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SHOWS FOR YOUNGSTERS AND THEIR PARENTS TOO : CBS' 'Schoolbreak' on hate gives it a face and historical passage


After the home, car and synagogue of a New Jersey rabbi were defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti, the people at "CBS Schoolbreak Special" saw an opportunity to educate youngsters about hate.

In this week's The Writing on the Wall, based on a true story, three naive and boastful graffiti artists learn exactly what they were writing on the property and temple of Rabbi Eugene Markovitz, played by Hal Linden.

The teen-agers' Halloween prank is near the anniversary of the Nazis' Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938. On Nov. 9 that year, Nazi supporters attacked and looted more than 7,000 Jewish stores and burned 267 synagogues throughout Germany, an event that became known as Crystal Night for the broken glass.

When members of the outraged Jewish community in the "Schoolbreak Special" demand severe sentencing for the boys (played by Jason Allen, Peter Billingsley and Aeryk Egan), Rabbi Markovitz makes a surprise plea for community service. He offers to teach the boys a little history, to enlighten them and show them the importance of tolerance.

The lesson concludes with a trip to the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance in West Los Angeles.

Linden, reached at his Los Angeles home, says his character "felt they wouldn't really learn anything from being punished, and they were put on probation under his charge. The kids really had no idea what they had really done. It was just a gag to them. They couldn't understand how sensitive to the history of the Holocaust the Jewish community was."

In a conversation with one of the real offenders, writer Carol Starr Schneider discovered the incident had became an epiphany for him: The boy went from an aimless teen-ager to a directed, focused and mature person. He's currently a student at the University of Notre Dame.

"He told Carol," Linden says, "that had he not been influenced by the rabbi, he would have continued his meaningless, pointless, gang-affiliated life."

Also vital to the story is the sentencing the judge eventually ruled in favor of--the one the rabbi proposed. "I've never been a big advocate of the penal system," Linden adds, siding with his character for rehabilitation outside of prison walls. "I think it (prison) makes the public feel better, but it doesn't solve any problems. The three strikes is a perfect example. A guy faces life imprisonment because he stole a slice of pizza as his third offense. We get so frustrated by crime and criminals, we think that incarceration is the only answer, and it never is and it doesn't accomplish that much."

In a time when Neo-Nazis are making their presence known in America and a unified Germany, Linden emphasizes that anti-Semitism "is still, quite honestly, an important topic. Unfortunately, it's a problem that doesn't seem to go away. It didn't go away with the end of World War II, when one would have thought that we'd had enough. It seems to be rearing its ugly head again. It was important to me to do this in a medium where young people might see it. Hopefully, it can preempt the forces that would foster that kind of mentality. Like preventive medicine, I guess."

Linden adds: "My personal message is, this country is the only one in the world with a non-homogenous population. We're the only democracy who doesn't have one. And it works , but it ain't if you keep ripping it apart between the different people in this country, which we have a tendency to do when we get frustrated . . . with this show, maybe we can change someone's mind, I don't know. But I hope so."

"The CBS Schoolbreak Special: The Writing on the Wall" airs Tuesday at 3 p.m. For ages 7 and up.

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