Celebrity-studded event to raise funds for Sderot

Ninette TayebTwo days after Hollywood’s biggest night — the 80th annual Academy Awards — the Los Angeles Jewish community will be treated to a celebrity-studded red carpet event of its own: Ninette Tayeb, Israel’s reigning pop idol (photo, left), as well as Israeli-born hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari; Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; the Oscar-nominated “Beaufort” delegation; and the creme-de-la-creme of the Jewish and Israeli communities will gather at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills for an important benefit concert, “Live for Sderot.”

The Feb. 26 concert, sponsored by the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles and the Los Angeles-based Israeli Leadership Club (ILC), is the official kickoff event of what will be a series of celebrations in Los Angeles leading up to Israel’s 60th Independence Day in May. It is also the first major event marking the anniversary in the United States, according to a Los Angeles consulate spokesperson.

“This is definitely one of the events which we expect will have the largest impact in the media and in the community at large on the Jewish community and on the people in Israel,” said Gilad Millo, Israeli consul for media and public affairs. “We expect a sensational event.”

The second, more sobering objective of the “Live for Sderot” campaign is to raise awareness about the continuing siege of Sderot, a small city near the Gaza Strip terrorized by daily rocket attacks for the past seven years. The nonpolitical, humanitarian effort focuses specifically on the children of Sderot and the trauma caused by constant “red alerts,” widespread destruction and the difficulty of carrying out normal activities, such as attending school.

All of the proceeds from the concert will go directly to funding educational programs in Sderot, according to ILC co-chair Eli Tene. The ILC, he said, is working with the Israeli Ministry of Education, Knesset member Mickey Eitan, and the Center for Educational Technology in Israel, among others, to build computer labs, create resources for the increasing number of children forced to study at home, build protected education centers and generally improve the quality of education in the rocket-battered city.

As part of the campaign, which featured the release of a video titled “Everyone Deserves to Live in Peace” and the launching of a Web site, 10 teenage representatives from the city will arrive on Feb. 22 for a weeklong dream trip/press tour. The teens, who were selected based on their English skills, among other criteria, will tell their stories to American audiences at UCLA, Kadima Hebrew Academy and a public high school yet to be determined. The “dream” part of the trip will include visits to Universal Studios, Disneyland and a Lakers game — all in the presence of Israeli megastar Tayeb.

Tayeb became a household name in Israel when she won the first season of “Kochav Nolad,” Israel’s version of “American Idol.” Since winning in 2003, she has parlayed her success as a singer into a thriving television acting career in Israel. Most recently, the beauty caused a major splash by shaving her head for a cellphone commercial, for which she received $100,000 for the live stunt.

To their credit, the Israeli media have been giving just as much press to Tayeb’s heart as to her now bare head. The star’s Los Angeles appearance, which will be her U.S. debut, and her enthusiastic public support of the children of Sderot have been widely reported in Israel, including articles in the country’s largest newspapers and through her appearances on its biggest talk shows.

During a live broadcast of this season’s “Kochav Nolad,” Tayeb was featured in an interview and performance from Sderot. Sitting among a group of children, she spoke of the upcoming concert, for which she waived her fee, and about “giving her entire soul to the cause.”

In an e-mail forwarded by the Israeli consulate, Tayeb added, “Israel’s security has often been an issue for the media, but there is a feeling that the tragedy of Sderot isn’t on the global agenda, and it is a very important issue. We have to do everything we can to turn attention towards Sderot, where people live in distress, have no where to go and no solution.”

Performing the first song of the evening will be Ben-Ari, already a recognizable name and face in the American music scene for her Grammy Award-winning collaboration with Kanye West and numerous other musical liaisons with artists such as Jay Z, Alicia Keys, Maroon 5 and Israeli rapper Subliminal.

Based in New York, the violinist considers herself an American artist but still holds close ties to her homeland and is involved in many organizations benefiting causes in Israel.

“I really care very deeply for Sderot, and I think it’s a scandal that people around the world don’t know what’s going on there,” Ben-Ari said in a telephone interview. “When I heard about the benefit concert, I was so touched. I cannot think of a better way to start the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel.”

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