Moving & Shaking: Seinfeld Headlines Ball, Iranian-American Jewish panel and Israeli American Council National Conference
Leave it to Jerry Seinfeld to transform a Beverly Hilton ballroom into an intimate comedy club.
Performing a half-hour set to conclude the American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA) Red Star Ball on the evening of Oct. 30, the comedic legend commanded the large, candlelit room like he was headlining the Improv.
Seinfeld opened the evening with a few minutes of material — joking about how Gentiles attend events for the alcohol, Jews for the rolls — but he promised he would return at the end of the night. When he came back onstage after 10 p.m., the funnyman captured both the mood of the fundraiser and the comic sensibility he is famous for.
“It’s been a beautiful night of generosity …,” he said. “Now, let’s get back to complaining.”
The gala raised pledges of more than $18 million, a record for an AFMDA event anywhere in the country, according to an event spokesperson. It also spotlighted the life-saving work of Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s ambulance, blood-services and disaster-relief organization that serves as emergency medical first-responders for the state’s more than 8 million people. MDA is mandated by the Israeli government to serve in this role, but it is not a government agency.
Of those in attendance, Humanitarian of the Year Honorees Sheldon and Miriam Adelson pledged $12 million to the organization, and Maurice Kanbar, creator of SKYY Vodka, pledged $5 million.
“My heart is in Israel,” Sheldon Adelson said. “And Israel is in my heart.”
Renee and Meyer Luskin received a Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of their support for the arts and education in Greater Los Angeles.
Next Generation Award winner Nikita Kahn — an actress, model and animal rights advocate — credited gala co-chair Dina Leeds with instilling in her the importance of supporting Israel.
“Her passion for Israel is contagious,” Kahn said of Leeds, who co-chaired the evening with her husband, Fred.
Additional speakers included Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and the Leeds’ daughter, Alisa. The latter highlighted the contributions of MDA to Israel. She has volunteered with the organization and called it a model for peace as it treats patients regardless of religion or ethnicity.
A number of MDA medics attended the gala, including Rivka Or, a senior emergency medical technician; and Mohammed “Chamudi” Arrabi, a gay, Muslim medic.
“It makes me happy when I help somebody,” Or said.
Also in attendance were comedian Elon Gold; Rabbi Zvi Boyarsky, of the faith-based rehabilitation organization Aleph Institute; USC Hillel Executive Director Bailey London; Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa; and Israeli reality TV star Yossi Dina.
30 Years After, the Iranian-American Jewish civic engagement organization, held its first in a series of events celebrating its 10th anniversary. The event, titled “The Builders of Los Angeles,” took place on Oct. 24 at the PH Day Club – Luxury Penthouse in West Hollywood and brought together a panel of prominent real estate developers and philanthropists.
The panel included Kam Babaoff, managing director of Ensemble Investments; Aliza Karney Guren, CEO of Karney Properties; John Ghermezian, chief business officer of Mall of America; and Kamyar Shabani, principal of Optimus Properties and a member of the 30 Years After advisory board. Jesse Sharf, partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, moderated.
The panelists discussed their careers, the real estate industry, their passion for philanthropy and the Jewish community, and how their Jewish identities influence their philanthropy and businesses.
“People think that bad people get ahead in business, but people actually like doing business with good and philanthropic people,” Sharf said in response to an audience question. “It gets you further.”
When the panelists were asked what compelled them to be philanthropic, Babaoff responded: “My mom and dad were my role models. Growing up in Iran, our house was like Grand Central Station. People who needed help were always coming through, whether for money or dispute resolution. It is our duty and responsibility to give back, and giving back isn’t just giving money.”
“Money isn’t satisfying, but philanthropy is,” Ghermezian added. “A cause gives you a reason to continue working hard.”
About 250 people attended the event, including former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad; Los Angeles County Assessor Jeffrey Prang, and 30 Years After co-founder Sam Yebri.
In an interview, 30 Years After Executive Director Shanel Melamed said she was proud of how the program has helped provide a space for Persian Jews.
“This decade of engagement and leadership training has led to a comprehensive, emerging generation of Iranian-Jewish leaders who are equipped and motivated to contribute to, and lead, Los Angeles,” Melamed said. “We’re proud to be the central organization empowering Iranian-American Jews to be impactful members of society, and we have even greater goals for the next 10 years. We welcome everyone to join our exciting and growing movement.”
— Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer
Bet Tzedek, a pro bono legal aid agency, has named Diego Cartagena as its next vice president of legal programs.
Cartagena succeeds Gus May, who became a Los Angeles Superior Court judge in August, and will report directly to Bet Tzedek CEO Jessie Kornberg.
“This is a good day for Bet Tzedek and a great day for the thousands of clients that depend on us for a fair chance and a better life,” Kornberg said in a statement announcing Cartagena’s appointment. Diego exemplifies what is best about our mission: an audacious commitment to push the bounds of what seems possible and deliver on our pledge to deliver equal justice for all.”
Cartagena’s responsibilities will include managing “the continued growth of Bet Tzedek’s community services,” according to the announcement. He has worked at Bet Tzedek since 2012, serving as the organization’s pro bono director.
“I look forward to working with longstanding and new community partners, pro bono supporters, and sister legal services agencies to continue to build on Bet Tzedek’s incredible history of protecting the rights of those most vulnerable by building innovative programs and coalitions that are responsive to the evolving community landscape,” Cartagena said.
The Israeli American Council (IAC) National Conference attracted a record number of attendees this year — about 2,500 — when it was held from Nov. 3-6 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.
“We have to make sure that America is pro-Israel regardless of who is in Congress and who is in the White House,” Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) said at the event, which examined Jewish and Israeli identity, Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people and cutting-edge innovative ideas in education, technology and community building.
Israel Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer also appeared and described President Donald Trump’s recent speech criticizing the Iran deal as “the second-best day since I have been ambassador.”
Additional speakers included U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley; Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, who participated in an interview with Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief David Suissa; diplomat and author Dennis Ross; IAC Chairman Adam Milstein; and Miriam Shepher, an IAC national council member from Los Angeles. Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, sat for a conversation with IAC board member and chairman emeritus Shawn Evenhaim.
The IAC is an umbrella organization with 16 chapters across the country, including in Los Angeles. Since 2007, the organization has prided itself on investing in programs that assist the Israeli-American community.
An Oct. 29 discussion at Beth Jacob Congregation, titled “Enemies, A Love Story: A New Way Forward for Jewish-Muslim Relations,” featured a formerly self-proclaimed extremist Jew and a formerly anti-Semitic Muslim discussing Muslim-Jewish relations. The Shalom Hartman Institute, a pluralistic research and leadership institute for Jewish thought, organized the discussion.
Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa moderated the discussion between Yossi Klein Halevi and Imam Abdullah Antepli, co-directors of the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Muslim Leadership Initiative, which, according to Hartman.org, “invites North American Muslims to explore how Jews understand Judaism, Israel and Jewish peoplehood.”
Halevi and Antepli spoke with compassion and conviction about how they want to see the program work now and in the future. Their remarks often drew applause from the approximately 250 people who attended, including Beth Jacob Rabbi Kalman Topp.
— Ginger Vick contributed to this report
Larger Than Life–L.A. Family, a nonprofit affiliated with the Israel-based Larger Than Life organization, in October brought to Los Angeles from Israel 38 youths with cancer for a 10-day dream vacation.
The youths, ages 10-18, enjoyed Southern California theme parks, rode ATVs, sailed on a yacht and partied at a gala dinner downtown at the JW Marriott hotel at L.A Live on Oct. 29. It was the 14th annual trip organized by Larger Than Life.
At the gala, approximately 750 guests watched a video about two friends, May Gurfinkel and Noa Tzemach, who both died months ago after battling cancer for two years. The two became close after visiting Los Angeles in 2015 on a Larger Than Life vacation.
“Noa started as a mentor to May, and they became one soul. They went together to the very end, talking about things that we will never, ever be able to understand,” said Gurfinkel’s father, Golan, who traveled from Israel for the event. May Gurfinkel died in July.
“I used to be the one who gave others money and a helping hand, and I thought I could handle this by myself, but it simply wasn’t possible,” he said. “We needed all the help we could get. Without Larger Than Life, your generosity and help, we wouldn’t be able to make it. The Larger Than Life dream trip gave May hope and the best friends ever.”
The event raised more than $1 million, including $2,000 raised by the youths themselves.
— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer