Moving and shaking: Max Webb’s 99th birthday, Noa at the Pico Union Project and more

How do you throw a birthday party for a community treasure who’s turning 99? You invite a few hundred of his closest friends to a fancy dinner in Beverly Hills and celebrate his life. That was the scene last Saturday night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where friends, community leaders and family members gathered for Max Webb’s birthday gala.

The evening oscillated between the dark reality of Max’s past as a survivor of 12 labor camps and six concentration camps, and the inspiration of a life dedicated to the well-being of the Jewish people. Rabbi David Wolpe, in a moving tribute, referred to a promise Max made to his mother while the Nazis were invading his hometown in Poland: “If I survive this,” he told his mother, “I will do everything I can to make sure Judaism survives.” This became the theme of Wolpe’s tribute: “Max kept his promise.” 

Among the many highlights of the evening was a poem read by family members of several generations, inside stories of Max’s life in Los Angeles from Eric Diamond, one of his longtime associates, and a speech by Max that mixed nostalgia, personal stories, defiance in the face of unspeakable adversity, gratitude for “God’s miracles” and gratitude for all those who helped him along the way. Before the evening wrapped, Max’s assistant, Steven Bryan, announced that instead of receiving gifts for his birthday, Max would hand out gifts to his favorite charities. By the time the evening was over, representatives of numerous nonprofits (including the Jewish Journal) came up to receive checks that ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 for a grand total of $1.8 million. As he passed out the checks, the deep joy on Max’s face suggested that the promise he made to his mother was still on his mind.

— David Suissa

State Farm Insurance awarded $7,500 to local Jewish high school Harkham GAON Academy as part of the company’s 2015 Get to a Better State promotion, a partnership between State Farm and radio and television personality Steve Harvey. 

From left:  State Farm's Eddie Martinez, Harkham GAON Academy principal Debora Parks, Harkham founder Rabbi Moises Benzaquen, Harkham basketball coach Nat Harkham, Harkham supporter Efrem Harkham, radio D.J. Nautica de la Cruz and Harkham parent Joanne Adirim. Photo by Ryan Torok 

A check was presented during a Feb. 23 ceremony at the Westside Jewish Community Center, where the school rents classroom space. 

“I think every school needs a little boost, a little help,” KJLH-FM DJ Nautica de la Cruz told the Journal in an interview after the brief ceremony. KJLH, a Black-owned, urban contemporary station, airs “The Steve Harvey Morning Show.”

“Where’s Steve Harvey?” Harkham freshman Netanel Bibi asked at the outset of the event, perhaps expressing what was on the minds of many of the students present. Harvey, who is based in Chicago, did not attend. 

Eddie Martinez, community relations and philanthropy public affairs associate at State Farm, presented the prize to school Principal Debora Parks, founder Rabbi Moises Benzaquen and school supporter Efrem Harkham.

Harkham GAON Academy, formerly known as Yeshiva High Tech, combines traditional and online education for grades 9 through 12. The school has approximately 50 students. The award money will help pay for basketball uniforms recently purchased by the school.

Harkham was one of three schools across the country selected for the award. The grand-prize winner, in Illinois, received $10,000; the third-place winner is in North Carolina.

More than 300 schools participated in the contest. Harkham’s entry, which explained why the school needed basketball uniforms, “pulled on the heartstrings,” Martinez said.

Describing itself as the largest Jewish student gathering in the West, the Chabad on Campus International West Coast Shabbaton was held Feb. 5-7 at Cape Rey Carlsbad Hilton Resort.

More than 200 students from Santa Monica College, USC, UCLA, CSUN, Pierce College, UC Irvine and UC Riverside attended, as did students from other universities in California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

The event featured Maccabee Task Force Foundation Director David Brog discussing the fight against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement; Major League Baseball agent Paul Cohen speaking about how Judaism has enriched his life; a Shabbat celebration; and more.

