The Jewish ‘Jersey Boys’ Writers of the Baltimore-bound smash hit talk about the musical’s Jewish-Italian connection

Rick Elice (left) and Marshall Brickman (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Rick Elice (left) and Marshall Brickman (Photo by Joan Marcus)

If there’s one thing that our Italian cousins and we Jews share, it’s a needling sense of conscience. We’re each compelled by our own personal and shrill Jiminy Cricket forever prodding us to spill the beans. About ourselves, about our worldview, our foibles, what we wish we were and, inevitably, what we wish were not.

Whereas the prototypical Italian Catholic finds reprieve through private congress with an unseen priest, we Jews tend to accomplish the same via public confessionals … by way of making movies, television shows and, often, Broadway spectacles.

Which is why it should be of little surprise that two good Jewish boys from the hoighty-toighty Upper West Side of Manhattan would end up the chosen ones anointed to tell what has become one of the most salient representations of the Italian-American’s 20th-century experience, working-class Jersey-style.

“Aside from possibly speaking another language or believing that Jesus is the savior, do I feel something in common with the Italians? Of course I do,” said the first of the writers in question, Rick Elice.

Along with his sometimes writing partner Marshall Brickman, Elice penned the hit Broadway musical “Jersey Boys,” which won multiple Tony Awards when it first premiered in 2005 and which will be playing for the second time since its initial run in Baltimore at the Hippodrome Performing Arts Center from Tuesday, Sept. 27 through Sunday, Oct. 2.

“Jersey Boys,” adapted into a film (also written by Elice and Brickman) helmed by actor-cum-director Clint Eastwood in 2014, tells the unabashedly warts-and-all, rags-to-riches-to-rags story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, who found international success with such chart toppers as “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” throughout the ’60s and ’70s.

Along with being “intensely family-oriented,” Elice suggested that what Brickman and he discovered in common with their background and those of the Four Seasons — four Italian toughs, some of whom served jail time before they were 30 — is “a real sense of ‘the other’ and having to fit into a larger society.”

“Jersey Boys” tells the story of the Four Seasons and features performances of their hits from the 1960s and ’70s. (Jeremy Daniel)

“Jersey Boys” tells the story of the Four Seasons and features performances of their hits from the 1960s and ’70s. (Jeremy Daniel)

“There’s the possibility in all of our backgrounds to have felt marginalized or disenfranchised at one time or another, being immigrants. Certainly that was true of the Jews, Italians, Irish, the blacks,” said Elice.

Even in the “great bastion of Judaism” that was New York City during the time he was growing up, Elice encountered anti-Semitism, something he still sees as prevalent today and that, he worries, may in fact be on the rise.

This shared, profoundly palpable sense of being “othered” made it easier for Brickman and Elice “to understand  another demographic’s sense of isolation.”

While Elice, 59, aligns himself with Conservative Judaism — in his teens he considered becoming a cantor and in fact heard the music of the Four Seasons for the first time at a Jewish summer camp — Brickman, 73,  refers to himself as “culturally Jewish.” A self-professing “red diaper baby” raised in what he calls a socialist home environment by his mother and union-organizer father, Brickman’s Jewish identity was one of “pride for our history” more than religious conviction.

His bar mitzvah, therefore, was “more an excuse to have a little bit of a coming-of-age ceremony” held in a hall his parents rented and to which were invited a few friends and relatives who watched as the young Brickman, in lieu of reading from the Torah, gave a short speech whose content he can’t today recall but was likely “something about peace in the world.”

Brickman asserted Elice’s and his dissimilar religious ethos “doesn’t preclude our being very close friends.”
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The duo first met in the mid-’90s, courtesy a series  of auspicious circumstances revolving around mutual friends who included filmmaker Stanley Donen, writer Peter Stone and actor Roger Rees, Elice’s longtime domestic partner and husband-to-be who passed away in 2015.

It was some point around 2002 that Elice, working in  advertising and music promotion, received a call from an associate who had secured the rights to the Four Seasons’ catalogue. Elice thought it would be a wonderful idea: he loved Vivaldi.

“No,” the aspiring producer clarified. “Not that Four Seasons. The singer-songwriters behind ‘Rag Doll’ and other favorites.”

“Oh,” Elice countered. “Why?”

“To produce a musical based around the quartet’s songs. You know,” the fellow on the other end proceeded, “like the ABBA-based Broadway show ‘Mama Mia!’ that just came out to rave reviews and huge ticket sales.”

Elice balked at the concept. For one thing, he had no interest in writing a musical like “Mama Mia!” Someone else had already done that … and it was called “Mama Mia!”

There was also the problem that Elice had never written  a Broadway-bound musical. When the producer metaphorically and perhaps literally got down on his hands and knees to ask if Elice would at least  have lunch with principal songwriters Valli and Bob Gaudio, Elice asked, “Can I bring a friend?”

Brickman and Elice had been lackadaisically kicking around the notion of working together on a project, but they had been considering something along the lines of a film. Elice nevertheless rang his comrade in arms up and announced they were being tapped to  potentially write a musical about the Four Seasons.

Brickman’s immediate  response: “Why?”

The cast of “Jersey Boys” lines up to sing the hit “Walk Like a Man.” (Jeremy Daniel)

The cast of “Jersey Boys” lines up to sing the hit “Walk Like a Man.” (Jeremy Daniel)

Besides, Brickman reminded his friend, “I don’t know how to write a musical.” Elice conceded neither did he, but, “We’ll only be wasting our own time, they’re not gonna pay us anything, and if we screw it up, we screw it up. Maybe it’ll be fun.”

And, as Elice recalled, “That’s all it took.”

The fateful lunch with Valli and Gaudio would be a revelatory one. Brickman and Elice marveled at the many songs they hadn’t known were originally by the Four Seasons (and, it should be added, did lead to the selling of 175 million records). They also learned the unheralded story of the musical group that was so fascinating to the two that they couldn’t help but lean forward and ask why these astounding tales hadn’t been made public before.

