September 19, 2018

Letters to the Editor: Gun Violence Debate, Phil Rosenthal and More

Gun Violence Debate

The underlying argument of gun law reform: Public safety will be achieved through legislature (“When Will It End?” Feb. 23). In light of the Florida school shooting, this argument is shaping the modern U.S. political and sociocultural landscape. However, the dialogue on gun control has diverted the public from the underlying cause of shootings: pathology.

In Europe, multiple acts of terror have taken place through the use of cars. By driving through crowds of people, terrorist attacks have killed people in masses. Even in the absence of legal gun purchases, assuming black market sales are somehow nonexistent, pathological individuals can find means to fulfill their destructive motivations.

While empathizing with the victims of this tragedy, this conversation lacks this simple empirical observation: Pathology is a problem of being; it is not a problem of legislature.

Mahmut Alp Yuksel, Los Angeles

Former President Barack Obama and the left are partly responsible for the Parkland, Fla., shooting. Obama’s Promise Program lowered Parkland’s juvenile arrest numbers from 3,000 to 600. Then it lowered the number of children disciplined and expelled; it reduced the treatment of problem children; it lowered the number of children arrested. So when the killer attacked, the police did nothing because they were part of the Promise Program.

Robin Rosenblatt, Sebastopol

What a great column by Danielle Berrin (“In America, Life Should Come Before Total Liberty,” Feb.  23)! Thank you so much for bringing up the essence of the prophetic words of Isaiah Berlin. Having lived for 33 years in a society that believed in the absolute ideal of socialism, I experienced firsthand the truthfulness of his words: Everything is justified by the goal of attaining an ideal society. I would add only this: The more noble the ideal is, the more paranoid and fanatic the society becomes. Total liberty is possible only if a single person lives on an isolated island. If two or more people are to live together as a family, society, etc., then total liberty must be replaced by other values that put life at the center of everything.

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angles

It seems to me that Ben Shapiro is a tad defensive about his hardline interpretation of the Second Amendment (“The Parkland Dilemma,” March 2). He harshly criticizes the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) for becoming strong advocates for gun safety. How dare they criticize Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for his support of lax gun safety measures? In the very next sentence, he comes to the defense of NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, arguing that she cares “deeply about their (students’) safety.”

These MSD students experienced a horrific massacre. If some of them spoke in hyperbole, it is understandable. What is Loesch’s excuse for her screed at CPAC? She accused those of us who support strong gun safety laws of being ill-informed, ignorant of the Constitution and anti-American. Yet, Shapiro does not chastise her for these comments.

Andrew C. Sigal, Valley Village

In his opposition to gun regulations, Ben Shapiro says he refuses to give up his guns to “browbeating gun control advocates.” We’re not asking him to give up his guns if he feels that they truly give him a sense of security. What we are asking is for improved background checks, introduction of “smart” guns to reduce the likelihood of accidental shootings, and restrictions on assault weapons. If people like Shapiro would listen and consider such reasonable proposals, then we wouldn’t have to shout at one another.

John Beckmann, Sherman Oaks

The “tribalism” David Suissa describes arises from a failure to develop “team skills” (Trapped Inside of Our Tribes,” March 2).

The deepening political divisions and increase in violence, such as the murder of schoolchildren in Florida, have cultural and interpersonal roots. As our culture has become increasingly technological, individuals have become focused on their smartphones and video games at a young age rather than being encouraged to develop relationships with others. Developing and maintaining relationships with others is a skill that is becoming increasingly difficult for some growing children and increasingly difficult for many adults. Violence and primitive tribalism are the consequence of deep personal isolation.

William E. Baumzweiger, Studio City


Phil Rosenthal’s Modesty

Phil Rosenthal significantly understated the level of his and Monica’s generous philanthropy to Jewish and Israel-based causes (“Phil Rosenthal’s 3 Desires,” March 2).

Just a sampling: They supported the production of the award-winning 2008 documentary about the life and death of Hannah Senesh; Monica received the JNF’s Tree of Life Award; and the couple made a significant gift to underwrite the Department of Religious Services, in memory of Phil’s uncle, Rev. A. Asher Hirsch, at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Paul Jeser via email

There is at least a third trait that “Italians and Jews share”: We talk with our hands. Hence the Yiddish joke: “How do you keep a Jew from talking? Tie his hands behind his back.”

Warren Scheinin, Redondo Beach


The Truth of Deir Yassin

The deceitful and perverse Deir Yassin “massacre” fraud was a deliberate, manipulative propaganda effort by Palestinian leadership (“The Truth of Deir Yassin,” March 2).

Perhaps anticipating the sacrosanct status of the Palestinian narrative, Jonathan Swift wrote that “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.” This would explain why professor Eliezer Tauber is still looking for an American publisher among those affiliated with the apparently now moribund “marketplace of ideas.”

Julia Lutch via emaill


What Protests Mean

Thank you, David Suissa, for writing “Obama and #IranianWomenToo,” Feb. 16).

Most of us are not brave enough to do what these women (and men) did, openly protesting an evil power —a real one, not from a movie or a novel.

I know this because I used to live in the evil empire, and I knew what an open protest would lead to. We did listen to Voice of America and Free Europe and knew of protests going on in front of the Soviet embassy, United Nations, etc. These people fought for our rights to leave, and for “refusniks” it meant a lot.

In light of this, the pretentious marches, resist movements, demands to remove old statues, and other political demonstrations seem meaningless compared with real issues of liberty (including women’s rights) that some societies face. It is very easy to participate in some march, feel good about it, then go home, knowing that there will be no consequences.

Andy Grinberg via email


A Rabbi’s Spiritual Journey

Thank you, Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, for poetically sharing your experience integrating yogic and Buddhist meditation practices with Judaism (“My Sabbatical Journey: Feeling the Drumbeat of Life,” March 2). In addition to spotlighting the enormous need for tikkun olam, meditation helps me to discern how best to use my God-given gifts to serve our world. None of us is expected to do it all, but each one of us is expected, even commanded, to do what we can. Whatever comes easily and naturally to us is exactly how to help, so go ahead, pick the low hanging fruit! What comes easily for you is difficult for others. Paralyzing guilt has no function in Jewish life.

Cathy Okrent via email


Listen and Learn

I strongly recommend to your readers a recent edition of “Two Nice Jewish Boys,” a Journal-associated podcast. It features Einat Wilf, a former Labor Party MK, who grew up supporting the two-state solution, but has since changed her mind.

It wasn’t just the failure of the Oslo Accords, the atrocities of the Second Intifada, ceaseless terrorism and repeated Palestinian rejection of good-faith offers that prompted her to “get real,” but her conversations with Palestinians themselves. She now believes, sadly, the Palestinian mindset makes a peaceful solution impossible.

Rueben Gordon, Encino


Inclusion at Sundance

Very glad to read about the Shabbat Tent at Sundance (“Sharing Some Light,” Feb. 2). I attended Sundance for 10 years — from 1998 to 2007— first as a programmer for another festival, and then as a filmmaker with a short that played Sundance in 2004. The only year I ever managed to participate in anything remotely Jewish was the year that “Trembling Before God” was an official documentary selection at the festival (in 2001). Very glad to hear that now there’s so much more, and that it is so welcoming and accessible.

Paul Gutrecht via email


The Power of Poetry

Thank you, Hannah Arin, for providing the lovely poetic parameters for wishing upon a star.

Charles Berdiansky, Culver City


New-Look Journal

Your new design format for stories is more conducive to reading all the material than the old design of presenting a starting story and continuing it on the back pages. Thank you for the change.

Ruth Merritt via email

Phil Rosenthal’s 3 Desires: ‘See Everything, Do Everything, Eat Everything’

Phil Rosenthal is best known as the creator, writer and executive producer of the critically acclaimed CBS sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” starring Ray Romano. Rosenthal’s new show, “Somebody Feed Phil,” is now streaming on Netflix, and showcases six cities: Bangkok, Tel Aviv, Lisbon, Mexico City, Saigon and New Orleans, where he eats an assortment of food ranging from high-end restaurants to street vendors. The Tel Aviv episode will be shown on the big screen at Temple Israel of Hollywood at 6 p.m. March 11.

Jewish Journal: How has your Judaism informed your work?

Phil Rosenthal: I’ve inherited a Jewish sensibility and sense of humor from my parents and all those who came before me. All the Jewish comedians, character actors and writers I was exposed to also reminded me of my family in their sense of humor. And with regard to the Italian family we portrayed on “Everybody Loves Raymond” — Italians and Jews do share two traits: all problems are solved with food, and the mother never leaves you alone. But, then again, what culture doesn’t have that? We’d get letters from Sri Lanka saying, “That’s my mom!”

JJ: Why did you want to adapt “Everybody Loves Raymond” for Russian television, despite having little knowledge of Russian culture?

PR: They asked me, and I thought, “Here’s an adventure!” And when I asked the head of Sony if I could bring a camera crew to document the whole thing and he said yes, that’s what really sealed the deal. So we did the show and made a documentary of our experience called “Exporting Raymond.” It turned out way beyond my expectations of a cultural comedy — and it’s available on Netflix, if people want to see it.

“Italians and Jews share two traits: all problems are solved with food, and the mother never leaves you alone.”

JJ: In your two food shows, “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” and “Somebody Feed Phil,” you travel to popular locations worldwide to sample the food. What prompted this?

PR: It stems from when we did an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” in Italy. Ray was not excited about going, so I thought that’s what this show should be about — his character not being excited about going, but once he’s there, he becomes very excited about everything, the food, the people, and so on. And when we filmed it, what happened to his character, I saw actually happen to the person! I thought, wouldn’t it be great to one day have a show where you could do this for other people, turn them on to the magic of traveling? It’s the greatest gift you can give yourself and your family.

JJ: You’ve been married for 28 years. What’s your secret for the longevity of the relationship?

PR: My wife is a saint. Oh, you want more? And sense of humor; I think that’s the most underrated human value. The other stuff of marriage can fade a little bit, but as long as you can laugh with your partner, that’s everything because that’s what remains at the end of the day. I think that’s how we pick our friends and that’s how we ultimately pick who we marry. The appreciation of each other’s sense of humor is everything and connects us in the deepest possible way.

JJ: Any charities close to your heart?

PR: Arts education charities. In fact, we have one run by my wife, Monica Rosenthal, called the Flourish Foundation (theflourishfoundation.org), whose mission is to support and provide opportunities for a complete education for middle school, high school and college-age students in the Los Angeles area, with a primary focus on the performing arts. We also support food banks, food charities and cancer charities.

JJ: What remains on your bucket list?

PR: The world’s pretty big. I have to see everything, do everything, eat everything. You’ll never be as young as you are right now, so while your legs still work, while you still have the breath in your lungs, go. At the end of our lives, we only regret the things we didn’t do.


Mark Miller is a humorist and journalist who has performed stand-up comedy on TV and written for a number of sitcoms.

I’ll have what Phil Rosenthal’s having

When people ask you which person in history you would most like to share a meal with, the acceptable answers are Thomas Jefferson, Shakespeare or your dead bubbe.

I used to be a Jefferson guy, too. But then I watched an episode of “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” on Netflix. Then I watched another. Then I watched them all.

And I decided the person I most wanted to have a meal with at that moment was Phil Rosenthal.

And so I did. 

We met at République on La Brea for breakfast.  Rosenthal has been interviewed quite a bit about his show, including in these pages.  It’s a story with a built-in hook: uber-successful television creator/producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond” hits the road to host a show about food. But I wanted to talk to him about something else, something I kept noticing as I watched him eat his way through Paris, Hong Kong, Florence, Koreatown.

I wanted Phil Rosenthal to talk about why he keeps crying.

I first noticed it in the Florence, Italy, episode. He wandered into a gelato shop. The owner, a woman who speaks no English, showed Phil — whom she had just met —  how she makes her ice cream. When it was ready, she spooned some vanilla gelato into his mouth. And as he spontaneously hugged her, a tear wet his eye.

What was that? Emeril doesn’t cry. Lord knows, Bourdain doesn’t cry. Yes, in those food contest shows the losers weep, but that’s different: They’re upset they won’t be on TV anymore.     

“I’m not trying to cry,” Rosenthal told me. “I’m ashamed a little, but it just happened spontaneously.”

In person, Rosenthal is very much the Phil of the show: quick-witted, enthusiastic, boyish. 

So then, what happened in Japan? I asked him.  At a small, family restaurant in Tokyo, Rosenthal sat for a multi-course, all-eel meal. It dragged. “So,” Phil asked, “what do you guys do for fun?”

Every week, the father said, we break open a bottle for “Champagne Night.” 

“Really?” Phil said. “We have Egg Cream Night.” He was joking, but his Japanese hosts grew as excited as him. “What is this ‘egg cream?!’ ”

Before long, Phil’s crew had gathered the ingredients, and Phil and a group of total strangers were toasting, laughing and bonding over real New York egg creams.

And that made Phil a little teary as well.  

“To me, it’s the quintessential scene of the series so far,” Phil said, “because it’s everything. No. 1, food bonds us together. It bonds us with everyone in the world. It’s the most human of traits to me, because it directly ties into companionship and empathy. You can’t kill people if you’re eating and laughing with them. My joke is, if those boys from ISIS would just sit down and have a piece of cake with me, everything would be OK.”

Too simple?  Consider the Los Angeles segment. Rosenthal is deeply tied to the food scene here, as an investor in many restaurants and as a benefactor of food justice groups and enterprises such as LocoL restaurant in South Central, Food Forward and Homeboy Industries. 

“I think we’re in the epicenter of great food in America right where I live,” he said.

If a standard food show visited Malibu Kitchen, it would be all about shoving some carb bomb into the host’s face as his eyes bulged out. But Rosenthal is entranced with the cranky owner. The guy turns out to have an amazing life story as a former road manager for Elvis and other top acts.    

“I feel like the world would be a better place if more people experienced a little bit of someone else’s experience,” Rosenthal told me. “The food and the humor is just the way into the connection with the people. It’s not about food, my show, it really isn’t. That’s the wallpaper. The jokes and the humor, if there is any, that’s hopefully to get you to the table. But what happens at the table?”

In Paris, a famous young pastry chef hosted Rosenthal for dinner. The generosity, the flavors, the wine — it all visibly moved Phil. I pointed out it seemed to make him tear up.

“That rice pudding really is one of the world’s great desserts!” Rosenthal said. “I don’t cry in every scene! What a lightweight here crying over every kind of food! I did not cry over the rice pudding! It may be a blink in the eye. No, I cried  … ”

I told Phil I understood. He was confessing to the converted. There are those of us who feel that way in prayer, and those who find it at the table — that magic that happens when you bring together food, friends and family to eat, drink and talk. It could happen over a celebration of a particular holiday — next month it will be Rosh Hashanah, in spring, Passover or Nowruz, or, if you’re otherwise inclined, Easter or Chinese New Year — but it’s also something else, something closer to a celebration of being human.

“That is my religion,” Phil said, nodding, “a bonding over food, over place, over community.”

To have what Phil’s having is to be open to the possibility that food can take us places even religion can’t.

“When I teared up at the gelato thing,” Phil explained, “as delicious as that thing was, it was when I gave her a kiss. Her response was to hug me back and kiss me on both cheeks. … That’s when I lost it. Because it was the connection with the person. It wasn’t just the food. It never is.”


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram  @foodaism .

In new show, ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ creator samples the globe with famous friends

Next year in Jerusalem. At least that’s Phil Rosenthal’s plan.

Rosenthal is best known as the creator and behind-the-scenes genius of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” the successful sitcom starring (and based on the comedy of) Ray Romano. But now Rosenthal is in front of the camera and the star of a new show: “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having.”

It’s a six-part, unscripted series on PBS that features him sampling local fare in exotic ports around the globe — including Hong Kong, Barcelona, Paris and Tokyo. He visits markets, artisans, vineyards and restaurants. Rosenthal’s usually accompanied by family, famous foodies and friends — Romano and Martin Short among them — with whom he shares his enthusiasm and jokes.

And, yes, assuming the show is renewed, “I would love to go to Israel,” he tells JTA in a telephone interview. “What I loved most was the people I met, and the food was spectacular. I can’t wait to go back to Tel Aviv, which is such a happening scene. I had the best chicken pita of my life there.”

And while gelato and steak were on the menu during his recent sojourns, he also sampled rare delicacies like pond loach, an eel-like fish that live in East Asian rice paddies. As a result, Rosenthal acknowledges he just might be confused with a Jewish Anthony Bourdain (who, incidentally, has one Jewish parent).

“My life is exactly like Anthony Bourdain — if he was afraid of everything,” he says. “But when we watch Bourdain — whom I love, by the way — we’re not going to do what he does. I’m not going to vacation in Beirut to be shot at. I’m not eating insects. I’m not eating the parts of animals that make you sick.

“When we watch Bourdain, we live vicariously. I’m trying to encourage people to travel. I want them to watch and say, ‘If that putz can go outside …’ Maybe that should be the name of the show.”

Rosenthal admits to having a love-hate relationship with food. He loves food — now — but not so much when he was younger. As he says in a voiceover at the start of each episode, there were “things I never tasted growing up, like food with any flavor. In our house, meat was a punishment.”

In retrospect, Rosenthal doesn’t blame his mom — it was her source material.

“My mother made recipes from a cookbook that I swear had to be anti-Semitic,” he says.

Still, Rosenthal acknowledges the importance of food in Jewish culture.

“Jackie Mason had a fantastic line that after a show, in the street, the gentiles all say, ‘Let’s have a drink.’ The Jews say, ‘Did you eat yet?'” he says.

“Food is a huge part of who we are. It’s celebratory. It’s family time. It’s maybe also celebrating abundance. In or history, there was time food was in short supply. The fact that we can eat is a symbol of personal freedom and calls for celebration.”

Of course, no matter what your religion or ethnicity, good food leads to a kind of bonhomie that fosters conviviality and creativity. Rosenthal has said, only half-jokingly, that he owes the success of “Everybody Loves Raymond” in large measure to good craft services — the food that’s put out for the people working on set.

“If there’s just crap out, you’ll grab it and go on with your day,” he says. “But if the table is suddenly filled with nice things, you’ll grab a bite and turn to the person next to you, and right away you’re talking and you’re friends.”

“These are the things I care about: food, family, friends, laughs and travel,” Rosenthal says. “And they are all included in this show. That’s why — and don’t tell PBS — I would pay them to do it.

“It’s all combined with my love of show business. I love every aspect: writing, directing, producing, performing. I love every aspect of the business — except the business.”

Rosenthal had ample time to test the limits of that love during the nine highly successful seasons of “Raymond.” Still, in the midst of the show’s success, Rosenthal admits he always feared the other shoe was going to drop at any moment.

“I can always find the downside,” he sighs.

“As I’m experiencing this wonderful success, this wonderful camaraderie, [but] as a Jew I’m thinking, ‘You’ll never have this again.’ But in a way, that’s good to know, so you can appreciate the moment while it’s happening.”

It’s not as if Rosenthal has been a recluse since the show ended. He won a Peabody Award (and earned an Emmy nomination) for co-writing “America: A Tribute to Heroes,” a benefit concert and fundraiser for victims of the 9/11 attacks that was broadcast simultaneously on 35 TV channels.

He also traveled to Russia to help produce a local version of “Raymond” that was eventually called “The Voronins.” That became the subject of a hilarious documentary, “Exporting Raymond,” which had a 2010 theatrical release and debuted on Netflix this month.

The film — which he wrote, directed and starred in — deals with Rosenthal’s frustration when he discovered that comedy doesn’t always translate well. A highlight of the documentary is when Rosenthal drinks and dines with an extended Russian family. The camaraderie he experienced there is a theme that comes up again and again in conversation.

“We’re attracted to people with a similar sense of humor and by eating with them,” he says.

In fact, it’s how Rosenthal met his wife, Monica Horan — she played Amy MacDougall Barone in “Raymond.”

“I saw her in a play and thought she was really funny,” he says. “The next time I saw her was by accident at a street-food fair. I was eating a giant rib with the juice dripping on my T-shirt and she was approaching with a mutual friend.

“When we were introduced, I told her I was a big fan of hers and she said she was a big fan of mine, which was not true. She had no idea who I was. I’ve since reminded her that our entire relationship is based on a lie. I think she liked the look of the rib in my hand.”

Rosenthal arranged to cast her in a play he was in and the rest is history.

“You know what happens when you’re in a play together,” he quips. “Before you know it, she took advantage of me.”

“I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” debuts on PBS on Sept. 28; check local listings.

Moving and Shaking: Carl Reiner and Phil Rosenthal at the L.A. Jewish Film Festival

The Saban Theatre was filled with laughter as legendary comedian/director/producer Carl Reiner and writer/producer Phil Rosenthal (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) participated in a free-flowing conversation about life, comedy and everything in between as part of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival’s opening-night ceremony. The May 1 gathering in Beverly Hills marked the start of this year’s annual festival.

The memory of Sid Caesar was the theme of the opening night, featuring a screening of “Ten From Your Show of Shows,” a 1973 collection of 10 legendary sketches from Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.”

“I hope we have fun and a lot of laughs. That’s what we’re here for,” Reiner told the Journal, as his handlers ushered him through the lobby of the historic theater. “If we don’t laugh, we fail.” 

Reiner, L.A. Jewish Film Festival executive director Hilary Helstein and others, including Jon Voight, began the night in a flash, posing for photographers on the red carpet. 

For the Q-and-A following the screening, Rosenthal was supposed to generate conversation by asking Reiner questions, but the latter made Rosenthal’s job easy, opting instead to reminisce freestyle and read passages from his latest autobiography, “I Just Remembered!” 

