Celebrity-studded event to raise funds for Sderot


Ninette TayebTwo days after Hollywood’s biggest night — the 80th annual Academy Awards — the Los Angeles Jewish community will be treated to a celebrity-studded red carpet event of its own: Ninette Tayeb, Israel’s reigning pop idol (photo, left), as well as Israeli-born hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari; Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; the Oscar-nominated “Beaufort” delegation; and the creme-de-la-creme of the Jewish and Israeli communities will gather at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills for an important benefit concert, “Live for Sderot.”

The Feb. 26 concert, sponsored by the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles and the Los Angeles-based Israeli Leadership Club (ILC), is the official kickoff event of what will be a series of celebrations in Los Angeles leading up to Israel’s 60th Independence Day in May. It is also the first major event marking the anniversary in the United States, according to a Los Angeles consulate spokesperson.

“This is definitely one of the events which we expect will have the largest impact in the media and in the community at large on the Jewish community and on the people in Israel,” said Gilad Millo, Israeli consul for media and public affairs. “We expect a sensational event.”

The second, more sobering objective of the “Live for Sderot” campaign is to raise awareness about the continuing siege of Sderot, a small city near the Gaza Strip terrorized by daily rocket attacks for the past seven years. The nonpolitical, humanitarian effort focuses specifically on the children of Sderot and the trauma caused by constant “red alerts,” widespread destruction and the difficulty of carrying out normal activities, such as attending school.

All of the proceeds from the concert will go directly to funding educational programs in Sderot, according to ILC co-chair Eli Tene. The ILC, he said, is working with the Israeli Ministry of Education, Knesset member Mickey Eitan, and the Center for Educational Technology in Israel, among others, to build computer labs, create resources for the increasing number of children forced to study at home, build protected education centers and generally improve the quality of education in the rocket-battered city.

As part of the campaign, which featured the release of a video titled “Everyone Deserves to Live in Peace” and the launching of a Web site, 10 teenage representatives from the city will arrive on Feb. 22 for a weeklong dream trip/press tour. The teens, who were selected based on their English skills, among other criteria, will tell their stories to American audiences at UCLA, Kadima Hebrew Academy and a public high school yet to be determined. The “dream” part of the trip will include visits to Universal Studios, Disneyland and a Lakers game — all in the presence of Israeli megastar Tayeb.

Tayeb became a household name in Israel when she won the first season of “Kochav Nolad,” Israel’s version of “American Idol.” Since winning in 2003, she has parlayed her success as a singer into a thriving television acting career in Israel. Most recently, the beauty caused a major splash by shaving her head for a cellphone commercial, for which she received $100,000 for the live stunt.

To their credit, the Israeli media have been giving just as much press to Tayeb’s heart as to her now bare head. The star’s Los Angeles appearance, which will be her U.S. debut, and her enthusiastic public support of the children of Sderot have been widely reported in Israel, including articles in the country’s largest newspapers and through her appearances on its biggest talk shows.

During a live broadcast of this season’s “Kochav Nolad,” Tayeb was featured in an interview and performance from Sderot. Sitting among a group of children, she spoke of the upcoming concert, for which she waived her fee, and about “giving her entire soul to the cause.”

In an e-mail forwarded by the Israeli consulate, Tayeb added, “Israel’s security has often been an issue for the media, but there is a feeling that the tragedy of Sderot isn’t on the global agenda, and it is a very important issue. We have to do everything we can to turn attention towards Sderot, where people live in distress, have no where to go and no solution.”

Performing the first song of the evening will be Ben-Ari, already a recognizable name and face in the American music scene for her Grammy Award-winning collaboration with Kanye West and numerous other musical liaisons with artists such as Jay Z, Alicia Keys, Maroon 5 and Israeli rapper Subliminal.

Based in New York, the violinist considers herself an American artist but still holds close ties to her homeland and is involved in many organizations benefiting causes in Israel.

“I really care very deeply for Sderot, and I think it’s a scandal that people around the world don’t know what’s going on there,” Ben-Ari said in a telephone interview. “When I heard about the benefit concert, I was so touched. I cannot think of a better way to start the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel.”

” target=”_blank”>www.live4sderot.org

Jewish Music Fills Big Easy


Think of New Orleans music and you don’t usually think of Hebrew or Yiddish song.

But Hebrew, Yiddish and English tunes filled the ears of nearly 1,000 music lovers last weekend as a variety of acts — ranging from New York pop singer Gershon Veroba to Moldovan crooner Efim Chorny — converged on New Orleans for a two-day benefit concert.

Organizers said the New Orleans International Jewish Music Festival was expected to raise at least $75,000 for local Jewish institutions shattered by Hurricane Katrina last year. That includes $50,000 in donations already collected from private individuals and institutions, and another $25,000 from the sale of tickets, CDs, T-shirts and other souvenirs.

But this was more than just a fundraiser. The gathering also brought badly needed joy to a city that has seen mostly suffering in the seven months since Katrina’s deadly visit.

“Music is a very powerful thing,” singer Neshama Carlebach said. “Being in New Orleans has been heavy for me; it’s very difficult seeing all this destruction first-hand. So I hope I can bring some healing.”

A city famous for jazz, blues, Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras certainly could use a little of Carlebach’s healing.

Fewer than 200,000 of New Orleans’ approximately 500,000 residents have returned since the storm. The Jewish community has fared a little better: About 70 percent of the Big Easy’s pre-hurricane Jewish population of 9,500 has returned.

“The idea was to bring Jewish music back to New Orleans,” sculptor Gary Rosenthal said. “You can talk about how important it is to get jobs and rebuild bricks and mortar. But I’m an artist, and I focus on spirit and on making Jewish children happy.”

Billed as a sort of Jewish Woodstock, the event kicked off Saturday night at the Howlin’ Wolf, a club in New Orleans’ Warehouse district, then continued Sunday afternoon at a half-filled auditorium on the Tulane University campus.

Organizers had hoped to attract more people, but they were forced to compete with the NCAA basketball Final Four, in which nearby Louisiana State University was a semi-finalist, as well as other Jewish and secular events taking place around town.

Still, those who showed up weren’t disappointed.

“My grandfather saw an ad in Moment magazine and told me about this,” said Tulane student Zack Rothbart, 19. “I think it’s great all these musicians were able to put on such a concert.”

Faye and Chip Merritt drove four hours from Pensacola, Fla., to attend the Sunday show.

“All the entertainers performed very well,” Faye Merritt said. “The diversity of the Jewish music was great. I really enjoyed the Yiddish stuff, because my mother was from Poland.”

Some of the most popular acts included West Coast musicians Fran Avni, Sam Glaser and RebbeSoul, as well as Nashville singer Stacy Beyer and New York’s Voices for Israel and Blue Fringe.

Also well-received was Veroba, whose adapts Jewish lyrics to such 1970s standards as Earth Wind & Fire’s “September” and Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park.”

“Most of us Jewish musicians are just getting by,” Veroba said, “so it’s amazing that so many of them gave up gigs to come here and play for free.”

The event was put together in just three months by Rosenthal, of Kensington, Md., and his friend Michael Monheit, the Washington-based publisher of Moment.

Rosenthal said he came up with the idea after one of his New Orleans clients, French Quarter gallery owner Dashka Roth, lost her home in Katrina.

According to Monheit, the event was produced for $50,000, but only because the artists donated their time. He hopes to make it an annual event.

While local bands such as the New Orleans All-Star Klezmer Band were paid for their time, out-of-town performers were not. The idea was to help local musicians, many of whom also have lost their homes and possessions.

That’s also why admissions were kept artificially low; Saturday night’s show was only $15 and Sunday afternoon’s performance $10. Students were given $5 discounts.

Avni, who’s been singing in Hebrew and English for close to 30 years, said she didn’t have to think twice about performing for free in New Orleans.

“Having a music festival with people who aren’t getting paid, but donating their efforts, is very special,” she said. “We rarely get a chance to do something like this.”

 

The Circuit


Cleaning Up With Care

Long time L.A. drycleaner Barry Gershenson was named one of four national spokespersons for the FabriCare Foundation.

Gershenson, a third-generation dry cleaning veteran has more than 40 years experience as owner of Sterling Fine Cleaning in Los Angeles. As a spokesperson for the FabriCare Foundation, Gershenson’s role will be to educate consumers on the definition of a “professional” drycleaner, as well as the overall benefits of dry cleaning.

Gershenson lives in Los Angeles with his wife of 32 years, Sandy; and children, Lauren and David.

For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.acsz.org.

 

Peace, Love and Tikkun Olam


Back in the social-action heyday of the 1960s, tikkun olam was everyone’s favorite mitzvah. Repairing the world was hip, and folk anthems such as "Times They Are a Changin’" were as de rigueur around Jewish campfires as that ditty about animals boarding Noah’s ark two by two.

Now those times have changed, and justice-tinged pop seems charmingly old-fashioned in an era of Britney and Christina (or spoof-worthy, as in the 2003 Christopher Guest mockumentary, "A Mighty Wind").

But just as you’re wondering, "Where have all the folkies gone?" comes Peter Yarrow of the earnest folk trio, Peter, Paul & Mary. At 65, he’s portlier and more teddy bearish than when the group debuted in Greenwich Village in 1961, helping to spur a musical and social revolution. Yet he’s still crisscrossing the country with his guitar, fighting the good fight through music, playing his gently urgent tunes all across the land.

In September 2002, he trekked to San Diego to show solidarity for a synagogue that lost a congregant in the Hebrew University cafeteria bombing.

On a January day in Iowa, he boarded a campaign bus to support presidential candidate John Kerry, his old friend from the Vietnam War protest movement.

On May 1, he performs a solo benefit concert for Temple Beth Tikvah at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, his only Southern California stop on a tour to promote his current projects. Between songs such as "Leaving on a Jet Plane," he will tout his anti-bullying program, Operation Respect, which has reached more than 10,000 schools, and two new Peter, Paul & Mary releases, "In These Times" and the boxed set, "Carry It On."

Then he rushes off to his next destination: "Peter always works too hard," as the group’s Mary Travers recently told Parade. "He’s always flying somewhere."

In an interview from his New York home just before he was scheduled to leave on another jet plane, Yarrow’s famously mellifluous voice was hoarse from too much air travel. Nevertheless, he waxed on about why he remains passionately committed to folk music and to his favorite mitzvah of tikkun olam.

"As a Jew and a human being, I believe I have a moral imperative to fight injustice, and I’ve seen how folk music can help do that," he said. "Its power is that it allows people to realize that we should care about one another and that we should all do our part."

If folk’s message is tikkun olam, the music itself feels Jewish to Yarrow.

"It’s as if there’s always a reminder of sadness, loss, hope and yearning for a better world," he said. He demonstrated by chanting a mournful "Ai chitty chitty bim bam bam," which was heartfelt but slightly jarring coming from the guy who immortalized "Puff the Magic Dragon."

Yarrow first discovered folk’s power at Cornell University in the 1950s. With his Pete Seeger records and hand-me-down clothes, this son of a progressive Jewish schoolteacher felt acutely out of place amid his conservative, sometimes anti-Semitic classmates.

"In the freshman dorm, someone called me a dirty Jew and punched me hard in the face," he recalled.

As a professor’s assistant his senior year, he said he taught a folk music course to "Cornell ‘men’ who were preoccupied with dressing in the right tweed jacket. But when they started singing along, their voices opened and so did their hearts." In an instant, the fiercely idealistic Yarrow knew what he wanted to do with his life: change the world through song.

After graduation in 1959, he made a beeline for the country’s folk capital, Greenwich Village, where he hooked up with Travers and Noel "Paul" Stookey. Before long, their folk songs were among the first to air on AM radio stations, paving the way for artists such as Bob Dylan and proving that popular music could convey serious, sociopolitical messages.

Over the years, it was Yarrow who became known as the group’s most tireless activist, organizing "no nukes" rallies and demonstrating for peaceniks in Israel, among other endeavors.

