UJA Campaign 2012 Launch was a show about "something"

Jason Alexander entertains 2,000 at Toronto's Sony Centre

By Dan Horowitz--With his arms outstretched to acknowledge the sheer enormity of Toronto's Sony Centre and the close to 2,000 attendees on hand at the recent launch of UJA's Campaign 2012, Jason Alexander, standing at centre stage, exclaimed, "Wow! UJA Federation of Greater Toronto! Wow! The Sony Centre!"

Then, after his classic hand-wringing during a well choreographed pause, he added, much to the crowd's delight, "What the hell happened to my career?!"

And with that, the man who for nine years starred as the irrepressible George Costanza on NBC's Seinfeld, made it an evening to remember for those on hand.

United Jewish Appeal's Campaign 2012 is chaired by Gilbert Palter and Barbara Bank.

"We are so fortunate to be part of one of the greatest Jewish communities in the world, in fact, Toronto is one of the few places outside Israel that people come to because they make a Jewish choice," Bank told the crowd.

"Jewish Toronto isn't just growing; it's the envy of other Jewish communities across the Diaspora," said Palter. "And while we are lucky to live in such a vibrant and thriving community, it isn't that way because of good luck."

Palter then went on to list four points that help make Jewish Toronto so successful, and which cover the ways that the annual UJA campaign sustains and builds on Jewish Toronto's strengths:

- How we care for our vulnerable
- How we educate our young and develop their Jewish identities
- Our strong ties to Israel and Jews throughout the world
- The effective way we advocate for our community and Israel

Elizabeth Wolfe, chair of UJA Federation, also introduced a moving video showing the activity at Eilat's Yosephtal Hospital, following the recent spate of terrorist attacks in southern Israel. Yosephtal is supported by UJA Federation.

Israel's Consul General to Toronto, Amir Gissin, also addressed the crowd.

And while Toronto is, in fact, one of the greatest Jewish communities anywhere, Seinfeld, which ran from 1989 to 1998, is widely regarded as the greatest half-hour sitcom ever. But, as Alexander relays, it almost didn't happen.

“The pilot episode they shot for NBC got the worst test results in TV history,” Alexander said. “They said it was too hip, too Jewish and wouldn’t work.”

But thanks to a TV Guide critic who apparently "got it", and who loved the pilot episode that was shown one summer when fresh content is all-too-rare, NBC ordered an underwhelming four more episodes.

“Larry (David, the show's creator and writer for the first seven seasons) told us the network hated this show. So he decided he would do it his way,” said Alexander. “He didn’t care. He had his way. He explained things his way.”

A perfect example was the episode in which Alexander's character is caught having sex with a cleaning lady on his desk. “I asked myself how (David) was going to get out of this one. Simple. He had me say: ‘Is that wrong to have sex with a cleaning lady on a desk?’ That was it. That opened my mind to his mind.”

A watershed moment came for Alexander, who admitted that he based his character on Woody Allen for the first three seasons, when he showed up for a Seinfeld script meeting only to learn that Larry David had created a ridiculous scenario for George, one that George decided was too much even for him to play. 

“That is too outrageous,” Alexander said to Larry David. “That situation would never happen to anyone. Then Larry calmly told me it had happened to him. That’s when I realized I was playing George Costanza playing him.”

So, while most actors complain about being typecast, or remembered as one character despite having played many, Alexander is far too thankful to say goodbye to his alter-ego.

“Most actors never get a role like that in their lives. George has never been a burden. I’ve never been anywhere in the world where because of George I haven’t been welcomed like family. I get letters and people coming up to me all the time, saying they’ve lost a child or a parent or they were going through cancer but that the show got them through their ordeals by keeping them laughing. What more can one ask for?"


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