Posted by Danielle Berrin
A prominent cohort of American Jews were at the White House yesterday for President Obama’s Jewish Heritage celebration—and the L.A. contingent was well represented by some of the city’s most accomplished Jews, including Rabbis David Wolpe and Sharon Brous, Jumpstart co-founder Shawn Landres, J-Dub records CEO Aaron Bisman, Challah for Hunger founder Eli Winkelman and Lou Cove, the executive director of Reboot.
Much has been made of this inaugural event given its timing (Obama’s Jewish approval rating is at its lowest ever) and the growing perception that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is imperiled. But really, L.A. attendees report, it was just fun.
Landres praised the White House for bringing together a diverse group representing both the past and future of Jewish life in America.
“The best part of being there was being with producers of contemporary Jewish American heritage,” Landres said. He was referring, of course, to many of his fellow Angelenos—including Brous, Bisman and Winkelman and their relatively young contributions to American Jewish life. “Ten years ago none of this existed,” he said of IKAR, J-Dub Records and Challah for Hunger. “That the White House recognized that is a testimony to their accomplishments and a recognition that Jewish life in America is not only about that past, it’s also about the future.”
For Brous, it was President Obama’s address that made an impression. “What moved me was when he said something about how Jews who have experienced a history replete with tragedy and oppression have responded to life not with cynicism, despair and indifference, but with a positive and a firm commitment to building a better future for the Jewish people and for all people.”
Brous interpreted Obama’s message as praise for the Jewish imperative to respond to injustice with moral obligation. “He said that the Jewish people have pioneered extraordinary advances in art, medicine, science and business, but that the most extraordinary thing about the American Jewish contribution is not those things, but the way the Jewish people have this dedication to opening the eyes of the world to injustice, and engaging in the struggle for human dignity, and how that’s not only shaped the ethos of the Jewish community but has had a profound affect on the ethos of America as a nation.”
Wolpe limned his thoughts on the event for the Huffington Post:
The White House continues its campaign to sell both the genuineness of its sympathy with Israel and its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the nuclearization of Iran. This was the ‘soft sell’; reminding us of the President’s deep ties to Jews and the Jewish community.
The reception brought together an impressively wide array of personalities. In addition to the usual farrago of Rabbis and Jewish leaders and professionals, there were Washington insiders like David Brooks, Nina Totenberg, Roger Cohen, Diane Sawyer, Carl Bernstein and government officials like David Axelrod and Peter Orszag, a group of Senators and congressmen (including the easily spotted Al Franken.) Supreme court justices—and Elena Kagan, the nominee—added to the august feel of leather bound books on the shelves and Presidential seals on everything from the carpet to the paper hand towels. Several non-Jews active in politics and supportive of Israel, including the Director of research for the Southern Baptist convention, Barrett Duke, were present; and of course, Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren. To reinforce the connection of the administration with Israel, the President made a point to remind us that Rahm Emanuel was in Israel for the Bar Mitzvah of his son.
[Obama’s] words were brief and focused on the Jewish struggle through history which has turned us to a more compassionate people, and an extraordinarily accomplished one. He spoke of the symbiosis between America and the Jews. And in the line the assembly was waiting for, the President reinforced the unbreakable bond between America and Israel.
A reception will not change anyone’s mind. The undeniable grace and charm of the President and First Lady will not either. The divides on policy are deep. But for a moment, the politics of the event slipped away; the people in the room represented the range of political views, left to right. For most there was the enduring wonder of the instant: as Alysa Stanton, America’s first female, African-American Rabbi read Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” and singer Regina Spektor performed, there endured the miraculous reality of Jewish Americans gathering in the White House. Together this group represented a stunning range of achievement and a fair return for America’s deep blessing of freedom.
...From literature to music to the pitcher’s mound, you cannot tell the story of America without telling the story of our people. On the steps of the White House we spoke about the museum near Constitution Hall. At the fraught founding of this great nation, who knew that when the cracked bell first tolled, it was playing our song?
Read JTA’s report on the White House reception here.
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May 28, 2010 | 4:12 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
The new Sean Penn/Naomi Watts movie “Fair Game” is a dramatic retelling of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Now we all know Plame as the one-time CIA agent whom Bush administration officials outed as a way to get back at her husband, Iraq War whistleblower Joseph C. Wilson. But how’s this for outing #2: Plame one-quarter Jewish. That’s right, Plame is as Jewish as Harrison Ford. (Which, by the way, was Jewish enough to get you rounded up in Nazi Germany).
His son, her Jewish grandfather, Samuel Plame, Jr., married a non-Jewish descendent of President Andrew Jackson. The family sat shiva for him, and Valerie’s father, Sam Plame III, raised his daughter as a Protestant. In 2003, when the scandal broke, Leon, a relative from the Plamevotski side of the family, made contact with Valerie, and that spring Valerie and Joe celebrated their first seder with family.
Plame revealed her Jewish roots here in LA in an incident that we like to call, L’Affair Plame, Part Deux. The statuesque, brilliant ex-spy was invited by a woman’s division of the local Jewish Federation to speak at a high-end fundraiser. At the last minute, her invite was rescinded. One Federation donor, a Democratic party stalwart, suspected that political pressure was to blame, and told Federation leaders she wouldn’t attend the luncheon, and would revoke her substantial gift. Plame was re-invited (we’re not certain whether she re-accepted), though the donor refused to make her gift.
In a letter to the donor. Plame explained her Jewish roots, and expressed her appreciation for the solidarity.
I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m going to assume the seder scene didn’t make the final cut.
Even though, you know, Sean Penn is Jewish..
May 27, 2010 | 3:12 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The future of “American Idol,” once the most watched program in America, hangs in the balance with the departure of Simon Cowell.
The sharp-tongued British judge who helped bring the ‘Idol’ franchise to the U.S. was—along with the wannabe pop stars—the show’s main draw. His sardonic on-air persona coupled with his musical authority made him an integral part of the ‘Idol’ brand, which depended as much on his acerbic commentary as it did on unearthing the next big pop star.
His notoriously harsh criticisms were both beloved and reviled by audiences, who sometimes took to judging the judge with verbal expressions of praise or disappointment. It was Cowell’s opinion that became the primary predictor influencing the larger culture, and his tendency to spot big talent early on often made his fellow judges look like amateurs.
Cowell was also good for ratings. Along with his witty one-liners and brutally honest critique, Cowell’s explosive—and sometimes sexual—chemistry with co-stars provided the show with some much needed drama. There’s no doubt audiences missed his playful sparring with Paula Abdul this season, even though he and Ellen DeGeneres tried to forge a comparable rapport (in a sad twist of irony, DeGeneres, who was likely chosen for her comedic gifts brought little comedy to the table). Simply put, Cowell was one of the show’s most entertaining elements.
Now at the end of their ninth season, “Idol” is facing the loss of its star player and, for the first time, a ratings decline. So execs at Fox are scrambling to find a worthy replacement who might draw ambivalent viewers back into the fold.
About a month ago, rumors swirled that Season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert might take Cowell’s spot on the judges’ panel, but Lambert has since said he plans to focus on his music career (a wise choice). Then came another rumor that radio host Howard Stern might get an offer—but his declaration that it would take $100 million likely stunted any potential. Not to mention, Stern’s racy humor is hardly a match for “Idol’s” family-friendly demographic. Then again, a healthy dose of Jewish humor might go a long way.
Other names that have been tossed around include Elton John, Jamie Foxx, blogger Perez Hilton and former Sony music exec Tommy Motola. So far, Fox has been mum about Cowell’s replacement, though an announcement is expected any day.
But frankly put, Cowell is irreplaceable. His greatest gift throughout nine seasons on “Idol” was his unrelenting, unmerciful criticism. Time and again, Cowell’s voice gave the unreality of “Idol’s” instant-fame-and-fortune formula a real-world reality-check.
May 25, 2010 | 2:06 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
What seemed like an imminent sale is now a failed negotiation for Walt Disney Co. and the Weinstein brothers.
Disney officially ended talks over the potential $625 million deal that would bring Miramax back under the control of its founders, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, thanks to some much needed capital provided by billionaire Ron Burkle, the Fortress Investment Group and Colbeck Capital. Apparently, the complicated four-party negotiations irritated Disney, but the final straw came with restructuring Miramax and its relationship to The Weinstein Company, the brothers’ other independent film outfit.
Some rumors already have Disney in talks with the Gores brothers, Christian billionaires born in Nazareth, Israel who have long expressed interest in the company. But it is still premature to say whether the Weinstein option is off the table for good—or if this is yet another power play in a twisted negotiation.
May 25, 2010 | 4:31 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Even though the White House won’t divulge the guest list for this Thursday’s Jewish Heritage Month reception, the names of the chosen few are slowly leaking out—and many of them are based in Los Angeles.
So far, we’ve learned that Rabbis David Wolpe and Sharon Brous will attend the reception, along with a shining cohort of community leaders, activists and innovators including: Olympic swimmer Dara Torres, Jumpstart co-founder Shawn Landres, JDub records CEO Aaron Bisman, as well as Eli Winkelman, the founder of Challah for Hunger and Mindy Finkelstein, the young woman who was wounded during the 1999 shooting at the JCC.
According to an Associated Press report, the guest list is “an eclectic and interesting one — and markedly different from past Jewish-themed events” held at the White House. The story notes that the “most prominent guest on the list, according to several people familiar with it: former baseball great Sandy Koufax, the left-handed Hall of Fame pitcher for the Dodgers who famously refused to pitch in a World Series game on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism.”
