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Jewish Journal

The Arts

by Curt Schleier

June 4, 1998 | 8:00 pm

"Robert F. Kennedy: A Memoir" is a balanced, warts-and-allportrait of the slain politician. Above, right, Kennedy and his sevensiblings with parents Joe and Rose. Above, Robert and brother John in1959. Below, Kennedy on the campaign trail, shortly before his 1968death.

When thecolumnist and author Jack Newfield started work on his documentaryabout Robert F. Kennedy, his mind was rooted as much in the presentas it was in the past. Yes, a large part of the purpose of thethree-hour special, "Robert F. Kennedy: A Memoir" (Discovery Channel,Sunday, June 7, 8 p.m.), was to commemorate and honor the latesenator on the 30th anniversary of his assassination.

But, says Newfield: "I also wanted to showeveryone born after 1968 what it was like and what politicians couldbe like. This is the standard we should hold our politicians to. Notall politicians have to be the way they are now. You can be apolitician who cares about people."

While the documentary is largely a tribute, it isa balanced, warts-and-all portrait of a man who overcame a privilegedbut conservative background to become a spokesperson for the poor andunderrepresented. His remarkable metamorphosis is presented throughthe use of archival footage and interviews with Kennedy staffers,colleagues and members of his family.

Newfield, who produced and wrote the documentary,is not entirely an unbiased observer. He covered Kennedy's New YorkState senatorial campaign in 1964, watched him in action in 1965 andrequested an audience with him early the next year to discuss apossible biography. A book editor had suggested that Newfield write abiography of then-New York City Mayor John Lindsay, at the time apresumptive national powerhouse.

"But Lindsay didn't interest me," Newfield says.He saw in Bobby Kennedy a far more interesting and challenging story,"a politician in deep flux. I think he was someone who could bechanged by experience."

As a young man, Kennedy served as counsel for Sen.Joe McCarthy's Senate Subcommittee on Investigations that, in theearly 1950s, held hearings during which unsubstantiated charges ofwidespread communist infiltration of the government were hurled aboutwilly-nilly. Even years later, as attorney general, when thegovern-ment first became involved in the civil rights movement, thesinger-activist Harry Belafonte told cameras, "I had the sense thathe felt that he did not belong."

Newfield agrees. "When he first became attorneygeneral, he was pretty limited and almost intolerant of people whowere different," Newfield says. "Born into incredible wealth, hesuddenly has to work with Martin Luther King Jr. and deal with theassassination of Medgar Evers and the fire hoses and police dogs inBirmingham. I don't think he understood that in some rural counties,blacks who tried to register to vote would be beaten and killed. Hedidn't understand that the FBI was often on the side of the racistsand not the government. But slowly he began to developempathy."

Newfield believes that the murder of his brother,the president, "was the defining event in Robert's life. He hurt somuch from that that he came to identify with anyone else who was hurtor wounded or grieving in any way. It began to open him up, not justto the plight of blacks but to the handicapped and anyone who wasvictimized."

While Kennedy was still late in criticizing theVietnam War and didn't enter the 1968 presidential campaign untilEugene McCarthy showed how vulnerable Lyndon Johnson's candidacy was,there was a sense that once he entered the race and if he won, allwould be right with the world again.

Newfield was with Kennedy for his briefpresidential foray and planned to publish his book following theelection. He was there when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. "It wasthe worst night of my life," Newfield says.

In this film, civil rights worker, now CongressmanJohn Lewis, says: "A great deal of hope died with the death of RobertKennedy."

Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. thinks that "itwould have been a different country" if Kennedy lived.

Not surprisingly, Newfield agrees. "People likeBobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. come around once in acentury. And here they are, both murdered eight weeks apart. Nocountry, no philosophy can recover from that. After him, Democratsdidn't have his love of country, his feeling for the working class,his capacity to create coalition."

In the film, Robert Jr., remembers the end toowell:

"We put him on the train to Washington, and Irecall, around Baltimore, just seeing these vast crowds of people,blacks on one side of the tracks and whites on the other, priests andnuns and rabbis. All different kinds of people. Many of them wereholding American flags. You could see that many of them were crying.And then some of them had signs that said, 'Goodbye Bobby.'"


Curt Schleier is a New Jersey-based artswriter.

Arts Briefs

A Fine Artist

The worlds of art, activism and philanthropyrarely intersect in the body of one person. Ruth Weisberg is theexception. An artist whose works have been acquired by such museumsas the Art Institute of Chicago and the Met, a longtime supporter ofHillel and feminist activist, and the dean of fine arts at USC,Weisberg has helped shape Jewish art and activism in Los Angeles.Last month, the USC Hillel Jewish Center honored her with aleadership award. Event co-chair Scott Stone praised Weisberg as an"inspired spiritual leader."

To mark the event, the artists created an originaletching, "Rachel," of which 36 impressions were made and sold toraise funds for the Ruth Weisberg Fund for Arts and Culture.

The event, held at the home of Stanley and ElyseGrinstein, boasted yet another Weisberg accomplishment: Music wasprovided by the band India Ink, of which her son Alfred WeisbergRoberts is a member. -- Staff Report

Ruth Weisberg,artist and dean of USC's school of fine arts was honored by theschool's Hillel chapter. Left to right, MFA candidate Nicole Cohen,Weisberg and student Marcie Kaufman. Above, Weisberg's"Rachel."


'Bearing Witness' with Humor

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

"BearingWitness" opens with a wisecracking Yiddish mama from the Old Country,who wears a Dodgers baseball cap under her head scarf while making kiddush , tryingto convince her 38-year-old daughter, a professor yet, that it's timeto start producing babies.

Fortunately, this clichéd beginning quicklyevolves into a provocative and, at times, moving play.

Playwright Nalsey Tinberg has the willingness andtalent to seriously confront such issues as the legacy of theHolocaust on survivors and their children, generational conflicts, aprofessional woman's race against her biological clock, infertility,marital tensions, and even a dash of 1960s politics.

If this sounds a bit heavy, it is occasionally,but Tinberg lifts the weight with frequent humorous asides (husbandto wife: "I want to start a family, so we can create our own neurosesin the privacy of our own home").

The fine four-person cast, under the direction ofKate Randolph, consists of Darlene Kardon as the mother; Judy Kain asher daughter, Sarah; Stephen Burleigh as Sarah's ex-lover; and BrianCousins, in an impressive performance, as Sarah's husband.

"Bearing Witness," which should be of specialinterest to those with Holocaust survivors in the family, playsThursdays through Saturdays, with Sunday matinees, until June 28 atthe Stella Adler Theater in Hollywood. For information, call (310)557-9323.


Music Notes

By Carvin Knowles, Contributing Writer

Klezmer as High Art

"Feidman and the Israel Camerata"

Conducted by Avner Biron, Pläne Records

While the restof the world knows Giora Feidman for his haunting clarinet on the"Schindler's List" soundtrack, we know him for his searing klezmersolos. His new disc, on Pläne Records, simply titled "Feidmanand the Israel Camerata," is quite a surprise. Starting out with alight classical work by Ora Bat Chaim, Three Pieces for Clarinet andStrings, the album appears to be pleasant but somewhat pedestrian.Appearances can be deceiving.

The fourth track is Noam Sheriff's moody andmodernistic "Gomel Le'ish Hassid." Sounding alternately likeStravinsky and Bernstein, Feidman delivers the goods with dignifiedpoignancy, grace and raw emotion. Next, the dark and energetic "LeGrand Tango" by the acclaimed master of Tango, Astor Piazzola, isperformed with strength, subtlety and a bit of humor. Saving the bestfor last, the disc ends with Betty Olivero's five-movement"Mizràch." Edgy and exciting, Feidman's clarinet sizzlesthrough the dissonant orchestrations with enough angst to curl yourhair. Masterfully conducted by Avner Biron, "Feidman and the IsraelCamerata" elevates klezmer to high art without a trace ofpretension.

Misha Alexandrovich

"The Wunderkind", Pläne Records

Russia's winters are long, dark and cold. You willremember this while listening to tenor Misha Alexandrovich's newrelease, "The Wunderkind." Touted as "Russia's best-kept secret,"Alexandrovich has a rich, strong voice and sings with such greatskill and control that he could have been a world-class tenor. Buthis delivery is just plain morose. He plods through Bach airs,Yiddish folk songs and operatic arias with the kind of somberheaviness that will have you calling the suicide prevention hot linebefore the disc is finished. Die-hard fans of Alexandrovich will love"Wunderkind" as a kind of all-time-most-depressing hits. The rest ofus should just skip it.

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