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Community Briefs

December 19, 2002 | 7:00 pm

Spielberg Donates $1 Million to Aid Israel

Producer-director Steven Spielberg pledged $1 million to aid Israeli terrorism victims and has named five Israeli and U.S. organizations as the initial recipients of the grant. Spielberg's Righteous Persons Foundation cited the filmmaker's "concern for the current crisis in Israel and for the country's innocent victims" in announcing the grants.

Spielberg established the Righteous Persons Foundation in 1994 and has financed it through his entire profits from "Schindler's List." Until now, practically all grants by the Righteous Persons Foundation have been earmarked for projects to strengthen Jewish life in the United States, including those related to education about the Holocaust.

However, under the impact of terrorism on Israeli life, this policy has now been changed, and the foundation has designated at least 10 percent of its new commitments in 2002 for "efforts to respond to the tragic situation," said Rachel Levin, associate director of the Righteous Persons Foundation. A similar percentage for the same effort is foreseen for 2003, although the money will not necessarily go to the same organizations.

Named as the initial recipients of "significant donations" are:

  • The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for its Jews in Crisis program, which directly funds mobile emergency units, trauma centers, school security and assistance to terror victims in Israel.
  • American Friends of the Hebrew University for scholarships in memory of the nine Israelis and Americans killed in the July 21 terrorist attack at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
  • Selah-Israel Crisis Management Center, a volunteer network that assists new immigrants victimized by terror, violence and sudden crisis.
  • Natal-Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War, which provides professional psychological counseling to terror victims and their families.
  • Eran, which operates an around-the-clock help line offering emotional support, in four languages, for those in crisis. With continuing terrorist attacks, the volume of callers rose to 53,000 in the first half of 2002 alone. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Battle to Recover Nazi Loot Advances

The long legal and emotional battle by Maria V. Altman to recover the paintings stolen by the Nazis from her family moved a major step forward when a federal appeals court ruled last week that she can proceed with her suit against the Austrian government. The unanimous decision by a three-member panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco marked the first time that a court at this level has decided that a foreign government could be held to answer in the United States for a Holocaust claim.

Altman, an 87-year-old Cheviot Hills resident, is seeking to recover six paintings, now valued at $135 million, by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, including a portrait of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer.

Professor Michael Bazyler of the Whittier Law School, an expert in Holocaust-related claims, described the court ruling as a milestone in Holocaust restitution legislation. Altman's attorney, E. Randol Schoenberg, who initiated the lawsuit two years ago, also hailed the ruling as "a very big deal ... and in many ways unprecedented." Peter Launsky-Tiefenthal, the Austrian consul general in Los Angeles, said that his government would most likely file an appeal. -- TT

Panel Looks at Image of Jewish Women in Media

Seven women in the entertainment industry visited UCLA Nov. 13 to participate in a panel discussion titled, "Hollywood Images: A New Look at Jewish Women in the Media."

"Chances are that most people in the world won't know a Jew, which means that most people will only know about Jews through what's portrayed in film, television, books or other media, so we feel that it's important that that portrayal be accurate, diverse and positive," said Olivia Cohen-Cutler, vice president of broadcast standards and practices for ABC.

Cohen-Cutler was moderating the panel comprised of members of the MorningStar Commission, a group founded by Hadassah that advocates improving the image of Jewish women in the media.

The event, which was part of UCLA Hillel's newly established Arts and Culture Initiative, was sponsored by UCLA Hillel, USC Hillel and The MorningStar Commission. It included panelists Joan Hyler, president of Hyler Management; Laraine Newman, actress; Andrea King, screenwriter; Susan Nanus, film and TV writer; Arlene Sarner, screenwriter, playwright and producer, and Paula Silver, president, Beyond the Box Productions.

Each panelist explained how she broke into the entertainment industry and described the ways that she integrates her Jewish identity into her current success. Newman, an alum of "Saturday Night Live" who recently played a rabbi's wife on "7th Heaven," told the audience that when she was beginning as an actress, she was often pressed to get a nose job and refused. "I really wanted to maintain my Jewish features. I made my way looking the way I did, and that was very important to me," she said.

"I'm very comfortable being Jewish and very proud of being Jewish," Nanus said. "I wasn't always popular and didn't care."

Nanus said she dedicates her career to creating screenplays falling under the categories of "women, children, Jews and the underdog," including, "If These Walls Could Talk" and "Rescuers, Stories of Courage in the Holocaust."

King, who has written for the Jerusalem Post and whose scripts include "Body Language" and "Two's Company," has one key career rule: She refuses to work on a story where a Jewish man gets together with a non-Jewish woman. "I don't want to contribute to the perpetuation of an image that I think is unfair," King said.

Silver often tries to incorporate tzedakah (charitable giving) into her work. At the premiere of "Boyz N the Hood," she asked everyone who came to bring books to be donated to schools. While developing the marketing campaign for "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," her company became involved with a Greek foster-care organization.

"If you can do good while doing business, it's part of being Jewish," Silver said. -- Rachel Brand, Contributing Writer

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