November 18, 2018

Moving and Shaking: Stephen S. Wise Temple turns 50, David Geffen honored

Stephen S. Wise Temple’s 50th anniversary jubilee gala on June 1 at the Orpheum Theatre was a reminder of how far the community has come since its founding in 1964.

“It was [Zionist leader] Stephen S. Wise who said you cannot have a good congregation unless you have good people in it. And you are the people who for 50 years came along with me as we built the most remarkable temple in the whole country,” founding Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin said, addressing a crowd of approximately 800 clergy, board members, educators, families and other guests.

The hilltop Bel Air Reform congregation is one of the largest in the nation. 

A concert in the downtown venue followed. Stephen S. Wise’s Cantor Nathan Lam participated in an array of musical numbers. Lam joined the congregation in 1976 and also is the founding dean of the cantorial school at the Academy for Jewish Religion, CA.

Stephen S. Wise Temple founding Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin spoke. Photo by Rick Williams

Joshua Nelson and the Kosher Gospel Singers offered Jewish music sung in gospel style. Wearing a sequin-studded robe, Nelson, who is Jewish and black, led a program that included a rendition of “Hine Ma Tov” set to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The crowd rose to its feet more than once, clapping along. Two backup singers, a bassist and a percussionist accompanied the pianist-vocalist-bandleader.

Musical collaborations continued through the night. To the delight of parents with children in the temple’s day school, students in costume performed numbers from “Fiddler on the Roof,” including “Tradition.” The final number featured Nelson’s band, Lam, Cantor Magda Fishman and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus.

Stephen S. Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Eli Herscher served as master of ceremonies.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti presented an award to the synagogue on behalf of the city. 

David Geffen talks about his lengthy association with UCLA, its medical school and students. Photo courtesy of  Geffen School of Medicine

Philanthropist and entertainment mogul David Geffen was awarded the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest honor, during the Hippocratic Oath Ceremony for Geffen School of Medicine graduates on May 30. 

Presented by UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, who described the prize as “super-select,” Geffen became the latest addition to a diverse list of recipients that includes Bill and Hillary Clinton and architect Frank Gehry. 

Accepting the award, Geffen told the 200 graduates assembled on the lawn outside Perloff Hall, “I went here, too — sort of …” 

Thus began a witty recounting of his life and career. He recalled the time he first visited the UCLA campus, where Geffen’s brother was a second-year law school student. It was just after his own 1960 high school graduation. 

“I remember walking around this campus wishing I had worked hard enough to attend this school,” Geffen said.

Not that the future mogul would let a trifling acceptance letter get in his way. On the application to work in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency, one of his first entertainment jobs, Geffen lied and said he had graduated from UCLA. 

“Every single day I came in [to work] early, waiting for the letter that would reveal to my boss I was not a college graduate,” he said. Geffen eventually intercepted the letter confirming his absence from the UCLA student database.

“I stuffed it in my pocket, saved it and framed it,” he said proudly, knowing his mischievous tale is now the stuff of Hollywood legend. “So, you can see, from the very beginning of my career, UCLA was very important to me!”

The prestigious medal, created in 1979, served as a tribute to Geffen’s entertainment career as well as his philanthropic achievements. In 2002, Geffen made history when he announced the largest single donation ever to a U.S. medical school, a $200 million unrestricted gift to the UCLA School of Medicine, which was swiftly renamed the Geffen School of Medicine. A decade later, he gave an additional $100 million to fund merit-based scholarships covering the entire cost of medical school, enabling an estimated 20 percent of future students to graduate debt-free. 

Whether out of sheer generosity or penance for his rascally past, Geffen told the crowd, “Now I am in a position to repay UCLA.

“It is not possible for me to exaggerate how proud I am to have my name associated with this incredible institution,” he said in closing. “My mom always told me, ‘If you have your health, you have everything,’ [and] it turns out, she was right.”

— Danielle Berrin, Senior Writer

Samara Wolpe with her father, Rabbi David Wolpe.

Samara Wolpe was presented with the 2014 Woman of the Year award by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society at its May 31 Grand Finale Gala at the Skirball Cultural Center. 

Samara said the gala was “wonderful, such a special experience.” Her friends and family all attended to cheer for her as she stood with the other nominees. “I was nervous because I’m the only person under 18 who was nominated,” she later told the Journal.

The organization presents the Man and Woman of the Year titles to whomever raises the most money for research in 10 weeks, with every dollar counting as one vote. 

Samara, a junior at Milken Community Schools, found out when she was 9 that her father, Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He is currently in remission. 

In honor of the help this research gave her father, the younger Wolpe fundraised enough money to win the competition locally. She will find out on June 30 how she did in the national competition and can’t disclose how much she raised until then. 

“If I don’t win the national competition, that’s OK with me. I still did a good thing,” she said. 

Collectively, the 20 Los Angeles candidates raised more than $1.16 million, according to the organization’s website.

Lauren Plichta, an adviser for the Man and Woman of the Year campaign, said about 500 people attended the event, which was hosted by comedian Andy Kindler. The Man of the Year was Christopher Wilno. 

Samara, 17, couldn’t have asked for a better response when she won: “My dad jumped out of his seat! It was really sweet. He did so much for my campaign; he really fought for me,” she said.

Her father has been in remission for seven years, thanks largely to the drug Rituxan, which researchers discovered with the help of funding provided by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. 

On her fundraising page, Samara recounted the story of when her father first told her, “Honey, I have cancer,” and the horror she felt at facing her father’s mortality as a child. She continued online: “I want to be part of a story where no child has to hear those words again, unless they are followed by these: “Don’t worry, honey. There’s a cure.”

— Cora Markowitz, Contributing Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email