From yeshivah to TV
Joshua Malina will help launch the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s annual campaign on Sept. 21. (photo from Joshua Malina)
The title of his talk is How to Make it in Hollywood and Remain a Mensch. From the one minute and 20 second video he made to help the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver promote the Sept. 21 launch of this year’s annual campaign, you can tell he knows that of which he speaks. Joshua Malina exudes menschlichkeit.
But that doesn’t mean the actor’s a pushover. Follow him on Twitter and you’ll see that he knows how to push back. He also has a wicked sense of humor, and not just in writing apparently – he has a reputation for being a prankster on set. He’s currently co-starring in the hit show Scandal, which may sound far removed from his yeshivah roots, but his character, David Rosen, has the clearest moral compass of the bunch. Not that it matters, of course, as actors, well, act, and Malina told the Jewish Independent that he “was intent on becoming an actor from about age 8 onwards. Prior to that, baseball player, Good Humor man and rabbi were all options I considered.”
As to whether his athletic or sales skills would have been up to the challenge is unclear, but anyone who has read about Malina – or watched that minute-plus video – knows that he could have easily been a rabbi.
“My parents’ decision to send me to yeshivah from first through eighth grades was a major factor in establishing my Jewish identity,” he told the Independent. “At Westchester Day School (in Mamaroneck, N.Y.), I acquired many of the skills that are helpful in living a substantive Jewish life. I studied Torah, learned about the holiday cycle, was taught to pray and to leyn, and so on. But, probably more crucially, I was taught there to consider the ethical decisions of everyday life. We were taught about tikkun olam, the concept that it’s every person’s responsibility to help repair this imperfect world.
“I’m a middle child, with a sister who’s two and a half years older than I, and a sister eight years younger,” he continued. “My family has always been extremely close, and my parents helped us all forge strong Jewish identities by raising us in a home that valued and celebrated Jewish tradition.
“Seeing how others live and observe Judaism reminds me of the resiliency and creativity of our people. It’s one of the reasons I get such pleasure from visiting different communities when I go out to speak.”
“So, I grew up in a Conservative household, attended an Orthodox shul, and spent eight years at an Orthodox day school. I ended up marrying a convert, and now my family attends a Reconstructionist synagogue, so you could say that I’m the ultimate Jewish mutt. Rather than a liability, though, I’d say that my exposure to a broad variety of Jewish experience has enhanced my own faith. Seeing how others live and observe Judaism reminds me of the resiliency and creativity of our people. It’s one of the reasons I get such pleasure from visiting different communities when I go out to speak.”
Malina now lives in Los Angeles with his wife and their two children. In addition to Scandal, his ABC biography notes that, “during his hiatus, he filmed a role in writer/director Warren Beatty’s latest Howard Hughes feature.”
Malina has had many career successes, in such television shows as The West Wing and the acclaimed but short-lived Sports Night. He has appeared in numerous other popular TV programs, as well as first-rate films, and was executive producer on Bravo’s Celebrity Poker Showdown, which “broke ratings records for the network.” But there also have been some downs since he made his professional debut in Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men on Broadway.
“Ah yes, ‘professional uncertainty,’ I know it well,” he said. “I consider myself luckier than most who pursue a career in acting, but it has certainly been a rollercoaster. Work can be very hard to come by, and a job can disappear as quickly as it materialized. The emotional aspect I’m pretty good with. I don’t take rejection personally, and I understand that I may book one job for every 50 I’m considered for. Also, my self-image is not wrapped up in my success as an actor. I am much more concerned about being a good father and husband than I am in being well-known, or anything like that. That said, I do have responsibilities. I need to put food on the table and a roof over my kids’ heads. It is not always easy in this profession.”
And Malina isn’t just concerned with putting a roof over his own family’s heads.
“I try to support a variety of organizations, but I am particularly fond of groups that take their inspiration from Judaism, and do good on behalf of everybody, regardless of religious affiliation,” he said in response to a question about his charitable endeavors. “Jews are a wonderfully philanthropic community, and I like for the world to see that. Mazon – A Jewish Response to Hunger, is a nonprofit that addresses hunger issues in Israel and the U.S. They do terrific work, as does Bet Tzedek, which is a pro bono law firm in Los Angeles that takes its motivation from the Torah verse that states ‘Justice, justice you shall pursue.’
“Of course, I am also supportive of organizations that help Jews specifically, and that insure that we are a community that takes care of its own.”
One of the causes Malina supports is the Creative Community for Peace.
“We may not all share the same politics or the same opinion on the best path to peace in the Middle East,” reads the About Us explanation on the group’s website. “But we do agree that singling out Israel, the only democracy in the region, as a target of cultural boycotts while ignoring the now-recognized human rights issues of her neighbors will not further peace.
“We understand the power that our music, our films, our television shows, and all arts have. They have the power to build bridges. Foster better understanding. Encourage dialogue. And hopefully lead toward greater mutual acceptance.”
Among Creative Community for Peace’s initiatives is an anti-boycott petition, headed “Don’t Let Israel’s Detractors Politicize Art,” and the statement “Commitment to Peace and Justice.”
“The idiocy of accusing Israel – which attempts to minimize civilian casualties – of attempted genocide, while ignoring the words of Hamas’ charter, which call for the extermination of every Jew, is maddening.”
“It was a very easy decision for me to sign that statement,” he told the Independent. “It expressed grief for the loss of life among Israelis and Palestinians and, without explicitly referencing the Almodovar-Bardem-Cruz letter, it indirectly responded to its foolishness. The idiocy of accusing Israel – which attempts to minimize civilian casualties – of attempted genocide, while ignoring the words of Hamas’ charter, which call for the extermination of every Jew, is maddening. One can only come to the conclusion that those engaging in this type of false accusation are either maliciously dishonest or out of touch with reality.
“And please understand, I do not vilify everyone who is critical of Israel. I have criticisms of my own. But the vicious and intellectually dishonest nature of the double standard applied by many to the Gaza conflict requires a response. Hence, my signature on the letter.
“I have heard from many as a result of my signing the statement. The vast majority has been quite positive, some of it’s been very negative. But that’s all right. I expected it, and I can take it. I’m an actor; I have thick skin.”
Tickets for the campaign launch Sept. 21, 7:30 p.m., at Chan Centre for the Performing Arts are $40 ($18 students), with group discounts available (Anna Vander Munnik, 604-257-5109 or firstname.lastname@example.org). For more information and to buy tickets, visit jewishvancouver.com.