TIMELINE: A history of the Israeli-American Council
2006 — Israeli Consul General in Los Angeles Ehud Danoch invites two local prominent Israelis, Danny Alpert and Eli Marmour, to foster an Israeli-American community in Los Angeles, in part to show support and solidarity during times of war in Israel.
2007 — The Israeli Leadership Club (ILC) is formed with $30,000 in seed funding and the vision of a national organization.
L.A. set to celebrate Israel, Jewish community
This year’s Celebrate Israel Independence Day festival will feature plenty of stars when it takes place on April 21, but only one has plans to actually spend time in outer space.
It’s not quite the Apollo 11 spacecraft — which took Neil Armstrong to his lunar landing — but the Space IL spaceship could make Israel only the third nation in the world to land on the moon when it launches in 2015.
The celebrity spacecraft, along with the Israeli rock band Mashina and local ’80s cover band the Spazmatics, will highlight Los Angeles’ best impression of Tel Aviv on Yom HaAtzmaut at the second annual event held by the Israeli American Council (IAC), formerly known as the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC). It will take place from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Cheviot Hills Recreation Center (Rancho Park).
[Click here for a map of the festival]
Two of the festival’s main organizers — businessmen and philanthropists Naty Saidoff and Shawn Evenhaim — predict that this year’s installment, which honors the Jewish state’s 65th birthday, will attract between 15,000 and 20,000 people.
“We need to unite all the Jews that live in this city,” Evenhaim said. “This is one day that helps to do it.”
The event is open to the public. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at CelebrateIsraelFestival.com.
This year, there will be 21 artists from Tel Aviv’s artist colony, a beer garden, Israeli folk dancing, a kids’ stage and other children’s activities, including a puppy petting zoo, a drum circle, backgammon games, face painters and stilt walkers. Throw in an Israeli history exhibit at the “Time Travel Tunnel” and a massive community oil painting of the Tel Aviv coastline created by oil and acrylic paint artist Tomer Peretz and there may really be something for everyone. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to attend as well.
According to Adee Drory, the festival’s director, there will be a major effort this year to provide a large variety of food and, just as important, to minimize waiting time in lines. There will be 21 vendors and 32 points of sale. People in a Mediterranean mood can enjoy shawarma, falafel or a “hummus bar.” Those in a more American mood can munch on sweet corn, hot dogs and funnel cake.
The goal, Saidoff said, is that the aroma from the foods, the sounds from the music and the general feel of the event will resemble a day outdoors in Tel Aviv.
“It’s for the Israelis who want to feel Tel Aviv for one day and for the Americans who haven’t been to Tel Aviv,” Saidoff said.
Major festival sponsors include Debbie and Naty Saidoff, who are underwriting the event, along with Westfield shopping centers, Dorit and Shawn Evenhaim and the government of Israel, which this year will give $54,000, up from $10,000 to $15,000 last year, according to David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles. The Jewish Journal is media sponsor for the event.
Naty Saidoff said the Israeli government’s involvement in the event symbolizes an important shift in Israel in terms of how yordim — Israelis who live in the Diaspora — are viewed.
“There’s a changing reality with [the] passage of time,” Saidoff said. “Israelis that live in the Diaspora are not considered people who necessarily betrayed the ideals of Zionism.”
Siegel said, “It’s very important for us to cultivate our ties with the Jewish community here and to make sure that they feel close to Israel.”
One late entry into the list of the sponsors was The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. It wasn’t until late last week that Federation decided to contribute $10,000 to the festival — less than the $50,000 it provided last year.
Andrew Cushnir, Federation’s chief programming officer, explained that while Federation prefers to donate to groups instead of “one-time” events, in 2012 it wanted to help re-establish the festival, and so decided to commit “seed funding.”
“Last year, because it was the first time they were bringing it to Rancho Park, we made a decision to give them support beyond our usual approach,” Cushnir said. “This year, we are happy to be a supporter at our current level.”
Saidoff, who hopes Federation chooses to play a major role in future Celebrate Israel festivals, said that its initial decision to not renew at last year’s level was disappointing.
“The absence of the Jewish Federation was confounding,” Saidoff said. “[But they] decided to take a booth and donate $10,000, which is a step in the right direction.”
Preceding the festival at 9 a.m. is the “Salute for Israel Walk,” which will begin at Motor Avenue by the park, head east through the center of Pico-Robertson and return to Rancho Park. Joining the walk will be cars from “Fueled by the Fallen,” a group that honors military and public safety personnel who were killed. Its “9/11 Angel Cruiser Series” cars, which display the names of everyone killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, will be on display at the festival.
The walk will be organized by the IAC and StandWithUs, an event sponsor and pro-Israel nonprofit.
In 2011, what was known as the Israeli Festival sputtered because of money problems and a dearth of community support. So last year, Saidoff pushed hard to create this event, and he made sure to make the case to the community — Jewish and non-Jewish — about why it mattered. He was able to secure the Cheviot Hills location after the city’s Westside Neighborhood Council voted 11-1 to allow the festival.
“Israel is a light to the nations,” Saidoff said. “This nation is a light to the neighborhood and to the city. It sounds lofty, but that’s my sense of purpose.”
Founded as ILC in 2007, IAC is a nonprofit group with an annual budget of approximately $3 million. Its mission is to support Israel by bolstering Jewish identity among young Israeli-Americans and establishing links between Israeli-born Americans and Jews born in America.
For Saidoff, a director at IAC, the way that Celebrate Israel furthers that mission can be described in one word — unity.
“Unity is very important in the Jewish community,” Saidoff said. “They say the Second Temple fell because people were squabbling as the enemy was at the door.”
Evenhaim, IAC’s chairman, sees in this event not only a chance for unity and connection to Judaism and Israel, but also a source of comfort for Jews in Israel.
“When you live in Israel and you see that people abroad celebrate the independence of the State of Israel, it makes you feel comfortable that you are not alone. We owe it to our brothers and sisters in Israel.”
Israeli Leadership Council changes name
When the chief executive officer of the Israeli Leadership Council announced at the group’s March 10 gala that the nonprofit’s name is changing to the Israeli American Council (IAC), the reaction from the 900 people in attendance was modest. As animations of the group’s new logo flashed on screens around the Beverly Hilton ballroom, polite applause briefly drowned out the clink of silverware against plates.
But for the leadership of the ILC — now the IAC — the message embodied in the new name is significant, signaling the group’s increased comfort with its dual Israeli-American identity.
“We felt that the name ‘Israeli Leadership Council’ did not reflect what we’re doing today,” said Adam Milstein, an IAC board member.
Founded in 2007 as the Israeli Leadership Club by a group of local Israeli-American businessmen who joined forces to ensure they could mobilize their community in support of the Jewish state in times of crisis, the organization has since grown into a nonprofit with a $3 million annual budget.
Its mission is threefold — supporting Israel, strengthening Jewish identity among young Israeli-Americans and building connections between the Israeli-American and Jewish-American communities. To that end, the IAC supports more than a dozen different projects and organizations.
Milstein first suggested to the board that the group change its basic brand, from “Israeli” to “Israeli-American,” about 18 months ago. Eli Tene, then the group’s co-chair and currently a member of its seven-person board, remembers reacting skeptically.
“Why change something that’s working?” Tene remembers thinking, he said in an interview Sunday.
Success, indeed, is not at issue: In 2012, the organization reached about 50,000 people, up from 3,500 during 2010. Most of that growth can be attributed to two major projects: Taking charge of the citywide Celebrate Israel Festival last year, which drew 15,000 attendees to Rancho Park in May, and, secondly, helping to found Sifriyat Pijama B’America, which distributed free Hebrew children’s books to 2,000 families across the country in 2012, reaching an estimated 17,000 people. Both of those programs are projected to expand in 2013.
Still, Milstein was undeterred, and he lobbied his fellow board members in support of the name change. His argument was twofold: By defining themselves as Israelis, Milstein said, the current generation of immigrants are separating themselves from their American children, who “want to be like anybody else.”
Milstein also said he had come to realize that he could do more on behalf of the Jewish state, where he was born, by embracing his identity as an American citizen.
“Nobody around us looked at us as Israelis, and we were defeating ourselves because we were not recognizing who we are,” he said.
A real estate investor who has lived in the United States since 1981 and been an American citizen since 1986, Milstein is one of the country’s top donors to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). When he has lobbied American and foreign officials on behalf of Israel, Milstein said he began to notice a subtle discomfort when he said he was “from Israel.”
“Nobody said it,” Milstein said, “but I would see it in their faces.”
If the old ILC logo — three white letters on a blue shield, flanked by gold olive branches — subtly suggested that the group was an arm of Israel’s foreign ministry, then the new IAC logo — a Star of David half-enveloped by red and white stripes — has far more in common with that of America’s pro-Israel groups.
Now, the IAC is pushing Israeli-Americans to get involved in local Jewish communities in the diaspora, as well as in Israel advocacy. IAC chair Shawn Evenhaim spoke about connecting Israeli-Americans to their Jewish-American counterparts at the Jewish Federations of North America’s 2012 General Assembly. Milstein addressed the importance of Israel advocacy at an IAC-organized panel discussion at AIPAC’s policy conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. He forcefully rejected the idea that Israeli-Americans have already “paid their dues” to Israel by serving in the IDF.
“This is your miluim service,” Milstein said in an interview in his office in Encino just a few days after the panel, referring to the month-long reserve duty all Israeli men are required to perform, over and above their required full-time military service. “This is how you support Israel.”
Boosting Israeli-Americans’ support for Israel is one key aspect of the IAC’s mission, and political leaders from all levels of government and from across the political spectrum attended Sunday’s gala.
Longtime Congressman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) was there, as was the newly elected Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-San Fernando Valley). The two candidates who advanced to a May runoff for Los Angeles mayor, City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti, were also present, and Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles, David Siegel, read a letter from Bibi Netanyahu, thanking the IAC for strengthening the ties of Israeli-Americans to Israel.
The gala’s honorees included businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arison, whose company owns a large interest in Carnival Cruise Lines and a controlling stake in Bank Hapoalim, and Daniel Gold, who developed Israel’s Iron Dome’s missile defense system (see related story, p. 27). Hotel magnate and political mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam Ochshorn Adelson, also received an award at the gala.
Despite the absence of a few of the group’s biggest supporters — including Haim Saban, who was away on business — the IAC raised an estimated about $2 million on Sunday.
Israeli-Americans make good on giving back
On May 6, instead of sleeping late and spending the Sunday morning at home, Vered Nagar shlepped her son and daughter from Tarzana to the boardwalk at Venice Beach to help the homeless.
“They were reluctant about doing it at first,” Nagar said, watching her 9-year-old daughter, Tal, hand a toothbrush to a tanned, bearded man whose teeth looked like they could use a good cleaning. “They weren’t sure how it’s going to be with the homeless people.”
“As we talked about it,” Nagar continued, “they got excited about helping, and we’re here.”
The Nagars were among almost 200 people who participated in the Israeli Leadership Council’s (ILC) first Good Deeds Day.
“Our job is to find volunteer opportunities that people will be passionate about,” said Donna Kreisler, the director of the ILC-Care Program, an initiative aimed at encouraging members of Los Angeles’s sizable Israeli-American community to engage in volunteerism.
Since its launch at a concert last November, when more than 5,000 attendees pledged to give a total of 22,000 volunteer hours, ILC-Care has marshaled volunteers for projects, including to help rescue 100 stray dogs in December and to run a pre-Passover food drive that helped feed 150 needy Jewish families over the holiday.
The concertgoers, Kreisler said, have been among the most enthusiastic participants in ILC-Care programs.
“Every single time we come out with something, they’re the first ones to register,” she said.
On Sunday, in addition to the 50 volunteers stationed at two locations on the boardwalk in Venice, Israeli-Americans and others joined three other ILC-sponsored projects around the region.
Nearly 45 volunteers went to the Shalom Institute in Malibu to plant vegetables that will help feed hungry clients at SOVA. (Two weeks earlier, as part of the international project J-Serve, more than 140 Jewish teenagers had tended those same beds.)
Sixty others helped run a daylong party in Woodley Park in the San Fernando Valley for a group of cancer patients and their families identified by the Israeli-American organization StandWithUs.
And, in a project coordinated with the region-wide volunteer weekend of Big Sunday, 10 ILC-recruited volunteers joined 15 other Big Sunday volunteers and 45 clients of the Substance Abuse Foundation of Long Beach to tour the Museum of Tolerance.
A planned fifth project site, a cleanup effort at Compton Creek in partnership with Big Sunday and Heal The Bay, did not take place due to a lack of volunteers, Kreisler said.
The ILC is one of hundreds of organizations of all types — nonprofit, corporate, religious, educational — that has partnered with Big Sunday over its 13-year existence.
“I always feel like we’re bigger than the sum of our parts,” David Levinson, founder and executive director of Big Sunday, said.
What started out with “300 good-hearted Jewish people at Temple Israel of Hollywood,” Levinson said, has now turned into a three-day festival of volunteering that attracted more than 50,000 volunteers last year. (The exact number of volunteers who joined one of Big Sunday’s 400 different projects this year was not available as of press time.)
“Our target audience is everyone,” he said. “We have homeless people who volunteer and movie stars who volunteer.”
Having partnered with many synagogues over the years, Levinson said, Big Sunday has attracted Israeli-Americans in the past, but ILC-Care gives that community a specialized outlet for volunteering. Across all four Good Deeds Day sites, 70 percent of the volunteers who participated were Israeli-American, Kreisler said.
And Kreisler is hoping that, by planning more activities throughout the year, Good Deeds Day can build and grow.
“It’s very contagious,” she said, noting that people who had not taken part were calling the ILC offices to inquire about future activities. “Even when it starts with a few hundred, we believe that, if we are consistent, we’ll be able to get it into the thousands.”
In Venice, most of the conversation was in Hebrew among the 25 volunteers who took part in the first shift. None of them seemed to have been to the concert, and at least one of those present, who learned about the volunteer opportunity through an ad in this newspaper (which co-sponsored the Day of Good Deeds), hadn’t ever heard of the ILC.
As is typical for the ILC, the group in Venice was working in partnership with another organization, the Send Me a Penny Foundation. The group’s founder, Anthony Perez, has been distributing food on the Venice boardwalk for six years; every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Perez and his volunteers provide close to 1,500 meals to homeless people on the boardwalk, serving food collected at the Heart of Compassion food bank in Montebello.
“Other organizations will see us on the boardwalk and want to participate,” Perez said, taking a break from managing the ILC-recruited volunteers.
And despite the cajoling it took for Nagar to get her daughter and son to the boardwalk, by midway through her shift, Tal Nagar seemed happy to be there.
“At school, we talk about doing good deeds,” the fourth-grader said, standing behind a table full of toothbrushes, toothpaste and plastic combs. “It was a good feeling to give to people that don’t have these things.”
Sagi Balasha: the new head of the Israeli Leadership Council
To help explain what it’s like to be the CEO of the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC), Sagi Balasha, who took on the role in September 2011, offers a comparison to his previous job at Beit Hatfutsot, a small museum in Tel Aviv (once known as The Diaspora Museum, now The Museum of the Jewish People), where he was vice president of finance and development.
“Once in two months the board comes in, they eat bourekas, they discuss,” Balasha said of the museum’s procedures. “They approve whatever the CEO suggests.”
At the ILC, now in its fifth year, Balasha said, the wealthy and powerful on the board of directors are far more engaged with the organization, and with Balasha, who can quantify how much so with a quick look at his inbox. “I wake up early, and I see, already at 7 in the morning, 45 e-mails,” he said. “By the time I have my coffee, it’s 65. At the end of the day, it’s 100 or 150.”
Thin and bespectacled, Balasha spent years traveling and living outside of Israel, including, along with his wife, spending two years as an emissary for the Jewish Agency to the Jewish communities of the Volga Region of Russia.
In 2001, he joined a unit of elite young economists in the division of Israel’s Ministry of Finance that draws up the nation’s annual budget. Balasha first oversaw the health budget, then later moved to work on budgeting welfare and immigration.
Balasha was there when Benjamin Netanyahu, who became Israel’s finance minister in 2003, instituted free market reforms, including moving people from welfare to work. Those same changes, in part, provoked last August’s social protests.
“I thought people [the protesters] were just brainwashed by the left-wing propaganda,” he said. “It was spin. I thought all these reforms that we accomplished just 10 years ago were in danger.”
Balasha, 39, was born and raised in Haifa. His wife, who is now doing post-doctoral work as a cancer researcher at Caltech, was responsible for moving the family to Los Angeles last year.
Balasha said he hadn’t heard of the ILC before he applied for the CEO job. But the ILC, which presents itself as a small, nimble agency that takes a hyper-businesslike approach to nonprofit work, is very much in line with Balasha’s ethos. He praised the way ILC grantees are required to submit, among other materials, detailed spreadsheets that outline a project’s margins of profit and loss.
“This is, I think, the future of the nonprofits of the Western world,” Balasha said.
Sold-out concert garners 24,000 Hours of community service pledges
“When the ILC told me they planned to sell 6,000 tickets to this concert, I was skeptical,” Israeli media mogul Haim Saban said onstage at the Israeli Leadership Council’s “Do Something for Someone” community concert on Nov. 20. “I thought it was too tall an order.”
