Posted by Orit Arfa
First there was Jaden Smith, son of powerhouse couple Will and Jada Smith, in that god-awful “coat on/coat off” remake of Karate Kid. Clearly, this is how that movie was conceived.
Jaden: Daddy, can I be in another movie, this time without you telling me exactly what to do like you did in The Pursuit of Happyness? Karate Kid is my all time favorite!
Will: Sure, son. You’re so handsome. You’ll look just like me when you grow up! I’ll make some calls.
The result was one of the worst castings in one of the worst remakes in movie history. Jaden was way too self-conscious as an actor, evident in those Paris Hilton-esque lip-puckers in almost every scene. And he was way too small and scrawny for a character who’s supposed to kick Chinese butt and fall for a pretty Asian girl at least a foot taller than him. (Yes, they kiss. Spoiler. Good. Don’t see it.)
Now there’s his little sister, Willow Smith and her gargantuan hit, “Whip My Hair.”
The song must have been conceived as follows:
Willow: Daddy, can I be a pop star? Rihanna has been my favorite since I was two.
Will: Sure, daughter. You’re so pretty. You’ll look just like me when I grow-up. Why else did I name you Will-ow? I’ll make some calls.
When I first saw the video for “Whip My Hair”, I thought: Smiths, do you feed your kids? She’s also so small and scrawny—too small and scrawny to be batting her eyes like a vixen. The tight, colorful urban hipster clothing she sports might have looked sexy, cool, or stylish on someone like Rihanna, but on her nine-year-old shapeless body they look plastic fashions that come with dress up dolls.
My first instinct was to call the Office of Child Labor.
But—oh, man—I couldn’t get that stupid song out of my head. It’s an anthem about whipping hair as a show of defiance, and since I have a big JewFro (comes from my mother’s Iraqi side), I have a lot of hair to whip.
It’s like she’s telling the world—you think I’m too young to do this, right? Well, I whip my hair at ya!
I don’t know if her parents should be applauded for their non-conformity or chastised for bringing their daughter into such an adult world of scrutiny and sexuality. In an interview with Ryan Seacrest, Willow said Michael Jackson was her role model. Isn’t that worrisome? And what kind of tutors are they getting her? In her recent television debut on “The Ellen Show”, Willow makes up the word “pleasurous” to describe the act of singing.
Willow: Say what you want, girl. I’m a gazillionare, and I don’t need to know how to write—while your writin’ a blog that no one reads. I whip my hair at ya! (Misspelling intentional.)
Orit: Excuse me? Who’s the “girl” here? Writing is PLEASURABLE to me! I’m well-read, educated, trying to make the world a better place. I whip my JewFro at you!
Hair fight ensues. It’s JewFro versus Afro. But no one wins because our hairs just get tangled.
But is her childhood normalcy a sacrifice we should let her make as she impacts the world through quality pop and gives us something fun to watch and talk about? The song is already a part of pop culture with spoofs abounding. When you think about it, the individualistic message is simple but punchy, even from a tween: just do your thing, whether it’s starring in a deranged music video at age nine…or growing a beard as a religious Jew.
Chassidic comedian Mendy Pellin (whom I interviewed for the February issue of TRIBE) has given Jewish meaning to Willow’s song. In a hilarious weird-Al style video, he defends his forked, straggly beard by whipping his beard with mustard and ketchup.
Pellin has inspired me to give the song my own twist. Let’s turn this vehicle for Willow into a Jewish anthem. On a changing-the-world level, let’s sing it to all the Jew haters of the world: Pay no attention to them haters cuz we whip em off / and we ain’t doing nothing wrong/ so don’t tell us nothing, we’re just tryna to live in our land….
On a more particular, mundane level, let’s appropriate the song for us Jewish women with frothy curls. When I was younger I always envied classically American straight and blond hair. Michelle Pfeiffer was my heroine. It took me adulthood to embrace my Sephardi features, and especially my wild, curly—and yes, fabulous—hair. So to all those straightening irons and blow-dryers out there that want to flatten the ethnic Jew out of us, I say: watch me whip my JewFro back and forth!
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December 25, 2010 | 9:34 am
Posted by Ryan Torok
On Friday, Christmas Eve, a “Fiddler on the Roof” sing-along took place at the at Laemmle Royal Theater in West L.A.
“Fiddler on the Roof,” director Norman Jewison’s 1971 adaptation of the Broadway musical, follows Tevye the milkman who lives in a Ukranian ghetto with his five daughters and wife and struggles with the shakeup of tradition.
Approximately 250 people came out to the sing-along on Friday night, according to the estimates of Greg Laemmle, president of Laemmle Theaters. It was happening for the third year in a row at the art house theater chain on Christmas Eve, and Laemmle said the numbers were an increase in turnout from the previous years.
Why a sing-along version of the film on Christmas Eve? Why not? Laemmle said.
“What else am I going to show?” he said, during an interview at intermission. “It’s the perfect film for Christmas Eve for a Jewish audience.”
The CSUN Jewish Studies Department and the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival co-presented the event.
The event’s first year, in 2008, happened due to a film distributor’s decision to push the release of a film from Dec. 23 to Dec. 25, Laemmle explained, which meant that no film would play on Dec. 24. Laemmle decided to have a “Fiddler” sing-along that night.
He added that seeing “The Sound of Music” at the Hollywood Bowl partially inspired the event. “I thought, How much fun would it be to do that for ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’” he said.
Other organizations, schools and synagogues have put on “Fiddler” sing-alongs in the past, including American Jewish University (then University of Judaism), which hosted one in 2005.
Walking inside the theater on Friday night, the audience received lyric books, which helped them sing along with numbers like “Matchmaker” and “Sunrise Sunset.” At the start of every song in the film, the house lights in the theater brightened enough so that the people could read their lyric sheets, but many still held their cell phones up to the papers for additional light.
The age of the crowd ranged from middle aged to senior citizens, though there were some younger people in attendance. Many bobbed their heads and snapped their fingers while Topol, the Israeli actor who plays Tevye in the film, sang “Tradition” on-screen. Everyone sang along softly in their seats, and at the end of each song, they applauded as if watching a stage show. “If I Were a Rich Man” prompted some of the louder singing and cheering.
Laemmle addressed the crowd before the start of the film and during the intermission, offering “Fiddler” trivia and asking if anyone had acted in stage productions of “Fiddler.”
During the interview, he spoke of plans to hold “Fiddler on the Roof” sing-along event next year and his hopes to turn the event into a fundraiser for charity. He reinforced the goal of the evening, saying, “We like to build community.”
Outside the theater, attendees discuss “Fiddler.”
December 21, 2010 | 11:27 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
“Little Fockers,” the third in the franchise about a Jewish nurse (Ben Stiller) with a formidable non-Jewish father-in-law (Robert De Niro) opens Dec. 22, again starring Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as Gaylord “Greg” Focker’s over-the-top parents. The reviews so far have been less-than-stellar, but the franchise—which began with “Meet the Parents” in 2000, followed by “Meet the Fockers” (2004)—has struck a chord with viewers if not always critics, earning around a billion dollars worldwide. Here are excerpts from conversations with some of the artists behind the series.
John Hamburg, a screenwriter on all three films:
JJ: What was the premise for this movie?
JH: It’s been five or six years since we last saw Greg Focker, and now he has more responsibility; he has twin children, and he is struggling with being a good father and provider. Robert De Niro’s character, Jack Byrnes, the ex-CIA agent, is also getting older and feeling his mortality, having had a heart attack, which causes him to think about his “successor” in the family. And that led us to the concept of “ The Godfocker” – the successor to Jack’s “throne” or this throne he thinks he’s created—which gave us the spine of the story.
