November 18, 2018

Moving and shaking: American Friends of Magen David Adom, Breed Street Shul and more

It was the emotional highlight of the night — in fact, it would have been the emotional highlight of any night. During American Friends of Magen David Adom’s (AFMDA) star-studded Red Star Ball on Oct. 23, two victims of Hamas rocket attacks were reunited with the Magen David Adom (MDA) paramedics who saved their lives.

The reunions, kept as surprises for the survivors, happened live onstage following the premiere of a short film recounting their harrowing stories. Yarin Levy, 16, of Ashkelon, was reunited with MDA’s Einav Asulin and Neomi Zvi. Jehan Berman, 31, of Nahal Oz, was reunited with MDA’s Dr. Oren Wacht, a volunteer paramedic who teaches emergency medicine at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Yarin Levy hugs Neomi Zvi, the MDA medic who saved his life, during the AFMDA Red Star Ball. Photo by Michelle Mivzari  

If those were the emotional highlights of the black-tie dinner at the Beverly Hilton, there were plenty of entertainment high points as well. Guests were treated to a rousing musical performance by legendary singer-songwriter Paul Anka. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was sung by Scott Hoying of the a capella group Pentatonix, and Israel’s national anthem  was performed by the Rev. Robert Stearns. Honorees included Holocaust survivor David Wiener, Dr. Bill Dorfman and Gina Edwards.

Jay Leno hosted, quipping, “I guess there are no Jewish comedians.” After the former late-night talk-show host pledged his own $10,000 to the cause, he said, “We need to get more non-Jews to donate!”

The evening raised $6 million for MDA’s new national underground blood center in central Israel. MDA, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, has a mandate to serve every Israeli regardless of background, though it receives no government funding. The new center is expected to cost $100 million. The $6 million raised on Oct. 23 eclipses the record set by last year’s AFMDA Los Angeles Gala, which generated $4 million.

AFMDA’s West Coast Region Chairman Paul Guerin works the crowd at the Red Star Ball as Jay Leno looks on. Photo by Noam Chen

“We’ve been so fortunate to count on the L.A. community’s support of MDA and its medics who are on the front lines during times of war and peace,” said AFMDA Western Region President Dina Leeds, who was honored at last year’s gala, along with her husband, Fred Leeds. “After all, Israel relies on two critical agencies to save lives: the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and Magen David Adom. And now that Angelenos have met some of these MDA heroes in person, we hope that support will only grow.”

Industry titans in finance, business and entertainment lent support to the evening, including singers Toni Braxton and Pat Boone, actor and motivational speaker J.R. Martinez, actress Amy Paffrath, and pediatrician/talk-show co-host Dr. Jim Sears. Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel opened the event. Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) presented MDA Director General Eli Bin with an award and an official American flag that once flew atop the U.S. Capitol. Both items will be located in the new blood center once it’s built.

“The reunions between the Israeli civilians and their MDA lifesavers was one of the purest displays of human emotion and joy I have ever seen,” said AFMDA Western Region Chairman Paul Guerin, who chaired the event with his wife, Vera, and Beny and Adele Alagem. “We owe it to MDA’s heroes to show Americans what MDA does in Israel every single day. And supporting these incredible medics and building them a new MDA national blood center is the least we can do.”

— Staff report

Westside egalitarian congregation IKAR and Boyle Heights sustainable community garden Proyecto Jardin came together for an Aztec-Jewish Sukkot Harvest Festival on Oct. 12.

The event at Proyecto Jardin in Boyle Heights “blended the sukkah, lulav and the etrog … with the conch shell, feathered costumes, face painting and aromatic censer animating the Aztec danzas, or dance prayers,” Alisa Schulweis Reich told the Journal in an email. Reich is a co-chair of IKAR’s Green Action Minyan Tzedek social justice group. 

“In addition to sharing our beautiful and dramatic harvest rituals, the two communities celebrated the striking similarities of Jewish and Aztec agricultural wisdom: reverence for the Earth as a divine gift and for the Creator’s intention that we share its fruits fairly,” Schulweis Reich said. “Perhaps most significant, the festival brought together neighborhoods from all over the greater Los Angeles area.”

