Dr Ruth and “Star Wars” Queen stand up for Israel

July 01, 2002


[Note by Tom Gross]

Jerry Seinfeld has postponed his "solidarity visit" to Israel for at least two months, but two other celebrities are expressing their support.

I attach articles about Dr Ruth Westheimer and about "Star Wars" actress Natalie Portman. For those of you on this list in non-English speaking countries who may not know who Dr Ruth is, she is a famed American TV personality and sex expert.

Natalie Portman, who is Israeli-born, says she would like to persuade the producers of the forthcoming "Star Wars: Episode III" to film in Israel rather than Tunisia.



Dr. Ruth in Israel for a solidarity visit
The Jerusalem Post
June 29, 2002

US-based sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer is in Israel apparently on a solidarity visit, sources said.

Dr. Ruth, as she is fondly known, arrived in the country over the last few days and is staying at a hotel in Tel Aviv, a hotel employee confirmed today.

Her visit comes at a time when few foreign celebrities are traveling to the Jewish state due to terror attacks and ongoing violence with the Palestinians. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld was also expected to show up this summer, however his publicists said several days ago that his visit has been postponed for as long as eight weeks.

Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor in her 70s, is also a grandmother of three and an author.

She makes her home in New York City, and contrary to other foreign personalities, continues to make regular visits to Israel, where she lived for a period after World War II.

In June 1948, during Israel's Independence War, Westheimer was wounded in a bombing while she was on her way to an underground shelter. Three other people were killed in that blast.



'Star Wars' actress helps defend Israel
By Naomi Pfefferman
The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
June 14, 2002

A month before the release of her new film "Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones," Natalie Portman immersed herself in a more terrestrial conflict: defending Israel.

The Jerusalem-born actress who plays Darth Vader's squeeze Queen Padme Amidala objected in her Ivy League college newspaper to a law student's essay condemning Israel. Faisal Chaudhry's essay decried a "racist colonial occupation ... (in which) white Israeli soldiers destroy refugee camps of the brown people they have dispossessed."

Says Portman, who emigrated to the United States at age 3: "It just angered me that someone who is obviously intelligent enough to attend law school could be so misinformed."

So the porcelain-skinned actress dashed off an April 12 letter to the editor dismissing the essay as "a distortion of the fact that most Israelis and Palestinians are indistinguishable physically. The Israeli government itself is comprised of a great number of Sephardic Jews, may of whom originate from Arab countries. ... Until we accept the fact that we are constituents of the same family, we will blunder in believing that a loss for one 'side'- or as Chaudhry names it, a 'color' is not a loss for all human kind."

The vivacious, effusive Portman says her letter gleaned "positive response on campus from both Arabs and Jews." But she was less pleased with an April 29 Time magazine story comparing Amidala to the United Nations Secretary-General. The piece suggests "Padme, in a scene cut from the film, sounds like Kofi Annan pleading for Palestinians when she tells the Senate, 'If you offer the separatists violence, they can only show violence in return!'"

Portman, her bubbly voice suddenly hushed, says "I'd hate to think I'm ever portraying Kofi Annan as a benevolent queen." She pauses, then adds with feeling, "But I agree violence is not an answer."

Long before Portman was proving the pen is mightier than the lightsaber, she grew up in a "Star Wars"-less household on Long Island. The daughter of an Israeli fertility doctor and an American-born artist, she didn't see George Lucas' original "Star Wars" films, which were released in the late 1970s and 1980s. "I do remember a couple cousins running around on the Jewish holidays, imitating Chewbacca," confides Portman, who visited Israel twice yearly and has dual citizenship.

Back in her American suburb, Portman says she attended a Conservative Jewish day school through seventh grade "to preserve my Hebrew and my sense of Israel more than anything religious." Like most Israelis, her parents were proud but secular Jews, so young Natalie did not become bat mitzvah.

The young actress was dismayed when her budding career caused classmates to spurn her. "In seventh grade, I cried every day when I came back from shooting 'The Professional,'" she says of her debut film.

Portman switched schools and went on to portray gritty characters light-years away from her nice Jewish-girl self. She was a beguiling pre-teen in "Beautiful Girls," a pregnant Okie in "Where the Heart Is," and Susan Sarandon's beleaguered daughter in "Anywhere But Here." One critic described her as a "ravishing little gamine," though her protective parents wouldn't let her do sex scenes (or use her real surname "Portman" is her grand-mother's maiden name).

Portman's most personal role was the lead in "The Diary of Anne Frank" on Broadway in 1998, for which she received rave reviews while maintaining straight As. "I grew up with the Holocaust, because my grandparents lost their entire families," says the actress, who noted an eerie similarity between a relative's story and Anne's. "My grandfather's 14-year-old brother was also hidden, but one day he couldn't take it anymore and he ran outside and was shot." No wonder Portman frequently found herself crying offstage: "It's a stunning realization when you come to see how much historical memory affects you," she says.

After director George Lucas cast her in his three "Star Wars" prequels, Portman couldn't help but compare the saga's Clone warriors to Nazi troops. "The clones actualize the sort of deindividuation necessary to give rise to something like the Holocaust," Portman says.

The actress also feels "Star Wars" with its desert landscapes, warlords and shadowy villains has particular resonance since the Afghanistan war. The saga explores how Anakin (Hayden Christiansen in "Episode II") turns to the Dark Side and becomes Darth Vader; a question one could ask of American-born Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh. "Why there is evil in the world, and what purpose it serves, will keep imitative mythologies like 'Star Wars' alive," Portman says.

She found herself pondering the same question during a visit to Israel three months ago. While sitting on a Tel Aviv beach, her reverie was interrupted by explosions. "Then we heard the ambulances coming," Portman says.

"When we got back to the hotel we heard that 20 girls my age had been killed in a suicide bombing at the Dolphinarium, just a block away from where we had been."

Portman, nevertheless, is determined to keep on visiting Israel. But she's unsure "Star Wars Episode III" will commence shooting in Tunisia next year. "I have a feeling we'll have to figure something else out," says the psychology major, who takes advanced Hebrew, attends Hillel and reads the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. "It would be great if we could end up shooting in Israel."

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.