Local rabbis in attendance included Chabad at Santa Monica College Rabbi Eli Levitansky, USC Rabbi Dov Wagner, UCLA Rabbi Dovid Gurevich, CSUN Rabbi Chaim Shaul Brook, Pierce College Rabbi Isser Kluwgant, UC Irvine Rabbi Zevi Tenenbaum and UC Riverside Rabbi Matisyahu Devlin.

CSUN student Shlomit Ovadia holds the 2016 Jewish Academic Innovation Award. Photo courtesy of Chabad on Campus International 

Additionally, the Sinai Scholars Academic Symposium, a joint initiative of Chabad on Campus International and the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, took place during the Shabbaton. It featured college students presenting academic papers on Jewish topics before a panel of judges that included Academy of Jewish Religion, California Provost Tamar Frankiel. Among the presenters was Shlomit Ovadia, a student at CSUN whose presentation received the Jewish Academic Innovation Award.

Musician, producer and Pico Union Project founder Craig Taubman came together with Israeli singer-songwriter Noa at Pico Union Project after Noa’s Feb. 8 performance at the venue. A vocalist and percussionist who performs pop-inflected world music, Noa was accompanied by guitarist Gil Dor.

Craig Taubman and Israeli singer-songwriter Noa come together at the conclusion of Noa's appearance at Pico Union Project. Photo by Ryan Torok 

The concert concluded with a panel about the cultural boycott movement against Israel, moderated by Jewish Journal Senior Writer Jared Sichel and featuring Noa; Jill Hoyt, director of Creative Community for Peace; and David Pine, West Coast regional director of Americans for Peace Now.

The concert drew more than 100 community members, with Naomi Ackerman, founder and director of the Advot Project, and Eric Greene, author and civil rights activist, among the attendees.

Taubman organized the panel after receiving backlash for booking Noa, who has expressed statements sympathetic to Palestinians.

During the panel, Noa, perhaps surprisingly to some, came to Israel’s defense after a member of the audience, during a Q-and-A, accused Israel of being an apartheid state.

“Israel is not an apartheid state. It is not. I live in Israel,” Noa said, “and it is not.”

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email 

Noa, Noam most popular names for Jewish babies in Israel

Noa for girls and Noam for boys were the most popular names for Jewish babies born in Israel in 2012.

Israel’s Central Bureau for Statistics released the list of names Monday.

Noa, of biblical origin, was followed in order by Shira, which means song; Tamar, a biblical name and date; Talia, which means a female lamb; and Maya. Rounding out the top 10 are Yael, Sarah, Adele or Edel, Ayala and Michal.

Noam, which means pleasantness, was followed by Uri or Ori, which means my light, and the biblical names Itai, Yosef and David. Rounding out the top 10 are Yehonatan, Daniel, Ariel, Moshe and Eitan.

Among Muslims, Miriam was the most popular name for girls and Mohammad for boys. For Christians, the winners were Maria for girls and George for boys.

AJU’s Geller Fest spotlights the arts

In a new venture into presenting the arts, American Jewish University (AJU) will hold its first-ever Geller Festival of the Arts this summer, drawing names like Joan Rivers and Gideon Raff, the Israeli creator of “Homeland.”

Running June 16-20, the week’s four events all will be held in AJU’s Gindi Auditorium at its main campus on Mulholland Drive.

Gady Levy, vice president of AJU and dean of the Whizin Center for Continuing Education, said the festival honors Bruce and Jeanette Geller, major supporters of the Whizin Center. Bruce (1930-1978) was an award-winning screenwriter most famous for creating, writing, producing and directing the “Mission: Impossible” television series.

For the last several years, AJU sponsored a screenwriting competition in honor of the Gellers, which gave awards to three Jewish-themed screenplays. This year, Levy said, it was time to try new. 

The Geller festival will include two performances and two evening discussions (with Rivers and Raff), during which, Levy said, the two stars will “interact with the audience and answer questions in an open dialogue.”