JJ: You’ve said you’ve used some of your own family dynamics in these films. How do Greg’s parents, Bernie and Roz Focker (Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand) remind you of your own parents?
JH: I’m Jewish, obviously, and at my family’s Passover seders or when we get together for break-the-fast, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. There’s a lot of talking; people get into fights over minor things, but there’s a lot of love behind all of it—which I think every culture shares, by the way. It’s just maybe sometimes Jews wear that on their sleeve a little bit more.
JJ: What about the embarrassment factor between the Focker son and parents?
JH: Roz Focker has a sex [advice] television program, and she tells stories about her son on the show. And my mom has had a radio talk show in New York for more than 30 years, “The Joan Hamburg Show.” She doesn’t talk about sex, so she’s not Roz Focker. But she does use her family as sort of characters on the show. So I grew up with my mom using part of our lives publicly, and then I’ve spent my entire career getting back at her by putting all these things into the movies I’ve done.
JJ: What kind of stories has your mother told about you?
JH: On her show she’s been pretty discreet about me, but the one thing I got a lot of feedback on was, she told the story of how when I was a kid, I had lice, and I had such thick, curly hair that we couldn’t get them out. So we went to a barber and just had him basically shave my head which, when you’re a kid growing up in the ‘80s, nobody had shaved heads. And then I’d run into people and they’d go, “Hey, we heard about your head lice!”
JJ: In “Meet the Fockers,” Greg’s parents have constructed a kind of altar to their son they call the “Wall of Gaylord.”
JH: It’s all very loving, but I remember my parents framed the vest that I wore during my bar mitzvah. I wore a three-piece Brooks Brothers suit, and a few years later, my mom had it framed, so you see this little pin striped vest, and you know, that’s not going to go for a lot of money on ebay. But they obviously thought it was worthy of framing. That idea is reflected in the “Wall of Gaylord,” which includes Greg’s ninth place ribbon for something or another.
JJ: In the new film, Robert De Niro’s character is obsessed with geneology.
JH: One of my favorite moments is when Jack says to Greg, “I’ve traced my family back to 1643. I couldn’t do that with your family, what with all those wandering peddlers and nameless peasants.”
JJ: And when the extended family celebrates “Christmakah,” Roz and Bernie surprise Jack with a yarmulke and their own geneology research.
JH: SPOILER ALERT: We had this idea that they trace his lineage all the way back and discover he’s one-twenty-third Jewish, which just seemed like a very funny idea to us. Jack is not anti-Semitic; he always ultimately embraces the Fockers, but there is a kind of discomfort with just the fact that they are different from him, no matter what the ethnicity.
JJ: Why do you think Ben Stiller has become such a comic icon?
JH: Ben has this incredible relateability and an incredible ability to allow the audience to feel his pain. Or his joy and his triumphs. But usually in our comedies, it’s a lot of pain.
Jane Rosenthal, producer, all three films
On why the franchise has been so successful: The characters are relateable because they are going through things that are universal. You go home to meet your girlfriend’s parents; then they go and meet your parents, and then you’re trying to put two sets of families in one room. Much of everything we’ve done in all three of these movies is based on our own stories. We’ve all brought a little bit to the table.
Paul Weitz (“About a Boy”), director, “Little Fockers”
On how he relates to the characters: My father-in-law is very mellow, but when I had to meet my wife’s family for the first time 11 years ago, there were seven older brothers who at various times had intimidated or physically threatened various boyfriends she had brought home. For some reason, I got along well with all of them. They were all there, and we immediately played a game of tackle football.
SPOILER ALERT: On how Robert De Niro’s character accepts his Jewish ancestry: I think he takes that as a compliment – at the same time he’s not accepting it.
You can read more about the franchise in our feature on Jay Roach, who directed the first two films and served as a producer on the third.
December 19, 2010 | 2:50 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
One of the advantages of living in Los Angeles, as compared to, say, Lost Springs, Wyoming (pop. 1), is in meeting some of the interesting visitors passing through.
