August 10, 2006
Three Groups Respond to Gibson’s Request for Meeting
The race to become the first Jewish group to land an appearance by Mel Gibson is on, with three already entered and more waiting in the wings.
The alert reader might have heard that the actor-director, after being arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, allowed that, uh, sexually active Jews were responsible for all the wars in the world.
First out of the starting block was Rabbi David Baron of the Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills.
In a letter to "Dear Mr. Gibson," Baron alluded to the actor's profuse apologies for his anti-Semitic slurs. He then invited the director of "The Passion of the Christ" to speak at Yom Kippur services, "in order that you might directly express to the Jewish community your remorse."
Baron added, "In our faith, we are commanded to forgive when the offending party takes the necessary steps and offers an apology from the heart."
Many congregants of the Temple of the Arts, most of who work in the entertainment industry, and other members of the community, expressed strong objections to the invitation.
Baron responded with a clarifying open letter to set the record straight, "because the media has, in typical sound byte fashion, mistakenly printed what I proposed."
The rabbi pointed out that he had invited Gibson not to speak but to deliver a public apology, and that as a pre-condition Baron would meet with Gibson to probe his sincerity and his "willingness to take the necessary steps to heal the pain he has caused."
Some cynics, of whom there are unfortunately always a few, have suggested that the global publicity accruing to the first Jewish institution sponsoring Gibson's mea culpa, might have played a slight role in the temple's invitation.
We sought to ask Baron, who is currently on vacation in Europe, for his comments. We reached him on his cell phone, but the connection was disrupted after a few seconds, and further attempts to contact him by phone or e-mail were unsuccessful.
We had somewhat better luck with the two other Jewish organizations, which have publicly invited Gibson.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Manhattan -- extended an invitation to Gibson in a letter from director David G. Marwell. Asserting that he took Gibson's previous apology "very seriously," Marwell added that, "In making a genuine commitment to learn about the Jewish people, you could find no more appropriate place to start your journey than our museum."
Marwell closed his letter with, "We look forward to the opportunity of participating in your journey of understanding."
Marwell was traveling, but in a brief cell phone interview rejected any suggestion that the museum was seeking publicity.
"We are in the business of educating people every day," he said, explaining that the Gibson invitation was part of that mission.
Should the actor visit the museum, he would obviously attract press attention, Marwell acknowledged, but he said such a visit "should not be a media circus." A third invitation has come from the "1939 Club," a Los Angeles-based association of Holocaust survivors and their children.
William Elperin, the group's president, said in a phone interview that he had invited Gibson "not to talk to us, but to listen to us. He has done enough talking."
"Who better to educate Gibson about the ultimate effects of anti-Semitism than those who experienced the Holocaust firsthand?" Elperin added. He said he was not looking for publicity and had originally extended the invitation in a private letter to Gibson. When there was no response, Elperin said, he was advised to go public as the best way to catch the actor's attention.
If Gibson agrees to listen to the survivors, and wants to keep the meeting private, that would be his preference, too, Elperin said. "It's up to Gibson," he said. "We are not going to give him a final examination or award him a diploma."
Of all Jewish organizations, none has better entree to Hollywood's A-list than the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has assiduously cultivated the brightest stars and directors.
However, the center's founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier, himself the recipient of two Oscars for documentaries, said that "under no circumstances" would he invite Gibson.
"As a member of the Academy, I voted for Gibson's 'Braveheart' as best picture, and when 'The Passion of the Christ' came under attack, I said there was no proof that Gibson was an anti-Semite," Hier said.
"Now we have proof that he is an anti-Semite. He can't be cured by a press release or be koshered by a 24-hour 'conversion,'" Hier said.
Among the hundreds of invitations Gibson has received to speak or confess his sins, "lots" are from Jewish groups, said his publicist, Veronica Pinto of Rogers & Cowan.
He has not decided whether to accept any of them, Pinto said.