Moving & Shaking: LAJFF, Friends of IDF and More


From left: Stan Taffel; Tom Dreesen; L.A. Jewish Film Festival Founder and Director Hilary Helstein; Hal Linden and Manny Davis attend the opening night of the L.A. Jewish Film Festival. Photo by Todd Felderstein.

The 13th annual Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (LAJFF) kicked off with a sold-out opening night gala on April 25 at the Ahrya Fine Arts theater.

The event paid tribute to the legendary African-American and Jewish entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. and featured a screening of “Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta
Be Me.”

The Sam Pollard-directed documentary examines the life and career of Davis, who was a child star, member of the Rat Pack and civil rights activist before his death in 1990 at the age of 64. Those interviewed in the film include Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Kim Novak and Jerry Lewis.

Speaking from a podium in the theater, LAJFF Director Hilary Helstein welcomed the crowd to the festival.

Beverly Hills Vice Mayor John Mirisch and Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz presented Helstein with proclamations on behalf of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, respectively.

In an interview on the red carpet, Ken Davitian, co-star of the film “The Samuel Project,” said Davis transcended racial boundaries.

“He broke the barriers of these Black guys who could hang around with white guys [such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin] and they were actually having a ball,” Davitian said. “They had a fun time; they all had the talent; they were able to do stuff other people can’t do and they liked doing it with each other and it didn’t matter if it was an Italian guy or a Black guy.”

“Or a Jewish guy,” Helstein said, standing alongside Davitian.

“A Jewish Black guy,” Davitian said.

Rabbi Jerry Cutler of Creative Arts Temple described Davis as a “great man and a great entertainer.”

Local comedian Avi Liberman, whose film, “Land of Milk and Funny,” screened at the festival, said he has always appreciated Davis’s contributions to the arts. He called Davis “one of the greatest all-around performers ever.”

Additional attendees included actor Hal Linden, star of “The Samuel Project,” which premiered at the festival on April 28; George Schlatter, who produced the breakthrough series “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”; Manny, Davis’ son with his widow, Altovise; and Kat Kramer, the daughter of acclaimed filmmaker Stanley Kramer.

After the screening, Hollywood historian and Davis archivist Stan Taffel moderated a panel discussion.

The LAJFF is co-sponsored by Tribe Media Corp., parent company of the Jewish Journal.

Friends of Israel Defense Forces Western Region President Tony Rubin and IDF Sgt. Yaniv attended a Yom HaZikaron celebration at the Saban Theatre. Photo by Positive Vibes Productions.

Approximately 1,000 members of the Los Angeles community gathered on April 17 at the Steve Tisch Cinema Center at the Saban Theatre to commemorate Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), the Temple of the Arts and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles organized the community-wide night of remembrance, ahead of Israel’s 70th Independence Day.

“Over the last 70 years, we have faced countless challenges threatening our existence as an independent sovereign country,” Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg said. “In the face of current threats stands the Israel Defense Forces and the resilient nature of the Israeli people. Their courage and spirit guarantees the security and the continuity of our nation. We bow our heads because we know that Israel is here because of them.”

More than 50 local schools, synagogues and organizations partnered for this community event. The ceremony honored the memories of Israel’s fallen service members and paid tribute to the men and women in uniform who defend Israel and Jews around the world.

“As we prepare to celebrate 70 years of a strong and independent Israel, we must acknowledge that we are able to do so because of the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women of the IDF,” FIDF National Board Member and Western Region President Tony Rubin said. “Seven decades later, these heroes must continue to fight for the survival of the Jewish state. We are forever in their debt.”

An Israel Defense Forces sergeant led the community in praying for the safety of those in Israel and the men and women of the IDF. He mourned the 26,780 fallen soldiers and victims of terror by reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish.

Additional guests included L.A. Councilman David Ryu; Rubin’s wife, Linda; Temple of the Arts President James Blatt and FIDF Western Region Executive Director Jenna Griffin.

From left: Noah Pollak; Leah Yadegar; Yael Lerman; StandWithUs (SWU) President Esther Renzer; Professor Robbie Sabel and Jonathan Bell attend the inaugural SWU Legal Dinner. Photo by Dustin Thompson Photography.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem law professor Robbie Sabel delivered a lecture about how international law is on Israel’s side at the StandWithUs inaugural Legal Dinner on April 26.

Appearing at The Mark on Pico boulevard, Sabel told the audience that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is rooted in “a hatred of Jews” and that while the likes of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Hamas and Hezbollah may not care about international law, international law does play an important role when it comes to defending Israel.

One such role for international law is that it gives Israel international legitimacy, as Sabel pointed out that it was a League of Nations agreement that helped lead to the Balfour Declaration in 1917.

“You won’t find a mention of this League of Nations agreement by propagandists,” Sabel said.

Sabel added that international law is important for negotiations, especially when it comes to particular phrases in agreements, citing particular wording in an agreement between Israel and Egypt that basically left the Gaza Strip as part of Israel during the time of the British Mandate.

On the issue of settlements, Sabel argued that they were actually legal under international law because international law states that occupation applies only when a country is occupying an “enemy state,” and there is no official Palestinian state.

“We’ve got to try and combat this attempt… to undermine Israel’s legitimacy,” Sabel said.

Also, StandWithUs thanked the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles for providing a three-year grant of $75,000 each year to StandWithUs’s JD Fellowship program, which educates participants on how to use legal advocacy to advance the pro-Israel cause.

Pro-Israel activist Noah Pollak, StandWithUs President Esther Renzer and Director of StandWithUs’ J.D. Fellowship Program Leah Yadegar spoke at the dinner as well. Among those in attendance included Israeli-American Council Chairman Adam Milstein. 

Aaron Bandler, Contributing Writer

From left: On the occasion of Israel’s 70th birthday, Beverly Hills Vice Mayor John Mirisch; Beverly Hills Mayor Julian Gold; Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg; and Beverly Hills City Councilmembers Lili Bosse, Lester Friedman; and Robert Wunderlich celebrated the Israel-Beverly Hills partnership at Beverly Hills City Hall. Photo by Vince Bucci.

The city of Beverly Hills projected the U.S. and Israel flags on Beverly Hills City Hall in honor of Israel’s 70th Independence Day and in celebration of the city’s strong ties and support for the state of Israel.

“We thank the city of Beverly Hills for the amazing show of friendship and the unwavering support throughout the years,” Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg said during the April 18 ceremony.

Those in attendance included Beverly Hills Vice Mayor John Mirisch; Beverly Hills Mayor Julian Gold; and Beverly Hills City Councilmembers Lili Bosse, Lester Friedman and Robert Wunderlich.

The relationship between the city of Beverly Hills and the State of Israel is multifaceted, including on water preservation, security and arts and culture. The city also has helped push back against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

That same day, a Yom HaAtzmaut celebration organized by Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles at Santa Monica High School drew 1,100 people, including students from Gindi Maimonides Academy, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, Yavneh Hebrew Academy, Emek Hebrew Academy, Shalhevet High School, YULA Boys and Girls High Schools and Harkham-GAON Academy.

“It is a privilege to speak to this audience in particular, because you are the next generation,” Grundwerg said, addressing the students. “You are the Jewish leaders of tomorrow.”

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