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"Heading Home: Team Israel" World Baseball Classic comes to national release

Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel is the David-and-Goliath story of Israel’s national baseball team as it competes for the first time in the World Baseball Classic.

After experiencing years of crushing defeats, Israel finally ranks among the world’s best in 2017. Its roster includes many Jewish-American major leaguers, most with a tenuous relationship to Judaism, barely any ever having set foot in Israel. Their odyssey takes them from the Holy Land where they are hailed as modern-day Maccabees to the tournament in South Korea where they must debunk their reputations as has-beens and wannabes. The connection to Israel that the players forge pushes them to unexpected heights as they represent the country on the world stage.

Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel reflects the journey of a group of young people, who through an indefatigable belief in themselves and their cause defy the world’s expectations. Released in the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel.

Infielder, Cody Decker brought the Mensch on a Bench to dugouts as Team Israel's good-luck mascot
"Heading Home: Team Israel" premiered in L.A. Thursday night, September 5th, at the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts cinema - in coordination with the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival.

Cody Decker reflects as "Team Israel" WBC baseball docupic opens on "Munich" Olympics anniversary. He compares security between MLB and the World Baseball Classic.

Greg Laemmle at "Heading Home: Team Israel" in L.A.
How Jews confronted discrimination via baseball- which still exists all around.

At the Film Festival premier of "Heading Home: Team Israel in April  2108, Josh Rawitch, VP, Communications with the MLB Arizona Diamondbacks, discussed his experience serving in Media Relations when Team Israel competed in the World Baseball Classic division tournament in 2017 in South Korea.

Watch the post-screening discussion between Team Israel infielder, Cody Decker, and Greg Laemmle of the Laemmle Theaters cinema group which are debuting the documentary and post-screening discussions with Cody Decker.


In-person guest appearances are scheduled Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday 9/6-12 in NY/NJ and Los Angeles:

Valerie Harper, 80, Gentile actress who championed the image of women, Jews, and Zionism in society

Traditionally in Hollywood, character roles of attractive Jewish women were given to Gentile actresses to portray. As writer Liese Spencer wrote in "If in doubt, cast a gentile" in The Independent:

The rule was, if a woman was attractive she wasn't Jewish, and if she looked Jewish then she wasn't attractive.  . . . Actors were encouraged to get nose jobs and name jobs. Tula Ellice Finklea became Cyd Charisse, Betty Perske became Lauren Bacall."
From 1970-1978, actress Valerie Harper's portrayal of Rhoda Morganstern (on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, spun-off in to her own "Rhoda" series) helped introduce and integrate female Jewish identity into American cultural consciousness. 

Valerie Harper is reunited with Mary Tyler Moore in "Along Comes Mary" episode of "Rhoda" (CBS Archives)

In March 2013, The "Times of Israel" announced: "Zionist 'Rhoda' star has terminal cancer"

"First famous as Mary Tyler Moore’s Jewish sidekick on the former’s eponymous TV show, Harper’s character later earned her own self-titled spin-off, “Rhoda,” which ran for five seasons. The character’s Jewish background had been front-and-center on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” setting the plot in motion on several episodes. Though it faded when she became a protagonist, the character remains one of the most prominent and identifiable Jewish figures to serve at the center of a primetime American TV series. 

An accomplished dancer and stage actress, Harper later starred in a film version of “Golda’s Balcony,” the long-running off-Broadway play, in which she portrayed Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir at the end of her life. Harper, now 73, brought the movie to Israel for the 2007 Eilat Film Festival, where she called “the creation of this state one of the crowning achievements of the 20th century.”  
Valerie Harper in promotion for "Golda's Balcony" theatrical national tour, Nov 2005 - May' 06

Warm, humble and down-to-earth, Harper also recalled her first visit to Israel, in 1976, at the height of her television fame. Though she didn’t meet Golda Meir, she remembered sharing tea with Abba Eban, Israel’s widely admired ambassador to the US and UN. "

Ms. Harper survived the skull cancer until August 30, 2019. She was among the Gentile actors whose performing of Jewish roles helped introduce Jewish culture in popular society. 

Despite the 21st century's era ethnic touchiness for "cultural misappropriations," Ms. Harper used the celebrity status she gained portraying "Rhoda" to draw attention to Israel's qualities, in the face of challenges, by portraying Prime Minister Golda Meir in a national tour in 2005/06 Tovah Feldshuh portrayed Golda's Balcony off, then on-Broadway- in a long, popular run.
TV and film director Jeremy Kagan directed Ms. Harper's film version of "Golda's Balcony" - the first motion picture based on William Gibson's one-woman play.

NY Israel Parade '08 (r-l) Valerie Harper, Ron Rifkin, Rich Kind, Lainie Kazan

When honored as a Grand Marshall at NYC's 2008 Salute to Israel Parade, she explained her understanding, learned through that role, of Israel's strategic importance to the free-world in limiting Russian hegemony over the oil-producing Middle East - which she learned and conveyed in portraying Israel's fourth prime-minister.

During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Prime Minister Golda Meir, wrestled with Henry Kissinger to replace Israel's arms stock lost in staving off the surprise-onslaught by the Russian-supplied armies of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq.

On Ms. Harper's passing, Prof.  Kagan spoke with JooTube about his professional experience with Ms. Harper and other Gentiles who introduced Jewish characters to the public.
Jeremy Kagan directing Robby Benson in The Chosen (1981)

He also directed "The Chosen" with Maximilian Schell, Robby Benson, and Rod Steiger.  We talked about the image of the Jewish-American, the American-Israeli.

We spoke about the contribution of Ms. Harper and other Gentiles to the image of the Israeli and the American Jew in the public eye.  

Transcript from video interview: "Here I am, okay! I'm Jeremy Kagan - I am a filmmaker, film-director, direct television, direct movies, and I am a full-tenured professor at the University of Southern California- the School of Cinematic Arts. Lots of words but that's somewhat of my titles for what they're worth.

Question: You have directed to movies of seminal interest of the American Jewish representation in the United States. What were they?

I directed a movie called "The Chosen" which is from Chaim Potok's masterpiece. And actually I directed the movie called "Crown Heights" for Showtime which was about the Crown Heights riots. My first two features starred two Jewish actors- a picture called "Heroes" with Henry Winkler, and a picture called "The Big Fix" with Richard Dreyfuss. So I've had a lot of sort of Jewish subjects and characters in my movies.  And then I directed Valerie Harper in "Golda's Balcony."
Robby Benson in Jeremy Kagan's "The Chosen" location

Question: Valerie Harper unfortunately passed away yesterday, yes?

I already miss her. She was in my mind the last two days and the way the mind works, sometimes we pick up energies and then I've just learned just hours ago that she had passed although I know she was quite sick. And I wish her soul, her neshama, reaches a level of performance and giving that her being here in this planet exemplified for all of us- of the capacity to give and Valerie's contribution to the Jewish community in America - to the Jewish community worldwide - is a major gift to all of us so I want to thank her so and wish it a good journey!

Golda's Balcony comes from a play that was written by William Gibson. Initially this actually brilliant playwright had written a play with many characters in it. But after he saw it on Broadway and even as Golda who was still alive actually came and actually saw it as well it came backstage and talked to him he felt it really needed to be rethought. And then he came up with the idea of a one-woman show. And he rewrote the play so that's what it became. 

Valerie took that on and performed it around the country around the United States to audiences of five and six thousand. Big, big theaters and major cities all across the country. 

Valerie herself, this play specifically about why the word Golda's Balcony relates to the fact that supposedly there is a balcony in an area hidden in somewhere in the desert where the all of the atomic bomb materials and research is done.

And there's a balcony that goes down deep into the earth and during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Golda was faced with the possibility of using the bomb in order to save Israel from being destroyed by this surprise invasion from the Egyptian and Syrians. And she actually considered it. And since he knew that that was part of her consideration and she sort of when she saw the play it was said "You got things right" but never said anymore. That he wanted this play to deal with the great terror (that we still have at this very moment) of using nuclear weapons and so that's the balcony that she went on to see where and how this is all goes down.

Question: Did Valerie Harper play Golda both on Broadway and the film?

She played it all. In New York she played it and every major city in the United States. And then her partner her husband, Tony Cacciotti - and my sympathies go out to Tony right now because obviously it's a great loss for him - it's a great loss for all of us - but a personal great loss for him and time the grieving is what's happening for him) I'm sure. But he then said "let's make a movie of this, it's so successful!" 

People loved her performance. That means these she had packed audiences everywhere she went. I went to see a performance in Phoenix. Six thousand people, standing ovation, major applause, and I was I was so moved I was crying twice and midst of the piece because it's an emotional piece. I went backstage to see her and like I saw her and I started weeping and she smiled gave me a big hug and I said look if there's any way I can help make this happen as a movie I'll do it.

We then came up with an idea because they were limited finances that we would do that all against and this is a term of some of your viewers I'm sure know - all against green screen - meaning there would be no sets.  It would just be her against the green screen. And she plays more than Golda - she plays Golda's husband, she plays other characters that Golda had to deal with, and she would play all these characters - and sometimes she would play both of them - and I would make it so that you in the film, she would be quote talking-to-herself - and then we, in the green screen, we created an entire environment. So when the war was happening (which is part of this story) we were able to get all the documentary footage from the war and that all was playing behind her on these green screens (that now no-longer were green). And so if you watch the DVD, it's this incredible energetic rather sort of, I don't know if I'd call it experimental (because, I mean, so many movies have taken advantage of green screen) but it but it has its own feel. It's a fresh way of taking on a piece of theater and making it cinematic - and she was spectacular!

Here is the trailer for the movie:

Question: What role did Judaism or American Jewishness play in Valerie's life - having portrayed Rhoda Morgenstern for the years both on Mary (Tyler Moore Show) and on her own show?

You know, I talked to Valerie about this because Valerie (she's not Italian, she's not Jewish) yet she has played these kind of characters and brought such reality to them. Now there are two factors that allowed that to happen - one it was a personal reality for Valerie when she was a young person. Some of her best friends were Jews and she hung out with them and with their families. So she kind of knew the social relationships, the way certain people talked, the way that certain kinds of things happen between them, attitudes she knew this. So it was very easy for her as an actor to recreate it. And some of these people who as I said were her best friends.

Barry Miller, Rod Steiger, and Robby Benson in "The Chosen
And as she grew up as a young woman, some of her best friends - when she was a gypsy on Broadway - they were, and I know them, they were Jewish girls and so this was part of her environment she just was affected by. 

But the other part is what a great actor can do and that is find within themselves another human being and bring that to the fore. And that's you know when we watch great performances we say "boy, look at this - how did they do that?" 

"The Chosen" Barry Miller and Maximilian Schell (1981)
And in my case, I've worked with three non-Jews. And these three non-Jews have created Jewish characters that I think are excessively believable to a Jew or to a non- Jew: Maximilian Schell and Rod Steiger in the movie that I mentioned, "The Chosen." 

Rod played a Rebbe - he did his homework, but that Rebbe existed in him somewhere and he brought it out. Maximilian's but you played a more contemporary, intellectual Jew. Very easy because he was a very smart guy on his own to get to that kind of Jew.


And Valerie, well you've seen what she's played from Rhoda to Golda. But I mean that a great actor finds those beings in them. And then there's a third factor this is a little bit woowoo some viewers would say. And that is - I actually think a Jewish neshama was inside ... a Jewish soul was inside somewhere deep in her now that maybe inside everybody I says I'm suggesting and certainly an actress all fine but I have a feeling somewhere that was there.

So I mean we see Valerie continuously through her life stepping up and speaking for Israel stepping up and speaking for Jewish concerns. Stepping up and raising its a dog up for various Jewish issues I mean that's ... she just did this continuously - besides playing Jewish characters. And we owe her a lot!

Question: What do you feel the Jewish people owe Gentiles who have helped establish Jewish identity in the public realm?

Well, I think first we have to recognize Torah itself which is saying, you know, you need to be recognized that you once were a stranger and you need to have compassion for the stranger. You need to feed that other person who is in need as much as you because in essence we're all created by HaShem. So recognizing people who are not Jews who are making major contributions to helping both the acceptance of us as a people, the acceptance of Israel as a nation - we need to say "thank you."

And I want to say personally a major thank you to Valerie. Because, you know, I hope people who watch this actually go get the DVD and watch the DVD and see who Golda was created by her. And you will not think that's a non-Jew playing - you'll think that's Golda! And now you will learn who Golda was and all of Golda's contributions to that nation, and to us as a Jewish people. 

And by the way, on that DVD, if you're interested, there are people who knew Golda ... I went and traveled this country and in Israel and interviewed people from Ehud Barak to people that were in her cabinet - to ask what was it like to work with this remarkable human being and so that's on the DVD too. So in honor of Valerie, go watch it and see what she was doing for us - and see in fact what Golda did for us!"

Prof. Kagan also credits Ms. Harper's "Rhoda Morganstern" character as an extension of Mary Richards' role (as crafted by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, and developed by David Davis and Lorenzo Music) in the evolution of society's acceptance of women's equality and independence.

Footnote: Valerie Harper's performance of Golda's Balcony is out of print and available on DVD used (priced as rare). The film of Tovah Feldshuh's portayal of Golda's Balcony (which JewTube covered at the 2019 L.A. Jewish Film Festival) is playing at Jewish Film Festivals in North America from September to May, 2020.