Posted by Danielle Berrin
At first, the ADL’s Entertainment Industry dinner honoring Relativity Media founder Ryan Kavanaugh did not augur either acclaim or good fortune. The banquet hall was smaller than in years past, the crowd a little bit sparser. It was not at all obvious at the beginning of the night if Kavanaugh’s philanthropic influence would even come close to matching his influence at the box office.
“Well, you know, this isn’t Spielberg,” one attendee whispered over whitefish with artichokes, referring of course, to the ADL’s 2009 honoree who attracted more than a thousand people to the annual dinner and solicited more than $2 million in donations.
But the night – and the chosen honoree—was young.
Electus founder and CEO Ben Silverman, best known as executive producer of “The Office” and a former co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, kicked off as the evening’s emcee. In his opening monologue, Silverman told the crowd of 300 that earlier that day, he had celebrated his son’s bris, the Jewish rite of passage that came under fire earlier this summer when an anti-circumcision ballot initiative was proposed in San Francisco. “It’s the great work of the ADL that made this possible,” he said of that morning’s politically restored ritual. “It’s not only that the ADL fought this, but they got it to become law that [circumcision] could never be banned.” (Assembly Bill 768 prohibiting cities and counties from banning male circumcision was introduced by Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) and passed the state legislature in late August; it was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in early October).
Next Silverman introduced a video in which Kavanaugh’s industry colleagues – among them Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Tom Sherak and the singer Michael Buble—saluted him. Sherak called Kavanaugh “as generous a human being as I’ve ever met in my life…the ultimate mensch” – high praise for the glamour-loving, vintage-car collecting hotshot.
“I’ve never had a standing ovation before,” Kavanaugh said with a boyish smile when he took the stage. Besuited in black and pairing a tie with his signature sneakers, Kavanaugh played the boy in king’s clothing – an image reinforced by his spiky red hair, doubly-lined chin and young-looking face.
“People always say to me, ‘Ryan Kavanaugh? Red hair? But I’m here to assure you I’m Jewish – on both sides, mother and father,” he said. “So until my mother admits an affair with the milkman – I’m a Jew.”
His long-winded but heartfelt speech made that clear: Kavanaugh has two grandparents who were Holocaust survivors; he talked about sitting in shul on Yom Kippur; he mentioned his rabbi, Steve Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple and even talked some Torah, telling the story of Soddom and Gemorrah; he talked about the Israeli-Palestinian prisoner exchange deal designed to rescue Gilad Shalit; he talked about intermarriage and assimilation and, in an admonishing tone, the fact that Jewish couples are not having enough Jewish children.
And then he brought it all back to Tikkun Olam: “As those of us who sat in temple on Yom Kippur know, you come away with one underlying goal: to help others in need.” And even though Jews come away from the holidays with good intentions, he said, “we don’t do our most.” His big Yom Kippur takeaway this year, which came straight from his rabbi’s sermon was: “Do not do to another what is hurtful to you.”
“That’s exactly what the ADL stands for,” he said. “That’s what we need in this world.”
“The Jews in this room are the luckiest Jews in the history of Judaism,” he said. “And in Hollywood, we get to hold a megaphone to the entire world—our voices travel the entire world through film, television and news – what do we do with that power?”
“It has to become our job to stop oppression,” he continued. “If you believe in The Golden Rule, it is not a choice. You must help.”
Then Kavanaugh stunned his colleagues by declaring a little fundraising auction. His goal: to increase $430,000 in pledges to match last year’s total of half a million dollars. He promised to match every penny that came in – then he started calling out names…
Ben Silverman was the first to raise his hand. “I don’t want to discourage others from donating,” but “I’m happy to throw in another $25,000,” Silverman said. Lucky one.
Next Kavanaugh called out for $10,000, then $5,000, all the way down to $100.
By the end of the night, the event raised nearly $600,000 – which proves that first impressions are rarely lasting ones—and that sometimes, it pays to sit through rubber-chicken dinners because something golden awaits.
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October 11, 2011 | 6:19 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Even after enduring the death of one spouse and the divorce of another, Paul McCartney hasn’t soured on marriage.
The second-most famous Beatle wed for the third time on Sunday—to his second Jewish wife, the 51-year-old Jewish-American “heiress” Nancy Shevell. The couple married in London just after attending Yom Kippur services on Saturday, where the then-bride-to-be reportedly received a Jewish blessing (a warm-up for The Big Seven?). According to Wikipedia, Shevell is on the board of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the vice president of a family-owned transportation company that includes New England Motor Freight.
McCartney’s last marriage to Heather Mills ended bitterly, leaving him crestfallen and cash-poor(er): Mills reportedly won a $50 million divorce settlement after only 6 years of matrimony. McCartney’s first marriage, to the free-spirited, animal-loving, veggie-eating Linda Eastman, ended when she died of breast cancer in 1998.
According to Haaretz:
McCartney wed the divorced New Yorker in a civil ceremony at London’s Marylebone Register Office before 30 invited guests, ahead of a reception in his back garden in north London, reports said. He reportedly serenaded her with a song written in her honor.
Far as we know, there were no Jewish rituals or customs performed at the wedding, save for the default-Kosher organic vegetarian menu. But shul attendance on Yom Kippur suggests something promising—or at the very least, strategic. After all, nothing like a day-long ritual fast to help squeeze into that Stella gown.
While a Beatle conversion to Judaism is most certainly magical thinking, McCartney apparently hasn’t lost his faith in love. While some celebrities can subsist on the dopamine doses of success, fame and adulation, never cathecting to commitment, McCartney keeps diving in for something deep and lasting. All You Need Is Love, right?
Read more at Haaretz.
October 5, 2011 | 7:09 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Just yesterday, I was sitting with a friend who was delivering the play-by-play on Apple’s iphone4 announcement with childlike excitement. I was sort of stunned that such an accomplished adult could descend into puerile giddy fascination in an instant: Was this a 10-year-old boy unwrapping a present or a 30-something director of award-winning films? Then I realized, as he read line-by-line, each new feature as it was announced, that he was being seduced. Grown-up style.
“That Steve Jobs,” I said. “He knows the art of seduction. Whatever will they do without him?”
Then my friend said, “I think there are some stars that are too bright to last a long time, like somehow it makes sense that such a brilliant star would burn, burn, burn and then explode. It’s too much to be contained.”
I thought of so many stars—movie stars, music stars, literary stars, science stars—who die too soon. I thought of Amy Winehouse; and how a melancholy Tony Bennett recalled to Jon Stewart what a “real jazz singer” she was. I thought of Ralph Steinman, the Canadian-born Jewish biologist who was selected to receive a Nobel Prize in medicine—three days after he too, like Jobs, had died of pancreatic cancer.
Long-burning light is diminished over time; by its end, may barely light a room. But some stars blaze hot, bright, and luminously every moment of their existence, giving off brilliance and blessing to all who encounter them. What human being could store energy enough to deliver such a blaze indefinitely? Every passing day must meet the dark. But what cannot last, what is rare, is treasured and sacred.
Steve Jobs was such a star. And now his earthly light has joined eternal light.
October 5, 2011 | 6:45 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
In ancient times, the rabbis probably couldn’t imagine that, one day, a Kol Nidre service would be broadcast live on something called the Web.
Naturally, some would have shunned the implications of such a modernizing event for a tradition steeped in ancient mores and law. The new often threatens the old.
Even today, the concept of online worship is seen by some as a violation of halachah. Is a virtual minyan equal to a fleshy one? Does checking in with the click of a smartphone count the same as showing up? For some, the Internet’s contribution to new notions of community represents progress, a way of making Judaism in one place accessible to a global audience anywhere — and in real time.
The way technology has irreversibly transformed human culture is the subject of Tiffany Shlain’s documentary, “Connected: An Autobiography About Love, Death & Technology.” Shlain, a brainy blonde from Northern California with a penchant for big ideas and bright lipstick, has crafted a nonfiction essay movie that traces the origins of the universe to contemporary civilization through myriad lenses, such as evolution, art and neuroscience. With a comprehensive view of history, Shlain tries to get at our current purpose: “What does it mean to be human in the 21st century?”
“All technology is an extension of our desire to connect,” Shlain said during a Q-and-A following a benefit screening on Oct. 2 organized by the nonprofit think tank Jumpstart. But, while Shlain posits that technology is rewiring our brains, literally changing the way we think, it is not, however, changing what we ultimately want: human closeness. And in an ironic twist, at the heart of Shlain’s cerebral meditation on constant, compulsory connection is a father/daughter love story about letting go.
In the middle of production, her father, Leonard Shlain, a renowned brain surgeon and author, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Through her eyes, he is faultless and ideal, a superhero with a super-brain. He is at once Superman, who magically appears to rescue her from a car accident, as well as an in-house Einstein, who solves her problems and stimulates her creativity. When it becomes clear she will lose him, Shlain can think only of capturing his final moments on film. She needs something to connect with after he is gone.
But a video and a visage do not a father make.
