November 19, 2018

Mrs. Maisel and the Jewish Revolution

Screenshot from Twitter.

I was delighted when “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” won the Golden Globe for best television series — but not for the reason you think. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is as Jewy as it gets. It is witty and humorous and deserves its award. But more than its laughs and giggles, Hollywood — and the rest of us — really need the very serious and timely message hidden in this overtly Jewish show.

We are witnessing a massive cultural shift in Hollywood and Western culture. For decades, abusive behavior and mistreatment, especially toward women, went unchecked. As the most powerful people in Hollywood summarily announced at the Golden Globes, “Time’s up.” The revolution is well underway.

The trouble with revolutions, though, is the extremist nature of revolutionaries. People who upheave society are not just rebels, they are zealots. Average people don’t take on city hall. Hollywood and Western culture desperately needed drastic change, and it took the strength, courage and near-recklessness of incredibly brave revolutionaries to inspire this transformation.

As is often the case with revolutions, initially the #metoo movement brought everyone together. But the subsequent hedging and handwringing by more moderate voices was inevitable. The pushback began. It was then followed by the pushback to the pushback as people quickly retreated from the harmonious center to their partisan corners.

“Mrs. Maisel” embodies the Jewish secret to resolving this vicious cycle.

In the show, 20-somethings Miriam and Joel Maisel are living out their scripted lives along with their two children in 1950s New York City. Everything changes when Joel confesses to an affair and Miriam, or Midge, as her friends call her, kicks him out. As per “the script,” Midge’s parents expect a quick reconciliation, but when Joel apologizes and begs for a second chance, Midge goes off-script and says no. Viva la revolución!

The trouble with revolutions, though, is the extremist nature of revolutionaries.

Midge’s rebellion leads her on a winding road to a bright future as a trailblazing female comic and a strong, powerful woman. The most impressive part of Midge’s personal cultural revolution is that her path is entirely original, yet she manages to include multiple parts of her previous, scripted life in her new life. In other words, Midge does not innovate at the expense of her entire past. She rejects all that is bad in the script and embraces all that is good. Her parents, her family, her fashion, her etiquette, her femininity, her Judaism and her sentimentality are all brought along into Midge’s journey.

In the season’s final scene (mild spoiler alert), Midge confirms her identity is independent from her past but also rooted in that same past when she creates her stage name: Mrs. Maisel. Despite the fact that she is divorcing Mr. Maisel, and despite the fact that she is an independent woman, Midge appropriates the name she was given and turns it into the name she chose.

In some ways, this frames Midge as a moderate revolutionary — a feminist hero toppling society’s conventions, gently. Midge’s foil in the show is her manager and adviser, Susie Myerson. She is the other kind of revolutionary. Susie is completely cut off from her family, she dresses and acts androgynously, and she has enough chips on her shoulder for herself and for Midge. There’s nothing gentle about Susie.

Some may think that a gentle revolutionary is weaker than a scorched-earth revolutionary. But the historic Jewish cultural revolutions of deity, ritual, philosophy, literacy and justice were not scorched-earth revolutions. We validated and valued the past while molding the present to create a better future. We have adapted and adopted from every culture we have visited on our 2,000-year Diaspora journey. We have created Judaisms that are unique to their time and place, interpretations specific to different academic spirits, and rituals that connect us to our surroundings. We are the gentle revolutionaries.

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is the story of Jewish revolutions retold for a postmodern world. To inspire Hollywood’s cultural revolution, we needed scorched-earth revolutionaries. Now, to make Hollywood’s cultural revolution stick, we need gentle revolutionaries.


Eli Fink is a rabbi, writer and managing supervisor at the Jewish Journal.

“Folks, Time’s Up!” Babs has a message for the Foreign Press

34 years ago, a verklempt Barbra Streisand accepted a Best Director Golden Globe Award for her work on “Yentl.” “This award is very meaningful to me. I’m very proud because it also represents, I hope, for so many talented women,” she told the audience. The crowd ruptured in applause.

Last night, Streisand, yet again, took to the Golden Globe stage, this time to present the award for Best Drama. But first, she made sure to mention that since 1984, no other woman has received Best Director. “Folks, time’s up!” she said.

Streisand is only woman to have won Best Director at Golden Globes

"Folks, time's up!" The last time a woman won "Best Director" at the Golden Globes, it was Barbra Streisand for Yentl in 1984.

Posted by Jewish Journal on Monday, January 8, 2018

 

This year, no women were nominated for the Best Director category, a fact which did not go unnoticed. “And here are the all male nominees,” actress Natalie Portman said before reading out the list while presenting Best Director with Ron Howard.

 

‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ star Rachel Bloom brings a fresh, feminist approach to Jewish comedy

Rachel Bloom. Photo by Nino Muñoz/The CW

When it comes to Rachel Bloom, it’s hard to know whether to start with the sex or the Jewishness. Both seem to ooze out of her, like a classic starlet of the Yiddish theater in which burlesque comedy could arrive in a voluptuous feminine package.

Consider the music video “You Can Touch My Boobies,” which has more than 5 million views. Bloom plays a Hebrew-school teacher who appears in a dream to seduce her kippah-wearing bar mitzvah student, Jeffrey Goldstein. Clad in a black bustier and fishnets, she rides around in a toy car shaped like a giant breast — with a nipple for a hood ornament — crooning, “We’re gonna have some fun tonight.” No need to check the locks, she tells Goldstein, because — wink, wink to American Jewish dining habits — his parents are out at Benihana. But Jewish guilt is never far behind, and suddenly, Golda Meir appears to scold Jeffrey for his fantasies: “You have brought shame on your family and the Jewish people!”

In the tradition of Woody Allen, Bloom has deftly translated the American-Jewish experience — its neuroses, obsessions and culturally distinctive lexicon — into mainstream entertainment. As a writer and actress, Bloom routinely probes aspects of her identity — relishing, mocking, exuding sexuality and Jewishness — both in the prolific collection of music videos she posts on YouTube, as well as on the CW show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” a musical romantic comedy that she co-created and stars in.

[Watch Rachel Bloom’s Jewiest music videos]

In Rachel Bloom, we have a female heir to the neurotic, outsider Jew who is constantly negotiating identity through sex and ethnic baggage. There are strains of Philip Roth in her work — a sex-obsessed Jew feeling ever out of place, trying to grow up and fit in. And what we gather from Bloom, a millennial, is that although political frissons have somewhat altered the American-Jewish makeup, a generation later, communal preoccupations are the same.

The 29-year-old is an expert at channeling the tropes of her male artistic and literary forebears, where sex and Judaism coalesce and collide as integral, paradoxical and indispensable to the human experience. But she upends theses legacies with something new and utterly transgressive: a female point of view.

“I think a lot about Fanny Brice’s aesthetic,” Bloom told me when we met for coffee last month in Silver Lake. “Her whole thing was Yiddish, Yiddish, Yiddish. I did 23andme [the genetic test] and I’m 97 percent Ashkenazi Jewish. Yiddish is what I connect to.”

The comparison to Brice (the comedian-actress immortalized in the movie “Funny Girl”) is apt — except for the fact that Bloom, unlike Brice, writes all of her own material. In just two seasons of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” Bloom has written or co-written more than 80 original songs. “That’s more than four Broadway shows,” she said.

Rachel Bloom (second from left) is Rebecca Bunch in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Photo by Mike Yarish/The CW

Rachel Bloom (second from left) is Rebecca Bunch in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Photo by Mike Yarish/The CW

 

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” tells the story of Rebecca Bunch, a tenacious, Harvard-educated Manhattan lawyer. After a chance encounter on a New York sidewalk with a guy she dated at summer camp, she becomes unmoored, determined to pursue her crush all the way to the West Coast. She walks out of her high-paid, partner-track job and follows the object of her affection to his hometown — West Covina. Last year, the role earned Bloom a Golden Globe award.

The day we met, Bloom had just wrapped the show’s second season, which is now available in its entirety on Netflix. She declared a recent episode “the most Jewish episode we’ve ever done.” In Season Two, Rebecca finally ensnares her lifelong obsession, the under-employed, none-too-bright Asian-American Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), and makes him her boyfriend. Before long, they’re heading together to Scarsdale for a bar mitzvah, and Rebecca frets nervously over how her family and friends will receive them. “Will Scarsdale Like Josh’s Shayna Punim?” asks the episode’s title.

What Rebecca does not expect is that her overbearing mother (played expertly, as always, by Tovah Feldshuh) warms quickly to Josh, learning to call him a “Pacific Islander” instead of “Oriental,” and teaching him how to make and pronounce challah. But rather than quell Rebecca’s anxiety, her mother’s acceptance intensifies it, as if to say: If a Jewish mother approves, something is definitely wrong. Rebecca’s anxiety then shifts from Josh’s outsider status to her own: At the bar mitzvah, it isn’t the non-Jewish Josh on trial, but Jewish tradition itself.

Far-fetched? More like autobiographical. Bloom herself never really felt she belonged.

“I’m a West Coast Jew, so there’s always this feeling of, like, ‘What are my roots?’” Bloom said of growing up an only child in Manhattan Beach. Religious observance was anathema at home, but, Bloom said, “We talked about being Jewish a lot, we talked about Christian oppression a lot, and for as long as I can remember, my father’s been telling me to read ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.’

“[My] family felt like East Coast Jews: I was not allowed to swim in the ocean because my mother was afraid I’d drown. My parents were wary of me being in the sun because of skin cancer. I loved musical theater, Stephen Sondheim, Woody Allen. Plus I had obsessive-compulsive disorder,” she said. “All of these things combined made me feel like an outsider living in a beach community where everyone is surfing and bleach-blond. They don’t even have a word for anxiety.”

During the episode in Scarsdale, which aired in January, Rebecca is on edge the entire time. At the bar mitzvah party, she is constantly rolling her eyes and whining about how “miserable and terrible” Jews are. When her childhood rabbi, played by Patti LuPone, asks if she’s found a synagogue in California, Rebecca replies that she doesn’t believe in God, so it’s not on her to-do list. “Always questioning,” the rabbi replies gleefully. “That is the true spirit of the Jewish people!”

Rebecca is most disheartened that the boy she brought to shield her from Jewish communal rituals is actually quite enjoying himself. She can’t understand why Jewish psychological mishegoss is not blatantly apparent to him.

“You don’t understand,” Rebecca tells Josh. “You are — forgive me — a non-Jew from the West Coast. Let me explain how it goes. East Coast: dark, sad. West Coast: light, happy. These people don’t understand what fun is. Trust me.”

Josh and Rebecca (Vincent Rodriguez III and Bloom) sing to each other in an episode where Josh later meets her family and friends at a bar mitzvah party. Photo by Scott Everett White/The CW

Josh and Rebecca (Vincent Rodriguez III and Bloom) sing to each other in an episode where Josh later meets her family and friends at a bar mitzvah party. Photo by Scott Everett White/The CW

 

That’s when the horah begins — “a fun dance!” Josh exclaims — but while the traditional klezmer music plays and everyone happily clasps hands, Rebecca’s view that tragedy is never too far from the Jewish psyche is proven when the rabbi sings: “Now it’s time to celebrate / Grab a drink and fix a plate / But before you feel too great / Remember that we suffered.” The song, appropriately titled “Remember That We Suffered,” is not only the defining Jewish number of the series so far, but perhaps the most Jewishly astute musical number since “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Ironically, Bloom said it is the absence of personal Jewish suffering that has enabled Jewish exploration in her work.

“People who came over here from Europe watched their families being murdered because of Judaism,” she said. “They were terrified for their lives because of Judaism. And they came to an America that was still quite anti-Semitic, so of course they wanted to assimilate. I’ve never really suffered anti-Semitism. Sure, sometimes people call me a kike online or whatever — because people say horrible things on the internet to everyone. [But] I have never been afraid for my life because of my heritage. And that gives me the freedom to talk about it.”

Like most American Jews, Bloom fits firmly into an assimilated framework, describing her Judaism in mostly cultural, secular terms. Being Jewish is “Mel Brooks!” she said. “The feeling of being an outsider, the being cold in restaurants, the guilt, the anxiety.” She said her husband, Dan Gregor, grew up “Conservadox” on Long Island and attended yeshiva until eighth grade, but ultimately left the religious life. As a couple, they celebrate with occasional holiday meals, but a question about shul attendance got a deep, resounding “Noooo.” Not even on the High Holy Days?

“I love thinking about the fact that it’s the High Holidays,” Bloom said. “But at end of the day, he and I are both secular people. I do not believe the Torah is the word of God — I believe it’s very interesting, and that it informs my entire heritage, and there are things to be learned from it, but I do not believe the universe cares if I have a cheeseburger.”

Bloom earned her musical theater bonafides at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she led the school’s sketch comedy group, Hammerkatz. A year after graduating in 2009, she made a splash with the self-produced music video, “F— Me, Ray Bradbury,” about a young woman who fantasizes about the science fiction author and masturbates while reading his stories. Bloom’s character alternates between sex kitten — dressed like Britney Spears in “ … Baby One More Time” — and sci-fi geek, turning down a date to stay home and read.

“When I started doing musical comedy, I realized that a lot of pop music, even though I love it, does not represent how people actually are,” Bloom said. “Bradbury” was her attempt to “reconcile what I thought I should be like with what I actually was like. And I found more people [related] to the latter. More people feel like outcasts, and feel like they don’t fit in. All of us feel some form of imposter syndrome.”

After “Bradbury” went viral, Bloom continued to release a string of music videos, as well as the album “Suck It, Christmas,” a collection of Chanukah songs co-written and produced with her husband and her writing partner, Jack Dolgen. In “Chanukah Honey,” a parody to the tune of “Santa Baby,” Bloom again plays come-hither sex kitten to a Jewish love interest who “got an MBA from Penn — Amen” but, unfortunately for her, dates Japanese women. Replete with references to the JCC, bat mitzvahs and camp, Bloom tempts her crush to “Come and flip my latkes tonight” as she rolls around on the floor in a blue-and-white Santa outfit. Of course, with Bloom, being a good Jewish girl, sex isn’t all she’s after: “But seriously,” she asks as an aside, “do you want kids?”

In “Can Josh Take a Leap of Faith?” — the Season 2 finale — Bloom’s character, Rebecca (right), is all dressed up for her big day when complications ensue. Photo by Michael Desmond/The CW

In “Can Josh Take a Leap of Faith?” — the Season 2 finale — Bloom’s character, Rebecca (right), is all dressed up for her big day when complications ensue. Photo by Michael Desmond/The CW

 

On her first trip to Israel last year, Bloom said, she played her Israeli tour guide some tracks from the Chanukah album, thinking he’d get a kick out of it. “We wrote a song about cantors, but no one in Israel talks about cantors,” she observed. Bloom was surprised to discover that even though she “loved” visiting Israel, she didn’t really relate to it. “It was really crazy to be in a country for all Jews, but Israel is not my culture,” she said.

Because she is an Ashkenazi Jew, European persecution is much more her thing, and it pops up in the animated video “Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song,” a feminist send-up of Disney fairy tales. While searching for her prince, Bloom encounters little Jews hiding out in the forest. “I never did ask you, why do you hide in the forest? Oh, I see, to hide from people trying to kill you!”

The video caught the attention of screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, who penned “The Devil Wears Prada” and “27 Dresses.” She arranged to meet Bloom; together, they solidified the idea for “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and promptly sold the pilot. Bloom had her big break into Hollywood.

What followed was a crippling period of anxiety and depression. “Mental illness runs rampant in my family,” Bloom said, “and no one has ever dealt with it.” The actress speaks openly and publicly about her struggle with anxiety — and not the kind treated as a kitschy Jewish trait, but a debilitating affliction. To tame her illness, she does cognitive behavioral therapy and practices meditation. She also sees a psychiatrist.

“I think keeping things taboo, keeping things secret, for me, that’s when things get bad,” she said. “When you learn to deal with anxiety, you think about what you actually know to be true versus what you tell yourself. These catastrophic thoughts, do you actually think those things are going to happen?”

The angst dates back to middle school, where Bloom said she was bullied. “I never felt pretty,” she said. “I wanted to be pretty, but I felt disgusting. And people told me, ‘You’re ugly; you’re a loser.’ It was the way I dressed, I cut my own hair. Then in eighth grade, I started to get boobs and I got more positive attention. And that only continued to grow. So I feel like I have a perspective on being a sexual being, as someone who hasn’t always been that. I appreciate it, but I also see the absurdity of it: Suddenly I have value because sacks of fat on my chest grew?”

Bloom’s interest in the way sex shapes identity is a constant theme in her work, a trait she shares with male Jewish predecessors like Woody Allen and Philip Roth. But her approach to sex constitutes a radical departure from the conventions of Jewish sexuality that have been canonized in film and literature — mainly by men. Whereas Jewish men typically have dealt with feelings of extreme sexual alienation, Bloom offers the bliss of sexual possibility. Where her male counterparts were ensorcelled by sex, Bloom is determined to demystify it.

At the end of the “Bradbury” video, instead of allowing a reference to Bradbury’s book “Something Wicked This Way Comes” to serve as pun, Bloom trades the erotic for the mechanic: “And by come, I mean ejaculate,” she declares, as if giving a science lesson.

Sex gets the same biological treatment on her show, which has featured numerous musical numbers that deal with the more visceral, uncomfortable truths about sex. “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” is about the difficult, unpalatable things women do to groom themselves for a date — and includes a bloody scene of anal waxing. In the sardonic hip-hop number “Heavy Boobs,” Bloom salutes and ridicules her ample bosom by dressing as a scientist holding up plastic bags filled with breast fat. The song “Period Sex” needs no explanation.

“The reason I’m so open and honest and brassy and ballsy about this s— is because my goal, if there’s a goal that I have as an artist, would be to make us all realize we are all just animals on this earth made of guts, who are all just trying to survive and get along,” she said.

If the defining feature of Jewish sexuality until now was sexual inadequacy, Bloom has rewritten the script. A child of the post-feminist generation, she is fully awake to her sexual power. But rather than use it strictly to seduce, she subverts the male gaze by drawing attention to the body’s anatomical indignities. It’s as if she’s trying to warn young Jeffrey Goldstein that his sexual fantasy will likely end with a urinary tract infection.

“There might be a tiny part of me that’s still a little afraid of being sincerely sexy because then you risk looking foolish,” Bloom said. “It’s much easier for me to be brassy-funny-sexy because there’s a protectiveness to that, and I don’t want to feel taken advantage of. It’s all about control.”

Bloom at the Golden Globes in January. Twice nominated for ‘Girlfriend,’ she won in 2016. Photo by Jen Lowery/via Newscom

Bloom at the Golden Globes in January. Twice nominated for ‘Girlfriend,’ she won in 2016. Photo by Jen Lowery/via Newscom

 

With lipstick and a dress, Bloom can easily play the bombshell. But off-screen she’s content in a gray T-shirt and bomber jacket. When we meet, she isn’t wearing an ounce of makeup, another way she peels back the curtain on the many façades of being female.

“When I learned sketch comedy, I felt like I suddenly had to become a dude, because that’s the culture of comedy,” she said, lowering her voice to sound like man. “Dude, bro, f—.’ There is a certain adopting of a façade when you are anything other than the majority, and I think that gives you an understanding of others who are oppressed.”

If feminism bequeathed to her a creative benefit, Bloom said, it is “the freedom to say what I want.”

Her fearlessness certainly resonates with her Jewish audience, which goes bananas every time Bloom explodes an old stereotype. After she took on the meaning of Jewish American Princess in the “JAP Battle” rap, a female writer for the Jewish online magazine Tablet ecstatically declared, “I am FINALLY THE DEMO OF A THING. I have never been the demo of a thing!”

But ultimately, a Jewish audience may not be enough to sustain even a critically acclaimed show.

“I’m not afraid to make my show Jewish,” Bloom said, “but at the same time, my show is the lowest-rated show on network television. So while specificity is important to good art, I don’t know how much of a mass appeal there is in openly talking about Judaism.”

In the past, Jewish artists like Allen and Roth could be rueful about their Jewishness, perhaps a little bit ashamed. But not Bloom. Instead, she seems to revel in it. And she’s not prepared to stop anytime soon. At the end of our meeting, Bloom was rushing off to start work on Season Three. It’s not just a job for her, but a community, a purpose, a spiritual salve.

“For most of my life, I’ve kind of felt like I don’t really have a place, and the success of this show not only draws me to people who have also felt like that, but it makes me feel I have a place to fit in. It’s cathartic to realize I’m not alone.”

Jewish talent shines in unexpected categories at Golden Globes

It was neither the best of times nor the worst of times for Jewish talent at the Golden Globe awards ceremony Jan. 8 at the Beverly Hilton.

The most prominent Jewish nominees, including such respected and decorated actors as Natalie Portman, Liev Schreiber, Winona Ryder and Jeffrey Tambor, did not make it to the winner’s spotlight.

It was left to a few artists, hardly mentioned in the advance Jewish tip sheets, to uphold the tribal honor, buttressed by one young director who might be classified as an “honorary” Jew.

Justin Hurwitz’s musical gifts contributed immeasurably to the success of “La La Land,” the record-setting, seven-time winner in the musical or comedy film category. Hurwitz was rewarded with trophies for the movie’s original score and for the original song “City of Stars.”

Hurwitz is 31, as is Damien Chazelle, the film’s director, and the two were roommates as undergraduates at Harvard. Chazelle, who won Golden Globes as director and screenwriter of “La La Land,” was raised by his two Catholic parents.

But, as Chazelle told the Journal’s Naomi Pfefferman last year, his parents were dissatisfied with their son’s education at a church Sunday school, so they enrolled him in the Hebrew school of a liberal synagogue.

Over the next four years, Chazelle recalled, “I had that period of my life where I was very, very into Hebrew and the Old Testament, and then I went with my class to Israel when we were in the sixth grade.

“I don’t think they even knew I wasn’t Jewish; I was, like, ‘passing.’ ”

 Veteran French star Isabelle Huppert won in the lead actress in a drama category for her role in the French film “Elle,” which also received a Golden Globe in the foreign-language film category.

Huppert, who plays the role of a successful businesswoman who plots an elaborate revenge on the home intruder who raped her, is the daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. Her parents married while France was under Nazi occupation, with his father hiding his Jewish roots.

Another ethnically mixed performer, Tracee Ellis Ross, was a winner as lead  actress in a musical or comedy TV series, playing the biracial anesthesiologist in the sitcom “Black-ish.” She is the daughter of Motown singer Diana Ross and music executive Robert Ellis Silberstein.

Britain’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson won the supporting actor award for his role as the fictional leader of a vicious criminal gang in the drama-thriller “Nocturnal Animals.”

The evening’s big loser at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills was absent President-elect Donald Trump, who was the target of a number of jibes and denunciations, though without actually being mentioned by name.

Most outspoken was actress Meryl Streep, who received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.

After denouncing the unnamed Trump for mocking a disabled New York Times reporter and after asking the audience to back the Committee to Support Journalists, Streep ended with a strong warning.

“Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence,” she said. “And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

Trump responded immediately by telling The New York Times that such words would have no impact on attendance at his upcoming inauguration.

“We are going to have an unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout for the inauguration and there will be plenty of movie and entertainment stars,” Trump said. “All the dress shops are sold out in Washington. It’s hard to find a great dress for this inauguration.”

Golden Globes 2016: ‘Son of Saul,’ ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ star claim trophies

The Hungarian Holocaust movie “Son of Saul” and the star of the Jewy show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” Rachel Bloom, won Golden Globe Awards.

“Son of Saul” won for best foreign film and Bloom was named best actress in a television series, musical or comedy when the awards were handed out Sunday night. Aaron Sorkin won in the best screenplay category for the film “Steve Jobs.” Bloom and Sorkin are Jewish.

The televised ceremony included host Ricky Gervais roasting presenter Mel Gibson, who made anti-Semitic slurs to a sheriff’s officer during a widely publicized DUI arrest in 2006.

In “Son of Saul,” a film funded in part by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the character of Saul Auslander is a member of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau who is forced to cremate the bodies of fellow prisoners gassed by the SS. In one corpse, Saul believes he recognizes his dead son. As the Sonderkommando men plan a rebellion, Saul vows to save the child’s corpse from the flames and find a rabbi to say Kaddish at a proper funeral.

Bloom, along with being the star of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” is the creator of the CW series about a successful New York lawyer, Rebecca Bunch, who follows her summer camp ex-boyfriend to small-town California, even though he has a serious girlfriend. Rebecca’s Judaism is a major element of the show.

Gibson was presenting for the best picture nominee “Mad Max: Fury Road” when he felt the wrath of Gervais, who also had insulted Gibson at the 2010 Golden Globe Awards ceremony.

“A few years ago on this show I made a joke about Mel Gibson getting a bit drunk and saying a few unsavory things,” Gervais said Sunday night. “We’ve all done it. I wasn’t judging him, but now I find myself in the awkward position of having to introduce him again. Listen, I’m sure it’s embarrassing for both of us, and I blame NBC for this terrible situation. And Mel blames … well, we know who Mel blames.”

Gibson later apologized for the anti-Semitic remarks he made to the police officer.

Gervais ended the show by saying: “From myself and Mel Gibson, shalom.”

Paris attacks loom over Golden Globes ceremony

Actors including George Clooney, Kathy Bates and Helen Mirren wore “Je Suis Charlie” buttons at the Golden Globes Awards ceremony in memory of the 12 people killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.

The terrorist killings in the French capital in the preceding days, which also included an attack on a kosher supermarket that killed four Jewish men on Friday, lent a serious undertone on Sunday to the usually lighthearted affair hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

Among those killed last week at Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine, was the celebrated French Jewish cartoonist Georges Wolinski.

In the awards, the winner for Best TV Series-Comedy was “Transparent,” written and directed by Jill Soloway. The series revolves around a Jewish family with a patriarch who tells his three grown children that he is adopting a female persona.

The Forward in a headline called “Transparent” “the Jewiest Show Ever.”

Maggie Gyllenhaal topped the field for best performance by an actress in a miniseries or TV movie for her performance in “The Honourable Woman.” Gyllenhaal, who has a Jewish mother, portrays Nessa Stein, a Jewish businesswoman who tries to bridge Middle East hostilities by linking Israelis and Palestinians through a communications network.

The biggest, though uncredited, Jewish winner of the evening may have been the late novelist Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), whose writings inspired director Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” winner of the Best Motion Picture-Comedy award. Sharing in the triumph was Jewish producer Scott Rudin.

Israel’s entry in the foreign-language film competition made the shortlist of five finalists with “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” chronicling the five-year struggle by an Orthodox woman in Israel to convince a rabbinical court to grant her a Jewish divorce from her husband. “Gett” lost out to Russia’s “Leviathan,” the story of a working man fighting the corrupt mayor of his town.

Another finalist, and early favorite, in the category was Poland’s entry, “Ida,” the story of a young Polish woman about to take her vows as a nun who discovers that she is the daughter of Jewish parents killed in the Holocaust.

 

 

Key Golden Globe Award film nominations

Here is the list of Key Golden Globe Award film nominations. Not to disappoint, but there aren't too many Jews on the list.


The Hollywood Foreign Press Association will hand out its 72nd Golden Globe Awards on Sunday.

Following is a list of key film nominees.

BEST DRAMA

“Boyhood”

“Foxcatcher”

“The Imitation Game”

“Selma”

“The Theory of Everything”

BEST COMEDY OR MUSICAL

“Birdman”

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”

“Into The Woods”

“Pride”

“St. Vincent”

BEST ACTOR, DRAMA

Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”

Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”

Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”

David Oyelowo, “Selma”

Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

BEST ACTRESS, DRAMA

Jennifer Aniston, “Cake”

Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”

Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”

Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”

Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

BEST ACTOR, COMEDY OR MUSICAL

Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Michael Keaton, “Birdman”

Bill Murray, “St. Vincent”

Joaquin Phoenix, “Inherent Vice”

Christoph Waltz, “Big Eyes”

BEST ACTRESS, COMEDY OR MUSICAL

Amy Adams, “Big Eyes”

Emily Blunt, “Into The Woods”

Helen Mirren, “The Hundred-Foot Journey”

Julianne Moore, “Maps to the Stars”

Quvenzhane Wallis, “Annie”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Robert Duvall, “The Judge”

Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”

Edward Norton, “Birdman”

Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”

J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”

Jessica Chastain, “A Most Violent Year”

Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”

Emma Stone, “Birdman”

Meryl Streep, “Into The Woods”

BEST DIRECTOR

Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Ava DuVernay, “Selma”

David Fincher, “Gone Girl”

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, “Birdman”

Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

“Force Majeure,” Sweden

“Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” Israel

“Ida,” Poland

“Leviathan,” Russia

“Tangerines,” Estonia

BEST ANIMATED FILM

“Big Hero 6”

“The Book of Life”

“The Boxtrolls”

“How to Train Your Dragon 2”

“The Lego Movie”

BEST SCREENPLAY

Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl”

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander, Dinelaris, Armando Bo, “Birdman”

Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”

Graham Moore, “Imitation Game”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Alexandre Desplat, “The Imitation Game”

Johann Johannsson, “The Theory of Everything”

Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, “Gone Girl”

Antonio Sanchez, “Birdman”

Hans Zimmer, “Interstellar”

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“Big Eyes,” for “Big Eyes” – Lana Del Rey

“Glory,” for “Selma” – John Legend, Common

“Mercy Is,” for “Noah” – Patty Smith, Lenny Kaye

“Opportunity,” for “Annie” – Greg Kurstin, Sia Furler, Will Gluck

“Yellow Flicker Beat,” for “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” – Lorde

Golden Globes nominate Israeli film

“Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem” got a boost Thursday (Dec. 12), when the Golden Globes selection committee nominated the Israeli movie as one of the five finalists for top honors in the best foreign-language film category.

As the title indicates, “Gett” deals with the lopsided Israeli divorce laws, which almost invariably favor the husband’s cause.

“Gett” is the latest in a trilogy, examining a woman’s struggle to divorce a husband who no longer loves her but who refuses to grant his wife a divorce.

The first segment, “To Take a Wife,” was released in 2004 and probed the frustrations encountered by the wife (portrayed by Ronit Elkabetz, who also co-directed) in her marriage.

“Shiva,” the second part, dealt with a death in the extended family, while “Gett” consists of the actual divorce trial before a rabbinical court.

“Gett” had not figured prominently in the early picks by odd makers for Golden Globe or Oscar honors, who have primarily put their money on the Polish entry “Ida.”

The sparse but powerful movie follows the evolution of a young novitiate in a Catholic convent who, as she is about to take her vows, discovers that she is the daughter of Jewish parents who perished in the Holocaust.

Also nominated and getting early critical acclaim is Russia’s “Leviathan,” which draws on the Book of Job to depict a simple Russian worker who struggles against the repression of a corrupt regime.

The two other nominated films are Sweden’s “Force Majeure” and Estonia’s “Tangerines.” Winners will be feted Jan. 11, 2015.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will not announce its nominees until Jan. 15, but it has already released a preliminary list of 10 short films, selected among 141 entries in that category.

Included is the Israeli film “Aya,” in which a young Israeli woman poses as a driver to pick up a Danish businessman at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Mia and Ronan Farrow not thrilled about Woody Allen’s Golden Globes award

While it’s unclear how Woody Allen felt about receiving the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award at last night’s Golden Globes (the Jewish film legend skipped the show), the Internet knows exactly where Mia Farrow and the ex-couple’s son, Ronan Farrow, stand.

“Nite all,” Ms. Farrow tweeted before Diane Keaton appeared to accept the award on behalf of Allen with a kooky song.

Then this:

Her son was just a wee bit less mild.

Not exactly mazel tov, now is it.

Woody Allen to be honored at Golden Globes

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has chosen Woody Allen to receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2014 Golden Globe Awards.

The honor is given every year to someone who has “made an incredible impact on the world of entertainment,” and Allen, 77, surely fits the bill.

The prolific actor/writer/director has churned out over 45 films in his 48-year career, including “Annie Hall,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Match Point,” “Midnight in Paris” and, most recently, “Blue Jasmine.”

“There is no one more worthy of this award than Woody Allen,” said Theo Kingma, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. “His contributions to filmmaking have been phenomenal and he truly is an international treasure.”

Allen will be joining a very esteemed club — and one with pretty decent Jewish representation. Others to have received the award are Steven Spielberg, Jodie Foster, Morgan Freeman, Barbra Streisand and Michael Douglas.

The 71st annual Golden Globe Awards will air live Jan. 12.

‘Homeland’ scores at Golden Globes

“Homeland,” a television drama based on an Israeli program, won for best drama at the Golden Globes Awards.

The Showtime program, based on “Hatufim,” or “Prisoners of War,” also received awards for best actor, Damian Lewis, and best actress, Claire Danes, at Sunday's awards ceremony.

Parts of the show's second season, as well as the first, were filmed in Israel.

The popular comedy series “Girls,” created by Lena Dunham, received the Golden Globe for best comedy. Dunham, who also stars in the show and is one of its writers, won as well for best actress in a comedy series.

“Argo,” a thriller based on the real-life plan to free American hostages in Iran by creating a fake movie production as a cover, won for best film drama and best director for Ben Affleck, beating out the favored “Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg.

The Golden Globes are awarded annually by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

Life in the Lopez Beatles [VIDEO]

Newspaper-reading Angelenos may recognize the byline Robert Lloyd. 

What they may not know is that the Los Angeles Times television critic once was more concerned with singing about a “Bitchen Party” than with covering the Golden Globes, which take place this year on Jan. 13.

Back in the early ’80s, Lloyd sang and played guitar on a catchy single with that name by a group called Lopez Beatles. It aired on MTV and local programs nationwide, including Richard Blade’s “MV3” on Channel 9.

Don’t tear your gray hairs out if you can’t remember. Neither Lopez Beatles nor their facetious song got very far — not that it matters to Lloyd.

“It was a true, fun experience,” he said. “A lot of music at the time was sort of dark, and we weren’t dark.”

The tongue-in-cheek video for the song featured the happy-go-lucky Lopez Beatles rocking out at a prom-like party, riffing on who was going to attend: “Student drivers are gonna be there, and easy riders are gonna be there. The heads of NATO are gonna be there, and Quasimodo is gonna be there.”

The video’s dead ringer for Rick Moranis, Lloyd co-wrote the song with the band’s chief songwriter/founding frontman, Bruce D. Rhodewalt.

Story continues after the video.

Lloyd, of Ukrainian descent, grew up in Encino and attended California State University, Northridge, and New College of Florida in Sarasota. The art major said his “aspiration was not to work in an office or to do anything where I was required to wear a tie.”

Ground zero for Lopez Beatles was Echo Park, where Rhodewalt and his roommate Lloyd Ehrenberg, who played guitar, lived in an Angeleno Heights duplex. In 1981, assistant music editor Rhodewalt and typesetter-cum-music reviewer Lloyd became friends at LA Weekly. Together with Ehrenberg, they formed the band, which eventually came to include drummer Jim Goodall and bassist Doug Freeman. 

“I thought it’d be a great idea to call ourselves the Beatles,” Rhodewalt said. “We’d get sued, get our names in the paper. … Since we lived in Echo Park, every other tire store, every other carniceria is called Lopez, so … the Lopez Beatles.”

Glenn Morgan directed the “Bitchen Party” video with co-director/producer Ellen Pittleman, who later became a Paramount executive.

“Originally, the song had no fixed lyrics except for the chorus,” Lloyd said. “We would just make up who was going to be there on the spot, sometimes naming people in our terrifically tiny audience. We wrote set lyrics [and recorded the song] in order for our friend Glenn to make the video, as a calling card for his directing.”

Morgan had entered the business as editor on Mary Lambert’s videos for a suddenly hot Warner Bros. artist.

“We both rode Madonna’s coattails to great success,” joked Morgan, who edited the singer’s breakthrough video “Borderline,” as well as “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl.” 

After Janet Jackson’s “Nasty Boys,” the Knoxville, Tenn., native yearned to direct. So he, Lloyd, Rhodewalt and Pittleman finalized lyrics to “Bitchen,” conscious of their $5,000 budget. At former bassist David Vaught’s Van Nuys studio, the band recorded the definitive version of the video, with the Lopez Beatles jamming to an empty room, ticking off an eclectic list of expected party guests.

Morgan shot exteriors near Farmers Market at Third Street and Fairfax Avenue, but a shutter problem junked the footage. Reshooting weeks later, Morgan enlisted video-world colleague Bill Pope, who went on to be director of photography for the “Matrix” and “Spider-Man” movies.

“We did a better job the second time,” Morgan said, smiling.

“Bitchen Party” ran on MTV’s “Basement Tapes” co-hosted by Martha Quinn and special guest Billy Crystal. The Los Angeles Times’ Calendar section, which now regularly runs Lloyd’s byline, praised the clip over Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer.”

In 1985, John Schweitzer’s minuscule label Shanghai Records pressed 1,000 copies of a “Bitchen Party”/”Spin-a-Roo” single.

“I remember hearing it on the radio,” Lloyd said.

Failing to capitalize on any momentum, Lopez Beatles faded away after Rhodewalt moved to Long Beach to start a family. Occasionally, they reunite for friends.

“We weren’t careerist about it,” Lloyd added.

After editing LA Style magazine, Lloyd returned to LA Weekly from 1996 to 2001, writing the Critical List column. In 2003, he jumped to the Times.

Today, Freeman, who jams Thursday nights at the Culver Hotel in Culver City, supervises editing on documentaries, while La Quinta resident Rhodewalt teaches math at Palm Springs High School. Goodall toured worldwide with band Medicine. 

Tiring of videos, Morgan settled into television in 1994. Since 2008, the Malibou Lake resident has worked post-production on “Project Runway.” Work relocated graphic artist Ehrenberg to Oakland. He returned to Ocean Park and, in 1994, died of Lou Gehrig’s disease at 36.

“Bitchen Party” may not have become a major part of the pop-culture musical canon, but, Lloyd said, “That video does seem to have made its way through the world. It’s authentically celebratory, and we were authentically excited when we recorded it. I think that’s why people responded to it. It was very simple.”

Will this finally be the year for an Israeli Oscar?

Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote,” Israel’s entry in the Oscar sweepstakes for best foreign-language film, has jumped the first major hurdle by making the shortlist of nine semi-finalists.

“Footnote” is Cedar’s fourth feature film in an 11-year career, and each one has been selected by the Israeli film industry to represent the country at the Academy Awards.

In 2007, his war picture “Beaufort” was one of the five Oscar finalists, but neither this nor any other Israeli entry has ever walked off with the golden statuette. Cedar and his countrymen fervently hope that the fourth time will be the charm. More about this film later.

This year 63 countries, from Albania to Vietnam, vied in the foreign-language film competition, considered one of the most unpredictable of the Oscar categories.

Last year was the first in memory that no domestic or foreign film dealing with the Holocaust or the Nazi era was entered in any Academy Award category. On that basis, this reporter predicted that the “Schindler’s List” and “Inglourious Basterds” era had passed and that from now on this historical genre would deal with more recent conflicts and genocides.