Turns out it wasn’t. The ILC succeeded in selling out the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk for a concert that headlined Israeli pop star Moshe Peretz and Chasidic reggae singer Matisyahu, and launched the ILC’s newest project, I.L.Care, which aims to get Israelis and Israeli-Americans living in Los Angeles to volunteer regularly.
“I tip my hat to you, ILC,” said Saban, a major donor of the ILC and one of the concert’s main sponsors. “Am Israeli chai!”
Throngs of young Israelis dressed in club attire socialized in the theater’s aisles, and neither the rain nor a ticket fiasco — people waited in long lines to claim tickets that had been misplaced — put a damper on the crowd’s ebullient mood.
It took a couple of hours for the audience to finally settle into their seats, but once there, they sang along enthusiastically to Matisyahu’s “One Day,” lit up the theater with cell phone screens, and roared wildly when Moshe Peretz came on stage — staying on their feet for the duration of his performance. At some point, the ushers gave up trying to keep Israelis from dancing in the aisles and screaming young fans from rushing the stage.
“This is better than Caesarea!” Peretz said from the stage, referring to Israel’s most prestigious concert venue. At the end of his spirited set of popular Israeli hits, Peretz brought Matisyahu back onstage for a rare mash-up of Mizrahi and reggae music that was both spiritual and hip.
Tickets for the event were heavily subsidized — the actual cost of $90 was reduced to $18 or less, as two-for-one specials and other deals were promoted — with the caveat that each ticketholder had to commit to four hours of community service in exchange for the discounted price.
Getting Israelis to promise volunteer hours was a challenge in itself, but the ILC also faced the fact that even the biggest names in Israeli music have traditionally had a hard time filling big venues here. By most accounts, the Gibson is the largest venue at which an Israeli star has performed in recent history.
With help from more than 100 community organizations, the ILC filled the 6,000 seats and secured pledges for 24,000 hours of service, although it remains to be seen whether all the ticketholders will follow through on their commitment.
The message to the concertgoers, reiterated by speakers Saban and ILC board member and I.L.Care chair Shawn Evenhaim, as well as Israeli Consul General David Siegel, was clear: Do something for someone — it’s good for you; it’s good for the community; it’s good for Israel.
As the audience streamed out of the theater, Evenhaim breathed a huge sigh of relief.
“This was a historical night. The Israeli and Jewish communities came together tonight and committed to making a difference in the world.”
The old stereotype of Mizrahi music — an Israeli genre created by immigrant Jews from North African and Arab countries — was of teary, sorrowful love ballads: tales of lost loves, broken hearts and dashed hopes. You could say Mizrahi music was Israel’s version of country music.
Moshe Peretz, one of the headliners for the I.L.Care community concert on Nov. 20, is the poster boy for the genre’s modern image — which is, by contrast, vivacious, upbeat and full of life. Hits like “Esh” (“Fire”), “Me Hashamayim” (“From the Sky”) and “Eshmor Alayich” (“I Will Keep You Safe”) are more likely to make you want to dance than cry. Dark-featured and handsome, Peretz has been one of the top-selling artists in Israel since 2007, and the November concert, which organizers hope will draw an audience of 6,000, will be his Los Angeles debut.
“I’m so excited to be part of this project,” Peretz said in a phone interview from Israel. He said he has had other opportunities to perform in Los Angeles, but none of them panned out, and it doesn’t seem to intimidate him that his first stateside show will be at one of the largest U.S. venues to host an Israeli artist in recent times.
“The purpose of this concert is to build community, and I’m inspired by that,” he said. “I think it’s everyone’s right to live wherever they want, wherever it’s good for them, but it’s important to maintain a connection to Israel … and to safe keep our religion. In the end, we are Jewish wherever we live.”
Born in 1983 in Tiberias to parents of Moroccan and Iraqi descent, Peretz started out as a hairdresser, but it didn’t take long for him to turn a lifelong passion for music into a career, both writing and composing his own songs. He released his first album at 22, in 2005, which turned out to be a commercial failure. But that slap of reality didn’t shake him, and his next album in 2007 contained the megahit “Esh,” which rocketed Peretz to stardom.
“Besides his great voice, the fact that Moshe Peretz is a young and multitalented artist — a singer, composer and writer — helped him a lot,” said Eliran Refael, a popular Los Angeles DJ who caters to the Israeli-American crowd. Indeed, a television segment on one of Israel’s top channels described Peretz as one of the most intelligent and sophisticated artists in his genre for his writing and composing skills.
One of the markers of success in Israel is the price a singer commands for a private performance at a wedding — weddings in Israel are often lavish, 700-guest affairs — and Peretz is among the most requested and best-paid entertainers of them all. According to the TV report, he earns approximately $53,000 per week during the busiest wedding season, a total of $800,000 in one summer.
But contrary to many young celebrities who fall victim to the vices of fame and fortune, Peretz, who is currently working on his fifth album, has maintained a reputation of humility and a clean image, too: no tattoos, no drugs, no controversy. That reputation is part of the reason the Israeli Leadership Council chose Peretz as its headliner for the family-friendly community concert, along with Chasidic reggae star Matisyahu.
“He has a good, positive attitude,” said Eli Tene, co-chair of the ILC. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s enormously popular here, too, particularly with the younger generation — his blend of Mizrahi, rock and pop music is lively and infectious.
“It’s going to be such an electric show,” Tene said. “Anyone who’s not going to be there will feel that they really missed out.”
Israeli-American leaders gather at third ILC gala
“A strong Israeli-American community makes Israel stronger,” Gabi Ashkenazi, the recently retired chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), told the crowd gathered for the third annual Israeli Leadership Council (ILC) Gala on March 20.
In the ILC’s nearly five-year history, the group has established a number of new cultural, educational and Israel advocacy programs in the Los Angeles area and has helped fund others that already exist. It has been likened to an Israeli Federation, and Ashkenazi summed up its guiding principle in fewer than 10 words.
Later in the evening, Ashkenazi would embody the organization’s spirit as well, singing Hebrew songs from the 1950s and ’60s and dancing on stage with Haim Saban and the rest of the ILC board.
But business came first. The night was a chance for the ILC to highlight its projects in video presentations, wall hangings and through the presence of more than a dozen members of ILC-funded troops of Israeli Scouts. Ashkenazi spent the hour before the gala speaking to Israeli-American teens getting ready to enlist in the IDF, and to their nervous, proud parents. Ten of the future soldiers joined Ashkenazi at his table for dinner.
It was also a night to raise some serious coin for these and other ILC programs. ILC board member Shawn Evenhaim exhorted the crowd to give generously, and the fundraising goal for the evening was met in just the first pledge — $400,000 from Saban. By the end of the evening, total contributions crossed the $1 million mark.
Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, delivered the evening’s other keynote speech, and he couldn’t resist pointing out the irony of an American immigrant to Israel speaking in America as a representative of Israel to a group of Israeli Americans. In a speech that raced around the Middle East, from Israel to Iran to Libya, Oren also encouraged Israeli Americans to get involved in local organizations — not only those dedicated to Israel advocacy, but also those aimed at improving and enriching local Jewish life.
To help Israelis imbue their American-born children with an identity that is as Jewish as it is Israeli and American, the ILC has joined forces with Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. Feinstein began speaking with ILC leaders earlier this year about working together to better serve the local Israeli-American community. No formal programming has been devised yet, a representative from the ILC said.
“It’s not genetic,” Feinstein said over dessert. “We have to create something that’s never existed before: Israeli-American-Jewish identity.”
By that point of the evening, the dance floor at the front of the ballroom was packed. Disco queen Donna Summer — who is also an FOH (Friend of Haim) — performed earlier in the evening, but her rendition of “Last Dance” was the last English song heard all night.
Outside, Beverly Hills was being pummeled with record-breaking rain, but for the more than 750 people at the Beverly Hilton, the dress code was much more Gucci than Gore-Tex. They weren’t wearing boots, but the crowd was ready for some stomping.
Israeli pop star Einat Sarouf belted out Israeli hits from across the decades while green-shirted Scouts twirled their scarves. The ILC board members — in their shirtsleeves — swayed arm-in-arm as they sang Naomi Shemer’s “Al Kol Eleh.” Sarouf guided Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad by his necktie toward her microphone, where they did a quick duet of “Ya Mustafa.”
The other political notables in attendance — including Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian and others — managed to avoid being drawn onto the stage.
Not so lucky was ILC Executive Director Shoham Nicolet. “You’re still in reserve, and you can get orders from me,” Ashkenazi said, summoning the junior officer.
Nicolet, who is preparing to move back to Israel this month after 10 years in the United States, stood at attention, uncertain as to how such a major element of the evening’s program had been sneaked in without his knowledge.
In recognition of his service to Israel and the ILC, Ashkenazi presented Nicolet with a large framed photograph of uniformed Israeli soldiers dashing across a rutted, dusty field.
Nicolet has served as ILC’s executive director since the group’s inception and plans to continue in that role from Israel.
Young leaders get the lowdown in 10-minute talks
As he took the stage on Feb. 23, Mark Rothman, executive director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, had just one question.
“Where’s my timer?” he asked.
You have 10 minutes: That’s the first rule for speakers at BINA-LA, a monthly program for young professionals. The events are sponsored by the three-year-old Israeli Leadership Council (ILC), whose third annual sold-out gala is set to take place at the Beverly Hilton on March 20.
Bina is the Hebrew word for insight; BINA-LA is the ILC’s young division. First launched in August 2010, BINA-LA has held seven events so far, offering up a handful of presenters, most of them local. This is intentional, said Amir Give’on, the 37-year-old Israeli-born, Princeton-educated engineer who works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and helped found BINA-LA. “It’s about bringing people from within the community to talk about what they do,” Give’on said. (He said he’d make an exception to the group’s “no celebrities” rule if Sarah Silverman wanted to speak at BINA-LA.)
Most BINA-LA talks relate to Israel or Judaism in some way, but the topics vary widely. At the February BINA-LA, four back-to-back presentations included Rothman’s talking about the Holocaust’s role in the founding of Israel, choreographer Barak Marshall on the politics of Israeli dance, composer David Rodwin on the Jewishness of 20th-century orchestral music and Sharon Rechter, an Israeli American entrepreneur who co-founded a television channel for babies, talking about what startup companies could learn from Israel. (And no, she hasn’t read that book.)
The BINA-LA speakers, like the coordinators, are all volunteers. Programs like this one show the vast talent pool that the ILC can draw upon.
“It’s like an Israeli TED,” said Shanee Feig, the sole paid ILC staffer working on BINA-LA. Feig, 29, was born and bred in Los Angeles to Israeli parents, and she was referring to TED, the organization that brings the smart, rich and/or famous to present “Ideas Worth Spreading.” As in TED Talks, BINA-LA’s speakers all use PowerPoint, and all of the presentations are videotaped. Many of the videos are posted on the group’s Web site, binala.org. (Sasha Strauss’ presentation at the first BINA-LA, “$100,000 of Brand Strategy Advice,” is very TED-like.)
The goal isn’t to create a forum for frontal dissemination of information, though, but rather to foster a community of smart, young Angelenos who care about Israel.
The 100 or so 20- and 30-somethings who made it to the Mark event space on Pico Boulevard for BINA-LA in February were a mix of Israeli Americans, American Jews and hybrids who fall somewhere in between those categories.
“Look around,” Give’on said after the evening’s talks were over. The BINA-LA dress code runs from tailored suits to shlumpy sweaters. Give’on favored a happy medium — Chuck Taylors and a slim sport jacket. People picked at sushi from the buffet and/or kept the bartender busy. And even during the time for socializing, a sizable chunk of the room was taken up by three of the evening’s speakers, who were busy fielding questions. “The speakers didn’t just come here and give a talk,” Give’on said. “They threw a topic on the table. People here have a lot to talk about.”
An eavesdropper at BINA-LA might have overheard the young, mostly (but not exclusively) single Jews conversing about their Facebook friends, their medical subspecialties or their opinions about the Israeli TV show “Ramzor” and its American remake, “Traffic Light.”
BINA-LA isn’t intended to be a straight-up singles scene, but there’s a lot of seeing and being seen that goes on. “If you see how many girls in the restroom are fixing their makeup,” one female attendee said, “you’ll get a lot of the reason that they’re here.”
Which isn’t to say that BINA-LA’s programmers don’t take their task seriously — they do. BINA-LA emcee Daniel Housman, a former arts journalist and screenwriter, talks with every speaker beforehand. So do Give’on and his fellow volunteer coordinators. “Before I tell you what to speak about,” Give’on tells BINA-LA presenters, “let me tell you about the feeling I want people to come out of the room with.”
Rothman, a seasoned public speaker, confessed to being a bit surprised by the intensity of the preparation. “I’ve never had performance anxiety like I had before BINA,” Rothman said afterward.
