September 25, 2018

Moving & Shaking: Focus on Women’s Health; Bialik at UCLA

From left: Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Board Chair Julie Platt, L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin and L.A. Federation CEO Jay Sanderson attend the Federation’s community leaders’ Passover seder in Venice. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles held its annual community leaders’ Passover seder on March 28 at the Israel Levin Center in Venice, bringing together elected and civic representatives from multiple faiths and backgrounds to celebrate the holiday.

Elected officials in attendance included Los Angeles City Council members Mike Bonin, Paul Koretz and David Ryu; L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin; state Treasurer John Chiang; state Sen. Ben Allen; and Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg.

From left: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz​; ​Friends of Sheba Medical Center (FSMC) supporter ​Myrtle Sitowitz; ​Sheba Medical Center ​Dr. Romana Herscovici; FSMC Senior Vice President ​Ruth Steinberger; FSMC President Parham Zar; and FSMC Executive Director David Levy attend “Women’s Heart Health,” a salon-style discussion in Beverly Hills. Photo courtesy of Friends of Sheba Medical Center.

Friends of Sheba Medical Center (FSMC) held its “Women’s Heart Health” salon on March 21 to discuss preventive measures against women’s cardiovascular disease, the world’s leading cause of death in women.

Nearly 100 people attended the sold-out gathering that featured Sheba Medical Center’s Dr. Romana Herscovici and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz speaking about heart health for women. The event was held at the Beverly Hills home of longtime FSMC supporter Myrtle Sitowitz.

Herscovici is spending two years as a research fellow at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, working under Bairey Merz’s mentorship in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center. Upon her return to Israel later this year, Herscovici will continue her work focusing on women’s heart health at Sheba Medical Center, which is the largest, most comprehensive medical center in Israel and the Middle East. Herscovici’s fellowship at Cedars-Sinai is an example of one of Sheba’s many global partnerships working to advance medicine worldwide.

“It was exciting to participate in such an important and informative conversation that affects all women and our families,” said Barbara Lazaroff, vice president of the FSMC board. “I am very proud of the partnership between Sheba Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai, knowing it will make a significant difference in women’s heart health across the globe.”

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

Mayim Bialik, who has been selected to deliver the commencement address at UCLA in June. Photo courtesy of UCLA.

UCLA has selected actress Mayim Bialik of “The Big Bang Theory” as its distinguished alumna speaker for the UCLA College commencement on June 15. Bialik holds a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA.

“Dr. Bialik embodies the values of a Bruin,” UCLA College Senior Dean Patricia Turner said in a statement. “Throughout her career, she has shown how hard work, determination and civic duty can lead to success. I know that our graduates will be inspired by her story as they set out to make their own mark in the world.”

Bialik will address both commencement ceremonies, scheduled for 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., in Pauley Pavilion.

Since 2010, she has appeared on the popular CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” playing Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist who is the fiancée of Sheldon Cooper, played by Jim Parsons.

Among her several acting roles as a youth, Bialik portrayed the title character in the 1990s sitcom “Blossom.” After that show ended its run, Bialik left acting and earned her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from UCLA in 2000, with a minor in Hebrew and Jewish studies. She earned her doctorate in neuroscience in 2007. Her thesis examined the role of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin in obsessive-compulsive disorder in adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome.

While at UCLA, Bialik was a student leader in UCLA Hillel, founding a women’s Rosh Chodesh group, chanting and blowing shofar for High Holy Days services, and conducting and writing music for UCLA’s Jewish a capella group.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and actress Mayim Bialik attend the Sixth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism. Photo courtesy of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Sixth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, held at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem from March 19–21, drew foreign ministers, politicians and community leaders from around the world.

Actress Mayim Bialik, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and Sharon Nazarian, senior vice president of international affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, were among the attendees from Los Angeles.

Bialik delivered the keynote address, about her personal experiences dealing with anti-Semitism and her love for the State of Israel and its people.

“It was a privilege to take part in the Sixth Global Forum with leaders from around the world,” Grundwerg said. “It is critical to focus on the importance of fostering tolerance and the need to continue to fight anti-Semitism on every front. Having the opportunity to bring Mayim Bialik, a leading and courageous voice of moral clarity in the community, is one of the true highlights of my posting. Her passion, love of the Jewish people and strong message of support for Israel resonated deeply with all who were present, including myself.”

Panels at the event addressed, among other topics, anti-Semitism in European far-right movements, anti-Semitism in the intersectionality of the far-left, and cyberhate.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush and Jewish Federation of North Americas Board Chair Richard Sandler appeared in conversation before major Federation donors. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Former President George W. Bush and Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Board of Trustees Chair Richard V. Sandler appeared in conversation on March 21 at the Conrad Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., before 150 members of the JFNA Prime Minister’s Council.

Sandler, of Santa Monica, is the former board chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

In the conversation, Bush discussed the challenges of presidential decision-making, fatherhood, the 9/11 attacks, the need to help free people from tyranny and his decision to pursue painting after leaving the White House.

The JFNA Prime Minister’s Council is a group of families that have contributed more than $100,000 each to their local Federation annually or have made an endowment commitment to their Federation of $2 million.

From left: JNF Los Angeles Board President Alyse Golden Berkley, Judy Levin, Alon Ben-Gurion, Victoria Davis and JNFuture Chair Jordan Freedman attend a JNF breakfast in the San Fernando Valley. Photo courtesy of Jewish National Fund.

More than 400 people who attended the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Breakfast for Israel at the Woodland Hills Marriott on March 28 heard Alon Ben-Gurion recount stories about his grandfather — Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.

“The historical, touching and humorous anecdotes were a wonderful way to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary,” said JNF spokeswoman Marina Brodetsky.

Alon Ben-Gurion, who served as a paratrooper during the Yom Kippur War, is a hospitality consultant who previously was a general manager for the Hilton hotel chain, including at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York from 1997-2004. In recent years, he has been focused on development issues in the Negev desert in Israel.

Attendees at the breakfast included JNF Los Angeles Board President Alyse Golden Berkley, JNF CEO Russell Robinson, breakfast co-chairs Judy Levin and Victoria Davis, JNFuture Chair Jordan Freedman, JNF supporters Marilyn and Allen Golden, and children from the MATI Israeli Community Center in Tarzana.

The nonprofit JNF, according to its website, is committed to ensuring a “strong, secure and prosperous Israel for the Jewish people everywhere.” Its programs include agricultural research farms in the Galilee, developing housing projects for young families in the Negev, and making Israel more inclusive for people with disabilities and special needs.

Moving & Shaking: Museum Gala, Julie Platt, Joseph Siegman

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, attended the 90th Academy Awards ceremony last weekend. Photo courtesy of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), a two-time Academy Award-winner and a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, attended the 90th Academy Awards ceremony on March 4 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

“I’m proud to say, as an active member of the academy, I’ve voted ever since I won my first Oscar in 1981. I never missed the opportunity,” he said. “I exercise my membership obligations every year faithfully, because I think you should not be a member of theAcademy if you don’t intend to vote.”

Hier, one of more than 6,000 Academy members, attended the event with his grandson.

“I met a lot of interesting people and, of course, my grandson was thrilled,” Hier said. “A lot of people came over to me because I was wearing a yarmulke.”

It marked the third time Hier attended the Academy Awards. The first time, in 1981, was when the SWC’s film division, Moriah Films, won the Oscar for best documentary feature for “Genocide.” Moriah Films’ “The Long Way Home,” a documentary about Jewish refugees, also won an Oscar in 1997.

At the Dolby, Hier schmoozed with industry friends, including Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix, and Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBCUniversal and a past SWC honoree.

Although he was unable to discuss which nominees he voted for, Hier said he was happy to see Gary Oldman win the lead actor award for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in the biopic “Darkest Hour.” Last year, Oldman spoke at the SWC’s Museum of Tolerance, after a members-only screening of the film.

Julie Platt, chair of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. Photo courtesy of the Foundation for Jewish Camp

The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) has selected Los Angeles philanthropist, community leader and activist Julie Platt as its board chair.

Platt will serve a three-year term at the charitable group, which works with more than 250 day and overnight camps, creates additional Jewish camps, works to increase camp enrollment and retention and trains camp professionals.

Platt, whose selection was announced on Feb. 23, will deliver her initial address as board chair on March 17 in Baltimore during the biennial FJC Leaders Assembly.

“Building on FJC’s track record of success, I am excited to help lead the Jewish camp field to adapt and evolve to remain competitive and compelling,” Platt said in a statement. “In our rapidly changing world, Jewish camp becomes even more vital for developing leaders and building a stronger community. I look forward to encouraging generous philanthropists across North America to support the FJC board and staff as we continue to grow the field.”

In her youth, Platt attended Camp Ramah in Ojai, a Conservative summer camp. She is the fifth chair in the history of FJC, which was established in 1998.

“We are thrilled that she has now assumed this important leadership role,” said the organization’s CEO, Jeremy Fingerman.

Platt also serves as board chair at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Her husband, Marc, is a successful film producer whose credits include “La La Land.”  They have five grown children, including their son Ben, who appeared on Broadway in the title role of “Dear Evan Hanson.”

From left: Sheila Moore, JFS senior director of comprehensive senior services; Heather Angel-Collin, director of Holocaust Programs and Valley Storefront Senior Center; and Sherri Kadovitz, program coordinator at the Israel Levin Senior Center, attend the Cafe Europa Purim party. Photo by Michael Sidman.

More than 250 guests attended Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ (JFS) lively Cafe Europa Purim Party on Feb. 27 at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino.

Café Europa, a social club offering Holocaust survivors educational and social activities — including organized trips, holiday celebrations and entertainment — is one of JFS’ signature programs. Guests at VBS included survivors and their families, as well as program donors, caregivers and staff.

The event included a Purim spiel with JFS President and CEO Eli Veitzer playing the role of King Ahasuerus. VBS provided a catered lunch, hamantashen and mishloach manot gift bags and a photo booth for attendees. Klezmer Juice, a traditional Yiddish band, played music that spurred many onto the dance floor.

“Every Purim is a special event for our survivors because some of our survivors each year become too frail to attend, so it’s very meaningful for them to be at the synagogue, to be with their friends, hear familiar music, sing and dance and eat together,” said JFS Director of Holocaust Programs Heather Angel-Collin.

Café Europa has two locations, in the Los Angeles basin and the San Fernando Valley, where social gatherings for survivors are held regularly. For the Purim celebration, survivors were invited to come together from across the city.

“Having our two Café Europa groups together at Purim allowed survivors from the city to see their Valley friends and vice versa, so our Purim party was something of a ‘family reunion’ for many of the survivors,” Angel-Collin said.

The photo booth, in particular, was a big hit, she added.

“Being able to take pictures with their friends at the photo booth and to have that photo as a memento really meant a lot,” Angel-Collin said.

Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer

Joseph Siegman, who was recognized by the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Photo Courtesy of Siegman

Joseph (Joe) Siegman of West Los Angeles has received the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Netanya, Israel, in recognition of his decades-long work to promote sports in Israel and California.

Siegman, a television producer and writer, founded the Hall of Fame in 1979 and served as its chair from 1981 to 1989. He has since served as chairman of its selection committee and for 15 years was a member of the U.S. Maccabiah Games Organizing Committee.

Not merely a sideline supporter, Siegman represented the United States on the cricket and lawn bowling teams at five Maccabiah Games in the 1970s and ’80s.

“I didn’t bring home any gold, silver or bronze medals from my five Maccabiah forays, but I did capture the United States national lawn bowling championships in 1989 and 2003, representing the Beverly Hills Lawn Bowling Club,” Siegman told the Journal.

The Hall of Fame, located at the Wingate College of Physical Education in Netanya, has inducted nearly 300 top Jewish athletes. The Lifetime Achievement Award is presented annually. For details, visit jewishsports.net.

Siegman has been a publicist and manager for numerous Hollywood stars, ranging from Ed Asner to Henny Youngman, and a producer of live shows and television shows. His producing credits include the seminal reality series “Celebrity Bowling” and “The Comedy Shop,” hosted by Norm Crosby, which featured such veteran comics as Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett, Youngman, Garry Shandling, Nathan Lane, Howie Mandel, Arsenio Hall, Michael Keaton and many others.

Between all these activities, Siegman has written a series of historical reference books under the title “Jewish Sports Legends.”

Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

From left: Jewish Republican Alliance (JRA) co-founder Bruce Karasik, author and radio talk show host Larry Elder and JRA co-founder Mitch Silberman attend a JRA event at Valley Beth Shalom featuring Elder. Photo by Tracie Karasik, TLK Multimedia

Republican author and radio talk show host Larry Elder shared his conservative views and discussed the challenges of being conservative in the era of Donald Trump during a Feb. 26 lecture at Valley Beth Shalom.

“The 800-pound gorilla in this room is a man named Donald Trump,” Elder said. “Trump was not my first choice. Out of 17 Republicans, I think he was my 20th…But I’ve never seen anybody connect with people like that since Ronald Reagan.”

“Donald Trump understands this country,” he said.

The Jewish Republican Alliance (JRA) organized the event, during which Elder acknowledged the president’s inability to apologize for ill-advised remarks, including criticism of President George W. Bush’s decision to send troops to Iraq after the 9/11 attacks. Elder said criticism of the Iraq War, specifically that Republicans lied about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction, has hurt the Republican brand.

Camaraderie among community members supportive of the Trump administration permeated the event, which drew about 750 attendees to the Encino synagogue.

“Look to your right, look to the left — no, not the left,” said JRA co-founder and financial adviser Mitch Silberman, garnering laughs. “Aren’t you excited to know you’re not alone?”

Additional participants included JRA co-founder Bruce Karasik, a real estate broker who spoke in praise of Vice President Mike Pence’s support for Israel, and Valley Beth Shalom Cantor Phil Baron, who started the event by leading the attendees in the singing of the national anthem and “Hatikvah.”

Karasik and Silberman, who live in the Conejo Valley, co-founded the JRA in 2016 to support Republicans in heavily Democratic California. The organization operates chapters in the Conejo Valley, the San Fernando Valley, West Los Angeles and Newport Beach.

During his remarks, Elder, known as “The Sage From South Central,” said his views have not always won him fans among his fellow African-Americans. He said he has been called everything from an Uncle Tom to a sellout, but has seldom been called wrong.

From left: L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum honorees Vera and Paul Guerin, attend the USHMM 25th anniversary dinner, which honored the Guerins. Photo courtesy of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum commemorated its 25th anniversary with a dinner on March 1 at The Beverly Hilton.

The event honored Vera and Paul Guerin, their family and the memory of Vera’s parents, Lilly and Nathan Shapell, with the National Leadership Award. Nathan Shapell survived two concentration camps, Buchenwald and Auschwitz, and became a successful real estate developer in California. He was one of the founders of the museum. In 2013, Vera sold her late father’s business, Shapell Industries, and is involved in philanthropy in the Jewish community. The event raised more than $1.3 million.

Evening participants included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who presented the Guerins with their award. During his remarks, Garcetti called the Washington, D.C., museum the “moral conscience of our entire nation.”

Broadcast journalist Pat Harvey emceed the event, which began with Wilshire Boulevard Temple Senior Rabbi Steve Leder leading the 1,000-plus crowd in the ha-Motzi.

Before the award ceremony, museum Director Sara Bloomfield and Daniel Greene, curator of the museum’s exhibition “Americans and the Holocaust,” discussed films including “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” and “Casablanca,” which influenced how Americans thought and felt about the Germans during World War II, Greene said. Just as those films did not mention the Jewish people in their depiction of the war in Europe, Americans at the time were less concerned about the treatment of Jews under the Nazis than they were about the threat the Nazis posed to American principles such as democracy.

Attendees included L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin; Samara Hutman, director of Remember Us; Andrew Cushnir, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust Executive Director Beth Kean; and Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa.

Adele and Beny Alagem, Hella and Charles Hershson, and Cheryl and Haim Saban co-chaired the dinner, the theme of which was “What You Do Matters.”

Ben Platt’s life in theater may soon include a Tony for ‘Dear Evan Hansen’

Ben Platt (right) with Mike Faist in a scene from “Dear Evan Hansen.” Photo from dearevanhansen.com

Despite a crowded field of stellar nominees, it’s not that surprising that Ben Platt, star of “Dear Evan Hansen,” is the favorite to win Best Actor in a musical when the Tony Awards are handed out on June 11.

He was practically born for the stage.

Consider his upbringing: His older brother, Jonah, has made it to Broadway and his father, Marc Platt, is a prolific Hollywood and Broadway producer. Family lore has it that musical theater CDs accompanied every Platt family car ride. Something from those “Les Misérables” and “Miss Saigon” soundtracks apparently took hold.

“At family get-togethers and simchas, we have been known to be called the ‘von Platt’ family,” said Julie Platt, a mother of three other children, referencing the singing von Trapp family from “The Sound of Music.” “Music is definitely an important and special part of our lives.”

The tagline of “Dear Evan Hansen” is “You will be found.” Through this much talked-about musical, Marc and Julie’s Platt’s fourth child hasn’t simply been found, he has arrived.

Ben Platt created the role of Evan, an awkward and isolated teenager who forges a connection with a grieving family based on a lie spread over social media. Directed by Michael Greif, who also helmed “Rent” and “Next to Normal,” “Dear Evan Hansen” features a score by the Oscar-winning “La La Land” team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The show’s nine Tony nominations include best musical.

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, a friend of the Platts since their college days at the University of Pennsylvania 40 years ago, calls the family “the Jackson 5 of the Jewish world” but hastily adds “except with better values, and I would say they do more for the world.”

Marc Platt is an Oscar- and Tony Award-nominated producer of more than 40 films, including “Legally Blonde” and “La La Land,” and Broadway’s “Wicked,” “Three Days of Rain” and “If/Then.” (He also is nominated for a Tony this year as the producer of the play “Indecent.”) Julie Platt is one of the L.A. Jewish community’s most committed leaders and philanthropists, serving as chair of the board of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and as a board member of Camp Ramah, among other organizations.

The foundation of Ben Platt’s Jewish identity was developed early. Like his siblings, Ben went to day school at Sinai and attended Camp Ramah. Values learned there are particularly helpful now, said Platt, who won rave reviews for playing the demanding role of Evan Hansen.

“It keeps me incredibly grounded during this time of insurmountable headiness, and provides a foundation of support and community that make this journey feel far more meaningful,” Platt, 23, said by email.  “As a theater artist in particular, Judaism has cultivated a unique sense of empathy in me for which I am very grateful. Judaism encourages us to see beyond the surface to try to understand those who are different from us. This has afforded me the opportunity to better comprehend the character of Evan and the characters around him.”

Ben Platt has been with “Dear Evan Hansen” since its development more than three years ago, playing the role in productions at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., off-Broadway’s Second Stage Theater and now Broadway.

In addition to its box-office success and critical accolades, “Dear Evan Hansen” is resonating with young audiences and opening up conversations between parents and children about such issues as suicide, bullying and the dangers of social media. The musical’s fans often approach Platt to share intimate stories of their own experiences.

“He’s very aware of the fact that he has no professional role in this,” Julie Platt said. “He never wants anybody to think that he is more than the person imparting this role. He tries to be as empathic as he can possibly be.”

“Evan Hansen” is light years away from the 6-year-old Ben Platt who acted in and directed backyard plays and portrayed the prince in “Cinderella” at the Adderley School for the Performing Arts. In 2002, when the producers of a three-performance summer production of “The Music Man” at the Hollywood Bowl needed a boy to play opposite Eric McCormack and Kristin Chenoweth, they called Adderley. The school recommended Platt, who got “The Music Man” gig and followed it up in subsequent Bowl engagements of “Mame,” “Camelot” and, fittingly, “The Sound of Music.” As an 11-year-old, Platt appeared at the Ahmanson Theatre as part of a national tour of Tony Kushner’s and Jeanine Tesori’s “Caroline, or Change” that also took him to San Francisco.

“He was singularly focused on the joy he felt singing and performing,” Julie Platt said. “After the first two musicals at the Hollywood Bowl, I think we were sort of onto the fact that maybe he was really going to get to do this. It’s hard to know that when you’re that young, but we sure knew this was the thing he loved more than anything in the world, and he seemed to have the blessing of being very good at it.”

Ben Platt frequently encounters aspiring actors seeking advice.

“I love getting to hear that [‘Dear Evan Hansen’] inspires them to keep doing what they love,” he said. “Being that I myself am still very young, I feel that the only advice of value I can really offer is to encourage these actors to avoid trying to fit into preconceived molds and to invest their time and energy in discovering what sets them apart and makes them unique and unmatchable.”

He continued to act in high school. Ted Walch, a longtime drama director at Harvard-Westlake who had known the Platt siblings, tabbed Ben for a role in a school production of “Gypsy” when he was 8. Seven years later, when Ben was a student at the school, he performed in several plays and musicals, including “Our Town,” “Pippin,” “City of Angels” and “Into the Woods.” He also was a member of the campus improvisation group, The Scene Monkeys, which had been started by his brother Jonah.

And although he already had notched several professional theater credits by the time he came to high school, Platt was not simply the drama kid.

“He was an exceedingly good student across the board,” Walch said. “He was a very complete kid in high school, and although his gifts in the theater were obvious to one and all, it was also equally obvious to his teachers that he was gifted in the classroom.”

His high school roles ranged from a fop in “The Servant of Two Masters” to a father in “Our Town” to the title role in the musical “Pippin.” Max Sheldon, an actor-writer and fellow Harvard-Westlake alum, recalls working out a complicated dance sequence with Platt during their senior-year production of “Pippin.” Sheldon, who had the more extensive dance background, played the Leading Player to Platt’s Pippin.

From left: Max Sheldon and Ben Platt in Harvard Westlake’s production of “Pippin.” Photo courtesy of Christopher Michael Moore

“Among the many things I admire about him is that he is just kind of fearless when he dives into things,” said Sheldon, who has stayed friends with Platt since graduation as both actors relocated to New York. “Most people who didn’t have any dance background would walk into a room having to learn a dance number and would be scared out of their minds, but Ben said, ‘No, let’s figure this out. What do we do?’ He and I took care of each other and kind of built this number together and played on his strengths and played on my strengths and decided what was going to work best for us.”

“It was a magical moment that you don’t get to experience often,” Sheldon continued, “especially with people who are as talented as Ben and as commanding of space onstage as he is.” 

Platt briefly enrolled at Columbia University but took a gap year after being cast in the film “Pitch Perfect.” Before he could return to school, he appeared in the Chicago production of “The Book of Mormon.” He later made his Broadway debut in that musical, playing the misfit and “Star Trek”-loving missionary, Elder Cunningham.

The Harvard-Westlake drama students were a tight-knit group and have remained close since graduating. Many of them have seen “Evan Hansen” multiple times, and Walch noted with satisfaction that when Platt received his caricature at the famed New York theater-district restaurant Sardi’s, several of his high school friends were there to share the moment. While Platt has been with “Dear Evan Hansen,” another Harvard-Westlake classmate and close friend, Beanie Feldstein, is performing up the street in the Tony-nominated revival of “Hello, Dolly!” On two-show days, Platt and Feldstein often meet between performances.

The knowledge that her son has a network of friends close by is comforting to Julie Platt, who, along with Marc, goes to New York for regular visits. The family gathered there for a Passover seder, which fell on a Monday. Ben participated but used a whiteboard to help conserve his voice.

Evan Hansen is a lonely, troubled and hugely vulnerable character. Asked to evaluate what it is like to watch her son’s character experience that kind of darkness, Julie Platt said, “Agony would be a good word.”

“It’s very difficult to watch Ben go to that place, and I cannot say that has lightened,” she said. “I’ve probably seen it more than 15 times, and each time with an equal amount of joy and dread.”

Wolpe can relate. Having seen Platt perform several times in recent years, the rabbi found “Evan Hansen” satisfying but also difficult to watch.

“The degree of the transformation, the totality with which he inhabited that character was stunning, and I kept reminding myself, ‘It’s OK, because he really does have good parents,’ ” Wolpe said. “I felt so bad for him in the show, and I seriously sat there saying, ‘But it’s OK, because Julie and Marc are really his parents. It’s really OK.’ ”

The Tony Awards ceremony will be televised on CBS at 8 p.m. June 11.

Federation stays neutral on Trump refugee order, despite pressure

A protest against President Donald Trump's immigration policy in New York City on Feb. 12. Photo by Stephanie Keith/Reuters

In the days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order restricting refugee admissions to the United States, a long list of Jewish organizations authored fiery statements condemning the new measures. Notably missing from their ranks was The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The L.A. Federation’s decision to refrain from taking a clear position on the executive order raised questions about whether it should make any political statements at all, hearkening to a similarly bitter debate about the Iran nuclear agreement. And while disagreements on that point simmered behind closed doors, the Federation has signaled that it would continue to abstain from taking sides on the day’s issues.

In a Feb. 2 email titled “Our Commitment to Immigration and Resettlement,” Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson addressed the executive order without criticizing it: “I want you to know that we have heard your concerns and feel the anxiety of our community,” he wrote.

For some, Sanderson’s email fell short, failing to express solidarity with impacted communities and carrying a fundraising pitch some saw as tone deaf. Within the organization’s circle of stakeholders, volunteers and employees, many raised concerns privately over whether Federation should take a stronger stand on the issue.

In a private letter obtained by the Journal, 36 alumni of Federation’s Rautenberg New Leaders Project strongly criticized Sanderson’s email for being too passive it its approach.

“We must express our profound disappointment — for some of us, even anger and shame — at ‘Our Commitment to Immigration and Resettlement,’ ” they wrote, adding their voice to a chorus of donors and community members airing their grievances internally.

Addressing themselves Feb. 6 to Sanderson and Julie Platt, chair of Federation’s board of directors, the young leaders asked Sanderson to reconsider his statement. His email, they wrote, “neither specifies the policies against which so many Jewish leaders are battling, nor identifies by name the Muslim and immigrant communities with which we are standing together. In standing silently by, the communication betrays our values as Jews, as Americans, as Angelenos, and as civic ambassadors for the Jewish Federation.”

The authors noted that their “continued voluntary and philanthropic involvement” in Federation programs would be impacted by the response they received.

The letter prompted a Feb. 13 meeting between more than a dozen young leaders and top Federation officials, including Sanderson, Platt and Richard Sandler, chair of the board of trustees for the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and former L.A. Federation board chairman.

Jay Sanderson

Jay Sanderson

The following day, the letter’s signatories and Federation leadership issued a joint statement to the Journal.

“While we don’t agree on everything, we all believe that we must continue to engage with each other honestly and openly and to find more ways to help those in need,” they said in the statement. “Working together in ways that reflect our shared Jewish values, we will find new and meaningful opportunities to stand with our community and with all Angelenos.”

According to those present, the meeting was a productive and cordial one.

“We had a group of very committed passionate leaders come, and we listened, and we talked about how we can be proactive,” Sanderson told the Journal on Feb. 14. Unlike other Jewish organizations, he said, “we’re not in the statement business.”

He stood by his Feb. 2 email, saying, “We’re a mission-driven organization that lets our work make the statement.” He made this point in the original note to the community: “Our Federation’s statement on immigration was made 104 years ago when we made the rescue and resettlement of immigrants — like our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents — a top priority,” he wrote.

He said that of the people who have responded to the email, the vast majority were positive responses.

“Oftentimes people in the community get fixated on statements,” he said, “and what I’ve learned in my career is the most successful advocacy oftentimes happens quietly, oftentimes happens behind closed doors.”

Sandler told the Journal he supported the L.A. Federation’s decision to refrain from issuing a statement on the executive order.

“Federations really should not get involved in making statements one way or another, because they need not get distracted from the work Federations are supposed to do,” he said, adding that political statements inevitably upset some Federation donors.

Some Jewish Federations decided to weigh in anyway, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, which submitted an amicus brief to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, asking it to uphold a lower court’s ruling that blocked Trump’s executive order. But JFNA, the umbrella organization for all North American Federations, remained silent on the issue.

Sandler praised Sanderson’s Feb. 2 email as “very measured” adding that “it talks about what Federations do: that we don’t ignore these issues but we’re not going to get involved in the debate.”

The conversation around Sanderson’s letter mirrored an earlier one, from July 2015, when a Federation statement opposing the Iran nuclear agreement met with backlash from community members who supported it. The Iran deal statement raised similar questions over when, if at all, it is appropriate for a body catering to the entire L.A. Jewish community to make political pronouncements.

“That statement was a learning process for us.… It made us look at who we are and what our role in the community is, and our role in the community is to be out front and doing the work,” Sanderson told the Journal.

Protocols in place now require a statement to be reviewed by the L.A. Federation’s board prior to being released. Since Sanderson’s email was not a statement, but rather a regular bi-weekly update to community members, those protocols did not apply, he said.

But one notable difference has been the full-throated opposition with which the organized Jewish community met the refugee order, while opinions on the Iran deal straddled both sides. The letter from young Federation leaders noted “the broad consensus we have already seen from Reform and Orthodox Jews” on the refugee order and which, in theory, would have given Sanderson political cover to come out in opposition.

“This was a case where I thought you’d have fairly strong unanimity of thinking here,” said Steven Windmueller, a professor emeritus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and an expert on Jewish political life.

Sanderson said the L.A. Federation will continue to abstain from political debates.

“We’ve been asked to make public policy statements in the last month five times, including positions from the right and positions from the left,” he said. “We would be a whirling dervish if we reacted to all those things.”

The shape of things to come: Jewish L.A. in 30 years

In commemoration of the Jewish Journal’s 30th anniversary, Jewish leaders discuss their hopes and predictions for the next 30 years of L.A. Jewish life.


Melissa Balaban

Executive director of IKAR

balabanMy greatest hope for the Jewish community in Los Angeles in the next 30 years is that we come together to rededicate ourselves to finding areas of commonality, rather than focusing on our divisions. We are at our best when we work toward common goals, using the wisdom of our tradition toward achieving a shared vision of the world. I would love to see an end to the divisiveness surrounding Israel, as we all work toward ensuring that Israel is a thriving Jewish, democratic and secure state, which reflects its highest Zionist ideals.


Rabbi Amy Bernstein

Kehillat Israel

When I spoke with KI congregants who have lived here for 30 years about what they hope the Jewish community will be like in the next 30 years, they said that they hope it will be a community that is warm, close, inclusive, vibrant, prosperous and safe. They hope that it will be a community that is socially engaged, as well as engaged with the larger community—where all factions get along, where there are no “others,” and where we can truly celebrate the diversity of the Los Angeles Jewish community.


Mayim Bialik

Actress and scientist

I cannot even imagine personally what 30 years from now will look like but I guess I would like to see Los Angeles Jews continue to be what I see as an example of the openness and the inquisitiveness and the beauty that Judaism really models and provide for us as a guide – I would hope that in 30 years no matter what happens politically or globally that L.A Jews continue to lead the way as part of a very significant and thriving community that we always have been.


Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

Pico Shul

Most of the growth in the community, as it has been for the past 10 years, is going to be within what is called the more traditional side of the equation on the spiritual, cultural and religious continuum. … I do have a fear that we will lose a substantial portion of millennial Jews to assimilation … but I also feel like we have the ability to do a lot to prevent that from happening. But it’s going to require a lot of dedication on the part of the community and to approach it with multiple means.


Rabbi Noah Farkas

Valley Beth Shalom

I wish day school tuition wasn’t a hindrance for people going to school.


Jesse Gabriel

Attorney and Jewish community leader

The energy, idealism, and optimism of young Jews is going to reinvigorate our communal institutions and enable us to be guided by our hopes rather than our fears. Their embrace of diversity, commitment to pluralism and inclusion, and willingness to move beyond past divisions will allow us to navigate the inevitable challenges and build a stronger and more deeply engaged community. We have much to be optimistic about!


Rabbi Emerita Laura Geller

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

geller2

[I predict] there will be fewer synagogues because the current funding model will no longer work. … Instead of membership in a particular synagogue many people will join a “kehilla” which would be a collaboration of many different synagogues that would hire clergy and teachers. … The large and growing cohort of older Jews will create alternative housing arrangements, including new ways to age in place. … What I hope will also happen is that our community becomes more inclusive, welcoming all kinds of Jews, and that we will have learned to talk to each other about difficult issues with civility and respect, including what it means to love Israel, which has remained Jewish and democratic.


Arya Marvazy

Assistant director of JQ International

aryaMy sincere hope and prediction is that these next few decades will encompass a greater wave toward radical inclusion – embracing others and their unique differences, understanding that at our core, we are all carbon copies of one another. What we express and how we identify with respect to race, religion, sexual orientation and lifestyle will serve far less to divide us, and we will truly focus on those elements of our humanity that make us one gigantic global family.


Patricia Glaser

Attorney and Jewish community leader

glaser-patty-hi-res

Over the next 30 years, I expect the Jewish community to continue to make a substantial contribution to the culture, business and very fabric of Los Angeles. Within the Jewish community, I hope that there is a conscious effort to better understand each other; that a movement emerges to bring together the disparate views and various religious groupings within Judaism in order for an intrafaith dialogue to develop that helps all of us to better understand our community and each other. I hope that younger Jews learn to understand the significance of being a Jew in America and support the State of Israel and to understand that –  whether it is $50, $500, $500 – giving is not a choice; we all must give.


Brian Greene

Executive director of the Westside Jewish Community Center

brian-greene

My hope is that in 30 years – if not sooner – Jewish communal life in L.A. will be inclusive and collaborative. Cultural and denominational divisions between Jews will feel so “ancient.” Our strength will be our commitment to being a unified community that is open and welcoming to all.


Sam Grundwerg

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles

Given the fact that the Jewish people make up only less than half of 1 percent of the world’s population, it is nothing short than a miracle that we are able to contribute to the world in so many ways, from lifesaving discoveries to high-tech innovation and medical advances. In the next 30 years, may we see Jewish L.A. become more unified, spreading that spirit and passion. When we work together as a community we grow together and we are able to better serve the incredible Los Angeles community. Just like Israel, L.A. is truly a melting pot, and provides us all an opportunity to build stronger bonds with the communities around us.


Aaron Henne

Artistic director of Theatre Dybbuk

Jewish L.A. will be the fertile soil from which provocative, challenging and adventurous artistic work from a Jewish perspective grows. We will be rich in diverse viewpoints, expressed through a variety of forms and techniques, colliding, collaborating, and contradicting each other.  We will dive deep into our Jewish narratives in order to then turn our gaze outward, engaging in the world in humane, empathetic, and mindful ways.


Samara Hutman

Executive director of Remember Us

Marie Kaufman

President emeritus of the Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Los Angeles

hutman

Our hope for them [this generation of young adults] and for all of us is that we honor all communities, that we remember our roots and how we all got here and bring that to our daily work, our lives and our community.


Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

B’nai David-Judea

kanefskyI hope that the next 30 years bring a more affordable cost of Jewish living to Los Angeles, so that the exodus of our children to other cities might slow down. I also hope that we make the effort to really listen to each other, and learn that right and left both love Israel, that traditional and liberal both love Judaism, and that in the long run, we will pay a bitter price for the momentary pleasure we receive from screaming at each other.


Jessie Kornberg

President and CEO of Bet Tzedek

jessica-kornberg-special-to-the-daily-journal-4At Bet Tzedek, as in so much of L.A.’s Jewish community, our identity has been indelibly shaped by our commitment to meet the needs of aging Holocaust survivors. Our identity for the next 30 years will similarly reflect how we respond to the needs of new populations seeking refuge in our city from violence, war, and persecution.


Kosha Dillz

Rapper

kosha-dillzThe next 30 years of Jewish L.A. are quite vibrant. I predict that … more and more Jews from around the world will migrate to our beloved, sunny Los Angeles. Tech, music and film will continue to thrive and grow to the forefront of their respective industries. We will continue to be unapologetic in our support for Israel, yet continue to engage in our criticism to be better at it, and always engage in conversations with those most critical in an educational way.


Esther Kustanowitz

Jewish Journal contributing writer and editorial director at Groknation.com

esther

I hope that Jewish L.A. will comprise and embody the best that both terms – “Jewish” and “L.A.” –  have to offer; that it will continue to be a bright example of creativity, innovation, diversity and community, and that the geography of this place continues to inspire and reflect the potential that we all have.


Shawn Landres

Co-founder of Jumpstart Labs, senior fellow at UCLA Luskin, and chair of the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission and the city of Santa Monica Social Services Commission

shawn-landresHere in Los Angeles, our continuing mandate will be to connect our core values with the aspirations and needs of our neighbors of all backgrounds and creeds, especially the most vulnerable. No doubt, individual Jewish Angelenos will continue to contribute across all sectors of our vibrant region. Our broader task is to deepen our  relationships – as a Jewish community and as stewards of Jewish tradition – with everyone in the L.A. mosaic. In 2017, too few Jewish communal leaders (and not only in Los Angeles) are willing to say “Black lives matter” or “Muslim and immigrant lives matter” without qualification or apology. Whether more of us can do so in 2047 – with whoever may need our solidarity – will define L.A. Jewry’s significance in this century.


Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz

Adat Shalom

I pray that our community plays a greater role in modeling how we can love Torah, love Israel, love one another and love our greater community without conflicting values.  


Adam Milstein

Philanthropist and Israeli American Council board chair

milsteinThe Israeli-American community will be an integral part of Jewish Los Angeles for the next three decades. It will serve as an important connector to the State of Israel, as a vibrant home for pro-Israel advocates, and as a source of strength for the broader Jewish community in our great city.


Moishe House Residents

Downtown Los Angeles

moishe-house-residentsMoishe House DTLA hopes the next 30 years will bring greater unity to the Jewish L.A. community, allowing our community to be a symbol of hope and acceptance for others in the L.A. area.


Ayana Morse

Executive Director of Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center

In 30 years, I see a Jewish L.A. that is a model for the best in local engagement, innovation and creativity. Let’s open our city’s metaphorical gates to each other and delight in the knowledge and mastery that emerges.


David N. Myers

Professor at UCLA

myers

 

I think the next 30 years will bring an intensification of two noticeable trends in L.A. Jewish life: more drift away from institutional affiliation for the majority of L.A.’s Jews, and growing prominence and market share for the Orthodox population in town. In between, we may well see a blurring of the boundary between Reform and Conservative institutions. In this way, L.A. will be like the rest of the country, except more.


Sharon Nazarian

President of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation

nazarianJewish L.A. will mirror our great city of Los Angeles, a city reflecting reflecting the richness of its immigrant communities. When we refer to the Jewish Community of Los Angeles, we will be referring not only to European Jews, but also Russian Jews, Persian Jews, Israeli Jews, Iraqi Jews, Syrian Jews, Argentine Jews, Mexican Jews, Ethiopian Jews. While we will continue to celebrate the strength of our cultural uniqueness, we will have consolidated our Jewishness and our cohesion as one community.


Julie Platt

Board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

plattOver the next 30 years, The Jewish Federation will continue to be a convener for the Los Angeles Jewish community, bringing us together from every spiritual region and every geographic region, casting as wide a net as is necessary. Our Federation will continue to strategically impact this community, informed by our Jewish values and with clear and nimble focus and mission. We will always continue to work together to care for Jews in need, ensure the Jewish future and engage positively with our broader community.


Bruce Powell

Head of school at de Toledo High School

My hope and prediction for the Jewish future of Los Angeles in 2047 is simple: I believe that the thousands of students now in our Jewish day schools will become the leaders of our community and thereby create a vibrant and even more brilliant L.A. Jewish life and vision.


Jay Sanderson

President and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

As the president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, I live with every day with the question of where we will be over the next 30 years. We are focusing on looking at the greatest challenges and the greatest opportunities facing our community and the Jewish people. And the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity facing the Jewish people is how do we connect to the next generation of Jews? How do we connect to millennials? How do we make Judaism relevant, and how do we make the Jewish community open and accessible to all Jews?


Rabbi Lori Shapiro

The Open Temple

lori-shapiroWe are going through a Jewish renaissance in Los Angeles and these seeds will proliferate. Los Angeles will become a center of Jewish spiritual creativity and art, and our ritual practice will include film and new media. I predict that our spiritual communities will have not only rabbis on staff but universalist ministers as well as artists and media producers.


Rachel Sumekh

Founder and CEO of Swipe Out Hunger 

I predict that over the next 30 years, L.A. will see the peak of its burgeoning cultural renaissance and there will be a beautiful Jewish component to it –– and one thing I know won’t change is that, Persian Jews will hold the title for greatest Shabbat dinner parties.


Amanda Susskind

Anti-Defamation League regional director 

So for the next 30 years of Jewish L.A., my hope is that we will continue to work in coalition with other minority communities as the city continues to thrive as one of the major diverse communities in the world. But my fear is there will be so many issues to deal with around the world, from climate change to hate to nuclear proliferation, that we will have very, very big challenges to stand up to injustice, and that’s why I think the work of the ADL is going to be so critical, because we do build those coalitions and bridges to other communities.


Craig Taubman

Founder of the Pico Union Project

craigtaubman-2The future of the L.A. Jewish community will bring to us what we bring to it. Rabbi Harold Schulweis said it best: “Think ought. Not what is a Jew, but what ought a Jew to be?” This could be the anthem for our children who, unlike us or our parents, don’t determine their future on what was done in the past. They ought to be inspired by the City of Angels they live in, and like angels strive to be messengers of goodness, kindness, righteousness and beauty. This is the Jewish community I aspire to build.


Rabbi David Wolpe

Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple

Today we will play prophets
Tomorrow, we’ll be fools:
Who will and won’t belong?
We’re certain to be wrong.
Whose words will never fade?
Predict, and be betrayed.
Triumphs may bring tears
‘Lasting’ disappears.
Who knows in thirty years?


