LOS ANGELES, Aug. 7 (JTA) — The race is on to become the first Jewish group to land an appearance by Mel Gibson, with three already entered and more waiting in the wings. That comes after the actor-director, while being arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, launched into an anti-Semitic tirade in which he blamed the Jews for all the wars in the world. First out of the starting block was Rabbi David Baron of the Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills. Baron alluded to the actor’s profuse apologies for his anti-Semitic slurs, then invited the director of “The Passion of the Christ” to speak at Yom Kippur services, “in order that you might directly express to the Jewish community your remorse.” Baron added, “In our faith, we are commanded to forgive when the offending party takes the necessary steps and offers an apology from the heart.” Many congregants of the Temple of the Arts work in the entertainment industry. Many synagogue members expressed strong objections to the invitation. Baron responded with another open letter, pointing out that he had invited Gibson not to speak but to deliver a public apology, and that as a pre-condition Baron would meet with Gibson to probe his sincerity and his “willingness to take the necessary steps to heal the pain he has caused.” Some have suggested that the publicity accruing to the first Jewish institution sponsoring Gibson’s mea culpa might have played a role in the temple’s invitation. Attempts to reach Baron, on vacation in Europe, were unsuccessful. Two other Jewish organizations have publicly invited Gibson. The Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City also extended an invitation to Gibson, a particularly poignant step since Gibson’s father is seen in some circles as a Holocaust denier. Asserting that he took Gibson’s previous apology “very seriously,” director David Marwell added in his letter that “In making a genuine commitment to learn about the Jewish people, you could find no more appropriate place to start your journey than our museum.” Marwell closed by saying, “We look forward to the opportunity of participating in your journey of understanding.” In a brief phone interview, Marwell rejected the suggestion that the museum was seeking publicity. “We are in the business of educating people every day,” he said. If Gibson visits the museum he obviously would attract press attention, Marwell acknowledged, but said such a visit “should not be a media circus.” A third invitation has come from the “1939 Club,” a Los Angeles-based association of Holocaust survivors and their children. William Elperin, the group’s president, said in a phone interview that he had invited Gibson “not to talk to us, but to listen to us. He has done enough talking. “Who better to educate Gibson about the ultimate effects of anti-Semitism than those who experienced the Holocaust?” Elperin added. He said he was not looking for publicity and originally had extended the invitation in a private letter to Gibson. When there was no response, Elperin said, he was advised to go public as the best way to catch the actor’s attention. Of all Jewish organizations, none has better entree to Hollywood’s A-list than the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has assiduously cultivated the brightest stars and directors. However, center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier, who has received two Oscars for documentaries, said that “under no circumstances” would he invite Gibson. “As a member of the academy, I voted for Gibson’s ‘Braveheart’ as best picture, and when ‘The Passion of the Christ’ came under attack, I said there was no proof that Gibson was an anti-Semite,” Hier said. “Now we have proof that he is an anti-Semite. He can’t be cured by a press release or be koshered by a 24-hour ‘conversion.’ ” Among the hundreds of invitations Gibson has received to speak or confess his sins, “lots” are from Jewish groups, said his publicist, Veronica Pinto of Rogers and Cowan. He has not decided whether to accept any of them, Pinto said.
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Tom Tugend is JTA's Los Angeles correspondent. A veteran journalist, he also writes for the Jerusalem Post, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and the London Jewish Chronicle.