July 17, 1997
By Robert Eshman, Associate Editor
Dr. Susan Marilyn Block is a nice Jewish girl, who talks about sex on late-night cable TV.
From Esther to... Dr. Suzy?
She dresses up in lingerie that redefines the concept of negative space. She leers at the camera, uses various erotic, um, implements to demonstrate the paths to fulfillment, and generally strives to make callers to her late-night cable access TV show feel that if it feels good and it doesn't hurt anyone, sex is OK.
If the 40-year-old Dr. Susan Marilyn Block pushes sexual expression with the same single-minded determination of a Jewish parent pushing a bowl of cold borscht, it's not a coincidence. Block, it may surprise no one to know, is a nice Jewish girl from a dedicated Conservative Jewish upbringing.
Raised in Philadelphia, bat mitzvahed and confirmed at Temple Har Zion, she credits Rabbi Gerald Wolpe and Rabbi Ivan Caine of Society Hill Synagogue with inspiring her to convey serious topics theatrically, and to think critically. Her "Dr. Susan Block Show," which has inspired an Internet site (www.drsusanblock.com), a book ("The Ten Commandments of Pleasure") and two HBO specials, combines elements of both. As Block, who has her doctorate in philosophy, vamps suggestively, she answers callers' questions on sexual issues.
The show is not for the delicate, but it can be entertaining and occasionally insightful. On Purim, she retold the story of Queen Esther, though with a decidedly NC-17 twist.
Indeed, Block places herself in a long line of (she says) sensually expressive Jewish women, from Miriam to Esther, from Dr. Ruth to Naomi Wolf. The message? "We can do bad things, but sex in itself is not bad," she told Up Front.
Block's first HBO special generated some of the network's highest ratings. Her second, "Radio Sex TV-2," will air on HBO on Friday, July 25, at midnight.
Project Chicken Soup volunteers prepare food at Hirsh Family Kitchen in the Fairfax area. Volunteers for Los Angeles Jewish AIDS Services' Project Chicken Soup have always delivered more than noodle soup to people living with AIDS; they've provided healthy kosher meals, over-the-counter medication, household and personal hygiene supplies and holiday items and greetings. Now, thanks to a brainstorm of Abigail Yasgur, the new director of the Jewish Federation Council's Jewish Community Library, paperback books and, soon, videos will be part of the care package.
"I'm very interested in reaching populations that otherwise can't get to the library," Yasgur told Up Front.
Volunteers have already delivered the first of their twice-monthly shipments of paperbacks, which are tied with purple ribbons that sport a message inviting recipients to contact the library directly for specific literary requests. Rabbi Rafael Goldstein, director of Los Angeles Jewish AIDS Services, a program of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, said that he was thrilled with the idea of delivering books and videos to those with AIDS.
"Most of our clients can't afford to buy paperbacks," he said. "A lot of people end up not being able to do much with their time except sit around."
The library had only a small supply of paperbacks to send out last Sunday and is hoping to replenish and expand its supply with fresh donations of books and videos -- Jewish content and authors welcome but not necessary.
To make a donation, call the library at (213) 852-3272. To volunteer to cook or deliver meals, contact Los Angeles Jewish AIDS Services at (213) 653-8313 or via e-mail at email@example.com. -- Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer
Operation Moses on the Big Screen
Israel's rescue of Ethiopian Jews may be coming soon to a theater near you, courtesy of producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The rescue and airlift to Israel of some 10,000 Ethiopian Jews will be the focus of a major motion picture, but with a Hollywood twist.
In the "fact-based" movie, provisionally titled "Falasha," the hero is an actual New York stockbroker who says that he was approached by the Mossad while vacationing in Israel and asked to set up a Club Med resort in the Sudan.
The stockbroker, whose name is being kept secret "for fear of reprisals," claims that he did as he was bid. While the Club Med catered to tourists during the day, at night, its workers infiltrated an internment camp holding Ethiopian Jews and whisked them away.
The stockbroker outlined his adventures in a 15-page "pitch" -- as the Hollywood idiom has it -- which concluded with the claim that over a 10-year period, the Club Med in the Sudan served as the conduit for 10,000 Ethiopian Jews on their way to Israel.
(The figure resembles the number of Jews airlifted to Israel, via the Sudan, during the 1984-85 Operation Moses.)
The pitch, to be expanded into a book by the stockbroker, hit pay dirt immediately. Both Universal Studios and 20th Century Fox bid for the rights but were beaten out by Jerry Bruckheimer, an independent production company associated with the Walt Disney Company.
The price tag for the story was in the low- to mid-six figures.
"Falasha" has already been dubbed a contemporary "Schindler's List," but Chad Oman, the Bruckheimer executive vice president in charge of the movie project, denied, in a phone interview, that he was influenced by the success of the Steven Spielberg film.
"There are many stories of people who suffer and are helped by others willing to risk their lives," said Oman. "What attracted us to 'Falasha' was a strong story line with a strong hero."
Oman said that there was nothing unusual in green-lighting an expensive movie on the strength of a short pitch.
"It happens all the time -- what you need is a strong story and a strong character," he said.
Oman said that he was at least a year away from the start of filming, and, at this point, no budget, director or cast has been set. He hopes, however, to shoot as close to the story's actual locale as possible.
"Right now, I am trying to find the best screenwriter available," Oman said.
Bruckheimer produced the now-showing action-thriller "Con Air," and his past successes include "Crimson Tide." Two upcoming films are "Enemy of the State," with Will Smith, and "Armageddon," with Bruce Willis. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor