Community Briefs

Telethon Time

Chabad returns to the air for an 18th year

The Chabad Telethon — that unique mix of caring, sharing and good production values — returns to the small screen this Sunday, Aug. 30, from 5 p.m. to midnight on UPN Channel 13.

This year’s telethon, the 18th in the organization’s 30-year history here, aims to equal or surpass last year’s effort, which raised close to $4 million. The money helps fund Chabad’s wide range of social-service and educational programs, including the Chabad drug-rehabilitation center, project PRIDE drug-prevention centers, a homeless program, educational outreach programs on college campuses and in local communities, hospital chaplaincy, new-immigrant programs and crisis counseling. Much of the money is raised locally and spent locally, say Chabad officials, although the telethon is also broadcast in San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York, Miami and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Rabbi Borruch Shlomo Cunin, West Coast Chabad director

Longtime host Jan Murray, above, is scheduled for an appearance, but Fyvush Finkel will emcee this year.

The telethon began in 1980 as a one-time event to raise funds to rebuild the West Coast Chabad headquarters, which had been destroyed by a fire that killed three people. Many of those whom Chabad had helped over the years turned out to lend their support, and the idea of an annual telethon took hold.

Eighteen years and millions of dollars later, the telethon has become a kind of Los Angeles institution, for Jews and non-Jews.

Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, West Coast director of Chabad, is the man most responsible for infusing the telethon with its trademark spirit. The dancing rabbis, the black frock coats, schmaltzy jokes and ample Yiddishisms provide what for many people is their strongest annual dose of Jewishness.

Jews who would never go to synagogue, much less to one of Chabad’s 60 centers or 48 schools and social-service facilities statewide, find themselves drawn to the telethon. The mix of Hollywood glitz and Hassidic fervor, odd as it may seem, is strangely entertaining. And moving. The program, which takes some four months to produce, presents the stories of people helped by Chabad — homeless single mothers sheltered, infants with crippling diseases supported, drug addicts rehabilitated.

Since the mid-1970s, according to Chabad literature, more than 500 men have been treated at the Chabad National Residential Drug Rehabilitation Center in Los Angeles. The organization’s 23 community-based drug-prevention information centers in the United States and Canada have dispensed information and materials to more than 40,000 schoolchildren annually, and more than 2,800 students have enrolled in Chabad’s West Coast schools, which include 26 day and Hebrew schools, ranging from preschool to college.

The money does not go to support Chabad Lubavitch activities in Israel, according to a Chabad spokesman.

Among those scheduled to appear on this year’s telethon, hosted by Fyvush Finkel, are: Steve Allen, Oscar de la Hoya, Tony Danza, Regis Philbin, Estelle Getty, Itzhak Perlman, James Coburn, Tommy Lasorda, Sid Caesar, Gene Wilder, Edward James Olmos and Jon Voight. Warner Bros. producer Jerry Weintraub is the longtime telethon chairman. — Staff Report

Brushing Up On Your Yiddish

Three years ago, Mel Rogow didn’t speak a word of Yiddish. He was an attorney who had learned Korean to communicate with his clients.

Then the memories of World War II began to catch up with him. In 1942, Rogow jumped overboard as his ship was torpedoed by German subs; after the war, he was so shaken by news of the Holocaust that he was never able to read books or watch films about the Shoah.

Then, in 1995, he decided to do something in memory of the victims, something to ensure Jewish continuity. He began studying Yiddish and the works of great Yiddish authors such as Y.L. Peretz.

This weekend, Rogow is coordinator of a bilingual conference of the International Association of Yiddish Clubs, which for the first time is meeting in Los Angeles. “Yiddish Goes West,” Aug. 27-30 at UCLA, will draw some 250 participants and 30 world-class lecturers on topics from Yiddish theater to Yiddish vocabulary on love and sex. You can catch the Second Avenue Klezmer Ensemble, learn about the history of the Bund or Yiddish on the web. The keynote speaker is Professor Eugene Orenstein of McGill University. The Westside Jewish Community Center is co-sponsoring the conference.

For information, call Mel Rogow at (213) 939-2193. — Naomi Pfefferman , Entertainment Editor

Holocaust Filmmakers Sought

“Unzere Kinder (Our Children),” the last Yiddish film made in Poland, will be featured at the upcoming Yiddishkayt Los Angeles festival, and its organizers are searching the world for anyone who had a part in making the 1946 film.

“Unzere Kinder” was one of the first films to deal fully with the Holocaust, and its “actors” were actual survivors, primarily orphaned children of the Helenovek Children’s Home near Lodz.

For the Yiddishkayt festival from Oct. 17-25, attorney Barry Fisher, working with the Polish government, hopes to bring the film’s surviving creators and cast members to Los Angeles, particularly those now living in the United States.

The recently restored film is described as a psychodrama, with touches of black humor. Anyone who was connected with it is requested to contact Barry A. Fisher, 1888 Century Park East, Suite 1750, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Phone number is (310) 557-1077, or fax (310) 557-0770. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

European Insurance Companies Move Toward Reparation

Five major European insurance companies have committed themselves to work with American state officials, Jewish organizations and Israel to provide quick and fair payment of Holocaust-era life and property insurance claims.

Allianz AG of Germany, AXA/Equitable of France and three Swiss companies — Zurich Group, Basler Leben and Winterthur — signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Monday, announced California Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush.

The MOU provides for creation of an independent international commission to adjudicate claims by Holocaust survivors and heirs of victims.

Quackenbush said that he expects the commission to be named and to start its work in two months, with the goal of resolving all claims within two years.

Assicurazioni Generali of Italy, which recently settled a class-action suit for $100 million, has signaled its intent to sign the MOU. Quackenbush said that he expects nine other insurance companies, named in various litigations, to fall in line shortly.

The commission will deal only with individual claims, not class-action suits, and will award actual damages but not punitive damages.

In cases in which no heirs can be found, the money will go to Holocaust-related and humanitarian organizations or institutions.

The commission is to be made up of 12 members and a chairperson, including three American insurance commissioners and representatives of European insurance companies, the World Jewish Congress, World Jewish Restitution Organization and Israel.

The California official said that he expects the three slots assigned to state insurance commissioners to be filled by himself, Neil Levin of New York, and Bill Nelson of Florida, whose states have the largest concentrations of Jewish residents and Holocaust survivors.

“There is no body of international law pertaining to individual insurance claims, so the voluntary adherence of the European insurance companies to the new commission is an important step,” said Quackenbush.– Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor