Jews in the News: Roman Polanski, Bernie Sanders and Marianne Williamson

Red Sea Diving Project/ Hollywood/Polanski News

 “The Red Sea Diving Project,” an original Netflix film, begins streaming on July 31. This dramatic film recounts the true efforts of the Israeli secret service, the Mossad, to rescue thousands of Ethiopian Jews in 1981. Many of them were hid in a Sudan resort (near the Red Sea) before being transported to Israel. The film was directed and written by Israeli GIDEON RAFF, 46, who shared an Emmy for best writing, dramatic TV show (“Homeland”).

 Most of the film’s characters are Jewish, but only two major cast members are really Jewish (Israeli actress ALONA TAL, 35, and Israeli actor MARK AVNIR, 52, who was born in the Ukraine and came to Israel when he was 4 years old. Avnir plays the head of the Mossad). Chris Evans, Ben Kingsley, and Alessandro Nivola have co-starring roles. Nivola’s paternal grandmother was Jewish.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” opens in theaters on July 26th.  It’s a big-budget comedy/drama, directed and written by Quentin Tarantino. I will avoid giving away the huge plot twists and “real history changes”. Suffice it to say it takes place in Los Angeles in 1969 and Brad Pitt stars as a washed-up actor who improbably gets drawn into contact with the notorious Manson family.  There aren’t any Jewish actors with a big part in the film. However, two real Jews figure prominently in the plot: film director ROMAN POLANSKI, now 85, and talent agent MARVIN SCHWARTZ (1927-1997).  In 1969, Polanski was married to actress Sharon Tate, a target of the Manson family. Two other real Jewish celebs are portrayed in the film, but are less important: actor/director SAM WANAMAKER (1919-1993) and “Mama” CASS ELLIOT (1941-1974), a member of the ‘60s rock group “The Mamas and the Papas”.

Polanski is, of course, a figure of controversy because he left the United States in 1978 rather than spend time in jail for unlawful sex with a minor. Polanski has reportedly finished a film about the Dreyfus Affair, called "An Officer and a Spy.” It tells the story of ALFRED DREYFUS, a French Jewish army captain who was falsely accused (1894) of spying for the Germans, convicted, and sent to the notorious Devil’s Island prison. The famous journalist and novelist Emile Zola rallied support for Dreyfus and he was eventually (1906) exonerated. The case divided France and stoked the fires of anti-Semitism.

It appears that Polanski will be able to get European distribution for his film, the first to be released since the rise of the “Me-Too” movement. American showings are less likely. However, Oscar consideration is a possibility. Each country selects one film as its official entry for the best foreign language Oscar. A special Motion Picture Academy panel considers these selections and picks 5 nominees for the Oscar. Talk is that Polanski’s film is responsible for a recent change in some arcane French rules that might have hindered the selection of Polanski’s film as France’s official Oscar selection. Expect a really big media circus if Polanski’s movie is a really good and ends up an Oscar nominee. Polanski, a Holocaust survivor, won the best director Oscar for “The Pianist”, a 2002 film about the Holocaust.

The Jewish Run-Down on Democratic Nomination Seekers

Two candidates are “just plain Jewish”-- Vermont Senator BERNIE SANDERS, 77, and author/lecturer MARIANNE WILLIAMSON, 67. Her father changed the family name, “Vishnevetsky” to Williamson. Marianne was raised a Conservative Jew and does mention being Jewish in public speeches; Colorado Senator MICHAEL BENNETT, 54, is the son of a Protestant father (with Mayflower passenger ancestry) and a Jewish mother. His mother, SUSANNE, was only a baby when she and her parents were imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto. Susanne was smuggled out of Poland. Susanne’s mother found refuge in a Catholic convent and her father managed to survive the labor camps. Bennett’s mother’s family, who came to the States in 1950, were never observant Jews. The Senator’s father identified as a Christian, but was not churchgoing. Bennett was raised with exposure to both his heritages, but not really in any faith. He says he believes in God, but is not a practicing “anything.”; New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has a Jewish great-grandfather, her paternal grandmother’s father. This grandmother was raised Catholic, as was Sen. Gillibrand.

Jewish ties: California Senator Kamala Harris is married to Jewish businessman DOUGLAS EMHOFF, 54. The Senator’s mother was from India and a Hindu. Her father was from Jamaica and a Baptist. She was exposed to both faiths. Harris and Emhoff wed in a civil ceremony in 2014.  In her recent memoir, Harris notes that at the close of her wedding ceremony, “…in keeping with our respective Indian and Jewish heritage, I put a flower garland around Doug’s neck and he stomped on a glass.” It was the first marriage for Harris and the second for Emhoff. He has two children by his previous marriage. I don’t believe his first wife was Jewish; Former Vice-President Joe Biden, a Catholic, has three Jewish ties by marriage: (1) His late son, Beau Biden, married HALLIE OLIVERE, now 44, in 2002 and they remained married until his death in 2015. The couple had two children, now teenagers. Olivere’s mother is Jewish, her father isn’t. There is no reporting on whether Hallie was raised Jewish, or the religious nature (if any) of her wedding to Beau, or what faith, if any, Hallie and Beau’s children are being raised in; (2) Biden’s daughter, Ashley, is married to Dr. HOWARD KREIN, 52, a Jewish ear-nose-and-throat doctor. They wed in 2012. A Catholic priest presided, with a rabbi “assisting.” They don’t have children; and (3) Hunter Biden, the son of the former V-P, wed MELISSA COHEN, 32, in May. The couple only knew each other a month before the wedding. Born and raised in South Africa, Cohen reportedly comes from an observant Jewish family. She was formerly married to a Los Angeles Jewish businessman. Her social media posts are very much against the Trump administration. She’s also posted a video of a desecrated Parisian Jewish cemetery with comments showing her anguish. No word if the wedding was secular or religious. The groom, however, got a “shalom” tattoo, which matches one his wife has long had.


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