September 16, 2019

Moving & Shaking: ‘Schmaltz, Schmendricks and Showbiz!’ Dishes on Pop Culture; Art Show Supports ADL

A pop-culture roundtable at Temple Beth Am on Nov. 16, featuring five creative Jewish professionals, examined depictions of Jews in movies and television and what they say about American-Jewish life.

“Tonight, we want to talk about how the Jewish experience has changed over time,” psychologist and screenwriter Michael Berlin, the event moderator, said at the start of the evening, titled “Schmaltz, Schmendricks and Showbiz!”

During the event, comedy writer Rob Kutner (“Conan”) discussed what it was like being a pro-Israel writer at “The Daily Show” and having more pro-Israel views than then-host Jon Stewart. Kutner said he tried to bring more balance to the content of a “Daily Show” segment that portrayed pro-Israel Jews as being unwilling to listen to anything other than full-throated support for Israel.

“I didn’t want to argue too much with my boss, but I was trying to present a reasonable pro-Israel position,” Kutner said.

Michelle Fellner, a television editor whose credits include “Mad Men,” recalled how she bonded with show creator Matt Weiner over their shared Jewish heritage when she worked on the Emmy Award-winning drama.

Over the course of the evening, the panelists presented clips from films and television shows that depicted Jews in flattering and negative ways. Journal contributing writer Esther D. Kustanowitz discussed “JAP Battle,” a clip from the musical-comedy show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” featuring two Jewish American princesses trading rap verses skewering each other and Jewish stereotypes.

Kustanowitz said the evening was an opportunity “for Jews to emerge beyond the stereotype.”

During a Q-and-A toward the end of the night, Temple Beth Am Rabbi Ari Lucas asked the panelists how Judaism informed their approach to their work. Andrew Wallenstein, co-editor-in-chief of Variety, said he struggles with staying true to the Jewish law prohibiting lashon harah (Hebrew for “gossip”) because almost 90 percent of the content on his newspaper’s website is gossip. Still, he said, he hopes the articles shed some light on troubling realities in society.

American Jewish Committee Los Angeles President Scott Edelman (left) and Learned Hand Award recipient John Rogovin. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography

American Jewish Committee (AJC) Los Angeles honored John Rogovin, executive vice president and general counsel at Warner Bros. Entertainment, with the AJC Learned Hand Award on Oct. 25 at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles.

“Who better exemplifies the spirit of liberty than the American Jewish Committee, which I admire so much for their work on behalf of all of us — Jews and non-Jews — safeguarding human rights,” Rogovin said in his acceptance speech.

Michael Powell, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, presented Rogovin with the award.

Attendees at the ceremony honoring Rogovin included John Emerson, former United States ambassador to Germany. Emerson delivered the evening’s keynote speech on the importance of U.S.-Germany ties and the role AJC plays in that relationship.

Norman Eisen, former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, and Matthew Dontzin, founding partner at Dontzin, Nagy & Fleissig, served as the masters of ceremonies.

The dinner co-chairs were Jaye Rogovin, John Rogovin’s wife; former AJC National President Bruce Ramer; AJC Los Angeles President Scott Edelman; and Latham & Watkins partner Joseph Calabrese.

AJC Los Angeles Director Dan Schnur opened the program.

AJC, an advocacy group combating anti-Semitism, supporting Israel and more, established the Learned Hand Award, the highest honor the organization bestows to an individual in the legal profession, in memory of Judge Learned Hand, a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

From left: Deanna Migdal, Esther Friedberg, Chellie Goldwater Wilensky, Gail Simpson, Susan Isaacs and Ivy Libeross attend the NA’AMAT USA luncheon. Photo courtesy of NA’AMAT USA

The San Fernando Valley Council of NA’AMAT USA held its annual Distinguished Community Leader Awards luncheon at American Jewish University on Oct. 29.

This year’s honorees were Dr. Fran Kaufman, a prominent figure in the treatment of pediatric diabetes; community activist Barbara Yaroslavsky, for her fight against poverty; and Gail and Myles Simpson, for their service to NA’AMAT and Conservative Judaism.

“I am very appreciative of this honor,” Gail Simpson said. “NA’AMAT has been a part of my life for the past 40 years. I’ve seen all of our accomplishments in Israel and how NA’AMAT has improved the lives of women and their families. Our programs are constantly evolving as the needs of women grow and change.”

NA’AMAT USA, a volunteer organization, partners with NA’AMAT Israel to provide educational and social services for families and individuals in need.

The luncheon included a video screening about NA’AMAT’s technological high schools for disadvantaged and at-risk teens in Israel, introduced by the organization’s national vice president of public relations and publicity, Susan Isaacs.

“It is an inspiration to recognize the achievements of our distinguished honorees,” NA’AMAT USA Executive Director Deanna Migdal said. “These leaders serve as models for us all as we work to fulfill our mission of enhancing the quality of life of women and children in Israel.”

Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

“Fauda” star Laetitia Eido poses on the red carpet at the Israel Film Festival. Photo by Alex Zamyatin

As part of the Israel Film Festival, 220 people attended a screening of a new episode from the Israeli TV hit “Mossad 101” at Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills on Nov. 15. The screening was followed by a panel discussion about how to expand the impact of Israeli television. Adam Berkowitz, co-head of television at Creative Artists Agency (CAA), moderated the panel, titled “Israeli TV: An American Success Story.”

“Israeli TV is quite young — 27 years,” said Udi Segal, founding CEO of Sumayoko Films, which produced “Mossad 101.” “It can offer young and enthusiastic creators.”

Segal said Israeli creators tend to have lower budgets than their American counterparts, which is helpful for the creative process. “When you have a small box, you must think outside it,” he said.

“Israelis are innovators and entrepreneurs, and want to invent and push the envelope,” said Sharon Tal, head of drama and comedies at Amazon. “They never want to think safe. They always have something to say and they say it.” She added that Israeli writers are used to a “very honest and brutal approach,” that they’re not afraid of getting notes about their scripts, while American writers have to be “treated with kid gloves.”

“What makes a good TV show is to take reality and exaggerate it a little,” said writer David Shore (“House,” “The Good Doctor”). “That’s what Israel is — reality that’s a little more heightened and a little more focused.”

The panel also included Danna Stern, managing director of Yes Studios, and award-winning actor Tsahi Halevi. Halevi has been acting for about five years and now is enjoying recognition for his work in “Mossad 101” and “Fauda,” both of which were featured at the festival.

“The last year-and-a-half has changed the formats business,” said Michael Gordon, an agent at CAA. Gordon said Israel is particularly well positioned to export stories. It generates “organic stories, because the population isn’t homogenous,” he said.

Both “Fauda” and “Mossad 101” present diverse characters coming into conflict with one another over cultural or ideological differences.

The following night, Nov. 16, the festival hosted a red-carpet world premiere for the second season of “Fauda,” featuring two sold-out screenings and a Q-and-A panel discussion with the talent and creators of the show.

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

From left: Sephardic Education Center (SEC) Director Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, “NCIS: Los Angeles” actress Daniela Ruah, Sephardic Film Festival honoree Joe Ouaknine and SEC President Neil Sheff. Photo courtesy of Sephardic Educational Center

The Sephardic Educational Center (SEC) kicked off its 14th annual Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival on Nov. 5 with a dinner under the stars at the Paramount Studios lot.

Every year, the Sephardic Film Festival showcases original stories by filmmakers around the world, while highlighting the heritage and culture of Sephardim.

This year’s opening film was actor and director Ze’ev Revach’s “Back to Casablanca.” The film follows Revach’s journey back to his homeland in search of a Moroccan actor to star alongside him in his next film, which he dreams he’ll be able to distribute around the Arab world.

SEC President Neil Sheff delivered remarks at the start of the evening.

Proceeds from the weeklong festival, which closed on Nov. 12, support SEC educational programs, including SEC Hamsa Israel, a trip to Israel for teenagers led by SEC Director Rabbi Daniel Bouskila.

The SEC presented Joe Ouaknine, co-founder of Titan Industries, a women’s fashion footwear company, with the Maimonides Leadership Award. Ouaknine was born in Morocco, immigrated to Canada, moved to Los Angeles in 1977 and is an active supporter of the Los Angeles Sephardic community, the SEC website says.

Actress Daniela Ruah (“NCIS: Los Angeles”) emceed the evening.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

LACMA Director Michael Govan poses at “ArtWorks ADL” with (from left) his wife, fashion and luxury brand consultant Katherine Ross; Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Regional Director Amanda Susskind; ADL executive committee member Nicole Mutchnik; and Sotheby’s Executive Vice President and Chairwoman Andrea Fiuczynski. Photo courtesy of Anti-Defamation League

“ArtWorks ADL: Justice, Advocacy And Art” drew more than 400 art aficionados, philanthropists and friends of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to the Beverly Hills home of husband-and-wife entrepreneurs and philanthropists Lisa and Joshua Greer.

The Oct. 26 event, held in the Greers’ backyard on a balmy evening, showcased more than 40 paintings, sculptures and mixed-media works donated by Los Angeles-based artists and galleries inspired by the ADL mission and representing the Jewish, Asian-American, Latino, African-American and LGBT communities.

Andrea Fiuczynski, executive vice president and chairwoman at Sotheby’s America, conducted a live auction. The event raised $420,000 to support ADL programs combating hate and bigotry.

Attendees included the evening’s co-chairs, Los Angeles County Museum of Art Director Michael Govan and international art consultant Lauren Taschen.