The week will kick off June 16 at 7 p.m. with an evening of contemporary dance by BODYTRAFFIC, directed by Tina Berkett and Lilian Barbeito, and L.A. Dance Project, directed by Benjamin Millepied, a choreographer best known for his work in the movie “Black Swan.” Immediately following the performance, Berkett and Millepied will discuss the Judaism has had on their work.

On June 17 at 7:30 p.m., Raff, the Israeli writer of Showtime’s Emmy-winning series “Homeland,” will analyze the differences and similarities between the American show and Israel’s highest-rated drama of all time, “Hatufim” (abductees), on which “Homeland” is based. Raff created, wrote and directed “Hatufim,” and, according to the event’s Web site (, Geller will also address the different markets that the two shows target.

Internationally renowned Israeli singer Noa (Achinoam Nini) will perform in concert in what will be the Los Angeles premiere of her world tour on June 18 at 7:30 p.m., accompanied by a quartet and her partner, collaborator and instrumentalist Gil Dor. (See related story on p. 10.)

And on June 20, the festival will conclude with the main attraction, comedian and actress Joan Rivers. The American comedy queen will deliver her lecture, “My Life in Show Business: 135 Years and Counting.” Rivers, 79, will discuss her life and her illustrious career. Following the lecture, she will take part in an on-stage interview and take questions from the audience.

“We have been trying to get Joan Rivers for a couple of years now,” Levy said. “We are looking forward to having her share both her comedy and life story — the influence of Judaism on her long career and her take on recent events.”

Rivers and her daughter, Melissa, are in Los Angeles filming the weekly WE TV series “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?”

For tickets or more information, call (310) 440-1246 or visit

Inspired by Facebook, Israeli couple names their daughter Like

An Israeli couple has named their daughter Like, in honor of Facebook.

Lior and Vardit Adler, from the central Israel city Hod Hasharon, told the German press agency DPA that they like to give their children uncommon names.

Their other two children are named Dvash, which means honey, and Pie.

“If once people gave biblical names and that was the icon, then today this is one of the most famous icons in the world,” Lior Adler told DPA.

Following the protests that deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, an Egyptian man named his daughter Facebook, honoring the social network for the part it played in mobilizing demonstrators.

Noa Back With New Album, Daughter

Renowned recording artist Noa, known as Achinoam Nini in Israel, is currently at home basking in the glory of her latest creation.

And no, it’s not a new album.

It’s her daughter, Enéa. “It means ‘her eyes’ in Hebrew,” says Noa, who has written a song with the same title.

“My wish for her is that she sees the world always through her own eyes, and that they be eyes of love and beauty.”

Born on Aug. 12, Enéa is Noa’s second child. Her son, Ayehli, is now 3. This latest birth, says Noa, was “natural, short and painful, but that’s the way it goes.”

“My daughter is healthy and beautiful,” she says. “But I’m far from objective. And she doesn’t look anything like me. In fact, she looks like something new … not anybody’s photocopy, as well she should.”

Noa has had a busy year. She performed up until her eighth month, but admits, “Pregnancy is bound to slow you down at some point. I did not do much songwriting because creating life took up all my energy.”

Nevertheless, having children clearly agrees with her. Noa says her last album was “deeply inspired by my first child. His arrival changed my life.”

Noa considers that album, “Now,” to be her best. Her latest European tour was met with great success, particularly in Spain and Italy.

“The highlights for me were a performance in the Euro-League basketball championships, broadcast to millions throughout Europe,” she says. “That, and a live event performed in front of 400,000 people in Rome titled, ‘We Are the Future,’ organized by Quincy Jones as a follow up to ‘We Are the World.'”

The event was designed to raise funds for children who are victims of war. It was also broadcast on MTV and VHI to millions of viewers worldwide.

“I did both those performances in my seventh month of pregnancy with a big belly,” she states proudly.

And although her children have clearly inspired a great deal of her work, Noa says she’s not too keen with the idea of them following in her footsteps.

“I hope my children will love and enjoy music,” she says. “But I would not wish them a musician’s life, especially not the way the world and the music business look today. They both stink,” she states matter-of-factly.

“But,” she adds, “if they want it badly, nothing’s going to stop them, and I will always encourage them to follow their heart. I can only wish them happiness.”

In the meantime, barely a month after her daughter’s birth, Noa is back writing songs again.

“I’m really looking forward to the challenges of a new project, a new album and a tour with my newly expanded family,” she says, adding that she plans to take her kids on the road as much as possible.

Together with Gil Dor, she is currently working on songs for a new album, with several tours planned later this year. “However, we’ll mostly be writing and recording,” she says. “The year 2006 will be more of a touring year.”

But American fans won’t have to wait till then to see Noa perform. From Nov. 25 to Dec. 8, Noa will be touring the United States. She will perform at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza’s Fred Kavli Theatre on Nov. 28, presented by Temple Beth Haverim and Jewish Family of Conejo Simi and West Valley.

“I want to warmly invite all my American fans to come and see us live, to listen to the songs and really enjoy themselves,” she says. “We invest our souls into the music and the lyrics, which,” she is quick to point out, “are mostly in English.”

“I hope [our songs] will resonate with and possibly even bring hope and light to as many people as possible.”

Writing, recording, touring. It’s a punishing schedule for a mother with two small children. But her response to the inevitable question of how she manages to juggle her career with motherhood is simple.

“It’s the hardest thing in the world,” she admits. “I do it with very little sleep and with more love than you can imagine.”

The concert by Noa will be on Nov. 28, 7:30 p.m. $39-$203. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. Tickets can be purchased at the Civic Arts Plaza box office in person or by calling Ticketmaster at (213) 480-3232. For more information about Noa, visit

Noa’s Universal Appeal

When Achinoam Nini was growing up in the Bronx with her Yemenite-Israeli parents, her different name, exotic looks and diverse heritage made her feel out of place among her schoolmates. Now the qualities that alienated her as a child give her good cause to say to them, “I knew you when…”

Not long after she settled in Israel as a teen-ager, Noa (as she is known outside of Israel), rose as one of that country’s hottest stars. She has a large following both in Israel and Europe for her distinct sound, which combines American, Yemenite and Israeli music traditions; rich voice; and Middle Eastern beauty.

It’s rare that Israeli artists cross over to the tough American market, but Noa has already made some headway. A few years ago, she signed with Geffen, an American label. She has performed with various American artists, including Stevie Wonder. Just last month, she entertained President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton at a White House reception.

Noa realizes that it is still a challenge to attain the same type of following in the United States that she enjoys in Europe and the Far East.

“[In Europe], they’re not afraid of something they’re not familiar with,” Noa said in a recent telephone interview. “On the contrary, they’re quite fascinated. In the U.S., they are more suspicious of something new.”

To the American ear, Noa’s music is only partially new, which may explain her ability to win over American audiences with more ease. In her concerts and albums, she can go from singing soothing Hebrew ballads, to songs she wrote in English, to her rendition of a Madonna or Beatles hit. She and longtime collaborator Gil Dor experiment with different styles that showcase Noa’s vocal talents and eclectic background.

When she’s not touring, Noa actively participates in Israeli life. She volunteers at various organizations, and, last week, she performed with many other top Israeli artists, including Rami Kleinstein and Aviv Geffen, at a concert held in Tel Aviv to raise funds for the crisis in Kosovo.

“People are very concerned in Israel,” she said. “There’s great awareness.”

Noa is currently working on an international album and will tour more extensively once it’s completed. Amid her studio and concert work, she’s anxiously awaiting the Israeli election results. She hopes they will give her cause to celebrate, as she continues touring in June.

Noa will be performing at the Alex Theatre in Glendale on May 5. For tickets, call Telecharge (800) 233-3123.