Oscars Jewish news
As expected, the biggest Jewish Oscar haul came in the musical categories. Justin Hurwitz, 32, won for best original score (“La La Land”) and best song (“City of Stars”). Lyricists Benj Pasek, 31, and Justin Paul shared the best-song Oscar with Hurwitz. From the stage, Pasek thanked his mom for letting him quit “JCC soccer” to concentrate on his music. Below you’ll find highlights of my interview with Hurwitz’s mom not long before the Feb. 26 ceremony.
Kenneth Lonergan, 54, won best original screenplay for “Manchester by the Sea.” And congrats to Jeremy Kleiner, 40, a producer of “Moonlight,” the best pic winner. Finally, Ezra Edelman, 42, won for directing the best feature length documentary (“O.J.: Made in America”). He’s the son of Peter Edelman, a (Jewish) law professor, and Marian Wright Edelman, an African American attorney famous for her work defending children’s rights. A 1992 New York Times profile of the Edelman family says their two sons were raised in both parents’ religious traditions and that their older son, Jonah, now 47, had a bar mitzvah (whether Ezra did, too, isn’t mentioned).
Hurwitz’s proud Marin parents
Gail Halabe Hurwitz and Ken Hurwitz of San Rafael are the proud parents of Hurwitz, who now owns two Academy Awards.
Gail told me that her father was born in 1903 in Damascus, Syria, and her mother was born in 1915 in Beirut, Lebanon. Her parents came to the U.S. and settled in Los Angeles. Gail married Ken in 1983 in a Los Angeles Sephardic temple, and Justin was born two years later.
At age 6, Justin started piano lessons. “It was clear very early that he had an aptitude for this instrument,” his mom said. “A piano teacher introduced him to composition and [we] bought him a synthesizer, and at age 10 he composed his first tune.”
After the family moved to a Milwaukee suburb in 1998, Justin went to a top conservatory in Wisconsin. His sister, Hanna Hurwitz, 30, is an accomplished classical violinist.
Many of the family’s relatives live in Israel. “We have a very large family on my mother’s side residing in Israel because all of her family moved there from Lebanon and remained there throughout their lives,” Gail said. “ Both my children are very proud of their Middle Eastern heritage and culture.”
Gail said that Justin went to Harvard in 2003 to study music, where he met Damien Chazelle, the writer and Oscar-winning director of “La La Land.” Recalled Gail: “Both played in Chester French [an indie pop band] for one year, dropped out and began rooming together and collaborating on what would become their first full-length film, “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.” It got a distributor and was released in 2009.
“After college, both Justin and Damien moved to L.A. with the intention of making films. But it was a slow start, and to make a living in Hollywood, Justin got jobs writing comedy,” she continued. He put his experience working for the Harvard Lampoon during college to good use, writing for the bro-sitcom “The League” and one episode of the “Simpsons,” among others.
The success of “Guy and Madeline” led to financing for “Whiplash”(2014). Chazelle wrote and directed, while Justin scored the film and wrote the title song, a big-band number. “Whiplash” won three Oscars and that opened the door for “La La Land.”
French actress Isabelle Huppert, 63, nominated for best actress for her role in “Elle,” gave her first detailed interview about her Jewish background to the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles last month. While she was raised Catholic, she said, she identifies as half-Jewish. She said her Jewish father survived the Holocaust by “hiding in North Africa,” but many of his relatives died. Finally, the actress, whose husband is Jewish, said she’s visited Israel four times (mostly for film screenings) and “I think it is a wonderful country.”
Jews in ‘Table 19’
“Table 19” is a romantic comedy starring Anna Kendrick as Eloise, who attends a wedding only to find herself seated with a gaggle of guests who were only reluctantly invited. Co-stars include Lisa Kudrow, 53, Wyatt Russell, 30 (the son of Goldie Hawn, 71) and June Squibb, 87. The film was directed and written by Jeffrey Blitz, 48, who has directed four films and a bunch of TV shows. The movie opens on Friday, March 3.