Jews in the News: Ellen Barkin, Newton Minow and Aly Raisman

A Surprisingly Jewish Boxing Movie

“Hands of Stone” tells much of the life story of boxer Roberto Duran, now 65, who held several major titles in the 1970s and 1980s and is ranked as one of the best fighters of all-time. It got good, if not great reviews when it played the 2016 Cannes film festival. It depicts, sometimes in flashbacks, Duran’s early life in Panama’s slums. It also covers his major bouts leading up to his two epic title fights with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980 (won first; lost second).  Duran was trained by the almost legendary RAY ARCEL (1899-1994). Arcel, who is played by Robert DeNiro, coached dozens of champions in a career than began in the 1920s (including great Jewish champions like BENNY LEONARD and JACKIE “Kid” BERG.) Born Ramel Arcel, he was named after a grandfather who died in a pogrom.  Unlike most boxing trainers of his era, Arcel was a mensch in his business dealings. Also, while you expect a boxing trainer to have street smarts, Arcel stood out because he also had school smarts (he graduated from Stuyvesant, a top New York City public high school that requires an admission exam).

The Hollywood Reporter says that DeNiro depicts Arcel as “a largely honorable, fatherly alta cocker in a sometimes grubby sport.” ELLEN BARKIN, 62, and JURNEE SMOLLETT-BELL, 29, have supporting roles as, respectively, Arcel’s wife and Leonard’s wife. (Opens Friday, Aug. 26)

Reviews have heaped praise on Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez, who plays Duran.  The director, JONATHAN JAKUBOWICZ, 37, is a Venezuelan of Polish Jewish descent. He also wrote the “Hands” screenplay.  His first film, “Ships of Hope” (2000), is a documentary about Jewish refugees reaching Venezuela just before WWII. It won many awards and was broadcast by HBO throughout Latin America. His other big directorial hit is “Secuestro Express” (2005), an action/crime thriller which he also wrote. It became Venezuela’s biggest grossing film of all-time, including imports like “Titanic” and “The Passion of the Christ.”

One You Have to See: the Story of an Ultra-Mensch

I just caught a PBS TV airing of “Newton Minow: An American Story” and you really must see this documentary which can be viewed on PBS on-line in full, for free. If you know anything about NEWTON MINOW, a very spry 90, it’s that he was the chairman of the FCC in the early 1960s and that he took TV broadcasters to task for offering viewers “a vast wasteland” of junky programs. But there’s much more, including the remarkable way that Minow’s life story touches on so many things, including very contemporary issues. Just a few examples: his parents were poor Jewish immigrants, but his mother fought to have Minow’s older disabled brother get public schooling-- and how his brother’s disability made the whole family better people; he clerked for the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice at the time (1952) the famous school desegregation cases were pending-- and we learn about his early commitment-- at the court, at the FCC, and at his law firm, to racial and gender equality; how he was critical to the launching of communication space satellites and indirectly in the development of the computer chip; and it was his law firm that gave Michelle and Barack Obama their first law jobs—and it was at his firm they met and fell in love. The program ends with an apt Talmudic quote from one his three very accomplished daughters (another daughter is dean of Harvard Law School). Enough spoilers! Watch it!

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The Olympics, In Context

Congrats to JO ALEH, 30 a New Zealander who won the bronze medal in the 470 dinghy class sailing competition (she won gold in 2012) and Aussie JESSICA FOX, 22, who won a bronze in the canoe slalom K-1 class (she won silver in 2012). It wasn’t a great Olympics in terms of the number of Jewish Olympic winners or medals won. Still, if you think about, any medal won by a tribe member defies statistical odds. There are 7-8 billion people in the world and only 15 million are Jewish—that’s a little over a tenth of one percent of the world’s population.  The 2016 Jewish medal count is 3 gold, 2 silver, and four bronzes. That total is better than most countries, including some with a population way above 15 million. All the more reason to be aware of and celebrate great athletes like Aleh, Fox, gymnast ALY RAISMAN (one gold, two silvers); swimmer ANTHONY ERVIN (two golds), and Israeli judo athletes OR SASSON, 26, and YARDEN GERBI, 27 (who both won bronze).


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