October 31, 2008
When Crystal met Spielberg; A rabbi, a reverend and a pastor walk into a shul
When Billy Crystal met Steven Spielberg at the Oct. 22 Shoah Foundation dinner, the comedian had a beef with the filmmaker.
Why, asked Crystal, was there never a part for him in a Spielberg movie? Couldn't he have changed the title of "Jaws" to "Jews"?
Or how about a juicy part in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Beth Shalom" or "Saving Private Mishkin?" Or another Spielberg movie, "Artificial Intelligence," starring opposite Sarah Palin?
Cystal's running shtick on Jewish themes was often hilarious, but somewhat lost on Circuit's tablemates, who included a good-looking blonde couple of Christian evangelists from Orange County, a witty black South African and an Israeli ex-pat with his Chinese wife from Seattle.
But the three-hour dinner and show at the Wallis Annenberg Building of the California Science Center, to benefit the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, had much more.
Spielberg, who established the foundation following the triumph of his "Schindler's List," and USC President Steven B. Sample, spoke of the unique collection of video testimonies by 52,000 Holocaust survivors.
"There were Six Million who left their foot prints in the ashes," Spielberg said. "On our watch, these footprints will never blow away."
A feisty Bette Midler sang, backed by a 12-piece band, with lyrics and side comments that made my evangelical tablemates blush.
Finally, the climax, when Kirk Douglas, recipient of the Ambassadors for Humanity Award, came onstage -- we should all look so good after 91 years on this earth, a helicopter crash, a stroke and a record-breaking career as a one-time Hollywood stud.
Douglas gracefully accepted the encomiums, such as Spielberg's praise of him as "a great American, a great Jew, who stands up for what he believes in," and Crystal's admiration for "the greatest head of hair I've seen on a Jew."
Douglas wore his laurels easily, commenting, "If my wife Anne ever leaves me, I'm going to marry Steven's mother, so I'll have a rich son-in-law to take care of me in my old age."
Among those joining some 600 guests were the extended Douglas mishpacha (though son Michael was shooting a film in New York), actors Tobey Maguire ("Spider-Man") and Debbie Allen, singer Eric Benet, producer J.J. Abrams and former studio head Sid Sheinberg.
The gala's main sponsor was TNT (Turner Network Television), while June Beallor organized the fete with her customary skill and taste.
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Coming Together for 'Radical' Dialogue
Billed as "Radical Conversations in a Reluctant Metropolis," the friendly Oct. 23 chat at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills before an audience of about 150 seemed anything but revolutionary.
Three clergy -- Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel, the Rev. Dr. Clyde Oden of Bryant Temple AME Church in Central Los Angeles and Samuel Chu, pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church -- talked about how they come together to break bread, share concerns and create community among their diverse congregations. The event was organized under the umbrella of One LA -- an organization that aims to unify Los Angeles communities that otherwise might not band together.
In a session moderated by "Speaking of Faith" American Public Media radio talk show host Krista Tippett, Oden spoke of how the group had helped to change the route and date of the annual L.A. Marathon to avoid interruption of Sunday services, and Geller told of how her interaction and friendship with Oden had raised her consciousness on news topics such as the unraveling of the King-Drew Medical Center, located near Bryant Temple.
Chu explained how opening up to Los Angeles' larger community helps him focus on more than just his congregation's immediate personal concerns: "When I am not engaged in public life, I tend to be easily manipulated by my fears," said the Hong Kong-born leader of a mostly Latino congregation in Koreatown -- a microcosm of Los Angeles diversity in itself. The interfaith interaction and the stories people share helps dispel fears like "they're taking out jobs; they're taking our resources," he added.
The desire for unity and connection -- and attempts at coming together -- is hardly new to Los Angeles. In the aftermath of the 1992 riots, for example, outreach was deemed key to healing, and such exchanges abounded. But what was perhaps most revealing at the Thursday night event, and the only thing that was radical, albeit subliminally, was the evidence of comfort and true friendship among the three pastors.
That comfort clearly has come from long-term commitment to friendship and sharing with one another. As Oden and Chu joked and shared from Geller's pulpit, their relaxed posture and easy exchanges bespoke of real commitment to a new kind of family, earned through the rewards of time. And if that's not a step toward tikkun olam, what is?
(From left) Samuel Chu, Immanuel Presbyterian Church; Rabbi Laura Geller, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills; Krista Tippett, "Speaking of Faith" creator and host; and Rev. Dr. Clyde Oden, Bryant Temple AME Church Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld
-- Susan Freudenheim, Managing Editor