June 26, 2019

Television Critics Nominate MOTs

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep.

The Television Critics Association Critics Association’s nominations for its 35th Annual TCA Awards include Jewish talent, mostly in the comedy realm.

In the individual achievement in comedy category, “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus is nominated opposite Pamela Adlon (“Better Things”). Louis Dreyfus won in the category in 2014.  She’s also up for the career achievement award, alongside prolific producers Chuck Lorre (“The Big Bang Theory,” “The Kominsky Method”) and Dick Wolf (“Law & Order” franchise, “FBI”).

“Veep” is nominated in its farewell season in the comedy programming category, opposite the very Jewish “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and several shows Jewish starring Jewish actors: “Schitt’s Creek” (Eugene and Dan Levy), “Russian Doll” (Natasha Lyonne) and “Barry” (Henry Winkler).

The 35th Annual TCA Awards will be presented on Saturday, August 3, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel during the TCA summer press tour

‘Game of Thrones’ and Sefirat Ha-Omer’s End

The Iron Throne is seen on the set of the television series Game of Thrones in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast, Northern... Phil Noble April 14, 2019

Classic storytelling often begins with “Once upon a time” and concludes with “The End.” Over the past two decades, Hollywood has serialized and franchised movies and television shows with cliffhangers and teasers, keeping viewers hooked for the next installment. This unwittingly has created an audience desperate for stories to end.

I recently was counting sefirat ha-Omer when it hit me: We’re in the endgame now. The final season of “Game of Thrones” on HBO was the most popular ever of the award-winning show. Similarly, “Avengers: Endgame” is the finale of a 21-film Marvel Cinematic Universe cycle and the movie fastest to exceed $2 billion in ticket sales. It likely will overtake “Avatar” as the highest-grossing film of all time. Everyone wants to see how it ends. 

But what does this have to do with sefirat ha-Omer?

Hollywood is concerned with developing the next gateway drug into a new endless entertainment universe. It has audiences addicted to anticipation. Viewers never want a story to end; whenever it feels like it has ended, we want a taste of the next thing. Anticipation generates billions of entertainment dollars. But the incredible reaction to the final season of “Game of Thrones” and “Avengers: Endgame” conveys an important message: Fans are grateful when their favorite shows and movies end gracefully.

It turns out everyone — especially millennials who came of age in the era of serialized entertainment — needs things to end. Thanks to technology, the professional 9-to-5 workday and five-day workweek are quaint relics of a not-so-distant past. Our workday never ends. Our workweek never ends. The 24-hour cable news cycle and its evil sibling, Twitter, create a false sense of urgency to make sure there is no “end of the day.” The news is always on, always breaking. There is no time for anything to end.

This frantic 21st-century life has made us desperate for a breath of fresh air without teasers, notifications and breaking-news alerts. We need things to end.

Seven is a meaningful number in “Game of Thrones.” There are seven kingdoms, but more importantly, the primary practiced religion is the “Faith of the Seven” — a single deity with seven faces or aspects.

Shabbat reminds us to end our week and breathe. Celebrating Shabbat means the week actually ends on the weekend.

In Judaism, the number seven also is significant. In the creation story, the physical world was made in six days; on the seventh day, God rested. This is what Shabbat is about. We live in the physical world for six days and on the seventh day, we take a break from the physical world. We rest. Shabbat reminds us to end our week and breathe. Celebrating Shabbat means the week ends on the weekend.

Sefirat ha-Omer is the lesson of seven squared. We count seven days for seven weeks because a one-week cycle with a beginning and an end is part of another, even bigger cycle with a beginning and an end. The Jewish calendar is a never-ending cycle of beginnings and endings because it is so important for people to have endings. We are meant to use these ending moments for reflection and meditation on the times and experiences that brought us to these moments. This is the secret of Shabbat and sefirat ha-Omer.

Our world needs more endings. Life in 2019 is relentless. We need more opportunities to breathe, more moments to reflect. Hollywood had been working under the assumption that things always begin with excitement. However, enthusiasm tapers off as time passes. Hollywood solved this “problem” with intoxicating anticipation. But now there seems to be a shift.

The end of things is even more popular than the beginning and those tantalizing teasers that follow. “Game of Thrones” has never been more popular. “Avengers: Endgame” already is one of the most popular movies of all time. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a societal correction that makes time for things to end, so we can breathe.

Eli Fink is a rabbi and writer.

Israeli and American Creators Talk ‘Homeland,’ ‘Shtisel’ and More

From left: Nicole Yorkin, Alesia Weston, Gideon Raff, Ninet Tayeb and Ronit Weiss-Berkowitz; Photo courtesy of UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies

“What makes Israel a rich source of material and stories, and what happens to those stories and creators as they make their way to America?” moderator Ronit Weiss-Berkowitz, a professor of film at Tel Aviv University, asked in a panel during Israel in 3D, a community conference convened by the Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at UCLA on May 5. 

The panel was one of three sessions featuring prominent Israeli and American speakers exploring “cross-border” connections between the two countries, sponsored by the Jewish Community Foundation, the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, the Jewish Journal, and community partners Sinai Temple, Westwood Village Synagogue and Sephardic Educational Center.

Writer-producer Gideon Raff (“Hatufim” “Homeland” “Dig” and “Tyrant”) and singer-actress Ninet Tayeb (“Kochav Nolad” and “When Heroes Fly”) headlined the entertainment panel, which also featured Alesia Weston, former executive director of the Jerusalem Film Festival, and writer-producer Nicole Yorkin (“Chicago Hope” “The Killing” and “The Education of Max Bickford”). 

“Israel is a fertile ground for formats,” Raff said, noting that Israeli series “BeTipul” was the first to make the crossover to the U.S. market, becoming “In Treatment” (2008) at HBO. 

“Israel is a very small country and has small budgets,” he said. “In trying to compete with international shows, we need to find very creative ways to compete. Sometimes it’s in formats and sometimes it’s telling very raw, almost taboo stories.” Raff named “Hatufim” (“Prisoners of War”), which became “Homeland” (2011), and the Netflix-distributed “When Heroes Fly” (2018) as examples.

Yorkin now works on “Hit and Run” for Netflix, with the creators of “Fauda,” Avi Issacharoff and Lior Raz. The story’s protagonist is Segev, an Israeli tour guide who is trying to find the driver of a hit-and-run accident that killed his wife. 

“The macrocosm of the story is about U.S. and Israeli relations,” Yorkin said. “We’re the best of friends and allies but, like many family members, have disagreements, which can lead to feelings of betrayal and dissatisfaction.”

Yorkin said “Hit and Run’s” first-episode budget was equivalent to the budget for two seasons of the Israeli-produced “Fauda.” Low-budget productions “go to character because you can’t go to action,” Weston said. 

Tayeb, who got her start by winning “Kochav Nolad,” the Israeli version of “American Idol,” in 2003, spoke about playing Yaeli in “When Heroes Fly.”

“The series for me was so life-changing in every aspect,” she said. “To dive into this role, it took a lot from my soul to go all the way. I dived so deep that it took me a long time to snap out of it. I’m still recovering.” 

“The more local a story is, the more universal it is. The human condition applies to all of us. The most basic human emotions, helping your brothers, that’s something that rings [true] for everyone.” — Gideon Raff

Raff’s forthcoming film, “Red Sea Diving Resort” (from Netflix at a date to be determined), tells the story of how Mossad helped members of the Ethiopian community escape Sudan. 

“The more local a story is, the more universal it is,” Raff said. “The human condition applies to all of us. The most basic human emotions, helping your brothers, that’s something that rings [true] for everyone. It’s about how Mossad got Ethiopians out of Sudan but relates to a world where people are drowning in the Mediterranean looking for a better future, so it’s very relevant today.” 

Raff also reflected on adapting the uniquely Israeli and “extremely personal” “Prisoners of War” — which he said he wrote at the Starbucks at the Grove in 2007 — into “Homeland.” Raff wrote and directed every episode of the Israeli version after doing six months of research, including interviewing dozens of former Israeli POWs, their families and psychologists about what happens after POWs come home. 

“Israelis don’t talk about it,” he said. “They want the story to end with the return [of the prisoner]. They want the happy ending. But the story of POWs in Israel doesn’t end there. It is a long, very hard journey.” In the U.S., he noted, because army service isn’t required, he had to find another dramatic angle for an American audience. The concept of loyalty, and whether the prisoner had been turned, became the central idea of “Homeland.”

“Every one of my shows is an attempt to go back to Israel,” Raff said. In 2014, he was shooting “Dig” in the Kotel tunnels under the Old City in Jerusalem “with BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] demonstrations above us,” and building a soundstage for “Tyrant” in Kfar Saba when “rockets started flying. The actors wanted to stay, they loved Israel so much, but the insurance companies got involved and both shows had to leave,” he said. “Dig” moved production to Croatia and “Tyrant” moved to Budapest. 

Tayeb, who punctuated her remarks by performing some of her original songs, talked about leaving her Israeli fame for anonymity in the United States. “It’s so different here,” she said. “It’s scary every day because you don’t know what’s going to happen, but I guess that’s life when you get out of your comfort zone.” She added that living in America was an opportunity to “write from a different place in my heart and my soul.” 

One audience member asked the panel members what they would like American college students to know about Israel. 

“I don’t know how to start,” Raff said with a sigh. “I think, as Israelis, we’re all struggling with some of the political narratives that are being told. We try to open the dialogue by telling human stories, not necessarily ones that take one side or another. I think for most artists what’s important [is] for people to consume as many stories as possible and realize that’s how we solve the problem.” 

Between the first two seasons of “Hatufim,” actor Guy Selnik, who plays Hatzav, was drafted into the army and posted in the occupied territories, Raff said. At a roadblock, Palestinians recognized him and asked him when the second season was coming. “Art creates bridges,” Raff said.

A mention of “Shtisel,” the popular Israeli drama focusing on a Charedi community in the Jewish state, prompted applause. 

“On Facebook, everyone is saying, ‘Watch it,’ ” Yorkin said. “They all have crushes on Michael Aloni” (the “Shtisel” and “When Heroes Fly” star).

“Everyone has a crush on Michael Aloni!” Raff said.

“I’ll tell him,” Tayeb said.

Jake Gyllenhaal to Bring ‘Lake Success’ to HBO

Jake Gyllenhaal; Wikimedia Commons

Jake Gyllenhaal will take on his first TV series role in “Lake Success,” HBO’s adaptation of Gary Shteyngart’s 2018 novel about a Jewish hedge fund manager who takes a bus trip to find his college sweetheart.

Gyllenhaal will play Wall Street millionaire Barry Cohen, who flees Manhattan in the wake of an SEC investigation and his young son’s autism diagnosis, searching for a simpler life. Back in New York City, his left-behind wife embarks on a new relationship while raising the child on her own.

“Gary’s novel is a beautifully executed character study highlighting the depth of human contradiction and complication, set against the timely backdrop of America today,” said Gyllenhaal and producing Riva Marker in a joint statement. “We are thrilled to partner with HBO, who has consistently been home to some of the most exciting and acclaimed premium content over the past two decades.”

Shteyngart will also serve as executive producer and share writing and showrunning duties with Tom Spezialy.

Gyllenhaal will next be seen in “Spider-Man: Far From Home” in the dual role of Quentin Beck/Mysterio. It opens in theaters July 5.

Philip Roth’s ‘The Plot Against America’ Becomes HBO Miniseries

HBO Logo

“The Plot Against America,” Philip Roth’s 2004 novel set in an alternate history in which Charles Lindbergh defeated Franklin D. Roosevelt and turns America into a Fascist, anti-Semitic state where Jews are openly persecuted, will become a six-part HBO miniseries.

Winona Ryder (“Stranger Things”), Morgan Spector (“Homeland”), and Zoe Kazan (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”) play members of the Levin family, and John Turturro plays Lionel Bengelsdorf, a Conservative rabbi who becomes a key figure in the new administration. David Simon and Ed Burns are adapting the novel and will produce, and Roth is among the executive producers.

Ryder will return to Netflix for the fourth season of “Stranger Things” on July 4, and Spector will star with Gina Torres in the “Suits” spinoff “Pearson” on USA later this year. Turturro will next be seen in Sundance TV’s “In the Name of the Rose,” based on the novel by Umberto Eco. It premieres May 23.

‘Girls’ Producer Jenni Konner on Finding Her Voice

"Girls" Producer Jenni Konner; Photo courtesy of Jenni Konner

Jenni Konner is a writer, director and producer known for executive producing HBO’s limited series “Camping” and HBO’s acclaimed series “Girls,” which ran for six seasons. She began her career as a writer on Judd Apatow’s television series “Undeclared” and today resides in Los Angeles, where she runs her production company, I Am Jenni Konner Productions. 

Together with her former producing partner, Lena Dunham, Konner launched the biweekly feminist newsletter ‘Lenny Letter’ in 2015 and established the publishing imprint Lenny Books with Random House in 2017.

Howard Rosenman: How did your involvement with “Girls” come about? Did you realize the show would define a generation?

Jenni Konner: No. The character Hannah says in the beginning, “I’m the voice of a new generation or of a generation.” That was meant entirely as a joke, so it was very funny to me that people at that time thought she was actually claiming that. I got involved because I saw Lena Dunham’s first feature, “Tiny Furniture,” and thought it was incredible. She had this amazing new voice. Honestly, our agents introduced us and we became partners.

HR: There appear to be progressive values of tikkun olam in “Girls.” Is that a fair assessment?

JK: I really believe in the concept of social justice and I believe that can happen through art. It was never our intention to fix the world. We were just making something we liked, but it did give me a platform to have a stronger voice in the world. We started a feminist newsletter, as well. We were interested in pushing new voices forward and voices that weren’t necessarily being heard.

HR: How has your Jewish background influenced your work?

JK: There’s a lot of humor in the Jewish community and that absolutely has been an influence for me, and my father, particularly, is very funny, as is my mother. That had a lot to do with who I am now as an artist. I was inculcated with reading and telling stories because that’s what we Jews do. I was a voracious reader. I still am. I read one to two books a week. There’s a lot of storytelling, hyperbole and exaggeration for the sake of the story, which feels to me inherently Jewish.

HR: What is your Jewish background?

JK: Until I was 12, there was almost no talk of Judaism beyond Hanukkah, which was fine with me since I was a kid. My father, all of a sudden, remembered that we were Jewish and decided to throw me a big bat mitzvah. So I had to cram, never having gone to Hebrew school, and I went to Temple Emanuel and got a tutor. I did it all in six months as opposed to two years. We went to High Holy Days for a while after that. Now I go to Kol Nidre and Neilah.

HR: As a progressive in Hollywood, how do you feel about Israel the nation, not necessarily the government?

JK: I feel conflicted. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t. I feel undereducated, which is why I would never come out with a very strong opinion at this point in my life. 

HR: Might your daughter go on a Birthright trip?

JK: I don’t know if she’d go on Birthright, but she is part of a summer camp/movement called Habonim Dror — a sort of a socialist Jewish camp. She goes every summer. When you age out of the camp, you are supposed to go to Israel to a kibbutz. That’s something she’s talking about.

“It was never our intention [on ‘Girls’] to fix the world. We were just making something we liked, but it did give me a platform to have a stronger voice in the world.”

HR: You’re a member of IKAR and a friend of Rabbi Sharon Brous. How has she influenced you? 

JK: Sharon’s commitment to social justice really moved me. It wasn’t a basic phone-in sermon of my childhood. Her High Holy Days, especially, are barn burners — incredibly motivating, emotional and come from the heart. She’s a brilliant woman leading this very cozy community. Every part of that excited me. My kids’ father, and one of my closest friends, goes most Saturdays, and my daughter was bat mitzvahed there and my son is about to be [a bar mitzvah].

HR: Have you ever experienced either sexism or a negative experience vis-à-vis the #MeToo movement?

JK: Yeah, I’ve seen some gross things in my time. One of them I wrote about in “Lenny,” and that was sort of before the #MeToo movement. I strongly feel that had it happened now, this man would have been walked off the set and unemployable. 

HR: What are the plans for your new company?

JK: I work with two incredible women, Katie Belgrad and Nora Silver. We have hit the ground running. We have two movies we are producing, one at Netflix and one at New Regency. We also want to re-enter television. I’m now pushing other people’s voices forward, and writing, directing and showrunning myself. I’m going to take one step back on many projects and help other people do that job.

Howard Rosenman has produced more than 43 movies, including “Call Me by Your Name.” He also is a co-founder of Project Angel Food.

Henry Winkler Lands ‘The French Dispatch’ Role

70th ANNUAL PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS -- Pictured: Henry Winkler, "Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series" during the 70th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at the Microsoft Theater on September 17th, 2018 -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

Henry Winkler has joined the all-star cast of writer-director Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” a movie set in post-World War II Paris at a bureau of an American newspaper. The plot follows three storylines.

The cast also includes Frances McDormand, Benicio del Toro, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, Jeffrey Wright, Timothée Chalamet, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Bob Balaban.

Winkler, 73, has been in renewed demand since his acting coach role in HBO’s “Barry” opposite Bill Hader earned him an Emmy Award and SAG and Golden Globe nominations. He has wrapped shooting season two of “Barry,” which will premiere later this year.


Books to TV: ‘The Plot Against America,’ ‘Save the Deli’ to Become Series

Philip Roth’s 2004 alternate history novel “The Plot Against America” is being adapted for an HBO miniseries. Centering on a Jewish family in New Jersey in the 1940s, the story imagines an America under the presidency of Charles Lindbergh and the rise of fascism and rampant anti-Semitism.

The six-part series is from producers David Simon, Ed Burns, Joe Roth, Jeffrey Kirschenbaum, Nina Noble, Megan Ellison and Sue Naegle. Philip Roth is an executive producer. No casting has been announced.

NBC is developing “Save the Deli,” a workplace comedy about a 30-year-old woman who becomes the new owner of her family’s Chicago delicatessen after the death of her grandfather. It’s based on David Sax’s book “Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen” as well as writer Lauren Bachelis’ own experiences. Her grandfather owned Mort’s Deli in Tarzana.

Bachelis is executive producing the series with Milo Ventimiglia (“This is Us”) and Russ Cundiff of Divide Pictures.

Jeremy Piven Tries His Luck at Stand-Up

Jeremy Piven

Playing the predatory agent Ari Gold for eight seasons on HBO’s “Entourage” and one film,  Jeremy Piven generated plenty of laughs and more than a few cringes. After four decades spent working largely in film and TV, the classically-trained Piven has turned to the comedy circuit to try his hand at stand-up. Piven, who will be at the American Comedy Company in San Diego on Nov. 23-25, has engagements booked through March of 2019 including a pair of January dates in Israel. 

The 53-year-old performer spoke with the Journal about personal journeys, foiled expectations and the need for laughter in turbulent times. 

Jewish Journal: What made you decide to give stand-up a go?

Jeremy Piven: I’d always been fascinated by stand-up and I’ve watched since I was a kid. I grew up in the theater. I did TV and film and I’ve hosted things but I’ve never done this. I really do feel like all roads lead to stand-up, and it’s been incredible.

JJ: Stand-up is still not necessarily what audiences might expect from you. How has the reception been so far?

JP: It’s going really well. Just having a background in straight theater and sketch comedy and improv allows me to just work hard, have fun and progress in this form. Audiences are basically saying to me afterward – and it’s an interesting, double-edged kind of backhanded compliment – they said they had no idea I was this funny. I’m so happy to be able to entertain them. At the same time, I’m well into this career and they didn’t know I was this funny? Does this mean I’ve been viciously mediocre in 70 movies?

JJ: Comedy-wise, do you consider any subject off limits?

JP: I think that nothing should be off limits, and yet I think it’s a case-by-case basis. People are there to laugh and what I really noticed is that even if an audience doesn’t necessarily agree with a stand-up’s ideology, they can still laugh and enjoy themselves. I think we need to come together to laugh now more than ever and be able to have people investigate what’s going on these days. If you’re incapable of changing your mind, then something’s wrong.

JJ: As you have interacted with people on stage and off, has anything taken you by surprise?

JP: Not at all. In fact, what’s fascinating to me is I think there’s a disconnect from the major cities like LA and New York. I’ve been all over the country and it’s just been incredible. People come out and I’m honored that they show up for me because they don’t have a reference for me doing stand-up. People will scream different lines, or scream “Lloyd.”  I think they’re a little taken aback by who I actually am, that I come from a theater family and that we grew up very modestly. 

Basically, my parents are hard-working artists and there were times when we were living in a retirement home to save money and I remember coming home and the couch was stolen and the coffee table was gone. I said to my mom, “We’ve been robbed!” But no, [we were] actually using it for the set of Chekhov’s “The Seagull.” We used our own furniture and our own wardrobe. And nobody knows my journey maybe because I’ve played a character who was in a position of power or maybe because I’m viewed as a white guy who has come up through a privileged lifestyle. There may be some misconceptions about me. So it’s just an honor to be able to travel and speak my truth on stage.

“People said they had no idea I was this funny. I’m well into this career and they didn’t know I was this funny? Does this mean I’ve been viciously mediocre in 70 movies?”

JJ: Are you yourself on during your stand-up or are you playing a version of yourself?

JP: That’s a great question. In life, are we ourselves or are we playing ourselves? I am myself and I think that’s one of the great gifts of this particular time in my life. I think no matter how many interviews you do, in different forms of interacting as yourself, nothing will be as revealing or impactful as being your authentic self on stage. 

JJ: You mentioned your mother who ran the Piven Theater Workshop. When you started doing stand-up, did you bounce ideas or routines off her?

JP: She came to see me at the Laugh Factory and I was so nervous. Her opinion means the world to me. She was my acting teacher from the time I was a child and I just respect her as an artist and a person.  I was very nervous and she just had some really great, confirming things to say. 

JJ: You have a couple of dates scheduled for Israel. Will you adapt your set at all for those shows?