Of the many lessons Shlain learned from him, the most significant came while on a ski lift. As a young, curious girl, Shlain was moving about during the ride up and slipped under the bar. Her father barely caught her by the sleeve of her jacket. Sensing the limits of his strength, Leonard told his daughter he would not be able to hold on to her the whole way up. With slushy snow below and rocky cliffs ahead, he looked her in the eyes and told her it was safer to drop her there. “Don’t let me go, Daddy,” Shlain remembers saying. “You’ll be OK,” her father promised.
Decades later, when brain cancer began metastasizing in her father’s head, Shlain again wanted to plead: “Don’t let me go, Daddy.” It was unthinkable to surrender something so precious, to disconnect from someone who, for all her life, had so deeply fulfilled her. And yet, to not do so was impossible.
All human beings crave connection. It is a wonder of the technological age that connection is possible at all times to almost anyone, anywhere. “We are living in the most exciting time, when 7 billion people will be connected,” Shlain said. To her, being plugged in is not merely play: In “Connected,” Shlain reveals that each time a person clicks to send a text, or open an e-mail, a hormone called oxytocin is released in the brain. Most prevalent during female reproduction, oxytocin is associated with bonding, arousal and emotion. The effect of this always available neuro-stimulation makes us unwitting junkies of online connection, ever increasing the craving.
But almost no connection, human or electric, is destined for permanence. Relationships break; power goes out. What is left of a global social network when there is a power outage? What is left of human relationship when someone you love dies?
Each week, Shlain and her family practice a “technology Shabbat.” For 24 hours, concurrent with the Jewish Sabbath, they power down the things that connect them globally to focus on the things that connect them locally. A day in the living room with her husband and two daughters is not defined by tools that connect, but by love that binds. Only the deepest emotional connections can survive a forced shutdown, or a necessary letting go.
On Yom Kippur, Jews shed their skins to get at their souls. They disconnect from work and technology and try to connect with God. “A part of all faiths is the idea of connectedness at its core,” Shlain said. “Everyone wants to feel part of something larger than themselves.”
Connection, though, is simply a beginning. Life is a continuous cycle of drawing close and letting go, birth, death and the need for love.
In a scene near the end of the movie, Leonard Shlain makes an appearance at his own funeral. Enabled by a prerecorded tape and a giant video screen, technology allows him a final postmortem act. Superimposed over a cloudy, blue sky, he appears as if from heaven and tells those gathered: “I’ll always be with you.”
Leonard Shlain knew that when the video screen went off, he’d live on in the hearts of those who loved him.
October 3, 2011 | 7:40 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
“The war for Hanukkah is on,” declared The Hollywood Reporter in a news brief announcing a second Maccabee-inspired film helmed by producer Bruce Nash.
This comes in the aftermath of a controversial move by Warner Bros. to greenlight a Mel Gibson-produced Maccabee movie that some Jewish leaders decried as dishonorable, even immoral. Gibson, of course, is widely believed to be anti-Semitic, which may make the Nash plans a welcome development. Nash, a longtime TV producer whose company, Nash Entertainment helped spawn the reality craze with shows like “Before They Were Stars” and “Who Wants To Marry My Dad?” said he is not looking to compete with Gibson but to tell his own, authentic story.
“Doing this project comes from a very positive rather than a negative point of view,” Nash told THR. “This is not just a matter of dueling Hollywood projects.”
Even THR reports sees the potential spin for Nash whose project may garner support simply because it’s an alternative to Gibson:
That antipathy could provide an advantage for Nash’s project, which, unlike the Gibson effort, already has a finished script by Scott Abbott, who wrote the HBO movie Winchell and co-wrote Introducing Dorothy Dandridge for the cable network.
While Christmas has been represented extensively in TV and film—most recently in the Catherine Hardwicke-directed The Nativity Story—Hanukkah has yet to claim its own holiday classic. The Nash-Abbott version is clearly counting on the support of those in the industry who want to provide a take on Hanukkah that doesn’t involve Gibson—or his eight crazy nights.
For Nash, who is Jewish, the project is personal: “I’m proud of my religion and this story is about heroism, courage and sacrifice,” he said. “I thought it was an important story to share with people of all faiths. For me this project is a lifetime in the making.”
October 3, 2011 | 5:22 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I’m guessing from IKAR’s weekly email blast congratulating actor Seth Rogen on his marriage to “Superbad” actress Lauren Miller that the “female rabbi” who married the pair, as reported by MTV.com, was Sharon Brous. I’m also guessing this means it was a bonafide Jewish wedding, so mazel tov.
According to reports, the event was apparently star-studded, with Jonah Hill, Adam Sandler, Paul Rudd, Judd Apatow and his actress-wife Leslie Mann in attendance.
Read more on the Rogen nuptials at MTV.com.