The Schwartzes and me
When Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz gave his wife, Olivia, a surprise party for her 60th birthday in Mar Vista Park a few weeks ago, it was filled with the usual assortment of Schwartz family members and their devoted entourage.
Present were their 12 children, 24 grandchildren, friends (both religious and secular), fancy Hollywood powerbrokers and international celebrities.
Reggae/rock star Matisyahu was swinging his kids; Dov Rosenblatt, the newest Schwartz son-in-law, was on a park bench playing guitar with his band, Blue Fringe; high-level lawyers from Loeb and Loeb were plotting and planning with Rabbi Mendel Schwartz, talking about the next Shabbat on the Croisette at the Cannes Film Festival, which has become a well-attended annual event; and Rabbi Mashye Schwartz and Hindel Schwartz were teaching bites of Torah amid the gourmet food, served courtesy of son and Cordon Bleu chef Rabbi Josef Schwartz.
The afternoon was spent singing, dancing and learning Torah. It was the usual Schwartz family moveable feast — an island of inclusiveness and tolerance set amid what is often a divided and parochial L.A. Jewish community.
The Schwartzes are Lubavitch Chasidim. Twenty years ago they created the successful Chai Center, which they operate out of their home. The Schwartz home also serves as their corporate headquarters; shul; scene of weekly Shabbat dinners (advertised as “Dinner for 60 Strangers”); and classroom for the constant flow of groups that come to learn (Women’s Torah and Nails on Tuesdays!) or study with Olivia Schwartz or various high-level Torah scholars (Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz or Rabbi Yitzak Ginsburg) who frequent the Schwartzes’ salon.
All these events — which are open to all who are lucky enough to know about them — are either free or require a minimal donation.
Their High Holiday services at the Writers Guild of America building in Beverly Hills are free, as are their Shabbat dinners.
Their open-minded tolerance and acceptance of any Jew who moves makes them all the more astonishing, whether hosting a large-scale event or offering comfort, sympathy and Olivia’s homemade challah to those who require it.
The Schwartzes have been my friends for more than 21 years. Their learning and charisma has had a deep effect on many Jews, not least among them Jews in Hollywood’s Jews. In the late ’80s, many friends and clients of mine in the entertainment industry were getting involved with Lubavitch and studying Jewish mysticism. We eventually started a class at the Schwartz home on Sundays. Among those who participated were Richard Dreyfuss; music executive Brooks Arthur (who produced Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song” and his albums); record producer Linda Perry; comedian and writer Bruce Vilanch, who at the time was working for Bette Midler and Billy Crystal and writing for the Oscars; and attorney Andy Stern with his wife, Jackie.
My personal Jewish journey began in New York City, where I was a guest at the home of Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, whose Shabbat dinners were home to his friends Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan. It was through Wolfe that I first met Simon Wiesenthal, and as an agent realized I could weave together my growing love of being Jewish and my work at William Morris: I have since represented Wiesenthal on several of his projects.
When I moved to Los Angeles in the ’80s, I had hoped to continue to weave my growing Jewish identity with my work. I shul hopped, met amazing teachers, but didn’t find my community until I met Rabbi Shlomo and Olivia Schwartz. Back then, I was representing Bob Dylan, and a friend of his brought me to one of the Schwartzes’ free Shabbat dinners.
In a way, I’ve never left the table.
So, naturally, I was with the Schwartzes for a week of sheva brachot for Aura, their youngest daughter, and her marriage to Dov Rosenblatt. The wedding was also typical Schwartzie — a sit-down dinner for 150 at the elegant Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, where a blend of Schwartzes danced, laughed, ate and toasted with the East Coast Rosenblatt family. (The groom’s father, Gary Rosenblatt, is editor of The Jewish Week; his mother, Judy, is equally accomplished). They were surrounded by a contingent of rabbis from Yeshiva University who married the couple.
Friends and family mingled easily with the usual collection of haute Jewish life who surround the Schwartz family. Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller and wife, Doreen, schmoozed about their upcoming trip to India with William Morris agent Shai Steinberger, life-long friend of the groom. Movie producer Scott Einbinder and powerbroker attorney Craig Emmanuelle were seen toasting with Miriam Rhodes from Jerusalem, who weekly takes women in armored cars to learn in Kever Rachel.
Watching this effortless blend of joy and learning, family and strangers and friends and chasidus, I realized how the Schwartz family embodies chesed, or kindness.
It was easy to see why so many people like me come for a Shabbat, and spend a lifetime.