He brought his guitar everywhere, but in the late 1990s he began worrying that his work had been based on a faulty premise. For decades, he’d been preaching to adults, yet war and racism remained rampant.

"I thought, ‘We should start with children, because they are still malleable,’" said Yarrow, who founded Operation Respect in 1999. "All the movements I’ve been involved with are about disrespect in one form or another, so this targets the problem early on."

It’s all part of his favorite mitzvah, he told The Journal, before catching that jet plane to his next tikkun olam gig.

For concert tickets, $35-$150, and information, call (714) 871-3687.

Israel: Independence and Remembrance


Events remembering Israel’s fallen soldiers, on May 6, and celebrating the nation’s founding, officially May 7, include two local benefits to address gaping needs of Israelis.

Yom Yisrael at Eilat will treat religious school students at Mission Viejo’s Congregation Eilat to a simulated Israel trip on May 4 , 9 a.m. at 22081 Hidalgo Road. Activity stations include a kibbutz, a Western Wall, archaeological dig, flag factory, army training, shuk (marketplace), Bedouin tent and Israeli dancing. For more information, call (949) 770-9606 ext. 13.

The 40-member Israel scout troop, established earlier this year at Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School, intend to ignite a fire sign on May 5 at 7:30 p.m. to honor Yom HaZikaron, the remembrance day for Israel’s soldiers. The scouts haven’t settled on what the canvas-wrapped sign will say, but it is to be lit somewhere outside the upper campus, said Eyal Giladi, a parent organizer.

Singer Igal Bashan will perform May 10 at 8:30 p.m. Tarbut V’ Torah’s lower school in Irvine in a benefit concert marking Israel’s 55th anniversary. A student dance group and choir will also perform at the joint Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO)-Jewish Community Center event.

Proceeds from the $36, $50 and $180 tickets will help fight growing child poverty in Israel by providing foodstuffs to day-care providers. One in four Israeli children are below the poverty line, according to annual census figures released in March, said Michal Kropitzer, who heads a local WIZO chapter.

“It’s hard to face, but this is the reality,” she said, adding that in the past six months WIZO started providing meals at schools for hungry students. Her goal is $20,000. For more information, call (714) 731-9254.

Anaheim’s Temple Beth Emet will celebrate Israel’s birthday on May 18 at 1 p.m. with wine, hors d’oeuvres, candlelighting and music sung by a student in USC’s opera program. Held at the shul, 1770 West Cerritos Ave., the $55 per person event will in part fund emergency kits needed by Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency response, ambulance and blood service. For more information, call (714) 772-4720.

Valley Yeshiva Seeking to Lure City Jews Over the Mountains


It’s Thursday night at Toras Hashem, an outreach yeshiva in North
Hollywood and some 40 people are here to hear Rabbi Zvi Block’s weekly Torah
portion sermon. Tonight the class includes college-age women wearing long
skirts; a number of septuagenarians; a middle-aged man, who is becoming
Orthodox, and his wife, who is converting to Judaism; and a young mother whose
little girl spends the class drawing pictures on a notepad.

The men and women are seated in separate rows, and everyone
is following along in an English-translated Chumash. The class is about Parshat
Yitro, the portion of the Torah in which the Ten Commandments are given to the
Jewish people, which is a springboard for Block to talk not about laws, but
about relationships, using the events at Mt. Sinai as a metaphor for marriage.
Block, a New Yorker, delivers his talk with great enthusiasm: he sits down, he
gets up, he walks around the room, he digs with his thumb to emphasize his
points, he modulates his voice, he peppers his argument with telling anecdotes;
he moves the story so briskly through the text that by the end of the 75
minutes, the entire parsha has been explicated.

Block’s scholarship and liveliness have garnered him a
following in the Valley, where he has lived since 1977 when he came to start a Los
Angeles branch of Aish HaTorah, then only a Jerusalem outreach yeshiva. In
1995 Block started his own outreach yeshiva, Toras Hashem, formerly known as
the Aish HaTorah Institute, which is intended to foster individualist,
religious expression in its students. “We never cloned anyone in a particular
fashion,” Block said. “We produced kids who were Chasidic-leaning, and we
produced kids who were Zionistic-leaning.”

The original Toras Hashem building burned down in an arson
attack in 1991, although the reason for the fire is still unknown. Not one to
give up, Block collected $1 million in funds to rebuild his building,  and, in
1995, the new Toras Hashem on Chandler Boulevard in North Hollywood, with room
for more than 200 students, was completed. In addition to his fundraising and
outreach efforts, Block also worked as the founding rabbi of the Orthodox Beth
Din of the Valley and as the principal of West Valley Hebrew Academy.

With more than 200 people attending classes and services
every week, Toras Hashem has made a name for itself in the Valley. However, it
has yet to draw people in from the other side of Mulholland Drive, which is
something that Block attributes to city Jews’ myopia, although it might be due
to the plethora of options available there.

“I think people in the city don’t realize to what extent the
Valley community has grown,” Block told The Journal. “People consider the
Valley as a third choice [to live in], after Pico Robertson and Hancock Park,
and they are making a big mistake. People in the city don’t realize that the
Valley has between 800 and 1,000 shomer Shabbos families. In our area alone
there are a dozen shuls.”

These days, Block is trying a different sort of outreach. He
wants to reach out to affiliated Jews in the city so that they know more about
the thriving community in the Valley, and he is doing so by organizing a
citywide concert with Shalsheles, the highest-selling Orthodox singing quartet
in the country by Jewish music standards. Block hopes to sell out some 1,700
seats, which would raise $100,000 to benefit Israeli victims of terror.

“We have an overriding thrust that Israel is our homeland.
We believe very strongly in a powerfully assertive Israel, and so this concert
fits right in,” Block said. “It is really an effort to galvanize the city of
Los Angeles on our behalf, and on behalf of Israel.”

The Shalsheles Concert will take place at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 16 at the Scottish Rite Theatre, 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets
are available at 613 the Mitzvah Store, House of David and Brencos. For more
information on the concert, call (818) 581-7505. For information on Toras
Hashem, call (818) 980-6934.

Spiritual Sounds


If — by chance — you start flipping through Christian radio
stations and you come across some Hebrew songs, the person singing them is most
likely Sam Glaser, a Los Angeles-based Orthodox musician whose spiritual music
is traversing religious boundaries. “I have no idea how the stations heard
about me,” Glaser said. “But whenever I have concerts, I have [Christians]
coming up to me and saying things like, ‘The Lord has blessed you.'”

Glaser’s music is considered contemporary spiritual. He
started out as a rock ‘n’ roller in the ’80s, touring nightclubs in Southern
California, but, in 1991, Glaser started keeping Shabbat, and his music
changed accordingly. It didn’t lose its up-tempo rhythm or its pop
sensibilities, he said, but it started reflecting his growing religious
awareness. “The more I learn and the more I grow in my Yiddishkayt, it
naturally gets expressed in my music,” he said. “Judaism gives me endless
inspiration.”

As a Jewish musician who writes and performs his own
material, Glaser found that his talents are now in demand all over America. To
date, he has recorded 11 Jewish CDs, each a top seller in the Jewish market.
Glaser hopes his latest album, “The Bridge,”  will be a bridge between secular
and religious Jews. “The whole idea is getting along with our fellow Jews,
having interdenominational communication, having people deal with each other
with kindness and understanding,” Glaser said. “The unity is crucial to our
survival.”

Glaser regularly goes on 50-city tours, a schedule that he
finds both exhausting and wonderful. “It is a crazy way to earn a living,” he
said. “I sometimes shake my head and wonder ‘what am I doing here?’ — but the feeling
of performing for smiling, singing people, moving them toward a more spiritual
place in their lives is about as satisfying as anything that I have ever done,
and it outweighs the tsurus of security checks at airports.”

On Feb. 9, Glaser will perform a benefit concert with
the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. The proceeds
from the concert will go to The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance. For tickets
call 310-478-9311; or visit www.lajewishsymphony.com. For more information on
Sam Glaser, log on to www.samglaser.com

.

7 Days In Arts


23/Saturday

Three years ago, violinist Lynn Maxine’s aunt died of
Parkinson’s disease. Maxine promised she would do everything she could to help
others with this ailment. Today, she fulfills that promise by performing in a
benefit concert for the Parkinson Institute, accompanied by her husband,
clarinetist Ted Calcara; violist Brant Bayless; and pianist Elaine Chew. The
performance will include Paul Schoenfield’s Jewish Concerto. $25 (general
admission); $10 (students and seniors). 7:30 p.m. Samuelson Chapel at Cal
Lutheran University, 60 West Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks. For tickets or more
information, call (805) 493-3195.

24/Sunday

Today, the USC Hillel and USC Casden Institute for the
Study of the Jewish Role in American Life present the Third Annual USC Jewish
Student Film Festival at the Norris Theater. Ten films will be screened, by
filmmakers from Los Angeles and New York. A featured film, “Today You Are a
Fountain Pen,” poignantly illustrates the reciprocal revelations by a
grandfather and his grandson through their time together. 1 p.m. For more
information, call (213) 747-9135.

25/Monday

This Passover, invite Abie the Afikoman thief, Jacky
the Juggler and mischievous Uncle Eli to your seder. These and more kooky
characters can be found in “Uncle Eli’s Special-For-Kids, Most Fun Ever, Under
the Table, Passover Haggadah.” Inspired by his son’s zeal for Jewish holidays,
author Eliezer Segal decided to create a book intertwining fun and adventure
with lessons about Jewish tradition. (No Starch Press, $12.95 paperback; $17.95
hardcover.) For a copy of the book, visitwww.nostarch.com

26/Tuesday

Where do I begin to tell the story of Arthur Hiller?
The Academy Award-nominated director of the 1970 sob tale “Love Story,” will
tell his story today at the University of Judaism. “Movies Are A-changing,
Movies Are the Same,” encompasses his 50+ career in making critically acclaimed
movies, such as “The Babe,” “The Out-Of-Towners,””The In-Laws” and “Man of La
Mancha.” $10 (general admission); $7 (women members). 10 a.m. 15600 Mulholland
Drive, Bel Air. For reservations or more information, call (310) 476-9777 ext.
283.

27/Wednesday

It’s not just any teapot short and stout, rather one
created by renowned pre-industrial-American craftsman Myer Myers. The silver
piece is just one of the 104 gold and silver creations by New York-born Myers
and exhibited today at the Skirball Cultural Center in “Myer Myers: Jewish
Silversmith in Colonial New York.” The exhibit also features the works of some
of his contemporaries as well as books, maps and portraits. $8 (general
admission); $6 (seniors and students). Gallery hours: Tues.-Sat., Noon-5 p.m.;
Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Through May 26. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For
more information, call (310) 440-4500.

28/Thursday

Murray Schisgal is used to creating quirky male
characters with an affinity for drag. Hence, the film “Tootsie.” The
Oscar-nominated writer has done it again with tonight’s “We Are Family.” The
play follows Sam Cogan, a playwright whose love relationships have all ended up
in heartache. He thinks he’s finally found an answer to his quest for love …
in the opposite sex. The zany comedy features Alan Blumenfield, Michael
Cavanaugh, Salome Jens and Allan Miller. Wed. and Thurs., $19.50; Fri. and Sun.,
$21.50 and Sat., $23.50. Discounts available. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m. (2
p.m. on March 3 and 17). Through April 7. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S.
Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For reservations or more information, call (310)
477-2055.

1/Friday

If you witness a crime, yet fail to take action against
it, are you as guilty as the perpetrator? Yes, according to renowned playwright
Arthur Miller. In “Incident at Vichy,” nine men and one boy are detained by the
police in Nazi-occupied France. Reluctant to be labeled as Jews, the group
divides into those who continue to find escape in illusion and those who support
a struggle for life. Part of L.A. Theater Works’ The Play’s the Thing live radio
theater series, the play was heralded by The New York Times as returning
“theater to its greatness.” $10-$40 (general admission). Wed., Feb. 27-Fri.,
March 1, 8 p.m. and Sun., March 3, 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Skirball Cultural
Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For tickets or more information,
call (310) 827-0889.

+