April 19, 2019

Moving and Shaking: Downtown Seder, JQ Int’l gala, Max Spivak named VP, Dr. Ludmila Bess honored

Song, dance and lots of learning marked the Pico Union Project’s Downtown Seder, the second annual pre-Passover celebration by music producer Craig Taubman’s interfaith organization.

The April 6 event, at the former home of Sinai Temple (1909-1925) and Welsh Presbyterian Church (1926-2012), featured appearances by “A Poet’s Haggadah” contributors Rachel Kann and Rick Lupert. Joining them were Israeli Danielle Agami’s Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY; and Cantor Hillel Tigay, musical director at IKAR. In an apparently unscripted moment, attendee Theodore Bikel, the actor known for his onstage portrayal of Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof,” joined Tigay’s band for a Yiddish rendition of “Who Knows One?”

Imam Jihad Turk of Claremont Lincoln University, Pastor Omar Perich of Victory Outreach Downtown Los Angeles and the Rev. Najuma Pollard of the Word of Encouragement Ministries took part in the event, and Rabbi Mark Borovitz, of Beit T’Shuvah, the local addiction rehab inpatient treatment center, led a closing song and prayer.

Other participants included the Kolot Tikvah Choir for children, teens and adults with special needs, led by Temple Aliyah Chazzan Mike Stein, Sinai Temple Cantor Marcus Feldman, Rabbi Susan Goldberg of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, musician Kenneth Crouch, acting coach Stuart K. Robinson, musician Charlie Hickey and Israeli performer Shany Zamir.

Workshops were led by organizations such as American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the Silverlake Independent JCC and the anti-genocide nonprofit Jewish World Watch.

Allison Lee, AJWS regional director, said she helped people make their own charoset and led a text study about an interpretation of charoset by the biblical commentator Rashi that says the food represents not just the mortar, as is commonly thought, but an aphrodisiac, because of its sweet taste. According to Rashi, she said, Israelite women used mirrors to seduce Israeli men while wandering in the desert in Exodus, and the charoset is a callback to the apple trees where the men and women would lay together.

Lee referred to the event as a “reconstructed, modern interpretive seder.”

“The idea is that we wanted to leave people the week before Passover with things to inspire them, to take home to their own seders — conversation starters,” the AJWS leader said.

Sponsors included the The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Hillel at USC.

From left: Todd Shotz, Inez Tiger and Ron Galperin, honorees at JQ International’s inaugural awards awards gala garden party.

Glints of sunset lit the lawn at JQ International’s inaugural awards gala, a sublime garden party on April 6 at attorney Dean Hansell’s home in Hancock Park. In the shadow of the Tudor-style manse, more than 100 people attired in sundresses and slacks gathered to celebrate honorees Ron Galperin, Los Angeles City Controller; Todd Shotz, producer and founder of Hebrew Helpers; and Inez Tiger, principal of Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy Middle School. The event raised $40,000.

Spring was the perfect season to celebrate the coming-out of JQ, a blossoming L.A. nonprofit that caters to the Jewish LGBTQ community and its allies. At tall, white-clothed cocktail tables, guests were treated to house-made “mazeltinis” (vodka, pomegranate, lime) and “mensch juleps” (pineapple, soda, mint), along with an array of vegetarian hors d’oeuvres and cheeses. Organizers and honorees wore hand-crafted boutonnieres and offered kitschy souvenir cards declaring “We’re Hummusexual” and “LGBT = lox, gefilte fish, baba ghanoush and tahini.” 

Self-effacing humor was also on tap, with Shotz declaring himself “super Jewy and super gay,” adding that his dual identity wasn’t always a laughing matter. He said he came out “waaaay before Will moved in with Grace,” a reference to the hit sitcom “Will & Grace” that featured a gay man and a straight Jewish woman living together in New York City.  

Galperin, who in 2013 became the first openly gay city official in L.A. history, talked about the shared values of the gay and Jewish communities. Both groups, he explained, have experienced marginalization, have had to overcome powerful obstacles and feel a deep sense of communal responsibility for the “other.” Married to Rabbi Zachary Shapiro of Temple Akiba, a Reform congregation in Culver City, Galperin joked, “If you can do synagogue politics, you can do city politics.”

Tiger, a Jewish educator of South African descent, was among the first in the city to incorporate discussion of gay, lesbian and transgender identity into a Jewish school’s classroom. 

“There is no other leader or Jewish educator that has pushed us as hard to come to them [with educational material],” Asher Gellis, JQ’s executive director, said. “Usually we have to go to them. She comes to us.” 

Following the awards presentation, the event concluded quickly, because nobody — gay, straight or sideways — wanted to miss the fourth-season premiere of “Game of Thrones.”

— Danielle Berrin, Staff Writer

The 2014-2015 NFTY board-elect includes L.A. teen Max Spivak (third from right). Other members include (from left) Debbie Rabinovich, Scott Rubenstein, Olivia Kessler, Talia Capozzoli and Jacob Maier. Photo courtesy of NFTY

Max Spivak of Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica and a senior at Amino Venice Charter High School has been named vice president-elect to the 2014-2015 North American board of North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY). 

“I want to promote risk-taking and straying away from norms. … Let’s work to find new methods of presenting divrei Torah, new means of finding spirituality and significance within services while still holding true to beloved NFTY traditions,” the 17-year-old was quoted as saying in a Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) press release.

Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, URJ North American director of youth engagement, indicates in the release that Spivak and the other recently elected board members are more than ready to serve. 

“Those elected to the NFTY North America Board are some of the best and brightest Jewish teens in their own communities and together form a dynamic and inspiring group.” 

Spivak is the only local appointee. An installation ceremony will take place in June at the NFTY general board meeting in Warwick, N.Y.

NFTY, an affiliate of the URJ, celebrates its 75th anniversary year.

Nikita Bess presents the 2014 Si Frumkin Award to her grandmother, Dr. Ludmila Bess. Photo by Orly Halevy

The annual Saving Lives gala, which took place April 6 at the Beverly Hilton, honored Dr. Ludmila Bess with the 2014 Si Frumkin Award. 

The event brought together the fundraising organization Friends of Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) with the Russian-Jewish community of Los Angeles and raised approximately $300,000 for the FIDF, an organization that supports soldiers currently serving in the Israel Defense Forces as well as families of fallen soldiers.

Speakers included notable Israel supporter Haim Saban, who congratulated Bess on winning the award, which recognized her philanthropic commitment to FIDF. It was presented to her by her granddaughter, Nikita Bess. Approximately 500 people turned out for the gala.

“The Russian Jews of Greater Los Angeles have come together in support of FIDF under the leadership of Dr. Bess and a few others that are prominent members of the community,” Jenna Griffin, FIDF-western region director of operations, told the Journal.

Bess is an obstetrician/gynecologist who serves on the board of FIFD western region. She was also among seven community leaders, including Ella Frumkin, Dr. Alexander Gershman, Marina Greenberg, Michael Landver, Eugene Levin and Dr. Yelena Vaynerov, who served on the board of the gala committee.

The Si Frumkin Award honors the memory of a late Dachau survivor who was a Soviet Jewry and human rights activist. 

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