During a recent week, for instance, I met up with Lech Walesa, the legendary leader of the Solidarity movement, which broke Poland’s communist regime in the 1980s.
The current occasion at the Museum of Tolerance was a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the founding of Solidarity, hosted by the Polish Film Institute.
It featured the role of rock ‘n roll bands as the weapon of youthful rebels against the heavy-handed regimes of the Soviet bloc, and, in a new incarnation, against the current Cuban leadership.
The Cuban dissidents were represented by Gorki Aguila, leader of the punk rock band Porno Para Ricardo, who spoke only Spanish. The other guests, Jacek Borcuch, director of the Polish Oscar entry “All That I Love,” as well as Walesa, spoke only Polish.
The translators tried valiantly to keep up, but occasionally the messages got a bit confusing..
In any case, the real show was the 67-year old Walesa, voluble, humorous, and impossible to interrupt.
Recounting the electoral triumph of Solidarity and then the fall of the Berlin Wall, Walesa ruminated, “The victory came as a surprise to all of us. It was a victory not of power, but of the spirit and values within us.”
A second visitor was Prof. Hana Wirth-Nesher of Tel Aviv University, who is a kind of intellectual liaison, or translator, between the Jewish lifestyles in Israel and in America, and, on a second level, between Yiddish and English-language literature.
More formally, the vivacious academician teaches in TAU’s English and American Studies department, and holds the chair on the Study of the Jewish Experience in the United States.
Hosted in a private Beverly Hills home by the West Coast regional chapter of American Friends of Tel Aviv University, and introduced by executive director Rosalie Lurie, the visitor traced the influence of the Yiddish “voice” in Jewish-American literature over three generations.
The immigrant generation arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, prominently among them Abraham Cahan, the renowned editor of the Yiddish “Forward.”
In his book, “The Rise of David Levinsky,” the title character observed that “English is the language of people afflicted with defective organs of speech.”
The second generation, born in America but raised in Yiddish-speaking homes, produced the likes of Henry Roth, Grace Paley, Saul Bellow and Cynthia Ozick.
Finally, the contemporary third generation, writing in English but perpetuating Yiddish inflections and idioms, include such luminaries as Art Spiegelman, Daniel Mendelsohn, Philip Roth and Michael Chabon.
To round out the week, I ran into former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who came to the Peninsula Hotel to back his old pal Steve Soboroff in boosting the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel.
Soboroff, who worked with Peter Ueberroth on the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, sees no reason why the Maccabiah can’t emulate the LA Olympics as a financial and media success, in addition to presenting a different face of Israel than found in the usual headlines.
For last year’s Maccabiah, Soboroff founded the Committee of 18, consisting of affluent donors, who raised a total of $1.8 million to enable teams from smaller and poorer Jewish communities to participate.
One of the boosters was Riordan, who underwrote the chess competition. (Where but in the “Jewish Olympics” could you win a gold medal by checkmating your opponent.)
Soboroff has now expanded his support team to the Committee of 36, plus an active youth group, and expects to do even better in supporting the next Maccabiah.
December 16, 2010 | 1:17 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
Legendary horse trainer Robert “Bobby” Frankel, a long-time Pacific Palisades resident, is among seven athletes and sports figures elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame for 2011.
Frankel, who died a year ago, scored 3,654 first place victories and his nearly $228 million in career earnings made him the second winningest trainer in horse racing history. He was a five-time recipient of the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer.
Among this year’s seven honorees are five Americans, one Briton and one Russian. They will be inducted into the IJSHOF museum, on the campus of Israel’s Wingate Institute, in July 2013.
In addition to Frankel, the new inductees are:
London-born Samuel Elias, aka “Dutch Sam,” “The Terrible Jew” and “Star of the East,” had to wait almost two centuries after his death in 1816 to make the Hall of Fame.
Standing 5’6” and peaking at 135 pounds, Elias is regarded as the greatest small man in bare-knuckles ring history. He fought in 100 bouts, many lasting 35 to 60 rounds, and lost only one – his last, four years and 15,000 glasses of gin after his supposed retirement.
Judo pioneer Rena Kanokogi, the former Rusty Glickman of Brooklyn, known as the “mother of women’s judo,” almost single-handedly forced the Olympic Committee to recognize women’s judo. She coached the U.S. team in the 1988 Olympic Games.
In 1959, posing as a man, she won the New York State YMCA judo championship, but had to return her medal after officials discovered her true gender.
Sports columnist Leonard Koppett, Moscow-born but New York-bred, is the only journalist elected to both the baseball and basketball halls of fame. In New York, “Koppy” wrote for the Herald Tribune, Post and Times, besides authoring 16 sports books.
Alfred Kuchevsky played a major role as defenseman in the Soviet Union’s domination of international ice hockey in the 1950s. He was named three times to the Soviet Hockey League All-Stars and is believed to live in Moscow.
Fred Lewis, a three- and four-wall handball champion, was named the 1970s “Player of the Decade” by the National Handball Association. He now lives in Arizona.
Billiards champ Michael Sigel, was described as the “greatest living player of the 20th century” by the International Pool Tour. He is the winner of 10 world titles and six U.S. Opens, including the World 8-Ball, 9-Ball, Straight Pool and Open championships. He now lives in Florida.
The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame was founded in 1979 by Los Angeles television producer and writer Joseph Siegman, who currently chairs the organization’s selection committee.
Since its beginning, the IJSHOF has inducted 350 sportsmen and sportswomen from 24 countries.
December 9, 2010 | 10:23 am
Posted by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
Last year’s Los Angeles-area winners include Megan Kilroy, founder of Team Marine, a group based at Santa Monica High School that travels the state teaching kids and adults about how careless actions such as littering impact the oceans and the environment. She has traveled to Sacramento dressed in a suit covered with bottle caps to lobby state lawmakers.
David Weingarten of Woodland Hills helped bring three Jewish teens from the Abayudaya of Uganda to a West Coast United Synagogue Youth teen conference, and then later raised funds to help create the first Abayudaya youth convention in Uganda, which he and a handful of other American USYers attended with 200 Jewish teens from Uganda and Kenya. The partnership he founded has become the USY/Abayudaya Partnership to help create the next generation of Jewish leadership among the Abayudaya.
Qualifying teens must be California residents between the ages of 13 and 19 who self-identify as Jews, though their work can benefit anyone. Teachers, rabbis or community leaders — but not family members — can nominate the teens. Teens can also nominate themselves. Nominations are due Dec. 17. For more information, visit jewishfed.org/diller/teenawards.
December 8, 2010 | 4:10 pm
Posted by Ryan Torok
At City Hall in downtown Los Angeles, Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Joshua Hoffman, serving as the master of ceremonies during a community Chanukah party on December 7, gave the crowd an order: “Dance over to the sufganiyot,” he said, which prompted singing, oud playing and festive dancing as many made their way to the back to nosh on jelly donuts.
The event, marking the first seven days of Chanukah–the holiday ends tonight–blended a candle lighting ceremony, musical performances, blessings and hora dancing and featured appearances by local rabbis, elected officials and community leaders. Participants in the candle lighting ceremony included Jacob Dayan, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles; rabbis Denise Eger and Mark Diamond; city council members Jan Perry, Dennis Zine, Paul Krekorian, Tom Labonge and Bill Rosendahl; and city attorney Carmen Trutanich.
Standing on a small stage in the hall’s rotunda room, each of them made a brief speech and proceeded to light a candle on the chanukiyah—or, rather, turned a bulb on the giant electric fixture.
“The miracle is that this thing is working,” Rabbi Hoffman joked, in regards to the electric chanukiyah which stood a few feet away from a large Christmas tree. “It looks a little shaky.”