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Obama Administration’s outreach to the Jewish community comes during a time of tense relations between the U.S. and Israel, with an American Jewish community that feels increasingly divided on the administration’s approach. The AP report refers to the reception as just another gesture in Obama’s “charm offensive”, though Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a Jewish member of congress, told the AP she’s been lobbying to see this event realized since mid-way through the Bush Administration. Indeed, it was President George W. Bush who signed Jewish Heritage Month into law in 2006.
Wasserman Schultz said she doesn’t believe there is any ulterior motive related to Obama’s invitation. “This is a way to demonstrate that President Obama is committed to the Jewish community. But also it’s a way to educate Americans about the contributions of American Jews, to breed tolerance and understanding,” she told the AP.
Read more about the White House reception for Jewish leaders here.
May 21, 2010 | 1:19 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Note to fashion designers: using Hitler in your ad campaigns—even in a “tongue-in-cheek” way—doesn’t go over well with the public.
From the UK Telegraph:
The 18ft high posters of the Nazi leader advertise a line of clothing for young people and adorn street corners and bus stops in Palermo, Sicily’s biggest city.
The ads show the Fuhrer in a lurid pink uniform, with his swastika armband replaced with one bearing a bright red heart, above the slogan “Change Style – Don’t Follow Your Leader”.
Many local people say the advertising campaign is offensive and have called for the posters to be taken down.
A council official, Fabrizio Ferrandelli, said: “Having Hitler’s face on a poster… cannot be passed off as an innocent advertising message. Seeing these posters in front of schools is an embarrassment.” But the advertising agency which came up with the idea said critics of the campaign were over-reacting.
The Hitler poster was a tongue-in-cheek way of encouraging young people not to follow the crowd in their fashion choices.
“We have ridiculed Hitler in a way that invites young people to create their own style and not to be influenced by their peers,” said the agency’s Daniele Manno.
Impressionable locals will now have to brace themselves for a fresh affront – the company plans to bring out a new poster campaign in the next few weeks featuring Mao Tse Tung.
May 21, 2010 | 10:10 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Crazy things happen in Cannes: Saadi Gadhafi, the middle son of the Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi has agreed to spend $100 million backing Matt Beckerman’s film fund with a slate of 20 films over five years, reports Sharon Waxman at TheWrap.com.
Beckerman, a 33-year-old former music promoter, is the CEO of Natural Selection, a company he began in 2008 but was all but wiped out by the global economic crisis. It was out of sheer desperation—his own grandfather couldn’t help him—when he hopped a plane to the Middle East looking for funding. There he was introduced to Saadi Gadhafi.
According to TheWrap.com, the men got to talking—for three hours. Gadhafi’s dictator-father background didn’t bother Beckerman, who grew up Jewish in a predominantly Irish-Italian neighborhood in New Jersey.
But what would Gadhafi think about working with a Jew?
“On the day they met, [Gadhafi] took Beckerman out to the beach for a private chat and asked him if he [Jewish],” reported TheWrap.com. Beckerman said yes.
“Great,” Gadhafi said. “The fact that you and will do business together will change perceptions.”
But even if Beckerman is comfortable working with Gadhafi, there are some in Hollywood who are not. Beckerman told Waxman, “It’s been challenging. Initially when people hear it, they get concerned. But it’s money at a time when there’s very little equity out there.”
The idea that a climate of tricky economics can spawn unlikely relationships—for better or worse—is an area of obvious relevance to Israel.
Last Monday night, I had dinner with Idan Ofer, an Israeli shipping tycoon and one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen. He seemed to think that Israel’s capitalistic impulse may ultimately endanger it. After all, how much can technology and innovation matter to the soul of a country if you’re willing to sell it to the buyer with the most cash?
In an increasingly global economy, a Jewish kid from New Jersey making movies with a Libyan dictator may become par for the course; but if that same Middle Eastern dictator owned a chunk of the Israeli economy, much more is at stake than money.
May 20, 2010 | 2:25 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Remember in elementary school when being called a “JAP” was an insult? Well in Hollywood, being spoiled and snobby is an asset that can make you famous. And one group of producers has it in mind to create a show about—you guessed it—Jewish American Princesses.
The other day PerezHilton.com posted a casting notice for a new reality show about wealthy Jewish girls described as “Jersey Shore” meets “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” So expect an incredibly flattering portrait of Jewish women.
According to the casting notice, producers are “looking for ‘Super Jappy’ groups of friends!” because “gone are the days where being a JAP is a bad thing – today Jewish American Princesses are proud.” So proud, in fact, they’ve even gone “classy”?
“Think Jersey Shore meets Real Housewives of New Jersey – but classier,” the casting notice reads. “We want beautiful, fun, outspoken groups of Jewish American Women.”
Wow, what a way to undermine the stereotype. Seriously, who comes up with this appalling garbage?