Jews in the News: Romain Gary, David A. Kessler, and Ron Klain

Loren Returns; Mega-Overachievers: Kessler, Emanuel, and Klain

Now streaming on Netflix is “The Life Ahead”. Sophia Loren, 86, plays Madame Rosa, a Jewish Holocaust survivor who became a prostitute after being liberated. In her old age, she provides daycare for the children of (active) prostitutes. The film focuses on her relationship with a black, Muslim 12-year-old boy. The film is based on “The Life Before Us”, a 1976 by ROMAIN GARY that won France’s highest literary award. Reviews are very good for Loren’s first film in 10 years. Loren and her son Edoardo Ponti, 47, the film’s director, discussed the film and Loren’s whole career on the Nov. 8 episode of CBS Sunday Morning (it’s on-line).

President-Elect Joe Biden announced the 12 members of his Covid-19 Transition Advisory Board on Nov. 9. Dr. DAVID A. KESSLER, 69, is one of the three co-chairs of the Board. Kessler got a law degree from the Univ. of Chicago in 1977 and a medical degree from Harvard in 1979. (He did his last year of law school at Harvard. He took medical school and law classes during the year overlap). He intended to be a hospital head with the two degrees. By 1984, he was a hospital head, while, at the same time, teaching medical classes at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine and law at Columbia University. He was appointed FDA commissioner in 1991 by President Bush.  He pushed for quicker approval of new drugs (especially for AIDS), truth-in-labeling, standardized nutrition labeling, and regulation of tobacco. These policies made him popular with Democrats and Bill Clinton kept him on as head of the FDA.  He left in 1997. Since then he has held several posts, including dean of Yale’s medical school. 

Here’s a ‘Jewish geography’ sidelight that may amuse you. It took time to confirm that said Kessler was Jewish. Finally, one clue led to his NY Times wedding announcement. He wed PAULETTE STEINBERG (an attorney) in 1974. Her cousin, a rabbi, presided over the wedding. The couple had two children and, sadly, divorced sometime after 1997.

Shortly after I found the announcement, I spoke to a quite elderly relative who follows the news closely. I mentioned that Kessler was Jewish. She said, “Yes, I knew his parents—his father, IRVING, was ‘fancy’; he was in the jewelry business with his brothers. I knew David and Paulette a little.” Bottom line: the Kessler family lived within a few miles of my Long Island elderly relative. I now believe that suburban elderly Jews have an 80% chance of being “Jewish aware” of celebrities who lived within 10 miles of their home and I should check with them first.

Ezekiel “Zeke” Emanuel, 63, an oncologist and bio-ethicist, was named to the Advisory Board. Emanuel is currently chair of the department of medical ethics and health policy at the Univ. of Pennsylvania. He is most famous as a special advisor during the Obama administration, offering advice on the creation of “Obamacare”. His brothers are RAHM EMANUEL, 60, the former mayor of Chicago and President Obama’s first chief-of-staff, and ARI EMANUEL, 59, a very important Hollywood talent agent. Their father was an Israel-born pediatrician who fought in the War of Independence. Zeke has made a number of recent news show appearances (especially MSNBC). He isn’t as good looking as Rahm. But he comes off as a much warmer person.

It came as no surprise when it was announced (Nov. 11) that RON KLAIN, 59, would serve as chief-of-staff when the President-Elect took office.  This Indianapolis native and Harvard-trained lawyer served as chief of staff to VP Al Gore (1995-1999) and VP Joe Biden (2009-2011). While Biden’s chief-of staff, Klain oversaw the $787 billion stimulus package that helped ward off a deeper recession after the 2008 economic collapse. He returned to the Obama White House in 2014 to become the point man for the administration’s successful response to the Ebola outbreak, which has now made him one of the go-to (news program) experts for responding to the coronavirus. He is also the Democrats go-to guy for Presidential debate prep.  All these “things” are “nice”, but everyone says his best “thing” is always telling it “straight”, no matter how important the person he is talking to.

Personal stuff: Klain is married and has 3 kids. I’m not sure of his wife’s faith. His sister, MARLO KLAIN KATZ, and her husband, TODD, are quite active in the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis. She was formerly an ESPN reporter, covering auto races like the Indy 500.


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