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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


June 19, 2015  RSS feed
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On stop in Tampa, ‘Scandal’ star dishes on being a Jew in Hollywood

By RACHEL DAWKINS Special to the Jewish Press

Joshua Malina plays Attorney General David Rosen on the ABC hit “Scandal.” Other credits include TV’s “The West Wing” and “Sports Night” along with movies such as “A Few Good Men” and “The American President.” He was also co-creator of Bravo’s “Celebrity Poker Showdown.” 
ABC Studios Joshua Malina plays Attorney General David Rosen on the ABC hit “Scandal.” Other credits include TV’s “The West Wing” and “Sports Night” along with movies such as “A Few Good Men” and “The American President.” He was also co-creator of Bravo’s “Celebrity Poker Showdown.” ABC Studios Joshua Malina – if you don’t yet recognize his name, you will definitely recognize his face. Malina, best known as a star of ABC’s hit television show Scandal and from past roles on the West Wing and Sports Night, visited Tampa on May 28 to thank major donors and board members to the Tampa Jewish Community Center & Federation.

Prior to the event, Malina sat down with the Jewish Press to talk about his Jewish identity, Israel and, of course, his role as David Rosen on Scandal.

Jewish Press: You are very involved in the Jewish community. Now that your star is rising even more, what makes you still participate in events like this one – going into Jewish communities and talking about Judaism, Israel?

Malina: Part of what I like to talk about is how I became someone who would be asked to do something like this. It goes back to a request from the Los Angeles Jewish Federation in 2001. A long time ago, I got a call – I don’t even know how they found me – to go to a rally for Israel and sit on the dais. I asked about the event and its purpose. It was a little bit sad. The purpose was to put out the message that Israel has the right to exist. And I was like ‘that’s a message that isn’t a given?’

Fourteen years later you could still see a rally for that purpose. So I didn’t give [participating] a second thought. So I showed up and the people at the celebrity signin desk had no idea who I was. It wasn’t shocking because I don’t consider myself a celebrity now and I certainly wasn’t one 14 years ago. I took my seat on the dais and looked around and thought “where are the famous people?” There was a severe shortage. I commented on that to the person who had invited me to the event and she said, “Forget it. If it has to do with Israel you can’t get anyone to come.”

Jewish Press: Why do you think that is?

Malina: I think for a lot of reasons. Israel gets a bad rep in many ways. For a lot of people in the public eye, whatever they think personally, it’s easier not to get into (the issue). Maybe they will give money privately but they don’t want to put their face out there.

My feeling is the premise of that rally was that Israel has the right to exist. So you might think critically or disagree with this policy or that policy. You may not like Netanyahu. Israel has a right to exist. To me that is not controversial. I’ll have these conversations with friends. There is a lot to discuss there is a lot of gray area. I’m not presenting anything as black and white.

We talk about the United States and criticize the government – not liking this policy or that policy – but we are not questioning whether or not the United States has a fundamental right to exist.

So I’m saying get involved. If you want to get into the gray areas that’s great. I think discussing all that stuff and bringing it out to the fore is the only hope of any kind of progress being made.

Jewish Press: You took some flak for speaking out against the president (on Twitter) when the terror attacks in Paris occurred.

Malina: I saw on 92 right-wing websites “Scandal star calls Obama to task!” That was one very small thing where I objected (to something the President said). I am a big fan of President Obama. I have great respect for him. I’m not one of those people who think he is terrible on Israel. I was trying to make a small point that the violence at the kosher market wasn’t random. I did not say the president had sinister intentions by calling it random but it was worth pointing out that when somebody goes to a kosher market to look for Jews and then kills them, that’s not random. That’s very pointed. It was a very small thing that I felt needed to be pointed out. Who am I to call the president to task? I am just some actor that had a little comment about the wording.

Jewish Press: You have worked with a lot of presidents on your TV shows (Besides playing the AG on Scandal, he was a speechwriter for President Bartlet on the West Wing.)

Malina: Exactly. Maybe I feel too comfortable around presidents.

Jewish Press: I was noticing a lot of people on Twitter ask you about Judaism and about keeping kosher. And you are very honest and blunt in your responses.

Malina: I also learn things too! It’s funny. I tweeted about what I was cooking – why I don’t know – I was making second-cut brisket. I explained about the marinade I made and how it included fish sauce. And someone said, ‘Fish and meat! What is wrong with you?’ And I was like, ‘what are you talking about; it’s not meat and dairy.’ And the truth is, I should as a Yeshiva boy know, it’s minhag rather than halacha, so custom rather than law, that in preparation of food, many people don’t combine fish and meat but you can eat it on separate plates. It was interesting. I am open to learning.

Jewish Press: So how do you think we should get young people in America excited about Israel? I think it’s a huge issue that seems so far away and so remote. Whatever is going on over there doesn’t have to do with us as American Jews.

Malina: That’s a great question. And I have to admit I sometimes talk the talk but do not walk the walk. I have two children (13 and 17) who have not been to Israel. And the number one thing I would say to get kids fired up about Israel is to take your kids to Israel.

I have been to Israel three times myself. My wife just went for the first time a year ago in May. And the next thing I have to do is take my own kids

Another way is to talk honestly about Israel. It involves difficult and messy conversations. I think kids are more sophisticated than we give them credit for, so if we don’t acknowledge the messy reality of things and sell them this monolithic image of Israel: black and white, right or wrong – something in them thinks “this can’t be right.”

Jewish Press: Until you see it for yourself, you don’t realize that the two communities (Jewish and Arab) co-exist in many parts of Israel.

Malina: That’s exactly right. That’s one of the beautiful things about going there. In the past there has been great unity and community in parts of the country. The last time I went to Israel, a friend asked me about security and barbed wire and fences, and I said I don’t think you really know what Israel is like. You are envisioning something from a sci-fi movie. It’s this beautiful country and I feel safe. There’s no substitute for going.

Jewish Press: You keep kosher at home. What other traditions do you keep in your home?

Malina: We observe the holidays. On Sukkot we build a sukkah. Actually one of my great dreams of my childhood – we had a sukkah and ate our meals out there but I always wanted to sleep in the sukkah, but in New York it gets so cold that we just never did it. So now there’s at least one day of the year that we sleep in our sukkah. Though now my kids want to stay out there alone with their friends.

It’s funny how one of the nice things about Judaism and traveling around to different Jewish communities is learning different ways of observing the same holidays.

Jewish Press: (Because the Jewish Press can’t be too serious all the time, we had to ask about Scandal.) Every time you open a script are you afraid that your character is going to be killed off?

Malina: It was not always the case! I had a false sense of confidence that “I’m not going anywhere!” even when we read a script where it seemed pretty clear that either my character or Dan Bucatinsky’s character James was going to die. At the end of the reading people were coming up to me and asking if I was ok. I was like. ‘What are you talking about? They’d never kill me off.’ Dan was a little bit worried, saying how are we going to get through this next week. ‘Dan it’s going to be fine. If it looks like something is going to happen, it’s never going to happen. (Shonda) loves us both.’ And then of course she did kill him off. And since then I have been whiteknuckle terrified.

Jewish Press: So what’s next on your radar for your acting career?

Malina: Season 5 of Scandal. We start filming in the middle of July. I have a couple of months off. I got offered a couple of jobs I really wanted to take. They both would have entailed my leaving right before my son’s bar mitzvah so I made the decision that I can’t be out in New Mexico shooting a Western.

Jewish Press: How did you get involved with Celebrity Poker Showdown? (Malina was an executive producer of the show, which ran 48 episodes from 2003-2006 )

Malina: I am an avid poker player myself. The inspiration came when I played in a home game of (actor/producer) Hank Azaria. Various actors, writers and producers would play in it, a lot of funny “Hollywood types.” A friend and I came up with the idea. We always felt there was a TV show in what we were doing. To our delight, we convinced Bravo to do it. We raised a lot of money for charity.

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