May 26, 2019

Movers & Shakers: FIDF Sets Record, Politics Disrupt Film Fest

From left: Jason Blum, Israel Film Festival Founder Meir Fenigstein, Lin Shaye, Avi Nesher and David Gersh attend the opening night of the Israel Film Festival. Photo by Todd Williamson for January Images

Political polarization entered into the awards ceremony of the 32nd  annual Israel Film Festival (IFF) on Nov. 6, midterm election day, when some members of the audience booed filmmaker Jason Blum’s remarks critical of President Donald Trump and one person from the crowd attempted to rush the speaker’s podium.

Blum, producer of “Halloween” and “Get Out,” was at the microphone at the Steve Tisch Cinema Center at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills to accept the IFF Achievement in Film and Television Award. 

Video posted online shows audience members whistling, shouting and walking out of the venue as Blum attempted to deliver remarks that blamed the president for his antagonistic relationship with the media and for the spike in anti-Semitism. 

According to IFF founder and Director Meir Fenigstein, an audience member among the crowd of about 1,200 people “charged the podium” as Blum was speaking. To protect him, “festival security ushered Blum off the stage,” Fenigstein said.

After the incident, Blum tweeted about what had happened and news websites posted the text of his speech in its entirety. His speech included the following: “We have a President who calls the Press the enemy of the people. Nationalism is surging. Dog whistle politics are rampant and anti-Semitism is on the rise in ways my generation never thought imaginable.”

In a Nov. 7 statement, Fenigstein said the incident was regrettable.

“Over the past three decades, we have never shied away from allowing a filmmaker or actor to express themselves either personally or through their work,” Fenigstein said. “We have often highlighted films that some may deem not to their liking or are controversial. We in no way condone violence but do wholeheartedly support dialogue that allows people to share ideas and viewpoints in a respectful way. Sadly, some audience members at last night’s opening greatly lacked that respect and turned an evening of celebration and recognition into something else.

“This is the first time we have ever experienced anything like this,” he continued. “I am in total shock, but I realize that yesterday was a very tense day in America with the elections.”

Blum was one of several filmmakers honored during the festival’s opening night. The evening also honored Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher. 

After the incident, the festival has continued as planned, with more than 40 films showcasing Israel’s thriving film and television industry screening at the Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills and the Laemmle Town Center 5 Theatre in Encino through Nov. 20. 

The festival, a program of the IsraFest Foundation, aims to “enrich the American experience of Israel’s social and cultural diversity,” according to its website. 


Matt Weintraub, executive director of Valley Beth Shalom. Courtesy of Valley Beth Shalom

Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino has named Matt Weintraub its new executive director, effective Nov. 12.

Weintraub succeeds Bart Pachino, who will remain involved at VBS as the part-time director of new building projects and major gifts.

VBS conducted a nationwide search before hiring Weintraub for the position. 

Weintraub previously served as the associate executive director at the IKAR congregation in Los Angeles and as communications director at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business, marketing and communications management from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University and is scheduled to receive his master’s degree in nonprofit management from American Jewish University in December. 

Pachino will continue full-time through the end of the year to transition Weintraub into the new role. 

“We are grateful to Bart for his seven years of outstanding leadership, guidance and vision as Valley Beth Shalom’s executive director,” VBS President David Spiegel and Norman Levine, chair of the Conservative congregation’s search committee, said in a joint statement.  “Under his leadership, construction of the new Levine Community Center has become a reality, and VBS continues to grow as a model congregation in the American Jewish community.”


Rabbi Lisa Edwards, Rabbi Ilana Grinblat, Lia Mandelbaum, Arya Marvazy and Yoni Kollin participate in a panel about the lives of Jewish LGBTQ+ people and their community. Courtesy of JQ International

Members of the LGBTQ Jewish community discussed how they have navigated today’s difficult times and maintained a balance between joy and fear, celebration and grieving during an Oct. 27 panel discussion, “Life Lessons from the LGBTQ and Jewish Community,” at Temple Beth Am.

Speaking on the panel were Beth Chayim Chadashim Rabbi Lisa Edwards, Temple Beth Am Program Director Lia Mandelbaum, JQ Managing Director Arya Marvazy, Yoni Kollin, a member of the Teen Jewish Queer Straight Alliance (JQSA), and Nate Looney, a transgender farmer in Los Angeles.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat of the Southern California Board of Rabbis moderated. 

The speakers discussed role models for people who identify as LGBTQ, and how, when Edwards founded the first gay and lesbian congregation in Los Angeles, there were far fewer resources for the community. Today, despite the many organizations serving people in the LGBTQ community, gay, lesbian and transgender people continue to face hateful rhetoric, the speakers said.

Taking place on the day of the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the event began with a brief prayer for the 11 people killed in the attack. 

About 50 people attended, including parents of children who identify as LGBTQ.


From left: Andy Garcia, Fran Drescher, Miriam Adelson, Gerard Butler, Sheldon Adelson, Haim and Cheryl Saban, Katharine McPhee, David Foster with IDF soldiers at the FIDF western region gala. Photo by Shahar Azran

Business, philanthropic, political and entertainment leaders showed their love for the men and women of the Israel Defense Forces during the Nov. 1 Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) gala.

The evening at the Beverly Hilton, chaired by Haim and Cheryl Saban, raised a record-breaking $60 million for the FIDF and drew 1,200 attendees, including stars Ashton Kutcher; Gerard Butler; Andy Garcia, Fran Drescher, Ziggy Marley and David Foster and his fiancée Katharine McPhee, among others.

“We are thrilled that so many members of our community, including major Hollywood figures, are coming together to help us support the brave men and women of the IDF,” Haim Saban said. “Cheryl and I are extremely proud to chair this event for the 12th year, and to be part of this incredible organization that inspires more and more supporters and contributors every year.” 

Also attending were philanthropists Miriam and Sheldon Adelson; Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg; Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, with his wife Joelle; GUESS founders Maurice and Paul Marciano; FIDF National Chairman Rabbi Peter Weintraub; FIDF National President Robert Cohen; FIDF Regional President Tony Rubin and his wife, Linda; National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir; and Regional Executive Director Jenna Griffin.

Providing the top donations at the event were the Adelsons, with $10 million; the Sabans, with $10 million; and Eckstein, who donated $5 million and expressed being “deeply grateful to FIDF for the commendable support they provide the real heroes of Israel.” 

Singer Pharrell Williams, known for the hit song “Happy,” provided the musical entertainment.

The event was emceed by IDF Staff Sgt. (Res.) Izzy Ezagui, an American who moved to Israel, became a decorated squad commander in the IDF and returned to the battlefield after losing an arm in combat.

The FIDF supports the families of fallen IDF soldiers as well as Lone Soldiers who are serving in the IDF without having family in Israel. The organization also provides academic scholarships to combat veterans of Israel’s military, financial assistance for soldiers in need and aid to wounded veterans.

“The evening presented a rare and exclusive opportunity to pay tribute to the state of Israel and its brave men and women in uniform,” the FIDF said in a statement.