It seems that while the Four Seasons had their fair share of hits and notoriety, as individuals they didn’t get many write-ups due to the mainstream press at the time’s zeroing in on contemporaries such as The Beatles and the bands of the British Invasion that, frankly, made for more popular headlines.

Of course, there was also a certain self-generated circumspection in talking with the press due to the Four Seasons’ checkered background. It was a different time back then, Valli and Gaudio reminded Brickman and Elice. That was back when brushes with the law tarnished one’s public image and career.

“So this true story turned out to not only be good, but untold,” Elice recalled. “And that’s really a mother lode for a writer. Marshall and I looked at each other and we knew. It was a eureka moment.”

Next came the unforgiving arctic glare of the blank page for two men who had never before done what they were about to do.

Though they were admittedly inexperienced at this particular form of artwork, they had one obvious ace in the hole: Brickman’s well-seasoned background in film, television and musical performance.
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“Marshall would hate me saying this, but he was one of the ‘bold face names’ of the people I most aspired to be,” said Elice, audibly swooning on the other end of the phone about the “pleasure of meeting Marshall, someone who is like an icon,” the first time on what would be “a big day for me.”

Brickman “was and is a part of the cognoscenti, especially when one is an over-privileged, overeducated, Jewish, liberal, left-leaning New Yorker who wants to think of himself as a potential person of letters,” Elice said.

“Marshall is like a lion of the culture, and I’m just a kid who got lucky.”

Brickman would humbly disagree with Elice’s sentiment that “there is absolutely no equality in our stature at all,” reciprocating the seemingly lavish praise.

“He may say something different because Rick’s very generous in his evaluation of our relationship,” Brickman said, “but I never thought of him as a protégé. I thought really early on after meeting and working with him that he was a great, undiscovered talent. So smart, so bright, so funny, so knowledgeable, and he knew so much more about the machine and process of Broadway than I.”

The almost neurotically modest, if you will, Brickman sees himself as less a lion and more someone whose career was “all about making sure I never fell on my face.”

We had a great time and ended up writing ‘Jersey Boys’ very quickly. — Rick Elice

To better understand Elice’s pseudo-fanboyistic gushing, it’s necessary to realize Brickman’s career has been as culturally impactful as impressively protean; if anything, it’s been one of a continual fall upward, with such steps along the way as: playing on the ubiquitous version of “Dueling Banjos” incorporated into the 1972 film “Deliverance,” producing “The Dick Cavett Show,” working as head writer on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” co-writing the pilot to “The Muppet Show” with Jim Henson and gigging with John and Michelle Phillips in their group the New Journeymen before Brickman “fled as though from a burning building” a year later with the Phillipses soon creating a subsequent project, the Mamas & the Papas.
And, of course, as anyone with even a cursory knowledge of contemporary film is aware, there’s ’60s folk-music-playing Brickman’s fortuitous sharing of management with an upstart comedian who at first baffled New York coffee shop audiences before honing his skills to become the Woody Allen we (think) we know of today, leading to a  series of collaborations between Brickman and Allen not limited to the Academy Awards’ Best Picture winner for 1977 and one of the most influential films of modern cinema, “Annie Hall.”

As he learned while working with Allen, Brickman found that “in every collaboration, there must be one side that is the ‘dominant force’ so that what comes out the other side has a semblance of elegance and consistency.” Here, the “lion of culture” confessed then that, yes, “there probably were times when Rick did defer to me.”

But it was always a healthy working relationship, the pair agree, with Elice stating that, “We had a great time and ended up writing “Jersey Boys” very quickly.”

The occasional disagreement would be easily salved by the underlining fact that, to Brickman, “when you have two people in a good working relationship who are sufficiently intelligent, the best idea usually wins.”

How this syllogism played out over the course of the writing could be illustrated by the distinct difference between Elice and Brickman in the employment of soi-disant sentimentality.

“Rick is by definition a much warmer and more open person than I, generally,” Brickman said. “And I tend to run screaming from sentimentality.”

Elice would bring to the table “a kind of warmth and emotion to the story of ‘Jersey Boys’ that I think really deepened it enormously and helped it to reach an audience on a different level than I would have been able to manage myself,” Brickman said.

Brickman’s incisive comedy-writing skills came in handy to “undercut” Elice’s more sympathetic moments to keep the overall framework relatively lambent and, ultimately, veiled with a humanistic humor that years of working with a master such as Allen helped manifest.

The “Jersey Boys” give it their all during a scene in the recording studio. (Jeremy Daniel)

The “Jersey Boys” give it their all during a scene in the recording studio. (Jeremy Daniel)

There was a scene early on in the writing process in which the characters of Valli and Gaudio were talking about going back out on the road again after a lacuna in their career. Valli confides in Gaudio that he’s nervous people might not like him anymore. In this earlier draft, Gaudio leans into Valli and encouragingly supports his fraternal friend, “This is your time.”

“Nuh-uh,” thought Brickman, who changed Gaudio’s line to an equally brotherly jibe more accurately depicting the true-to-life, complicated relationship of both the boys individually and fellow members of their social niche  generally: “Who says they ever liked you?”

As writers and artists themselves, Elice and Brickman know that where any story gets  interesting is in the conflict.  Including such counterpoint and, again, a “warts-and-all” version of the Four Seasons story was an essential component to the writers’ process.

There’s the possibility in all of our  backgrounds to have felt marginalized or  disenfranchised at one time or another, being immigrants. Certainly that was true of the Jews, Italians, Irish, the blacks.
— Rick Elice

When telling the life story of someone else (four someone else’s, at that), it can be a real tightrope walk. Contractually, Valli and Gaudio were given carte blanche to pull the plug if they didn’t like what they read or saw. Brickman revealed that early on in the creative process, there was a scene dealing with a woman who had had an affair with more than one of the quartet members.

“Oh, no,” Brickman said Valli pronounced, effectively knocking the scene onto the cutting room floor. “You can’t put that up on stage.”

“The impulse to include the warts in the story came from the fact that the warts is what made the story good,” Elice said. “As Marshall’s fond of putting it, you have these movie posters that say, ‘Based on a true story.’ With ‘Jersey Boys,’ we were able to say, ‘Based on a good story.’”

It’s this quality of the art beyond anything else that attracts Ron Legler, president of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center in which the Hippodrome is housed, to the story and is why he’s proud to be bringing “Jersey Boys” to Baltimore.

“I think ‘Jersey Boys’ hit home on so many levels for me,” Legler said, fondly recalling his first seeing the show during its premiere run.

Legler is equally excited by the galvanizing of what he says is a relatively new core audience.

“So often, you have these shows specifically geared toward women,” Legler said. “This is the kind of show you could take a guy to who never has been to Broadway, and he’ll say, ‘Hey, that was a great show, and I could do that again!’”

Legler sees the match of “Jersey Boys” and Baltimore to be “perfect. There’s a lot of similarities between the people of that time and today in a drive to be better than you ever thought you could be.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind that in the future, you’ll see ‘Jersey Boys’ back on Broadway,” Legler said, referring to the Broadway production’s closing in January 2017. “It’s such a compelling story, and you can’t help but feel fantastic after  seeing it.”

‘Jersey Boys’ plays at the  Hippodrome Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St.,  Baltimore, from Tuesday, Sept. 27 through Sunday,  Oct. 2. For more information and tickets, visit bit.ly/2ciRt66.

To read more about Elice’s and  Brickman’s work with Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood, visit bit.ly/2craeHI.

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

Baltimoreans Protest, Rally for Trump on Monday

Owen Silverman Andrews believes Donald Trump is regarded as anti-Semitic. (Justin Silberman)

Owen Silverman Andrews believes Donald Trump is regarded as anti-Semitic. (Justin Silberman)

No matter where Donald Trump visits as the Nov. 8 presidential election draws near, appearances from the polarizing Republican nominee always seem to stir up fervent  debate for his advocates and opponents.

That trend held true when Trump visited the Baltimore Convention Center on Monday afternoon to address the annual conference of the National Guard Association of the United States. In his address to military officers from around the country, Trump slammed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for describing his supporters as a “basket of deplorables,” telling the audience that the remark “disqualifies her from public service.”

Hours earlier, dozens of Trump advocates at a nearby rally described the 70-year-old business mogul-turned-politician as the candidate who could best unite the country.

Phil Kaplan, a 37-year-old Jewish lawyer and Towson resident, said Trump would make good on his promise to tighten national security and strengthen protection at the borders.

“There is absolutely no constitutional right to come to America,” Kaplan said, “and if we have to shut down immigration in certain ways for our protection, we may have to. I say that as a lawyer, and we need to do what we need to do for our basic, physical safety.”

Trump protestors, on the other hand, say he is unfit to serve as commander-in-chief in large part because of his lack of experience and short-fused temperament.

Sean Yoes, a journalist and West Baltimore native, said Trump supporters — the majority white with a mix of other races and ethnicities — were not representative of the country as a whole. Also, he does not think Trump’s hard-charging, aggressive rhetoric will solve the socioeconomic, racial and violence issues that persist in major cities with large African-American populations such as Baltimore.

“I simply believe that we have enough issues and troubles in our city without having Trump here stirring up hatred,” Yoes said. “Honestly, after what we’ve been through as a city over the last two years, he wants to make our city a backdrop for his hatred.”

It was Trump’s first appearance in Baltimore since earning the GOP nomination in late July. Addressing the National Guard officers as national  security has become one of the focal points of the presidential race, Trump spoke about beefing up the entire military to help squash threats of terrorism.

A Trump supporter (left) and a Trump protestor argue near the Baltimore Convention Center, where Trump spoke Monday. (Justin Silberman)

A Trump supporter (left) and a Trump protestor argue near the Baltimore Convention Center, where Trump spoke Monday. (Justin Silberman)

“We will empower our generals to do the job they were hired to do, and that begins with defeating and destroying ISIS,” Trump said. “Instead of endless wars, we want a real plan for victory. We will abandon the policy of reckless regime change favored by my opponent, and we will instead work with our allies to advance the core national security interests of the United States.”

Nina Therese Kasniunas, a political science professor at Goucher College, said the visit from Trump had a lot more to do with him portraying a certain image than his message.

“As he comes to cities like Baltimore, he’s trying to show he is expanding his reach to minorities, not just visiting cities populated mostly by working white middle-class men,” Kasniunas said. “It was very convenient for him to visit with him opening his new hotel in Washington, D.C., earlier in the day and then visiting Asheville, North Carolina later in the day.”

More than 100 people stood side-by-side outside the Transamerica Building at 100 E. Pratt St. to welcome Trump. Organizers sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” chanted “U.S.A. U.S.A.,” waved American Flags and encouraged drivers to honk their horns in support of Trump.

Elam Stoltzfus, 66, a real estate agent from Lancaster, Pa., sold Trump hats, T-Shirts and buttons at a roadside table. He said he is the third-largest  independent contributor to the Trump campaign, having spent more than $10,000 while following Trump to 13 different states across the country. All the money he generates through the sales go directly to the Trump campaign.

“He can balance a checkbook,” Stoltzfus said. “He does it every 30 days. The folks in Washington, D.C., don’t have a clue, so I just want to support someone who is going to put Americans first before anyone else.”

On the other side of the street, meanwhile, the Peoples Power Assembly organized a raucous demonstration to denounce Trump, whose adversaries shouted, “Black lives matter,” “Dump Trump” and “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go.”

Owen Silverman Andrews, a 29-year-old member of the Jewish community who teaches English as a second language, said he has a number of reservations with Trump. For one, Andrews feels Trump has a troubling image that is widely regarded as anti-Semitic, citing the example of Trump stereotyping Jewish business people.

“I just want to call on people here in the Jewish community in Baltimore and elsewhere to get involved,” Andrews said. “This is not someone else’s problem — this is our problem. We shouldn’t be the people of ‘never again’ for us, but we should be the people of ‘never again’ for anyone.”

In heavily Democratic Maryland, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, the state has not voted for a Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan won his second term in 1988. A poll conducted last week by Annapolis-based OpinionWorks concluded that Trump was trailing Clinton by 29 points in the Old Line State.

Even with Trump making a last-ditch effort to appeal to Maryland voters, Kasniunas isn’t convinced it will be enough when the election rolls around.

“I still don’t think Trump will generate much support from voters in Maryland despite the visit,” Kasniunas said. “For him, it’s all about getting as much support from outside his core constituents as possible and rallying independent voters to come out to the polls for him.”

Updated 9/14/16 from an earlier 9/12/16 post.

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

5 Feel-Good Stories from Israel That Will Echo into the Jewish New Year

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome watch lions at the presidential compound in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome watch lions at the presidential compound in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The Jewish state has nearly made it through another Jewish year and, as always, there was plenty to kvetch about in 5776.

But Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a time to take stock and celebrate.

Before the shofar blowing begins, here are five Israeli stories from the past year worth trumpeting. Expect them to echo into 5777 and beyond.

1. The Olympics Gave Israelis Reason to Hope

For Israel, the margin between Olympic disappointment and glory can be a single medal. The country came up empty in 2012, but two Israeli judokas grappled and leg-swept their way to bronze at the Rio games in August.

Their fellow citizens rejoiced: Waving flags and singing patriotic songs, hundreds thronged Ben Gurion Airport to give Yarden Gerbi and Or Sasson a hero’s welcome. The athletes were showered with flowers and hugs, and were immortalized by countless selfies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later met with the judo team.

The Olympics have special meaning in Israel, where everyone remembers the 1972 Munich massacre of 11 athletes and coaches by Palestinian  terrorists. The Rio games kicked off with Lebanese athletes  refusing to share a bus to the opening ceremony with the  Israeli delegation. And days before Sasson won his medal, a defeated Egyptian adversary pointedly refused to shake his hand. Israelis booed along with the crowd at the stadium.

Israel’s new medals brought the country’s total to nine since 1952.

Hoped-for windsurfing and rhythmic gymnastics successes proved elusive — and, as usual, some Israelis bemoaned inadequate national investment in the Olympics.

Yet, there were reasons to be buoyant. Seven Israelis made it to the finals in Rio, and the country competed in 17 sports, up from 10 in London, including three newer ones: golf, triathlon and mountain biking. Israel Olympic Committee CEO Gili Lustig has promised to do “some thinking” about improving Israel’s showing at Tokyo in 2020.

2. Israel Made New Friends in a Hostile World

As the Olympics reminded  Israelis, their country is unlikely to win any international popularity contests. But in the past year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government managed to find some new friends and potential allies.

Israel and Turkey officially reconciled recently following a six-year falling-out over the Mavi Marmara affair. While the deal, signed in June, may not make the countries BFFs again, it should help them  cooperate amid the chaos of the Middle East. Exporting  Israel’s natural gas bounty and rebuilding the Gaza Strip are potential joint projects.

Meanwhile, the shared threats of Islamic extremism and Iran have brought Israel closer to the region’s Sunni Muslim states, even if those states are loath to admit it. Weeks after a telling handshake with Israel’s Foreign Ministry  director-general, Dore Gold, Saudi government adviser Anwar Eshki publicly led a Saudi delegation to Jerusalem. And Gold flew to Cairo to  reopen the Israeli Embassy there — four years after protesters stormed the building and forced its closure.

In an update of former Prime Minister Golda Meir’s Africa policy, Netanyahu toured the continent for four days in July. Offering Israeli high-tech and security know-how and seeking diplomatic support, he was received in country after country like the leader of a world power.

Looking east, Gold has said Israel is building new relations with Asia, and Chinese investment in Israeli companies and venture capital funds has reached record highs. Spurred by the civil war in Syria,  Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin are in regular contact, and the Russian president may be plotting an Israeli-Palestinian peace push of his own. Who isn’t?

3. Haredi Orthodox Men in Israel Rolled Up their Sleeves

A majority of Haredi Orthodox men in Israel have jobs. That may not seem worth blowing the shofar about, but it’s a first. Since officials started keeping track, most of the  demographic has been out of work.

In 2015, the workforce participation rate for Haredi men was 52 percent, part of a 12-year rise since the figure was 36 percent in 2003, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics  reported in February. Haredi men in Israel have long preferred Torah study to work or army service, living off yeshiva stipends, state benefits and perhaps their wives’ salaries.

Haredi women are even better represented in the workforce at a rate of 73 percent, according to the government — more or less the same as among secular Israeli women. Israel’s overall workforce  participation rate is 80 percent.

Four of the 21 government ministers are women.

Many observers see a larger trend of Haredi society opening up to the outside world due in part to public and private investment — despite successful Haredi reversal of political reforms aimed at integrating the community. Today, an estimated 11,000 Haredi Jews are studying at  institutes of higher education, 5,000 are in the army and most are said to have internet access.

On a seemingly related note, Haredi birth rates have fallen. A surge in the relative size of Haredi preschool enrollment during the first decade of the millennium provoked much handwringing about the growing economic and social burden. But the trend has quietly  reversed, with Haredi schools accounting for less than 23 percent of preschoolers in 2015, down from more than 25 percent in 2008, according to the Taub Center for Policy Studies in Israel.

