January 16, 2019

2018 Holiday Movie Guide

Rachel Weisz. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Members of the Tribe are on camera and behind the scenes in this cinematic holiday mix of comedy, drama, animation, prestige pictures and action flicks, plus one special reissue.

“Black Swan” Oscar-winner Natalie Portman is getting rave reviews for her latest performance in “Vox Lux” as a pop superstar with a troubled past, a sensational career and a complicated life. She plays Celeste, who survived a school shooting and became famous for a song she wrote to honor the victims. Twenty years later, she’s the mother of a teenage daughter and on the career comeback trail, trying to put a scandalous incident behind her. While on tour with her album, she has to deal with personal crises, the pressures of fame and another shattering act of violence. 

Written and directed by Brady Corbet and featuring original songs by Sia, “Vox Lux” will be released on Dec. 7.

Natalie Portman. Photo courtesy of Neon.

Reteaming with her “Lobster” director, Yorgos Lanthimos, Rachel Weisz (“Denial,” “Disobedience”) stars in “The Favourite” as Lady Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, the woman behind the throne in the court of Queen Anne of England (Olivia Colman).  

Lady Sarah was an ancestor of both Winston Churchill and Princess Diana, and was the queen’s friend, confidant and trusted adviser on matters personal and political.  According to Weisz, “Lady Sarah has the whole package: She’s very intellectually powerful, she’s very sexually powerful, she’s physically quite powerful, and politically, she is in charge of the entire country. I think of her as having the clarity and decisiveness of any modern political leader. Neither politics nor battle tactics nor running the country is Anne’s strong suit, but that’s all very appealing to Sarah.”

In the film, opening on Nov. 23, the balance of the women’s symbiotic relationship is threatened with the arrival of Lady Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone), who becomes a rival for the queen’s attention and affections. Weisz also stars opposite Colin Firth in “The Mercy,” opening Nov. 30. It’s based on the true story of sailor Donald Crowhurst’s 1998 attempt to circumnavigate the globe and the cover-up of its failure. 

Sarah Silverman. Photo courtesy of Alberto E. Rodriguez/ Getty Images for Disney.

Sarah Silverman and Gal Gadot add their voices to that of John C. Reilly’s title character in the animated sequel “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” a family-friendly adventure that Silverman describes as a “completely different” story compared with its predecessor, “Wreck-It Ralph.”

In the movie, opening on Nov. 23, racer Vanellope “is missing something, a steering wheel from her game, and that becomes a complete existential crisis,” Silverman said of her character. “Who am I if I’m not a racer? So [she and Ralph] decide to go into the internet and explore this vast endless expanse and it changes them forever.”

Gadot plays new character Shank, a racer in a game called “Slaughter Race.”
Silverman explained, “It’s a racing game that’s thrilling to Vanellope but very hard-core. Vanellope looks up to her. She becomes Vanellope’s mentor and she takes Vanellope under her wing.”

Another big draw for kids: “We have this scene with every Disney princess in it,” Silverman said. 

Hailee Steinfeld. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Hailee Steinfeld stars as a teenage mechanic who befriends the titular Autobot in  Bumblebee,” a stand-alone action adventure from the “Transformers” universe, opening Dec. 21. She plays Charlie, who stumbles upon the battered Volkswagen Beetle hiding in a junkyard, takes him home and sees him as her ticket out. 

According to Steinfeld, whose single “Back to Life” appears on the movie’s soundtrack, her character Charlie “has experienced a major loss in her life. She’s constantly trying to find that freedom she craves and start her own life.” Bumblebee is targeted for destruction, which sets their escape in motion. “Better Things” star Pamela Adlon plays Steinfeld’s mother. 

Steinfeld also supplies the voice of Gwen Stacy in the animated movie “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” opening on Dec. 14.

Israeli writer-turned-director Etan Cohen’s new action comedy plays Sherlock Holmes for laughs in “Holmes & Watson,” starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in the title roles. The story sends the sleuths on a mission to stop Professor Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes) from assassinating Queen Victoria. It opens on Dec. 21.

Ron Perlman plays a Mossad agent turned hitman who falls for his target (Famke Janssen) in “Asher,” opening Dec. 7. Perlman’s daughter, Blake, who was in “Hellboy 2” and “Hand of God” with her father, appears as a pregnant woman. 

The Oscar-winning Holocaust drama “Schindler’s List” will be re-released in select theaters on Dec. 7, with picture and sound digital remastering supervised by Steven Spielberg. In the 2017 HBO documentary “Spielberg,” the director talked about filming “on hallowed ground” at Auschwitz and how the little girl in the red dress — the only color in the black-and-white movie — “symbolized the Holocaust and the monstrous evil that no one did anything about. It was emotionally the hardest movie I’ve ever made.”

Read more from the 2018 Holiday Arts & Entertainment Edition here.

‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ Is Back in Time for Hanukkah

Hanukkah is going to be especially sweet this year, and sufganiyot have nothing to do with it. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the show that Steven Spielberg recently called “the best Jewish musical since ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’” is returning to Amazon Prime for its second season Dec. 5. 

The series, which won eight Emmy Awards in September, is about a well-to-do New York Jewish family in the late 1950s, with Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) in the spotlight as a young mother who inadvertently becomes a stand-up comic — and kills at it. Her relationships with her parents, Abe and Rose (Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle), her husband, Joel (Michael Zegen), who cheated on her but is remorseful and wants her back, and her manager, Susie (Alex Borstein), are at the core of the story. 

It’s the brainchild of Emmy Award-winning writer-producer-director Amy Sherman-Palladino and her director husband, Dan Palladino, and a top-notch creative team that brings the “Maisel” world to life. Judging from a sneak peek at the first two episodes at a private screening, there will be no sophomore slump.

Kevin Pollak, who plays Joel’s father, Moishe, acknowledged the pressure in following up a stellar debut, but he attended the screening and was relieved by the wildly enthusiastic response. “Expectations are usually the root of disappointment, regardless of the quality,” he said. “But that audience was hanging on every word. They were laughing in all the right places but also felt all the emotion at the same time. Yes, the pressure is ridiculous, but Amy and Dan have exceeded expectations.”

Pollak gives props to the Palladinos for the show’s success. “It has a broad appeal based on the extraordinary writing and directing, and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences echoed that. But those of us who work on the show have known that all along,” he said. “It starts with great writing and you hope that the alchemy happens. And then you have this amazing set design and production design and music and cinematography and wardrobe. It’s the best quality across the board in all departments than anything I’ve done in 20 years. In that regard, we may have lightning in a bottle.”

plays a woman who embarks on a career in stand-up comedy in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Photo by Nicole Rivelle/Amazon Prime Video

Pollak, 61, also attributes the popularity of the show to the relatable characters and its multigenerational appeal. “My niece and her friends, 20-year-olds, are obsessed with the show, which couldn’t possibly be for the same reasons as older people who know or lived in this world,” he said. “I think they’re captivated by the character of Midge Maisel and her strength of character, and that she is reinventing herself in the most unusual way.”

He feels “tremendous pride” to be part of a show that reflects the Jewish experience, especially “one that reaches such a universal audience regardless of race, creed, religion or color,” he said. “For something this Jewish on paper, it astonishes me how it reaches every sort of demographic. I’m told the show is huge in China.”  

“The show is the best quality across the board in all departments than anything I’ve done in 20 years. In that regard, we may have lightning in a bottle.”

 — Kevin Pollak

Although Pollak has played Jewish characters before, Moishe is a departure from others on his resumé. “The challenge was to portray a very loud, older Jewish man,” he said. “My career has not been based on being the boisterous one. I’m not used to playing the guy who doesn’t listen and just talks. That was a challenge.”

Another was getting used to long scenes with no breaks and lots of fast dialogue — a Sherman-Palladino signature. “I came from stand-up comedy, not theater,” Pollak said. “This is a specific style of acting that I was not familiar with, but the challenge was part of the attraction.” 

This season, Pollak has been promoted from a recurring guest star to series regular. “You’re going to see a lot of me, whether you want to or not,” he said, describing the second installment of the show as “full of surprises. It’s an ever-expanding universe. It’s bigger and bolder in a number of ways. That’s how you deal with the expectations. You broaden the universe that the show is set in.” 

He’s referring to journeys outside the Maisels’ Manhattan milieu that take them to places including Paris and the Catskill Mountains.  

Will we see Jewish themes and celebrations? “Without getting into specifics, of course,” Pollak said. Those aspects of the show seem quite familiar to him. “We’re California Jews from San Francisco,” he said, “but there was a great sense of family and celebration in very similar ways for the holidays and in that regard it rings true.”

Kevin Pollak’s role has expanded in the second season of “Maisel.” Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Pollak said he belonged to a Reform temple while growing up. “It was very much a social gathering,” he said. “I attended religious school every weekend. I went to Hebrew school for three years and was confirmed and bar mitzvah’d. There was a strong sense of a Jewish household. [Judaism has] been a great influence my whole life. There’s always been a tremendous sense of pride about being Jewish. As I got older, I put a little less focus and interest on all organized religion, the result of having come from such a lax religious upbringing and being suspicious of organized anything, not just religion. But I have a tremendous sense of pride in being Jewish and the heritage.”

Pollak got into comedy early on, entertaining at school. “I started lip-syncing to comedy albums, performing to Danny Kaye when I was 10 years old in 1967,” he said. “I’m pretty much a natural-born ham, which translates to a life devoted. I’ve always had my eyes and heart and thoughts in all things comedy. I’d already started performing in nightclubs when I was just out of high school. I went to college but I felt this was what I was supposed to do. There was no turning back.”

Following in the footsteps of Jewish comic legends Buddy Hackett, Don Rickles, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen “and Albert Brooks, who became a comedy hero and mentor,” Pollak established himself in stand-up. Then in 1989, his career took an unexpected turn, thanks to “a wonderful Jewish saga by Barry Levinson called ‘Avalon.’ I suddenly went from comedian to dramatic actor,” he said. “Although that wasn’t my career trajectory of choice, it made me a respected actor, along with ‘A Few Good Men’ in ’92 and ‘Casino’ and ‘The Usual Suspects’ in ’94, and it was off to the races.”

Rachel Brosnahan (far left) and Marin Hinkle in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Photo by Nicole Rivelle/ Amazon Prime Video

Pollak has toggled back and forth between dramas and comedies, and counts “studying at the feet of [Jack] Lemmon and [Walter] Matthau in the ‘Grumpy Old Men’ movies” as a career highlight. “I’m always in search of material that lifts my alleged abilities and challenges me,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been challenged as much as I have been on ‘Maisel,’ and it makes it that much more rewarding, just to be a part of such a magical show but also to be challenged to work at a higher level. I would have been happy to carry a spear, as they say, on this one. To be in the mix as much as I have is a complete honor.”

Currently, Pollak is appearing as The Miami Herald’s publisher in “The Front Runner,” about the scandal that torpedoed Gary Hart’s presidential campaign. He’s also in the comedy “Lez Bomb,” about a lesbian woman who goes home for Thanksgiving and tries to come out to her family. He has six other films in various stages of completion.

Pollack directed the 2015 documentary “Misery Loves Comedy,” “based on the thesis that you have to be miserable to be funny,” and he plans to continue directing. In January, he is set to direct a film he describes as “an interesting whodunit in a noir style, set in modern times. We’re casting now,” he said.

“I created a mantra about 10 years ago, ‘If you’re not creating, you’re waiting.’ I’m very involved in creating new content and opportunities for myself,” Pollak said. “There’s a new improvised comedy podcast that I created called ‘Alchemy This.’ I’ve gathered five of the best improvisers I’ve ever met and I throw out unusual and unique humorous situations and we improvise those scenes. My other podcast, “Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show,” will be 10 years old in March. It’s long-form interviews with everyone from Elon Musk to Tom Hanks to Larry David,” he said. “It’s all over the internet, including KevinPollak.TV.”

Pollak acknowledges that he has always been self-motivated. “As a stand-up comedian, my life was that of a gypsy, a traveling performer, making my own schedule,” he said. “But unlike a lot of people I started out with, I was self-generating and refused to just wait for the phone to ring, even when it was ringing off the hook. I turned 60 last year and I’ve never been so busy. It really has been magical.”

Given his full slate, Pollak has set stand-up comedy appearances aside for the time being, but he still finds time to play poker. The former host of “Celebrity Poker Showdown” will participate in the “Friday Night Poker Live” tournament in December. “It streams on Facebook and shows up on PokerGO a week later,” he said. “It will be on about a week after ‘Mrs. Maisel’ premieres.”

Pollak, who didn’t have to audition to play Moishe, is thankful to the Palladinos for the invitation “to come and play,” he said. “In terms of my acting life, I’d say it’s the most challenging and rewarding at the same time, more so than anything else I’ve ever done. It’s magically exciting.”

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video on Dec. 5.

Read more from the 2018 Holiday Arts & Entertainment Edition here.

Levy’s Special Oscar; Rabbi Lachtman Honored

Temple Beth David Rabbi Alan Lachtman and Congressman Judy Chu attended a brunch feting Lachtman. Photo Courtesy of Louie the Lens

The Jewish Federation of Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys honored Rabbi Alan Lachtman of Temple Beth David during the 2018 Honoring Community Leaders Brunch at the Courtyard Marriott on Oct. 21. 

The gathering feted Lachtman for his 42-plus years as Temple Beth David’s spiritual leader and for his contributions to the greater community.

“You know, we don’t have a fancy building but we have a big heart,” Lachtman said in an interview published in JLife SGPV prior to the event honoring him. “I am just so grateful for the decades that I have been able to be here and try to be Jewishly warm, caring and relevant for my congregants, and the non-Jewish community looks upon me, as well.”

The more than 200 attendees at the brunch included U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), Jason Moss, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, and members of Lachtman’s family.

Lachtman was 29 when he was elected rabbi at Temple Beth David in 1976, after serving as education director of a Reform congregation in Berkeley, Calif. Speaking to JLife, he said some of his fondest experiences during his tenure as rabbi at Temple Beth David have involved different communities coming together for initiatives such as Purim carnivals, sending the synagogue’s children to Washington, D.C., to learn how to advocate for social issues, and witnessing the proliferation of Jewish day school education in Southern California. 

He holds a degree in marriage, child and family therapy and served as a chaplain in the U.S. Army for 29 years.

Temple Beth David is a Reform congregation in Temple City.

Celebrated public relations person Marvin J. Levy, who was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Courtesy of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Marvin J. Levy’s standing as one of the top public relations professionals in the movie business has been officially confirmed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which will confer its first-ever honorary Oscar on a publicist when it fetes the energetic octogenarian on Nov. 18.

Levy and Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg have enjoyed a close and complementary relationship for more than 40 years. They worked together beginning with Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and continued through “Jurassic Park,” “Lincoln” and, most recently, “The Post.”

Levy’s 1993 marketing campaign for the Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List” may have been one of his greatest achievements, as both Spielberg and Universal Studios were convinced it would end up as a box-office flop.

A native of New York City, Levy was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of New York University’s College of Arts and Science and became a bar mitzvah at the Park Avenue Synagogue. He is now a member of Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

In an interview with the Journal, Levy described Spielberg as “the most creative force I know, and he does it all while making his cast, crew and staff feel like family. “

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Women of Reform Judaism Social Action Committee co-chair Karen Goldberg with Rabbi Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi.
Courtesy of Women of Reform Judaism

More than 150 women gathered in San Diego on Oct. 18-21 for the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) Pacific District Convention. 

The Pacific District, the largest geographically of the WRJ’s eight districts, comprises 7,500 women in 57 sisterhoods. 

During the biennial weekend, which had the theme of “Educate, Empower, Embrace: Lechi Lach,” attendees had the opportunity to hear, learn from and study with WRJ Executive Director Rabbi Marla Feldman; scholar-in-residence Rabbi Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, coeditor of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary”; and Zach Herrmann, past president of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY).

New Pacific District board members were installed during a Saturday morning Shabbat service. They will serve with new President Dana Adler of Tucson, Ariz. 

Among the new women named to the board were Cher Krichmar of Temple Beth Ohr in Anaheim Hills; Erika Barnathan of Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge; Shoshana Lewin Fischer of Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, who is the Jewish Journal’s digital director; Jackie Zev of Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge; Resa S. Davids of University Synagogue in Los Angeles; and Lori Glasky of Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana. 

In addition, four directors from Southern California began their term, acting as liaisons between the sisterhoods and the district: Madeline Eble of Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach; Gail Spivack of Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine; Flo Cohen of Temple Sinai of Glendale; and Tracey Poirier of Temple Judea in Tarzana.

A record-setting amount of money was raised for the WRJ’s Youth, Education and Special Projects Fund, which funds Reform programs around the world, including URJ camps, NFTY programs, scholarships for cantors and rabbis, and programs like Women of the Wall and the Jewish Braille Institute. 

In addition, more than 330 hand-knitted hats were collected for homeless women and women with breast cancer

— Shoshana Lewin Fischer, Journal staff 

From left: Ben Silverman, Rob Morrow, Stanley Silverman and Jaime Camil attend the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Los Angeles Gala 2018 at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on October 25, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California.
Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

The American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (AFIPO) held its 2018 Los Angeles Gala on Oct. 25 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, celebrating the life and work of composer Stanley Silverman.

Hosted by actors Rob Morrow and Jaime Camil, the evening featured a performance by the philharmonic’s brass quintet, following a lavish outdoor buffet and award presentation.

Presenting the award to his father, film and television producer Ben Silverman spoke at length about the 80-year-old Grammy and Tony award nominee’s five decades of accomplishments as a composer and educator, including his collaborations with James Taylor, Sting and Paul Simon, as well as the classes he taught at Harvard, Juilliard, New York University and Tanglewood.

“My dad was driven by art, not by fame,” Silverman said. “I learned from my dad that the process is the thing. The impact is the reward. I’m always so proud and impressed that he pursued that so beautifully and delivered on every single level. I’m incredibly proud to give him this honor [to] the smartest man I know.”

 In a conversation with the Journal earlier in the evening, Stanley Silverman said the award was “really personal” to him because of his connection to Israel. He has visited three times, most recently for Ben’s wedding in Jerusalem in 2011.

Silverman performed with the Israel Philharmonic’s current conductor, Zubin Mehta, in the 1960s and said that collaborations with artists like Mehta, Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Arthur Miller and Paul Simon have been the high points of his career.

Silverman talked about growing up in the Bronx, N.Y., in an Orthodox family of “Trotskyites, very left-wing Jews,” including a mother who was determined that he learned to play music. “It was a ticket out and into general society,” he said.

Besides “bringing up terrific kids,” he said his greatest legacy was being a pioneer in new-music theater.  “People like Julie Taymor came out of it,” he said. “I think people will remember me for that.”

 During the presentation, AFIPO co-chair Kfir Gavrieli spoke about the Philharmonic’s commitment to music education in Israel via its Keynote program, pointing out that the orchestra’s next director, Lahav Shani, who will succeed Zubin Mehta in 2020, received a scholarship via Keynote 14 years ago. The gala raised $1.1 million for the Keynote program. 

— Gerri Miller, Contributing Writer 

Want to be in Movers & Shakers? Send us your highlights, events, honors and simchas. Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

Restored ‘Schindler’s List’ to Get December Rerelease

Photo from Universal Studios.

Twenty-five years since its release, “Schindler’s List” will be rereleased in select theaters on Dec. 7, with picture and sound digital re-mastering supervised by director Steven Spielberg.

The film, starring Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved the lives of more than 1,000 Jews by employing them in his factories during the Holocaust, was first released on Dec. 15, 1993. It won seven Academy Awards, including best picture and best director, and earned $321 million at the worldwide box office. Neeson was nominated for an Oscar, as was Ralph Fiennes for his chilling portrayal of Nazi SS officer Amon Göth.

In the 2017 HBO documentary “Spielberg,” the director talked about filming “on hallowed ground” at Auschwitz and how the little girl in the red dress—the only color in the black and white movie–“symbolized the Holocaust and the monstrous evil that no one did anything about,” he said. “It was emotionally the hardest movie I’ve ever made.”

In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked “Schindler’s List” eighth on its list of the 100 Best American Films of All Time.

Fewer Tribe Members Get Oscar Nods

Photo from Flickr.

In a normal year, a rundown on Academy Award nominations is cause for Jewish celebrations and self-congratulations. However, 2018 is not one of those years.

Even the iconic Steven Spielberg couldn’t break the jinx. While his widely praised “The Post,” a paean to journalistic courage, got a best picture nod, Hollywood’s most admired Jewish name was shut out of the best director list.

Another apparent shoo-in, actor James Franco, who just won a Golden Globe for his turn in “The Disaster Artist,” went missing on the Oscars’ best actor nomination list. It is a fair assumption that a rash of current reports on Franco’s sexual misbehaviors contributed to the omission.

To add to the disappointments, “Foxtrot,” Israel’s wrenching entry in the best foreign-language film category, was eliminated after earlier making the shortlist of nine nominees. In the same category, Germany’s “In the Fade,” which focused on the rise of neo-Nazism, was also eliminated.

However, not to paint an entirely dark picture, there were some eminent Jewish names on the final nomination list. Foremost is the film “Call Me By Your Name,” which probes the love affair of two young Jewish men in the 1980s, which came up with four nominations for Jewish talent. These included lead actor Timothee Chalamet, best picture, adopted screenplay and best original song (“Mystery of Love.”)

Other members of the tribe also made it to the finals — the glamorous Academy Award ceremony in Hollywood on March 4. Among them are Britain’s Daniel Day-Lewis for his role as a noted dressmaker in “Phantom Thread.” Day-Lewis, a three-time best actor winner, has announced his retirement from stage and screen.

Also nominated were veteran composer Hans Zimmer for his numerous film scores, including “Dunkirk.”

Another composer, Benj Pasek, who wrote the lyrics for last year’s hit “La La Land,” is up this time for best original song, “This Is Me,” from the musical “The Greatest Showman.”

Well, there is always next year.

JTA contributed to this report.

Spielberg Goes Biblical

The credits were rolling when it hit me: “The Post” was over. Time to go home. “Why am I still sitting here?” I looked around and saw others still sitting in their seats. “Why are they still sitting here?” “Why are we all still sitting here?!”

In my opinion, the answer is in the Bible.

It is accurate to frame Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” as a retelling of the 1971 Pentagon Papers drama, but it is also overly simplistic. Spielberg transforms a historical narrative into a profound commentary on American culture, partially conveyed by the choices made for the beginning and the end of the film.

Stories usually open with “Once upon a time” and end with “The End.” The soft ambiguity of “Once upon a time” signals that whatever preceded the story is unimportant. Correspondingly, the hard certainty of “The End” says that everything important to the story has been told. The narrative exists only in the space between “Once upon and time” and “The End.”

The Bible does the opposite.

It starts with a jarringly definitive “In the beginning” and it ends so gently that the narrative is never formally closed. It follows that the Bible, by its narrative structure, is signaling to the reader that the Bible is important from The Beginning — it has always been important. More significantly, the teachings of the Bible endure long after the story ends, — it always will be important.

Spielberg faced a dilemma about the beginning of “The Post.” When does the story of the Pentagon Papers begin? The first moment of this story is a finite place and time. But which moment?

“The Post” begins its story in Vietnam. Daniel Ellsberg, the man who eventually leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press, is on the battlefield documenting the war. A soldier notices Ellsberg and wonders aloud, “Who’s the longhair?” meaning, who is the hippie civilian?

That phrase stuck with me because Ellsberg is an outsider and is identified by his long hair. For the duration of the film, the outsider is the publisher of The Washington Post, Katharine “Kay” Graham, played by Meryl Streep. She is an outsider in a corporate world dominated by men and, as a woman, she is also identified by her long hair. Graham’s journey in the film is the story of how and when she found her voice as a strong, confident, trailblazing woman who confronted and stood up to a powerful White House.

In a movie with consequences of biblical proportions, Spielberg seems to take a cue from the Bible.

There is a third outsider identified by her long hair in “The Post.” Meg Greenfield, played by Carrie Coon, is the only woman on the editorial board of The Washington Post. As the film rises to its crescendo, Greenfield is holding court in the newsroom. She is on the phone with a contact at the court, and she is relaying everything she is hearing. Greenfield has the attention of the entire newsroom. The air is silent and heavy with dramatic pause when a middle-aged white male editor barges into the newsroom and steals her thunder. Reading from a slip of paper, he exuberantly announces victory. For a moment Greenfield’s face falls, but she composes herself and gets another chance to shine a few moments later when she dictates Justice Hugo Black’s forceful opinion — uninterrupted.

In a profound film about women’s empowerment, this moment was a reminder that we adapt and evolve slowly. Kay Graham may have found her voice but women could still expect to be interrupted by men oblivious to the shifting social environment around them.

“The Post” could have ended with the euphoric reaction to the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the media against the president. But Spielberg ends by setting the stage for the Watergate scandal. In a movie with consequences of biblical proportions, Spielberg seems to take a cue from the Bible and opts for a gentle, open-ended final scene.

Long after the Pentagon Papers were published, freedom of the press remains an issue. Long after Kay Graham found her voice, treating women fairly remains an issue. Long after Meg Greenfield was interrupted, respecting women remains an issue.

“The Post” does not conclude with finality because, just like the Bible, it is the beginning of a long struggle, not a story about one particular struggle. And that explains why we lingered in the theater watching the credits roll.

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

“The Post” attempts high-stakes drama with history

NOR_D11_061317_1665_R2 – Tom Hanks (as Ben Bradlee) and Meryl Streep (as Kay Graham) star in Twentieth Century Fox’s THE POST. Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise.

Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” recalls a pivotal time in 1971 when Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) invokes the First Amendment right to freedom of the press while publishing top secret government conspiracy papers in The Washington Post.  Despite threats of jail time and bankruptcy, Graham stands by her paper and the reporting.

While the First Amendment may be important here, it’s actually Graham’s role in history that strikes a weightier chord.  Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t make the significance as apparent as it should.  It becomes necessary for Tony Bradlee (Sarah Paulson, wasted here) to spell it out.  Her job isn’t just to make it clear for her husband Ben (Tom Hanks) within the context of the movie, but for the audience as well.  And, if a movie can’t make its own point without utilizing a character for this purpose, then how successful has it really been?

“The Post” certainly attempts to create high-stakes drama and lays out the history well.  In fact, the film relies heavily on an alternating blue/yellow color palette to this end.  For more about “The Post” and how these colors are used specifically, take a look below:

–>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

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.”

God Loves a Chancer – Danny Lobell’s Broke as a Joke: Edinburgh Preview

Hollywood Fringe to Edinburgh Fringe: Here’s…….DANNY..!!

In Danny Lobell’s new one-man show, we learn pretty quick that stand-up comedian and Modern Day Philosophers podcast host, Danny, is a “chancer”.  And, proud of it.

“chancer”. noun. The definition of a chancer is a British term for someone who takes advantage of situations and manipulates them to his own benefit. An example of a chancer is someone who swoops in and buys a painting from a little old lady when he knows it is a Picasso and she doesn’t.  chancer defined – YourDictionary

Danny’s father wanted him to be a doctor; Danny took that as a cue to do what the stereotypical phony doctor does: Rip people off.  Via American Express.  With a simple “Dr. Danny Lobell” Amex card, Dr. Lobell runs up the card like a mouse up a dress until they cut him off like a mohel up his pants. But it doesn’t end there; oh no no no.  This is where the “Danny Lobell Shakespeare Company” takes over.  Whether we’re comfortable or not, Danny tells the tale of how he carried on the con on the poor unsuspecting American Express collections gal, by pretending to be some British guy who was the receptionist for the good doctor; and just kept putting off the collector Christine with further and further appointments to speak with the deadbeat fake doc.

Beginnings reveal the writer

One thing I learned very late in the game of live story-telling and indeed writing, is that – as an audience – whatever story you tell us up front, that story is your introduction of you to us. The opening story must contain the kernel of the theme we’re about to watch for the next hour and a half, as well as indicate the character of the story-teller. It’s like the introductory paragraph to a great short story. Each format of story-telling, whether it’s the novel or the screenplay, the beginning reveals more who the writer is than the characters are.   Believe me, the hardest thing to do is to objectively write about oneself.

Jerry Lewis and Steven Spielberg

When I first met with Jerry Lewis on his yacht, the very first thing he told me was how Steven Spielberg honored him at Cannes.  Why on earth would a comedy legend tell this lowly schmuck how he was honored like a king.  The answer is this. Jerry Lewis is in essence, insecure.  (Private Message to Danny: Danny, as you read this, I thought thrice about including this bit about me and Jerry Lewis, but then decided to leave it in because I think its germane real life lesson for me, as it relates to my seeing your show, but also and mainly, because by having the keywords “Steven Spielberg” and “Jerry Lewis” in this online blog review, the Google robot will take notice and perhaps give this blog more play.  We shall see!)

A Big Furry Jewish Cheshire Cat

In spite of internally wrestling the morality of ripping off a decent company like American Express, putting poor collector Christine into a bind and essentially making fun of her by fucking with her job, one cannot help but be enchanted by Danny Lobell’s Cheshire Cat that ate the canary smile behind the big broad beard of a more than slightly overweight Jewish comedian who simply can’t find his place in the world, and is always thinking of the next easy street or secret way to the top.

A self-deprecating loser after my own heart.

Danny’s skills of the free-ride didn’t just appear outta nowhere.  His dad was notoriously parsimonious to an embarrassing fault, as demonstrated to us by returning a bad piece of salmon to Cosco via strapping the smelly fish to the roof of the car, actually getting a refund, then displaying the Matzo balls to argue for even more money, and getting it.  Dad’s lesson?  Never go into the arts.  Look at Grandfather.  A famous sculptor who worked in the JC Penny’s art department, and having none other than Norman Rockwell in his employ, because of a back tax issue the poor old modern master accumulated.  Cloistered in an Orthodox home, Danny never watched television and when he finally saw Seinfeld, he literally thought Jerry literally invented stand-up.  It is in the world of the naive neophyte where cynicism is born.

Two Words: House Account

Danny eventually tries the art of stand-up himself at a Starbucks open-mic then meets comedy legend Freddie Roman, who impressed with young Danny’s talent, tenacity and sense of japery, invites him into the secret society of the Friars Club.  And what is the first thing young Danny the comedian wannabe learns about the intricate art of telling a string of words designed to elicit laughs?  “House Account”.  Yup.  For the next year, all that young Danny can see are free haircuts, nice lunches and free use of the house gym, which I’m sure he used mainly to sit in the steam room and fart his free food.  What I’m saying is: Danny is a visionary.  He will con his way through life like no other.  And to clarify.  I’m not saying Danny Lobell is a conman.  I’m saying he’s – what the British call – a “chancer”.  He sees opportunity where others don’t.  He blatantly goes for it and hope he doesn’t get caught.  He genuinely has the money-making mentality of Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners, grabbing at every get rich quick scheme he can smell.

Jackie McMason

But wait!  Oh no!  There apparently is another comedian, a legendary comedian, as a matter of fact, who is known as the real house account cheater. Jackie Mason. Whom Danny meets and begins to work for.  Terribly excited to anticipate learning about comedy from one of the best, Danny is soon disappointed to learn that what he is learning from Mr. Mason, isn’t about the business we call show or the mechanics and chemistry of joke-creation or the art and craft of joke-telling or even the valuable lessons of life from one who’d surely know.  Nope.  Danny, whose job it is to help Jackie Mason sell cassette tapes of his show, is gonna learn about McDonalds.  Yes, the great Jackie Mason is obsessed with McDonalds; to the point of insane fanaticism.

G-D Loves a Chancer

What Danny is trying to tell us – but either doesn’t realize it OR is too modest to own it, is that G-D himself (that’s “God”) loves a “chancer” and proves so by arranging a chance meeting backstage with the incredible legendary George Carlin.

Danny: “I became friends with George Carlin, until George passed away and ended the friendship.”

The hilarity ensues in episodic format:
  • Danny sells lightbulbs door to door.
  • Sells a $2,000 hairless cat to a crazy rich Upper West Side Jewish lady, who tries to keep the cat without paying, so Danny arranges a con to get the cat back, involving a friend to sleep with her, the lady not the cat, although, who really knows.
  • Helping someone hide an illegal rooster.
  • Taking a girl on a cheap, if not free, date, to Yogurtland where samples are free.
  • Friending and avoiding the dangerous Blanco gang.
  • Driving to L.A. on no money.
  • Meeting and marrying the girl of his dreams.

All told with professional excellence, humor and no point or theme whatsoever other than he gets away with it. The lesson seems to be that he has finally found happiness, just working for a living and building a life with his lovely wife. And if this was Danny’s farewell performance, his veritable swan song from the world of the big dreams, then it would be a sad ending to unrealized possibilities.  The show I saw and am reviewing is essentially Danny’s preview for his run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.  A festival in which I’ve done 5 one-man shows and produced two big comedy galas.  I know it’s important and I want Danny to succeed.  I want him to get noticed.  I think the Brits and the Scots will love him.  Danny Lobell is the quintessential American chancer who happens to be a comedian.  His singular brand of japery will surely gain him early notice and perhaps a following.  There’s the quote to use, Danny.  Look up “japery”.  Hell.  Look up quintessential.  I’m kidding.  Just being an arsehole for no reason than I’ve got to fill the page with something.

“Danny Lobell is the quintessential American chancer who happens to be a comedian.  His singular brand of japery will surely gain him early notice and perhaps a following.  There’s the quote to use, Danny.  Look up ‘japery’.  Hell.  Look up quintessential.  I’m kidding.  Just being an arsehole for no reason than I’ve got to fill the page with something.” – Steven Alan Green, The Jewish Journal

Danny is very likable and most important: authentic.  Authenticity – to me personally – is the most important aspect or trait of any scenario or personage or art.  All ironies aside, portraying authenticity is the single most important part of story-telling.  Danny Lobell is funny.  No question about it.  He’s got a wonderful sense of self-deprecation and even insights into himself.  In Broke as a Joke, I just wanted to know more.  A lot more. Broke as a Joke is what is known as a shaggy-dog story.  One thing leads to the next.  Episodic.  And, indeed could be a funny television series.  Danny’s got what we all got. Money problems and big dreams.  Like I said, he is the modern Ralph Kramden.

A string of little dilemmas.

His sense of adventure informs how he views life more than how life views him.  As a critic, I see room for improvement.  The one thing I felt missing from the show is a story-arc, a learning curve.  All good one-person shows I’ve ever seen, reviewed, read reviews of and performed.  All the good ones had an emotional journey.  Because that’s what’s important.  That’s what gives the audience the main internal reason for sitting in the theatre.  I think where Broke as a Joke goes a little flat at times – between the consistent laughs – is that there is no real dilemma, except dealing with what comes next and how is Danny gonna become famous, which he never does.  A string of little dilemmas. It’s a great story he tells, don’t get me wrong.  But, for my limited money, I would like to see him dig a little bit deeper and show us, the attentive crowd, what he learned and how he learned it.  Indeed what was at stake. Because then maybe we can apply it to ourselves.  One-person shows are really supposed to be about what Moses brings down from the mountaintop.  Not just stories around the fire.

Modern-Day Ralph Kramden

Danny Lobell is like Ralph Kramden in the sense that the get rich quick schemes are to him like bright shiny objects.  Likability of on stage personae is all important, especially these days with live performers thrown in front of a camera.  If I were a network executive, I’d sign Danny immediately to a development deal before he gets to Edinburgh and gets signed by the competition.  I know the big Hollywood suits are gonna be there.  I’ve hung out with them at the Assembly Rooms bar.

Broke as a Joke heads to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August and I highly recommend it.  Danny’s charismatic likability and quirky sense of humor make it surely one of the better shows on the Fringe this year.  And the stories are all corkers.  This show will surely sell-out.

Trust me.  I’m a doctor.

PS: Lock the mini-bar

Steven Alan Green, Enjoy the Veal, 6/18/17

Link to Danny’s show Broke as a Joke at the Edinburgh Fringe
If you’d like to support the Edinburgh Fringe production of Broke as a Joke: GoFundMe campaign
To have your show reviewed for Enjoy the Veal, email: sag@thelaughterfoundation.org

Steven Spielberg’s favorite matzah brei recipe

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Why is this matzah brei different from all others?

It’s a favorite of Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg, that’s why.

The Academy Award-winning director — the force behind “Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “E.T.” and scores of other popular films — has shared his family matzah brei recipe with Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s upscale food and lifestyle website.

“Uncle Morty’s Gourmet Matzos Brie,” as it’s called at Goop, calls for the slightly unusual method of soaking matzah pieces in milk instead of water. It also includes chopped onion — placing it definitively in the savory, not sweet, category.

It also specifies a specific brand of matzah: Streit’s, “in business since 1925,” the recipe notes. Streit’s made headlines when it closed its iconic Lower East Side factory in 2015 and moved production to New Jersey.

Goop also published Jewish food maven Joan Nathan’s matzah brie recipe in a special “Kosher For Passover” section. (By contrast, Nathan’s recipe uses water and schmaltz and calls for a sweet topping, such as cinnamon, honey or maple syrup.)

Matzah brei, which is essentially pieces of matzah fried with eggs, is having a bit of a moment: A specialty matzah brei stand popped up at a New York City market last fall, and a slew of new recipes have been published online.

“I think people are always looking for the next thing to modernize,” said Shannon Sarna-Goldberg, editor of the Jewish food blog The Nosher, a sister site of JTA. “And matzah brei is both beloved and kind of bland, so takes well to flavors.”

One such “flavor” recommended by Spielberg: truffle salt (“if you’re feeling fancy,” as the recipe states).

For the full scoop, head to Goop.

‘Five Came Back’: When Hollywood went to war

Illustration courtesy of Netflix

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Europe and Asia became embroiled in conflict. The American public, remembering the horrors of the First World War, were reluctant to enter into another bloodbath. American military and political leaders needed to make clear what was at stake. So they turned to Hollywood.

“Five Came Back,” a three-part docu-series premiering March 31 on Netflix, tells the stories of five directors who interrupted their lucrative careers to go to the front lines of battle.

In the prewar years, more than half of American adults went to the movies at least once a week, and this quintet of artists — John Ford, Frank Capra, William Wyler, George Stevens and John Huston — were responsible for some of the biggest blockbuster films of their time. Their popularity helped drive box office attendance for their war films, which in turn mobilized a divided America to support the war effort.

Rather than use traditional war-related interview subjects, such as historians, family members and veterans, “Five Came Back” takes a novel approach. It pairs one of five contemporary directors — Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo Del Toro, Paul Greengrass and Lawrence Kasdan — to each of the five WWII-era filmmakers. The depth of the younger directors’ knowledge about their subjects is impressive, and they reflect on the influence these earlier directors had on their own careers.

“Each of them participates on an epic scale in the grandest interventions and the largest war the world has ever seen,” del Toro says in the film.

This project came out of a long collaboration between Laurent Bouzereau, director of “Five Came Back,” and Spielberg. Bouzereau was tapped by Amblin Television in 1995 to make a documentary for the re-release of Spielberg’s comedy “1941.” The project coincided with the rise of home entertainment, first with LaserDiscs and then DVD, and film distributors were looking for special features to add to the films.

“There was a real need for documentary filmmakers like myself to document older movies and also new productions,” Bouzereau said.

Bouzereau made retrospective documentaries about “Jaws” and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” as well, and then, beginning with “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” Spielberg asked him to join him on set to capture the filmmaking process. He also made a documentary about Spielberg’s longtime collaboration with composer John Williams included with a just-released music score box set.

Through Spielberg’s connections, Bouzereau forged his own relationships with filmmakers like Brian De Palma, Roman Polanski and William Friedkin, and has documented more than 150 films.

The Netflix documentary is based on journalist Mark Harris’ best-selling 2014 book “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War.” Harris wrote the script for the documentary and took an active role in the making of the film.

“It’s not only about Hollywood, it’s about history. So there’s a real responsibility toward it,” Bouzereau said. “I had to embrace the subject matter and make sure it was faithful to the book, and also cinematic.”

The filmmaker-experts speak directly to the camera. Bouzereau used documentarian Errol Morris’ “Interrotron” technology; it enables the director to shoot through a simple two-way mirror with a video monitor mounted under the camera lens, enabling him to film his subject while making direct eye contact from the exact same angle. This approach adds an additional level of intimacy and drama. Bouzereau resisted using the technology at first but came around to the idea after trying it with Spielberg and seeing the results.

The film is structured chronologically, weaving together the stories of the five filmmakers. Their paths cross at some points, as in the case of the Normandy invasion, when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe, sent George Stevens and John Ford to film the D-Day landing. The images preserved the memory of that historic event, and influenced future films, including Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.”

The series is divided into three parts, each roughly an hour. Meryl Streep provides the narration. Bouzereau and his editing team combed through more than 100 hours of archival and newsreel footage, watched more than 40 documentaries and training films directed and produced by the five directors, and reviewed clips from 50 studio films and more than 30 hours of outtakes and raw footage from their war movies.

Part 1 covers the buildup to the war, including the United States’ hesitation to enter the conflict and the prewar feature films that established these filmmakers as major Hollywood auteurs. It also explained the government’s rationale for wanting to incorporate the directors into their plans, especially to counter the work of Leni Riefenstahl and other Axis-power filmmakers.

“Cinema in its purest form could be put in the service of propaganda. Hitler and [his minister of propaganda Joseph] Goebbels understood the power of the cinema to move large populations toward your way of thinking,” Francis Ford Coppola says in the movie.

Part 2 shows each filmmaker finding his place in the war, doing something that had never been done before: showing American audiences exactly what it was like to serve on the front lines of battle. The films had mixed receptions at the box office, but they showed audiences a gritty portrayal of combat that differed from the glorified battle scenes of earlier feature films. The films revealed how a soldier’s life can be terrifying at times, and at other times monotonous.

Part 3 covers the D-Day invasion and the culmination of the war. It also includes shocking footage inside the Dachau concentration camp. The images are unforgettable: corpses piled up like garbage, survivors in states of shock, and the brutal mechanisms of extermination. George Stevens had to convince his crew to keep filming, to understand that these pictures would serve as an indictment and official record of the Nazi death camps. Some of the films were shown during the Nuremberg trials.

“These documentaries that the five filmmakers made were powerful for American audiences,” Spielberg says in the film. “These filmmakers that came back with footage about the truth of that war were changed forever.”

“Five Came Back” is a stark reminder that when U.S. soldiers went to fight and die for their country, Hollywood went along with them and brought the reality of the war home to Americans. For the first time, the film industry lent its storytelling abilities to a patriotic purpose, and it changed the course of history.

Leah Adler, restaurateur and mother of Steven Spielberg, dies at 97

Leah Adler

Leah Adler, a well-known restaurateur and former concert pianist and painter, died Tuesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 97.

Most of America and the world first heard her name when her son, Steven Spielberg, kissed her and described her as “my lucky charm” while accepting an Academy Award as director of the film “Schindler’s List.”

Although invariably linked to her famous son, during the last four decades of her life, Adler she earned almost equal renown as proprietor, greeter and presiding presence at the strictly kosher The Milky Way restaurant on West Pico Boulevard, popular with Orthodox rabbis, show biz luminaries and tourists.

Born Jan. 12, 1920, in Cincinnati as Leah Posner, she was raised during the Roaring Twenties and the subsequent Depression. At 5, she learned to play the piano and studied at her city’s music conservatory.

Shortly before the United States entered World War II, she had a single date with Arnold Meyer Spielberg, corresponded with him with him while he served with the Army Air Corps in the Pacific, and married him after his discharge in 1945.

Over the next 10 years, the couple had four children — son Steven and daughters Anne, Sue and Nancy — all raised in a somewhat chaotic home environment that encouraged their different talents.

“Leah and I had an open house in the sense that we gave all our children a lot of freedom to do their own things and develop their imaginations,” Arnold Spielberg told the Journal in a 2012 interview.

His wife expanded on this assessment. “Everything in our household was exciting, everything had an edge of hysteria,” she remarked in an interview.

As Arnold Spielberg evolved into one of the pioneers in computers and system engineering, he moved frequently from city to city and his growing family with him.

Along the way the family encountered the prevalent anti-Semitism of the times. For instance, in Scottsdale, Ariz., a neighboring family used to stand outside the family home chanting, “The Spielbergs are dirty Jews.”

One morning, she recounted, she got a hysterical phone call from the neighbors. It seemed that 10-year old Steven had snuck out of the house during the night and smeared all their windows with peanut butter. Characteristically, the mother did not scold her son for this prank. As she recalled the incident later, she commented, “Wasn’t that ingenious of Steven? I was so proud of him.”

The proud mother also passed on a special skill to her son, who has a sideline of making matzah brei twice a week, occasionally for an entire film crew during a shoot.

“My mom used to make it when I was growing up, so it reminds me of home,” the filmmaker said. “My mom used to make salami and eggs one day, and matzah brei the next day.”

Leah and Arnold Spielberg divorced in 1965 and two years later she married Bernard Adler. In the late 1970s, the couple opened The Milky Way restaurant, with the husband handling the business end and he wife as hostess, greeter and reigning presence. She also was in charge of the hallway art gallery, featuring posters of each of her son’s movies.

The petite hostess became a popular, frequently quoted public figure who counseled foreign tourists on the fine points of kosher cuisine and on general life problems.

Nancy Spielberg described her mother as “well-known for her red lipstick and Peter Pan collars, for her love of daisies, blue jeans and sparkling bling … she loved camping, fishing and crossword puzzles and is best remembered for her limitless love for the people around her.”

Another characteristic was Leah Adler’s sharp wit and a gift for the bon mot. At a party in her restaurant following the triumph of “Schindler’s List” at the Academy Awards, she observed, “I told Steve if I had known how famous he was going to be I’d have my uterus bronzed.”

At the same party, a prominent Hollywood talent agent jokingly told the then-74-year-old Adler that he had a deal for her to star in three movies. Adler looked at the man sternly and demanded, ‘No nudity.’”

Leah Adler is survived by her four children, 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Her first husband, Arnold Spielberg, turned 100 this month and her second husband, Bernard Adler, died in 1995 at 75.

Moving and Shaking: USC Shoah Foundation, Israeli American Council, Danielle Berrin and more

For those eager to rub shoulders with Hollywood royalty, a great place to be was the annual Ambassadors for Humanity gala, benefiting the USC Shoah Foundation — The Institute for Visual History and Education.

Where else could you see Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford and Kerry Washington among many other famous people onstage, while feasting on a dinner catered by Wolfgang Puck as composer John Williams conducted an orchestra in selections from his own work, starting, of course, with the “Star Wars” theme?

The Dec. 8 dinner at the Ray Dolby Ballroom in the Hollywood and Highland Center in Hollywood was a mixture of high spirits and laughs, courtesy of “Late Late Show” host James Corden; appreciation for the Shoah Foundation’s work; and anxious references to America’s future under President-elect Donald Trump (though his name was never mentioned).

The Shoah Foundation is an outgrowth of the phenomenal impact of the movie “Schindler’s List” and, in just one aspect of its work, has collected some 54,000 video testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and of the Armenian, Darfur and other genocides.

One of the most eloquent speakers was Mellody Hobson, a leader in finance and education, who was honored alongside her husband, filmmaker and entrepreneur Lucas. She praised the Shoah Foundation for “giving a face to the faceless,” and observed that in America, “we are now frozen in time, waiting to see what happens.”

Despite the foundation’s impressive accomplishments, founder Spielberg, pointing to the endless slaughter in Syria, said, “We have not come far enough.” He ended his remarks with the clarion call, “There can be no more bystanders.”

The more than 700 guests at the event contributed about $3.5 million to the Shoah Foundation, according to Anne-Marie Stein, the foundation’s director of communications.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

From left: Actor Rob Morrow, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Regional Director Amanda Susskind, ADL Humanitarian Award recipients Curtis and Priscilla Tamkin, ADL Jurisprudence Award recipient Gary Roberts and ADL Regional Board Chair Ivy Kagan Bierman. Photo by Michael Kovac

The Pacific Southwest region of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) honored Priscilla and Curtis Tamkin and Gary Roberts during its annual gala on Dec. 6 at the Beverly Hilton.

The Tamkins, who received the Humanitarian Award, are committed to the arts, animal welfare and tikkun olam, according to ADL National Chair Marvin Nathan, who introduced them.

Roberts, executive vice president at Fox Group Legal at Fox Entertainment Group, received the Jurisprudence Award. He spoke of his recent trip to Auschwitz and the need to push back against the rise of anti-Semitism.

Attendees included actor Rob Morrow, who emceed the event, which raised nearly $1 million for the ADL; regional board chair Ivy Kagan Bierman; ADL Pacific Southwest Regional Director Amanda Susskind; former ADL National Executive Director Abraham Foxman; and Jewish Journal President David Suissa.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, Fox Filmed Entertainment CEO Jim Gianopulos and attorney Gerson Zweifach served as honorary co-chairs. The Los Angeles Master Chorale provided the entertainment.

The ADL combats anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry.

From left: Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg, Jewish Journal President David Suissa and Julia Grundwerg attend a commemoration for Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Photo by Michael Kovac

The Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles sponsored an event called Commemoration of Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands and Iranon Dec. 8 at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. 

The event highlighted the story of the more than 850,000 Jewish refugees of Arab lands and the need to educate the world about how this story must be recognized in conversation about the State of Israel and the history of the Jewish experience.

The program’s participants included Senior Rabbi Tal Sessler of Sephardic Temple, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and Jewish Journal President David Suissa. A musical performance featured Yoni Arbel and Asher Levy of Bazaar Ensemble and Baba Sale Congregation chazan-cantor Liran Shalom Kohn.

Nov. 30 is the official day when Israel and the Jewish world remember the fate of the more than 850,000 Jews who were forced out of Arab countries and Iran in the 20th century. This day of memory commemorates the tragedy of people who were forced to flee from their homes and to leave the countries where they had lived for millennia. 

During his remarks, Suissa said the Jewish Diaspora’s support for Jewish refugees underscores how Jews stick together.

“Today is a day of solidarity, and it’s a day that reminds me of how good Jews are at taking care of each other,” Suissa said. “I hope for the day that our Arab neighbors could do as well as we do when it comes to taking care of each other. I want to tell them to look at our story.”

Among the more than 250 attendees were Sephardic Temple President Alexander Rachmanony; Nathaniel Malka, vice president of Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA); and Iranian American Jewish Federation President Susan Azizzadeh.

The gathering followed a Dec. 7 commemoration of Jewish refugees from Arab countries at Los Angeles City Hall, where participants included L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz; Israeli philanthropist Adam Milstein and his wife, Gila; Farah Shamolian, Los Angeles program coordinator at JIMENA; Rabbi Raif Melhado of Kahal Joseph Congregation; and Shanel Melamed, executive director at 30 Years After.

— Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

THE BFG *Movie Review*

Book-to-movie adaptations are tricky work.  What works in a book may not translate well to screen and that’s where Steven Spielberg‘s THE BFG stumbles.  Each individual element of the movie seems like it should work, from the two time Oscar winner production designer Rick Carter to last year’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Mark Rylance as the title character.  The music is beautiful as well.  However, bringing realistic-looking giants to life when they eat children is a tricky proposition since visuals like that take the movie squarely out of the “family friendly” camp.  THE BFG lacks the darker elements of the story, and that’s part of what makes it a bit dull.

The young girl who plays Sophie, Ruby Barnhill, doesn’t quite mesh with Mark Rylance‘s Big Friendly Giant.  Their cadence is different and at times they seem to talk at each other vs with each other.  The character of Sophie who worked well in the book comes off in the movie as a slightly unlikable know-it-all.

For an in-depth analysis of the themes in THE BFG, take a look below:

—>Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

Steven Spielberg reportedly working on Walter Cronkite feature

Award-winning director Steven Spielberg reportedly is working on a feature project about the late veteran newscaster Walter Cronkite and his role in turning American public opinion against the Vietnam War.

Spielberg would team up for the project with his “Bridge of Spies” crew – screenwriter Matt Charman and producer Marc Platt — Deadline first reported Tuesday.

Charman suggested the idea to Spielberg while they were garnering awards for “Bridge of Spies.” He reportedly is working on the script.

Spielberg, whose film “The BFG” is set to be released on July 1, is gearing up to direct a film about the struggle of 19th-century parents to regain their son who was forcibly taken to be raised as a Christian after secretly being baptized.

The script for “The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara” was written by the Tony Award-winning American playwright Tony Kushner based on the nonfiction book by Pulitzer Prize winner David Kertzer.

The 1997 book tells the story of a 6-year-old boy who was seized from his family’s home in 1858 after his baptism as an infant by the family’s serving girl. The family went up against Pope Pius IX, who took a personal interest in the boy, in their efforts to have him returned in a case that became an international cause celebre.

Spielberg, who is Jewish, “has been attached to this film for some time,” Variety reported.

Mark Rylance, who starred in “Bridge of Spies,” and won an Academy Award for best supporting actor, is set to play Pope Pius IX.

Steven Spielberg’s commencement speech at Harvard University

Thank you, thank you, President Faust, and Paul Choi, thank you so much.

It’s an honor and a thrill to address this group of distinguished alumni and supportive friends and kvelling parents. We’ve all gathered to share in the joy of this day, so please join me in congratulating Harvard’s Class of 2016.

I can remember my own college graduation, which is easy, since it was only 14 years ago. How many of you took 37 years to graduate? Because, like most of you, I began college in my teens, but sophomore year, I was offered my dream job at Universal Studios, so I dropped out. I told my parents if my movie career didn’t go well, I’d re-enroll.

It went all right.

But eventually, I returned for one big reason. Most people go to college for an education, and some go for their parents, but I went for my kids. I’m the father of seven, and I kept insisting on the importance of going to college, but I hadn’t walked the walk. So, in my fifties, I re-enrolled at Cal State — Long Beach, and I earned my degree.

I just have to add: It helped that they gave me course credit in paleontology for the work I did on Jurassic Park. That’s three units for Jurassic Park, thank you.

Well I left college because I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and some of you know, too — but some of you don’t. Or maybe you thought you knew but are now questioning that choice. Maybe you’re sitting there trying to figure out how to tell your parents that you want to be a doctor and not a comedy writer.

Well, what you choose to do next is what we call in the movies the ‘character-defining moment.’ Now, these are moments you’re very familiar with, like in the last Star Wars: The Force Awakens, when Rey realizes the force is with her. Or Indiana Jones choosing mission over fear by jumping over a pile of snakes.

Now in a two-hour movie, you get a handful of character-defining moments, but in real life, you face them every day. Life is one strong, long string of character-defining moments. And I was lucky that at 18 I knew what I exactly wanted to do. But I didn’t know who I was. How could I? And how could any of us? Because for the first 25 years of our lives, we are trained to listen to voices that are not our own. Parents and professors fill our heads with wisdom and information, and then employers and mentors take their place and explain how this world really works.

And usually these voices of authority make sense, but sometimes, doubt starts to creep into our heads and into our hearts. And even when we think, ‘that’s not quite how I see the world,’ it’s kind of easier to just to nod in agreement and go along, and for a while, I let that going along define my character. Because I was repressing my own point of view, because like in that Nilsson song, ‘Everybody was talkin’ at me, so I couldn’t hear the echoes of my mind.’

And at first, the internal voice I needed to listen to was hardly audible, and it was hardly noticeable — kind of like me in high school. But then I started paying more attention, and my intuition kicked in.

And I want to be clear that your intuition is different from your conscience. They work in tandem, but here’s the distinction: Your conscience shouts, ‘here’s what you should do,’ while your intuition whispers, ‘here’s what you could do.’ Listen to that voice that tells you what you could do. Nothing will define your character more than that.

Because once I turned to my intuition, and I tuned into it, certain projects began to pull me into them, and others, I turned away from.

And up until the 1980s, my movies were mostly, I guess what you could call ‘escapist.’ And I don’t dismiss any of these movies — not even 1941. Not even that one. And many of these early films reflected the values that I cared deeply about, and I still do. But I was in a celluloid bubble, because I’d cut my education short, my worldview was limited to what I could dream up in my head, not what the world could teach me.

But then I directed The Color Purple. And this one film opened my eyes to experiences that I never could have imagined, and yet were all too real. This story was filled with deep pain and deeper truths, like when Shug Avery says, ‘Everything wants to be loved.’ My gut, which was my intuition, told me that more people needed to meet these characters and experience these truths. And while making that film, I realized that a movie could also be a mission.

I hope all of you find that sense of mission. Don’t turn away from what’s painful. Examine it. Challenge it.

My job is to create a world that lasts two hours. Your job is to create a world that lasts forever. You are the future innovators, motivators, leaders and caretakers.

And the way you create a better future is by studying the past. Jurassic Park writer Michael Crichton, who graduated from both this college and this medical school, liked to quote a favorite professor of his who said that if you didn’t know history, you didn’t know anything. You were a leaf that didn’t know it was part of a tree. So history majors: Good choice, you’re in great shape…Not in the job market, but culturally.

The rest of us have to make a little effort. Social media that we’re inundated and swarmed with is about the here and now. But I’ve been fighting and fighting inside my own family to get all my kids to look behind them, to look at what already has happened. Because to understand who they are is to understand who were were, and who their grandparents were, and then, what this country was like when they emigrated here. We are a nation of immigrants — at least for now.

So to me, this means we all have to tell our own stories. We have so many stories to tell. Talk to your parents and your grandparents, if you can, and ask them about their stories. And I promise you, like I have promised my kids, you will not be bored.

And that’s why I so often make movies based on real-life events. I look to history not to be didactic, ‘cause that’s just a bonus, but I look because the past is filled with the greatest stories that have ever been told. Heroes and villains are not literary constructs, but they’re at the heart of all history.

And again, this is why it’s so important to listen to your internal whisper. It’s the same one that compelled Abraham Lincoln and Oskar Schindler to make the correct moral choices. In your defining moments, do not let your morals be swayed by convenience or expediency. Sticking to your character requires a lot of courage. And to be courageous, you’re going to need a lot of support.

And if you’re lucky, you have parents like mine. I consider my mom my lucky charm. And when I was 12 years old, my father handed me a movie camera, the tool that allowed me to make sense of this world. And I am so grateful to him for that. And I am grateful that he’s here at Harvard, sitting right down there.

My dad is 99 years old, which means he’s only one year younger than Widener Library. But unlike Widener, he’s had zero cosmetic work. And dad, there’s a lady behind you, also 99, and I’ll introduce you after this is over, okay?

But look, if your family’s not always available, there’s backup. Near the end of It’s a Wonderful Life — you remember that movie, It’s a Wonderful Life? Clarence the Angel inscribes a book with this: “No man is a failure who has friends.” And I hope you hang on to the friendships you’ve made here at Harvard. And among your friends, I hope you find someone you want to share your life with. I imagine some of you in this yard may be a tad cynical, but I want to be unapologetically sentimental. I spoke about the importance of intuition and how there’s no greater voice to follow. That is, until you meet the love of your life. And this is what happened when I met and married Kate, and that became the greatest character-defining moment of my life.

Love, support, courage, intuition. All of these things are in your hero’s quiver, but still, a hero needs one more thing: A hero needs a villain to vanquish. And you’re all in luck. This world is full of monsters. And there’s racism, homophobia, ethnic hatred, class hatred, there’s political hatred, and there’s religious hatred.

As a kid, I was bullied — for being Jewish. This was upsetting, but compared to what my parents and grandparents had faced, it felt tame. Because we truly believed that anti-Semitism was fading. And we were wrong. Over the last two years, nearly 20,000 Jews have left Europe to find higher ground. And earlier this year, I was at the Israeli embassy when President Obama stated the sad truth. He said: ‘We must confront the reality that around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise. We cannot deny it.’

My own desire to confront that reality compelled me to start, in 1994, the Shoah Foundation. And since then, we’ve spoken to over 53,000 Holocaust survivors and witnesses in 63 countries and taken all their video testimonies. And we’re now gathering testimonies from genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, Armenia and Nanking. Because we must never forget that the inconceivable doesn’t happen — it happens frequently. Atrocities are happening right now. And so we wonder not just, ‘When will this hatred end?’ but, ‘How did it begin?’

Now, I don’t have to tell a crowd of Red Sox fans that we are wired for tribalism. But beyond rooting for the home team, tribalism has a much darker side. Instinctively and maybe even genetically, we divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them.’ So the burning question must be: How do all of us together find the ‘we?’ How do we do that? There’s still so much work to be done, and sometimes I feel the work hasn’t even begun. And it’s not just anti-Semitism that’s surging — Islamophobia’s on the rise, too. Because there’s no difference between anyone who is discriminated against, whether it’s the Muslims, or the Jews, or minorities on the border states, or the LGBT community — it is all big one hate.

And to me, and, I think, to all of you, the only answer to more hate is more humanity. We gotta repair — we have to replace fear with curiosity. ‘Us’ and ‘them’ — we’ll find the ‘we’ by connecting with each other. And by believing that we’re members of the same tribe. And by feeling empathy for every soul — even Yalies.

My son graduated from Yale, thank you …

But make sure this empathy isn’t just something that you feel. Make it something you act upon. That means vote. Peaceably protest. Speak up for those who can’t and speak up for those who may be shouting but aren’t being hard. Let your conscience shout as loud as it wants if you’re using it in the service of others.

And as an example of action in service of others, you need to look no further than this Hollywood-worthy backdrop of Memorial Church. Its south wall bears the names of Harvard alumni — like President Faust has already mentioned — students and faculty members, who gave their lives in World War II. All told, 697 souls, who once tread the ground where stand now, were lost. And at a service in this church in late 1945, Harvard President James Conant — which President Faust also mentioned — honored the brave and called upon the community to ‘reflect the radiance of their deeds.’

Seventy years later, this message still holds true. Because their sacrifice is not a debt that can be repaid in a single generation. It must be repaid with every generation. Just as we must never forget the atrocities, we must never forget those who fought for freedom. So as you leave this college and head out into the world, continue please to ‘reflect the radiance of their deeds,’ or as Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan would say, “Earn this.”

And please stay connected. Please never lose eye contact. This may not be a lesson you want to hear from a person who creates media, but we are spending more time looking down at our devices than we are looking in each other’s eyes. So, forgive me, but let’s start right now. Everyone here, please find someone’s eyes to look into. Students, and alumni and you too, President Faust, all of you, turn to someone you don’t know or don’t know very well. They may be standing behind you, or a couple of rows ahead. Just let your eyes meet. That’s it. That emotion you’re feeling is our shared humanity mixed in with a little social discomfort.

But, if you remember nothing else from today, I hope you remember this moment of human connection. And I hope you all had a lot of that over the past four years. Because today you start down the path of becoming the generation on which the next generation stands. And I’ve imagined many possible futures in my films, but you will determine the actual future. And I hope that it’s filled with justice and peace.

And finally, I wish you all a true, Hollywood-style happy ending. I hope you outrun the T. rex, catch the criminal and for your parents’ sake, maybe every now and then, just like E.T.: Go home. Thank you.

Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg return for new ‘Indiana Jones’ film

Harrison Ford and director Steven Spielberg will return for a fifth installment of action-adventure franchise “Indiana Jones” due for release in July 2019, Walt Disney Co said Tuesday.

Ford, 73, will reprise his role as the charming rogue archaeologist who first appeared in 1981's “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with a penchant for getting into trouble on his quests to find historical treasure.

“Indiana Jones is one of the greatest heroes in cinematic history and we can't wait to bring him back to the screen in 2019,” Disney chairman Alan Horn said in a statement. 

The as yet untitled film will come 11 years after the last installment, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” in which Ford's Jones reunited with his first love Marion (Karen Allen) and discovered he had a grown-up son, Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf).

Disney did not immediately say if Allen and LaBeouf will return and did not reveal any plot details. Franchise producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall will produce. 

The “Indiana Jones” franchise has grossed nearly $2 billion at the global box office with four films and amassed a global fan base.

Ford cemented his action-star status with the role of Indiana Jones and as space smuggler Han Solo in the “Star Wars” franchise.

The veteran actor most recently reprised his role as Solo in Disney's “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the third highest-grossing film worldwide of all time.

Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton? Who Jewish celebrities are backing

Chalk it up to “Hollywood values.”

The entertainment industry famously, or infamously, depending on your perspective, leans Democratic. And Jewish celebrities are no exception.

With the 2016 Iowa caucuses kicking off the presidential primary season on Monday, pollsters have Democratic candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., neck and neck in the state.

The all-important race for Jewish celebrity endorsements is close too. Here’s a breakdown of where things stand.


Lena Dunham attending the Lena Dunham and Planned Parenthood Host Sex, Politics & Film Cocktail Reception at The Spur in Park City, Utah, Jan. 24, 206.  (Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)Lena Dunham attending the Lena Dunham and Planned Parenthood Host Sex, Politics & Film Cocktail Reception at The Spur in Park City, Utah, Jan. 24, 2016. Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

Lena Dunham

The “Girls” creator and star is one of Clinton’s most outspoken supporters. In addition to lending a hand on the campaign trail, Dunham interviewed the former secretary of state-former New York senator-former first lady last fall in an attempt to boost her appeal among younger voters.

Steven Spielberg

The famed director has donated $1 million to Clinton’s current campaign. Back in 2000, it was rumored that Spielberg lent his Trump Tower corporate apartment to Clinton while she was running for the senate — and that he gave her “likeability” lessons.

J.J. Abrams

The “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” director and his wife each donated $500,000 to Clinton super PAC Priorities USA last June.

“[Hillary] does have the experience and the politics. She is compassionate, and right. When I look at the people who need the support that aren’t necessarily getting it, I believe that she would provide that,” Abrams told The Daily Beast on Monday.

Barbra Streisand

“Babs” proclaimed her support on Twitter as soon as Clinton launched her campaign last June.

Amy Schumer

The comedian and “Trainwreck” creator and star joked last fall that Clinton did not sound thrilled when she offered to help on the campaign trail — but she did offer.

Dustin Hoffman

“Rain Man” predicted Clinton would be the next president all the way back in 2010.

Abbi Jacobson

The co-creator and co-star of Comedy Central’s quirky hit “Broad City” showed her Clinton pride on Instagram well before it was announced last month that the former First Lady would appear in an episode of the show’s upcoming third season.


Sarah Silverman

The comedian and actress had some kind words for Sanders when she introduced him at a campaign rally last August.

“Where other candidates are getting gigantic sums of money from billionaires in exchange for compromising favors, Bernie is not for sale,” Silverman said to a large crowd.

Simon and Garfunkel

The folk legends allowed the Sanders campaign to use their song “America” in a recent campaign ad. Paul Simon did not comment on the ad, but Art Garfunkel told The New York Times that he is a “Bernie guy.”

“I like that Bernie is very upset by the gap between the rich and the poor,” Garfunkel said. “I think that’s central.”

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield

The Ben & Jerry’s co-founders are from Burlington, Vermont — which means they have been Sanders constituents for over 30 years as he has gone from mayor to representative to senator. The ice cream mavens, who are now out on the campaign trail, gave out free ice cream at Sanders’ campaign launch last spring.

If that wasn’t enough, Cohen recently created 40 pints of a special Bernie Sanders ice cream flavor — which has a chocolate disk on top of a tub of mint ice cream meant to represent the “1 percent.” By breaking up the disk, ice cream eaters symbolically join Bernie in his crusade the redistribute the wealth.

Ezra Koenig

Koenig, the singer of New York indie band Vampire Weekend, performed this past weekend at a Sanders event the University of Iowa. Sanders even got on stage to sing when the musicians played “This Land is Your Land.”

“I think there’s something so cool about Bernie running as a Democrat, a guy who was the only Independent in the house for a long time, the only Independent in the senate, a guy who kind of comes from an outside structure,” Koenig told CNN afterwards.

Jeremy Piven

The “Entourage” star praised Sanders for his “straight talk” in a Facebook post last summer.

Zoe Kravitz

Kravitz is the daughter of two half-black, half-Jewish celebrities: rocker Lenny Kravitz and actress Lisa Bonet. She signed an endorsement letter along with 127 other artists and celebrities who back Sanders — from Will Ferrell to rapper Killer Mike — last fall.

How the Chabad rebbe helped create food stamps, and other Jewish Medal of Freedom stories

Barack Obama got a big laugh at the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony on Tuesday when he pretended not to know Barbra Streisand was Jewish.

It was just one of many Jewish moments in one of the most Jewish iterations of the ceremony in memory. Four of the 17 people awarded the United State’s highest civilian honor were Jews: Streisand, violin virtuoso Yitzhak Perlman, film director Steven Spielberg and composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.

But the president only alluded to the deeply Jewish story of how Shirley Chisholm — the first black congresswoman, who died in 2005 — helped introduce food stamps in the United States.

Here’s Obama on the affair: “When Shirley was assigned to the House Agricultural Committee — despite the fact that her district was from New York City — she said, ‘Apparently all they know here in Washington about Brooklyn is that a tree grew there.’ But she made the most of her new role, helping to create the supplemental nutrition program that feeds poor mothers and their children.”

In a video on Chabad’s website, David Luchins, a longtime aide to Democrats who is also active in the Orthodox Jewish community, tells the story of how Chisholm, at her retirement party in 1983, recounted that while she was initially furious, she came to see the appointment as a blessing.

This change of heart came about because a Crown Heights constituent, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher rebbe, heard she was frustrated and asked for a meeting.

As recounted in Joseph Telushkin’s 2014 book, “Rebbe,” Schneerson said to her: “What a blessing God has given you. This country has so much surplus food and there are so many hungry people and you can use this gift that God’s given you to feed hungry people. Find a creative way to do it.”

On Chisholm’s first working day in Congress, she met freshman Republican senator from Kansas and future presidential candidate, Robert Dole, who happened to mention his own constituent dilemma: What to do with the surpluses his state’s farmers were producing.

Chisholm remembered Schneerson’s advice. “One second – the rabbi!” Chisholm recalled thinking, according to Luchins. The result was legislation she co-wrote with Dole, massively expanding the then-infant food stamps program.

“This rabbi in Crown Heights had vision,” Chisholm said at her retirement party.

While Shneerson didn’t receive any credit at the Medal of Freedom ceremony, Judaism got plenty of love.

Obama couldn’t resist departing from script with Streisand, who has been one of his major backers and may have helped turn Florida for him in 2012 with a direct appeal to the state’s Jewish voters. Streisand in turn couldn’t resist mugging, cracking up Spielberg, who was sitting alongside her. (And baseball legend and fellow honoree Willie Mays stood up for Streisand!)

Obama peppered his tribute to Streisand with Yiddishisms commonplace – “chutzpah” – and not so commonplace – “verklempt,” saying:

“Born in Brooklyn to a middle-class Jewish family — I didn’t know you were Jewish, Barbra — Barbra Streisand attended her first Broadway show at age 14 and remembers thinking, ‘I could go up on that stage and play any role without any trouble at all.’ That’s what’s called chutzpah. And it helps when you’ve got amazing talent, all of which made her a global sensation — one whose voice has been described as “liquid diamonds,” and whose fans have considered bronzing her used coffee cups. She has sold more albums in America than any woman in history. She has collected just about every honor and award that there is. I couldn’t believe she hadn’t gotten this one. Off the stage, she has been a passionate advocate for issues like heart disease and women’s equality. I’m getting all ‘verklempt’ just thinking about it.”

There were Jewish references too in the eulogy of Spielberg, noting his role in creating the Shoah Foundation, lending “a voice to survivors of genocide around the world.” And of course, Perlman’s Israeli origins were noted.

Moving and shaking: The Israeli Philharmonic, Beit Issie Shapiro and more

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performed at a Nov. 10 concert gala that raised more than $1.6 million for education programs in Israel and Los Angeles. It also honored Bram Goldsmith, philanthropist and chairman emeritus of City National Bank, with the “Founders Award for a lifetime of philanthropy and leadership,” according to a statement by David Hirsch, American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (AFIPO) board president, and Jerry Magnin, chairman of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

David Hirsch (left), president of American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and actor Josh Malina were among attendees at an Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performance Nov. 10 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Ryan Torok

The event drew 900 people and took place at the Wallis, which co-organized it with AFIPO.

“In an era when everyone seems to be competing with each other for philanthropic dollars, the Wallis and the Israel Philharmonic want to be leaders in exemplifying what we can achieve by working together and what organizations can accomplish by sharing sources and creative competencies,” Danielle Ames Spivak, AFIPO West Coast director, said in a Nov. 12 phone interview. 

Zubin Mehta, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra music director and co-chairman of AFIPO, conducted the orchestra in back-to-back performances. A dinner followed the first performance, featuring remarks by Helgard Field, a board member at AFIPO; Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel; and Beverly Hills Mayor Julian Gold. Siegel and Gold used the occasion to formalize a partnership between the City of Beverly Hills and Israel focused on water, cybersecurity and more. Beverly Hills City Council voted in support of the agreement on Sept. 1.

“Through this partnership we’re committed to bringing the best of Israel to Beverly Hills,” Siegel said.

Attendees included former California Gov. Gray Davis; actor Josh Malina (“Scandal,” “The West Wing”); Les Bider, chairman of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; and Stephen Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California.

A nonprofit, AFIPO raises funds and awareness for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which was founded in 1936 by Jewish refugees.

The American Friends of Beit Issie Shapiro (AFOBIS) West Coast region held its 13th annual gala on Nov. 8 at Sinai Temple, honoring regional board members Klara and Martin Shandling with the Excellence in Leadership Award, and Ernest Katz with the Humanitarian Award.

From left: Benjy Maor, director of international resource development at Beit Issie Shapiro; Klara and Martin Shandling, recipients of the American Friends of Beit Issie Shapiro (AFOBIS) Excellence in Leadership Award; Errol Fine, chairman of the West Coast region of AFOBIS; Jean Judes, executive director of Beit Issie Shapiro; and AFOBIS Humanitarian Award recipient Ernest Katz (right), with wife Frieda. Photo courtesy of American Friends of Beit Issie Shapiro 

Marking the organization’s bar mitzvah year, the event raised approximately $50,000 toward a program providing iPads to children living with disabilities. According to Beit Issie Shapiro, an Israeli-based organization serving children living with autism and other developmental disabilities, iPads are useful tools for children with autism and similar conditions. 

Money raised at the gala is part of an ongoing capital campaign, according to Benjy Maor, director of international resource development at Beit Issie Shapiro.

About 180 attendees turned out, including Beth Jacob Congregation Rabbi Kalman Topp and Jean Judes, executive director of Beit Issie Shapiro.

“I’m thrilled to share the story of Beit Issie and its many successes for children with disabilities, not only in Israel but across the globe,” Shani Smith Fisher, a board member of the regional chapter of AFOBIS, said in an interview. Her husband, television writer Seth Fisher, was among the evening’s speakers. Mark Goldenberg served as master of ceremonies.

Entertainment icons Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand were among the 17 winners of the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom, announced Nov. 16 by President Barack Obama. The awards will be presented at the White House on Nov. 24, according to a press release.

Steven Spielberg. Photo from Wikipedia

“I look forward to presenting these 17 distinguished Americans with our nation’s highest civilian honor. … These men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans,” Obama said in a statement. 

Spielberg, an award-winning filmmaker and successful Hollywood businessman, is known for creating blockbuster movies such as “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park” as well as serious, historical productions, including “Schindler’s List.” 

The Brooklyn-born Streisand is an award-winning actress, director and singer. She’s a philanthropist, as well, endowing the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center in the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. Both Spielberg and Streisand live in the Los Angeles area. 

Among those joining the pair in receiving the award this year are Stephen Sondheim, whose wide-ranging body of work as a theater composer and lyricist includes “Company” and “West Side Story,” and Itzhak Perlman, the Israeli-born violinist.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl recently presented retiring media relations deputy Joel Bellman, 60, a member of Temple Israel of Hollywood, with a scroll marking 26 years of “dedicated and conscientious service to the people of the Third District and the County of Los Angeles.”

