Moving and shaking: Celebrating MLK Jr., Avraham Fried concert at the Saban Theatre and more

The Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) sanctuary was overflowing, every one of the 1,000 seats downstairs and in the balcony filled on Jan. 18 with congregants, friends and guests from Los Angeles churches and other community groups.
January 22, 2015

The Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) sanctuary was overflowing, every one of the 1,000 seats downstairs and in the balcony filled on Jan. 18 with congregants, friends and guests from Los Angeles churches and other community groups. They came to celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in a multicultural — mostly musical — program marking the 50 years that have passed since the civil rights leader spoke from the TIOH bimah at Friday night services on Feb. 26, 1965.

In his speech, excerpts of which were played during Sunday evening’s program, King spoke of racism, militarism and poverty as the defining problems of the time. 

In the evening’s keynote address, PBS talk-show host and author Tavis Smiley (“Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year”) raised those same problems as being just as relevant today. “Sound familiar?” he said, as he quoted excerpts from King’s 1965 sermon.

Keynote speaker Tavis Smiley apeared at Temple Israel of Hollywood. Photo by Ryan Torok

With a warning that he might offend some in attendance, Smiley also speculated on how King might have reacted to the cartoons in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which sparked a terrorist attack, as well as to the Sony Pictures film “The Interview,” which depicts the assassination of North Korean President Kim Jong-un. While clearly expressing his own disapproval of the terrorists in France and without condoning the leadership of the North Korean president, Smiley advocated for “civility” instead of criticizing another’s religion in cartoons and comic satires targeting the death of another country’s leader. 

“There can be no social mobility without social civility, and, frankly, as much as I treasure my free-speech rights, we can do better,” Smiley challenged the audience.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also spoke, vowing to tackle some of the serious challenges facing society that King focused on decades ago.

“Let us raise the minimum wage, as Dr. King called upon us to do. … Let us end homelessness on the streets of Los Angeles … for our veterans and, soon after, for all,” Garcetti said.

The evening also featured video reflections on their callings by area Muslim and Christian faith leaders, followed by brief appearances by each of them — including Greg Bellamy of One Church International, the Rev. Sam Koh of Hillside Church, the Rev. Ian Davies of St. Thomas the Apostle Hollywood and Imam Asim Buyuksoy of the Islamic Center of Southern California — as well as song and dance performances from church and community groups. Performers included the Life Choir (appearing with its founder H.B. Barnum) and the Leimert Park Community Program’s Harmony Project Youth Choir led by its music director, Kenneth Anderson. The latter performed Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which garnered the first standing ovation of several throughout the night. The 1964 song was an anthem for the civil-rights movement.

As a finale, a gospel-tinged performance, complete with hand clapping, of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” had approximately 75 singers onstage at once, including members of the TIOH choir, the Life Choir and the Harmony Project. The song closed out the concert portion of the evening, which began at 7:15 p.m. and ended around 9 p.m.

TIOH Chazzan Danny Maseng served as the night’s musical director, performing Elton John’s “Border Song” with a soulful singer identified only as MAJOR, of One Church Inernational. Demonstrating the range of musical styles, Shelly Fox, a member of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and a frequent TIOH soloist, performed Mozart’s “Great Mass in C Minor” in a duet with Andrea Fuentes. Two groups of colorfully costumed young Korean-American dancers, one of near-toddlers, from the Jung Im Lee Korean Dance Academy, also performed, including a traditional fan dance.

The mastermind and producer of the event was composer and TIOH board of trustees vice president Michael Skloff (best known for composing the theme song from TV’s “Friends”). To honor Skloff’s efforts, TIOH Rabbi John Rosove presented the impresario with a framed and autographed photograph of King shaking hands with the late Rabbi Max Nussbaum, who was the congregation’s spiritual leader when King visited the synagogue a half century ago. Marta Kauffman, Skloff’s wife, an accomplished TV showrunner (“Friends”), staged the fast-paced and multifaceted event. Monica and Phil Rosenthal sponsored the evening.

Attendees included Smiley’s mother, Joyce Smiley; West Hollywood Mayor John D’Amico; and David Levinson of Big Sunday, a co-sponsor of the event and which held a clothing drive the next day at its Melrose Boulevard headquarters in honor of the MLK holiday.

Alicia Bleier, 54, a TIOH member, said she had enjoyed the evening. Speaking to the Journal during a dessert reception that followed the concert, she described King as “the most inspirational leader in the past 50 years. I pray and hope for a new Black leader who is as insightful and pragmatic as he was. … I can only hope we have another Martin Luther King.”

Martin Luther King Jr. Day-inspired Shabbat services took place across Los Angeles last weekend. 

On Jan. 16, Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple and singer/songwriter/community leader Craig Taubman (Pico Union Project) led an interfaith service at Sinai in Westwood. Guests included the Revs. Chip Murray, Mark Whitlock and Najuma Pollard, all of  USC’s Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement. The evening included a performance by H.B. Barnum’s Life Choir.

Nearby at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills that same evening, Temple of the Arts’ Rabbi David Baron officiated a service and performance that honored the Rev. Ronald Myers, a civil-rights activist and founder of the modern movement promoting the holiday of Juneteenth. The evening drew approximately 500 attendees. 

Speakers and performers included Consul General of France in Los Angeles Axel Cruau, and jazz harpist and pianist Corky Hale. Actor Gabriel Macht (“Suits”) appeared, and television editor Ari Macht served as keynote speaker. Stephen Macht, an actor/director and the father of Gabriel and Ari, produced the event.

Events took place at Temple Aliyah and Beth Shir Shalom, as well. 

At Temple Aliyah, a Conservative synagogue in Woodland Hills, congregants came together on Friday with St. Bernardine of Siena Catholic Church, the Mohammedi Center and the Islamic Society of West Valley in “prayer, music and mutual respect” in celebration of King, a press release said.

Titled “Voices of Freedom: The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King,” the event featured Life Choir; gospel artist DeBorah Sharpe-Taylor, singer John Bilezikjian, Arabic singer and actor Ben Youcef, the Voices of Peace Choir, the  Kolot Tikvah (Voices of Hope) choir and others. 

Meanwhile, Beth Shir Shalom, which is based in Santa Monica and describes itself as a “progressive, Reform synagogue,” paired with the Watts congregation Macedonia Baptist Church for the weekend. Approximately 175 individuals turned out for Friday night services, which celebrated King, at Beth Shir Shalom. On Sunday, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom served as a guest preacher at Macedonia. 

“It’s an amazing, joyous spiritual experience for a rabbi to address this combined congregation of my people along with people from Macedonia,” he said in a phone interview about the Sunday event, which also featured Macedonia’s the Rev. Everett Bell. “It’s just a privilege and an honor, and we are so committed to doing more with each other than a once-a-year celebration.” 

Nearly 1,800 people packed the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on Jan. 11 to see Avraham Fried in concert during a musical extravaganza presented by the Modern Orthodox Beth Jacob Congregation and the synagogue’s  Cantor Arik Wollheim. Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau also took to the stage and delivered an impassioned address, according to a press release.

Avraham Fried (right) sings during a concert at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. Photo by Joe Shalmoni © 2015. All rights reserved

Born and raised in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Fried is a Jewish singer, songwriter and musician whose musical style integrates variations of rock, pop and jazz, and features Jewish lyrics and themes. His hits include works sung in English, Hebrew and Yiddish. He has performed worldwide to large audiences, including a 2007 show in Jerusalem with Charedi superstar Yaakov Shwekey commemorating the 40th anniversary of the reunification of the city.

The event attracted large groups from Beth Jacob, Chabad yeshiva schools, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, Maimonides Academy, Beverly Hills High School, and YULA boys and girls high schools, as well as casual Jewish music fans, the press release stated.