The share of preschoolers in Arab-Israeli schools has fallen even further. But the government has some work to do to reach its goal of putting more Arab women to work.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked joins a swearing-in ceremony for newly appointed judges at the president's residence in Jerusalem in July. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked joins a swearing-in ceremony for newly appointed judges at the president’s residence in Jerusalem in July. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

4. More Women than Ever were Making  Israel’s Laws

The 28 women elected to  Israel’s parliament in 2015 set a record. Since then, political reshuffling has seen the number move a little higher.

When Avigdor Liberman became defense minister in June, his Knesset seat went to Yulia Malinovsky, a member of his hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu party — sending the number of female lawmakers to 33. That’s right, more than a quarter of the 120 legislative seats are now occupied by women.

These lawmakers span the political spectrum. From left to right, there is the anti-Zionist firebrand Haneen Zoabi of the Arab Joint List; peacenik  Zehava Galon, the chairwoman of Meretz, and self-described “religious right-winger” Tzipi Hotovely of the ruling Likud. Notably absent are any haredi Orthodox women, whose parties prohibit them from running.

Four of the 21 government ministers are also women: Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of Jewish Home; Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev and Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel, both of Likud, and Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver of  Yisrael Beiteinu.

Despite the ideological  diversity, the women lawmakers sometimes come together to tackle issues related to women, including in the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality. Given lawmakers’ personal experience, sexual harassment may well be on the agenda when the Knesset starts its winter session in October.

5. The Government Backed Adding Sunday to The  Israeli Weekend

It’s not often that something happens with the potential to redefine how an entire country understands the relationship between time and space.

But that something happened in Israel in June, when ministers approved a bill that would give Israelis six three-day weekends a year starting in 2017 as a step toward making Sunday a day off. The legislation is to be reworked in committee before going to the full Knesset for voting.

Israeli weekends now run from Friday afternoon through Saturday to accommodate the Jewish Sabbath and Muslim Friday prayers. Many Israelis don’t work on Friday. But for religiously observant Jews, Shabbat rules prevent them from driving or visiting most entertainment venues from Friday night until Saturday night, allowing precious little time for fun.

Economists are divided on the merits of adding Sunday to the weekend. Supporters argue the plan would boost the economy by syncing Israel with the rest of the world and promoting consumption by a wider swath of Israeli society. Opponents worry it would reduce productivity, with observant Jews and Muslims getting less done on Fridays, and everyone potentially struggling through longer days to compensate for the long weekend.

But c’mon: Sunday Funday!

Woody Allen’s Longtime Writing Partner on Separating the Art From the Artist

The Baltimore Jewish Times spoke this week with “Jersey Boys” co-writers Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman about their enduring personal and working relationship, including Elice’s looking upon his writing partner as a mentor. Enjoying a profoundly eclectic and prolific career of collaborations – among them: “The Muppet Show” with Jim Henson, “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” “Dueling Banjos” with Eric Weissberg in “Deliverance,” playing with John and Michelle Phillips before they were the Mamas & the Papas and, of course, co-writing such Woody Allen sensations as “Annie Hall” – Brickman revealed his concerns about the general public’s growing inability to make a distinction between a work of art and its creator, between fantasy and reality.

During the course of our interview, Brickman explained that after collaborating with Allen on numerous sketches, stand-up bits and screenplays, he found himself missing the dialogues he shared with the filmmaker while forging ahead with intermittent solo efforts. It got to the point that Brickman would type up conversations with himself about what to do next as far as plot and character development on subsequent projects.

Chess genius and cause celebre Bobby Fischer playing against himself and “never losing,” as he claimed, sprung to mind after Brickman’s admission, leading to a frank discussion of Brickman’s take on his longtime friend and colleague Allen’s own mounting controversies over the years.

“Woody is an example of somebody who has quite consciously merged his life with his work, so in a sense, he has created a work of art called ‘Woody Allen,’” Brickman observed.

“It’s almost Warholian in its irony, and when he got in trouble, of course, people were willing to believe the things he was saying about himself in the movies. Having no other information, they were ready to believe the worst things about him, because it seemed not inconsistent to some of the things he was offering to the audience as to what he is actually like, which was really an invention. And then, suddenly, he got nailed by that.”

“I’m in an odd position in that I know him and I know the person he is,” Brickman continued, “and so I am able to separate the artist from the art.”

Brickman and Elice have found themselves in a relatively less odd position of having penned the 2014 film adaptation of “Jersey Boys” for director Clint Eastwood. Eastwood has taken something of a media shellacking over the last few years for his provocative personal politics resulting in his castigating an incorporeal President Obama in an empty chair at the 2012 Republic National Convention and a recent controversial interview with Esquire that included what was seen as a tacit approval of Donald Trump along with a rather gruff discounting of millennial political correctness.

“Neither of us really had any relationship with Clint Eastwood,” Elice said. “He made the film, we were never there and we didn’t see it until it was finished. I spoke with the man once, and he seemed to be pleasant. I think the personal politics of Clint Eastwood are irrelevant.”

Agreeing that his interactions with Eastwood during the production of the “Jersey Boys” film were basically nil, Brickman mused that, “I just sort of discount everything he says. Clint has an odd sense of humor. He likes to say things to stir people up. I mean, nobody can say anything about Clint Eastwood: He’s Clint Eastwood. I don’t hold anything against him. He was a very nice fellow.”

Eastwood has meanwhile received his typical lauds for his newly released film, the Tom Hanks-starring true-life tale “Sully,” and Allen has been able to continue at his triumphantly breakneck pace with both a new film, star-studded crowd pleaser “Café Society,” and his first-ever television series, “Crisis in Six Scenes” starring millennial poster-girl Miley Cyrus.