L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl presents retiring media relations deputy Joel Bellman with a scroll marking 26 years of “dedicated and conscientious service to the people of the Third District and the County of Los Angeles.” Photo courtesy of County of Los Angeles

The Oct. 27 ceremony was held at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, the headquarters of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

Bellman served under former L.A. County Supervisor Edmund Edelman beginning in 1989 and worked for Zev Yaroslavsky from 1994 to 2014, when he joined Kuehl’s staff.

“From Ed Edelman, who recruited me, to Zev Yaroslavsky and Sheila Kuehl who retained me, it’s been a privilege and an honor to serve three thoughtful, idealistic, committed, and dedicated progressive officeholders,” Bellman wrote in an Oct. 1 article at laobserved.com. He is retiring to pursue some of his passion projects on a full-time basis, he wrote.

“It’s been an incredible experience to be part of,” he said of his service in county government. “But now it’s time to say goodbye to all that.”

Barbara Osborn, Kuehl’s director of communications, succeeded Bellman on Nov. 2.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas.  Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Spielberg and Streisand on list of 17 to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Jewish celebrities Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, Stephen Sondheim and Itzhak Perlman will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given by the United States.

They will be among 17 Americans “who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors” to receive the award, the White House announced Thursday.

President Barack Obama, saying he looked forward to presenting the “distinguished” group with the award, said in a White House news release, “[T]hese men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans.”

Spielberg has won three Academy Awards for his work on films such as “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” Streisand has won two Academy Awards and 10 Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Sondheim’s eight Tony Awards are the most for a composer. He has also won an Academy Award, eight Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize and a Laurence Olivier Award.

Perlman, who grew up in Israel, has won 15 Grammys and is considered to be among the greatest violinists in the world.

Some of the non-Jewish recipients of the award will include baseball legends Willie Mays and the late Yogi Berra, songwriter James Taylor and singer Gloria Estefan.


Moving and shaking

American Friends of The Hebrew University (AFHU) has promoted Sheri Kaufer, 54, to the position of executive director of its Los Angeles region.

Kaufer, who formerly served as AFHU associate executive director of the L.A. region, succeeded Matthew Ross as of June 30. She said she is embracing the job change.

“I could not be more excited to begin serving as our region’s executive director,” she said in a statement. “The Hebrew University [of Jerusalem] is a crown jewel for the entire world, and it is a tremendous privilege to work to support its students, faculty and research.”

Kaufer will help AFHU toward its mission of raising money for one of Israel’s leading research and education institutions. Hebrew University is home to the Albert Einstein Archives.

Kaufer has worked for some 30 years in Jewish communal life. She graduated from UCLA, where an Introduction to Judaism course led by historian Deborah Lipstadt helped Kaufer carve out a career path. She went on to receive a master’s in business administration, with a specialization in nonprofit management, from the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University).

A past executive director at University Synagogue, Kaufer also has served in professional capacities at Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League.

The organization’s leadership — which includes AFHU Los Angeles President Joyce Brandman, Chairman Richard Ziman, Vice Chair Patricia Glaser and Vice Chair Mark Vidergauz — believes Kaufer has what it takes to succeed.

“Ms. Kaufer is a committed, seasoned fundraiser who has worked tirelessly to support The Hebrew University of Jerusalem for a decade,” Brandman said in a statement.

AFHU holds its annual Bel Air Affaire scholarship fundraiser on September 13 at the home of Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker.

The event will honor Bari and Steven Good, a Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles lay leader and an AFHU national board of governors member, respectively, as well as Ronda Lippman, who has served on the event committee for past Bel Air Affaire fundraisers and her husband, Barry, a member of the AFHU national board. 

The USC Shoah Foundation-The Institute for Visual History and Education, which houses more than 50,000 eyewitness Holocaust testimonies, is one step closer to reaching its $150 million fundraising goal, thanks to University of Southern California Trustee Andrew Viterbi, co-founder of cellphone giant Qualcomm, and his wife, Erna, a prominent philanthropist.

Andrew and Erna Viterbi, Photo courtesy of the USC Shoah Foundation

The San Diego couple recently gifted $5 million to endow the Andrew J. and Erna Finci Viterbi Executive Director Chair at the USC Shoah Foundation, according to a USC Shoah Foundation press release.

USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen Smith will serve as the inaugural holder of the chair, which will “amplify efforts to share testimonies of Holocaust and genocide survivors around the world,” the press release said.

The donation was described as “the largest gift the Institute has received since it became part of USC in 2006.” It is part of a larger effort at USC that is seeking to raise more than $6 billion in private philanthropy.  

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg created the foundation — formerly known as the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation — following the release of his 1993 movie, “Schindler’s List.” Over the years, it has grown to become one of the largest digital libraries in the world, representing testimonies from 56 countries in 32 languages and totaling 117,000 viewing hours. Recently, the foundation established a new genocide research center.

This donation will take the foundation even further, according to USC leaders, including President C.L. Max Nikias and Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Dean Steve A. Kay, who expressed their appreciation.

“Andrew and Erna Viterbi stand among USC’s most ardent champions,” Nikias said.

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) held its fourth annual Tools for School Community Day event at Westfield Century City mall on July 27. The program provides free, brand-new backpacks and school supplies — including dictionaries, pens, notebooks and more — to 3,000 poverty-stricken students from kindergarten to eighth grade.

A student receives her backpack filled with school supplies at the JFS Tools for School Community Day event.  Photo courtesy of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles 

“At JFS, we are here to help families facing financial hardships,” JFS President and CEO Paul S. Castro said in a statement about the initiative. “With JFS Tools for School we know that we’re supporting both children and their parents, leading to greater academic success as well.”

About 300 students and their families enjoyed fun activities such as face painting, a bounce house and more at the event. Students also received free haircuts. 

None if it would have been possible without the dedication of volunteers, including the 50 who came with JFS Young Leaders, a group composed of young professionals who engage in need-based philanthropy, social events and volunteerism. They worked with a host of sponsors to pull the day off. JFS volunteers delivered backpacks and supplies to those families who did not attend the event. 

A number of JFS leaders, including Debby Barak, board chair; Shana Passman, vice chair for resource development; and board members Melanie Brunswick and Wendy Ordower, turned out.

Lines of people hoping to get a glimpse of the red carpet were winding around the hilly slopes of Sunset Boulevard on Aug. 6 when the House of Blues in West Hollywood hosted philanthropists determined to fight homelessness as part of the Imagine Ball.

The event was put on by Imagine LA, a nonprofit organization aiming to end the cycle of poverty and homelessness by matching volunteers with deserving locals in need of rehabilitation and support. At one of the information tables, a representative of the nonprofit explained that the organization has been able to help about 20 families this year and hopes that the proceeds from the ball — estimated at about $200,000 — will allow that number to grow. 

Actress Anne Heche — once homeless herself and one of the celebrity co-chairs of the event — discussed her passion for the cause of alleviating homelessness, alongside two of the families who were assisted this year. Heche is on the group’s board of directors as well.

James Tupper and Anne Heche,  Photo by Faye Sadou

Randall Kaplan and John Terzian, two of the main sponsors of the Imagine Ball, which was attended by 800 people, were also on hand to express their gratitude for the large turnout to support the organization. The night was made possible in part by key donor, Tri Nguyen, of Network Capital. 

Up and coming indie-pop band Brave Native started off with a set of high-energy tunes, followed by the mixes of local DJ beeFOWL, while many of the young, hip, mostly high-heeled and suited attendees danced on the main floor. Magic!, a pop-reggae group best known for the hit song “Rude,” was the headlining act, performing a selection from its most recent album. The group closed out the night out with attendees packing the dance floor, singing and swaying along to the hit song.

— Rebecca Weiner, Contributing Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Moving and Shaking: Obama at Shoah Foundation, Righteous Among the Nations Award given

Recalling the horrors of the Holocaust, President Barack Obama urged nations to fight growing anti-Semitism and threats against Israel in his remarks on May 7 to 1,200 supporters of the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation. Obama called for “confronting a rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world.

“We see attacks on Jews in the streets of major Western cities, public places marred by swastikas,” he continued. “From some foreign governments we hear the worst kind of anti-Semitic scapegoating.”

At the same time, “It’s up to us to speak out against rhetoric that threatens the existence of the Jewish homeland and to sustain America’s unshakable commitment to Israel’s security,” Obama declared to loud applause.

The gala at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza marked the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Shoah Foundation by filmmaker Steven Spielberg, following the international success of his Holocaust movie, “Schindler’s List.”

Spielberg presented the Ambassador for Humanity Award to Obama at the event, which raised $4 million for the foundation’s work in compiling video testimonies of 52,000 Holocaust survivors, liberators and other witnesses. The work is continuing with testimonies from the last survivors of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and of the Japanese massacre of Chinese in Nanjing in 1937. More recent testimonies are being collected from survivors of mass killings in Cambodia and Rwanda.

Stressing the importance of these testimonies collected by the Shoah Foundation, Obama said, “The purpose of memory is not simply to preserve the past, it is to protect the future. We can teach our children the hazards of tribalism. We can teach our children to speak out against the casual slur.”

Bruce Springsteen, the evening’s musical entertainment, earned a standing ovation from an audience sprinkled with Hollywood’s heaviest hitters for his renditions of “The Promised Land” and “Dancing in the Dark.” 

TV host and comedian Conan O’Brien served as the evening’s host and suggested that given the massive traffic jams caused by security for the president’s visit, perhaps he could just send his message by Skype the next time around. Praising the Shoah Foundation’s work, O’Brien deadpanned that it “was recording evidence of intolerance long before Donald Sterling’s girlfriend.”

Even with the array of eloquent speakers, they were almost upstaged by Celina Biniaz, who was the youngest person included on Schindler’s famous list.

“Oskar Schindler gave me my life,” the Camarillo resident said. “Steven Spielberg gave me my voice.”

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

The Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles held a Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) ceremony at Stephen S. Wise Temple on May 4 to commemorate Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was among the more than 200 attendees and spoke about the importance of Jewish unity. Israeli Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel participated as well. 

Yiddish theater actor Mike Burstyn served as master of ceremonies. Attendees included philanthropist Shoshana Milstein, who said the memorial Yizkor prayer, Rabbi Hagay Batzri, of Kahal Joseph Congregation, who said the “El Male Rachamim” prayer and singer-songwriter Gilat Rappaport, who recited “Hachol Yizkor” (“The Sand Will Remember”). The Kol Echad Choir from Milken Community Schools performed “Eli, Eli” (“My God, My God”). 

 The event included lighting a memorial candle, laying a memorial wreath and more. 

— Jordan Novack, Contributing Writer

Edward Kruto, left, accepted the Righteous Among the Nations Award on behalf of his late mother.  Israel’s Consul General in L.A. David Siegel presented the award. Photo by Bart Bortholomew/ Simon Wiesenthal Center

Hacienda Heights resident Edward Kruto accepted the Righteous Among the Nations Award on behalf of his late mother, Emilia Krutova, at an April 28 Yom HaShoah event at the Museum of Tolerance.

Krutova was a naturalized American citizen visiting her hometown in Slovakia during World War II. Because of the war, she found herself trapped in her village and decided, despite the danger, to open her home to 12 Jewish people. At the time, Kruto was a young boy, between 6 and 8 years old.

As Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel presented the award to Kruto, he emphasized that Krutova’s courage saved lives.

“Because of Emilia Krutova’s unimaginable bravery, for 12 Jewish souls, the question of annihilation or liberation was answered with freedom,” Siegel said.

The Righteous Among the Nations Award represents an effort of the Israeli Holocaust center, Yad Vashem, to recognize non-Jews who assisted Jews during the Shoah.

Among the others who participated in the event were Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; the Jewish Community Children’s Choir, joined by Sinai Temple’s Cantor Marcus Feldman and under the musical direction of Michelle Green Willner; and Cantors Natan Baram and Arik Wollheim. Bernd Elias, Anne Frank’s closest living relative, took part as well. 

Naomi Ackerman and Daniel Lieber

Naomi Ackerman and Daniel Lieber are this year’s Jewish American Heritage Month honorees. The initiative of Union Bank and KCETLink honors local heroes in the community. “The program pays tribute to exemplary leaders who are making a difference and enriching the lives of others by improving their community, region and the world at large,” a May 1 press release by Union Bank reads.

Ackerman is founder of the Advot Project, a nonprofit that uses theater to promote social justice and activism. Lieber, a physician, is chair and founder of the Holy Land Democracy Project, which sends local teachers to Israel and has them teach a mini-course on the many faces of Israel to charter, private and religious schools when they return.

A private dinner celebration with executives and the winners’ families will take place May 22.

From left: Former L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles’  Dana Erlich and Breed Street Shul Project president Stephen J. Sass came together on April 27. Photo by Gilbert Weingourt

The Breed Street Shul Project’s annual gala, “Praise for Our Past — Raise for our Future,” honored the Fujioka family, the Breed Street Shul Project’s building committee and its pro bono partners on April 27 at the Japanese American National Museum.

Linda Fujioka, a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher, and son William Fujioka, chief executive officer of Los Angeles County, received the Spirit of Boyle Heights Award. The award recognizes “outstanding leadership in civic and community life. Through their contributions to society, recipients reflect the very best traditions of the Eastside: appreciation of family and heritage, celebration of cultural diversity and commitment to tikkun olam, building a better world,” according to a Breed Street Shul Project press release.

The Honorable Menschen Award went to Breed Street Shul project’s building committee and pro bono partners: Robert Chattel, Douglas Erenberg, David Gray, Rodney Freeman, David Johnson, Niles Mitchell, Jon Monkarsh, Valerie Smith, Shane Swerdlow, Erika Trevis, Steve Wallock and Mark Weinstein.

The evening auctioned off original art by Mike Saijo and featured a private viewing of museum exhibition “The Dodgers: Brotherhood of the Game.”

The nonprofit is dedicated to revitalizing the Boyle Heights-based Breed Street Shul.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Obama says kidnapping of Nigerian girls shows man’s ‘darkest impulses’

President Barack Obama issued a somber warning on Wednesday that the kidnapping of Nigerian girls and sectarian conflicts worldwide are a sign that “we have not extinguished man's darkest impulses.”

Obama accepted a humanitarian award from director Steven Spielberg at the University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation, a Holocaust museum founded by Spielberg after he made the film “Schindler's List.”

Obama spoke about a variety of global conflicts including Ukraine, Syria, and the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls by the Boko Haram Islamist militant group.

“We only need to look at today's headlines: The devastation of Syria, the murders and kidnappings in Nigeria, the sectarian conflicts, the tribal conflicts to see that we have not yet extinguished man's darkest impulses,” Obama said.

He expressed alarm about a rising tide of anti-Semitism based on events such as a gunman's attack on two Jewish facilities in Kansas and the distribution of pamphlets in eastern Ukraine that demanded the registration of Jews.

“None of the tragedies that we see today may rise to the full horror of the Holocaust,” he said. However, he said “they demand our attention that we not turn away.”

“We have to act even where there is sometimes ambiguity. Even when the path is not always clearly lit. We have to try. That includes confronting the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the world,” he said.

Obama said Americans must speak out against any rhetoric that threatens the existence of Israel “and to sustain America's unshakeable commitment to Israel's security.”

The Shoah Foundation's annual gala featured Bruce Springsteen performing “Promised Land” and “Dancin' in the Dark,” and a comedy routine from Conan O'Brien.

At Obama's table were Spielberg, Barbra Streisand and “Schindler's List” star Liam Neeson.

Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Paul Tait

USC Shoah Foundation announces center for genocide research

Establishment of a Center for Advanced Genocide Research at the University of Southern California (USC) was announced on April 25 by filmmaker Steven Spielberg, founder of the USC Shoah Foundation, and USC President C.L. Max Nikias, according to a press release.

The center’s primary goals will be to investigate the conditions leading to genocides and how to intervene in time to prevent such mass violence and slaughter.

Spielberg established the Shoah Foundation 20 years ago following release of his Oscar-winning movie, “Schindler’s List.”

The center’s three research areas will be resistance to genocide and mass violence; violence, emotion and behavioral change; and digital genocide studies.

“The USC Shoah Foundation has made tremendous progress during its first 20 years, but its work is far from finished,” Spielberg said in a press release prior to the announcement. “The Institute has collected and indexed nearly 52,000 testimonies and established educational programs, such as iWitness and Teaching with Testimony that bring people who experienced history into classrooms around the world.

“Now comes the next significant chapter, one that establishes the Institute as one of the leading academic centers of excellence for the study of the Holocaust and genocides. The potential is there for groundbreaking research.”

The trove of 52,000 testimonies deal primarily with the Holocaust, but also contains eyewitness accounts of the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi genocide and the 1937 Nanjing massacre, committed by Japanese forces in China. Material on the Armenian and Cambodian genocides will be added to the archives next year.

USC history professor Wolf Gruner will serve as director of the new center. Its first major conference, “Media, Memory and Technology: Exploring the Trajectories of ‘Schindler’s List’” will be held in November 2014 and co-sponsored with the USC Shoah Foundation.

Steven Spielberg announces new genocide research center at USC

A new Center for Advanced Genocide Research at the USC Shoah Foundation — announced today during a press conference at the University of Southern California — represents a milestone for the 20-year-old organization, according to filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg, who established the foundation, said during the event that the center would be a “beacon of hope” for “breaking the cycle that leads to mass violence.”

The center will be a semi-autonomous division of the USC Shoah Foundation where undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty members and late-career faculty — both at USC and elsewhere representing a variety of academic disciplines, from politics to literature — can independently research the trove of genocide source material that belongs to the foundation.

In addition to the more than 50,000 survivor testimonies housed at the USC Shoah Foundation, testimonies, documents and other pieces of evidence from mass atrocities in Rwanda are a part of the organization’s growing collection. This week, the organization received materials related to the Cambodian genocide, according to Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation.

Inspired by his experience making the acclaimed film “Schindler’s List,” Spielberg established the foundation in 1994. Prior to joining USC in 2006, it was known as the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Its goal was to gather testimonies from “survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust,” the foundation’s Web site states.

This year, the USC Shoah Foundation, housed in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, celebrates its 20th anniversary. The announcement was made just days before Yom HaShoah.  

While the new center is more or a less a consolidation of many already existing facets of the USC Shoah Foundation, the intention to focus on research — as opposed to gathering and making accessible education materials — marks a critical shift, Smith told the Journal.

“We have collected at the USC Shoah Foundation the worst part of a century of human civilization in the words of those who experienced genocide, and we want to create a long-term and sustainable way to explore what it means to go through genocide, to learn more deeply from a primary research perspective of what the cases and consequences of genocide are and to do it using the best scholarship we can find,” Smith said. “The reason for that is we are still learning what genocide is.”

Research at the center, which does not have its own physical facility as of yet, will focus on three areas: resistance to genocide and mass violence, violence, emotion and behavioral change and digital genocide studies.

Wolf Gruner, Shapell-Guerin chair in Jewish studies and history professor at USC, will serve as the inaugural director of the center.

Spielberg and Holocaust survivor Miri Becker introduced themselves. Photo by Ryan Torok

Those involved with the new center believe their research could potentially prevent genocide from happening again in the future.

“What we want to try to understand is what it is that enables individuals and groups to push back against the ideology of genocide when its emerging and what can we learn from those inhibitors, because if we can learn something about those it might tell us ways we can inhibit genocide more generally,” Smith said.

Other speakers at the press conference included USC President C.L. Max Nikias and Steve Kay, dean of USC Dornsife College. A panel followed Spielberg’s remarks, featuring Smith, Kay, Gruner and USC psychology and preventive medicine professor Beth Meyerowitz, who also serves as vice provost for faculty affairs.

Meyerowitz, among other things, discussed her experience pouring over survivor testimony, pointing to her surprise that many survivors take up the majority of their two- hour interviews discussing good deeds they were recipients of, as opposed to the horrors of the Shoah.

“We should be teaching people about those small kindnesses,” Meyerowitz said, prompting Spielberg, who was seated in the front row of the audience, to nod in agreement.

More than 100 people, including USC Shoah Foundation supporters and USC administrators, turned out for the press conference.

Janice Kamenir-Reznik, co-founder of Encino-based Jewish World Watch, a genocide-focused advocacy organization, whose Walk to End Genocide is scheduled for Sunday at Pan Pacific Park, was not at the event, but she expressed enthusiasm about the new center.

“The Center for Advanced Genocide Research is another step in the direction of creating a global culture which abhors genocide and stigmatizes its perpetrators,” she wrote in statement to the Journal. “The greater the number and depth of these types of public, respected, academic, well-funded institutes, the greater will be the attention of the world in turning its focus on combating the evils of genocide. … We at Jewish World Watch feel fortunate to have this mighty resource right here in our backyards.”

From right: USC Shoah Foundation Steven Spielberg; USC Shoah Foundation executive director Stephen Smith and USC Dornsife College dean Steve Kay. Photo by Gus Ruelas/USC.

Steven Spielberg’s DJ kids

This might come as incredibly shocking news, but it appears — get ready for this — that Steven Spielberg’s kids are talented. Wonder where they get it from?

DJ siblings Sasha Spielberg, 23, and Theo Spielberg, 25, who make up the group Wardell, have just been signed with Jay Z’s company Roc Nation, according to The Hollywood Reporter. They released the EP “Brother/Sister” earlier this year.

Sasha is the daughter of Spielberg and Kate Capshaw; Theo was adopted by Capshaw and later by Spielberg as well.

In addition to making music, Sasha has just sold a pilot to ABC called “Girls Without Boys,” which she co-wrote with John Goldwyn’s daughter Emily. If that’s not enough star power for you, Rashida Jones is producing.

It must be nice to have connections — and excellent genes.

Peres to honor Spielberg, Wiesel with medal

Israeli President Shimon Peres will award his Presidential Medal of Distinction to Steven Spielberg, Elie Wiesel and five other recipients.

The awards were announced Thursday with a statement from Peres’ office.

Spielberg is being awarded the medal “for his contribution to cinema over the past 50 years and specifically his unique contribution to the memory of the Holocaust, to the State of Israel, to the Jewish people and Tikkun Olam,” according to the statement.

Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, “is one of the world’s top Jewish writers and intellectuals, a Holocaust survivor who for decades has worked to keep alive the memory of the Holocaust across the world and is the leading figure in the United States of America on the subject,” the statement said.

Other recipients of this year’s award, which was instituted in 2012 by Peres, include Brig. Gen (res.) Avigdor Kahalani, a veteran of the Yom Kippur War, “for his leadership and lifelong contribution to Israel’s security;” Rabbi Elimelech Firer who has created a unique medical network for those requiring medical assistance and consultation; Dr. Zvi (Harry) Tabor, who created the National Physical Laboratory of Israel; Avi Naor, founder of Or Yarok , the association for safer driving in Israel; and a member of Israel’s security services who must remain anonymous.

Previous winners of the award include President Obama; former President Clinton; former Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger; the music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Mr. Zubin Mehta; The Rashi Foundation; and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.

Madonna top-earning celebrity trumping Spielberg, Forbes says

She's still the Material Girl.

Pop diva Madonna 55, is the world's top-earning celebrity, according to a Forbes list released on Monday, raking in an estimated $125 million in the past year, mainly from her $305 million-grossing MDNA tour, but helped by sales of clothing, fragrance and various investments.

Director Steven Spielberg, who had a big hit last year with “Lincoln,” was a distant second with earnings of $100 million in the year ended June 2013, most of which came from his catalog of past hits such as “E.T.” and “Jurassic Park,” which continue to bring in big bucks.

“Madonna's success, at age 55, just goes to show the incredible power of a successful music career,” Forbes reporter Dorothy Pomerantz said, noting that 27-year-old pop singer Lady Gaga has often been said to be channeling Madonna's four-decade-long career.

“The young star is certainly emulating Madonna when it come to raking in money,” Forbes said, with her $80 million in earnings largely from the singer's “Born This Way Ball” world tour, placing Gaga 10th on the list.

Forbes compiles its annual list of celebrity earnings using input from agents, managers, producers and others to calculate its estimates for each celebrity's entertainment-related earnings. The figures do not reflect tax deductions, agent fees or “the other expenses of being a celebrity.”

Madonna's top spot compares with her previous peak of $110 million in 2009, but falls short of the $165 million taken in by Oprah Winfrey in the previous year, Forbes said.

Talk show queen and media mogul Winfrey took a big pay cut this year according to Forbes, falling to No. 13 on the list with earnings of $77 million.

At No. 3 with earnings of $95 million in the past year was a three-way tie among “50 Shades of Grey” author E.L. James, radio shock jock Howard Stern and music and television producer Simon Cowell.

Others in the top 10 earners included TV host Glenn Beck, director Michael Bay of the “Transformers” franchise, and thriller novelist James Patterson, who Forbes said was now the best-selling author of all time.

Both Spielberg and Bay also made last year's top 10, though with significantly larger earnings.

The full list of top-earning celebrities can be viewed at www.forbes.com.

Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Eric Walsh

Steven Spielberg bails on ‘American Sniper’

For the second time this year Steven Spielberg has dropped a big film project.

In January, he indefinitely halted progress on the sci-fi movie “Robopocalypse,” and now, Deadline.com reports, he has announced he will no longer direct “American Sniper,” the film adaptation of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s autobiography starring Bradley Cooper.

Spielberg’s tentativeness is nothing new. The legendary director spent 11 years getting “Lincoln” into shape before committing to it.