Engel was born in New York. His father was a banker and his mother owned an antiques store. His mother feared for his future because he had severe dyslexia. He overcame it and graduated from Stanford in 1996. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Cairo, learned Arabic, and worked as a freelance reporter there for four years. Next, he went to Jerusalem, where he worked until 2003. Then he went to work for NBC, covering the Iraq war, the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war, and the war in Afghanistan.
I’m not sure if Engel regrets telling the press (the Washington Post in 2008) that he is Jewish. But he did and that fact can now be found pretty easily on the internet. In any event, his "Jewishness" is one more factor adding to the danger he faces reporting on war in the Middle East.
A 90-minute documentary entitled "American Masters/Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance" premieres on PBS on Friday, Dec. 28 at 9PM. The film traces the struggles and triumphs of the Joffrey Ballet, a pioneering American dance company that began in 1956 and was resident in New York from 1957 to 1995, when it moved to Chicago. In recent years, the company has enjoyed a great renaissance. The film is narrated by actor MANDY PATINKIN, 60, a Chicago native. Fun footnote: RAHM EMANUEL, 53, the present and first Jewish mayor of Chicago, was encouraged by his mother to take ballet lessons. He did so well that he was offered a ballet scholarship to the Joffrey School, then in New York. He turned it down in favor of Sarah Lawrence College, which has a strong dance program. Now the Joffrey is a jewel in Emanuel’s kind of town, Chicago.
Heads-Up: A Great Radio Series
The other day, I heard two terrific radio interviews conducted by actor Alec Baldwin. One was with African-American comedian Chris Rock and the other was with musical legend HERB ALPERT, 77. I thought they were brand-new, but it turns out my NPR station had only recently picked-up this series for broadcast and the Rock interview was a year old, while Alpert spoke to Baldwin last March. Baldwin is a great host and his bi-weekly series, "Here’s the Thing," can be heard, or downloaded on-line (Just search for Baldwin and the show’s title.)
Rock told Baldwin that his audience, although "half-white," appreciated the fact that he didn’t try and do "cross-over" stand-up material to appeal to the whites in his audience. In other words, like some Jewish comedians who do a "very Jewish" act—Rock does a quite black-oriented act. However, he shocked Baldwin when he said that he tried out his material, first, on Jews. You see, Rock explained that he first did new routines before an audience of mostly older Jews in West Palm Beach, Florida. If they laughed, Rock said, he knew he would "kill" with black people.
The Alpert interview covered his whole career: from his youth as the son of a clothing store owner in Los Angeles; to the success of the Tijuana Brass in the ‘60s; to his mega-success as a record company owner. More recent topics included Alpert’s painting and sculpture and his amazing philanthropic giving. Here’s one memorable quote from Alpert: "STAN GETZ [the late, great saxophone player] was like a brother to me. I produced two albums with Stan, and he played this one song that was just, man, goose bumps were flying up my back. I said, 'Man, what are you thinking when you’re playing?' and he says, 'Well, I think like I’m in front of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and I’m davening.' "
Nate Bloom writes a weekly column on Jewish celebrities, broadly defined, that appears in the Atlanta Jewish Times, the Cleveland Jewish News, the American Israelite of Cincinnati, the Detroit Jewish News, and the New Jersey Jewish Standard. It also appears bi-weekly in j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California. Most of the items in Bloom’s weekly newspaper column differ from the items in his bi-weekly column on interfaith celebrities for InterfaithFamily.com. If you wish to contact Nate Bloom, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org . The author welcomes questions and celebrity "tips," especially about people you personally know.