The party drew a crowd of approximately 75 people, according to Mayrav Saar, program director for the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, and the mood remained light and celebratory. The Valley Beth Shalom Youth Choir; the Kolot Tikvah Choir, a vocal ensemble made up of special needs children; and world musician Yuval Ron offered the musical entertainment.
Taking place for the second year in a row at City Hall, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles beneficiary the Board of Rabbis of Southern California organized the event. The board’s vice president, Rabbi Diamond, discussed during a phone interview prior to the event his excitement about holding the party at City Hall, despite once having hesitations about holding religious events in public spaces.
“10 to 15 years ago, I and many rabbis were very concerned about the church and state separation issues,” Diamond said. “Today we’re more sensitive to various faiths in this country. Today we have Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, [and] we recognize these celebrations could be done tastefully without crossing the line of separation of church and state.”
At the party, additional speakers included Councilmember Paul Koretz and City Controller Wendy Greuel. Reverend Jeff Carr, chief of staff in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office, led a final blessing.
Israel earned attention as well, with many of the speakers addressing the fires that ravaged thousands of acres of forests near Haifa for the past four days and took the lives of 42 people. Councilmember Rosendahl offered his condolences to the Israeli community.
“I’m sorry for the loss of life that took place,” he said. “Thank God the fires are out.”
Several of the council members spoke about lessons learned from Chanukah, meanings that transcends religious beliefs. “For me, Chanukah is the time to remember the spirit of tenacity,” Perry said, “never letting go of your goals and objectives.”
Labonge and Rosendahl, to the amusement of the crowd, read a prepared piece together, which included the statement: “Jewish tradition teaches us that we add a light to each night to symbolize that our awareness of miracles is something that encourages us to grow.”
December 7, 2010 | 8:27 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
I really wish there were more fun, poppy Chanukah songs. It’s not fair! Christmas has inspired so many great pop songs about love, family, friends, and snow, and all we Jews have to show for ourselves are a few songs about dreidels and Adam Sandler’s Chanukah Song, which really isn’t about Chanukah, but a countdown of famous Jews.
Every year, during the Holiday Season, I pop into my car stereo my Carpenters Christmas CD because the songs are, well, so pretty, and not always about Jesus. Okay, I admit—during the holidays I get an urge to assimilate a little bit because the other team simply has better songs. So you got Matisyahu’s new Chanukah song, “Miracle”, which is really nice, except the video is really strange—Greek ruler Antiochus chasing Jews around Christmas trees. No need for polemics during the holiday season, please.
Chanukah is filled with so many positive messages: light, miracles, heroism. The possibilities for fluffy, catchy, inspirational pop songs are endless! I think the only barrier to a sonorous Chanukah song is the “Ch”-sound of Chanukah. But we can simply pronounce it with an “h” for all the gentiles out there who can’t make that “ch” growling sound.
So when I heard singer-songwriter and composer Scott Simons perform his “Chanukah in West Virginia” song at the Vermont Bar in Los Feliz on the second night of Chanukah, I had to share it with the world. I felt in the song a kindred soul. Scott, may you inspire the Jewish masses—or at least the songwriters. We got some songwriting talent in the Tribe. Hello? If Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas”, he could easily have written “Golden Hanukah” (“golden” referring to either chanuka gelt or latkas, of course).
Simons explained to me via e-mail why he wrote the song, for your viewing pleasure below.
“I wrote the song last year because I do a holiday show in DC every year and wanted to do an original song rather than the usual which is “Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel” followed by “Last Christmas” by Wham! So I was trying to think of a song that was unique to my situation being one of the few, but proud, Jews from West Virginia.”
His idea was to create a Chanukah song that sounded like classic Christmas song. He recorded it in his home studio in West Hollywood with the keyboard as the only instrument. He just released the video on youtube. (Although I don’t know whose video is stranger—his or Matisyahu’s. Hopefully I’ll have cause to worry about better videos next year….)