IDEAS and ideals spell innovation for Israel

In some ways, the secret to good movie-making remains as simple as ever, according to Steve Tisch, the Oscar-winning producer of “Forrest Gump.” “People want to see movies that move them, entertain them,” he said. “They want to laugh.” 

Tisch, a philanthropist who donated $10 million to Tel Aviv University earlier this year to create the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at the Israeli university, was among the most popular draws at American Friends of Tel Aviv University’s (AFTAU) inaugural “IDEAS Los Angeles: Israel Digital Entrepreneur Arts and Science” conference in Santa Monica at The Broad Stage.

He dispensed wisdom to budding filmmakers in the crowd, which included business card-wielding techies and Jewish communal employees. 

The June 18 event featured dozens of TED Talk-style lectures, panel discussions and one-on-one dialogues from a variety of fields.

David Dorfman, creator and managing director of IDEAS, said in a statement that the goal of the event was to present a broad array of companies, businesses and more. AFTAU raises funds and awareness for Tel Aviv University, and the event’s sponsors included the California Israel Chamber of Commerce. 

“IDEAS Los Angeles is a new platform we’ve created to inspire people to think deeper and more broadly by engaging with inventors and innovators tackling some of the most exciting challenges in the world today,” he said.

Tisch, who also is the co-owner of the New York Giants, discussed his upcoming July 24 film, “Southpaw,” a boxing drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal. He said he anticipates challenges in finding an audience during a summer movie season of blockbuster films, but added he is confident that the film’s marketer, the Weinstein Co., will help make the film successful. 

Tisch is unique in that he has won both an Oscar for “Forrest Gump” and two Super Bowl rings. Tisch appeared in conversation with moderator Andrew Wallenstein, co-editor-in-chief at Variety. 

Other people discussing the world of entertainment were Israeli-born television producer Alon Aranya (“Hostages”) in conversation with David Bloom (of Aranya, a faculty member of the New York University Tisch School of the Arts (named after Steve Tisch’s father, Preston Robert Tisch, and his uncle, Laurence Tisch), talked about how “Hostages” had been conceived for Israeli audiences before it premiered in the United States. Showing artwork from the show of a sniper peering into a weapon while in shooting position on a rooftop, Aranya said the pitch for the show excited him far more than anything he’d heard about at that time. It was different from most Israeli shows, he said. 

Tel Aviv University President Joseph Klafter opened the event with a lecture inside the intimate Broad theater. Audrey Jacobs, vice president of OurCrowd Americas, an Israel-focused crowdfunding platform, was among those who made presentations, as was DreamWorks lead character animator Liron Topaz, who delivered a multimedia presentation that showed footage from the films he has worked on, including “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” 

Some of the panels directly addressed issues facing Israel, including how to discuss the country with and among casual observers in the United States.

“If you’re going to mention Israel, it’s got to be entertaining,” Jewish Journal President David Suissa said during a panel he moderated, titled “Waze Diplomacy: Navigating a Broader Conversation about Israel in the Digital Age.” 

Dana Erlich, Israeli consul for culture, media and public diplomacy in Los Angeles, and Nate Miller, director of digital engagement at Israel21c, a nonprofit news site covering Israeli life and politics, were also part of the panel.

The conference drew hundreds of attendees and featured indoor and outdoor stages, and a tented area for booths and meals — food trucks served up breakfast and lunch. Among those who came were Dikla Kadosh, regional director of the Israeli-American Council, and Jacob Segal, Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce executive board member. An after-party took place at Cross Campus, a Santa Monica event space. 

Shmoozing was in effect, at least for educator Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia, CEO of PlayWerks, a company that provides technology education to children and adults. Hanging in the conference’s “company pavilion,” she said the IDEAS event was an excellent way to meet others. 

“I think conferences are really about networking,” she told the Journal.

Isaac Nazarian perhaps said it best. Relaxing in an outdoor tent following the panel with Suissa, he said the event was an “excellent gathering of ideas, especially from Israel.”

Philanthropists honored for lifetime of giving

Iranian Jewish philanthropist Izak Parviz Nazarian, 83, watched from his seat while Dora Kadisha, his daughter, spoke from a nearby stage about her love of Israel, her community and helping other people. It was her father who taught her the importance of this mentality, she said.

Nothing could have better illustrated the theme of “Passing the Torch,” a June 20 event that honored L.A. philanthropists Guilford Glazer, Jona Goldrich, Max Webb and Nazarian and highlighted the importance of continuing their legacy of giving among the coming generations.

“We are here to honor great men,” said Rabbi David Wolpe, who hosted the program at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills.

The spiritual leader of Sinai Temple was, of course, referring to Glazer, 90; Goldrich, 85; Webb, 96, and Nazarian, who overcame extraordinary circumstances to become some of the most prominent Jewish givers in America during the 20th century. Glazer suffered through a poverty-stricken childhood in the American South before fighting in World War II, Goldrich and Webb survived the Holocaust and Nazarian, who served with the Israeli army during the War of Independence, left Iran during its revolution.

Collectively, they have given approximately $1 billion toward building the L.A. Jewish community. Glazer, Goldrich and Webb have all achieved success in the world of real estate. Nazarian co-founded technology company Qualcomm.

From left: Andrea Goldrich Cayton & Melinda Goldrich, Chara Schreyer, Erika Glazer, Dora Kadisha. Photo by Harmony Wedding Photography.

The evening, which featured speakers Wolpe and Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel delivering praise, also included prerecorded interviews with the honorees about their family histories, their financial successes and thoughts on philanthropy.

“How do you become a successful philanthropist?” Wolpe asked Goldrich in one of the videos. Goldrich replied that you have to pay the “Jewish tax” of sending money to Israel and donating to Jewish causes. It was a sentiment shared by the other honorees: Between them, they’ve helped launch and fund synagogues, Israeli universities, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and other Jewish institutions and organizations.

During the awards portion of the evening, the four men remained in their seats, while their daughters — including Melinda Goldrich and Andrea Goldrich Cayton, Erika Glazer, Chara Schreyer and Kadisha — took the stage. The women received commemorative plaques and spoke of ways they have committed themselves to philanthropy. The four honorees did not address the crowd.

The program wrapped with Gail Reiss, president and CEO of American Friends of Tel Aviv University (AFTAU), announcing the launch of the Andrew E. Zalkow and Mark I. Schickman Scholarship. The scholarship will pay for students to study conflict resolution and other disciplines at Tel Aviv University. Reiss asked attendees to make donations to the new fund.

AFTAU, which aims to support and promote Tel Aviv University, organized the event. All the honorees have been longtime benefactors of the university.