September 21, 2018

YeLAdim yaks with Disney’s Adam Bonnett

How cool would it be to pick what everyone else gets to watch on television?

Well that’s what Adam Bonnett, Disney Channel and Jetix senior vice president of original programming, gets to do — every day.

He helped bring shows like “Hannah Montana,” “That’s So Raven” and the “Suite Life of Zack and Cody” to television sets around the world. And he knows his stuff: Before working at Disney, Bonnett was director of current programming for Nickelodeon, and he helped created “Kids Choice Awards.”

YeLAdim was invited to Disney Channel headquarters in Burbank to talk with Adam about his job, the Jewish themes on the network and what goes into creating hit television shows.

YeLAdim: So what does the senior vice president of original programming do?
Adam Bonnett: It means I develop the series — animated and live action — that air on [Disney Channel and Jetix]. And I take pitches for new ideas. When I’m exited about something, I get the network excited about it and develop that script into something we want to shoot as a pilot. We shoot it and test it and show it to kids and get feedback on it.

Y: What’s the best part of your job?
AB: Seeing the excitement of a kid and how passionate they are. If I developed “Everybody Loves Raymond” or “According to Jim,” adults watch, but they don’t have the passion that kids have. They don’t look at these characters like they are friends.

Y: What’s the hardest part of your job?
AB: There’s not a lot of margin for error. We don’t come out with pilots the way networks do. The other challenge is staying ahead of the curve. Kids are changing. They are very sophisticated. There is a demand for pop culture and wanting to grow up, but still loving being a kid…. That’s why you have “Hannah” and “High School Musical.” We’re in production year-round.

Y: What were your favorite shows growing up?
AB: “Laverne and Shirley” — I identified with them being outsiders, because I felt that way as a kid. A lot of the Garry Marshall stuff, the broad physical humor in “Three’s Company.” That’s what I grew up with, and that’s the kind of humor I like to put into the series that I develop. I also grew up watching “Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island,” so you take a show like “Suite life” that takes place in a hotel.

Y: With its revolving door of guest stars.
AB: I see a lot of “Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island” in a show like that. You look at a show like “Hannah Montana,” and I remember thinking how inspirational it was to see a character like Ritchie Cunningham break the rules and be a little naughty because of The Fonz. I see a lot of that in our show –but it is Disney Channel friendly. I watched a lot of shows that were empowering to girls, like “Charlie’s Angels,” and I see a lot of that in shows like “Kim Possible” and “Hannah Montana.”

Y: Cory on “That’s So Raven” had a bar mitzvah — or what he called a “bro mitzvah” — last year, “Even/Stevens” had a Chanukah episode. How do you decide where to insert Jewish themes?
AB: We try to portray all different types of kids on our shows, whether they are Jewish or Christian or Muslim, which we did on the “Proud Family.” The honest answer is that writers and execs like to draw on personal experiences. And a lot of producers are Jewish. With Cory, the exec producers are Jewish; writing for an African American character, but they draw from their own experience. I haven’t spoken to him about it, but [likely] when he was a kid, he wanted a bar mitzvah mainly to make some money like every boy — they don’t get what the bar mitzvah is about till it’s over. Ron Stoppable [“Kim Possible”] had a bar mitzvah — we did one with Gordo on “Lizzie Maguire.” It was interesting with “Evens/Stevens,” we did a Chanukah episode, but it was a blended family. It comes from the writer’s personal experience — regardless of the character’s religion.

Y: And it’s great that London Tipton on “Suite Life” keeps bringing up all the presents she received for Chanukah.
AB: Again, Jewish writers. The wonderful thing about London’s family is that we never met them, and we kind of never know where this is all coming from. There’s another character on “Suite Life,” Barbara Brownstein, who is Cody’s girlfriend, but she’s Asian and her parents are Caucasian — which shows that Barbara is likely the adopted child of a Jewish family. The irony is that London uses Yiddish expressions, but goes to a Catholic school with Maddie Fitzpatrick [“High School Musical’s” Ashley Tilsdale]. It’s not about having a Jewish agenda — just showing all different types of kids.

Y: Are you surprised that girls have found a kinship with Maddie and London on “The Suite Life,” or was that always planned?
AB: It was always the plan. We wanted to create a dynamic where the girls were frenemies — friends and rivals — because we had never done that before. We didn’t see it with Raven and Chelsea [“That’s So Raven”] or with Lizzie and Miranda [“Lizzie Maguire”].

Y: What’s your first Disney memory?
AB: Probably “Mary Poppins.” I remember seeing animation and live action blended together. Then you look at something like “Lizzie” and you see the melding of live action and animation.

Y: What’s coming up this season on The Disney Channel?

TV: Shoah makes searing mark in Ken Burns WWII documentary

Ken Burns knew from the start that he didn’t want his seven-episode, 14 1/2-hour documentary on World War II to be associated with any notion of “The Good War.” And yet in its final episode, as now elderly ex-GIs recount the lessons learned from liberating German concentration camps, it illustrates exactly why wars sometimes can be noble causes.

But Burns wanted to get to that point without cloaking his documentary in the feel-good heritage of “The Good War” — a term originating with Studs Terkel’s 1984 oral history — or Tom Brokaw’s 1998 “The Greatest Generation,” about the GIs who fought in that war.

“It was being smothered in this bloodless myth called ‘The Good War,’ when in fact it was the bloodiest of all wars,” Burns said by telephone, en route to an advance screening in Minnesota. He said the war cost 60 million lives — a fact too easily forgotten by history buffs coldly studying the various armies involved and their military campaigns.

“The War,” as his resultant documentary is simply titled, will begin airing on PBS stations on Sept. 23. It will be on for four nights the first week and three nights the second. Burns’ previous PBS films about the American experience include “The Civil War,” “Baseball” and “Jazz.”

“We used the words ‘bearing witness’ for what we wanted to do,” he said of his initial proposal for the documentary. “We wanted to use four [American] towns as examples to get to know people — those who fought and those who stayed at home — and to get to their experiences as it happened.”

The result is Burns and co-director Lynn Novick seeing the war as it was unfolding through the eyes of soldiers from Mobile, Ala.; Sacramento; Waterbury, Conn., and Luverne, Minn., to show, in so many ways, the ongoing hellishness of even a necessary war.

Since World War II unfolds the way American soldiers — and friends and family at home — experienced it, the Holocaust is only cursorily brought up before the final episode, “A World Without War,” when the soldiers enter the camps. But it then becomes the center — “the beating heart,” in Burns’ words — of that episode.

That episode covers immense ground, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, the battle for Okinawa, the final collapse of Germany, the atomic bomb, Japan’s surrender and the end of the war. But its solemn, powerful concentration camp scenes, which involve his soldiers bearing witness against Nazi atrocities, are the ones with deepest impact.

Three of the hometown soldiers recall entering different concentration camps during the fall of Germany in 1945. And, as they still vividly remember, they saw something worse than war: the Holocaust.

In fact, they came to realize war could be good, if it could stop or punish those willing to commit such evil, organized mass murder. The episode pairs their recollections with often horrifyingly graphic footage from the actual camps they entered.

Also during this passage in the episode, war historian Paul Fussell, who fought in World War II when he was just 19, begins to quiver and cry when explaining how discovering those camps made it clear to the American soldiers the war “was conducted in defense of some noble idea.”

Burns called that a “searing, incredible emotional comment. I assumed Fussell would be an avuncular commentator. But the questions put him back in the moment.”

The episode begins with a black-and-white photo of a German SS soldier about to execute a Polish Jew at the edge of an open mass grave in Ukraine in 1942. Then one of the “The War’s” ongoing witnesses, former Marine pilot Sam Hynes, makes a comment that indirectly addresses the meaning of religion in a world where the Holocaust can happen.

If there were no evil, he says, people wouldn’t need to “construct” religions.

“No evil, no God,” he says. “Of course, no evil, no war. But there will always be evil. Human beings are aggressive animals.”

Burnett Miller from Sacramento recalls how starving survivors at Mauthausen in Austria, in their hunger for the GIs’ concentrated food, died from “overwhelming their systems.” He also describes, and accompanying footage shows, bodies in rigor mortis awaiting cremation in the furnaces. Miller’s comments also touch upon a key Holocaust theme — the complicity of nearby civilians and the church.

“They could smell the camp in town,” he says. “The villagers said they knew nothing about the camp; the priest said he knew nothing about the camp. I knew that was a lie.”

In another scene, Dwain Luce of Mobile, Ala., recalls forcing the presumably complicit German townspeople of Ludwigslust, near a liberated camp, to collect the bodies and give them proper Christian and Jewish burials in the park. “So they would never forget,” he says.

He also has this to say to Holocaust deniers: “These people in this country who say it didn’t happen, it did happen; I saw it.”

The third of the hometown soldiers who helped liberate the camps is Jewish, Ray Leopold of Waterbury, Conn. He was at Hadamar in Germany, where he found not only camp victims but also survivors of Nazi medical experiments inside an insane asylum.

“No apology will ever atone for what I saw,” he says.

“At the end of the day, nothing is more powerful in our film than Ray fixing the camera with a 92-year-old’s fury when he says that,” Burns said.

A narrator in the film provides voice-over context, as images of the bones and skulls of victims are shown, of the Holocaust’s scope. Some two-thirds of Europe’s 9 million Jews were murdered, along with 4 million Soviet prisoners of war, 2 million Poles and hundreds of thousands of homosexuals, Gypsies, political opponents, handicapped persons, slave laborers and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In this final episode, with death and destruction unfolding on a global scale virtually every minute, there is the question of how much time the Holocaust can command. After all, when the Americans enter the camps in 1945, there is still a long, difficult battle ahead in the Pacific.

In the end, it doesn’t get that much time — about 10 minutes. But it makes a long-lasting impact. “It sought its own length,” Burns said. “I always say the greatest speech ever made was the Gettysburg Address. That was two minutes long.”

PBS ‘Resurgence’ documentary explores reappearance of anti-Semitism

The PBS documentary, “Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence,” will discomfit viewers of all stripes.

Airing Jan. 8 at 10 p.m. on KCET, the film will annoy those who believe that rising anti-Semitism is a myth fueled by Jewish paranoia and self-serving Jewish defense agencies.

Equally upset will be those who argue that anti-Semitism, particularly in the Islamic world, is just using the same old stick to beat up on a blameless Israel.

In addition, fervent believers in a global Jewish conspiracy, if any tune in, will be enraged at seeing their worldview demolished and ridiculed.

Within one hour, the documentary, narrated by veteran broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff, covers a lot of territory in a graphic and efficient manner.

We are given a capsule history of Jew hatred both in the Christian West and Muslim East, accompanied throughout by horrifying cartoons across the centuries depicting the Jew as “Christ killer,” blood sucker, ravisher of virgins and plotter of world domination.

Numerous experts weigh in on the Middle East conflict and its impact on the resurgence of anti-Semitism. On the whole, the arguments balance each other out, with perhaps a slight edge to our side, thanks to Woodruff’s narration.

Considerable airtime is given to New York University professor Tony Judt, often denounced for his harsh criticism of Israeli policy and leadership. In this program, however, he limits himself mainly to exploring the growing Muslim immigration and influence in Europe.

Israel’s Natan Sharansky and the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris effectively lay out the Jewish role in the fight against anti-Semitism.

A telling analysis of the corrupting effect of anti-Semitism on the Arab masses is given, surprisingly, by Salameh Nematt, Washington bureau chief for Al Hayat, an independent Arab daily published in London.

Princeton historian Bernard Lewis draws a useful distinction between Christian and Muslim anti-Semitism over the centuries.

In the Islamic world, the Jew, though not equal, was tolerated and did not carry the satanic aura painted in medieval Europe, said Lewis, who “credited” British and other Christian theologians with introducing modern anti-Semitism into the Arab world.

Perhaps the most surprising emphasis in the film is on the deep and persisting impact of “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” in shaping the prejudices of European anti-Semites and the convictions of Arab leaders and masses.

The “Protocols,” a Czarist forgery of the early 1900s, has proven particularly useful to Muslim presidents and clerics to rationalize how the “inferior” Jews of Israel could repeatedly outfight proud Arab nations.

While the Arabs have never gotten over their defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War, their humiliation is lessened if they can believe that they were beaten by the cosmic evil power portrayed in the “Protocols.”

The one point of agreement among the experts is that anti-Semitism will not disappear, because “it serves so many purposes,” notes professor Dina Porat of Tel Aviv University.

Added Woodruff, “Israel is used as a coat hanger” by Arab leaders, who can attach all their problems on it and divert their people from their poverty and corrupt regimes.

The PBS production was produced, written and directed by Andrew Goldberg, who recently documented “The Armenian Genocide,” in association with Oregon Public Broadcasting.

What’s Up for 2007?

YeLAdim will be mixing it up next year with more movies, books, music and TV reviews than ever before. If you have a review you’ve written (or want to write) or have heard of something that you want us to know about, e-mail kids@jewishjournal.com. You’ll be famous, and your parents and grandparents will have something to hang on their fridge.

See ya in 2007!!!

On Oct. 30, students ages 4-12 from local schools including Hawthorne, Stephen S. Wise, Pressman, Maimonides and Hillel participated in the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles’ third annual Lego Bible Scene Creation event.

Leading honors go to Daniel Pereg and Jacob Zeitzew for their interpretation of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, above, and Raphael Elspas for his menorah. All participants received certificates and prizes, including books and munchies gift cards.

Hope for the New Year

Fourth-graders Avi Berman and Jordan Stern, along with their classmates at Sinai Akiba, created these poems about Israel:

“Peace,” by Avi Berman

Children praying
Hand in hand.
Praying for peace
In all of Israel’s land.
As soldiers stand
In the night.
Keeping Israel
From a fight.

“My Prayer for Israel,” by Jordan Stern

I hope Israel will have peace.
No homeless people or robbers.
Lots of space for kids to play.
And praying for soldiers every day.
Peace for Israel is like flying in the sky.
It doesn’t matter how high, how high.
Peace for Israel is like riding a boat,
While you’re trying to stay afloat.

Uri Geller bends self into Israel ‘reality TV’ stardom

Israel is no stranger to reality TV. Knockoffs — or shall we say adaptations — of popular American TV talent shows, like “American Idol” and “The Apprentice,” have become hits. But recently, Israel has developed its own inimitable, highly successful talent contest in which Uri Geller, the famous, controversial, Israeli paranormalist, is seeking an heir.

It’s only natural, Geller said in a telephone interview, that Israel pioneer a contest for mentalists (read “mind readers”).

“I think this field — call it mentalism, parapsychology, real magic, kabbalah, Jewish mysticism — all started here 5,000 years ago, when the Jews left Egypt,” he said. “It’s all riddled in the kabbalah — the mystical letters, the powers, the energy of the universe. People are believers here…. Our race is steeped in mystery attached by a spiritual thread to universe.”

Geller cited Houdini, David Copperfield, David Blaine and even Einstein as examples of Jews who have learned to understand and manipulate natural phenomena.

“The Successor” debuted Nov. 18 to record-breaking ratings. Almost one-third of Israel tuned in to watch Geller judge the nine contestants as they dazzled audiences with their mind-reading, mind-bending powers. The show has attracted international attention and, according to Geller, has sparked interest from producers abroad who are considering adopting its format.

Geller is most famous for bending spoons “with his mind,” a feat that commonly figures into legends, jokes and parodies about him, although the contestants perform more sophisticated stunts on the show. The acts use three local celebrities (always including a pretty actress or model) to perform their sleights of “mind”: drawing images, determining numbers and phrases and even playing songs the celebrities secretly choose in their mind.

The show also marks Geller’s romanticized and widely publicized comeback to Israel. He left in 1972 to pursue a worldwide, profitable — and at times notorious — career as a paranormalist, entertainer and author. Geller immediately signed on to “The Successor” when Keshet Productions approached him with the idea. At the time, he was visiting Israel on a mission for the International Friends of Magen David Adom, which he chairs.

For the next few weeks, he’ll shuttle between Israel and his mansion outside of London for the weekly live tapings, although he recently bought an apartment in Jaffa so he can spend more time in Israel, even when the show is over.

“Spiritually, mentally, psychically, I’m attached to Israel,” Geller said. “I was born here. I’m a sabra. I also have a dream to make the performers become as famous as I am.”

The winner will headline at a tourist hotspot in Macao, China, and receive a secret prize, plus the chance to boast of being Geller’s heir.

“I think they are fantastic, professional entertainers,” Geller said of his potential heirs. “They are riveting, mesmerizing. Each of them has a personality”

Aside from talent, Geller is also looking for charisma, charm, personality and stage presence. Each week a contestant is voted off by viewers at home, but the final choice will be up to Geller.

At the start of each show, Geller demonstrates that he hasn’t lost his own touch. He successfully “mind-read” the image an El Al pilot drew in his cockpit prior to landing (it was a fish) and located a expensive diamond necklace hidden in one of five Chanukah candle boxes.