The subject matter for the weeklong festival included “Icons and Heroes,” “Tradition and Identity,” “Conflicts and Issues” and “History and Legacy.” It is a program of TRIBE Media Corp., which produces the Journal.

A Q-and-A with Jewish Journal Arts Editor Naomi Pfefferman; American Jewish Committee-Los Angeles’ Rabbi Mark Diamond and the Rev. Alexei Smith of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was scheduled to follow the closing night screening of the 2012 film “The Jewish Cardinal.”



Judea Pearl

UCLA computer science professor Judea Pearl has been elected to the elite National Academy of Sciences, in recognition by his peers of his “distinguished and continuing achievements in original research,” particularly in the field of artificial intelligence (AI).

Pearl, a contributing writer and occasional columnist for the Journal, is an international leader in AI, which probes the partnership between humans and robotic machines. Its applications extend to medical diagnosis, homeland security and natural language understanding.

The discipline, a subfield of computer science, aims to understand the fundamental building blocks of thought, creativity, imagination and language — those elements of the mind that make us intelligent.

Two years ago, Pearl was the recipient of the Turing Award, generally described as the “Nobel Prize of Computing.” The citation noted that “his influence extends beyond artificial intelligence and even computer science, to human reasoning and the philosophy of science.”

Born and raised in the Orthodox enclave of Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv, Pearl is perhaps best known in the Jewish community as the president, and co-founder with his wife, Ruth Pearl, of the Daniel Pearl Foundation. The foundation’s purpose is to perpetuate the ideals of their son, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was murdered in 2002 by Muslim extremists in Pakistan.

In addition, Pearl is an activist in the academic world and on the UCLA campus in championing the cause of Israel in a sometimes hostile climate.

The National Academy of Sciences was established by Congress in 1863 and signed by President Abraham Lincoln, to act as adviser to the federal government in matters pertaining to science and technology.

—  Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor



From left: Beth Chayim Chadashim’s (BCC) Rabbi Lisa Edwards; BCC 2014 Awards Brunch honorees Elissa Barrett and her wife, playwright Zsa Zsa Gershick; and Edwards’ wife, Tracy Moore. Photo by Marcia Perel Photography.

Beth Chayim Chadashim’s (BCC) 2014 Awards Brunch, which took place at the Omni Los Angeles Hotel on April 27, was “one of the most successful galas we’ve had,” according to the congregation’s new executive director, Ruth Gefner. She began full time on April 16 after having previously worked at Temple Isaiah and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

Among the event’s honorees was Brad Sears, founding director and current executive director of the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA School of Law that conducts research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. He received the Rabbi Erwin and Agnes Herman Humanitarian Award. 

Award-winning writer, filmmaker and educator Zsa Zsa Gershick and her wife, Bet Tzedek Legal Services vice president and general counsel Elissa Barrett, together were given the Harriet Perl Tzedek Award. And Felicia Park-Rogers, who served as BCC’s executive director for eight years, was honored with the Presidents’ Award. 

Founded in 1972 as the world’s first lesbian and gay synagogue, today Beth Chayim Chadashim describes itself as an inclusive community of progressive lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual Jews, their families and friends. 



American Jewish Committee-Los Angeles’ new president, Dean Schramm; Schramm’s wife, former city controller and current congressional candidate Wendy Greuel; and their son, Thomas. Photo by Ryan Torok.

The American Jewish Committee chapter in Los Angeles (AJC-LA) named attorney and producer Dean Schramm as its president during its annual meeting on April 30.

Schramm, the husband of former city controller and current congressional candidate Wendy Greuel, voiced his support of Israel, the Jewish people and the organization. 

“We know that the best way to stand up against bigotry and hatred directed at the Jewish people is to give expression to the values Judaism teaches,” Schramm said from the podium, as Greuel and the couple’s son, Thomas, looked on from their seats at a table near the front of the room. 

He succeeds Clifford Goldstein, and his election is effective immediately. Meanwhile, Goldstein is continuing on as chairman of the organization’s regional lay leadership.

AJC regional director Rabbi Mark Diamond delivered the invocation at the ceremony, which took place at the Skirball Cultural Center. It drew more than 100 guests, including AJC supporters and elected officials.

“Dean has deep and binding friendships and bonds here in Los Angeles. He cares much about this community, and he cares a lot about AJC priorities,” Diamond told the Journal.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was the event’s keynote speaker, and he used his remarks to, among other things, highlight the important role of AJC to Los Angeles. Additional participants in the program included Uri Herscher, the Skirball’s founding president and CEO, who joked that the mayor’s agenda ought to include moving City Hall to Sepulveda Boulevard, where the cultural center is located. 

The event honored Judi Kaufman, an active member of AJC’s local chapter, brain cancer survivor, poet and founder of Art of the Brain at UCLA Medical Center. AJC currently collects funds in Kaufman’s honor through an initiative known as the Judi Fund.

Among the familiar faces in the crowd were Greuel; Richard Volpert, an attorney and founding publisher of the Jewish Journal; community leader Barbara Yaroslavsky; and L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin.

AJC-LA is one of many chapters of a national organization committed to advocating for Israel, immigration reform and more. It names a new president every two years. 


Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Big Sunday Weekend goes beyond community service

Phil Rosenthal, creator and executive producer of the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” was leading a game of Bingo in the annex dining room at Canter’s Deli on the morning of May 5 — not a bad way to spend Big Sunday Weekend, the annual festival of community service that featured more than 150 projects this year.

In this case, the players consisted of about 60 mostly middle-aged and elderly ladies, along with a few older men. Some were residents of the Downtown Women’s Shelter, a permanent housing solution for the low-income and homeless of downtown’s Skid Row; others were members of the Hollywood retirement community Bethany Towers. Volunteers of all ages, some of them from local synagogues, were among the players as well.

As Rosenthal called out letters and digits, the players focused intently on the Bingo cards placed in front of each of them, marking numbers. Plates of Danish pastries and cups of coffee sat in front of them at the ready. At stake were jumbo chocolate bars, Burt’s Bees beauty products and, of course, “Everybody Loves Raymond” DVDs.

Before long, a woman in a pink T-shirt, a resident of the women’s shelter, yelled out those magical words: “Bingo!” 

The real magic, though, was the community-building happening at Canter’s, the bridging of the gap between folks who would not normally spend time together, as opposed to traditional community service projects that emphasize who are the haves and who are the have-nots. 

“Everybody wants to help, that’s what social connectedness is,” said David Levinson, founder of Big Sunday Weekend, which ran May 3-5 this year. Levinson also is the executive director of the nonprofit organization Big Sunday, which puts on Big Sunday Weekend as well as smaller-scale opportunities for giving back all year-round.

This year marked the 15th iteration of Big Sunday Weekend, with thousands of volunteers fanning out across the city, state and country. This was the first year that the initiative expanded outside of California, with events taking place in Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, Denver, Oklahoma and Georgia.

What was conceived in the ’90s as a mitzvah day involving only one synagogue, Temple Israel of Hollywood, now has grown into something of enormous proportions that includes community-wide efforts to paint schools, plant gardens, clean beaches and hiking trails, distribute clothes and books, beautify mental health facilities and animal rescue sites, feed the homeless and more. All events are non-religious and apolitical.

The weekend — it takes place over the course of three days and has the support of the Los Angeles’ mayor’s office — has grown to include all religions, ethnicities and ages. Moreover, a large number of volunteers are made up of corporations that send contingents of employees to pitch in at certain projects. Some even hold their own projects. TriNet, a national corporation that provides human resource consulting services to small to midsize businesses, sent more than 200 of its employees to volunteer.

Some events consisted of traditional community service projects: On Sunday, more than 150 volunteers gathered at The Jewish Federation of Greater Long Beach and West Orange County to make 1,000 sandwiches for Long Beach’s homeless community. Similarly, 500 volunteers turned out to the Islamic Institute of Orange County to conduct bake sales, clothing drives and food drives.

“I want to give back to the community in Los Angeles,” said Big Sunday volunteer Joel Miller, a 55-year-old founder of a literary talent agency from Mid-City. “I think it’s important for those of us in a position to help others to be a part of these opportunities.”

Other projects — such as the “Everybody Eats, Everybody Wins” events at Canter’s, Ocean Seafood Restaurant in Chinatown and Guelaguetza Restaurant on Olympic Boulevard — demonstrate a model of “community-building,” important to Levinson. Ditto for the Big Sunday “Adventures,” which brought communities together for activities such as horseback riding, a boat ride and trips to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. At each of these projects, volunteers took up half of the spots and the other half were reserved for homeless people, low-income seniors, battered women and others.

People coming together from different socioeconomic backgrounds to nosh, hang out and play games is, perhaps, Levinson’s idea of the perfect Big Sunday.

“These are my favorite events,” he said, watching the Bingo game at Canter’s. “Just bringing people out and showing them a good time.”

You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom

The following excerpt is the prologue to “You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom,” (Viking, 2006) a memoir by Phil Rosenthal, creator and executive producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2006 by Buona Sera Productions, Inc.

My brother, Richard, got married on September 5, 1993. I was the best man, and with that honor comes the giving of the toast. I had been earning a living as a writer on an assortment of television sitcoms for about four years at this point, and so I felt there was an expectation to be humorous whenever forced to speak in public — a self-imposed pressure, but real nonetheless, as if I deeply needed to communicate to people, “See, I can be funny, it’s not my fault the shows are terrible.”

And so I racked my brain for material. Material at family functions often focused on the family at hand, and my particular family had served me well in the past — years earlier I wrote a little poem at my parents’ twenty-fifth anniversary party (at their nonstop insistence) that seemed to be hilarious to the relatives and friends. “Better than Broadway!” I had been told. But now, at this wedding, I was thirty-three, and there were people there who didn’t know the family, and worse, didn’t know me — but here he is: the Hollywood toastmaster. This could be a bad wedding, meaning I could bomb. And then it hit me, an anecdote that had actually happened, that I had suppressed for several years, that drove me nuts then and thinking about it again now rekindled the nuts, and that illustrated the insanity in our family and would serve as a warning to Richard’s bride, Karen, as to why she should perhaps reconsider marrying into this psycho ward. Why she should run screaming into the hills rather than subject herself to a life of unrelenting complaining and unbearable frustration, petty domestic politics and life under maternal rule. The more I thought about this story, I realized it wasn’t funny at all, but that didn’t matter anymore. I had to tell it as a purely cautionary tale. The fact that the toast would come at the wedding reception and that my brother and his wife would be already married didn’t change the urgency of my warning.
“Karen,” I started. “There is still time to run.”

I explained: When I first started to make a little money in Hollywood, I bought my mom, for Hanukkah, a gift of the Fruit-of-the-Month Club.

And then came the phone call from my mother in Rockland County, New York: “Philip, we got the pears.”

“Oh, that’s good, Ma. You like them?”

“Yes, they’re very nice, but please . . . it’s an entire box of pears. There must be twelve or fourteen pears here. There’re so many pears. Please, Philip, do me a favor. Don’t ever send us any more food again, okay?”

I said, “Well, Ma . . . another box is coming next month.”

She said, “What? More pears?”

I said, “No, Ma, a different fruit every month.”

“EVERY MONTH? My God, Max, he got us in some kind of cult. What am I supposed to do with all this fruit?”

“I don’t know,” I told her. “Most people like it. You eat it … You share it with your friends.”
“Which friends?!”

“I don’t know … Lee and Stan.”

“Lee and Stan buy their own fruit!”

“Oh my God, Ma…”

“Why did you do this to me?”

“What is happening?”

“I can’t talk anymore, there’s too much fruit in the house!”

I went on to describe my father’s misery as well at this misfortune that had befallen them. (“You think we’re invalids? We can’t get our own fruit?”) The wedding guests laughed. No one laughed harder than my parents, who really did treat the gift of fruit from their son as if they’d received a box of heads from a murderer. Richard and Karen remain married to this day and have even brought two children into the world.

My warning didn’t take. Nobody listens to me. Maybe you will.

I guess if we have to classify this book, it is a memoir of sorts. (That’s right, Oprah, and I’ll swear it’s all true even if you make the mean face at me on the couch.) We’ll also, if you’re interested, get into how to make a show, specifically the show “Everybody Loves Raymond.” We’ll see how it came to be, how “writing what you know” is not just a saying but essential, and how almost anyone’s life can be turned into fuel for comedy. We’ll use, for example, my life — where I’m from, the other jobs and other shows I toiled on, my relationships with family, with women, with The Writers’ Room, with show business, and how all of it found its way into the work, became the work, to the point where it wasn’t work anymore. And all of it is here — in the hope that you’ll be entertained, and maybe learn a thing or two that could help you in your own career, your life, your diet. You’ll learn a little about how to write, cast, edit, direct, run, cater, and, most of all, enjoy the gift of a hit show.

I was crazy lucky to get such a gift, and for nine years, I savored it; I loved it; I was tremendously thankful for it. It would not have occurred to me to return it or leave it or be unhappy with it, let alone complain about the gift to whoever gave it to me that it was all “too much.”

You still there, Ma?

On Oct. 24 from 7-8:30 p.m., Phil Rosenthal will be at Book Soup, 8818 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.

For more information, call (800) 764-2665 or visit

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