Jews win handful of small victories at Academy Awards


LOS ANGELES (JTA) — After a slow start in the initial Oscar nominations, Hollywood’s Jews reaffirmed the tribe’s historic resilience with a credible finish at the Academy Awards.

Host Ellen DeGeneres set the stage in the Feb. 25 broadcast by noting the diversity of this year’s nominees, concluding that without “blacks, Jews and gays, there would be no Oscar.”

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Alan Arkin beat out the likes of Eddie Murphy and Mark Wahlberg to win the Best Supporting Actor award for his role as the coke-snorting, womanizing grandfather in “Little Miss Sunshine.”

The 72-year-old actor, director, author and musician had waited a long time for the honor. He was nominated for his 1966 screen debut, “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming,” and again in 1968 for his role in “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” but lost both times.

“An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore’s wake-up call on the threat of global warming, captured the documentary feature Oscar. Sharing the stage and the plaudits with the former vice president were the film’s Jewish director Davis Guggenheim and producer Laurie David, wife of TV personality and writer Larry David.

Perhaps the most surprised winner of the evening was Ari Sandel, whose “West Bank Story” took the Academy Award for best live action short film.

Created as a student project at the University of Southern California, the 21-minute musical comedy depicts the rivalry between the Jewish and Arab owners of adjacent falafel stands in the West Bank.

Their conflict is resolved with singing, dancing and a lot of hummus when an Israeli soldier falls in love with a Palestinian girl. In his acceptance speech, Sandel, 32, pointed to the more serious aspect of his little allegory.

“This film is about hope and peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” said the director, whose father is Israeli. “So many other people support this notion, so perhaps hope is not hopeless.”

Later, in a backstage interview, Sandel said, “My intention was to make a movie that Israelis and Jews would watch and find themselves liking the Arab characters, and that Arabs would watch and like the Israeli characters.

“Is the film going to change the world or do anything else? Probably not,” he said. “But you know, if you can change just a few minds… I get e-mails from all over the world, from Israelis and Arabs, talking about how much the movie meant to them. That’s hopeful because otherwise there is such a sea of negativity out there.”

Israeli composer Yuval Ron wrote the songs and score for “West Bank Story.”

British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen was present, but his adapted screenplay for “Borat” was trumped by the script for “The Departed,” which also snagged the Oscar for best picture.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented its Humanitarian Award to Sherry Lansing, former head of Paramount Studios and long active in civic and Jewish charities.