Sunday night’s concert was a festive occasion, as Fried and Wollheim involved the audience from the outset, imploring them to participate by singing along, dancing and forming conga lines in the aisles. Wollheim asked why a city like Los Angeles, with such a vibrant Jewish community, isn’t host to more events like this.

A conga line formed during the Fried concert at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. Photo by Joe Shalmoni (C) 2015. All rights reserved

“What is it about Jewish-American culture that prevents this from happening, and why does Jewish music tend to be limited to weddings in this city?” the Israeli-born cantor asked, according to the press release. “Why are we not a major consumer of Jewish music?” 

Wollheim indicated that he hopes to change this trend in Los Angeles and is already mapping out ideas for a large-scale Jewish music event in 2016.

— Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer

Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles has appointed Erica Rothblum as its new head of school.

From left: Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, Sheryl Goldman (executive director of Temple Beth Am), Erica Rothblum, Rabbi Cantor Hillary Chorny, Rabbi Yechiel Hoffman (director of Youth, Learning & Engagement) and Rabbi Ari Lucas. Photo by Lee Salem

“I am excited to help Pressman continue to push forward and continue to grow its excellent programs and reputation in the community while maintaining its warm, inclusive community,” Rothblum, who started July 1, told the Journal.  

Pressman Academy houses an early education center, the temple’s religious school and a Solomon Schechter Day School. Prior to Rothblum’s arrival, Rabbi Mitchel Malkus was head of school for 12 years. He left in 2013 to work at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Md.; Temple Beth Am Rabbi Emeritus Joel Rembaum served as the interim head of school.

Rothblum grew up in suburban Boston, received an Ed.D. in educational leadership from UCLA and began her teaching career in Compton as part of the Teach for America program. Before taking the position at Pressman, she was head of school at Beth Hillel Day School in Valley Village.  

Rothblum said she was drawn to Pressman because of its national reputation for strong academics, particularly Judaic studies, and its local reputation for a strong community and “menschlikayt” behavior. She noted that there are many challenges the academy and Jewish day schools in general face. 

“We face what many Day Schools are facing. The rising costs of tuition, along with the expensive nature of being a Jew in Los Angeles, create a strain for our families. We need to continue finding ways to offer an excellent program to every Jewish child who wants a Jewish education,” Rothblum said.

— Rebecca Weiner, Contributing Writer

The Levantine Cultural Center’s 13th anniversary gala on Dec. 13 raised $50,000 for the nonprofit, which hopes to open a second, $1 million facility in either North Hollywood or Westwood by June 2015. 

Executive director Jordan Elgrably said the organization has come a long way since its inception but that the work it does is as necessary as ever. Located on West Pico Boulevard, the center presents arts and education programs on the Middle East and North Africa, according to its mission statement.

Levantine Cultural Center executive director Jordan Elgrably appears at the organization's 13th anniversary gala. Photo by Sheana Ochoa

“The need for this, I guess for better or worse, hasn’t diminished, it has only increased,” Elgrably said in a phone interview. “If you look at the events of this past summer — with the Gaza conflicts, the events in Ferguson [Mo.] — and the events in Paris last week, intolerance and racism and misunderstanding about each other is manifest, and our work — it sounds cliche to say it —  has only just begun. All I have done is scratch the surface of this.”

The gala, which took place at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach, drew approximately 500 attendees and featured a “Sultans of Satire: Middle East Comic Relief” comedy show, with performers Aron Kader, Sammy Obeid, MT Abou-Daoud, Melissa Shoshani, Sherwin Arae and Tehran.

Guests included Bana Hilal and Josh Elbaum, members of the center’s national advisory board; Ani Zonneveld, president and co-founder of Muslims for Progressive Values; Bassam Marjiya, an immigration attorney born and raised in Nazareth who has previously appeared at the center; and Nikoo Berenji, who has supported past Levantine events.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.