Jewish Journal

Moving & Shaking: CNN’s Blitzer Honored by LAMOTH, Tour de Summer Camps, FIDF Gala

From left: CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer, who was honored by the L.A. Museum of the Holocaust; L.A. Museum of the Holocaust Executive Director Beth Kean and L.A. Museum of the Holocaust President Paul Nussbaum attend the museum’s gala dinner. Photo by Gina Cholick

Wolf Blitzer accepted an honor from the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) on Nov. 5 at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. The CNN anchor discussed what his late Holocaust-survivor parents from Poland experienced before coming to the United States.

Blitzer’s mother, Cesia, was a forced laborer in an ammunition factory in Germany. She secretly distorted the bullets she made in the hope that the bullets would misfire and kill Nazis instead of Allied soldiers.

“That was how she survived the war,” Blitzer said. “She was a very powerful woman.”

In Munich after the war, Blitzer’s father, David, observed people standing in a long line. He didn’t know what they were waiting for but assumed it must be good since so many people were doing it.

After a half-hour of being in the line, his father asked a woman in front of him what everyone was waiting for, Blitzer said.

“‘America. They are giving visas for America,’” Blitzer said the woman responded. “My dad says, ‘Visas for America?’ It did not enter his mind he could come to America.”

LAMOTH President Paul Nussbaum presented Blitzer with the museum’s honor. During his acceptance speech, Blitzer, 69, said he thought of his parents as he reported on Nazis marching in the streets in Charlottesville, Va., shouting, “Jews will not replace us.”

“As I was reporting the news about that on CNN, I thought of my mom and dad, who would’ve been so stunned to hear those words shouted here in the United States of America. They wouldn’t have believed it,” he said. “This was a country they loved so much. They would never have believed in this day and age they would have heard slogans like that in the U.S.”

The hundreds of attendees included LAMOTH’s Executive Director Beth Kean and Education Director Jordanna Gessler; filmmaker Aaron Wolf and more than 70 survivors.

Manijeh Nehorai, founder and director of ETTA’s Iranian American Community Division, is honored at the organization’s 20th anniversary gala. Photo courtesy of ETTA

The Iranian-American Community Division of ETTA, which serves the housing and social services needs of disabled adults in the Los Angeles Jewish community, held a gala on Oct. 25 at the Beverly Wilshire hotel that celebrated 20 years of fundraising. The ceremony honored Manijeh Nehorai, founder and director of the Iranian-American Division for more than 22 years, and featured a congratulatory message from Farah Pahlavi, the former empress of Iran.

“It was a great privilege to be recognized by ETTA,” Nehorai said. “Over my more than 20-year association with ETTA — along with the board, staff and volunteers — we have worked hard to provide much-needed programs and services to individuals with special needs. The growth of ETTA continues to be phenomenal, and it is gratifying to be part of such an influential and important organization.”

More than 550 people attended the event that also included a fashion show by Iranian native and acclaimed designer Simin Couture, featuring ETTA clients and ETTA Young Professionals.

“Recognizing Mrs. Nehorai is long overdue,” said ETTA Executive Director Michael Held. “We are thrilled the Iranian Division board of directors, along with the greater Iranian community, will have the opportunity to express their gratitude for all she has done, and continues to do. Through her vast experience, professional training and dedication, she has changed the hearts and minds within the Iranian community and bettered the lives of the many Iranian clients and their families we serve.”

Throughout the past 20 years, the Iranian-American Division has been assisting ETTA, an affiliate of OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services, in providing programs and services to aid people with disabilities and their families.

Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

From left: Jeffrey Kaplan and Rodney Freeman participate in the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ fifth annual Tour de Summer Camps. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles hosted its fifth annual Tour de Summer Camps on Oct. 29, starting at Camp Alonim at the Brandeis-Bardin campus of the American Jewish University in Simi Valley.

More than 650 cyclists and hikers who participated in the communitywide event raised a record-breaking $1.2 million for scholarships for kids to attend Jewish summer camps.

“The entire community has embraced this special event,” said ride master Rodney Freeman. “Tour de Summer Camps has become a day to celebrate the good in our community, which has resulted in almost $6 million raised over five years to benefit Jewish camping scholarships. My dream is that every child with the desire to attend Jewish summer camp will be able to do so, regardless of their family’s financial capabilities.”

The fundraiser, which had four bike routes of different lengths, had some new additions this year, including three hiking routes, a live band, a fun zone with a rock wall and lawn games, and a personalized bike plate.

“This event is incredibly supported and attended by the community, because we all know that Jewish summer camp is one of the greatest drivers of Jewish identity,” said Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson.

Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

“Together As One,” an interfaith concert, featured clergy and attendees of all faiths and backgrounds. Photo by Farzana Ali

An interfaith concert at University Synagogue in Brentwood on Oct. 29, titled “Together as One,” had people dancing in the aisles to the music of the Yuval Ron Ensemble.

The nearly 180 attendees contributed canned or dried foods, underwear, socks and grocery store gift cards for homeless people in Los Angeles County.

Seated onstage below four Torah scrolls, the Yuval Ron Ensemble played traditional Middle Eastern music rooted in the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths. A mystical whirling dervish — a person doing a devotional dance — performed during two selections. Vocalists sang in Hebrew and Arabic, with a Spanish-language singer joining in for a heartfelt, multilingual version of “Imagine” by John Lennon.

The evening’s finale included a blessing over the donated food and clothing by clergy members from multiple faiths, including University Synagogue’s Rabbi Morley Feinstein and Cantor Kerith Spencer-Shapiro. The ensemble, joined by members of the University Synagogue choir and the Ismaili Muslim Youth Choir, then performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” beneath a quote from Isaiah: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

The event, a Days of Compassion service project organized through the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, was sponsored by University Synagogue congregant Barry Silverman, the Agha Khan Council for the Western United States, Safe Place for Youth, Ward AME Church, and the St. Joseph Center.

Daniel Tamm, the mayor’s Westside representative and interfaith liaison, took part in welcoming guests.

Scarlet Michaelson, Contributing Writer

From left, back row: David Foster, Seal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cheryl and Haim Saban and Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg attend the annual FIDF western region gala with IDF soldiers. Photo by Alexi Rosenfield

A record $53.8 million was raised at the annual Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region gala on Nov. 2 at The Beverly Hilton hotel. FIDF national board member and major supporter Haim Saban conducted the fundraiser during the sold-out event that drew 1,200 guests. It didn’t take Saban long to raise the record amount of donations, thanks in large part to Oracle co-founder and billionaire Larry Ellison, who didn’t attend but donated $16.6 million.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, donated more than $5.5 million. Over the years, Eckstein has donated a total of $40 million to FIDF. Among the gala attendees were Guess founders Maurice and Paul Marciano, who also donated millions to the FIDF.

Among the celebrities attending the event were Gerard Butler, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joanna Krupa, Katharine McPhee and Gene Simmons. Simmons, a member of the rock group Kiss and a regular guest at the FIDF gala, performed Kiss’ signature song “Rock and Roll All Nite.”

“Year after year, the support from the Los Angeles community for this remarkable event continues to amaze me, and this year’s gala is no exception” Saban said. “[My wife] Cheryl and I are grateful for the outpouring of support for these great causes and deeply honored by this year’s record-breaking donations.”

The gala featured the screening of a video called “Heroes of the IDF,” which told the stories of women combat soldiers. Today, 95 percent of IDF jobs are open to women, who serve as pilots, infantry soldiers, artillery combat soldiers, electronic warfare specialists, and anti-aircraft and naval officers. About 11 percent of combat soldiers drafted into the IDF each year are women.

Among the 17 active-duty soldiers attending the gala was border policewoman Cpl. Ravit Mor, whose life was saved by the late border policewoman Hadar Cohen, 19, after she was attacked by a male terrorist in February 2016. After being stabbed several times, Cohen shot the perpetrator but she was then attacked from behind by another terrorist and died. Mor later told the Jewish Journal about the close relationship she formed with Cohen’s parents: “It’s amazing how they supported and embraced me during that time, even though they were in pain for losing their daughter. This experience had made me stronger and taught me how to appreciate every moment in life.”

Also in attendance was Noam Gershony, the former IDF pilot whose helicopter crashed as he was heading to rescue troops during the 2006 Lebanon War. Gershony broke nearly every bone in his body, and was paralyzed from the waist down. He emerged from a deep depression not only to be rehabilitated, but to win a gold medal and share a bronze medal in wheelchair tennis at the 2012 Paralympic Games. When Gershony came on stage walking with the assistance of crutches, he was received with a standing ovation. Addressing the audience, Gershony jokingly said: “Now I can finally go out with a beautiful girl in Tel Aviv — or even a few.”

Presiding as the evening’s master of ceremonies was Israeli actress Moran Atias. The event featured special performances by singer Seal, The Tenors and David Foster & Friends.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer