as part of a team of religious super heroes and God as a dog-like Buddhist, it's tempting to ponder what faith “South Park” will mock next. But whatever sacred cows they decide to slaughter, you can be sure that at least one of them will be kosher.
“South Park” airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on Comedy Central.
Q & A With Studs Terkel
Middle Ages and 21st Century Clashing
The following are excerpts from an interview with Wafa Sultan, an Arab American psychologist from Los Angeles. It aired on Al Jazeera TV on Feb. 21, 2006.
Wafa Sultan: The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality.
It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights on the one hand and the violation of these rights on the other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts and those who treat them like human beings. What we see today is not a clash of civilizations. Civilizations do not clash, but compete….
Host: I understand from your words that what is happening today is a clash between the culture of the West and the backwardness and ignorance of the Muslims?
WS: Yes, that is what I mean….
Host: Who came up with the concept of a clash of civilizations? Was it not Samuel Huntington? It was not Bin Laden. I would like to discuss this issue, if you don’t mind….
WS: The Muslims are the ones who began using this expression. The Muslims are the ones who began the clash of civilizations. The Prophet of Islam said: “I was ordered to fight the people until they believe in Allah and His Messenger.”
When the Muslims divided the people into Muslim and non-Muslims and called to fight the others until they believe in what they themselves believe, they started this clash and began this war.
In order to stop this war, they must re-examine their Islamic books and curricula, which are full of calls for takfir and fighting the infidels. My colleague has said that he never offends other people’s beliefs. What civilization on the face of this earth allows him to call other people by names they did not choose for themselves?
Once he calls them Ahl Al-Dhimma, another time he calls them the “People of the Book” and yet another time he compares them to apes and pigs, or he calls the Christians “those who incur Allah’s wrath.”
Who told you they are People of the Book? They are not the People of the Book; they are people of many books. All the useful scientific books that you have today are theirs, the fruit of their free and creative thinking.
What gives you the right to call them “those who incur Allah’s wrath” or those who have gone astray, and then come here and say that your religion commands you to refrain from offending the beliefs of others?
I am not a Christian, a Muslim or Jew. I am a secular human being. I do not believe in the supernatural, but I respect others’ right to believe in it.
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli: ( a teacher at Al-Azhar University) Are you a heretic?
WS: You can say whatever you like. I am a secular human being who does not believe in the supernatural.
Al-Khouli: If you are a heretic, there is no point in rebuking you, since you have blasphemed against Islam, the Prophet and the Quran.
WS: These are personal matters that do not concern you…. Brother, you can believe in stones, as long as you don’t throw them at me. You are free to worship whoever you want, but other people’s beliefs are not your concern, whether they believe that the Messiah is God, son of Mary — or that Satan is God, son of Mary.
Let people have their beliefs…. The Jews have come from the tragedy [of the Holocaust] and forced the world to respect them with their knowledge, not with their terror; with their work, not their crying and yelling.
Humanity owes most of the discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries to Jewish scientists. Fifteen million people, scattered throughout the world, united and won their rights through work and knowledge.
We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people.
The Muslims have turned three Buddha statues into rubble. We have not seen a single Buddhist burn down a mosque, kill a Muslim or burn down an embassy. Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and destroying embassies.
This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind before they demand that humankind respect them.
Translation from Arabic is courtesy of MEMRI: The Middle East Media Research Institute.
NoHo Actors Studio
Get a Life, George
I’ve watched few “Seinfeld” episodes, but one stands out in my mind. During a double date, George inadvertently offends Jerry’s date, Jody. After George learns from Jerry that Jody doesn’t like him, George falls all over himself for a second chance to make a good impression.
After George does further damage to his reputation, he sits in Monk’s obsessing about Jody to his date Karen, who’s annoyed that George is focusing so much attention on another woman.
“Who cares if she doesn’t like you? Does everybody in the world have to like you?” Karen asks.
“Yes! Yes! Everybody has to like me. I must be liked!” George yells.
Sure, we laugh at George as that typical nebbish. But there’s a little bit of George in each and every one of us.
We are all a little too dependent on others’ approval and admiration. This is not only psychologically unhealthy, but it also may show that one doesn’t feel close with God.
Consider that there are no less than three different views of oneself: The view that I have of myself, the view that others have of me and the view that God has of me.
Which view is most important? Most of us would probably place God’s view as highest priority, our own view as second priority and the view of others as lowest priority. But when it bothers us that another holds us in low esteem, aren’t we displaying that both our own view and God’s view take a back seat to our neighbor’s view?
A medieval rabbi by the name of Yaavatz gave an analogy: Say a person has two diamonds. One is a polished, flawless 7-karat masterpiece, valued at $1 million. The other is an unpolished, flawed, 1-karat diamond, valued at a few-hundred dollars. If I lose the 1-karat diamond, my grief will be short-lived, because I know that I’ve still got my $1 million diamond.
The way others perceive us, compared to the way God perceives us, is like the inexpensive diamond compared to the expensive diamond. This is why a spiritual person tends not to spend so much time checking his public approval rating. Instead, working on God’s approval is what really matters.
We can learn a lot from a guy named Haman about dependency upon others’ approval. According to the story that we read on Purim, when Haman would walk down the street, everyone was ordered to bow down in deference. Yet, the Megillah tells us, Mordechai would not prostrate or bow (Esther 3:2). This annoyed Haman to no end (I think his last name was Constanza). Because of Haman’s obsession with image, he decided that it wasn’t enough to just execute Mordechai; he had to wipe out the entire Jewish people.
The Haman story teaches us a very important lesson in human nature. Our obsession with image is a destructive trait, and it can lead perfectly decent people to completely lose their moral compass.
On the other hand, we can also learn a lot from Mordechai about healthy attitudes about self-image. Note that Mordechai did what he felt was right in his eyes and in God’s eyes. It simply wasn’t right to bow before this self-absorbed Haman, and so Mordechai refused to kowtow. He didn’t worry about the consequences to himself or the way people would judge him. He knew right was right no matter what anyone else thought.
Human frailty is something funny when we see people on TV like George on “Seinfeld” displaying it. But it’s disappointing when we see our close friends display this kind of insecurity. It’s even scarier when we look in the mirror and see the false facades we’ve created staring back at us. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why we wear masks on Purim: to remind ourselves that it’s what behind the mask that counts, not the way others see us.
In La-La Land, we are told that image is everything. People gauge success and self-worth by whether or not they are placed on the A-list of invited guests to the latest Hollywood party. Purim is a time to acknowledge the masquerade for what it is: a cheap mask that says nothing about the real me.
May we succeed in destroying all enemies of our people, both the external Haman’s and our own internal ones.
Rabbi Daniel N. Korobkin is rosh kehilla of Yavneh in Hancock Park and director of community and synagogue services for the Orthodox Union.
NoHo Actors Studio
Celebrating a Shpiel-Good Holiday
“Ramvetlh QonglaHbe’ voDleH,” Beth Chayim Chadashim congregant Maggie Anton Parkhurst will say as she begins Chapter 6 of the synagogue’s Megillah reading on Erev Purim.
It’s Klingon, the invented language of the “Star Trek” TV series and films, for “That night the emperor could not sleep.” And she’ll continue, “‘ej ghaHvaD QonoS laDlu’ ‘e’ ra’pu’,” which translates to “And he commanded that someone read the log for him.”
Reading the Megillah in esoteric tongues is part of the Purim fun at this Los Angeles synagogue, and Parkhurst has chosen this infinitely tongue-tying imaginary language of the Trekkies to make her bid at hilarity.
This is Purim, after all, the one time of year in traditional Judaism when men are allowed to wear women’s clothing. A time when comedy is king as clergy and congregants strive to tell the story of Queen Esther saving the Jews from near-extermination in ancient Persia through laughter-provoking Megillah readings, shpiels (Yiddish for skits) and other innovative forms that range from ribald to ridiculous, satiric to sacrilegious. And that sometimes necessitates creative interpretations of the parody/fair-use exception to the U.S. copyright law.
At Beth Chayim Chadashim, the number of languages used has snowballed since 2002, when congregants volunteered to add to the already established English, Hebrew and Yiddish readings. Over the years, the most unusual have included American Sign, Afrikaans, Ladino, pig Latin, Esperanto and even auctioneer-style English.
“Haman’s name is understood in all the languages, so everyone can boo and hiss,” explains synagogue past president Davi Cheng, who always reads in Mandarin or Cantonese Chinese.
And while Beth Chayim Chadashim’s Megillah reading is geared to the entire family, not all Purim celebrations are such child-friendly affairs.
“Bring your IDs,” Rabbi Brett Krichiver warns those planning to attend Club Shushan at Stephen S. Wise Temple. It’s the Los Angeles’ synagogue’s first-ever part-shpiel-part-nightclub Purim celebration and it’s R-rated, including a DJ and dancing, a cash bar, free food and clergy dressed as go-go girls, bouncers and cocktail waiters and waitresses.
The Empty Stage Comedy Theatre, an improv group based in West Los Angeles, will provide entertainment, veering from the basic structure of the story in ad-libbed and audience-inspired directions. Empty Stage artistic director Stan Wells says these trajectories might include King Ahasuerus’ request for Vashti to dance naked and Haman’s “overblown and probably nonexistent” attempted seduction of Esther.
In preparation, Krichiver is doing text study on the Book of Esther with the group, which includes both Jewish and non-Jewish actors.
“We’re bringing Purim back to its roots, turning Judaism on its head for one day of the Jewish calendar,” Krichiver says, adding “but nothing obscene.”
Adat Ari El in Valley Village is hoping to turn Jewish gastronomy on its head in a change of pace from last year’s original Broadway-style, musical film noir parody, “The Maltese Megillah,” which was written by congregant Peter Levitan. This year, the synagogue will present a reading of “mock scholarly papers” on the merits of the latke vs. the hamantaschen, based on the original debate at the University of Chicago in 1947.
In this exchange, attorney Levitan, representing the latke, is squaring off against former radio reporter Barbara Dab, who will prevail upon her investigative journalistic skills to establish proof of the superiority of the hamantaschen, which she believes is the perfect self-contained treat.
“You’ve got your bread, your starches, your fruit and your dairy. The hamantaschen has almost all the food groups except the green leafy vegetable,” she says, refusing to discuss fat content and emphasizing that its “grab and go” nature shouldn’t detract from its designation as a gourmet food.
Levitan, however, is unimpressed.
“First, that’s not even its name; its real name is ‘oznei Haman [Haman’s ears],'” he insists. “We should be suspicious indeed of anything that makes its way into Jewish people’s stomachs under an assumed name.”
Both Levitan and Dab are hopeful that this inaugural debate will become an established part of Adat Ari El’s Purim celebration. But in many congregations, it’s the Purim shpiel, which dates back to Talmudic times, that continues to reign supreme.
America’s best-known shpiel-meister may well be a New York accountant named Norman Roth, who this year composed his 19th consecutive skit for his congregation, the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan. Titled “Purim Night Fever — the Disco Megillah,” the shpiel spotlights Queen Esther singing “Stayin’ Alive” dressed in a white suit like John Travolta’s character in “Saturday Night Fever.”
Roth, 67, writes each shpiel in a different genre — including Broadway, Woodstock, Nashville and rock ‘n’ roll — always incorporating some version of the original Purim story and always completing the new script and lyrics before Labor Day. He estimates that his shpiels have been performed in more than 300 synagogues in the United States and Canada and one in Australia.
Roth grew up listening to Broadway and Tin Pan Alley music; he says he just wants to create an evening of joy: “I don’t even come down on Haman. We’re a politically liberal synagogue; we don’t believe in capital punishment.
Locally, for the third year running, Temple Akiba in Culver City will perform one of Roth’s scripts for its annual intergenerational shpiel. This year it’s Motown, with Little Mordechai Wonder and Haman Smokey Robinson and the Schmearacles.
“It’s therapeutic to get silly at least once a year in synagogue,” says Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, who once used a vacuum cleaner as a grogger, or noisemaker, to drown out Haman’s name during a Megillah reading. “Even on a day when the underlying message is very profound and very sobering.”
Rocio and Lloyd Bronstein