It’s ‘Theo’ Time
The 80th birthday of actor, singer, Soviet Jewry champion and Yiddish language true believer Theodore Bikel was marked by more than 1,300 well-wishers with the June 6 concert, “Theo! The First 80 Years,” at Brentwood’s Wadsworth Theater.
The fluid 90-minute show was directed by Milken Community High School middle school drama director Rachel Leah Cohen, who expertly included collages of Bikel from his 2,000 stage performances as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” plus memorable film roles in, “My Fair Lady,” “The African Queen” and his Academy Award-nominated Southern sheriff performance in “The Defiant Ones.”
With actors Leonard Nimoy, Larry Miller and Mare Winningham, plus the Stephen S. Wise Temple’s elementary school chorus, the $50-$350 tickets filled the Wadsworth seats as “Theo!” raised funds for Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
The VIP tent reception attracted Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), concert sponsors Jona Goldrich and Trudy and Lou Kestenbaum, plus “Fiddler on the Roof” creator, Sholem Aleichem’s granddaughter, Bel Kaufman, who said the real-life shetl milkman who inspired Tevye “wasn’t at all like this handsome Theo.”
The evening had singing by Chicago cantor Alberto Mizrahi and folk legends The Limelighters and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary.
“Thank you, Theo, for turning 80, and keeping your hair,” the balding Yarrow said of the white-bearded, full-head-of-hair octogenarian.
At the show’s end, Bikel came onstage to thunderous applause. As for what he would want on his gravestone, Bikel said, “I’m not there yet. I’m 80 years and four weeks old. I don’t aim to be there for a long time. If there is anything to be written there, I would like it to be at least partly in Yiddish, because Yiddish is the language of my people.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer
Israel Bonds Aloha
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle was greeted with a flower lei, hula dancers, orchid centerpieces and Hawaiian print tablecloths as she walked into the Beverly Hills Four Seasons banquet room for the State of Israel Bonds Golda Meir Club’ s annual spring luncheon on May 13.
The Jewish Republican was in town for a weeklong visit of her old mainland stomping grounds, before embarking on her first trip to Israel, courtesy of the Israel consulate.
Honored alongside Lingle as a “Woman of Power” at the luncheon was Jean Friedman, founding president of the Zimmer Children’s Museum, founding vice president of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony and vice president of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, which sponsors the Jewish Image Awards. Friedman’s passion for the arts and education — she helped husband Jerry found Shalhevet High School — has enabled her to develop inspirational programming.
“I wanted to create inventive programs … to connect people to their Jewish background,” Friedman said.
After accepting the Golda Meir Award, Lingle drew parallels between Israel and Hawaii — “both are isolated: one by water, the other by their neighbors” — and took the election year opportunity to stump for her GOP colleague, President Bush.
“We don’t agree on everything, but he stands behind Israel,” Lingle said.
Lingle was born in St. Louis and moved to Los Angeles with her family when she was 12, splitting time between Encino and Brentwood after her parents divorced. The Birmingham High grad went on to study journalism at CSUN and then moved to Hawaii, where she started her own newspaper, the Molokai Free Press. In her 2002 campaign for governor, she promised voters a “new beginning” for Hawaii by taking on government corruption and reforming education.
“Jewish groups across the country have adopted me and don’t care what my politics are,” said Lingle, who meets with her rabbi on Monday mornings and receives challah from a Chabad rabbi every Friday.
The governor initially registered as independent in 1976, but switched to the Republican Party in 1980 to run for a Maui County Council seat.
“We as Jews identify with the poor and underprivileged,” said Lingle, who is pro-choice and favors domestic partnership. “Republican rhetoric has not been inclusive of all people historically, but we need to look beyond the old labels.”
She isn’t thinking about a higher office yet, focusing instead on a run for a second term in 2006.
The annual event is the largest that Israel Bonds’ Women’s Division puts on.
Music for the luncheon, co-chaired by Beverly Cohen and Iris Rothstein, was provided by Temple Aliyah’s Cantor Mike Stein and his family band, The Rolling Steins.
Notables in attendance included Marjorie Pressman, founding chair of Friends of Sheba; Marilyn Ziering, philanthropist and University of Judaism board member; Jewish Federation President John Fishel; Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance Executive Director Carol Koransky; and Noreen Green, conductor and artistic director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony.
Also, Esther Netter, executive director of the Zimmer Children’s Museum; Barbara Yaroslavsky, former chair of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee; Meralee Goldman, former mayor of Beverly Hills; Janet Salter, former first lady of Beverly Hills; and Michele Kleinert, Jewish liaison to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Others were Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem and wife, Miri; Rabbi Marvin Heir, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob Congregation; game show host Monty Hall; and fashion critic Mr. Blackwell.
“I wasn’t expecting Mr. Blackwell,” Lingle said. “I would have taken more care in what I wore.” — Adam Wills, Associate Editor