JP: The act continues to grow and change. That’s what this is all about: evolving and trying to find the best show possible and the best way to perform it and navigate that space. So I talk about my experience during my bar mitzvah for instance in my act currently, and I’m sure I will expand on that when I get to Israel.

I had an incredible experience there a couple of years ago. I went with some NBA players and I was bar mitzvah’d again at the Wailing Wall. The [NBA players] had never experienced a bar mitzvah. There were people of all different backgrounds that had never been in a temple. I talk about that onstage. I will probably heighten all of that material when I go to Israel.

JJ: Are you still observant?

JP: My father was incredibly religious. Even now I think theater was his temple as much as anything, but he passed away and we’re not as diligent as he was in terms of visiting temple. We’re just there for the High Holy Days but at the same time I’m lucky enough to have people in my life who are more observant, and also I get to witness many different ways to observe the holidays. When I’m in London, Marcus Weston who runs the Kabbalah Centre has been incredibly good to me and a brilliant mentor while I was there doing “Mr. Selfridge” for four years and he continues to be.

Directing Projects for Jon Stewart, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Jon Stewart and Maggie Gyllenhaal are gearing up to get behind the camera on upcoming features.

Former “Daily Show” host Stewart, who made his feature directorial debut with “Rosewater” in 2014, will direct and produce “Irresistible,” a political satire based on his own idea. Variety reported that Steve Carell is Stewart’s first choice to star.

Adapting Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel, Gyllenhaal will write, produce and make her directorial debut with “The Lost Daughter,” a drama about a woman whose encounter with a family during a seaside vacation causes her to reexamine her past and the difficult choices she made. It’s unclear whether she will have a role in it.

Now appearing in the second season of HBO’s “The Deuce,” Gyllenhaal next stars in “The Kindergarten Teacher,” playing the title role of a woman who becomes obsessed with a child prodigy in her class.  It premieres on Netflix Oct. 12.

The Wit and Wisdom of Fran Lebowitz

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The 1970s were a grim decade in New York: the city teetering near bankruptcy, the Son of Sam murders, Studio 54. 

If there was a bright spot, it was author, public speaker and occasional actor Fran Lebowitz’s monthly column, “I Cover the Waterfront,” on the last page of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. Her columns were tart, finely observed and urbane, filled with word play and aphoristic pronouncements that earned her comparisons to Dorothy Parker. 

Collected in two books, “Metropolitan Life” and “Social Studies,” now compiled in “The Fran Lebowitz Reader,” they still bristle with a keen intelligence and can still make you laugh, even if some of the subjects have long since faded into the past.  

Lebowitz, 67, had a recurring role as a judge on “Law and Order” from 2000-07 and was the subject of Martin Scorsese’s 2010 HBO documentary “Public Speaking.” But she hasn’t published another book since 1981. Her distinctive, world-weary voice occasionally pops up in Vanity Fair, a bracing shot of bitters against the cotton candy of lifestyle journalism. There were rumors of two novels, “Progress” and “Exterior Signs of Wealth,” but the promised publication dates passed without issue. 

Speaking with the Journal by telephone from her home in New York recently, she said she was about halfway through both books and had proposed publishing them together — “Two halves make a whole, right?” — but for some reason her publisher was less than enthusiastic. The problem with publishing, she said, is that no one has any sense of fun.

Lebowitz indulged in a free-ranging conversation, chatting about everything from the Donald Trump administration and what really bothers her, to ruminating about Jewish comedians and the disparate quality of bagels in New York and Los Angeles.

Jewish Journal: As a funny person and a Jew, why do you think Jews are so associated with comedy?

Fran Lebowtiz: I’m not sure that’s true any more. There are still funny Jews and Jewish comics, but Jewish comedians, as a group, they’re no longer prominent. Their place has been taken by Black comedians. I don’t watch much TV, but whenever I see a comedian and think they’re funny — they’re Black. And it’s happened for the same reason. It’s immigrant humor; it’s the point of view of the outsider looking in. Jews are still thought of as comic. A friend of mine was looking to cast a comedian and there was one person she liked, but didn’t cast. He wasn’t Jewish, she said. Neither was she, I told her. “But I’m from New York,” she said. As if it’s the same thing.

But funny is funny. Look at Leo Rosten. He’s the Jewish James Thurber. The kind of writer who makes you laugh out loud. I made a friend of mine read “The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N” — she’s Boston Italian — and she agreed. But the world of that generation is disappearing. The same with Thurber.  That small-town Ohio life: That world is gone. But you can still discover it in a book. That’s why people should read.

JJ: So what do you think caused this change? Assimilation?

FL: The worst thing that happened to the Jews is that so many of them became Republicans … or, even worse, neo-cons.  

JJ: Did this change help give us Donald Trump?

FL: [Trump voters] are reactionaries. Look, Donald Trump’s family were German immigrants, and his father, Fred, was a KKK member who probably wished they never left Germany. Many others wish that as well. 

A friend is very upset that [people like] Michael Cohen and Stephen Miller work with Trump. But it didn’t start with Trump. Many of the people who advised George W. Bush about Iraq — John Podhoretz, William Kristol — they were Jewish. My mother used to watch the Army/McCarthy hearings in the ’50s, and what drove her crazy was seeing Roy Cohn. That was a name everyone knew was Jewish.

JJ: What bothers you the most?

FL: Telling kids they have self-esteem. When I was young, you were taught not to talk about yourself. But today, not only do kids talk about themselves, they talk about themselves first. Why do kids even need self-esteem? They haven’t done anything yet.

JJ: You once advised chefs that if no one has thought of putting grapes in a chicken dish before, there’s a good reason for it. 

FL: I wrote that 40 years ago! 

JJ: Speaking of food, what did you think of people complaining about [“Sex and the City” star/New York gubernatorial candidate] Cynthia Nixon ordering a cinnamon-raisin bagel with lox and cream cheese at Zabar’s?

FL: Goyim! What are you going to do with them? Years ago, I took a friend from the Midwest to Lindy’s. She ordered a pastrami on white with mayo. The waiter looked at her and said, “No.” She started arguing with him, and I told him to just bring her a regular sandwich: on rye with mustard. 

JJ: Do you notice a difference in audiences when you’re in L.A. from New York?

FL: New Yorkers are quicker. And more aggressive. I take questions from the audience. If you don’t call on a New Yorker, they’ll shout out their question anyway.

JJ: And Los Angeles?

FL: It’s not really a city. It’s gotten better. But those things they call bagels? New Yorkers know they’re just doughnuts. I still can’t take spending hours either driving a car or being driven. 

Lebowitz is currently on a speaking tour. She will be appearing at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Sept. 30, as part of the 2018-19 CAP UCLA season. She’ll be interviewed by KCRW’s Matt Holzman, followed by an audience Q-and-A session.

Steven Mirkin is a freelance writer and a copy editor at the Jewish Journal. 

‘The Leftovers’ and God’s Cosmic Hug

The month of Tishrei had always been a riddle to me until I saw HBO’s television series “The Leftovers.” 

In the heart-racing opening scene of the pilot episode, two percent of the world’s population suddenly disappears in a rapture-like event called “The Departure.” The show then immediately jumps ahead to the three-year anniversary of The Departure and exquisitely explores the struggles of those left behind after The Departure.

Their core struggle can be distilled into the following: “Are you OK?” “I am OK.”
“It is going to be OK.” “You are going to be OK.” Everyone is broken by The Departure and feels a profound sadness that threatens to destroy them. There is no escape from this sadness. There is only trying to “be OK” with it. 

This is the soul of “The Leftovers.” It is also the soul of real life.

Societies are built on the faith of tomorrow. Without faith that today’s work will pay off in the future, work becomes an overwhelming burden. People are driven by the need to feel they are going to be OK. We dress up our opinions with fancy arguments and airtight logic, but in the end we choose the option that makes us feel safest.

“Societies are built on the faith of tomorrow. Without that, the work becomes an overwhelming burden.”

Pro-gun rights activists believe they are safer with fewer restrictions on gun ownership. For gun-control activists, the reverse is true. The racist is motivated by the (false) conviction that safety can be found only by living with his or her own race. The pro-diversity progressive is motivated by the conviction that we are safer when all people are treated as equal.

“The Leftovers” distills this idea by raising the stakes. Someone who feels safe now would have a much harder time feeling so if 140 million people suddenly disappeared.

Only one thing in “The Leftovers” can unburden others from their debilitating anguish: a hug. Holy Wayne, a cult leader and pedophile, exorcises the demons of ambiguous loss with a genuinely compassionate hug, as if to say, “I feel your pain, I share in your pain and I am here to help carry your pain. I cannot tell you everything is going to be OK, but you are not alone.” 

Like everything in “The Leftovers,” it is unclear if the hugs are magical or a placebo. Regardless, they work.

The month of Tishrei begins with the High Holy Days funneling Jews into their synagogues for long days of prayer and introspection. I call Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur indoor holidays. A few days later, Sukkot flings us outdoors. For one week, there is a mitzvah to eat, drink and sleep — to live — in a flimsy hut. Sukkot is an outdoor holiday.

The two halves of Tishrei are also a contradiction of emotions. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are somber days as the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Who will live? Who will die? Then, a few days later, Sukkot flips the mood completely. The Bible calls Sukkot “The Festival of Joy.”

How do such opposing pieces fit together in one single month?

Praying for our lives as we stand in judgment can leave us with a lingering sense of dread and fear. The melodies are haunting, the liturgy is dark and apocalyptic. Worst of all, our verdict is sealed in the Book of Life but we have no idea if we are written in it. We try to have faith that the coming year will be a good one but we do not know if we will be OK. The existential ambiguity can be paralyzing.

A few days later, when we enter the sukkah, we are surrounded by mitzvah, enveloped by its makeshift walls and meager thatched roof. The sukkah is God’s cosmic hug. God is not going to tell us we are going to be OK, but God’s hug has the power to unburden us.

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

Mark Ivanir Lives for Shady Characters

Photo by Gilad Koriski.

Portraying spies, thugs and other shady characters has its consequences. Just ask Mark Ivanir, whose character, Russian intelligence agent Ivan Krupin, made his final exit from “Homeland” this month.

“I’ve died dozens of times,” Ivanir told the Journal. “This was the first time I died in a body bag thrown into a river.”

He has the face for playing tough guys, he said, as his new role as a sadistic Chechen enforcer in the HBO dark comedy series “Barry” confirms.

The 49-year-old versatile Russian-Israeli actor also can be seen as Israeli Lt. Gen. Mordechai “Motta” Gur in the film “7 Days in Entebbe,” about the raid to rescue hostages from Uganda in 1976. And he has shown his comedic side as an Israeli security guard in the fourth season of “Transparent” and a talent agent in the Israeli sitcom “Beauty and the Baker,” now streaming on Amazon Prime.

That series made Ivanir famous in Israel, where he’s regularly hugged and stopped for selfies. In Asia, he’s recognized for the hit martial arts films “Undisputed 2” and “Undisputed 3.” He has played numerous Jewish characters, including a Holocaust survivor in “Bye Bye Germany” and Marcel Goldberg in “Schindler’s List.” The latter role helped him get his work visa and an American agent. “Had I not done it,” Ivanir said, “I wouldn’t have stayed in L.A.”

The son of language teacher parents, Ivanir was born in Chernivtsi, in what is now Ukraine and raised with no connection to Judaism. That changed when his family moved to Israel in 1972 and he was exposed to Jewish studies. “I loved reading the Bible,” he recalled.

Today, he’s “culturally” Jewish. He’s hosting a seder for Israeli and non-Israeli friends this year with Maya, his wife of nearly 25 years, and daughters Daniella, 16, and Sasha, 13.

“I’ve died dozens of times. This was the first time I died in a body bag thrown into a river.” — Mark Ivanir

Ivanir met Maya, an interior designer, when she came to see her friend’s husband play Guildenstern in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” at Tel Aviv’s Gesher Theater. Ivanir, a founding member of the theater, played Rosencrantz.

“I knew that I was going to become an actor since I was 5. I think it’s somewhat genetic,” Ivanir said. His maternal grandfather was a writer and actor in Yiddish theater, and his father acted a bit, as well.

Trained in clowning at a circus school, Ivanir worked in a French circus before returning to Israel to study at the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio. He speaks fluent French and German in addition to Hebrew, Russian and English — a big advantage in landing roles internationally, he said.

He has a top-secret project he’ll begin shooting in May, and has completed work on “The Red Sea Diving Resort,” from writer-director Gideon Raff, the creator of the Israeli series on which “Homeland” is based. Named for the Mossad’s (Israel’s intelligence agency) secret base of operations, the film is about the covert mission to airlift Ethiopian Jews to Israel in May 1991.

For Ivanir, who served as an intelligence operative in the Israel Defense Forces, playing Mossad chief Barack Isaacs was all too real. “I was on a few of these flights,” he said. “I had shivers shooting the scenes because it was so close to how it was.”

In the future, Ivanir would love to work with Steven Spielberg and Robert De Niro again, and Martin Scorsese, “all the legends.” He looks for well-written parts, a fresh take on a story, the opportunity to change his looks for a character, and the opportunity to move between comedy and drama in something he hasn’t done before.

“I don’t like to repeat myself,” he said. “When you work for a long time, you look for things that excite you. I’m excited about the project that hasn’t happened yet.”

“Barry” airs Sundays on HBO.

‘Grandpoppy’ Shares His Holocaust Story in Short and Sweet HBO Documentary

Holocaust survivor Jack Feldman and his great-grandsons. Images courtesy of HBO Pictures

In just 20 minutes, the documentary “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm” covers much of recent Jewish history, told through the loving relationship between Jack Feldman and Elliott, his great-grandson.

Although separated by some 80 years in age and vastly different experiences, the two bond as close buddies as the youngster prompts the Holocaust survivor to tell the story of his life.

Both are now New York state residents, with Elliott living with his parents in Chappaqua, about 30 miles north of New York City, and Feldman some five hours drive away in Rochester.

At Feldman’s home, and in long walks along the banks of the Canandaigua Lake, Elliott asks first about the number A17606 permanently etched into his great-grandfather’s arm.

Through a combination of vivid recollections, archival footage and superb animation by artist Jack Scher, the film reconstructs a happy childhood in the Polish city of Sosnowiec, whose 28,000 Jews made up nearly a quarter of the population. Feldman skips over some of the grimmer details of his life, but he recounts the city’s conquest by the German army, his imprisonment in a concentration camp at 14, separation from his parents (whom he never saw again), liberation by Soviet troops and eventual immigration to the United States.

The Journal talked to Feldman, Elliott and Amy Schatz, the director of the documentary, which will premiere at 6 p.m. Jan. 27 on HBO. The date marks the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1945 and is now commemorated annually as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“We need to make smart films for kids, which don’t talk down to them, even on difficult subjects.”  — Amy Schatz

Feldman survived Auschwitz (partly by trading his Sunday ration of a few cigarettes for food), came to America in 1949 and changed his first name from Srulek to Jack. A few years later, he opened Jack’s Fish Market in Rochester.

The business thrived, despite one quirk. As one African-American customer testifies in the film, “Jack knew what hunger was, so he gave free fish to a customer too poor to pay.”

Schatz, a veteran documentary filmmaker, was attracted to directing the project, in collaboration with executive producer Sheila Nevins, because, she said, there isn’t enough material on the Holocaust suitable for children and their families. That means, Schatz said, that when these children become adults “they won’t be able to pass on the survivors’ stories to future generations.”

Her goal was to transmit Feldman’s experience “gently and with clarity,” and pointed notably to the love between Elliott and his “grandpoppy,” the boy’s endless curiosity, and his patience in dealing with Feldman’s hearing problems.

Animation artist Jack Scher contributed illustrated scenes for the film.

Schatz shot the film in three days, working closely with the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, which will include the film in its permanent collection, and drawing on the archives of the Steven Spielberg collection at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

From the reactions of her own children, ages 13 and 14, Schatz concluded that “we need to make smart films for kids, which don’t talk down to them, even on difficult subjects. At the same time, I found that the Holocaust survivors themselves were delighted to talk to the youngsters.”

Elliott, now a 12-year-old sixth-grader, was 7 when his great-grandfather first took him to a Holocaust memorial event.

“At first, I didn’t understand what had happened,” Elliott said, but after five years of additional conversations with his beloved mentor, the boy realizes what he has gained through the instruction.

What he has learned and knows now, Elliott said, “makes me more appreciative of what I have in my daily life and more proud of my heritage and religion.”

Close Encounters of the Spielberg Kind

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Although Steven Spielberg is one of the world’s most respected and successful directors, earning critical acclaim and billions at the box office, he hasn’t been the subject of a feature-length documentary — until now. In more than 30 hours of interviews conducted over a year, filmmaker Susan Lacy (PBS’ “American Masters”) got the Academy Award-winning moviemaker to talk at length about his influences, his films, their themes and how his life has informed them, resulting in an HBO documentary, “Spielberg,” which premieres Oct. 7.

“He is very shy about interviews, does very few. So this was quite an extraordinary experience to hear him really open up,” Lacy said at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour. She also got more than 80 of Spielberg’s colleagues, collaborators, friends and family members to comment as Spielberg dissects his work in the film.

Full of anecdotes and fun facts about iconic movies, the documentary also is intensely personal, with revelations about Spielberg’s childhood and family and how both affected his movies. His parents’ divorce and its impact on his family influenced “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” “Saving Private Ryan” was inspired by the stories he heard from his father, a pilot who served in World War II.

“His early movies drew on what he knew,” Lacy said of Spielberg, who grew up in the Phoenix suburbs watching television, reading comic books and chasing his sisters Anne and Nancy around with a Super 8 camera. He was also the target of bullying and anti-Semitism, which made him ashamed of being Jewish.

“He didn’t want to be connected to Judaism as a child because he didn’t want to be a pariah. Growing up in the suburbs of Phoenix in the only Jewish family on the street, it made him an outsider,” Lacy told the Journal.

Neighborhood kids would laugh when Spielberg’s grandfather called him by his Hebrew name, Shmuel. “I always wanted to fit in, and being Jewish, I couldn’t fit into anything,” he confides in the film. “I began to deny my Jewishness … I didn’t want to be Jewish.”

Lacy explained that when Spielberg met actress Kate Capshaw, who converted to Judaism before their wedding in 1991, “She said, ‘You must reconnect with your faith.’ Then he made ‘Schindler’s List,’ and it brought him back completely into the fold, and proud of being Jewish.”

Spielberg had read Thomas Keneally’s book about Oskar Schindler in 1982, but held onto it for a decade until it was the right time to make the film, which earned him two Oscars and led to the creation of the USC Shoah Foundation.

“It was, emotionally, the hardest movie I’ve ever made,” he told Lacy. “It made me so proud to be a Jew.”

Capshaw and Spielberg’s seven children are not in the documentary, but his sisters, his father and his late mother are “because they were there at the birth of his becoming a filmmaker and could talk about who he was at that time in his life,” Lacy said.

With 2 1/2 hours to work with, Lacy focused on Spielberg’s film directing, eschewing other projects and giving less play to his less successful movies, including “1941” and “The Color Purple.”

“He was not reticent to talk about failures,” Lacy said. “But if you want to tell a real story with a beginning, middle and end, and in any kind of depth, you simply cannot cover everything.”

It was more important, she said, to highlight the common themes in his oeuvre, including families’ separating and reuniting, the resilience of children, fighting for freedom and good people trying to do the right thing against all odds.

“Steven is actually an incredibly personal filmmaker,” Lacy said. “The box office has never been what’s driven him. What has interested him has changed and matured as he’s grown up. But that boy who loves movies, loves moviemakers — that kid is still in him.”

Just 21 when he made his first television movie, “Duel,” he stood up to the network, refusing to blow up the menacing truck at the end of the film. He insisted on shooting “Jaws” on the ocean, although it was a logistical nightmare to do so. “Having a vision and sticking to it, not letting anybody get in the way of it — that’s probably the best lesson you could learn from Steven Spielberg,” Lacy said. “ ‘Schindler’s List,’ a 3 1/2-hour, black-and-white movie about the Holocaust, could have been a huge flop. But it was something he needed to do, he knew how to do it, and he stuck with that.”

Lacy appreciated that Spielberg “in no way tried to steer this film and did not see it until it was finished.” So when he called to tell her he liked it, “I almost fell on the floor. What happens if Steven Spielberg doesn’t like your movie?” she said. “I’d set a very high bar, and I was nervous all the time that I would not achieve it. I hope I did.”

She came away from the project secure in the knowledge that Spielberg “is exactly who he seems to be. Sometimes you’re disappointed when you meet a hero and that did not happen with Steven,” she said. “He was everything I expected him to be and more. I’m not trying to be gushy here, but he’s a really, really good human being. He’s a mensch.”

Larry David revives ‘Curb your Enthusiasm,’ finds Confederate Jewish roots

“I got tired of people asking me, ‘Is the show coming back?’ I couldn’t face that question anymore,” Larry David says of the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” reboot. Photo by John P. Johnson

When “Curb Your Enthusiasm” ended its eighth season in 2011, viewers of the HBO comedy wondered if Larry David had lost his own enthusiasm for the show. But as its return this fall with 10 new episodes affirms, David isn’t ready to abandon the fictionalized version of himself just yet.

“I was missing it, and I was missing these idiots,” he said, referring to the show’s co-stars Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman and J.B. Smoove, as they participated with him in a recent panel discussion for the Television Critics Association. “So I thought, ‘Yeah, what the hell?’ I got tired of people asking me, ‘Is the show coming back?’ I couldn’t face that question anymore. I thought, ‘Now I won’t have to be asked that anymore.’ ”

For the past six years, David had been jotting down ideas for awkward situations he could turn into episodes, but he would not confirm that there would be a ninth season. The next season premieres Oct. 1.

“Larry insists there won’t be another season until he has enough ideas,” said executive producer Jeff Schaffer, who has worked with David since “Seinfeld,” which the latter co-created. “Only after the season is mostly written do we tell anyone that we are doing it.”

David cited the “Producers”-themed storyline in the fourth season as an example. “I wrote the shows before I even asked Mel Brooks if he would let me do it,” he said. “I guess it might have been ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ if he didn’t agree to it.”

This year, guest-starring roles were written for Lauren Graham, Ed Begley Jr., Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Jimmy Kimmel, Nick Offerman, Nasim Pedrad and Elizabeth Perkins, all of whom will appear. Richard Lewis, Bob Einstein, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen and Cheryl Hines (as Larry’s ex-wife) will continue to have recurring roles.

Although David wouldn’t divulge any new plots, Schaffer teased that the series “goes to this really strange, fun, crazy place. I can honestly say you will never expect where it ends,” he said.

From left: Lauren Graham (Photo from Wikipedia) and Susie Essman (Photo from IMDB)


Questions from the reporters in the audience subsequently turned to David’s spot-on impersonations of presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on “Saturday Night Live” during the 2016 campaign. When David’s agent, Ari Emanuel, heard him imitate Sanders on the phone, he immediately phoned “SNL” producer Lorne Michaels and brokered a deal for his client.

Although David hadn’t publicly announced support for any candidate, he declared, “I love Bernie,” noting that he was delighted to learn that he and Sanders, both Ashkenazi Jews, are actually distant cousins — the topic of another show’s season premiere.

In the season-opening episode of the PBS genealogy series “Finding Your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Oct. 3, genetic tests show that David and Sanders share identical DNA on three chromosomes.

Larry David (let) and Jeff Garlin will reprise their roles in “Curb”
on HBO, based on a fictionalized version of David. Photo by John P. Johnson


That finding isn’t the most stunning revelation, however. It turns out David’s German paternal great-great-grandfather, Hirsch Bernstein, immigrated to Mobile, Ala., and founded a shoe company there. Bernstein fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War and owned two slaves.

“Larry had had no clue about his Confederate, slave-owning heritage,” Gates said in an interview. “Though he speculates that keeping it secret is part of why his father never told him about the family’s past.

“Nobody could make this stuff up,” Gates added. “The mysteries on your family tree … who knows what you’ll find when you go back 100, 200 years. It’s like opening a secret door.”

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” premieres at 10 p.m. Oct.1 on HBO, and “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” premieres at 8 p.m. Oct. 3 on PBS.

The Torah of ‘Game of Thrones’

Photo courtesy of HBO

I used to think HBO’s “Game of Thrones” depicted fantasy.

Over seven seasons, the show has featured creatures and events that are not of this world, even as they are fun to imagine: an army of the dead; domesticated dragons; faithful dire wolves; human “wargs,” who can enter the minds of animals and control them; and the threat of an indefinite winter that will sow chaos and cold throughout the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.    

These are not things we mortals must contend with, so for those of us who enjoy “Game of Thrones,” we suspend our disbelief over dragons that win wars and obsess over cliffhangers without ever taking the show too seriously. We tell ourselves it’s a guilty pleasure, without feeling much guilt. It’s absorbing but not deep; brilliant but not profound.

And we couldn’t be more wrong.

In the wake of two terror attacks in Europe last week — in Spain and Finland — as well as the storm over the deadly neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va., I watched “Game of Thrones” on Aug. 20 with new eyes.

If there is a core truth that our world shares with the fictional civilization of Westeros, it is that we are both caught in an inexorable pull toward calamity.

Conflict is the ruling ethos of our day. Gone is the postwar era in which U.S. leadership, international agreements and economic collaboration sustained a world order. The stability that much of the world enjoyed for the latter part of the 20th century has been destabilized by the forces of populist nationalism, protectionism, nuclear threats, competition for global dominance, terrorism, civil war and climate change. “Game of Thrones” used to look like melodrama; now it looks like metaphor.

In the world of Westeros, as in ours, the precondition of existence is to combat an endless stream of existential threats. On the show, it’s a remote and resurgent army of the dead known as White Walkers, who want to annihilate the Seven Kingdoms and everyone in it; for us, it’s amorphous terrorist cells that plot to kill in the name of God and achieve world dominion through an Islamic caliphate.

On the show, the nefarious Cersei Lannister will plot, plunder and murder to preserve her power; in our world, Kim Jong Un and Bashar Assad have demonstrated that no human price is too high to pay to prolong their reigns. Nature brings catastrophe, too: Just as Westeros faces the danger of an endless winter, we face global warming.

Under conditions like these, where there is no rest or respite from the challenges to basic survival, “Game of Thrones” tells us there are no easy solutions for a world in flux. Human beings must expend their time and their resources, using all their economic, political and military capital to stave off chaos. And then it comes, anyway. Again and again and again. 

Forces for good exist, although not always in divine balance. There are heroes on the show, honorable men and women who serve as moral actors and fight for a better world no matter how dangerous the risks or impossible the odds. Many of them die. Evil forces tend to prevail more often because the cravers of power are willing to risk everything precious and the heroes are not. And as history has proven time and again, when evil eventually is defeated, it usually comes after horrendous destruction and loss. As in life, the show resists condemning bad characters to their fate until they’ve done bad deeds. But then it’s too late.

“When you play the game of thrones,” villain Cersei Lannister tells hero Ned Stark in Season One, “you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

What better explanation is there for the extreme political partisanship we see in many places in the world today? People wonder where the moderates have gone, but in a dog-eat-dog world, there’s no room for centrists. Neutrality is an abdication of responsibility when survival demands you take a side.

Although most every kingdom in Westeros functions more smoothly than our current administration, there are always plots to upend the status quo. The emancipation of women has unleashed strong but not always fair female leadership, altering the destiny of Westeros. The game of thrones is now a faceoff between two queens: a cunning despot and an emancipator of slaves.

But the outcome doesn’t really matter.

“I’m not fighting so some man or woman I barely know can sit on a throne made of swords,” one battle-worn character said to another in last week’s episode.

So for what, then?

“Life,” he said. 

“Death is the enemy. … [And though] the enemy always wins, we still need to fight him. You and I won’t find much joy while we’re here. But we can keep others alive. We can defend those who can’t defend themselves.”

In a world on fire, the show tells us, protecting the vulnerable is the noblest aim. It’s a very Jewish idea — and it isn’t surprising to find it here; the show’s creators, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, are both Jewish.

So as it nears its final season, “Game of Thrones” has traded fantasy for realism, assuring us there is little reward for doing good but that life ticks on, enabling the game to continue.

Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

HBO’s ‘Wizard of Lies’ finds the family drama in Madoff investment scandal

Robert De Niro stars as Bernie Madoff in HBO’s “The Wizard of Lies,” while Michelle Pfeiffer plays his wife, Ruth. Photo by Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

“Do you think I’m a sociopath?” Bernie Madoff, serving a 150-year prison sentence, asks visiting New York Times investigative reporter Diana B. Henriques in a scene from the HBO film “The Wizard of Lies.”

She doesn’t answer the question, but the title of the movie, which debuts on May 20 and is based on the book by Henriques, is enough to suggest her conclusion, practically defining a pathologically deceitful person.

Madoff, who marked his 79th birthday on April 29 at a federal prison in North Carolina, holds the dubious distinction of perpetrating the biggest financial fraud by an individual in American history. By the time of his arrest in 2008, Madoff had swindled his clients out of some $65 billion, mostly in fabricated gains, though “only” around $18 billion in actual losses.

According to reporting by The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times, among those left holding the bag locally were the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, to the tune of $18 million (which included $6.4 million lost by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles). Nationally, victims included the Hadassah women’s organization ($90 million), Yeshiva University ($140 million) and the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity ($15.2 million).

In the years before his exposure, Madoff was hailed as a financial genius by the media and investors, and the famous and wealthy begged him to accept their million-dollar checks, no questions asked.

In reality, Madoff ran a giant Ponzi scheme, in which his clients earned dividends of 10 percent or higher like clockwork, year after year. This operation worked as long as a steady stream of new big-time investors channeled fresh funds to Madoff, allowing him to pay generous dividends to his old investors — and providing him with a billionaire lifestyle in Manhattan and Florida.

But in 2008, when the stock market plunged and large investors tried to pull their money from Madoff-controlled funds, the “financial genius” desperately scrambled for an infusion of new money. He failed and the Ponzi pyramid collapsed.

In a dramatic scene in “The Wizard of Lies,” Madoff confesses to having lived a lie to his immediate family members, who also pay heavily for his crimes. His wife, Ruth, is portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer as a once reigning society hostess now shunned by all. In the privacy of their bedroom, she asks only one question: “Why, Bernie? Why?”

He replies, weakly, “I didn’t mean to harm anyone. I just couldn’t stop.”

Two years after Madoff’s arrest, his older son, Mark (Alessandro Nivola), committed suicide by hanging himself, leaving behind a bitter note blaming his father. Even that was not the end of the family’s misery, as younger son Andrew (Nathan Darrow) died of cancer at 48 in 2014.

For “The Wizard of Lies,” veteran director Barry Levinson, whose resume includes such classics as “Rain Man” and “Good Morning, Vietnam,” put major emphasis on the relationships within the Madoff clan.

His film follows ABC’s “Madoff,” a four-episode miniseries with Richard Dreyfuss in the title role and Blythe Danner as Ruth, which aired in 2016. It focused primarily on the mechanics of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme in particular and of Wall Street operations in general.

For the lead role in his film, Levinson chose Robert De Niro, not the first name that comes to mind to portray an aging, near-sighted Jewish swindler. But Levinson noted to the Journal that De Niro, with some minor hairstyling, looks a lot like Madoff.

More important, Henriques, who interviewed the real Madoff in his jail cell for her book and then De Niro in the film (where she appears as herself), told the director that the Italian-American actor uncannily “got” the persona of Madoff.

To the surprise of some worriers, the exposure of Madoff’s misdeed did not lead to any widespread anti-Semitic backlash, except among some fringe websites and bloggers. It probably helped that Madoff swindled Jews, Catholics, Protestants and agnostics with equal gusto and lack of remorse. The reaction against the Jewish community might have been a lot stronger if Madoff had targeted only gentiles, Levinson speculated.

Regarding Madoff’s clients, was it possible that they were, in effect, his accomplices by letting their greed overcome their normal skepticism about a deal that appeared too good to be true? Levinson answered by observing it was part of Madoff’s shrewdness that he didn’t overplay his hand. While some scammers might have promised investors returns of 40 to 50 percent, Madoff stuck to around 10 percent, thus passing as a relatively “conservative” money manager.

Possible investors also were disarmed by Madoff’s personality. “He was not flashy, not a big talker, not incredibly charming, but more of a quiet, reserved man — that was his con,” Levinson said.

In any case, the director doubts that Americans will absorb any permanent lesson from his film or from Madoff’s ultimate fate.

“After that scandal, we tightened some stock market regulations, but they are now being rolled back,” Levinson said. “We haven’t learned anything, so we will be screwed again. We’ll always have flimflam operators. … We now have a president who says things which are not true, but people believe him.”

“The Wizard of Lies” will debut May 20 at 8 p.m. on HBO. 

Film focuses on how war warps human behavior

A scene from the documentary “The Memory of Justice.” Photo courtesy of HBO

“I go on the assumption that everyone is guilty.”

This sentiment of a guilt that is assumed automatically through membership in the human race is expressed by Jewish master violinist Yehudi Menuhin at the beginning of “The Memory of Justice,” and it’s an assessment that is largely borne out over the course of the 4 1/2-hour HBO documentary that airs April 24.

Although publicists for the film make a point that the screening date was set intentionally for Holocaust Remembrance Day, the production deals with three examples of man’s inhumanity during the 20th century.

The first and longest segment does focus on the Holocaust, but the second part covers France’s attempted suppression of the Algerian bid for independence, and the third on America’s role in the Vietnam War.

“The Memory of Justice” is a massive — and masterful — restoration of a film of the same title released in 1976 that was produced, written and directed by Marcel Ophuls. He and his father, Max Ophuls (nee Oppenheimer), were German-born Jews, who resumed their brilliant film careers after fleeing to France and then the United States.

The main part of the film’s Holocaust-themed segment deals with the postwar Nuremberg war crimes trials that began in 1945 and in which an international tribunal tried 22 top political and military leaders of the Nazi regime. (Hitler had cheated the gallows by shooting himself as Soviet forces closed in on his Berlin bunker.)

Interviews with 40 people, perpetrators and victims, form the backbone of this segment. The two main figures are Telford Taylor, chief American prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, and Albert Speer, an architect who served as Hitler’s minister of armaments.

Taylor went on to cover the Vietnam War (1955-75) and his views on war crimes, as well as similarities between Nazi and American conduct during the war in Southeast Asia, were expressed clearly in the title of his 1970 book, “Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy.” A considerable part of the film is based on Taylor’s book.

After a 20-minute intermission, both in the press screening and the TV presentation, Ophul’s documentary moves on to the Algerian war (1954-62), in which France tried to squelch its colony’s independence movement, and in which both sides systematically tortured their enemies. In French history, the conflict is known as “the dirty war.”

The final segment focuses on the Vietnam War. The centerpiece is the 1968 My Lai Massacre, in which U.S. soldiers killed, mutilated and raped up to 500 unresisting men, women and children.

“The Memory of Justice” has been widely acclaimed as a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking, which it is, but the mass of material can at times overload the attentive viewer, who also may have difficulties in quickly adjusting to the film’s shifts in tone from gruesome depictions of death camp atrocities to merry songs of the era.

Ophuls, now 89, did not take an active part in the film’s restoration. Instead, the living link between the 1976 original and the current version is Hamilton Fish, a personality worth his own biographical film.

He is the descendant of an old American family of Anglo-Saxon and Scottish extraction. Formally named Hamilton Fish V, during a phone interview he invited a reporter to address him as “Ham.”

The Fish dynasty produced a series of rock-ribbed Republican politicians, including a former governor of New York. Another member of the clan, Hamilton Fish III, was a congressman from New York’s Hudson Valley for 25 years and the nemesis of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Ham,” 64, however, has flipped in the opposite direction, and as publisher of The Nation, is credited with preserving and upgrading America’s premier liberal magazine.

In 1975, he partnered with Ophuls to produce the original version of “Memory of Justice” and, in 2011, embarked on the “excruciatingly difficult” six-year project to restore and revive the documentary.

Some of the challenges called for scanning 50 reels of the 16 mm original negatives, frame by frame, eliminating dirt and scratches, restoring the soundtrack and adding new subtitles in English, French and German.

“What I take away from the film are the continuing questions of justice and accountability, of a system of international law to counter rogue behavior by government leaders,” Fish said.

However, looking at the present state of the world in general, and in Washington, D.C., in particular, Fish sounded a pessimistic note: “We see a renewed emphasis on military power at the expense of meeting human needs at home.”

“The Memory of Justice” will air at 5 p.m. April 24 on HBO2, HBO Now, HBO Go and HBO on Demand.

HBO mum on status of Ari Shavit book documentary

HBO is not discussing the status of a documentary project based on a book by Ari Shavit, the Israeli journalist who in the past two weeks has been accused twice of sexual harassment.

Asked by Variety whether the documentary project will go forward in the wake of the accusations, HBO declined to clarify. A representative for the cable network’s chairman, Richard Plepler, told Variety in an email that “there is nothing more to say at this time except that this project is in the post-production/editing stage.”

HBO announced in 2014 that it was developing “My Promised Land,” a 2013 best-seller, as a documentary.

The book, which carries a full title of “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel,” is part memoir and part a tracing of the history of Israel and the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Shavit acknowledged that he was the unnamed Israeli journalist accused of sexual assault by a Jewish-American journalist Danielle Berrin in a column published Oct. 19 in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. Berrin had not not named Shavit, but her descriptions of the “accomplished journalist from Israel” who allegedly assaulted her led some to speculate that she was referring to the Haaretz columnist.

Shavit on Sunday resigned from his positions at Haaretz and Channel 10 after a second unnamed woman formerly associated with J Street also leveled sexual harassment accusations against him.

In a statement released Sunday, Shavit wrote: “I am ashamed of the mistakes I made with regards to people in general and women in particular. I am embarrassed that I did not behave correctly to my wife and children. I am embarrassed about the consequences of what I did.

He said he would “devote more time to being with my wife and children, who are most valuable to me, and to make personal amends.”

Meanwhile, critics of J Street criticized the group for not alerting other groups to Shavit’s alleged behavior. In addition, a  group of academics and rabbis called the Committee on Ethics in Jewish Leadership also issued a statement criticized J Street for keeping quiet about Shavit.

“We are deeply disappointed that J Street reportedly failed to alert any other Jewish groups about [Shavit’s] behavior,” the group wrote. “Keeping quiet is not the way to combat sexual harassment.”

Finding God in ‘Westworld’: The power of pain

What if a simple device could undo all your heartbreak, tragedy, trauma and loss? If a technology existed that could erase your pain, would you use it? 

This question arose in the new HBO show “Westworld,” about an Old West-style theme park populated by human cyborgs and patronized by uber-wealthy adventure-seekers. The premise of the show is that Westworld is an elaborate game: For tens of thousands of dollars, individuals can vacation in the genre-driven setting and indulge their every fantasy. Some discover their inner hero; others express their inner madness. In this park, where all is play and anything is possible, you can maim, kill and rape freely — and without consequences. The victims are only cyborgs, after all. They don’t feel a thing.

Except, as it turns out, they do. 

Whenever one of the myriad storylines in the park simulation ends with a cyborg being harmed or killed, these mechanical “hosts,” as they are called, are retrieved by management, rehabilitated and reprogrammed. Even though they are designed to look and act like humans, they are essentially hard drives whose memories are deleted each night. But because their programming is so sophisticated, they begin to develop self-awareness, and the pain of previous traumas permeates their mechanical minds.

In her recent review of the show, New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum compared the cyborgs to a group of marginalized, helpless citizens at the mercy of a tyrannical state. “At its richest moments,” she writes, “ ‘Westworld’ glimmers with political resonances, as the best speculative fiction can; in its way, it’s about vulnerable citizens forced to repress atrocities so that their nation can drape a patriotic story over its ugly history.”

To view the show through the prism of political allegory is compelling, but it’s also limiting. There is a deeper, spiritual message at work about the ways through which we develop self-understanding. And “Westworld” (wittingly or not) trumpets a religious point of view when it suggests that one of the ways self-knowledge expands is through trauma.

In a poignant scene, one of the lead designers questions Dolores, a blond, blue-eyed ingénue about her memories. Dolores is the oldest “host” in the park, which means she has seen her loved ones get slaughtered over and over again. “Everyone I care about is gone,” she says, “and it hurts; so badly.” 

“I can make that feeling go away if you’d like,” the designer tells her.

Her response stuns even her creator:

“Why would I want that?” she asks. “Pain … their loss … is all I have left of them. You think the grief will make you smaller inside, like your heart will collapse in on itself. But it doesn’t. I feel spaces opening up inside of me; like a building with rooms I’ve never explored.” 

It sounds so poetic, it makes suffering seem not only purposeful, but even beneficial. Imagine if — more than love or goodness — it was trauma that made you deeper, wiser and more human. 

But try telling a human being in the depths of despair that suffering is good for them — tell it to the prisoner at Auschwitz; to the mother in our community who lost her 4-year-old son in a boating accident over Labor Day. 

You’ll discover that you can’t.

Theirs are the kind of wounds that may never heal, that permanently alter the possibilities for joy in this world. Perhaps only a machine would want to hold on to the intense grief Dolores is talking about, while a real human being might choose to erase it, to forget.

In the Book of Job, that ancient work of literature that ponders the cosmic flaw of a sometimes unjust and indifferent universe, we witness a righteous man suffer a series of tremendous misfortunes. Pummeled by everything from bad weather to bitter neighbors, Job’s faith in a benevolent, all-powerful God is rightly shaken: Why would God inflict such terrible atrocities upon one person? Why go on after that? 

Why go on when you’ve already suffered so much, and you may get hurt again? Under these circumstances, it seems perfectly reasonable to buckle under the weight of the world’s brutal randomness. 

Some interpretations of Job would have us believe that we are inadequate to comprehend the ways of God. If only we could see the complete arc of the universe as God does, we’d endure our sufferings with greater understanding and less complaint. For some of us, that is hardly a comfort.

“I don’t want comfort,” Aldous Huxley wrote in his prescient novel “Brave New World.” “I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

If Job offers any consolation, it’s that after he goes through the trauma of his losses, he finally comes to see God. “I heard you with my ears,” he says, “but now I see you with my eyes.” 

What is left is their relationship, a moment of pure connection. 

This is what Dolores, the cyborg, longs for. It is a condition of being human. It is what makes grace and goodness possible. Even a machine knows that pain is a consequence of having loved.

Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

HBO to co-produce drama series about kidnapping of 3 Israeli teens

HBO will produce a drama series about the kidnapping of three Israeli teens from a West Bank bus stop that riveted the attention of Israelis and Jews around the world for more than two weeks in 2014.

The cable network has given a 10-episode series order for the as yet untitled drama, which will be a co-production with the international arm of Israel’s Keshet Studios, the U.S. entertainment website Deadline reported Wednesday.

The series, which is set to be filmed on location in Israel next summer, will be directed by Joseph Cedar, an Israeli who has won several international awards. His films “Beaufort” (2007) and “Footnote” (2011) each were nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign film.

The creator is Hagai Levi, co-creator of “The Affair” and “In Treatment,” and Noah Stollman.

Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shear and Eyal Yifrach were abducted on June 12, 2014, and their bodies were discovered 18 days later following a massive search in a shallow grave in a field near Hebron. A recording of an emergency call made by one of the teens to police and the interior of the car used to abduct them indicated that they were killed shortly after being taken.

According to Deadline, the show will focus on an idealistic investigator for Israel’s Shin Bet security service as he deals with the violent reactions on both sides of the escalating conflict over the teens’ disappearance. A new command places him in a situation that undermines his faith and worldview, and leads to a conflict between his values and the actions of those around him.

Deadline did not report whether the teens’ parents have given their blessing to the production.

Where Jewish stars are shining on TV this season

Our guide to the Members of the Tribe in new and returning series and specials includes familiar faces and a few newcomers. 

The dark comedy “Divorce” marks a return to HBO for “Sex and the City” star Sarah Jessica Parker (Oct. 9), and the cast of the network’s new sci-fi/Western hybrid “Westworld” features Evan Rachel Wood in a key role (Oct. 2). 

Woody Allen writes, directs and stars in his first TV series, “Crisis in Six Scenes,” streaming Sept. 30 on Amazon Prime. Elaine May, who hasn’t acted since Allen’s “Small Time Crooks” in 2000, came out of retirement to co-star in the six-episode comedy.

Lizzy Caplan is back as Virginia Johnson in the fourth season of Showtime’s “Masters of Sex,” (Sundays), and Pamela Adlon (“Louie”) stars in the FX comedy “Better Things” as a Jewish single mother of three and struggling actress (Thursdays).

Lizzy Caplan in “Masters of Sex”

Norman Lear is one of the correspondents in the Epix docuseries “America Divided,” which explores social inequality in the United States. The 94-year-old producer and activist reports on the New York housing crisis in the Sept. 30 premiere.

Norman Lear in “America Divided”

Emmanuelle Chriqui (“Entourage”) plays a hypnotist in the Hulu drama series “Shut Eye,” about fake psychics in L.A. (Dec. 7), and Tania Raymonde (“Lost”) is a hooker turned paralegal working with lawyer Billy Bob Thornton in Amazon’s “Goliath” (Oct. 14). Oded Fehr (“Covert Affairs,” “The Mummy”) joins ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” as Jafar, the villain from the movie “Aladdin” (Sept. 25). 

“American Idol” alumnus-turned-recording artist and Queen touring vocalist Adam Lambert plays Eddie in Fox’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again” (Oct. 20), and Harvey Fierstein reprises his Tony-winning role as Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray Live!” coming to NBC on Dec. 7.

Adam Lambert in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”

Billy Eichner hits the Manhattan pavement for more “Billy on the Street” antics  (TruTV, TBA), Andy Samberg returns in the fourth season of Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (Sept. 20), and billionaire investor Mark Cuban is back for the eighth season of “Shark Tank” (ABC, Sept. 23).

Several Jewish actors and characters populate Amazon’s “Good Girls Revolt,” based on Lynn Povich’s book about women trying to crack the glass ceiling in a newsroom in 1969. Nora Ephron (Grace Gummer) is a main character, and Daniel Eric Gold, Leah Cohen and Israeli actress Odelya Halevi are in the cast of the newsroom drama (Oct. 28).

Also on Amazon, the highly anticipated third season of “Transparent,” now streaming, finds Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) seeking gender reassignment surgery. “Man in the High Castle,” set in an alternate-reality post-World War II America occupied by the victorious Nazis and Japanese, will go inside Germany in its second season. After the murder of his family, a fired up Frank Frink (Rupert Evans) explores his Jewish identity and joins the resistance (Dec. 16).

‘Game of Thrones’ welcomes Israeli actress-singer

Russian-Israeli actress Ania Bukstein recently joined the cast of the hit HBO series “Game of Thrones.”

Bukstein, a Moscow native who immigrated to Israel at 8, plays Red Priestess Kinvara, debuting on the episode that aired Sunday night.

Bukstein, 33, is a household name in Israel for roles in shows and movies such as “Rabies,” “False Flag” and “The Secrets.”

According to the Times of Israel, Bukstein has “won broad praise” for the initial performance, with numerous mentions and videos appearing on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

A former model, Bukstein is also a pop vocalist and this week released her fourth single, “We Have a Chance.”

“Game of Thrones,” in its sixth season, is based on the fantasy book series by George R. R. Martin.

Hollywood millennials for Hillary Clinton

It was a marvelous sight: Beneath a giant screen bearing a big “H” sat Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of a former president and a presidential hopeful; America Ferrera, a first-generation Latino-American actress; and Lena Dunham, the young, half-Jewish writer and creator of the HBO series “Girls.” They had gathered onstage at the Hollywood venue NeueHouse on the night of March 20 to proclaim their support for Hillary Clinton. (Full disclosure: I was invited because I’ve donated to Clinton’s campaign.) 

During one of the nastiest election cycles in recent memory, in which xenophobic pandering has reached a new low, the evening offered an astonishing image of American politics in the 21st century: three powerful, accomplished (and quite young) women campaigning for their dream of crowning the nation’s first female commander in chief. 

But the dream quickly gave way to a bitter reality. 

“There’s this narrative about young women not being inspired by Hillary,” Ferrera, best known as the star of sitcom “Ugly Betty,” said. “And that’s just not the case.”

“When I first made it clear [on social media] that I was obviously voting for and campaigning for Hillary Clinton is when the vitriol started,” Dunham began. “And I want to say that I have received more hostility [from fellow Democrats] for voting for a qualified female candidate than I have ever received from anyone in the American right wing.” 

The hip venue and casual, laid-back atmosphere belied the gravity of the evening’s message: that Clinton is targeted by a culture “so deep into the psychology of villainizing successful women,” as Dunham put it, her qualifications are often either dismissed or delegitimized — along with the credibility of her supporters.

As if to underscore the young-and-hip factor, Dunham wore a jean jacket with sewn-on patches and knee-high socks, while Ferrera looked more polished in a white blazer. The duo of actress-activists sought to prove that some young women are, in fact, electrified by Clinton and offered a litany of reasons for why they support her. Between them, a pregnant Chelsea Clinton, dressed in a simple black pantsuit, sat quietly while the stars delivered theater-worthy monologues to drum up more support. 

Both women cited specific Clinton policy positions to illustrate how she aligns with their values. Ferrera talked about growing up as the daughter of an immigrant, single mother who raised six children on her own with very few resources, revealing that she depended on free meals at school. “I’m an American Latina who has experienced firsthand so many of the inequities that children and families from communities of color face in this country — the kinds of inequities Hillary has spent her entire career trying to change and understand,” Ferrera said in support of immigration reform.

Dunham had her list, too, but used her soapbox to speak more personally about the sexism she’s encountered for publicly supporting Clinton. “I’m kind of done with being polite about this,” she said. “The fact that other members of the Democratic Party have spoken to me like I was an ill-informed child for voting for someone who represents everything that I think this country should be, is outrageous. 

“I’m sorry,” she continued, “but to be told by people who supposedly share your values and your goals that the choices you’re making come from a limited understanding of feminism and a limited understanding of your own needs is wrong.”

Dunham said she reached her “tipping point” last week when she received an anonymous comment on social media from someone alleging that Bernie Sanders “has done more for feminism than Hillary Clinton.” 

“I. Lost. My. Freaking. Mind,” Dunham said to laughter and applause. A group of Sanders supporters known as the “BernieBros” have earned a reputation in the media as a “sexist mob” for posting misogynistic messages so offensive that even the Sanders campaign has tried to subdue them. 

“The idea that you’re going to tell me that the woman who stepped into the White House when I was 6 years old and made me think it was possible to live the life I wanted, and say the things I believed in, has somehow not done enough for women in her career, is so offensive to the core of my being that I should probably stop talking right now because I’m going to turn into a shaking, ogre monster,” Dunham said.

Lest anyone accuse these women of voting for Clinton for any reason other than her values and her record, Dunham and Ferrera spoke plainly about the role feminism plays in their choice. 

“I think it’s pretty awesome that Hillary Clinton is a woman,” Ferrera said. “However, if you could show me a purple-faced, three-eyed, sexless Martian with a better record on defending women’s rights and fighting for the most vulnerable children and families,  and working across party lines to actually get things done, then I would be out there campaigning for that Martian.” 

“When I’m told I am voting for [Clinton] only because she’s female and I’m female, I’m like, ‘If that was case, I’d be out campaigning for Carly Fiorina,’ ” Dunham said to laughter. “I’m sitting here before you as a voter who is fully informed. It doesn’t mean we’re using our whatever … vaginas … to vote for president. Which is the most insane concept.”

Their message inspired the crowd, a mix millenials and Gen Xers, but also underscored Clinton’s weakness among young voters who feel galvanized by Sanders’ message of economic equality. Again and again, the actresses used terms such as “hard won,” “unglamorous,” “unsexy” and “slow going” to describe Clinton’s work, while Sanders calls for revolution. In a thinly veiled reference to her mother’s Democratic opponent, Chelsea Clinton insisted that this is not a “single-issue” country and Americans can’t afford to have a single-issue president.

Due to give birth to her second child this summer, Chelsea Clinton said becoming a mother has deepened her appreciation for politics. For her, there is a simple litmus test for candidates that has nothing to do with gender, race, strength or even experience: “Am I being well represented?” she asked. “Are my values being represented?”

There are troubling realities to confront with every candidate. Being a woman shouldn’t be one of them.

Exposing the anguish of making ‘Shoah’

Halfway through the 12 years Claude Lanzmann worked on his epic documentary “Shoah,” he decided to take a brief break by taking a swim in the Mediterranean Sea.

As the Israeli coastline receded from view, his arms became very tired, and he realized he couldn’t make it back. Just as he reconciled himself to drowning, a stronger swimmer came to his aid and helped the filmmaker back to shore.

“I wasn’t happy I was saved,” Lanzmann recalled, because that meant he would have to continue the Herculean task he’d undertaken of shooting some 215 hours of film, then editing the footage to the 9 1/2 that make up the final version of “Shoah.”

This brush with death represents one of the filmmaker’s more dramatic recollections in the 40-minute film “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah,” which is up for an Academy Award in the documentary (short subject) category at the ceremony on Feb. 28.

Lanzmann set out on his long trek in 1973, when he was challenged by a high Israeli government official to make a documentary “not about the Shoah, but that is the Shoah.”

To come to grips with the enormity of this request, Lanzmann walked for an entire night through the streets of his native Paris, then decided to accept the challenge.

After seven years of interviewing and filming, Lanzmann devoted another five years to editing the enormous mass of footage, but even after he decided “Shoah” was ready for screening, he felt little sense of relief.

“Making the film was total war against everything and everybody,” Lanzmann recalls in “Spectres of the Shoah.”

“I was proud of what I had achieved, but it didn’t relieve me of my anguish. … I was left with a sense of bereavement, and it took me a long time to recover.”

Given his state of mind, Lanzmann had no desire to participate in a biographical documentary, especially because the most persistent requests came from a young journalist with no experience as a film producer or director.

That man was Toronto-based journalist Adam Benzine, now 33, a writer mainly about films and music. 

In 2010, Benzine saw “Shoah” for the first time and was blown away. As he began to look into Lanzmann’s background and the making of “Shoah,” he was amazed to discover that no one had tried to make a documentary film about the man and his historic achievement.

Over the next two years, Benzine petitioned Lanzmann intermittently, and unsuccessfully, for an interview, while continuing to research the filmmaker’s life and work.

Finally, in 2013, Lanzmann relented after Benzine produced a letter from the BBC, indicating the British broadcaster’s interest in rebroadcasting “Shoah,” together with the proposed documentary by Benzine.

In July 2013, the two men met for the first interview and, Benzine said in a phone interview, the first question Lanzmann asked him was, “Are you Jewish?”

No, Benzine responded, and explained that his British mother and Algerian father had met while students at England’s Essex University. The paternal lineage turned out to be a plus, because in the 1950s, Lanzmann had been an outspoken advocate of Algerian independence from France.

Lanzmann, now 90, fought, at 17, in the French resistance against the Nazis, as did his father.

“Spectres of the Shoah,” with Benzine as producer, director, writer and fundraiser, is studded with dramatic moments, but two stand out in particular.

In one segment — an outtake from “Shoah” — Lanzmann recalls hearing of a Jewish barber whose job in Treblinka was to cut the hair of women going into the gas chambers.

After some effort, Lanzmann tracked down the man, Abraham Bomba, and persuaded him to be interviewed at work in a New York barbershop. While snipping at a customer’s hair, Bomba first talks of his Treblinka assignment in a cold, neutral voice.

Finally, Lanzmann asks Bomba, “What were your feelings while you were doing this work?” Bomba bites his lips but refuses to answer, until Lanzmann finally tells him, “We have to do this.”

Another dramatic scene evolved through Lanzmann’s insistence on interviewing some of the perpetrators of the Holocaust. He knocks on the door of former SS officer Heinz Schubert and gains entrance by representing himself as a member of an organization making a film on the achievements of the Wehrmacht during World War II.

Schubert agrees, and while Lanzmann interviews him, an assistant films the scene surreptitiously through a hidden camera, shooting through a hole in her carrying bag and transmitting the footage to confederates in a truck parked outside.

However, Schubert’s wife becomes suspicious, and two husky Nazis enter the room. The upshot is a beating that hospitalized Lanzmann for one month.

Benzine was able to review more than 200 hours of film shot by Lanzmann that didn’t make it into the final cut of “Shoah,” which are now preserved at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Also intriguing are scenes featuring Lanzmann with two close French friends and supporters, existentialist philosophers and writers Simone de Beauvoir, who lived with Lanzmann for a considerable time, and her other longtime paramour, Jean-Paul Sartre.

Benzine hopes his documentary will lead not only to an Oscar, but also to a revival of Lanzmann’s original nine-plus hourslong “Shoah,” with the two films shown in tandem. Swedish television has already done so, and the BBC and Israel’s Channel 1 may do likewise.

For American viewers, HBO will air the 40-minute documentary May 2

New HBO doc explores Mike Nichols’ journey from Nazi Germany to Hollywood

In 1939, a 7-year-old Jewish boy named Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky left Nazi Germany and, accompanied only by his 4-year-old brother, arrived in New York with an English vocabulary consisting of two phrases: “I don’t speak English” and “Please don’t kiss me.”

By the early 1960s, the refugee boy, renamed Mike Nichols, had taken Broadway by storm with his improvisational comedy skits with Elaine May, and he went on to become an iconic American theater and film director.

When Nichols died in 2014 at 83, Variety headlined the obituary, “Mike Nichols: Émigré to Eminence.”

Despite the urging of friends, Nichols never wrote an autobiography. However, two months before his death, he sat down with his old friend and colleague, theater producer/director Jack O’Brien, for two extended interviews, one before a live audience and the other private.

The result is a 75-minute film, “Becoming Mike Nichols,” which HBO will premiere on Feb. 22 at 9 p.m.

The film’s opening hits a high and nostalgic note with some Nichols and May skits, which were akin to unrehearsed high-wire acts, in which neither partner knew what the other was going to say.

One classic example has May as the ultra-Jewish mother phoning her son, the rocket scientist, to ask why he never calls.  

In another, Nichols suddenly asks about the title song for “The Brothers Karamazov” (Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s great philosophical and spiritual novel) and, without missing a beat, May comes up with both melody and lyrics.

The Nichols-May act broke up in the early 1960s because of what Nichols described as his “very controlling” attitude.

Soon after, Nichols took in a performance of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” starring Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy, and was overwhelmed. He decided that the theater was for him -— not as an actor, but as a director.

After Broadway successes with Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” and “The Odd Couple,” it was time for him to switch genres again, becoming a movie director. Without any experience in the medium and only an informal three-day crash course as preparation, Nichols, as usual, started at the top.

His first two films became instant classics: The first, directing Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966), followed by “The Graduate” (1967).

In the HBO film, Nichols recalls his second movie by adding a few nuggets of information to the already much-studied masterwork. After interviewing hundreds of young actors without finding the right one for the title role, he says, he came across a young actor he had seen in an off-Broadway production playing a transvestite Russian fishwife. The actor’s name was Dustin Hoffman, and the rest is history.

“The Graduate” benefited immensely from its musical score by the folk-rock duo of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, but Nichols pressed them for one more song. At first stuck, the duo remembered one of their uncompleted songs, titled “And Here’s to You, Mrs. Roosevelt.” They switched the name to “Mrs. Robinson” and a hit was born.

By the end of his life, Nichols had received one Oscar, four Emmys, nine Tonys and a Grammy.

In an interview with the Journal, O’Brien described Nichols as not only an immensely talented artist, but also a real mensch.

“Mike had the fuse of life burning within him,” O’Brien said, “but he was also a phenomenal friend. He had a genuine love of people, and in company somehow made you feel that you were the smartest person in the room … perhaps his greatest gift, as an artist and a person, was that he made you better by seeking out the best in you.”

“Becoming Mike Nichols” has been praised as “a master class” in the craft of the theater, but Nichols speaks more in terms of emotions and attitudes than how-to bits of advice.

On directing: “One minute, you don’t know, then suddenly, you get it. That’s the thrill, that’s why you are here.”

On plot lines: “There are three types of scenes … negotiations, seductions and fights.”

On making successful movies: “You get lucky in many strange ways.”

Aside from a few sentences about Nichols’ departure from Nazi Germany, there is no mention of his Jewishness.

“The topic never really came up,” O’Brien said. “Our discussions focused almost entirely on the theater and Nichols’ career.”

Except for an occasional dinner, in which Nichols’ wife, former TV news anchor and reporter Diane Sawyer, joined in, O’Brien said he knew little of his friend’s private life.

In any case, “Mike treated me as [if] I were Jewish, or simply thought of me as an Irish Jew,” O’Brien said.

For readers eager to learn more about the Jewish aspect of Nichols’ life, a good source is a chapter on him in Abigail Pogrebin’s book “Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish,” which was excerpted in the Nov. 20, 2014 issue of Tablet’s online magazine.

Asked in the excerpt whether his Jewishness related to his sense of being an outsider, Nichols replied, “This is tricky, because I think there are two different things: One is Jewishness and one is refugee-ness.

“The second one being what you might call the ‘Sebold Syndrome’ … namely that your guilt about the Six Million finally comes up and gets you. … By definition, whether you are a refugee or not, you are a member of a group that has been hated by a large number of people through all history. It’s impossible not to be aware of that hatred.”

When O’Brien asks why so many comedians and comedy writers have been Jewish, Nichols responds, “Jewish introspection and Jewish humor are ways of surviving. Not only as a group, but as individuals. If you’re not handsome, and you’re not athletic, and you’re not rich, there’s still one last hope with girls, which is being funny. Girls like funny guys.” 

Lena Dunham show ‘Girls’ to end after 6th season

Lena Dunham’s successful HBO series “Girls” will end after its sixth season.

On Wednesday, HBO confirmed the rumor first reported on Entertainment Weekly.

The upcoming fifth season will premiere Feb. 21. The show has been renewed for a sixth season, but its premiere date — likely to fall in early 2017 — has yet to be announced.

“I conceived of ‘Girls’ when I was 23 and now I’m nearly 30 — the show has quite perfectly spanned my 20s, the period of time that it’s about — and so it feels like the right time to wrap our story up,” Dunham said in a statement.

Dunham’s dramatic comedy, which centers on a group of 20-somethings navigating young-adult life in New York, has won multiple Emmy and Directors Guild of America awards since its debut in 2012. The show’s star and co-writer grew up in New York.

“I can’t imagine a more fulfilling creative experience than ‘Girls,’” Dunham said in the statement. “The freedom and support that HBO has given [co-writer] Jenni [Konner], [producer] Judd [Apatow], and me is something rare and beautiful. The commitment and originality of our actors has been stunning, and our crew is truly my family.”

Dunham is the daughter of painter Carroll Dunham and Jewish photographer Laurie Simmons.

Comedian Jon Stewart returns with HBO short-form deal

Comedian Jon Stewart has signed a deal with cable television channel HBO to produce short-form content on current events in what will be his first announced entertainment project since quitting “The Daily Show” in August.

HBO said in a statement on Tuesday that the four-year agreement will see Stewart producing content that will be shown on the its digital platforms. HBO will also get the first look at other, unspecified, film and TV ventures from the comedian.

In the first project under the deal “Stewart will view current events through his unique prism,” the statement said, without giving a start date.

The announcement was the first indication of a new venture for Stewart, who quit his job as host of Comedy Central's satirical “The Daily Show” in August after 16 years without saying what he planned to do next.

‘The Wire’ creator and HBO’s favorite son David Simon is working on two new shows

It’s no secret that Jewish television writer David Simon is adored at HBO. His past productions for the cable channel, including “The Wire” and “Treme,” are some of the most critically acclaimed series in TV history.

Nevertheless, it was surprising to hear last week that HBO had ordered not one, but two television pilots from the industry veteran.

The first is called “The Deuce” and will star James Franco as two identical twins who set up a porn business in New York’s squalid Times Square of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Take a second to digest that one.

The second is an unnamed project set on Capitol Hill, which could examine the influence of money on Washington, D.C., politics. Simon is developing this one with Jewish journalist Carl Bernstein, who along with Bob Woodward broke the Watergate scandal and helped force President Richard Nixon to resign from office.

Meanwhile, Simon – whose father worked for Jewish service group B’nai B’rith for 20 years – will have his latest HBO miniseries debut on August 16. The six-part series, entitled “Show Me A Hero,” chronicles the process of desegregating the city of Yonkers, New York, in the ’80s and stars Oscar Isaac, Wynona Rider, Alfred Molina and Catherine Keener.

Simon’s shows have always enjoyed more acclaim than viewership, and he has said recently that he’s surprised HBO keeps bringing him back. In one interview, he called himself the “PBS of HBO.” He credits the Internet with giving his material a long enough lifespan to allow it to reach people who are genuinely interested.

“I don’t think people watch my stuff when it’s on the air,” Simon told the UK’s Independent last Friday. “I think I have a very long tail. If the stuff is allowed to exist, it will stand. Some people will find it, and some people won’t.”