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Strange but true tales of 'a Jew in Hollywood'

Joshua Malina, who plays Will Bailey on NBC's "The West Wing," got his start in show business by performing the Heimlich maneuver on Aaron Sorkin, creator of the series.

"I broke three of his ribs and Aaron lived -- and, on an unrelated note, I have gone on to appear in everything he has written since," Malina told 525 people Monday evening during the kickoff dinner in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo for the United Jewish Fund Campaign.

Malina said the title of his talk might be, "What It's Like to Be That Rare, Rare Thing, a Jew in Hollywood." He said there is "a certain insensitivity to things Jewish" in the movie and television world.

For example, he recalled standing in line for 2 1/2 hours for an audition only to discover that each actor was required to eat a slice of pizza on camera as part of his tryout.

"Not a problem," he said, "except it was Passover."

He tried to tell the director that leavened bread was forbidden during Passover and that he knew how to fake the pizza-chomping bit for the camera. All in vain.

"So, I didn't audition," he said.

His listeners applauded.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm not a Sandy Koufax," Malina said of the Los Angeles Dodger great who refused to pitch on Yom Kippur. "But my first day on 'West Wing,' it was the second day of Rosh Hashana. It was a tough decision for me to make. Jewish producers -- you'd think they'd look at a calendar."

Malina commended the United Jewish Fund for its programs to bring the young back into the Jewish community.

"When I started at Yale, I was smart, but I wasn't talented," he quipped. "Although I'd taken eight years of Hebrew, I took Introductory Hebrew, just to fill the requirement of a language."

But later in life, he said, he realized that a Jewish education was "one of the great gifts my parents have given me." As a result, he said, "I can walk into any synagogue and instantly find a warm and embracing community."

Malina said he invites secular Jewish actors to his home during Jewish holidays and finds that "they are hungry for these kinds of experiences."

A Jewish upbringing gave him two things, Malina said: "A desire to lead a good life, and a common goal of 'tikkun olam,' to leave the world somehow better than we found it. I've passed it on to my kids. And now I have a daughter who is lifting me a step higher on the ladder of Jewish life."

Malina was brought to Buffalo by the Herb Siegel Foundation.

e-mail: acardinale@buffnews.com

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