Brickman nevertheless laments the fact that be it the onset of what some call “identity politics” or the more fiscally focused concept of celebrity’s requisite attention paid to “personal branding,” audiences are indeed having difficulty concentrating on the quality of the art, distracted as they are by the life and personality of the artist, often merely an easily manipulated and befogged or outright apocryphal perception.

Read the Jewish Times’ cover story on “Jersey Boys” here.

Baltimore Hatzalah’s 10th Anniversary Carnival

Hatzalah of Baltimore will hold its 10th Anniversary Carnival at the Bnos Yisroel campus on Sunday, Sept. 11.

Hatzalah’s executive director Dovid Heyman laid out a full day of activities and tasty carnival favorite foods that will be offered and will allow for a “very, very family-friendly” event whose proceeds will go to the continued support of this local Hatzalah chapter.

Launched in 2007, Hatzalah of Baltimore is a group of volunteer emergency first-responders that services the Northwest  region of the community 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. According to Heyman’s numbers, his organization responds to as many as 1,500 calls a year.

“And we take all kinds of calls,” he said, adding that his team can operate quickly over a large area due to its 30 trained volunteers ready to be dispatched at a moment’s notice. The volunteers are assisted by 20 “dispensers” or those who take calls and coordinate with emergency volunteers.

Each member of Heyman’s group must attend special education classes every two weeks and is consistently working on strengthening his or her skills.

“We’re an organization that always goes the extra mile,  because we feel a connection to the people we are serving,” Heyman said.

The 10th Anniversary Carnival will be a celebration bustling with rides, face painting and balloon animal booths, along with the sale of hamburgers, hot dogs, popcorn and cotton candy. Considering that it falls on Sept. 11, Heyman said the carnival will also be an opportunity for a reverent remembrance of the tragic events of 9/11.

Heyman explained that New York’s Hatzalah volunteers were some of the first to respond to the 9/11 attack sites. It is partly for this reason that Hatzalah will screen a short documentary about the events of 9/11 that showcases New York Hatzalah’s heroic work during this traumatic  period in American history.

The documentary will be shown every two hours during the event.

“Attendees can expect a good time while supporting a great cause for our community,” Heyman said.

>>Baltimore Hatzalah presents its 10th Anniversary Carnival on Sunday, Sept. 11 at Bnos Yisroel, 6300 Park Heights Ave. For more information and tickets, visit facebook.com/ hatzalahbaltimore.

MKlickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

Stevenson Dedicates New Academic Building, Schools

From left: Malcolm and Sandra Berman, Stevenson University president Kevin J. Manning, State Sen. Bobby Zirkin and Stevenson board chair Jim  Stradtner take part in a ribbon cutting for the  university’s new academic center. (Photo provided)

From left: Malcolm and Sandra Berman, Stevenson University president Kevin J. Manning, State Sen. Bobby Zirkin and Stevenson board chair Jim Stradtner take part in a ribbon cutting for the university’s new academic center. (Photo provided)

Last week saw the opening of Stevenson University’s new state-of-the-art 200,000-square-foot academic center, which university officials say will  enhance the Stevenson educational experience, grow its student population and expand its programs to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving workforce.

The event, held on Aug. 30, included a ribbon-cutting ceremony and the announcement of two major naming gifts for two of the schools that are housed in the new center.

The large expansion of Stevenson University over the past two decades is largely due to the vision of its president, Kevin J. Manning. In his brief discourse at the event, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin said to Manning, “I remember your vision for the growth of Villa Julie College at the time. And I thought to myself, ‘He’s a dreamer. … I’m glad that he thinks he’ll be able to do these things that are critically needed for our community.’ I didn’t  realize that he would actually exceed even the plans that he presented on that day.”

It was announced at the ceremony that Manning is being honored by the university, which has named the new building the Kevin J. Manning Academic Center. Manning is serving his 17th and final year as the president of Stevenson University — he will retire in June 2017.

In his speech at the event, Manning said, “The opening of this building is the latest in a fantastic journey that we have taken, and there is much to celebrate. It has been an enormous undertaking and is a culmination of years of planning and building. The results are incredible and will give Stevenson students access to some of the best academic space around.” More than $13 million has already been raised by benefactors to fund the continued growth of Stevenson University.

The first school dedicated in the new academic center was the Sandra R. Berman School of Nursing and Health Professions. Berman has been on the Stevenson board of trustees since 2013. Through her philanthropic service, she has actively worked to guarantee that Baltimore’s health care and education systems are thriving. Malcolm Berman, Sandra’s husband, said in his speech, “This is all about Kevin Manning: his  direction, his commitment and his hard work … We have a big space in our heart for Stevenson, and we’d like to continue to see it grow.”

Additionally, the Beverly K. Fine School of the Sciences was made possible by the Beverly K. and Jerome M. Fine Foundation. The foundation’s trustees, Louis and Phyllis Friedman, selected Stevenson as the beneficiary of the gift this year because of Mrs. Fine’s keen interest in helping community health care initiatives. The Friedmans believe that this naming gift is an ideal project for the foundation and a fitting way to honor and  remember Beverly Fine.

Phyllis shared, “Beverly Fine loved to help other people. When we went through this school and saw the incredible ability to educate the children for the 21st century, we thought there could be no nicer gift for Beverly than to have her name associated with this marvelous school and the wonderful vision of President Manning.”

According to Susan Thompson Gorman, Stevenson’s new executive vice president for academic affairs, the new academic center features “a nursing simulation laboratory suite … that allows student nurses to engage in very realistic clinical experiences right here on campus [and] a nursing resource  center that … functions just like typical hospital rooms so that students can practice nursing skills and patient care in an  authentic clinical setting. You’ll find 25 laboratories dedicated to the natural and applied sciences, as well as a dedicated learning laboratory for mathematics, that collectively will allow  inquiry to serve as the foundation of a creative synergy among our faculty and students that will enhance student learning.”

Gorman added, “The new academic center will launch and support Stevenson’s next steps into the future, serving the university and our students for many years to come. The scale and caliber of this facility will permit growth while fostering the learning, inquiry and discovery that characterize the excellence of the Stevenson learning experience.”

U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes also attended the event. “Every time you build a building, you make a statement about having confidence in the future,” he said. “When you build a building that’s going to serve students, you make a special statement about your confidence in the future. Sen. Cardin and I, and our whole delegation, are constantly looking at the need to match the skillset of people coming along with the emerging workforce, and you need institutions that are nimble and know how to turn in the direction of where that next opportunity is going to come from. Nobody does that better than Stevenson in my experience.”

The new academic center is located adjacent to student housing on the Owings Mills campus of Stevenson, and a future footbridge will join the two areas.

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

A ‘Lot’ of Memories: Sugarville Boomers Reunite

(Provided)

(Provided)

In the mid-1950s, the Jewish community of Baltimore was moving along the Park Heights corridor toward what is today known as Pikesville. In this area, local developer Gordon Sugar built what would become known to the neighborhood as Sugarville. In this enclave, a group of local youths would end up discovering their own “Field of Dreams.”

Sugarville was comprised of a small group of approximately 100 houses bordered by Park Heights Avenue, Stevenson Road and the Druid Hill Cemetery, ending just south of the beltway. Some chance in fate resulted in this small neighborhood having anywhere between 25 and 50 boys living in and around the area at any given time. However, the greatest chance of luck came in the form of the empty lot in the center of it all.

To this day, the kids who grew up in Sugarville do not know what twist caused a prime lot of real estate to be left open in the middle of the neighborhood. There are two theories: that a piping or zoning issue made it impossible to build on the lot; or that Gordon Sugar himself had seen that children played in the open space every day and chose to leave it open because he liked that the kids in the community used it so well.

Now that the Sugarville crew has grown up and dispersed across the U.S., they still stay in touch, having reunited in 1987 and in 2004. August 27 saw the group’s third organized reunion since childhood, where it met up to play a game of softball together, eat lunch and commemorate their childhoods. Although the original lot is now occupied by a house that was built by Gordon Sugar’s successor, the group played their softball game on the campus of the Park School, which was appropriately donated to the school by Gordon Sugar himself.

We were so lucky to have this experience as kids, to have an empty lot just to play and congregate.” — Bert Polan

 

William “Bill” Schapiro grew up in this idyllic Sugarville. He reflected, “Our whole lives were centered around this lot. We were there day and night. I don’t remember a parent ever setting foot on the lot. It was our base of operations from the time that we were 7 or 8 years old until we were about 14. Parents didn’t have to worry about us; we were just on the lot playing our games.”

“It was an innocent ‘Leave it to Beaver’ world,” Schapiro reflected, “We played three sports a year, depending on the season — baseball or softball, football and a little bit of soccer. Every kid had their own unique call from their parents to come in for dinner. We were 13 when Kennedy got assassinated, and the age of innocence ended. A lot of kids can’t have experiences like ours anymore; it was just an innocent time.”

“I remember one of our older friends, Richard Kress, collected over a hundred dollars to put up goal posts in the lot back then. It was amazing how fortunate we were to have had those times,” reflected Jack Goldenberg, another member of the gang. “And to get to see those guys again, to be able to share those memories with all of those people is just wonderful.”

Bert Polan also grew up in the Sugarville of the ’50s. “It was so simple and easy,” he said, “nothing bad ever happened. Often we had to play with imaginary men for the games if we didn’t have enough people. Once we organized a tackle football team and went and played up at Dunbar Heights. It was just the simple, beautiful experience of our childhood.”

About 80 percent of the Sugarville kids still live in the area today, and not much has changed about their neighborhood. Schapiro recalled, “Those homes were mainly $50,000 in that day and age, but it’s probably the equivalent of today’s million-dollar home. Other than that, the generation before us was in the Forest Park area, but this place is the same profile, it hasn’t changed. It is still the Jewish neighborhood.”

Polan added that their childhood crew has changed a lot as well — “It’s a group of very accomplished people. Some guys that we perceived as not very academically oriented turned out to be stars and are really people who are tremendously positioned in their communities.”

The largest change in Baltimore since their childhood, however, is the growth, strength and generosity of the Jewish community. “When we were in college, it wasn’t so fashionable to be at Beth El,” Polan recounted. “Now all the kids want to be there. I’ll visit with friends who look around and say they’ve never seen so many synagogues tossed together in one spot.”

Polan now resides in Sacramento, Calif. He reflected, “The community is about 20,000 Jews, while Baltimore has 90,000. However, the giving of the Federation in Sacramento each year is less than half a million. There is no history there, people don’t have a sense of the Jewish community. There are no long-standing Jewish families that have a sense of community, that want to be giving and be part of that. We were so lucky to have this experience in this community as kids, to have an empty lot just to play and congregate. What more could you ask for? We were fortunate to have it and are fortunate to continue to have the connection 55 years later.”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Hogan to Visit Israel This Month

Gov. Larry Hogan (Evan Sayles via ZUMA Wire/Newscom)

Gov. Larry Hogan (Evan Sayles via ZUMA Wire/Newscom)

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce and the Maryland/Israel Development Center Maryland announced Wednesday that Gov. Larry Hogan will be making a trip to Israel from Sept. 19 through 26 for a mission to promote bilateral trade investment.

Accompanying Hogan will be about 35 people including Baltimore Jewish Council president Abba Poliakoff; Michael Friedman of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington; University of Maryland, Baltimore president Jay Perman and several other state officials and members of the private sector.

“For Maryland to have an economically vibrant economy has to include outreach to the global market,” said MIDC executive director Barry Bogage during a conference call with reporters. Bogage noted that Israel is a “global powerhouse” when it comes to the life science and cyber security sectors of the economy, which parallel Maryland’s industries.

There are currently more than 20 Israeli companies with offices in Maryland, and members of several U.S. companies will be on the trip, including eHealth Ventures, which is setting up a digital health incubator in Israel.

“For us, because it’s a Maryland company, that’s going to create a pipeline of jobs,” Bogage said.

On Hogan’s itinerary will be a visit to Tel Aviv University in which he will speak with about 50 Israeli entrepreneurs along with a visit to Haddassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, where he will participate in a seminar on cancer research and speak about his own battle with cancer last year. Hogan will also visit a cyber security innovation hub in Beersheva on the campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev called CyberSpark.

Additionally, Hogan’s visit will include meetings with key Israeli government officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former president and Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Chief Inspector Micky Rosenfeld, who serves as the foreign press spokesman for the Israel Police.

The trip will cost the state $120,000, which will be split among the different Maryland officials participating.

Bogage said this is the sixth such trade mission he has staffed with the MIDC. Former governors William Donald Schaefer, Parris Glendening, Robert Ehrlich and Martin O’Malley also made visits to Israel.

JCS Launches Holocaust Trauma Effort

Myra Giberovitch (provided)

Myra Giberovitch (provided)

Jewish Community Services launches an effort to spread awareness of the impact the trauma of the Holocaust had on survivors this month.

JCS, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, received a $45,000 grant from the Jewish Federations of North America and provided $15,000 of its own funds for the two-year project.

“It’s the start of an effort to create a community that’s aware of and sensitive to the impact of the trauma of the Holocaust had on the survivors,” said Karen Nettler, director of community connections at JCS. “There’s a lot of survivors not just in the community, but  in facilities throughout the community, and they deserve a special sensitivity to what they’ve been through and what can bring back past traumas and how they deal with them.”

The free community event launching the effort is “Shadows of the Past: How the Trauma of the Holocaust Impacts Survivors Today” on Sept. 13 at the  Edward A. Myerberg Center. The speaker is Myra Giberovitch, an expert in this field who is the daughter of survivors and who was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after the war. She is a social worker, educator and author who wrote the book “Recovering from Genocidal Trauma: An  Information and Practice Guide for Working with Holocaust Survivors.”

Giberovitch will be doing staff training with JCS professionals while she’s in town — a major component of the JFNA effort. JCS staffers will be trained on Holocaust trauma, and then in turn, 15 of them will go out and train community organizations in the methods they’ve learned. They will also meet with a consultation group of other professionals who work with trauma survivors throughout the program and share experiences and skills.

“This is a really big launch for us,” Nettler said. “We’re just very excited.”

“Shadows of the Past” takes place on Tuesday, Sept. 13, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.  at the Edward A. Myerberg  Center, 3101 Fallstaff Road, Baltimore. Call 410-466-9200 for more information.

MShapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

You Should Know … Sarah Mersky

Sarah Mersky (Daniel Nozick)

Sarah Mersky (Daniel Nozick)

Sarah Mersky is the director of government relations for the Baltimore Jewish Council, where she lobbies in Annapolis on behalf of the Baltimore Jewish Community. She has also run Democratic campaigns at all levels of  government.

Mersky, 27, received her bachelor’s degree in political communication from George Washington University and her law degree from the University of Maryland Carey School of Law.

She has been active in the Jewish community for her  entire life, attending Akiva Hebrew Academy (now called the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy) in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and participating in the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program. In college, she was actively involved with both Hillel and Chabad. Throughout her career, she has also held a multitude of political internships and jobs, working for both Sen. Joe Biden and his successor. She became involved with  political activism in the Jewish community through her work in communications with Rabinowitz/Dorf, her public relations work for Empire Kosher and her management of media strategies and press releases for J Street. She began working for the BJC in January 2015.

What does your position  entail day to day?
I have been the lead lobbyist for the BJC and associated agencies since October of 2015. During government session, which is just 90 days in Annapolis from January to April, I work constantly. I work 70-plus hour weeks during which I’m in meetings with elected officials or talking to the executive government relations committee about different policies and trying to find out what is best for us.

Last year, we did over 100 pieces of written legislation. We work really hard with other coalitions during and outside of the session — we are very involved with the Maryland Alliance for the Poor, and we are also very  involved in non-public school funding. I work on the federal level to make sure that the city and the county get the appropriate money allocated.

During the interim, we have a lot of events and bring in a lot of speakers. If there is a new piece of legislation coming out and we don’t have a policy on it but believe that we as the Jewish community should be active on it, I bring in high level folks from the opposition and the people who support it, and our community listens to them  and then makes an informed decision based on that.

Are you involved with any other projects and legislature?
All of the coalitions are deciding on their priorities right now. During summer is a lot of brainstorming sessions, and the fall is when things are  decided. This year, we have a few more budget asks that we are working on. It was The  Associated’s main goal last year to help the aging population, which is very rapidly  increasing.

In terms of policy, we are very big on paid sick leave. We have been really active in that campaign and are hoping that this year we are successful. Those bills take a long time to pass. Similarly, we have been working on nonpublic school scholarships for a long time — last year, for the first time, we got a budget item for $5 million, and we are really proud of this. So far, $900,000 has gone to Jewish day schools, specifically to kids who qualify for free meals. It is alarming how many people in our community are living in poverty. We think that is something that a lot of people don’t realize about our community, and this funding really helps them. So hopefully, we will keep that funding for the future.

What are your goals?
I want our Baltimore Jewish community to be more unified, because it is not one entity. We’re about one-third Orthodox — one of the fastest-growing  Orthodox communities in the United States — we’re one-third Conservative and one-third  Reform roughly. I want to do things where we are unifying within our community. I want to bring more and more awareness to both big national events and local events. We  really should care: What happens in Baltimore is going to affect the Jewish community, and the Jewish community is going to affect what is going to happen in Baltimore in the  future. We need to be really cognizant of that with the type  of programs and events that we do.

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com