Jews in the News: Michael Lembeck, Max Fried and Kevin Pillar

Queen Bees; Baseball and Ice Cream

Opening June 11 in theaters is “Queen Bees”, a dramedy. It stars Ellen Burstyn, 88, as a feisty senior who temporarily moves into a retirement home because her home is being repaired. She battles elderly female bullies, makes a good friend (Ann-Margaret), and canoodles with JAMES CAAN, 81.   Christopher Lloyd and Jane Curtin have big supporting roles.

The director is MICHAEL LEMBECK, 72. His father, HARVEY LEMBECK (1923-1982), was a talented comedic actor (“Sgt. Bilko”). Michael, a practicing Jew, began as an actor. He had a big recurring role (Max Hovath) on the ‘70s hit sit-com “One Day at a Time” starring the late BONNIE FRANKLIN. He still acts now-and-again. He has been a busy director (mostly TV) since 1989. His credits include directing 20 episodes of “Friends”. He won an Emmy for directing a 1996 episode. His wife, former actress LORNA PATTERSON, 64, converted to Judaism a few years after their marriage and they have two children. In 2009, she received her cantorial ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion, a Los Angeles seminary. 

Most years, I give a run-down of Jewish baseball major leaguers early in this season. However, the “major league status” of an unusually large number of Jewish players was in flux in the first month of the season. About 13 Jewish players have some major league experience and most were invited to an MLB training camp. But only 6 now appear on a major league roster. This list was prepared with the aid of Jewish Sports Review magazine, a print publication.

The players are: RICHARD BLEIER, 33, relief pitcher, Miami Marlins. He pitched for the Israeli team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Bleier broke into the majors (Yankees) in 2015. He was traded to Baltimore in 2017, where he had an outstanding season. However, he was hampered by serious injuries in 2018 and 2019 and was traded to Miami in August, 2020. He performed well in the short 2020 season; ALEX BREGMAN, 27, third baseman, Houston Astros. Bregman, who was a bar mitzvah, broke into the majors in 2016 and has been a star player from the start. He is a very good hitter and a pretty good defensive player. He made the All-Star team in 2018 and 2019. His stats fell off in 2020. MAX FRIED, 27, starting pitcher, Atlanta Braves. Fried, who was a bar mitzvah, briefly played for Atlanta in 2017 and returned for a great season in 2019 (17-6; great ERA). He pitched well in the short 2020 season, but started rocky this season. He seems now to be returning to form; JOC PEDERSON, 28, outfielder, Chicago Cubs. Pederson, who also played for Israel in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, was an L.A. Dodger until this year. He’s known for being a streaky, power hitter who hits a lot of home runs and strikes out a lot. So far, he is hitting well this season; KEVIN PILLAR, 31, outfielder, NY Mets; Pillar, who was a bar mitzvah, spent his first 7 seasons with Toronto and has been with four teams in the last 3 seasons. He’s a good hitter and a very good outfielder. On May 17, he was hit in the face by a 94mph fastball and his nose looked just terrible. But he returned on May 31 and got a hit in his first game back; and ROWDY TELLEZ, 26, first baseman/designated hitter, Toronto Blue Jays. Tellez has been with Toronto since his rookie season (2018). He’s a good hitter, but has got off to a slow 2021 start. 

The following item was inspired by a reader question. It’s about ice cream, a summer time treat like baseball. The question: what national ice cream companies were founded by Jews?  Here’s my list. I don’t think anyone else has ever compiled one:  Baskin and Robbins was founded by BURT BASKIN (1913-1967) and IRV ROBBINS (1917-2008). Burt was married to Irv’s sister; Ben and Jerry’s was founded by BEN COHEN, 70, and JERRY GREENFIELD, also 70. They met in grade school; Haagen-Dazs was founded by REUBEN MATTUS (1912-1994) and his wife, ROSE MATTUS (1916-2006). The map of Denmark that used to appear on the Haagen-Dazs lid was in honor of Denmark saving most of its Jews during WWII; and Talenti Gelato, co-founded by DEAN PHILLIPS, 52, now a Minnesota Democratic congressman. His grandmother was PAULINE PHILLIPS (1918-2013), AKA “Dear Abby”. Sadly, none of these companies are now owned by their founder(s) or their founders’ descendants. 


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