Sam Yebri

Attorney and Jewish community leader

When I think of the next 30 years of Jewish Los Angeles, I think of my own daughters and look at that question through their lens. What I hope for in Jewish Los Angeles is there to be a Jewish community that represents the best of our values as Iranian-American Jews – love of family, tradition, and of Israel – as well as the best of our American-Jewish experience –  a community that is progress-oriented and open-minded, that is engaged civically, Jewishly and philanthropically – and also that cares deeply about the greater community and the greater world.


Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback

Stephen Wise Temple

Jewish life 30 years from now? Well, in addition to colonizing space, I have two words for you: rabbi robots. I’m joking, of course, that would be awful for me, personally. What I really see happening over the next 30 years is growth. I think our Los Angeles Jewish community, given its diversity and creativity, is going to grow, both in terms of the number of Jews engaged in Jewish life and in terms of how deeply they are engaging in Jewish life. Because actually now, more than ever before, people need meaning and purpose and that’s what Judaism offers. I’m very excited to be part of that story.

Beyond philanthropy: A Q&A with Julie Platt

Julie Platt is one of Los Angeles’ most devoted Jewish communal leaders and philanthropists. For the past two years, she has served as general campaign chair for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. She is also a past board chair of Camp Ramah, led the advisory board of directors for the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and serves on the board of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. For the past 36 years, Platt has been married to film and theater producer Marc Platt, whom she met as a freshman at their alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. They have five children, ages 16 to 32, and an active family foundation. On a recent morning, Platt sat down in her Westwood living room to talk about her plans for Federation when she takes over as board chair in January. “It’s not the sexiest place to be a volunteer,” she said, “so you’re doing it out of purity of purpose. And the kind of people that are attracted to that work are my kind of people.” 

Jewish Journal: You grew up in Wichita, Kan., in a very small Jewish community. What was that like?

Julie Platt: On a great day, we were 1,000 people. In my high school graduating class of 671 students, I was the only Jew. But I actually think that when you are from a small town, the necessity to stand up and be counted is even stronger. … I felt from the beginning that if we Jews didn’t look out for the Jewish community, there wasn’t anybody else to step up. It wasn’t out of a sense of peril; it was a feeling of “l’dor v’dor,” that I was a link in the chain.

JJ: What does being Jewish mean to you?

JP: I think Judaism makes sense. I think we got it right, of what people need. We need a roadmap. And, honestly, the best example I can think of are the laws of mourning. They’re so helpful. Holidays and Shabbat and rituals are, for me, an opportunity to gather as family. And that’s the most precious time for me. 

JJ: You have chosen to go beyond traditional philanthropy to play an enormous volunteer role in the Los Angeles Jewish community. Why was that important to you?

JP: [My parents] imparted to me that you have to be supportive of the community in which you live, which they both were, in a very big way. My father was the chairman of the board of education and actually integrated the school system in Wichita, which was a very big deal. So I understood the obligation to be involved civically in your community, but transcending it all was this complete responsibility to the Jewish people. I have this memory of when we all went on vacation in 1967; I was 10, and the ’67 war hit while we were on vacation. None of us ever left the room. The six of us stayed and watched television for the entire duration of the Six-Day War. I remember being terrified. 

JJ: What was your most formative Jewish experience?

JP: Camp Ramah. It changed my life. I remember no place feeling more at home as a Jew than surrounded by that environment. For me, it was like Disneyland, because I didn’t have any Jewish kids around me in Wichita, so to go and make Jewish friends all summer long was just indescribable. I counted the minutes [during the school year] till it was time to go back.

JJ: As a kid, what did you dream of being when you grew up?

JP: Honestly? I only wanted to be a mother. The dream for my life was to be a mother. Second to being a mother was finding the right husband — so I could be a mother. 

JJ: But as the daughter of very active parents — your father was an oil and gas producer and your mother was civically involved — was it rebellious not to pursue a career?

JP: I wanted to be a mother, not a stay-at-home mother. I just wanted to be a parent. That was the No. 1. Simultaneous to that, I thought about joining my father’s business, but Wichita didn’t seem where I would want to spend my life, particularly after I met Marc, who was clearly going to be in the entertainment world. But I did go into corporate banking; I had a deep love of business and of math, and wanted to use that. I went into corporate banking right out of college at University of Pennsylvania. 

JJ: Of the many Jewish institutions you’re involved with, why do you choose to devote most of your time to Federation?

JP: I do believe in it as the central convener of the Los Angeles Jewish community. What has always impressed me is that it is an organization willing to look at itself, to make sure it is on the right path. And it’s not afraid to stumble or refocus or redirect until we get it right. It’s not what people think it is.

JJ: You think Federation is misunderstood?

JP: I think people think it’s a behemoth, that it’s a black hole where you don’t know where your money is going, where we’re blindly writing checks to agencies and that we have no handle on a vision or strategy. And that’s just incorrect. We’re not a black hole. We’re not an umbrella. We’re a convener that works really carefully with partners to take care of this community in every way that we can. And if that means creating something new, we’ll do that. If it means supporting something existing, we’ll do that. And if it simply means getting out of the way because someone else is doing it better, we’ll do that. 

JJ: What has been your biggest challenge there?

JP: Not being able to successfully bring along all the people that I wish I could. And I’d say, most specifically, many people in the entertainment community. That’s sort of my chief goal as chair.

JJ: I’m so glad you brought that up! You’re married to the big-deal producer of Broadway’s “Wicked,” the “Legally Blonde” film franchise and, most recently, Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies.” So you’ve had an insider’s view of Hollywood for many years. What’s your take on why Hollywood Jews are not more active in Jewish communal life or more publicly supportive of Israel?

JP: I want to be careful, because I want to be successful with this group. I do think that the entertainment community gets a bad rap. There are more [entertainment] people who care about the Jewish people than the community thinks, but there is an enormous amount of people in entertainment whom we haven’t brought along yet. And that is my mission. Marc and I have had several small gatherings in our home, and when given the opportunity to explain our work, and speak to people one-on-one, [we have found] there is a Jewish responsibility [in Hollywood], and there is a Jewish soul. It’s rarely tapped into in the world in which they live, and I have to find the way to tap into it. One by one, I’m willing to take on the challenge.