Moving and shaking: FIDF YL Gala; Persian New Year; Matisyahu; and more


The Friends of Israel Defense Forces Young Leadership’s (FIDF YL) ninth annual gala on March 12 at Hotel Alexandria raised approximately $500,000, according to FIDF YL president and gala vice chairman Zach Zalben.

Emceed by comedian Dan Ahdoot, the evening drew more than 1,100 attendees to the downtown hotel, which was decked out to celebrate the theme of the night, “Roaring ’20s Old Hollywood.”

In an interview following his performance, Ahdoot said the evening marked the sixth year he has emceed the event. He called the gala the “only one he will do for free.”

Throughout the night, the crowd kept busy at blackjack tables raising additional funds for the organization, at the open bars and on the two dance floors occupying different levels of the venue.

Ari Ryan, co-chairman of the organization, was among the speakers.

The event honored the legacy of late FIDF supporter Zev Karkomi.

Additional attendees included gala committee members Leeor Alpern, president emeritus of Democrats for Israel Los Angeles; Camila Seta, director of public relations at the Israel Ministry of Tourism; and Jessica Shaouli, an interior designer and 2004 Milken Community Schools graduate.

FIDF YL is the young-professionals arm of FIDF and aims to forge “everlasting bonds between FIDF young leaders across the country and the incredible IDF soldiers,” according to the FIDF website.

The party went on, thanks to daylight savings, until 3 a.m. At the end of the night, the weary attendees formed a line outside the hotel at Spring and Fifth streets, waiting for their Uber rides.

Panelists preparing before the standing-room-only “Out of Iran and Out of the Closet” panel, from left: Arya Marvazy, Roya Kianmahd, Mastaneh Moghadam, Sepideh Tehrani, Shervin Khorramian and Roxana Soltanzadeh. Photo courtesy Arya Marvazy

Two hundred people attended a celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, hosted by Jewish LGBTQ group JQ International on March 16. The event at The Spice Affair featured many parents and siblings joining family members in celebrating Persian and LGBTQ identity in the same space. 

“After a year of JQ placing Persian engagement and support at the top of its priority list, culminating in March’s Persian Pride month, we have seen the efforts pay off,” Asher Gellis, JQ’s founder and executive director, said. 

He said that the organization has been aided in these efforts by support from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Such support for LGBTQ individuals wasn’t always the case in the Persian-Jewish community, L.A. native and JQ member Arya Marvazy said. 

“For so many years, the concept of living our authentic lives amidst friends, family, and the larger community alike was a distant dream,” he said. “We couldn’t ever have imagined celebrating a cultural event like Nowruz in this way. Yet here we were, celebrating our new year with close friends, allies, and even some of our mothers … this reality far surpassed any dream we could ever have imagined.”

The Nowruz event came on the heels of “Out of Iran and Out of the Closet,” the previous week’s standing-room-only panel of seven gay, lesbian and transgender activists at the City of West Hollywood’s council chambers, which, Gellis said, “addressed real and heart-wrenching realities of what it means to be LGBTQ and Persian.” 

“A year ago, it would have been hard to have found two speakers willing to be this vulnerable and visible,” Gellis said. “But after a year of dedicated focus, we had seven strong and proud speakers and a room busting at the seams with families and community members ready to take the steps to bring about a revolution of thinking about sexual orientation and gender identity in the largest community of Iranians outside of Iran.” 

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

From left: Anti-Defamation League Deborah Awards dinner host and civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom, honoree Mónica Gil, honoree Carol Cheng-Mayer, ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind and honoree Jill Black Zalben. Photo courtesy of ADL.

The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) 21st annual Deborah Awards Dinner was held March 3 at SLS Beverly Hills hotel. 

The event raised $300,000 for ADL programming, which combats anti-Semitism and bigotry.

Honorees were Carol Cheng-Mayer, senior vice president of Bel Air Investment Advisors; Monica Gil, senior vice president and general manager, multicultural growth and strategy at Nielsen; and Jill Black Zalben, partner at Black Equities Group and director of the Joyce and Stanley Black Family Foundation. 

The event’s co-chairs were Faith Cookler and Sharyn Nichols

Civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom emceed. 

The approximately 300 attendees included former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; businessman, philanthropist and father of honoree Black Zalben, Stanley Black; and ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind

The ADL Deborah Awards recognize “extraordinary women of achievement,” according to ADL.

Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa board of directors president Mark Howorth. Photo courtesy of Liz Bar-El

Historic Labor Zionist youth camp Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa has undergone a leadership transition, with Mark Howorth being named president of the camp’s board of directors.

The change became effective Jan. 10, according to Liz Bar-El, Howorth’s predecessor, who led the organization since 2009.

Bar-El, for her part, is currently serving as president of Adat Shalom synagogue.

Under Bar-El’s leadership, Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa purchased a new campsite in Big Bear, Calif.

Howorth, whose two sons attended the camp and have since become camp leaders, is current chief operating officer at Panavision, a provider of motion picture cameras and lenses. He is a former board member of Congregation Tikvat Jacob in Manhattan Beach.

“Howorth … is excited about the challenge of growing Camp Gilboa over the next few years,” Bar-El said in a statement, “and is already working hard toward increasing registration for the 2016 sessions that run between June 26 and Aug. 7.”

Matisyahu performs at The Wiltern alongside fans he invited onto the stage for the evening’s encore. Photo by Ryan Torok

Matisyahu’s Chasidic days are over, but his music remains spiritual and his fan base Jewish as evidenced on March 2 at the Wiltern, where the musician headlined a concert billed as “An Evening with Matisyahu.”

Clean-shaven, his grayed hair tied into a ponytail, dressed in a baggy plaid shirt and skin-tight jeans, Matisyahu began the well-received performance with a song off his latest studio album, “Akeda,” with lyrics that, much like the artist himself, blurs the biblical and the contemporary.

“Moses is on his way downtown,” Matisyahu sang at the Koreatown venue during a performance that blended reggae, rock and hip-hop with ambient sound textures.

The two-set concert included memorable tunes such as “Jerusalem,” “King Without a Crown” and “One Day,” but for the most part featured more obscure numbers from the artist’s now decade-long career.

The communal vibe was underscored by Matisyahu inviting Los Angeles rapper Kosha Dillz and Pico-Robertson singer Yehuda Solomon of the band Moshav onstage late in the evening, the two joining Matisyahu and his four-piece touring band, composed of guitarist Aaron Dugan, drummer Tim Keiper, keyboardist Rob Marscher and bassist Stu Brooks

Spotted in the pit was actor Kevin Weisman (“Alias,” “Hello Ladies”). Those seen in line outside the venue and inside the lobby just before the concert began included Friends of ELNET California director Jonathan Boyer, educator Batsheva Frankel and L.A. Russian Jewish Young Adult Network leader Eric Fihman.

About 100 Sephardic Jewish community members, leaders and others attended the March 6 installation of Rabbi Raif Melhado at Kahal Joseph Congregation.

“It is a very special community. It’s my honor and pleasure to be able to be working with them,” the 33-year-old Modern Orthodox rabbi, who began last August, said in a phone interview. 

Melhado was ordained at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (YCT) in 2015. Prior to coming to Kahal Joseph Congregation, he served as a rabbinic intern at Hebrew Institute of White Plains in New York. 

The evening program featured remarks by Melhado; Kahal Joseph Rebbetzin Jessica Melhado; de Toledo High School Jewish studies department chair Rabbi Devin Villarreal; Hebrew Institute of White Plains Rabbi Chaim Marder; YCT President Rabbi Asher Lopatin; and Kahal President Ronald Einy.

A dinner reception followed the installation, featuring a concert by Sephardic band Bazaar Ensemble’s Asher Levy (vocals, oud), Yoni Arbel (guitar) and Sean Thump (saxophone).

Among attendees were Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, director of the Sephardic Educational Center, and Kahal Joseph Congregation Senior Chazzan Sassoon Ezra.

Kahal Joseph Congregation is a Sephardic Orthodox community with Iraqi and Syrian founders serving approximately 300 member families. The synagogue is located in Century City.

Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) North America Bay City manager Rabbi Joshua Ladon. Photo courtesy of Shalom Hartman Institute

Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) North America has hired Rabbi Philip Graubart as West Coast vice president and Rabbi Joshua Ladon as Bay City manager, according to a March 10 announcement.

The hirings mark the continued expansion of the organization’s West Coast operations. The two join Michelle Stone, SHI North America’s Los Angeles city manager, and Rachel Allen, SHI West Coast program coordinator, to complete the SHI West Coast presence, according to a press release.

Launched in 2010, SHI North America is a self-described “leader in sophisticated dialogue and study on major Jewish questions,” according to a press release. 

“With the addition of these two professionals, the broad expansion of SHI programs and initiatives on the West Coast will continue to flourish,” the release said. 


“Moving and Shaking” highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.