Generously funded by the ILC (Haim Saban is a major supporter), BINA-LA isn’t an expensive night out. (Tickets are $25 at the door including one drink, and cheaper in advance.) And it still flies somewhat under the radar. “It’s all friends of friends,” Give’on said. “That’s why you won’t see us on regular calendars.”
The same can’t be said for BINA-LA’s powerful parent organization. Since its founding in 2007, ILC members have supported many charitable efforts in and around Los Angeles. That’s the organization’s goal. “We don’t solicit somebody to become our member,” ILC board co-chair Eli Tene said. “We solicit people to get involved in other organizations.”
Among the nearly 100 members of ILC are individuals who sit on the boards of other Jewish community nonprofits, the former president of a Jewish community school and major supporters of AIPAC, StandWithUs and other Israel advocacy groups.
ILC also underwrites select projects of its own. Israeli Scouts (Tsofim) troops in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles and Orange County all expanded in recent years thanks to ILC support. ILC recently launched ILCare, a new volunteer-matching initiative, and is considering expanding to other American cities.
And of course, there’s BINA-LA. For Give’on, assembling “a well-connected group of intelligent Israelis and Americans” is his way of helping Israel.
“Israel has always been at war,” Give’on said, “and we know today that war can be anywhere. The war can be in the media, and BINA is really a way to help Israel, in that sense.”
ILC Brings Down the Hilton House
The Israeli Leadership Council turned the glitzy Beverly Hilton International Ballroom into a rockin’ Israeli dance club at their inaugural gala Wednesday, May 13. The fledgling ILC, barely two years old, has quickly sprouted into an Israeli community powerhouse, a sort of unofficial Israeli Federation that funds various programs and initiatives with the goal of empowering and uniting sabras living in L.A.
The elegant-turned-elegantly-raucous evening drew 700 attendees and was sold out weeks before the event, which didn’t stop some Israelis from showing up at the Hilton hoping to buy a last-minute ticket. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Leo David, a champion of the IDF, were honored at the gala – also celebrating Israel’s 61st Independence Day—and the ILC-sponsored Israeli Scouts, or Zofim, youth program was spotlighted as a particularly inspiring success story.
Once the requisite speeches and video presentations were over, the evening took on the feel of a large, lively Israeli wedding: Israeli rock superstar Rami Kleinstein and cover singer Einat Saruf hit the stage and everyone hit the dance floor. A who’s-who of Israeli high society let loose and joined the dancing, breaking out into a hora at one point. Entertainment tycoon Haim Saban, model-actress Noa Tishby and retired Israeli soccer star Haim Revivo all took the stage to show off their singing talents, but it was a stunning rendition of “Yerushalyim Shel Zahav” by Robert Stearns, executive director of the Christian group Eagles’ Wings, that drew explosive applause from the crowd.
It wasn’t long before tables and chairs were shoved aside, arms were flinging in the air, men were peeling off their soak-stained dress shirts, women were tossing off their shoes and those sensitive to noise were heading for the exits. The evening didn’t wind down until close to midnight, at which point ILC co-chair Eli Tene looked around the room with a satisfied smile that seemed to say, this is a good start.
Photos by Peter Halmagyi
Photo essay: Mayor Villaraigosa in Israel
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa inaugurated a state-of-the-art computer learning program in the besieged Israeli town of Sderot Friday, June 13.
Leading a delegation of community leaders and politicians, Villaraigosa presented the computers to Sderot residents so that they could continue learning despite constant rocket fire by Palestinians in the neighboring Gaza Strip.
Los Angeles-based Israel Leadership Club (ILC), which initiated and -sponsored the computer initiative, provided The Journal with these photos. Danny Alpert, ILC’s Co-Founder and co-Chairman said during a memorable speech in the city he said, “Today we mark a significant milestone in fulfilling our commitment to the young generation in Sderot. We mark a key point new stage for the relationship between the community in Los Angeles and the city of Sderot. Together, we provide the children of Sderot with the opportunity to receive proper education just like the children of Los Angeles receive.”
Right to left:: Danny Alpert, Mayor Villaraigosa and MK Michael Eitan in Sderot
R-L: Miriam Sassi, Sderot Municipal Education Director, gives Alpert an award from the city. In the background: Mayor Villaraigosa with the kids’ delegation who took an active part in the Live for Sderot concert. Behind them from right: MK Eitan, Councilmember Jack Weiss and Sdeort’s Mayor Eli Moya
From right: Consul General Jacob Dayan, Alpert, MK Eitan, Villaraigosa, Representative from CET who provides services to the project