Scenes from the Opening of Andy Warhol: Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century

Soup Can Flower Vase

The crowds rush-in

In the corner with Freud and Buber

Viewing source photos

Josh Kornbluth speaks about “Warhol’s Jews”


Washington DCJCC past-president Billy Kreisberg and current Vice-President Mindy Strelitz

In the presence of genius

Why Our Preschoolers Phrase Their Answers in the Form of a Question

by Mark Spira, Chief Development Officer

Leslie HurdThe Washington DCJCC always knew it had one of the best and brightest preschool staffs around, but now you can see for yourself. Wednesday night at 7:30 preschool teacher Leslie Hurd will make her debut on Jeopardy on WJLA Channel 7.

That’s right, she’s on the long-running granddaddy of all game shows and the one most people judge their own useless font of knowledge against. Leslie not only made the cut but spends her days in a classroom proving that all that knowledge is a good thing—especially when you are trying to hold the attention of a group of 2 and 3-year-olds.

Due to strict confidentiality clauses we don’t know what happened, but that hasn’t stopped the rest of the JCC—staff, parents, toddlers—from trying to pry tidbits out of Leslie since she returned from L.A.– but to no avail. So we will all tune-in Wednesday night to find out how she did, what she wore, whether she got to make it a true daily double, and what exciting anecdote she shared with Alex after the first commercial break

And once it is on the air we can even get an answer to the biggest question of all from Leslie, is Alex Trebek really a robot and how many people does it take to operate his animatronic features?

(Oh, by the way, don’t worry mcrosenthal, it’s on 30 minutes BEFORE the Olympics so you won’t miss any medal events or stories about the hard-scrabble slalom skier who learned his craft by skiing in-between trains on his way to school from his chalet as a disadvantaged youngster growing up on the mean straßes of the Swiss Alps.)

Why I Love the Olympics: A Love Letter to Apolo Anton Ohno and Michael Phelps

Apolo Anton Ono olympic-sized crushI hate sports, I really do. Football is far too slow, baseball a bit boring and basketball – the pro-athletes there now are more celebrity than sportsmen (see: Shaq turned actor, Rodman turned…who knows).

But I love the Olympics. Summer and Winter, I’m an equal opportunity Olympian lover. This love is a fairly new one, only fully discovered in Beijing after experimenting in Salt Lake City, Sydney and Atlanta. What can I say? It takes me time to trust a new love.

Buy why? Why, why do I love the Olympics if I so detest regular sporting events? Is it the excitement of the various games? The exotic (ne Vancouver) locations? The dreaminess and seeming attainable-ness of Michael Phelps and Apolo Anton Ohno? The crazy X-Games-esque tricks of the Winter or the grace of Summer sports?

Nope. (Sorry Michael and Anton, you’re still my boys) In these games, I’ve come to realize it’s the amateur nature of the games and the big dreams; That is to say, most of these (mostly young) people are not technically ‘pro’ athletes. For the most part, these Olympians will complete their games, their Olympic careers, and grow up and do something else. Of course, that is not always the case – we do have Scott Hamilton and the other Stars on Ice. It’s not as sad as it might sound, to end your athletic career so early. For many of these athletes, just getting to the Olympics is the goal. Think of the hundreds upon hundreds of names we never hear or see on screen. They’re not contenders – but they are there, and that is the dream.

I have friends who continue to root for failing and losing pro-sports teams. Now, these athletes get paid thousands and millions of dollars to do a job – to play, entertain and win. If they don’t do these things, then aren’t they failing on the job? Why sill root for them? Why not fire them? We don’t have the same issue with the Olympians. This isn’t a job, it’s a passion and dream. Though not my personal dream to don 12 inch plus, razor sharp skates and risk cutting my hand off in speed skating, far be it from me to tell somebody else that it’s not worthwhile.

And I love the stories. Whether the Olympian is a kid – just 15 years old, or considered “old” for the sport – in their 30’s but still racing for an Olympic gold. These are real people, seemingly someone you could run into on the street. Maybe not the super stars who we hear about most, but the hundreds of other competitors! For me, there is something so insanely amazing and awe-inspiring about seeing someone with supposedly the same genetic make-up as myself doing extraordinary things. These people are determined, motivated, passionate. They are the true role models.

So I guess now when people ask me if I like or watch sports, I can truthfully (and happily) answer YES. Yes, I love the Olympics. Pure, unadulterated, satisfying and unconditional love. I don’t root for the winning team, I’m not disappointed when they lose. It’s not ‘Team USA or Bust.’ I’m proud of each and every one of those athletes, because they are doing something I could never do. Something brave, courageous, and for the most part, something they wont’ get paid for. All for love of their sport.

Already dreaming of Summer 2012…

3rd Annual Presidents Day Salute to President Levine

Our third-annual Presidents Day posting from 2008, saluting the best example we could find in American speculative literature of what it might take for a Jew to be elected President in the United States. One year into the historic Obama Presidency I am still struck by the novel’s remarkable prescience at the challenges a President or serious Presidential candidate from a traditional “outsider group” would face.

Barack Obama may very well become the first African American President, or alternately Hillary Clinton may become the first woman elected President. It is even possible that John McCain may become the first, well, really really seriously old white guy to be elected President (72 on inauguration day). It is safe to say however, that the first Jewish president is yet to be on the ballot.The Wanting of Levine

So for the time being Jewish Presidents belong to the realm of fiction, which brought to mind Michael Halberstam’s 1978 bestselling novel The Wanting of Levine. It is long out of print, though it appears in the catalog of the Montgomery County Public Library system. When I went seeking a copy this weekend, the librarian I consulted noted the book had not circulated in five years and was probably long-gone from the shelves. Lucky for me, she was wrong.

Set ten years in the future from its publication date (and twenty years before our current quadrennial contest), the novel presents a United States that is well on its way to being a second-rate power. Energy rationing is in effect, standards of living are declining, racial violence is increasing, individual states are involved in border wars over trade and tariffs — there’s a general sense that things are going to hell very quickly. To top it off, the Democrat’s front-runner for the nomination has just stabbed his wife to death in a drunken rage. Enter the mercurial figure of A.L. Levine, until now a back-room DNC committeeman after a fortune made in sales and real estate development. When circumstances thrust him into the spotlight, Levine begins his own unlikely candidacy.

The novel is one-part political insider fiction, one part-late seventies sex romp, one part liberal Jewish wish-fulfillment and one-part a canny take on the rhythms of political enthusiasm and what Americans want from a President. Written as it was in a pre-AIDS, pre-Reagan, pre-Internet and pre-collapse of the Soviet Union (just to mention a few epoch shaping “pre’s”) era, the novel obviously has limits when applied to today’s political landscape. Certainly, Levine, with a libido Bill Clinton could only envy, would not be electable, never mind even runnable in today’s climate.

But certain aspects of Levine’s character — his “firstness” to coin a phrase, his lack of governing experience, his personal charisma do bring to mind the current campaign. In one stump speech he says:

This is the first time I have run for office. It’s an advantage not to be a politician because like all occupations, politics puts a mark on a man. Politics is a worthy, noble profession, but a lifetime in it requires so much compromise, so much dealing, that a person tends to forget what his real principles were in the first place. … Compromise is necessary, but a lifetime of it leaves a mark. It is fine for a career in the Senate, but not necessary or even desirable in a president. I am, I believe, experienced in politics, but not a politician.

Later, with his inauguration impending, Levine speculates to himself about what a great President might be in these times and perhaps anticipates the appeal to “purple states” and our first bi-racial President:

Something always had to give. In that he felt his strongest hope. If there is anything I can do, he thought, it’s to mediate, to intercede, to explain. What the country needs is a middleman, and as a middleman I’ve had two-thousand years practice. Without a middleman, without someone who genuinely felt for both sides, the country was going to tear itself apart, the young at the throat of the old, the freezing at the throat of the conservationists. The defenders of privacy clashed with the legions of the right-to-know. The right to bear arms collided with the right to avoid being shot to death at a stop light…Each American had his passion, and each clamored for attention, shouting, “I’m right! I’m right!” and demanding, insisting, that the government ensure his claim to the right–while denouncing the spread of government.

It is a novel thirty years on, that is as breath-taking for what it gets right as for what it gets wrong (Mexico figures large in the novel, but in geo-political terms it more resembles modern Venezuela). It captures the spirit of the contact sport that is American politics, while at the same time, is unafraid to cop-to the sublimated desires of the body politic.

Michael Halberstam was the brother of renowned author and journalist David Halberstam. Michael was an internist in Washington, DC when he wrote the novel and was tragically murdered a few years after the book’s publication in dramatic circumstances.

Snomageddon Updates

So here’s a quick summary of where our schedule stands in lieu of the weather:

  • Pre-school and administrative offices will close at noon.
  • Nehirim Queer Shabbaton is still on. We have arranged to keep the building open for this and other Shabbat services in the building on Saturday.
  • Fitness Center is scheduled to remain open until our normal Friday closing time of 6:00 pm.
  • Kids’ Swim Classes for Saturday and Sunday have been cancelled. Make-up classes will be scheduled.
  • Interfaith Couples’ Shabbat dinner has been cancelled and will be rescheduled.
  • Rikkud DC for Sunday night has been cancelled (more due to the Super Bowl than weather)
  • The Gift Shop will be closed on Sunday

Other programs that may be affected:

  • Theater J’s performance of “The Four of Us” on Saturday night, Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening. 
  • Kids’ Karate Classes on Sunday.
  • Group Exercise classes.
  • Soccer and Basketball leagues on Sunday.
  • Yiddish Class for Sunday evening. 

We will post new information as it becomes available.

Ajami’s Foreign Language Oscar Nomination for Israel: Can it win?

The first thing that needs to be said is, “Way to go Israel!” This is the third year in-a-row that an Israeli film is nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. In fact, Ajami  is Israel’s ninth candidate to make the final round of nominees–making Israel the country that has been nominated the most times without a win. They’re turning into the Susan Lucci of foreign films.

I wrote about Ajami back when we premiered the film in DC as part of the 20th Washington Jewish Film Festival. While I don’t think it is as strong a film as Israel’s two prior nominees (Beaufort and Waltz With Bashir), this category is particularly quirky and there are good reasons why this film could be the one to finally take home the golden statuette for Israel.

First, is the film’s subject which is a neighborhood mixed with Jews, Christians and Muslims in the city of Jaffa. It also deals with several characters who have snuck into Israel-proper from the West Bank and are working in Arab businesses illegally. The film provides real humanity to all of its characters without forcing you to choose sides. In this way it pulls off the neat trick of being a film about Arab-Jewish relations in Israel that isn’t chiefly concerned with the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Second, the production team behind the film reflects the mixture of peoples in Jaffa. The film is co-written, co-directed and co-produced by the Yaron Shani, “an Israeli Jew” and Scandar Copti “a Palestinian citizen of the Israeli state” according to their bios on the film’s website. Hollywood likes the warm fuzzies that come from collaborations like these — although the film is by no means warm and fuzzy.

Third, this just might be Israel’s year by sheer fact that they have had a nominated film for the last three years. Oscars are rarely about the quality of the actual films. Sometimes they are about what makes good TV — giving Ajami the Oscar could provide a memorable moment for a Jew and a Palestinian to stand at the podium making a plea for tolerance and communication. 

Finally, Israel can only be nominated so many times without winning before someone begins to cry foul.

This category is notoriously hard to predict, especially with traditional cinema powerhouses like Germany and France present. Ajami is also a difficult film to appreciate with a non-linear story-line, a host of characters to keep track of, and an ending that doesn’t send you out of the theater smiling.  But it is great for Israel to have it in the Oscar mix, and another reminder of what a filmmaking dynamo the state has become.


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