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"The Young and the ... Religious"?
CBS's number-one-rated daytime soap "The Young & the Restless" has gotten a jolt of Judaism, and, ya know, the super soap cleans up nice.
With all its typically twisted plots, is it any wonder "Y&R" should script one that reads from right to left? In a storyline just revealed, Brad Carlton, the hunk of heat and resident under cover king -- even the thread count can't stack up to his number of conquests -- has just discovered he's ... Jewish.
No wonder they're so restless in Genoa City -- you'd be jittery, too, if, after all these years, you found out you had to get circumcised.
Everybody into the gene pool? No, the plotline is much more circumspect than that. Indeed, as a prime example of what daring daytime TV -- where the phrase "bed and bored" has proved to be the ultimate oxymoron -- could be, "Y&R" forsakes the R&R it has earned all these years in the top soap spot; instead, it uses the news to break new ground in soap opera history.
"Y&R" is framing its plotline in news stories of looted Holocaust art being returned to their rightful Jewish owners, using the current headlines as currency to mint a "new" character: Carlton (Don Diamont) discovers he is really Jewish and his mother, an Italian Jewish Holocaust survivor, is busy busting big-time art owners and artfully arranging the return of their works to the deserving Jewish families who had them confiscated during the Holocaust.
Casting a serious light on a serious topic, there is one other casting perk: Millie Perkins, Hollywood's original "Anne Frank," portrays Diamont's mother.
You can't hide from the intensified tide of change; but a kosher soap? Just how did the writers of "The Young and the Restless" get so bold and beautiful in their Jewish journey? Like sand in an hourglass ... or is that the Mideast ... these are the daze of their lives:
Aware of the historic headlines, head writer Lynn Latham, always interested in having a diverse cast, converted Carlton to a Kaplan. "When I got the script, I called her to make sure, because on this show, we're more into baptisms and weddings in churches," says Diamont.
Get him to the synagogue on time? No temple of doom here; happily married for many years, and the father of six kids, Diamont is no stranger to Judaism.
Not now anyway. But there was a time when the low points of junior high gave him a major education in bigotry. Diamont in the rough: "I was tormented by anti-Semitic slurs" and beatings.
At home, there was no place for Judaism either. The kid his neighbors knew as Feinberg had grown up in a secular house that put a fine line between religious rites and wrongs.
Ironically, it was a matter of death ceding to life that rejuvenated his Jewishness. "My Dad passed away when I was 24. And during his illness, he told us that he regretted we [his kids] didn't grow up with an identity as Jews, that we grew up as strangers to our heritage."
There had been reminders, of course, in school, "where I had my first experience being called a kike -- Kikeberg, they called me."
His father's regret was a revelation, a calling Don demanded to be answered. "When you have no sense of heritage," he senses now, "on the one hand, you have an innate sense of pride; on the other hand, half of you is ashamed because you're being ostracized."
It was not a model Jewish reality, remembers the former teen model whose name change to his mother's maiden moniker "gave me a layer of insulation against the world."
Layer caked in illusion? As Diamont, the "kike" could take a hike away from the hatred now that "there was no neon sign of a name." Flash point: "Not long after that, the opposite started to happen," Don donned an introspective look and saw beyond the hurt into his heritage.
"While I was growing up," says the native New Yorker who later moved to Los Angeles, "we did Christmas celebrations. But then I started to move away from that; realizing that was not my holiday, not my thing. I started doing Chanukah."
Christmas bells to matzah balls? "When I had kids, it became very important to me that they be raised in the Jewish religion."
Raising the bar for them also meant reaching it himself: "At 29, I became Bar Mitzvah," he says of the ceremony in Los Angeles, attended "by 75 people; they came from New York, Florida -- many of my co-workers from the show were there."
Young, restless and ritualistic? "When I said, 'Today, I am a man,' I felt a fulfillment, an obligation."
And today he is a mensch; long active on behalf of charitable causes -- he was named Ambassador of the Year by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in 2001 for his charitable and humanitarian efforts (his niece had been diagnosed with the disease) -- Diamont is a multifaceted, 18-karat contributor to society.
He hasn't done too badly in Hollywood, either, where the stud-sultry actor has studded his resume with roles in "Anger Management," "Marco Polo" and "A Low Down Dirty Shame," in addition to telefilms. Most telling is his happy acceptance of his character's new roots, which he roots for with heart and soul as the sole Jewish soap star with a Holocaust history on daytime TV these days.
After playing the part for some 20 years, it's like returning home to a home he never knew he had. "To have him redefined in this way is wonderful."
And to have him depicted not as a doofus but as a "daytime deity" -- that's what Carlton/Diamont was called by Soaps In-Depth Magazine -- is akin to turning down the volume on stereotypes and giving a high-five to high fidelity of what Jews can be. "As a people we're too often stereotyped," laments Diamont.
Tough yet tender, adds the seasoned actor. And Carlton/Kaplan has become an agent of change: "I'm more a Mossad agent than a bookkeeper."
He's a keeper all right, all these years on the show, winning awards, honors and hotshot titles, such as being one of "The 50 Most Beautiful People in the World," dubbed as a dish by People mag.
Other people have gotten physical, too, in their praise, as Diamont was deemed sexiest actor on "Y&R" and, before that, as an actor on "Days of Our Lives," voted "Best Newcomer" by Daytime TV.
These days, the accolades keep coming. Sporting a killer bod, Brad Carlton/ George Kaplan was obviously never the last choice when kids chose sides in schoolyard sports. "I'll flip to see who doesn't get him" was a line he never heard while girls flipped for the character's pickup lines and looks. "And now," says Diamont, "we find out that he was at one time a Navy SEAL."
A better hechsher of hunkdom you couldn't get outside the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. "He's an extremely capable physical guy."
Score one for the actor who plays him, too, whose basketball prowess has netted him acclaim. And praise gleaned from his cycles as a cyclist needs no enhancements.
Now that Brad is by George, will "Y&R" suddenly stand for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah? No rush to judgment there, but Jewish holidays will most likely be celebrated onscreen "without beating everyone over the head with them."
Pass the matzah, celebrate the mitzvahs? The TV beat has changed a bit, but history often changes by inches and seconds: "We will not rewrite history," says Diamont of the plotline's limitations.
But ignorance isn't bliss; it's a breeding ground of bias. "You can't tell the Holocaust story too often. It's a story not just of Jews, but genocide."
The actor's own story has been one of some hardship and hurt over the years. As his newly defined character "allows me to get out there and say who I am, get it out in public," his private life has been one of some pain. His brother, who had been studying with him to have a joint Bar Mitzvah, never made it to the bimah, wasting away from brain cancer before dying in 1989. Don's sister also passed away early, and, just weeks ago, Diamont lost his beloved mother.
"Nothing teaches you more than losses, particularly that early," says Diamont softly of his elementary education in life's eerie grand scheme of things.
"God has some plan. Everything happens for a reason."
The dashing Diamont seems so reasonable considering what he's experienced. "Guys in their mid-50s have midlife crises; I did that at 24 and 26."
Is "Y&R" affording viewers a new age of reason? A chance to change people's lives through an unorthodox Jewish storyline? "It's a chance for people watching to see Jews a different way."
And for the onetime 29-year-old Bar Mitzvah boychick at the bimah, whose family health history made him realize "you have to grow up quickly," he has grown as a man and mentor for those who need more than matinee idols with idle time on their hands to admire. "I have lived up to the dying wish of my father," he says of his father's deathbed desire and admonition that "you have to be a man now."
And now, he says proudly of his fine family life and acclaimed accomplishments, he is that man.