November 22, 2019

Chabad Telethon Tops $3.7M; Israel Pre-Election Vote

Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin (left), director of Chabad West Coast, is joined by L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz at the 39th annual Chabad “To Life” Telethon. Photo by David Cohen

The 39th annual Chabad “To Life” telethon on Sept. 1 raised close to $4 million for West Coast Chabad operations.

The event commemorated the life of the late Rabbi Tzemach Cunin, founder and co-director of Chabad of Century City, who died in July. 

The live broadcast began at 5 p.m. and continued for six hours. The final donation total was $3,776,509.

Among those who turned out to Illuminate Studios in Studio City for the telethon was Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of Chabad West Coast.

“Chabad is here for people,” Cunin told the Journal, taking a break from his on-camera duties. “The driving force behind Chabad is our Rebbe [the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson], who leads today over 5,500 Chabad houses across the globe, and because of my son’s passing, [at] 43 years of age, we have undertaken to open 43 new Chabad institutions on the West Coast, which includes Nevada.”

Community leaders, including Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz and Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Hillel Newman, participated in the telethon. Hollywood producer Michael Helfant also turned out. Event producer Mike Levin helmed proceedings from the control room. Rabbi Simcha Backman of Chabad of Glendale and the Foothill Communities organized the event. Donna Miller, director of the Chabad Treatment Center, took part with a group of young men receiving treatment at the center, located on Olympic Boulevard.

The Chabad West Coast telethon is an annual, pre-High Holy Days tradition held on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. The Chasidic outreach movement conceived the event after a fire struck the Chabad’s Westwood headquarters in 1980.

Funds raised at the annual telethon benefit West Coast Chabad’s work at more than 220 branches, which serve the elderly, the homeless and hungry, and those recovering from drug addiction.

During the telethon, Chabad updated its fundraising total on the tote board every hour on the hour, with joyous music prompting Chabad students dressed in traditional Chasidic garb to rush in front of the cameras and dance, live incarnations of the “Dancing Rabbi” that has become a popular symbol of Chabad.

“I’m here today to dance and make people happy,” 16-year-old Mendel Kobalsky, told the Journal before rushing the dance floor. 

Meanwhile, a group of young women fielded phone donations throughout the evening.

“I feel like I’ve been nourished by Chabad,” Debra M., 70, who donated $72, said. 

From celebrating Passover with the Chabad of the Berkshires to visiting the Chabad website when she has a question about Judaism, Debra said the organization has always been there for her. “It’s a blessing to know you’re out there,” she said.


Israeli diplomats, embassy workers and civil servants cast their vote in Israel’s upcoming elections at the West L.A. office of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles

Israeli diplomats, embassy workers and civil servants, including Hillel Newman, the recently appointed consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, voted in Israel’s upcoming election on Sept. 5.

In a phone interview after he voted, Newman predicted one of three outcomes: Netanyahu forms a government with a narrow majority; Yisrael Beiteinu party chief and former Israeli government official Avigdor Lieberman, dubbed “kingmaker,” decides whether Netanyahu or Gantz will be the next prime minister by joining the coalition of one or the other; or Netanyahu and Gantz form a unity government.

Whatever the outcome, Newman said he enjoyed the experience of voting at the Israeli consulate’s office in West L.A. and that the chaotic nature of Israel’s elections is a testament to the country’s robust commitment to democracy.

“It’s quite an experience casting your vote, fulfilling the democratic process, doing it so far away from your home country, and it’s an interesting process,” Newman said. “This is the one and only democracy in the Middle East. It is truly the word of the people and the word of the parties.”


From left: Greg Laemmle, owner of Laemmle Theatres, Jonathan Beral, Consul for Public Diplomacy at the Israeli Consulate, Hilary Helstein, L.A. Jewish Film Festival director, Major League Baseball player Cody Decker, rapper Kosha Dillz (in front), and Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch with son Vincent attend the L.A. premiere of “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel.” Photo courtesy of L.A. Jewish Journal Film Festival

The Los Angeles premiere of “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” was held at the Ahrya Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills on Sept. 5.

The 2018 documentary, which opened on Sept. 6 at three Laemmle theaters, follows Israel’s national baseball team, which, after years of languishing and losing, finally earned a trip to the World Baseball Classic in 2017. It is a David vs. Goliath true story of an Israeli team consisting of American Jewish players, most of whom had never been to Israel before playing for the country, elevating Israel’s baseball reputation on the world stage.

A Q-and-A session followed the Thursday night screening of the film, with rapper Kosha Dillz, who has a song in the film, joining former San Diego Padre and Israeli national team player Cody Decker in a rap. The audience loved it, said Hilary Helstein, director of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, who was joined earlier in the night on the red carpet with the Israeli national team’s mascot, “Mensch on a Bench,” a tall plush toy with a tallis and beard.

Greg Laemmle, owner of the Laemmle Theatres, moderated the Q-and-A.

Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch also turned out with his son, Vincent.


Phyllis Folb (center), founder and director of the American Israel Gap Year Association (AIGYA), is surrounded by the new AIGYA Ambassadors, who are heading to Israel and will be chronicling their gap years in real time over social media. Photo courtesy of the American Israel Gap Year Association

The American Israel Gap Year Association (AIGYA) kicked off its ambassador program for previous attendees of its annual Gap Year Fair who are current recipients of AIGYA gap year services. 

According to a press release, the ambassadors chronicle their experiences from their upcoming gap years in real time and viewers will be able to tune in on AIGYA’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and see what the ambassadors are experiencing. At a recent event, the 15 ambassadors met for the first time. 

“The ambassadors will be creating a lasting effect on those participating and those watching,” AIGYA founder and Executive Director Phyllis Folb said in a statement. “We hope to continue building relationships with students that cover the entire spectrum of programs, so that every program will be represented through the eyes of the attendee.”

The gap years include traditional learning programs and co-ed Israel engagement programs. Ambassadors include Sarah Pape, a lead ambassador. 

“I didn’t even think I wanted to go on a gap year. But after I went to the AIGYA gap year fair, I felt I had to take this year for myself to answer all my questions and connect more with Israel,” Pape said.

Avi Procter, the other co-lead ambassador, said, “This spoke to my entrepreneur nature. This is a great thing to be involved with. I will be able to utilize my marketing skills as well as tell my story.”

AIGYA’s next annual Israel Gap Year Fair will be held on Nov. 21 at Shalhevet High School.


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