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California Briefing: Overdue justice for Blaze Bernstein and Stanford/Cal campus antisemitism


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Blaze Bernstein. Courtesy of Jeanne Pepper

Welcome to the California Briefing, the weekly dispatch of California Jewish news from the Forward’s Louis Keene. In this edition: Natalie Portman, Jonah Hill, Logan Lerman, Ryan Turell and more.

To get the latest on pop culture, politics and Jewish life in the Golden State in your inbox every Thursday, subscribe here: forward.com/california.

Deferred justice for Blaze Bernstein

This time five years ago, the Tree of Life was just a Conservative synagogue in Pittsburgh, no one had ever been shot dead at Chabad of Poway, and while the specter of antisemitism loomed following the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, it could not be known how bad things could and eventually would get.

In retrospect, the January 2018 murder of Blaze Bernstein was a preview. A college student home for winter break, Bernstein was stabbed to death and buried in an Orange County park, prosecutors say, because he was gay and Jewish. Bernstein’s alleged killer, a high school classmate named Samuel Woodward, was active in a local neo-Nazi group when he lured the UPenn sophomore to the park.

And yet five years later, Woodward has still not been tried, thanks to a series of postponements that have seemed — and certainly to Bernstein’s family, felt — inexhaustible. One of those delays, caused by Woodward’s attorney’s claim that his client was not competent to stand trial, was finally halted by a judge who ruled otherwise and set a pretrial hearing for Jan. 27.

Tomorrow’s hearing will likely result in another continuation to give Woodward’s third public defender time to prepare for a court trial. Woodward pleaded not guilty after he was charged with murder in 2018. He has also been charged with committing a hate crime.

I interviewed Jeanne Pepper, Blaze’s mom, earlier this month. “The children that were 13 years old when this happened to Blaze are 18 now — they’re legal adults,” she said. “Are they ready to live in a world full of violence and hate? Have we done anything in the last five years to instill a sense of humanity in people? I don’t think so.”

What we’re watching and not watching

🐘  Secrets of the Elephants, a four-part series narrated by Natalie Portman (first look above), comes to National Geographic April 21. I already checked and it does not conflict with Passover (which comes to your household April 5).

🏁  A new Netflix movie about a Jewish guy trying to get along with his Black fiancée’s parents, starring Jonah HillLauren London and Eddie Murphy, looks, shall we say, bad. You can judge for yourself, starting tomorrow.

📺  We’re going to be seeing a lot of this Timothée Chalamet Apple TV+ commercial. I suspect many people will be okay with that.

🍎  Speaking of Apple TV+, Jason Segel and Harrison Ford star in Shrinking, a bittersweet comedy (new genre I just invented) series releasing on the streaming service tomorrow. This one’s about a psychologist grieving his wife — hilarity ensues, I guess? I dunno, man. Different strokes for different folks, but I think I’ll just wait for the Natalie Portman elephant show. (Side note: When a trailer shows the full plot arc of a movie, it’s a red flag.)

🏉  Henry Winkler is a big fan of the Kansas City Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes — the two met at a Chiefs game, they later went to dinner, it’s a whole thing — and now the Fonz has narrated a hype video for the Chiefs, who face the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday for a place in the Super Bowl.

What we’re reading (or at least skimming)

Logan Lerman. Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

🤨  A picture of a Stanford student reading Mein Kampf circulated on campus this week. Stanford is the same school that scheduled the first day of fall quarter on Rosh Hashanah this year, and it’s the same school that waitlisted me back in the day. Clearly, the antisemitism runs deep. (Then again, UC Berkeley had its own incident this week, and I didn’t even apply there.)

😍  Actor Logan Lerman, who steals hearts (but mainly chases Nazis) in the Amazon Prime show Hunters — and who is currently shooting a Holocaust drama for Hulu — talked about relating to the Jews he portrays in a New York Magazine profile. “I don’t share the genuine faith that those characters have,” Lerman, who considers himself an atheist, says in the piece. “But I understand it and believe it in the moment.”

😉 A deep dive into the incredible alleged con of Charlie Javice, who sold a college financial aid product — and its user base consisting of millions of AI-generated fake names — to JP Morgan for $175 million. (At least that’s what the bank says.) In an unrelated piece of news, the California Briefing recently hit its one millionth subscriber!* (*Numbers rounded up to nearest million) Now who can connect me to JP Morgan?

😬 A Washington Post columnist thinks Mark Zuckerberg should face the threat of prison, which a new bill in the United Kingdom may impose for future privacy violations by social media corporations. Ironically, the one thing that would get me to sign up for the metaverse is if I could visit an incarcerated Zuckerberg in it.

Finally, in the we-are-so-lucky-to-live-in-California-department…

Motor City Cruise forward Ryan Turell sits in the huddle in a Jan. 19 game against the South Bay Lakers. Photo by Louis Keene

Ryan Turell, the yarmulke-wearing forward for the Motor City Cruise, scored a total of 2 points over three games in Southern California last week. But there were probably 200 fans at the last game thrilled just to see him play. I’ll say this, having attended the last one: Turell must lead the G League in high fives. And he might have the top-selling jersey. That’s something!

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