L.A. Film Director Having A Jewish Impact
03/22/2013 - 08:43
Gary Rosenblatt

Jill Soloway, a hip Hollywood writer/director/producer (“Six Feet Under,” “The United States of Tara”), has become a Jewish activist in the last several years and is having quite an impact on the L.A. community. And it could go national soon.

She spoke at the international conference of the Jewish Funders Network this week in L.A. of how she helped found East Side Jews, an informal and popular group, particularly among young artist types, that seeks to “reinvent” Jewish life and make it “about joy, not sadness.”

The key, she said, was to provide “a mash-up of the traditional and the secular in an irreverent but serious way,” resulting, for example, in Torah portion study through comedy, holiday retreats in the desert, havdalah services on a rooftop and a Rosh Chodesh event entitled “Once In A Jew Moon.”

Soloway just won a Best Director award at the Sundance Film Festival for a feature film coming out later this year, “Afternoon Delight,” which she describes as a comedy/drama that includes a tender scene where a young couple at a critical moment in their relationship lights Shabbat candles. (The story line is about a young woman who brings a stripper home to be a nanny – “not a good idea,” says Soloway.)

I haven’t seen the film, but the potential impact of the candle lighting scene, in a mainstream film viewed by millions, could be greater than the combined sermons of scores of rabbis.

We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, Soloway is spending a good bit of time trying to rejuvenate her local Jewish Community Center, she says, so that it can become a real community center.

Welcome to the L.A. Jewish community, a “mash-up,” indeed, of the sacred and the profane.

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A recent NCIS episode, watched by millions, featured one of the main characters, Ziva, an Israeli now NCIS agent (played by a beautiful Brazilian woman) whose father was head of the Mossad , having a flashback to her childhood lighting the candles on Shabbat, bracha and all. Would be interesting to see what sort of impact that show had...

Re "the potential impact of the candle lighting scene, in a mainstream film viewed by millions," one possibility is that it will have NO discernible impact--which would itself be saying something, of course. See http://www.amazon.com/Sooner-Later-Denise-Miller/dp/B000056T4G, which contains Amazon.com's synopsis and many customer reviews of a 1979 TV movie called "Sooner or Later." I didn't read all the reviews in their entirety, but based on what I did read, as well as this brief, poorly written Q&A I spotted elsewhere--http://seansmovies.hubpages.com/question/37833/what-is-the-name-of-this-movie-from-the-early-80s-about-underage-love-and-getting-away-with-lieing--the movie's online fans recall that the female lead, a suburban NJ 13-yr-old, is Jewish because it's an important plot point, but none of them indicate having any reaction to that fact. And none mention (or recall?) that the character is an observant Jew, or that there's a scene in which she recites the Hebrew Sabbath prayers over the candles with her mother. (Her family is played by Barbara Feldon, Judd Hirsch, and Lila Skala, among others.) "Sooner or Later" aired only once, as far as I know, and more than 30 years ago, yet, as you can see, it's remembered extremely fondly by many people--but not because of the characters' Jewishness or observance of same.
Obviously I'm one admirer who DID remember, precisely because the candle-lighting scene was a first, in my experience, and was inserted into the plot so "organically." No, I didn't remember the title; I had to do a search of movies starring then-heartthrob Rex Smith--I was a 20-something woman and he had long hair and played guitar, so cut me some slack. :)