July 26, 2007
Does Hollywood give Jewish?
(Page 3 - Previous Page)Jewish World Watch has not set out to court celebrities, though it has caught some of their attention. Actors Danny Glover and Forest Whitaker attended its Seder for Darfur and Don Cheadle, who starred in "Hotel Rwanda," just filmed a public-service announcement promoting the Encino-based organization's Solar Cooker Project, which fits refugee camps with solar heating and protects women from the dangers of leaving the camp for firewood.
The organization has not asked Hollywood Jews and been rejected, said JWW President and CEO Janice Kamenir-Reznik said. It simply hasn't asked. To date, only a few Hollywood Jews have gotten involved, chiefly actress Monica Horan Rosenthal and her husband Phil Rosenthal, creator of the sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond."
"We can't turn a blind eye on things of a horrific global nature," said Horan Rosenthal, who was raised Catholic and converted to Judaism before marriage. "The worst genocide of all time was the Holocaust, and from that I think the Jewish people have taken on that we are never going to let that happen again."
Across the nation, though, Jews are increasingly giving to non-Jewish causes. The Institute for Jewish & Community Research found that between 1995 and 2000, only 6 percent of the money given away by Jewish mega-donors went to Jewish causes.
In 2002, the year before the study was published, David Geffen, the movie and music mogul, was the fourth-most generous donor in the country, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. But of the $206.2 million he donated or pledged, $200 million was for the UCLA School of Medicine and $5 million the Geffen Playhouse, leaving at most 0.5 percent of his charity for Jewish causes. The year before, when his foundation reported $2 million in charitable contributions, $110,000 went to Jewish organizations.
But that does not mean Jewish philanthropy has gone wrong. Jews have long cared about the arts and about medicine, about creating a better world, whether it's the world of Jewish life or the whole globe.
"What's best is the person who is not saying, 'I will care for the whole world at the expense of the Jews,' or 'I will care about the Jews at the expense of the world,'" said Bubis, the Jewish communal service expert. "A wholesome and fulfilled Jewish philanthropist is one who finds opportunities and outlooks and bridges those two into the fusion. That is why for me a Jewish World Watch is a healthy fusion of something universally mindful out of a sensitivity of what a Jews is supposed to care about as a human being based on what Jewish texts teach. It is not either/or."
These are better days for Hollywood Jews. They no longer need to change their names -- sometimes not even their noses. Orthodox screenwriters like David Sacks of "The Simpsons" and "Malcolm in the Middle" find producers more understanding of Shabbat. Young stars like Natalie Portman, Sacha Baron Cohen and Seth Rogen make it cool to be Jewish.
But a chasm remains between Jewish identity and Jewish institutions. One reason has as much to do with geography and economy as it does with generational shift. The problem in Los Angeles is not simply that young Jews aren't interested in Jewish organizations. The problem, in part, is Los Angeles.
"There is plenty of blame to go around. Some of it is Los Angeles, some of it is the Jewish community, some of it is the lack of appeal to younger people," said Donna Bojarsky, an adviser to Hollywood figures. "In the Los Angeles Jewish community, most people didn't grow up here. You don't have those communal ties that sometimes facilitate engagement. The Jewish community itself, therefore, is perceived as your mother's or grandmother's Jewish community, so it doesn't seem as interesting to younger Jews."
Scott Halle's story makes the case for the importance of communal continuity. A 28-year-old native of the San Fernando Valley, Halle grew up attending the shul his grandparents help start -- Valley Beth Shalom -- and watching his parents in volunteer leadership at The Federation.
"I can see my stepfather running around at the West Valley JCC on Super Sunday, talking on his walkie-talkie. He always looked happy."
So when Halle returned in 2002 from the University of Wisconsin, volunteering at The Federation would have to fit into his schedule somewhere between co-founding a production-management company and participating in the AIDS Walk.
"I always knew I was going to be involved in Jewish causes," he said.
For Keren Markuze, who arrived in the Fairfax District from Montreal without a thread of attachment to the Jewish community surrounding her, getting philanthropically plugged in was much more challenging.
She eventually discovered the Progressive Jewish Alliance, which hooked her up with a victim-offender mediation program, and once she decided she was going to stay in Los Angeles a while, she called Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters. For the past three years, the 30-year-old documentary TV writer -- Markuze's main work has been scripting medical programs for Discovery Health -- has spent a few hours every other week with her 11-year-old little sister.
"One of the most important aspects of my Judaism is the sense of love thy neighbor as you love thyself," Markuze said. "That is where I draw a lot of my identity from in terms of giving back. If you look at tradition and ritual, a lot of the things we do are ultimately about how our actions can benefit our community and society."
The Federation has created a feeder for both the Halles and Markuzes in the form of its Entertainment Division. The division, which has been around longer than officials can remember, has been recently re-energized by director Meredith Weiss, who left Creative Artists Agency last year after five years in its entertainment-marketing group. It operates a yearlong leadership institute, organizes industry socials and facilitates missions to Israel.