Rivlin Honored at UCLA, Armenian Genocide Talk

February 26, 2020
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin (center) after receiving the UCLA Israel Studies Award is joined by (from left) UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies co-founders Sharon and Soraya Nazarian, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block; and Professor Dov Waxman, director of the Y&S Nazarian Center. Photo by Todd Cheney/UCLA

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin accepted the UCLA Israel Studies Award on Feb. 18, presented by the UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block presented Rivlin with a sculpture designed by artist and Y&S Nazarian Center co-founder Soraya Nazarian, who attended the award ceremony with her daughter, Sharon Nazarian, also a co-founder of the center. 

Accepting the award, Rivlin spoke about the inclusive work he is pursuing in Israel to bring together all of Israel’s citizens, including the Charedim and Arabs. 

“Israel is not a democracy only to the Jewish people,” he said. “Israel is a democracy to all its citizens, and all the people who are living along with us in Israel.”

He emphasized the importance of Jewish unity and the State of Israel’s commitment to working with Diaspora Jewry. He also highlighted how Israel has grown from a fledgling state to a global “success story. We have gone from a developing country to a world leader in innovation. But if we want to preserve this miracle, we must keep Israeli society united. There is no other way. We have to keep the whole Jewish people united.”

Expressing concern about the rise of anti-Semitism, he denounced the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as well as the vandalism in December at Iranian Jewish congregation Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills. 

Rivlin appeared at UCLA during a stopover in Los Angeles. He was en route to Fiji and Australia, where he was to make his first official visit. 

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Hillel Newman, who was among the attendees at the UCLA ceremony, told the Journal that prior to appearing at UCLA, Rivlin met with Beverly Hills City Council members at the Waldorf Astoria.

Rivlin’s visit took place amid political uncertainty in Israel as the country prepares to hold its third election in less than a year on March 2. 

The gathering in Westwood, a tented reception at Block’s residence, began with remarks by Block and Dov Waxman, director of the Nazarian Center.

“UCLA is proud to have numerous relationships with Israeli educational and cultural institutions, and we are honored to have President Rivlin visit our campus,” Block said. “I am especially proud that the Nazarian Center is a vital presence at UCLA, helping us all understand the depth and complexity of Israel’s history, society and culture.”

Introducing Rivlin to the crowd of approximately 120 people, Waxman said Rivlin has elevated the presidential role in Israel above its traditionally symbolic status. 

“In a period when Israeli society is facing numerous challenges and Israeli democracy is under stress, President Rivlin is the leading voice in Israel calling for shared citizenship, social inclusion, civil discourse and respect for democratic norms,” Waxman said.

Many leaders from the local Jewish community turned out, including Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles CEO Jay Sanderson, husband-and-wife philanthropists Naty and Debbie Saidoff, UCLA professor Judea Pearl, American Jewish Committee Los Angeles Director Richard Hirschhaut, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin, UCLA Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Aaron Lerner, attorney Sam Yebri, UCLA senior Justin Feldman and Journal contributor Tom Teicholz. 

The program included a screening of a short film produced by the Israeli government. 

Rivlin, a lawyer by training, has served as president of the State of Israel since 2014. He also has served as the Speaker of the Knesset and as a Cabinet minister. 

He is the third individual to receive the UCLA Israel Studies Award, which “recognizes individuals of extraordinary character and merit in their chosen fields,” according to a UCLA statement. Previous recipients are former Chief Justice to Israel’s Supreme Court Aharon Barak and the late Israeli author Amos Oz.

Israeli author and historian Benny Morris appeared at L.A. City Hall to discuss his book, “The Thirty-Year Genocide.” Photo courtesy of Jackie Danicki

A strong turnout of local Jews and Christians came together for an event with Israeli historian and author Benny Morris at Los Angeles City Hall on Feb. 17. 

The discussion examined Morris and co-author Dror Ze’evi’s recently published book, “The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities.”

“This cross-cultural conversation is a meaningful opportunity to bring together Jews and Near Eastern Christians,” said Philos Project co-founder and Executive Director Robert Nicholson, whose organization partnered with the Armenian National Committee of America, the American Hellenic Council and the Assyrian American Association of Southern California for the occasion. 

More than 100 people attended the event, including local Jews who were interested in learning more about the decades of ethnic cleansing that inspired Adolf Hilter, who was quoted as having said in 1939, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” 

The conversation with Morris covered the less well-known fact that Assyrian and Greek minority groups also were affected by this sustained genocide, which was officially recognized by the U.S. House and Senate in 2019.

Attendees at the Tom Bradley Tower Room event included Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Nina Hachigian, Andreas Spyrou from the Consulate General of Greece, California State Sen. Anthony Portantino, Assemblymember Laura Friedman and L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian.

From left: Ana Guerrero of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office; Cathryn Rivera-Hernandez of the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom; Torie Osborn of the Office of L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and Samantha Millman of City of L.A. planning commission. Photo by Josh Krause.

On Feb. 20, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles held CIVruta,
a daylong event that convened emerging leaders from across Los Angeles for
civic learning about how to bring democratic values to public boards and commissions.

Held at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, the gathering explored how to lead through equitable and inclusive inquiry, how to prepare for and seek appointment to a public board or commission, how to respond to bias and incompetence in public meetings and how to succeed in a public service role.

Speakers and trainers included L.A. County Supervisor Hilda SolisKelli Bernard, a commissioner for the L.A. Homeless Services Authority; Aziza Hasan of L.A.’s Civil and Human Rights Commission; and Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.

According to the Federation, “CIVruta aims to equip civic volunteers to be in productive public service relationships with people from across the rich diversity of L.A.’s ethnic and religious communities.”

Supporters of Friends of Sheba Medical Center gathered at the home of Sharona Veiseh for a culinary medicine workshop. Photo courtesy of Friends of Sheba Medical Center

Earlier this month, Friends of Sheba Medical Center (FSMC) held three culinary medicine cooking workshops featuring Dr. Rani Polak, founding director of the Center of Lifestyle Medicine at Sheba Medical Center in Israel.

Over two days, Polak led 50 supporters of FSMC in three workshops on how to prepare and cook Mediterranean dishes and the health benefits of cooking at home.

The Feb. 4 workshops were held at the homes of Sharona and Dr. Afshin Veiseh and Judy and Aron Shapiro, and the Feb. 5 workshop was held at the home of Rosanne Ziering.

FSMC raises funds and awareness for Sheba Medical Center, located in Tel HaShomer, near Tel Aviv, the
largest hospital in the Middle East. According to the organization, “Culinary medicine is a new evidence-based field that blends the art of food and cooking with the science of medicine.”

Want to be in Movers & Shakers? Send us your highlights, events, honors and simchas. Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

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