However, Geller, whose patriotism has been triggered anew by his return, won’t be satisfied with passing just one torch (or shall we say a telekinetically altered spoon): “I would love to take them to Las Vegas as a team and create some kind of a Uri Geller show. I feel like it’s about time that more Israelis become well known and famous around the world, because how many do you know?”

The ‘Yearning’ for Torah learning goes to TV

Do you want to be happier?

Do you want to have greater love and intimacy in life?

Do you want greater self-awareness?

And did you know that you could find all these things in the wisdom of Judaism?

That’s the premise of “The Hidden Wisdom of Our Yearnings with Irwin Kula,” a two-hour PBS show airing Dec. 10 on KCET. Based on Rabbi Kula’s new book, “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life” (Hyperion, 2006, with Linda Lowenthal), the program is one of the first that PBS has given to a rabbi or Jewish leader teaching to the masses.

Kula, who is the president of CLAL: The National Center for Jewish Leadership, also hosted public television’s 13-part series, “Simple Wisdom With Irwin Kula.” He is one of a number of Jewish leaders trying to bring Jewish teaching to the mainstream, including Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, Rabbi Harold Kushner and conservative talk show host Dennis Prager.

“Can we take Jewish wisdom public?” Kula said in a telephone interview with The Journal.

In the past, the Torah has been used to make Jews become better Jews, but “this is really seeing Torah as a technology to become more human.”

In the program, Kula, wears a knitted kippah on his longish silver hair and an open blue sports jacket; he walks on a stage in front of a live studio audience and discusses the “messiness” in life: life’s disappointments, conflicts, dissatisfactions — what he calls yearning.

“If we don’t have something to yearn for, some dents in our life to fix, some messiness, some crucial quality of our life is missing,” Kula tells the audience. “Yearning can be a path to blessing.”

Like other mass-market purveyors of “wisdom,” Kula has a number of catchphrases, such as “The more we allow ourselves to unfold, the less we will unravel,” and “We can want it all and always be finding enough,” but his message is one that particularly fits these new uncertain times — in which he believes much wisdom does not address.

“There’s a lot of bad messages being given,” he said, such as the conventional religious message that your behavior can improve your life, or the New Age wisdom that problems are illusions and life is actually perfect.

But Judaism knows life shouldn’t be perfect, he says, using the story of Eve eating the apple in the Garden of Eden.

“I love Eve, because she understood that Paradise is not all it’s cracked up to be!” Eve teaches us, he continued, “never to fear the messiness. The messy spaces in our lives are our greatest teachers.”

Rabbi Irwin Kula will appear on KCET on Dec. 10 5-7 p.m. He will also appear on the “Today” show on Dec. 12 and Dec. 25.

TV: Should Jews save the werewolf from extinction?

Although few people in the Jewish community noticed, on May 2, 2000, a watershed event occurred: The last in a long line of Jewish werewolves disappeared when “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the wildly popular vampire dramedy series, said goodbye to Oz, the character played by Seth Green. Oz left the show explaining that he had to go off to learn how to “control the wolf within.”

With this, a 60-year-long thematic liaison between Jews and werewolves ended. In fact, the whole werewolf myth seems to be in jeopardy. In this age of sophisticated computer graphics, werewolves have become steroid-bulked but ultimately vapid monsters – second fiddles to vampires. (Witness 2004’s pitiable “Van Helsing,” the year’s 16th-place box office finisher.)

The decline of the modern-day werewolf should be of concern, since it is largely a metaphor for being Jewish in the 20th century. Consider the modern werewolf narrative: A hairy young outsider becomes saddled with an identity he doesn’t want or particularly like, the meaning of which is told to him by an old European lady speaking a lot of mumbo jumbo. He is in love with a blonde girl who loves him back, but their love is doomed. Eventually he gets chased and killed by a bunch of peasants with pitchforks and torches. And, oh, yes, he feasts on human blood, but it’s not his fault.

The parallels between Jewish ideas of how non-Jews perceived us and the lifecycle of the werewolf aren’t surprising, considering that Jews effectively created the modern werewolf. Given how much has changed for Jews over the past half-century, should we try to save the werewolf or let him wander off into the California sunset?
From ancient Greece on, there have been stories of people who willingly or unwillingly became wolves. Yet, most of what you know about werewolves comes from Hollywood. In 1940, a producer at Universal Pictures told Curt Siodmak to write a werewolf picture.

Siodmak was a German Jew who had fled his native country in 1933 after hearing a virulently anti-Semitic speech by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda. Several silent films as well as one talkie on the subject had been made between 1913 and 1940, but none had been commercially successful. “The Wolf Man” was wildly so, and quickly became the template for future werewolf tales.
Most of the werewolf traits familiar to contemporary readers come from Siodmak’s films — including, most fundamentally, the transformation of the werewolf into not just a sympathetic figure but also the very subject through whose perspective the action is seen.

In fact, Siodmak wrote an early draft of the script in which the lead actor was only seen as the Wolf Man through his own perspective, reflected in ponds of water and so forth so that it would never be clear to the audience whether his transformation was real or psychological. Siodmak made the werewolf into the classic existentialist anti-hero. In later years, Siodmak slipped up in at least one interview and said that “The Wolf Man” was set in Germany, although it is in fact set in Wales. Still, Siodmak kept his Jewish references close to the vest.

By contrast, the most explicitly Jewish treatment of the werewolf by Hollywood is John Landis’s 1981 film, “An American Werewolf in London.” Yet it makes constant reference to Siodmak’s wolf man. In “American Werewolf,” Jewish American kids David Kessler and Jack Goodman (played respectively by David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) are on a European road trip. While in the moors of Wales, Jack is killed and David becomes the titular beast after surviving the attack. In an interview, Landis said that though he used a less Jewishly evocative setting of Wales for his film (at least for the early scenes), the idea for “American Werewolf” came to him while he was in Czechoslovakia. Indeed, despite the setting, Landis did not shy away from the kinds of parallels to European Jewish history that Siodmak left implicit: While David is in the hospital recovering from his wounds, he has a dream in which he is back at home with his family in America; the doorbell rings, and in come Nazi-clad wolf monsters who murder David’s family before his eyes.

What is one to make of the young Jewish man’s transformation into a beast identified with the Jew haters of Europe? Landis called the transformation into a werewolf a metaphor for teenage male sexuality. But there is also a quality of adolescent revenge fantasy found in the werewolf tale. In fact, Landis said that fantasies and nightmares of death at the hands of the Nazis were part of his own psychic landscape as a boy growing up in the 1950s. In the fantasy world of the werewolf movie, the Jew, or Jew surrogate, becomes as dangerous and powerful as his tormentors.

Landis wasn’t the first to see an allegory for adolescence in the werewolf’s transformation. In 1957, Herman Cohen cast a young Michael Landon in “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.” In fact, the teenage werewolf is a subspecies until itself with 1985’s underappreciated movie “Teen Wolf” and the fabulous Canadian film “Ginger Snaps” as prominent examples.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was the apex of the trend that saw adolescence and monstrosity play off each other. Unfortunately, “Buffy,” though marvelous in many ways, shied away from questions of ethnicity. The fictional Sunnydale, Calif., was a multihued but ultimately pareve town, except for the higher-than-average number of supernatural creatures that lived there.

And Oz was the kind of Jewish werewolf that Birthright Israel might be aimed at attracting: If his character was meant to be Jewish, it was strictly an accident of birth. His Jewishness seems to have extended only as far as being sensitive, smart and short. He was good looking, a guitar player and un-Jewishly laconic. And being Jewish no longer qualified him as an outsider. Oz would never have had nightmares of anti-Semitic violence.

Therein lies his failure as a werewolf: North American Jews of the “Buffy” generation are so comfortable in their skins, they don’t need to put on fur. At least not in the presence of non-Jews.

So if the werewolf is no longer a viable metaphor for Jewish life among non-Jews, why should Jews go out of their way to preserve it? Let werewolves join self-help groups where they can learn to be normal members of society, ? la Oz?

You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom

The following excerpt is the prologue to “You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom,” (Viking, 2006) a memoir by Phil Rosenthal, creator and executive producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2006 by Buona Sera Productions, Inc.

My brother, Richard, got married on September 5, 1993. I was the best man, and with that honor comes the giving of the toast. I had been earning a living as a writer on an assortment of television sitcoms for about four years at this point, and so I felt there was an expectation to be humorous whenever forced to speak in public — a self-imposed pressure, but real nonetheless, as if I deeply needed to communicate to people, “See, I can be funny, it’s not my fault the shows are terrible.”

And so I racked my brain for material. Material at family functions often focused on the family at hand, and my particular family had served me well in the past — years earlier I wrote a little poem at my parents’ twenty-fifth anniversary party (at their nonstop insistence) that seemed to be hilarious to the relatives and friends. “Better than Broadway!” I had been told. But now, at this wedding, I was thirty-three, and there were people there who didn’t know the family, and worse, didn’t know me — but here he is: the Hollywood toastmaster. This could be a bad wedding, meaning I could bomb. And then it hit me, an anecdote that had actually happened, that I had suppressed for several years, that drove me nuts then and thinking about it again now rekindled the nuts, and that illustrated the insanity in our family and would serve as a warning to Richard’s bride, Karen, as to why she should perhaps reconsider marrying into this psycho ward. Why she should run screaming into the hills rather than subject herself to a life of unrelenting complaining and unbearable frustration, petty domestic politics and life under maternal rule. The more I thought about this story, I realized it wasn’t funny at all, but that didn’t matter anymore. I had to tell it as a purely cautionary tale. The fact that the toast would come at the wedding reception and that my brother and his wife would be already married didn’t change the urgency of my warning.
“Karen,” I started. “There is still time to run.”

I explained: When I first started to make a little money in Hollywood, I bought my mom, for Hanukkah, a gift of the Fruit-of-the-Month Club.

And then came the phone call from my mother in Rockland County, New York: “Philip, we got the pears.”

“Oh, that’s good, Ma. You like them?”

“Yes, they’re very nice, but please . . . it’s an entire box of pears. There must be twelve or fourteen pears here. There’re so many pears. Please, Philip, do me a favor. Don’t ever send us any more food again, okay?”

I said, “Well, Ma . . . another box is coming next month.”

She said, “What? More pears?”

I said, “No, Ma, a different fruit every month.”

“EVERY MONTH? My God, Max, he got us in some kind of cult. What am I supposed to do with all this fruit?”

“I don’t know,” I told her. “Most people like it. You eat it … You share it with your friends.”
“Which friends?!”

“I don’t know … Lee and Stan.”

“Lee and Stan buy their own fruit!”

“Oh my God, Ma…”

“Why did you do this to me?”

“What is happening?”

“I can’t talk anymore, there’s too much fruit in the house!”

I went on to describe my father’s misery as well at this misfortune that had befallen them. (“You think we’re invalids? We can’t get our own fruit?”) The wedding guests laughed. No one laughed harder than my parents, who really did treat the gift of fruit from their son as if they’d received a box of heads from a murderer. Richard and Karen remain married to this day and have even brought two children into the world.

My warning didn’t take. Nobody listens to me. Maybe you will.

I guess if we have to classify this book, it is a memoir of sorts. (That’s right, Oprah, and I’ll swear it’s all true even if you make the mean face at me on the couch.) We’ll also, if you’re interested, get into how to make a show, specifically the show “Everybody Loves Raymond.” We’ll see how it came to be, how “writing what you know” is not just a saying but essential, and how almost anyone’s life can be turned into fuel for comedy. We’ll use, for example, my life — where I’m from, the other jobs and other shows I toiled on, my relationships with family, with women, with The Writers’ Room, with show business, and how all of it found its way into the work, became the work, to the point where it wasn’t work anymore. And all of it is here — in the hope that you’ll be entertained, and maybe learn a thing or two that could help you in your own career, your life, your diet. You’ll learn a little about how to write, cast, edit, direct, run, cater, and, most of all, enjoy the gift of a hit show.

I was crazy lucky to get such a gift, and for nine years, I savored it; I loved it; I was tremendously thankful for it. It would not have occurred to me to return it or leave it or be unhappy with it, let alone complain about the gift to whoever gave it to me that it was all “too much.”

You still there, Ma?

On Oct. 24 from 7-8:30 p.m., Phil Rosenthal will be at Book Soup, 8818 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.

For more information, call (800) 764-2665 or visit

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Clues to family drama’s Jewish roots finally add up on ‘Numb3rs’

Add family drama plus FBI action, and the sum equals CBS’s hit drama, “Numb3rs.”The show, which just started its third season, is as much about fathers and sons as it is about using mathematics to solve crimes. Alan Eppes (Judd Hirsch) is the widowed patriarch to two disparate sons: son Don (Rob Morrow), an FBI agent, and Charlie (David Krumholtz), a math genius who works as a consultant for Don. The subtext is that Charlie the prodigy, is the favored son, while Don feels abandoned and bitter and yearns to connect with his father. The Oct. 6 episode deepens this dynamic while “outing” the family as Jewish.
 
This time, the brothers investigate a piece of Nazi-looted art that may belong to a Holocaust survivor who lost her family in the camps. Don is deeply moved by her story and by his father’s revelation that a cousin of theirs also lost all her relatives in the Shoah. The agent tells his father he would like to investigate what happened to them — an unusually emotional statement for a character who tends to repress his feelings.
 
“This episode gives us a glimpse into Don’s soul,” Morrow told The Journal. “Don feels a yearning to connect to his heritage, which reflects his longing for his father and for connections in life.”
 
At a time when crime dramas abound on prime time (think “C.S.I.,” “Law & Order” and their various spinoffs), “Numb3rs” stands out for its focus on family and “unexpected shades of character,” according to Newsweek.
 
Yet one aspect of the characters has been neglected, at least until tonight’s show — their obvious Jewishness. After all, these actors are well known for playing members of the tribe: Hirsch, 71, was cabbie Alex Rieger on “Taxi”; Morrow, 44, played Dr. Joel Fleischman on “Northern Exposure,” and Krumholtz, 28, portrayed numerous “neurotic shlubs,” in his own words, before landing the “Numb3rs” gig.
 
“When they cast the show, an executive said the poster was going to show the three of us emerging from shul triumphant,” Morrow says with a laugh.
 
Even the series’ creators, Cheryl Heuton and Nick Falacci, say they had envisioned the Eppes as Jewish since casting the show in 2004. (The first hire was Krumholtz, partly for his uncanny ability to make math sound cool, even though the actor had flunked algebra twice.) The producers say they were waiting for the right story to “out” the characters, and they found it in the headlines about Nazi-looted art. They feel the onscreen family chemistry works, in part, because the actors share culturally Jewish New York roots. A subtler dynamic helps the performers create the favorite son/black sheep son nuances on the show.
 
Neither Hirsch nor Krumholtz have previously worked with Morrow (although they enjoy doing so now), but they share a rich performance history together. Krumholtz got his big break playing Hirsch’s son in “Conversations With My Father” on Broadway 15 years ago.
 
Krumholtz was 13 at the time and had no previous acting experience, nor had he ever been to the theater. He auditioned on a lark — “something to do on a Saturday afternoon” — and landed the role, in some measure, because of his resemblance to Hirsch.
 
“I was frightened for David,” the older actor recalls. “His first production was going to be this extremely violent, emotional play, and he was going to be an ‘object’ in it.”
 
Hirsch’s character, a volatile Jewish immigrant, chokes, grabs and smacks his son, and also chases him around the stage with a strap. Hirsch worried the production might overwhelm the ebullient, novice performer.
 
Hirsch’s solution, Krumholtz recalls, was a form of theatrical “tough love.”
 
“Teasingly, he pointed out every little thing I did wrong,” the younger actor says. “I was extremely unprofessional; I had an opinion about everything, and every time I was loud or said something when I was supposed to be quiet, or missed a line, he was right there with a big ‘shut up’ or ‘That’s you, kid,’ or ‘get with the program.’ It was rough, but I knew he was doing it because he believed in me. By the end of the show I had learned about professionalism, and I loved Judd with all my heart. I now call him my ‘acting father,’ because I feel I owe him my career.”
 
When Krumholtz eventually left “Conversations” to pursue movies, he cried so effusively that Hirsch sat him on his lap to comfort him.
 
The father-son dynamic is still apparent as the two sit side by side over lunch in a studio cafeteria. The boyish Krumholtz avidly listens as Hirsch tells long stories, with relish, about thwarting anti-Semitism in the Army and how his own father chased him around the house with a strap. Both recount growing up in working-class homes (Krumholtz’s “Conversations” salary paid for his bar mitzvah reception) and describe Morrow as “more of a Westchester County [a.k.a. wealthy] Jew.”
 
In a phone interview, Morrow laughs ironically when told of the “Westchester” remark.
 
“I was as working class as they were,” he says, sounding a bit like his misunderstood “Numb3rs” character. Actually, he grew up comfortably middle class in White Plains, N.Y., until his parents divorced when he was 9, and his father, an industrial lighting manufacturer, moved to Manhattan and later to Florida. Morrow stayed behind with his sister and his mother, who went to work as a dental hygienist to support the family.
 
“Suddenly money was a real issue, but my mother was determined to keep up appearances, so we moved to Scarsdale and we were living on the fringes of this wealthy enclave,” he recalls.
 
Like the fictional Don, he says he felt somewhat abandoned by his father (“suffice it to say I spent a lot of years in therapy”), and he has channeled those feelings into his “Numb3rs” character.

Brachas vs. bluegrass: moms make the switch

Reality shows seem to be becoming less and less real every season. Exhibit A: The very intriguing but highly unlikely pairing of a Shomer Shabbos Jewish family from Brookline, Mass. (near Boston), and a coon-huntin’ family from Olympia, Ky. (on a map that would be nowhere near a kosher grocery store), in the Oct. 20 two-hour season premiere of FOX’s “Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy.”

For the past two years, the show has been trading moms between families of vastly different demographics (i.e., pro-choice and pro-life, gays and conservative Christians). And this one is no exception.

In spite of the obvious cultural differences between the Southern Martins (mom, Sharon; dad, Dale; daughter, Ashton, 20; and son, Aaron, 17) and the East Coast Shatzes (mom, Lisa, who wears pants; dad, Michael; son, Aryeh, 20; and daughters, Esther, 17; Adina, 15; and third-grader Kayla) both families are very insulated in their respective worlds.

Lisa, an MIT-educated associate professor of electrical engineering, asks Dale, a corrections officer, what bluegrass is when told that is what the state is known for. (It’s a grass.)

Sharon, a registered nurse, goes shopping at the kosher market with Michael, a physicist, and remarks that she couldn’t understand any of the “Arabic, Hebrew, whatever” on the labels, adding, “I could give a flying flip about the kosher.”
The families, who each receive $50,000 (with a twist) for participating, have very parallel, yet opposite, living situations.

According to Lisa, Aaron spends too much time playing on the computer and hanging out and not enough time studying. She wants to call a tutor, much to the horror of Aaron, who is adamant that he’s not stupid and doesn’t need a tutor. Lisa also makes the faux pas judgment that raccoon hunting, a Martin family pastime, is “intolerable and should be outlawed” after they take her on a late-night jaunt in search of the critters.

According to Sharon, the Shatz kids are socially awkward and need to have fun. She suggests throwing a party, much to the horror of Michael, who is adamant that there be no party and no dancing (“in the Jewish religion, we don’t give our kids permission to indulge in risky behavior,” he tells her). Sharon also makes the misstep of bringing up two very taboo topics at the dinner table: dating and Jesus.

So will there be fireworks in the second hour when Grandma confronts Lisa (“Do y’all still have sacrifices?”); Sharon tries to throw the Shatz kids a party (“They’ll dance! You wait and see!”) and the two moms meet face-to-face? It doesn’t take an MIT degree to figure that answer out.

“Trading Spouses” kicks off the new season Friday, Oct. 20 from 8-10 p.m. on

Israeli Diplomats Reach Out to L.A. Iranian Media

Representatives from Southern California-based Persian-language satellite radio stations and television shows attended a special press conference on Aug. 28, held for them at Los Angeles’ Israeli consulate, the first public interaction between the Israeli government and local Persian-language media in more than 25 years.

The local Iranian media outlets are owned and operated by expatriate Iranian Muslims, and the gathering was a move by the consulate to reach out directly to the people of Iran.

“I received feedback from a lot of channels in the Iranian media for interviews, so I saw the desire by them to understand what we think and we believe, so we setup this event specifically to address their questions,” said Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch.

Local Persian Jewish activists were instrumental in helping to connect the Iranian media with the consulate for the press conference, as many Persian Jews still share common cultural and linguistic ties with other Iranian groups in Southern California.

“This is indeed something that has never been done before in this city where there is a community of Iranian and a center of Iranian media outside of Iran,” said George Haroonian, a Persian Jewish activist who helped organize the press conference with the consulate.

“We need to be the connector between the people of Israel and people of Iran,” Haroonian said.

During the nearly two-hour press conference, Danoch responded to reporters’ questions about the aftermath of the war with Hezbollah and addressed the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s repeated calls for Israel’s destruction.

“The most important message for us to get across is that the government of Israel and Israelis have nothing against the Iranian people or Islam,” Danoch said. “But we will not tolerate the extremist expressions of that president of Iran”.

Since the collapse in 1979 of the regime of the late shah of Iran, many Iranian Muslim politicians and Western-educated professionals have been among the large groups of Iranians in the United States and, particularly, Los Angeles. During the past two decades, these communities have established media outlets in Southern California that oppose the current government in Iran, and regularly broadcast news and political commentary to Iran through satellite radio and television, as well as via the internet, much of it in an attempt to help bring down the regime there.

Southern California’s Iranian Muslim media has also frequently voiced criticism of Israel, as well, and the consulate’s outreach at this event was an attempt to counter that. On the part of the Iranian media, this was one more way to take a jab at the regime.

“This is an important event for us because we don’t want our viewers to receive one-sided bias news from the media in Iran and get brainwashed — we must show the other side,” said Afshin Gorgin, a reporter for the Iranian news program on the Voice of America satellite television. “Here they get to see and hear the views of the other side directly from a representative of Israel”.

Members of the Iranian media in attendance said the press conference was later broadcast in its entirety into Iran, which has a population of nearly 70 million, many of whom said they oppose their government’s support of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, but are afraid to express their views.

“I receive phone calls from listeners in Iran, and they say we do not have a problem with Israel, and we do not have border disputes with Israel,” said Siavash Azari, a news commentator on KRSI, a Beverly Hills-based satellite radio station that broadcasts daily into Iran.

The Iranian Muslim media stepped up interest in issues concerning Israel when, late last year, Iranian President Ahmadinejad called Israel a “disgraceful blot” that should be “wiped off the map.” In response, they condemned Ahmadinejad and organized a pro-Israel rally in Westwood, which drew nearly 2,000 Iranians from various religions.

“We spoke out against him because his words were utterly absurd for anyone to say, and we would have spoken out against such statements if they were made by any other leader,” said Reza Fazeli, a news commentator for the satellite television station Pars TV.

Earlier this month, Israeli Deputy Consul General Yaron Gamburg was also interviewed by Hossien Hejazi, an Iranian news commentator at KIRN-AM. 670, a Persian-language radio station based in Hollywood.

In January, when Ahmadinejad denied the existence of the Holocaust, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, working with Iranian Jewish leaders, invited Iranian journalists to tour the Museum of Tolerance in an effort to educate them about the Holocaust so that they could send information back to Iran on the topic.

The January event, as well as the recent press conference, seem to be having the desired effect of opening up dialogue. At the conference, Danoch offered to make himself available for interviews and said the consulate would help to get their message across to the people of Iran in any way possible.

Tinseltown Backs Terror Fight — Thanks to Israel Consul General Danoch

Any Hollywood producer would give his right arm for the stars listed last week in a full-page advertisement in the Los Angeles Times.

Nicole Kidman, Bruce Willis, Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Danny De Vito, William Hurt, James Woods, Gary Sinise, Millie Perkins and others.

But the list wasn’t the cast of an upcoming blockbuster, but a plea by much of the Hollywood and media elite to back the fight against Hezbollah, Hamas and worldwide terrorism.

The ad, which resonated in the global entertainment industry through additional placements in the trade publications Variety and Hollywood Reporter, read:”We the undersigned are pained and devastated by the civilian casualties in Israel and Lebanon caused by terrorist actions initiated by terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. If we do not succeed in stopping terrorism around the world, chaos will rule and innocent people will continue to die. We need to support democratic societies and stop terrorism at all costs.”

The wording would not have appeared particularly militant and pro-Israel had it been issued by heads of Jewish defense organizations, but for Hollywood, often markedly silent in the face of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attacks, the statement was a bit of a bombshell.

“We wanted to get Hollywood off the fence,” as one signer put it.

Producer-writer Lionel Chetwynd noted that “I’ve been around here for a long time, and I can’t remember a time when so many people in the industry stood up for Israel. I tried something similar in 1982, when Israel was fighting in Lebanon, but I couldn’t get it off the ground.”

The names of the stars who signed the ad caught the attention of readers and listeners around the world — the Australian media ballyhooed Kidman’s participation — but to Hollywood insiders the most impressive among the 84 signatories were the men and women who wield the real power and influence in Tinseltown.

Mega-media moguls Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone and Haim Saban signed on, as did studio heads Amy Pascal, Ron Meyer, Meyer Gottlieb and recently retired Sherry Lansing, as well as dozens of prominent producers, directors and writers.In a professional category by herself was tennis star Serena Williams.

The man who initiated the project was Ehud Danoch, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, whose territory extends over seven southwestern states and Hawaii.When the slim, curly haired Danoch arrived in Los Angeles in October 2004, as a 34-year-old on his first diplomatic assignment, he was preceded by a reputation for being very smart, very young, and having a knack for knowing the right people.

His grandparents had come to Israel in 1950 on Operation Magic Carpet, the mass airlift of Jews from Yemen, with their 3-year-old son, the diplomat’s future father.

Both of Danoch’s parents were tapped by Israel’s Ministry of Education to serve as overseas envoys, and young Ehud spent three years in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, and the same span of time in French-speaking Montreal.

After his army service, Danoch earned his law and MBA degrees from the Israeli campus of Britain’s Manchester University.

The young lawyer became a protégé of Israel’s then finance minister, Silvan Shalom. When Shalom was named foreign minister, he appointed Danoch as his chief of staff, and later to the consul general’s post.

In his first interview after arriving in Los Angeles, Danoch identified the entertainment industry as one of his special concerns, while noting the important groundwork laid by his predecessor, Yuval Rotem.

“Everybody knows that Hollywood is important,” he told The Jewish Journal. “But before I jump in, I want to talk to people and find out how Hollywood works.”Now there’s evidence he’s a quick study, too.

“I started meeting with studio heads and executives, producers, directors and actors,” Danoch said Monday during an interview in his high-rise office, overlooking central Los Angeles to the Hollywood Hills beyond. Even on a hot day and during an informal discussion, Danoch was dressed as the complete diplomat in suit and tie.

His first emphasis was on the economic side, pitching Israel as a great location for film shoots. It’s been a tough sell, not primarily due to the volatile situation in Israel, but because of the generous incentives offered by some 25 other countries, with Morocco trying to corner the market on desert shoots.

Danoch is now in discussions with Israel’s finance ministry as to what packages it can offer American filmmakers, in addition to the wide-open spaces of the Negev.

Currently, one studio is scouting Israeli locations for a series of seven TV movies, with an investment of $60 million.

After he got his feet wet in the often-tricky Hollywood tides, and learning that personal relationships are everything, Danoch started meeting with actors and inviting them to visit Israel.

“I don’t ask them for anything, I don’t ask them to take a political stand, only to come and see Israel for themselves,” he said.

His modus operandi is simple.

“I was at a reception and saw Morgan Freeman,” Danoch recalled. “I introduced myself and asked him to come to Israel. He was ready to go immediately.”

The approach is labor intensive, but it has paid off. Among the more high-profile visitors have been actress Sharon Stone, who has become so interested in Israel that she receives regular briefings on the Middle East situation from Danoch.

There’s nothing like star power to give millions of movie and TV fans a different view of a country usually defined in crisis bulletins.

“We invited Will Smith to come to Israel, and when he inadvertently crashed a bar mitzvah ceremony at the Western Wall, it seemed like every radio and TV channel in the world reported on it,” Danoch said.

Danoch is particularly pleased that there is now enough momentum that some in the movie colony are planning to organize tours on their own initiative, such as a prominent talent agent who want to take a group of directors to Israel.

When the fighting in Lebanon started, Danoch decided that it was time for the generally silent movie colony to make its voice heard.

He first tapped the growing colony of Israelis in Hollywood, including producers of such standing as Arnon Milchan, Danny Dimbort, Avi Lerner, Avi Arad and David Matalon.

The task force also included such veteran Israel supporters as Chetwynd, entertainment attorney Bruce Ramer, producer Branko Lustig and actor Gary Sinise.

The core group approved the wording of the ad, drafted by Danoch, with the emphasis on humanitarian concern and the common fight against terrorism, rather than a down-the-line pro-Israel statement.

From that point on, in a kind of electronic daisy chain, members of the initial group e-mailed their friends, who in turn e-mailed other friends, and so on.

Given time constraints and publication deadlines, it was assumed that the ad would carry no more than 50 to 60 signatures. But the names kept coming in, until the organizers had to close the list at 84 names, said Gilad Millo, Israel consul for communications and public affairs.

Dimbort, co-chairman of the Nu Image production company, contacted 28 people. Most signed on, although “some were scared to do so,” he said.

His company also paid for the full-page ad in the national and international news section of the Times, which costs $117,132, according to the paper’s advertising department.

Since Nu Image’s phone number appeared at the bottom of the ad, Dimbort fielded most of the compliments and complaints in the days after the publication.”We got hundreds of phone calls, most very enthusiastic, but about 20 to 30 percent of the callers screamed and yelled at us,” he said.

Meyer Gottlieb, president of Samuel Goldwyn Films, received only positive feedback, with friends reporting that they were emotionally moved by the message conveyed by the ad. Others called to chide him for not having been asked to sign the statement.

Chetwynd called more than a dozen people to participate, of whom four or five declined or didn’t respond. After the ad appeared, “More than 50 people called me, and I was just amazed by the response,” he said.

Cable television host Phil Blazer said that given the overwhelming demand on Hollywood talent for support of innumerable petitions and causes, he was “shell-shocked” by the number and standing of the ad’s signatories.

As for Danoch, he’s staying busy. One meeting last week with Adam Sandler and his family yielded support of another kind, when the star of “Click” and “50 First Dates” announced he would donate 400 Sony PlayStations to Israelis whose homes were damaged by Hezbollah rocket attacks.

What is the payoff for Israel? “For one, stars shape public opinions and fashions,” Danoch said. And their visibility may be the biggest boon of all. “By their very presence, the celebrities show that Israel is a safe place to visit. This helps tourism and the economy, and besides, the Israeli public likes to see them.”

Jack Bender: ‘Lost’ and ‘Found’

Just as he has in so many past years, TV veteran Jack Bender will attend the Emmy Awards this Sunday. He’s nominated again this year in the category of Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for his work on the hit ABC show “Lost,” for which he is also an executive producer. But after some 25 years working in television, Bender has finally gone public with his other occupation.

This weekend also marks the opening of his first major art exhibition, titled “Jack Bender FOUND,” at Timothy Yarger Fine Art, a gallery in Beverly Hills.

The themes of “lost and found,” of seeking and finding, and of faith, play a major role in “Lost,” a drama about a group of plane-crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island. But these are equally apt themes for Bender personally. He is the husband of a rabbinical student, but says his own faith is not as easily defined. And he is an artist who describes his work, both behind the camera and on canvas, as having a life of its own.

“If you’re good at directing, you let life happen,” he says, and similarly, “you have to let the painting have its voice.”

Bender tends to work quickly on his paintings, favoring bold colors and brush strokes, layering on paint as well as objects, such as Perrier bottle caps, blue jeans and vintage photographs.

In many cases, he is commenting on American society. But Bender also explains that in most of his pieces, “it’s not as much of an intellectual statement as a visceral one.”

He goes for raw emotion, creating pieces that conjure artists from Basquiat to Gauguin or Picasso.

One of his works, “Jazz Man” will be auctioned off at Saturday’s opening reception, with proceeds benefiting Friends of Washington Prep Foundation, an organization that supports and develops arts programming at George Washington Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles.

“It’s a remarkable place…. They have taken guns out of kids’ hands and given them instruments,” Bender said.

Also scheduled at the opening is a performance by The View Park Prep Jazz Combo, and one more highlight.

Bender’s “The Hatch Painting” is a mural that was featured on “Lost” last season, and has been the subject of much chat room conversation by show groupies attempting to decode its many symbols. Fans can see it in person at the gallery, but as far as secrets hidden within the work, Bender offers only this: “There are definitely Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs in the forest there. So people should come see it.”

The 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards air on NBC, Sun., Aug. 27, at 8 p.m.

The opening reception for “Jack Bender: FOUND” takes place Sat., Aug. 26, at 7:30 p.m. 329 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 278-4400.

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‘Restless’ Hunk Reveals Family Secret: He’s Jewish

Don Diamont is the resident hunk on “The Young and the Restless,” where his buff muscles and six-pack abs make female fans drool.

Don DiamontWhile his character, Brad Carlton, has done far more than strut about in cut-offs (he’s mourned the loss of an unborn son, among other weighty scenarios), devotees can’t quite forget his 1994 Playgirl centerfold, his status as one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” and as one of the first actors to bare his tush on TV.

Now comes a plot twist in which Diamont, 43, will expose far more than his derriere. “I’m ‘outing’ myself as a Jew,” he says. “It’s the most meaningful story [line] of my career.”

In the Friday, July 28, episode, the fictional Carlton will reveal that his real name is George Kaplan and that his mother (Millie Perkins, who starred in the 1959 film, “The Diary of Anne Frank) is an Italian Jew who was forced to catalogue looted Nazi art in a concentration camp, Diamont says. After the war, she immigrated to the United States, started a new family and became a kind of art-oriented Simon Wiesenthal, tracking down stolen works and returning them to their rightful owners.

Those displeased with her efforts eventually bludgeoned most of her American family to death, save for herself and George, who were away from home at the time. Mother and son subsequently went into hiding, although the Bad Guys may be close at present.

Diamont — a 21-year “Restless” veteran — has been sworn to secrecy about future episodes. He says he only learned of his character’s true name upon reading a script a couple months ago. He was so startled that he telephoned head writer Lynn Latham, who confirmed that Kaplan was Jewish.

“‘I said, ‘This isn’t what we typically do here; we do baptisms and weddings in front of the cross.’ And she [replied], ‘We’re going to change that.'”

The change means that Diamont will play perhaps the only overtly Jewish lead on daytime TV, which is known for WASPy protagonists. He is likely the first soap actor to star in a story line about Nazi-looted art. It doesn’t hurt that pilfered art is currently a hot news topic; that the tall-dark-and-handsome Diamont would remain popular if his character turned out to be a Martian, or that “Restless” has been the top-rated soap for more than 17 years.

Latham says she had other reasons for turning Carlton into Kaplan.

“I have always preferred to write for an ethnically and racially mixed cast that represents most religions,” she told The Journal. “That’s the world … most of us live in.”

Diamont (né Feinberg) relates to his “new” character because he, too, has felt compelled to hide his Jewishness and has lost much of his family. Between scenes on a CBS sound stage, the actor comes off not so much as a sex symbol (despite his tight black Calvin Klein T-shirt) than as a thoughtful man whose real life story sounds as dramatic as any soap’s.

As a youth, he learned his mother’s cousin, who was Dutch, had been injected with gasoline during medical experiments at Auschwitz. In high school, several fellow jocks tormented him with anti-Semitic slurs (and slugs) for three years; the otherwise popular teenager kept the abuse secret, even from his parents, until he decided had had enough and repeatedly punched one bully. Since he had been victimized so long, his punishment was mild, just detention, but Diamont was left with mixed feelings about his heritage.

Because he had been raised in a secular home, “I didn’t know who I was, or why I should have pride in who I was,” he says. “Part of me was ashamed because I had been shamed…. I wanted to hide.”

Upon his agent’s advice, he agreed to use his mother’s maiden name as his stage name, instead of the more identifiably Jewish “Feinberg.”

The change began around 1987 as his father, then dying of kidney cancer, lamented raising his children without a sense of tradition and history. When Diamont’s brother, Jack, was diagnosed with a brain tumor two years later, the siblings decided to study together for a joint bar mitzvah. They had to stop when Jack deteriorated from a 210-pound athlete to an invalid. After Jack’s death, Diamont went on to become a bar mitzvah, alone, at Stephen S. Wise Temple, and to raise his six children Jewish. Temple rabbis conducted the funerals when his sister, Bette, succumbed to cardiac arrest nine years later and his mother died of emphysema just three weeks ago.

The actor, who is as tough and stoic as his character, came to work within hours of his mother’s death. That day he broke down only once — when he had to say the line, “I just spoke with my mother.” He recovered several minutes later and has not missed a shot since.

“It is ironic that as my mother passed, my TV mother has just been introduced on the show,” he says.

But he’s happy about the plot twist.

“You can’t tell the story of the Holocaust enough, especially since genocide continues today,” he says.

“Given the layer of insulation from the world I had wanted to not be immediately identified as a Jew, I’m ‘coming out’ in a most public way,” he adds.Of course, “Restless” is a daytime drama, so the plotline will undoubtedly involve steamy new love triangles for his character, Diamont says.

And, if we’re lucky, perhaps we’ll even get some more glimpses of those fabulous abs.

“The Young & the Restless” airs weekdays at 11:30 a.m. on CBS.

7 Days in the Arts

Saturday the 29th

The most avant-garde comics find a gorgeous forum, once again, with the release of the sixth edition of editor Sammy Harkham’s anthology, “Kramer’s Ergot 6.” Geeks celebrate its release tonight at the Hammer Museum, which features performances by Kites and The Mystical Unionists, films by Paper Rad and a presentation by painter and “Raw” contributor Jerry Moriarty.

9 p.m. Free. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000. ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.tlc.discovery.com.

Monday the 31st

“Look, but don’t touch” is the unspoken challenge to viewers of the Gatov Gallery’s new exhibit, “Soft Art.” On view are the vibrant textile works of Israeli artists Udi Merioz and Johanan Herson, created with a technique employed by only four known artists in the world. Pieces come together by applying brilliant colored textiles onto a soft canvas, and pressing them into one another with a special needle. The gallery at the Alpert JCC hosts the show through Aug. 15.

Open daily, times vary. Free. Alpert JCC, Weinberg Jewish Federation Campus, 3601 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 426-7601.

Tuesday the 1st

Our interest in, and relationships with varied species of the animal kingdom makes up Fahey/Klein Gallery’s new show, “Not All of Man’s Best Friends Are Dogs.” Photographers Richard Avedon, Garry Winogrand, Shelby Lee Adams and Steve Schapiro are a few of the contributors who depict people’s interactions with bird and beast.

10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.). Through Sept. 2. 148 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 934-2250. ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.yicc.org.

Thursday the 3rd

Multiple loveless affairs, a lustless marriage and in-vitro pregnancy are some of the bigger manifestations of one young woman’s fear of abandonment. Her journey to lead an emotional life appropriate with her age is the subject of Jessica Bern’s one-woman comedy, “Days of Whine and Roses.” It opens today.

8 p.m. (Thursdays). Through Aug. 31. $20 (in advance). Elephant Lab Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles. (323) 960-1056.

Friday the 4th

Neil Simon laughs for all this month. In the Valley, the Secret Rose Theater offers the classic “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” Simon’s homage to the time in his career spent writing for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” takes us into a 1950s TV writer’s room. Or, head to the 90212 for “Rumors,” in which hilarity ensues when an anniversary party goes awry; the host shoots himself in the head (a flesh wound), his wife goes missing and the guests must entertain themse
lves.

“Laughter”: Through Aug. 20. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. (866) 811-4111.

“Rumors”: Through Sept. 3. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills High Campus. (310) 364-0535.

‘Sex and the City’ Workout

“You’re joining a gym again?” I laughed. “If you could get back even half the money you’ve spent on gym memberships, you could go to Hawaii!”

“This time it’s different,” my friend said. “I’m joining that new one right by the mall. It’s so convenient, I can’t not go! And I’ll even use my free sessions with the personal trainer. I swear to you I am not throwing my money away this time.”

Where have I heard that before? Gym joiners are a dime a dozen here in fitness-obsessed Los Angeles. And you can’t drive three blocks without seeing some kind of gym or studio. Where I live, every time a new Starbucks pops up so does another gym. But I gave up on gyms long ago.

I joined my first gym while in college. My friends and I signed up for a three-month trial together, intending to rid ourselves of the proverbial freshman 10 — the end result of late-night doughnut runs.

We went religiously for three weeks, and then at least twice a week for three weeks after that, and then once in a while for three more weeks, and then we took a break for finals. After finals, the excuses began: “I have too much studying to do.” “I have a date.” “My sister has my car.” “I need to go shopping.”

We didn’t sign up again when the three months ran out.

Over the years I joined a few more gyms, always with the best intentions. But eventually my motivation to workout just wore out. For every reason there was to go, I had at least three reasons not to.

After I swore off of gym memberships, I decided that I needed to come up with different incentives to get moving. I used my dog. My dog loves to walk, and I love my dog. But dogs tend to stop frequently, and my dog must have been concerned that the female dogs on our block were not aware of his existence. So even though our walks were delightful, it became less of a fitness routine and more of a way for my dog to mark his masculinity.

Although the dog-walk routine didn’t pan out, a bit of canine inspiration led me to a workout regimen that finally worked.

When I next ran into my gym-joining friend, she was sipping a low-fat frap at the Starbucks next door to her new gym.

“Hey! How’s the new workout?” I asked.

“Um, good. The trainer was great, but kind of expensive once the freebees ran out. The locker room is very clean, and the juice bar totally yum,” she said, diverting her eyes and concentrating on the whipped cream oozing up her straw.

“You quit, didn’t you?”

“Not exactly,” she said.

“You stopped going?”

“I just needed a break.”

“I told you so,” I said as I ordered a tall decaf latte.

“OK, so you did,” she said defensively. “And what about you? What are you doing for exercise?”

I raised my eyebrows and smiled coyly. “I invented my own routine. I call it the ‘Sex and the City’ Workout,” I said.

“I’m intrigued,” she said. We took a seat in a quiet corner in the back. “How does it work?”

“Do you remember Pavlov? Well, I now am conditioned just like his dog.”

“You drool?”

“Don’t be silly. I developed a system so that I associate exercise with something I really want. I got an elliptical machine and put it in front of the TV.”

“I bet you hang your dirty clothes on it.”

“I do,” I admitted. “Exercise equipment always turns into a clothesline. Anyway, the trick to my workout is DVDs of ‘Sex and the City.'”

“I don’t get it.”

“I love watching ‘Sex and the City,’ right? Well, I allow myself to watch only if I am on the elliptical. So just like Pavlov’s dog learned to associate the bell with food, I associate exercise with my favorite show. If I want to watch, I have to workout. It’s that simple. I got caught up in season five one night, and when I looked down I had burned more than 3,000 calories.”

“That’s amazing!”

“It’s the best idea I ever had. My regular workout consists of two episodes — first episode on the elliptical and second episode stretching and lifting weights.”

“Wow,” she shook her head. “You do look, uh, pretty fit.”

I showed her my upper arm and allowed her to poke my bicep.

“I’m not only in shape,” I bragged, “I am also the ‘Sex and the City’ trivia game champion. I was the only one in my havurah who knew where Carrie and Miranda bought their cupcakes.” (Magnolia Bakery.)

“So you just watch ‘Sex and the City’ over and over?” she asked.
“When I could recite Carrie’s lines as well as she could, I decided to move on. So I addicted myself to ‘Gilmore Girls,'” I said.

“Ooooh, I love that show!”

“Then ‘The Sopranos,’ ’24,’ ‘Will and Grace’….”

7 Days in the Arts

Saturday
22

Polka gets dotty at the Getty this evening with the last installment of the center’s Summer Sessions series. “21st Century Roots” offers “roots music for the new millennium,” in the form of three groups: Brave Combo, a polka ensemble that mixes music from Mexico, Germany and Japan; Golem, an edgy klezmer rock band; and moira smiley & VOCO, a band that mixes the dance songs of Eastern Europe with Appalachian tunes. International folk dance lessons are also offered.

5:45 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. (dance lessons). 6:30 p.m. (first music set). Free. Getty Center South Courtyard, Courtyard Stage and Garden Terrace, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300.

Sunday
23

Can’t get enough of the man in tights? Head to the Museum of Television and Radio to see Superman as he appeared — in his many forms — on the small screen. For one final week the museum presents a selection of TV shows, including the 1950s “Adventures of Superman”; the steamier 1990s Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher affair, “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”; today’s Superman for the teen and tween set, “Smallville”; the animated 1970s classic “Superfriends” and the newer “Justice League”; as well as the unaired 1961 pilot of “The Adventures of Superboy.”

Through July 30. Noon-5 p.m. (Wed.-Sun.). $5-$10 donations suggested. 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 786-1025.

Monday
24

Beat the summer heat with a refreshingly star-free film festival. Dances With Films enters its ninth year with a host of talent-filled films, sans celebs. Why no familiar faces? Festival co-founder Leslee Scallon explains, “The other festivals are busy programming mostly celebrity oriented films. It’s not that we’re dissing celebrities, we’re just giving films a chance to be seen that are getting squeezed out of the circuit.” Offer your support July 21-27.
$10 (per ticket), $125 (festival pass). Laemmle Fairfax Theatre, 7907 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 850-2929.

Tuesday
25

Young Artists International alights on Los Angeles for its ninth annual International Laureates Festival. The week of classical music concerts features iPalpiti, their orchestral ensemble of 26 musical masters ages 19-30, representing 26 countries. Tonight, a smaller affair at the Ford Theatre features Bassiona Amorosa, a virtuosi sextet of double-bassists from Munich.
July 23-30. Prices and locations vary. (310) 205-0511.


Wednesday
26

Love a Gershwin tune? Karen Benjamin and Alan Chapman explore George’s music in tonight’s installment of the Parlor Performances @ Steinway Hall Presents… “Songwriters and Their Songs” series. Hear some of his best-loved pieces, as well as the stories behind them.
8 p.m. $25. Steinway Hall, 12121 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 471-3979.

Thursday 27

Judi Lee Brandwein can’t get no satisfaction, but discusses it this one last night, for your amusement. “Fornicationally Challenged” is the 40-something divorc’e’s one-woman mature-audiences-only comic show. It returns tonight only for a local send-off before its opening at the New York International Fringe Festival.
8 p.m. $20. Santa Monica Playhouse Main Stage, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 394-9779, ext. 1.

Friday
28

Ponder the art of Bonita Helmer in George Billis Gallery’s exhibition of her latest works. The moody, thought-provoking abstract acrylics focus on the interplays of fundamental elements, forcing the viewer to reconsider basic notions such as space and time.
Through Sept. 2. 2716 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 838-3685.

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7 Days in the Arts

Saturday, July 8
The Hollywood Palladium’s got the beat tonight. Head there for ’80s retro fun wrapped up in a good cause. Bet Tzedek — The House of Justice presents its annual Justice Ball benefit with headliners The Go-Go’s.

8:30 p.m. $75-$150. Hollywood Palladium, 6215 Sunset Blvd. (323) 656-9069. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

 

Sunday, July 9
A midsummer night’s edutainment comes courtesy of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony. Tonight, they perform “Ahava: From Israel with Love” at the Ford Amphitheatre, with Chen Zimbalista on marimba and Alon Reuven on French horn. Explanatory introductions of each piece will be given by conductor Noreen Green.

7:30 p.m. $12-$36. 2850 Cahuenga Blvd., East, Hollywood. (323) 461-3673.

Monday, July 10
TV gets some artistic recognition, thanks to Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM). Today FIDM opens its new exhibition, “The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design,” which continues through Sept. 9. On display are highlights from 40 years of television costuming, including clothes worn by Sonny and Cher, Barry Manilow and Carol Burnett, on their shows and specials.

10 a.m.-4 p.m. (daily, except Sundays). Free. FIDM Museum and Galleries on the Park, 919 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 624-1200, ext. 2224.

 

Tuesday, July 11
The sound of music drifts through the air, mixing with that signature zoo scent, this evening. The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association kicks off the first of two “Music in the Zoo” nights. Tonight, hear the Masanga Marimba Ensemble of Zimbabwe, the Scottish Wicked Tinkers, the Mediterranean music of Shaya and Rafi and the Irish Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder. Plus, the animals get a later bedtime of 8 p.m. and “Club Med Circus Performers” monkey around.

Tues., July 11 and 25, 6-9 p.m. Free (children 5 and under), $7-$16. Los Angeles Zoo, Griffith Park. (323) 644-6042. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Wednesday, July 12
Invisible friends get revenge in “Bunbury: A Serious Play for Trivial People.” The play by Tom Jacobson features the never-seen characters of Bunbury (of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”) and Rosaline (of “Romeo and Juliet”), teaming up to sabotage classic literary works. It is performed at the Skirball Cultural Center, and recorded to air on L.A. Theatre Works’ radio theater series, The Play’s the Thing, which broadcasts weekly on public and satellite radio, including 89.3 KPCC.

8 p.m. (July 12-14), 3 pm. (July 15), 4 p.m. (July 16). $25-$45. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P.,
(310) 827-0889.

Thursday, July 13
July gets a little hotter with Stephen Cohen Gallery’s “Summer Skin” exhibition. The group show features nude works, some naughty, some nice, by artists like Diane Arbus, Anthony Friedkin and Horace Bristo. The raciest stuff, by guys like David Levinthal, Larry Clark and Robert Mapplethorpe, can be seen in a separate viewing room.

July 7-Aug. 26. Free. 7358 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 937-5525.

 

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.

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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.

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.

 

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).

 

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

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.


Lawrence Kasdan

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.


Langston Hughes

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

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.

ABC

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.

The WB

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.

NBC

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.

Goodbye

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.”

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

Happy Purim!

Rabbi Daniel N. Korobkin is rosh kehilla of Yavneh in Hancock Park and director of community and synagogue services for the Orthodox Union.

 

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.

What?

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.”