Jews in the News: Eli Dershwitz, Aly Raisman and Jesse Eisenberg

The Tribe at the Games

The Rio Olympics start on Friday, August 5. The following is a list of confirmed Jewish Rio-bound athletes, other than Israelis. Fuller bios can be found on-line.

American: ELI DERSHWITZ, 20, individual saber fencing. This Massachusetts native just finished his sophomore year at Harvard; NATE EBNER, 27, rugby sevens. Ebner is now most famous for his outstanding special team play with the NFL Boston Patriots. But, he was an outstanding high school rugby player. He inquired about playing rugby in the Olympics this past April, and while the coach was skeptical—Ebner surprised him with his play and game smarts and he made the team—which is given a good chance to medal; ANTHONY ERVIN, 35, 50m freestyle swimming. Ervin, the son of a Jewish mother and an African-American father, won a gold medal (50M) in 2000. In 2010, he began training again and made the 2012 team. He’s the oldest American male Olympic swimmer since 1904; JENNIFER and MONICA ROKHMAN are 19-year-old identical twins who compete in rhythmic gymnastics. Their parents are Russian Jewish immigrants who live near San Diego. The twins have lived in Northbrook, Illinois for several years, with a guest family, so they can be to near their coach. NBC is already featuring them because of the "novelty twin factor." MERRILL MOSES, 38, water polo goalie. Moses has played in two prior Olympics. In 2008, his team won silver. The U.S didn’t medal in 2012; ALY RAISMAN, 22, gymnastics. She thrilled America and Jews worldwide with her gold medal-winning individual floor exercises performance to the tune of “Hava Nagila”. Raisman also performed well in the team competition and the U.S. won the team gold medal; ZACH TEST, 26, rugby sevens. A top rugby player, he played in the 2009 Maccabiah Games in Israel.

New Zealand: JO ALEH, 30, women’s sailing (470 dinghy). Aleh, the daughter of two Israelis, won the gold in this event in 2012.

At the Movies

“Café Society,” directed and written by WOODY ALLEN, 81, stars JESSE EISENBERG, 32, as Bobby, a Bronx Jewish neurotic who heads West in the 1930s to work for his uncle, a powerful Hollywood agent (Steve Carrell). There he falls in love with Vonnie, his uncle’s mistress (Kristen Stewart).  She doesn’t return his affection, and he returns to New York, where he works for his gangster brother (COREY STOLL, 40) as a nightclub manager. He turns the club into the hottest in town—the place where “café society” must go. Bobby then meets and weds a beautiful socialite (Blake Lively) and everything is fine until Vonnie walks into his café. (This film opened on July 22; but check local theater listings for when it opens near you).

Appearing as Bobby’s mother is JEANNIE BERLIN, 66, the daughter of comic legend ELAINE MAY, 84. Berlin got an Oscar nomination for playing the sad-sack wife in “The Heartbreak Kid” (1972). By the way, “Entertainment Weekly” recently ranked all of Allen’s 46 films and placed “Society” in the middle (#22).  On the other hand, many top critics are hailing “Indignation” as the best film, to date, made from a PHILIP ROTH novel or short story (the film version of “Goodbye Columbus” is considered the next best. Most of the other six films are described as terrible, including “Portnoy’s Complaint”).

 The 2008 novel and the film begin in 1951. The Korean War is raging and many, like the central character Marcus Messner (LOGAN LERMAN, 24), go to college, in part, to be exempt from the draft. Messner is a Jewish native of Newark, New Jersey (like Roth, now 83) and he goes to a local college for his freshman year. However, he wants to get away from his neurotic father, a kosher butcher, and he accepts a scholarship offer from a small, conservative Ohio college. He transfers to this school for his sophomore year. There he becomes infatuated with a beautiful student (Sarah Gadon) with major mental problems. Meanwhile, he clashes with a dean about mandatory chapel attendance and that friction, without giving away the ending, has a profound effect on his life. The film was directed by and written for the screen by JAMES SCHAMUS, 56, who has a doctorate in English from U.C. Berkeley. He’s probably best known as the partner of director Ang Lee, producing and often co-writing Lee’s films like “Brokeback Mountain.” “Instigation” is his debut as a director. (Opens some places July 29th. Check theater listings for the next few weeks).

Garry Marshall: Shalom To A Honorary Tribe Member

Director, writer, and producer Garry Marshall died on July 19, age 81. In 2006, then San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick LaSalle gave a good review to “Keeping Up with the Steins”, a comedy directed by Garry’s son, Scott (whose wife is Jewish). It's about a family coming together to celebrate a boy’s bar mitzvah. Marshall played the boy’s elderly Jewish hippie grandfather. LaSalle, who calls himself Italian-American in the review, noted: “It may come as a surprise that Garry Marshall is not Jewish but Italian -- his family is from Abruzzo. And he doesn't try to act Jewish for the role -- that's really him. Marshall just happens to be a Jewish-seeming Italian, a sort of Harvey Keitel in reverse.”

Actually, LaSalle was just a bit off---while Marshall’s father was Italian Catholic, his mother was mostly WASP and he was raised Protestant. However, as Marshall details in his 2012 autobiography, “My Happy Days in Hollywood,” his Jewish connections began early and were a lifelong constant. His Bronx neighborhood was all Italian and Jewish and his building, almost all Jewish. His childhood baseball team included his buddy MARTIN GARBUS, now 81. Garbus is a famous legal scholar and the father of famous documentary maker LIZ GARBUS, 45. Fast forward to 1961, and Marshall begins finding big time success writing sit-coms with (the late) JERRY BELSON. Then they began creating series, and the second, “The Odd Couple” (1970), was a hit.  The first series Marshall created alone, “Happy Days” (1974), became a monster hit. I’ve often thought that if Marshall was Jewish, and not just philo-Semitic, he wouldn’t have the guts to cast so many Jewish actors---both stars of “Odd Couple” were Jewish, as were four of the seven lead actors in “Happy Days.” So, in tribute to Marshall, you must rent “The Flamingo Kid” (1984), the first flick Marshall directed and wrote. While the word “Jewish” doesn’t come up, Marshall perfectly captured the milieu of an overwhelmingly Jewish beach club circa 1965—and it’s a good movie, to boot.


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