September 21, 2018

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.”

Trump acts on politics in the pulpit with executive order

President Donald Trump displays an Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty on May 4. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

President Donald Trump’s executive order to weaken a prohibition against religious and other nonprofit organizations from endorsing political candidates has driven a wedge between Jewish religious leaders. Some cite it as a victory for First Amendment rights while others view it as a threat to the separation of church and state.

The prohibition is a 1954 provision to the federal tax code known as the Johnson Amendment, which bars nonprofit organizations from certain political activities.

On one side of Trump’s action are clergy, such as Rabbi Marvin Heir, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who argue that religious leaders should speak out on issues they support. Hier once was censured by the Federal Elections Commission for violating the prohibition.

“We should fully honor the separation of church and state, but that has nothing to do with giving a sermon,” said Hier, who led the prayer at the White House ceremony on May 4 when Trump signed the order and who spoke at the president’s inauguration. “When you’re a rabbi or a priest, and you feel strongly about an issue, you can name names! And you can say don’t vote for him! It wouldn’t be such an aveira,” he said, using the biblical Hebrew word for sin.

Other Jewish leaders and institutions, however, expressed dismay at the order, saying it sanctioned oppressive behavior and undermined the role of clergy as unifying figures. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), a social justice advocacy group representing 900 Reform congregations across the United States, called the order “dangerously broad.”

Rabbi Joel Simonds, the RAC’s West Coast director of policy and associate rabbi at University Synagogue, said that while the pulpit should be used to rally against injustice, “justice isn’t partisan.”

“There are plenty of organizations and communities that can be partisan and that can speak out,” Simonds said. “But we have a unique place in our society and in our community to not dehumanize the other … and to preserve that safeguard [between church and state].”

The Johnson Amendment is named for then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas), who later became vice president and president. It forbids nonprofits from endorsing or opposing candidates, contributing to election campaigns or otherwise influencing legislation with public statements. Violating organizations may see their tax-exempt status revoked — although the Internal Revenue Service has seldom enforced the rule.

It does not prevent religious organizations from expressing views intended to support one side of an issue.

The president’s executive order, titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” instructed the Treasury Department not to single out religious organizations for speaking “about moral or political issues from a religious perspective” when similar activity would not be considered a violation by a secular nonprofit.

The language used in the order was a relief for those concerned that Trump favored granting religious institutions even wider latitude. In February, he had vowed to “get rid of and totally destroy” the amendment at the National Prayer Breakfast. (Only Congress can fully repeal it.)

For those who had anticipated a more drastic measure, there still was plenty to dislike about the president’s action.

“I’m concerned about what drove this executive order,” said Rabbi Sharon Brous, founder and senior rabbi of the synagogue IKAR. “I believe that if this administration were really concerned about religious freedom, that this would not be the step that one would see.”

Brous pointed to the rising tides of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as issues of religious freedom that demanded action from the White House.

“There are actual vulnerable religious minorities in the country right now that need protection, and this executive order is a bit of a dance with the players who created the ‘War on Christmas’ in order to play to the [conservative] base, and to create the sense that we are getting the back of those religious figures,” she said.

The order also directs federal agencies to consider amending the mandatory inclusion of birth control in health insurance policies offered by private employers, a change widely sought by the religious right.

The Orthodox Union (OU), a national organization that supports the Orthodox Jewish community, applauded the order for giving people the right to incorporate personal religious views into workplace policy.

Nathan Diament, the group’s executive director for policy, said supporting religious freedom had been a White House priority until Barack Obama took office in 2009.

“[President Trump] is reasserting religious liberty as a primary consideration for how the executive branch implements law and policy,” Diament said. “We don’t have as Jews the same view [as Christian groups regarding contraceptive coverage]. But we do believe religious freedom needs to be protected — and the Obama administration could have but chose not to.”

Diament added that the OU supported the Johnson Amendment and likely would not have supported the executive order had its language been more aggressive. “We’re concerned about rabbis in synagogues being pressured into taking political stances that they may not want to take and may divide their community,” he said.

Hier pointed out that clergy making political statements is already a fact of life, an assertion that Brous agreed with. Moreover, Hier said, if someone came along who really was threatening — a candidate who was anti-Israel or a supporter of Louis Farrakhan, leadero of the Nation of Islam, were his examples — there would be an obligation to speak out.

When Jesse Jackson ran for president in 1984, Hier found himself in such a scenario. Jackson had referred to New York City as a “Hymietown,” using a derogatory term toward Jews.

“We condemned it and basically said that nobody should vote for him because it indicated to me the commitment to anti-Semitism,” Hier said.

Shortly thereafter, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a nonprofit organization, received a warning letter stating that it had breached the Johnson Amendment. That encounter informs Hier’s opinion of the law today.

Brous agreed with Hier that clergy should not shy away from bad political actors. But she disputed the need to oppose them at the pulpit. “There’s a candidate that’s been trafficking in racism and bigotry and misogyny of all forms, and I did not need to stand up ever and say vote for this person or vote for the other person.

“It’s enough to say, this is about democracy versus authoritarianism, this is about decency versus indecency, this is about moral right versus moral wrong, without having to hold people’s hands and pull the lever in the voting booth.”

Still, Hier conceded, if Congress repealed the amendment, he doubted that a rabbi would have much influence over his congregants: “People don’t adopt policies based on what the rabbi says. That we have to leave for the time of the Messiah.”

He said that he would not weigh in on future elections from his station. But for those who don’t want to hear about politics when they go to pray, Hier joked “they shouldn’t join a shul.”

Wiesenthal center explains silence on Trump

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is pushing back against public criticism that it has remained silenced in the face of Donald Trump’s recent comments and actions. The same incidents that prompted the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to come out with forceful statements of condemnations regarding Mr. Trump in recent weeks.

“In the face of Trumps eight months of racism, misogyny, neo-fascism, calls for violence et.al. What exactly has the SWC done? Virtually nothing,” Scott Goldstein, a Los Angeles-based film director who used to work for the Wiesenthal Center, wrote in The Huffington Post on Monday.

Goldstein created most of the core multi-media exhibits for the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance and New York Tolerance Center. He also produced and directed the documentary “Holocaust” for the New York Tolerance Center.

Goldstein suggested that the organization is covering up for Trump since its chairman, Larry Mizel, is also on the Board of Directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

“I beg you, do something,” Goldstein concluded his post. “For the sake of decency, for the sake of carrying out your own mission statement, for the sake of the nation we love, do something loud and strong. Publicly and unequivocally condemn Donald Trump’s bigotry and hatred.”

Reached for comment, the Simon Wiesenthal Center expressed disappointment that Goldstein chose to single them out “to create the impression that we support a particular candidate.” In a lengthy statement shared exclusively with Jewish Insider, they pointed to a quote by Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in the Jewish Week last week, in which he urged Trump to denounce the endorsement of David Duke. The Human Rights NGO also issued a statement condemning Trump’s Muslim ban a few months ago.

According to the SWC, “Every four years during presidential campaigns, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which never endorses candidates for any political office, receives numerous requests from members of the public to react to statements made by various politicians who they believe have crossed the line. In the long history of the Center, we have never failed to criticize both Democrats and Republicans as far back as Jesse Jackson’s “Hymie Town” comment and Ronald Reagan for his Bitburg visit.”

Goldstein, according to the organization, sent a barrage of emails about Donald Trump and has refused to accept the explanation that the Center, as well as other human rights organizations, can’t be in a position to respond to every remark made by a politician every single day. “We are disappointed that Mr. Goldstein, who has done fine work for the Center in the past, singled us out to create the impression that we support a particular candidate,” the statement read. “Nothing can be further from the truth and Mr. Goldstein knows it. We are left to wonder whether his attack has more to do with the fact that he is angry that we have not engaged his services for our new projects.”

Moving and Shaking: Simon Wiesenthal Center gives 2013 Humanitarian Award, J. Steven Emerson honored

From left: Janice Prager, Rabbi Marvin Hier, Jim Gianopulos, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Larry Mizel and Rabbi Meyer May. Photo by Ruth Andal Photography

The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) honored Hollywood executive Jim Gianopulos with its 2013 Humanitarian Award on June 11 in recognition of his support of the SWC and the Museum of Tolerance, raising $2.2 million in the process. 

“The truly great legacy of Simon Wiesenthal and the work of the center is that those who have suffered and died did not do so in vain,” Gianopulos said after accepting the award. He is chairman and chief executive officer of Twentieth Century Fox Film.

The annual National Tribute Dinner took place at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation; Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the SWC; and Rabbi Meyer May, executive director of the center, presented the award — an honorary menorah — to Gianopulos. 

Dinner co-chairs included Bob Iger, chairman and chief executive of the Walt Disney Co.; Rupert Murdoch, founder, chairman and CEO of News Corp. and past SWC honoree; and Ron Meyer, president and COO of Universal Studios and SWC trustee.

Additionally, SWC presented posthumous Medals of Valor awards to Waitstill and Martha Sharp, American Unitarians who helped save Jews during World War II, and to Mother Maria Elisabetta Hesselblad and Mother Ricarda Beauchamp Hambrough, Catholic nuns who sheltered Jews from the Nazis in Rome. Murry Sidlin, a renowned conductor who found and re-created a powerful musical performance by Jewish concentration camp inmates, also received the award.

A nonprofit, SWC focuses on racism in America and the history of the Holocaust. It oversees the Los Angeles-based Museum of Tolerance.


J. Steven Emerson

The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology awarded Los Angeles entrepreneur, activist and philanthropist J. Steven Emerson an honorary doctorate earlier this month. 

The citation announcing the award reads: “In honor of your passionate support for Israel and its people.” A private investor and founder of the Emerson Investment Group, Emerson received the honorary degree during the June 10 Technion International Board of Governors meeting in Haifa.

Emerson’s contributions to the Technion include serving as past president and current chairman of the American Technion Society’s (ATS) Southern California chapter. ATS’ mission is to promote the Haifa-Israel based Technion Institute, which specializes in technology and the sciences. Emerson and his wife, Rita, have donated to various ATS and Technion projects.


From left: Naomi Western, Amos Shapira, Sharon Nazarian and Younes Nazarian. Photo by Leslie Barton

Iranian-Jewish community leader Younes Nazarian and his daughter Sharon co-hosted a breakfast in Los Angeles last month in honor of University of Haifa President Amos Shapira.

Appearing before supporters of higher education on May 1, Shapira described plans for the university to play a leadership role in Israel’s academic community. 

“Cognizant of the important social role we play, we are determined to create excellent research in a tolerant and diverse environment,” Shapira said. The event was held at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills.

The Nazarians, who are benefactors of the University of Haifa, hosted the breakfast as a way to welcome Shapira, who became president of the University of Haifa last year. Younes Nazarian is a philanthropist, industrialist and businessman.


The Natural History Museum (NHM) of Los Angeles County’s grand centennial celebration featured Richard Volpert, founding publisher of the Jewish Journal, and his wife, Marcia, as honorary chairs, along with Lynn Booth. The June 8 black-tie event marked the 100th anniversary of the museum. 

Constructed in 1913, NHM has undergone significant renovations in recent years. The event unveiled the Otis Booth Pavilion, the museum’s new six-story-high entrance.

Attendees mingled over cocktails and dinner, followed by an after-party. 


Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to ryant@jewishjournal.com.