It took only one year to prove the prophecy wrong with Poland’s entry “In Darkness,” which has also qualified for the shortlist. The movie’s settings and emotions are as lightless as the underground sewers of Lvov, where a dozen Jewish men, women and children actually hid for 14 months during the German occupation of Poland.

Their unlikely protector was a rough-hewn Polish sewage worker and part-time thief, who knew all the hiding places in the underground system because that’s where he worked and stashed his loot.

At the helm of “In Darkness” is the superb Polish director Agnieszka Holland (“Europa, Europa”), whose forte is to delineate the shades of the human character. In this as in her other works, victims, heroes, villains and bystanders each have their strengths and weaknesses, varying with time and circumstance.

“I have always been intrigued by the contradictions and extremes in human nature,” she said in a phone interview. “I wonder at how fragile and how strong we are, how evil and irrational under some conditions, and how brave and compassionate at other times.”

The Netherlands’ entry, “Sonny Boy,” which did not make the cut, tells the actual story of two unlikely rescuers, a middle-aged Dutch housewife, who runs off with and marries a black Surinamese student more than 20 years her junior.

Under the German occupation, they hide several Jews in their home. Similar to Anne Frank’s fate, the couple was betrayed, arrested, and died in captivity.

One trend among foreign film producers, first noted last year, is the growing emphasis on such themes as internal conflicts, problems of immigrants, and life under the former Soviet occupation of East European countries.

Examples are films from Bosnia and Ireland (ethnic cleansing), Colombia (guerrillas vs. military), Czech Republic (expulsion of ethnic Germans after World War II), Estonia (Soviet army deserter returns), Kazakhstan (Soviets invade Afghanistan), Italy and Romania (illegal immigrants) and Lebanon (Christian-Muslim conflict).

New York-born Joseph Cedar, 43, is that rarity among Tel Aviv filmmakers, an Orthodox Jew, and he explored the gulf between observant and secular Israelis in his first two films, “In Time of Favor” and “Campfire.”

His next picture was “Beaufort,” a war, or better said, anti-war, film. In sharp contrast, his current movie, “Footnote,” centers on the rivalry between two Talmudic scholars, who are also father and son.

“OMG, what could be more boring,” I can hear the second and third generations of my family moan, but in Cedar’s hands the movie has more tension per frame than a gun-toting action picture or apocalyptic sci-fi epic.

Eliezer and Uriel Shkolnik, father and son, are both shining lights in the Department of Talmudic Studies of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where rivalries are fierce.

As former Harvard professor Henry Kissinger allegedly observed, academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low.

Maybe so, but to the two Shkolnik philologists, the stakes in their lifelong studies of the authenticity and meaning of each word in different Talmudic versions and editions are far higher than the struggles of warring countries or the rise and fall of national economies.

The director, himself the son of renowned Hebrew University biochemist Howard Cedar, firmly rejects the assumption that the protagonists in the film resemble in any way the persons or relationships in his own family.

“The film’s Talmudists in no way represent my father and myself,” the younger Cedar said. “Actually, their relationship is my nightmare, not my reality.”

Yet “Footnote” explores the balance between uncompromising honesty and family relationships. Says Cedar, “what if my son becomes a more successful director than I am, but makes movies that I hate? Will I tell him how I really feel or preserve family harmony?”

On a national scale, the insistence on one’s absolute truth contributes to civic violence in Israel, Cedar believes. “We now have a generation that considers ‘compromise’ a bad word and social harmony has been taken hostage by people who claim to know the absolute truth.”

Although “Footnote” will not be released in American theaters until March, it has received favorable reviews. At the Cannes Film Festival, Cedar was awarded the top prize for best screenplay, and in the United States, the National Board of Reviews of Motion Pictures placed the film among the five top foreign-language features.

But the competition for the ultimate winner will be rough. In both the United States and Europe, the critical favorite at this point is the Iranian entry “A Separation,” which has won a string of awards at international film festivals.

The film by Asghar Farhadi masterfully combines an easily recognizable situation – an impending divorce in an upper middle class family – with the strange atmosphere, pieties and judicial proceedings of an unfamiliar society.

Nominations for the 84th Academy Awards will be announced Jan. 24 and the Oscars presented on Feb. 26.

Allen, Spielberg grab Golden Globe nominations

Famed directors Woody Allen and Steven Spielberg led the list of Jewish nominees for Golden Globe Awards.

Allen with his “Midnight in Paris,” a critical and commercial success, was rewarded with three nods: best motion picture (musical or comedy), director and screenplay.

Spielberg’s “War Horse” was nominated for best motion picture (drama) and “The Adventures of Tintin” for best animated feature film.

The Golden Globe nominations, which were announced Dec. 15, are seen as a predictor for the Oscar races.

“Footnote,” which was the best screenplay winner at the Cannes Film Festival for Israeli director-writer Joseph Cedar, did not make the Golden Globes cut.

However, Israel could take some pride in the strong showing of the American television series (drama) “Homeland,” based on the Israeli hit “Hatufim,” or Prisoners of War. The American version, produced by Howard Gordon, earned nominations as best in its category, as well as acting nominations for its stars, Claire Danes and Damian Lewis.

Other notable Jewish talent is also in the running, according to Danielle Berrin, the “Hollywood Jew” blogger for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

In film nominations, Jonah Hill of “Moneyball” and Albert Brooks of “Drive” will compete in the best supporting actor category. Up for best screenplay honors is Aaron Sorkin, co-writer of “Moneyball.”

Television picks included HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, in the best drama TV series category.

“Modern Family,” created by Steve Levitan (with Christopher Lloyd) received nods for best television series (musical or comedy).

Evan Rachel Wood was nominated for best supporting performance in the miniseries “Mildred Pierce.”

Significant Jewish Presence in Globes’ Winners Circle

Jewish talent won some and lost some at the Golden Globe Award ceremonies, Jan. 16 in Beverly Hills, auguring a mixed outlook for the upcoming Oscar nominations.

The best news is that Israeli-born Natalie Portman waltzed off as best actress in the drama category for her impressive turn as a tortured ballerina in “The Black Swan.”

“The Social Network,” the gripping, if somewhat skewed, story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, won for best drama, but its star, Jesse Eisenberg, lost out to best actor winner Colin Firth, who portrayed England’s stuttering George VI in “The King’s Speech.”

“Social Network” won additional honors for screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for best screenplay. Sorkin beat out, among others, Britain’s David Seidler, who provided the inspiration and script for “The King’s Speech.”

Seidler’s paternal grandparents perished in the Holocaust.

In the comedy or musical category, Paul Giamatti, who is not Jewish, emerged as best actor for his spot-on portrayal of the very Jewish producer Barney Panofsky in “Barney’s Version.”

The movie is based on the novel of the same title by Canadian Jewish author Mordecai Richler.

Denmark’s “In a Better World” won the prize for best foreign-language film. Israel’s Oscar entry, “The Human Resources Manager,” did not place among the five Globe finalists.

For the first time since the end of World War II, no movie or documentary dealing with the Holocaust or the Nazi era was submitted for either Golden Globe or Academy Award consideration.

Briefs: Rabbi Weil condemns ‘Spinka’ participants, Prime Grill closure rumors untrue

Weil Condemns ‘Spinka’ Participants

“You call yourself a tzaddik, you’re a liar!” Rabbi Steven Weil told his congregation in a fiery speech from the pulpit last Shabbat, regarding someone who acts very religious but may be involved in stealing, lying or cheating.

The rabbi of Beth Jacob, an Orthodox congregation in Beverly Hills, was reacting to the Spinka case, in which eight ultra-Orthodox men were indicted for tax fraud and money laundering.

A member of Beth Jacob is alleged to have been involved in the scheme, and served as a subject of the three-part speech. Robert Kasirer, the state’s confidential witness, has donated funds to the synagogue, including a kollel named for his father, Jacob Kasirer, and machzors (high holiday prayer books) embossed with the family name.

Weil declined to be interviewed for this article, saying his speech was a private sermon for community members and not for publication. But past-president Marc Rohatiner confirmed the content of the three-part speech. Firstly, Weil condemned the alleged actions in the Spinka case, noting that the United States government has treated the Jewish community wonderfully, and that there is no excuse for defrauding the government.

“He said that when non-Jews look at our behavior, they don’t look at whether you keep Shabbos or wear tzitzit or keep kosher, they look at how you treat your employees, how you deal with the government, are you an honest and straightforward person?” Rohatiner recounted.

Actions like these play into negative stereotypes about Jews, Weil said.

Shul President Steve Tabak then announced that “at the request of Robert Kasirer and with the agreement of Beth Jacob,” Kasirer will remove his family’s name from Kollel (the adult learning center and its program), the Torahs and from the prayer books.

Weil, who has come under fire for evicting members from synagogue, then resumed his speech and said that they will not “engage in collective punishment” by barring the family from the shul. Kasirer was not one of the anonymous donors who contributed to the purchase of a new lot for Beth Jacob, Weil said.

Weil concluded by saying no one should point fingers at other religious Jews. He did not talk about the issue of moser (being a Jewish informant on other Jews).

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Beth Am Losing Rembaum, Netter

Temple Beth Am, the flagship Conservative Synagogue, announced that its senior rabbi, Joel Rembaum, will retire in June 2010 after leading the synagogue for 25 years. Rabbi Perry Netter, who has been with the synagogue for 16 years, leading Beit Tefila, a minyan in the synagogue, will also be leaving the synagogue in the immediate future in search of another position. Cantor Jeremy Lipton also is leaving, according to a Jan. 11 letter to congregants.

Rembaum, who will be 66 when he retires, said he wants to be “young and vibrant” enough to continue to write, research, teach and volunteer, as well as spend time with his children and grandchildren. “I believe that institutions require a change of leadership after a designated period of time,” Rembaum said. “I’m all in favor of a long tenure for a rabbi, but at the same time I think there’s a time for an institution to get a new direction and new vision.” The synagogue will form a search committee for a new senior rabbi, as well as defining the mission for the future.

“Change is a difficult thing,” Rembaum said. “The more you can prepare the community, the easier it will be.”

— AK

Golden Globes for Day-Lewis, Coen Brothers
‘There Will Be Blood’ theatrical trailer

The size of Jewish Golden Globe winners’ contingent was slightly more impressive than the modesty of the hour-long newscast on Sunday evening, with two half-Jews — Daniel Day-Lewis and David Duchovny — helping to up the ethnic score.

Day-Lewis snagged the best dramatic actor award for his role as a tough oil prospector in “There Will Be Blood.” He is the son of British Jewish actress Jill Balcon, and his wife Rebecca is the daughter of the late playwright Arthur Miller.

Neither Day-Lewis nor any other A-list stars in all their finery were in attendance to accept their awards, in view of the writers’ strike against major film and television studios. Their absence reduced the customary three-hour blowout to a drab reading of names at a press conference.

Nevertheless, the Golden Globe Awards, conferred by the otherwise insignificant Hollywood Foreign Press Association, are considered a kind of audition for the prestigious Oscar awards on Feb. 24, and the winners’ names were trumpeted in the local media.

Full, unhyphenated Jewish winners were:

  • Julian Schnabel, the painter and musician, as director of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” The film about a stroke victim who can communicate only by blinking his left eyelid also won top foreign language film honors for France and the United States.
  • Brothers Ethan and Joel Coen were awarded best screenplay kudos for the thriller “No Country for Old Men.”
  • Hollywood icon Steven Spielberg (“Schindler’s List’) was to be honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award, but the presentation has been postponed to next year.
  • Among television awards, Jeremy Piven topped the best supporting actor category as acerbic Hollywood agent Ari Gold in “Entourage.”

Finally, Duchovny, star of the adult sitcom “Californication,” was selected best actor in a musical or comedy series.

Duchovny, whose father is Jewish, told reporters that he had been too nervous to listen to the results and went instead to a movie.

“I knew if my phone was ringing when I walked into my hotel room that I would have won,” he said. “And it was. Nobody calls a loser.”

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Prime Grill Still in BusinessPrime Grill Restaurant
Prime Grill is not closing. The upscale Beverly Hills kosher restaurant is not becoming non-kosher, and it is not changing its menu.

Despite rumors around the Jewish community — people call the restaurant every day to find out if it’s still open — Prime Grill has no intentions of closing.

“There is absolutely no truth to this rumor,” general manager Mikael Choukroun said.

According to Steven Traub, the director of operations in New York, the rumors were started by a disgruntled employee and a produce supplier with whom there was a payment dispute. But the dispute has been resolved — although the rumor still circulates. Prime Grill is located on Rodeo Drive, away from the main strip of kosher eateries on Pico Boulevard, and operated by the owners of Prime Grill in New York.

“There is a different mentality between New York and Los Angeles,” Choukroun said. “People don’t like to be rushed. They like to eat leisurely. People are not willing to pay the same amount,” he said.

Los Angeles, he said, is a family-oriented place, where people are not willing to spend $100 per person for a meal on a regular basis. To adjust to the L.A. customer, he said they are going to be adding lower-priced items to the menu, and they will have specials.

— AK