More than 75 members of IKAR turned out. Among the others who were there were Proyecto Jardin executive director Irene Pena and Erica Huerta, captain of the Danza Tlaltekuhtli dance group. 

A $5,000 ChangeMaker Challenge grant from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles supported the event. 

A stone throw’s away on the same day, more than 100 community members attended “Boyle Heights Heroes Talk About Music,” a community event at the Breed Street Shul. Legendary music producer Lou Adler, who grew up in Boyle Heights and had his bar mitzvah at the Breed Street Shul, reflected on his memories of the synagogue, the community and how growing up in the multicultural neighborhood affected the music he was exposed to and the influences it had on him.

Music legend Lou Adler, Chicano musician Martha Gonzalez, Boyle Heights Community Youth Orchestra artistic director Suzanne Gindin, and USC communication and journalism professor Josh Kun at Breed Street Shul. Photo courtesy of the Breed Street Shul Project

Martha Gonzalez, lead singer of the Grammy-winning band Quetzal, which specializes in Chicano music, also participated. Gonzales is also an academic at Scripps College in Claremont, where she is an assistant professor in the Chicano/Latino Studies department. 

Additional panelists included Suzanne Gindin, artistic director and founder of the Boyle Heights Community Youth Orchestra. Josh Kun, associate professor of communication and journalism at USC, moderated.

The event kicked off with a walking tour of the area and discussion of its Jewish past, led by the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California. For many, the shul is a symbolic reminder of the Jewish community that once thrived in the neighborhood. It is the last remaining Jewish synagogue in the area and today functions as a neighborhood community center for the neighborhood’s Latinos.

Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker, philanthropists whose family owns the Hyatt hotel chain, opened their Beverly Hills home to more than 250 people for the American Friends of the Hebrew University (AFHU) Los Angeles Region’s Bel Air Affaire on Sept. 13. The annual event raised nearly $900,000 for student scholarships at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 

From left: Torch of Learning Award honorees Steven and Bari Good with AFHU Regional Chairman Richard Ziman. Photo courtesy of AFHU 

Bel Air Affaire co-chairs Renae Jacobs-Anson and Helen Jacobs-Lepor told guests the mission of the evening was supporting Hebrew University students, who, they said, are on the front lines of the academic world.

AFHU L.A. Region Chairman Richard Ziman and AFHU L.A. Region Vice Chair Patricia Glaser presented Bari and Steven Good and Ronda and Barry Lippman, respectively, with Humanitarian Torch of Learning awards. This award recognizes leading men and women who have influenced the course of higher learning in the United States and Israel.

The Goods were recently recognized as Guardians on the Wall of Life during the Hebrew University’s 77th board of governors meeting for their philanthropic leadership. Bari is a former president of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Los Angeles office, and her husband is the founding president of the Santa Monica Synagogue and an AFHU national board of governors member.

The Lippmans have helped AFHU in their mission for nearly three decades. Barry is a Hebrew University governor, a member of AFHU’s national board and previously served as president of the Los Angeles Region board. He is a past president of the Ambassadors of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and JNF’s Los Angeles region. Among Ronda’s leadership activities, she serves as a board member of the Los Angeles chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. 

AFHU is a nonprofit organization that raises awareness and support for The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel’s most comprehensive institution of higher learning, according to the website

— Amanda Epstein, Contributing Writer

American Jewish Committee Los Angeles (AJCLA) has named a new assistant regional director, Siamak Kordestani. He began working at AJCLA in August. He succeeds Michael Aurit. 

Born in Tehran, Iran, Kordestani grew up in Los Angeles. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in security studies from Georgetown University. 

AJCLA Assistant Regional Director Siamak Kordestani. Photo courtesy of AJCLA 

He joins a staff of 10 that includes AJCLA Regional Director Rabbi Mark Diamond. 

Kordestani previously worked as a staff associate for the Committee on Foreign Affairs at the U.S. House of Representatives. 

At AJCLA, Kordestani handles public policy, communications, issues concerning Iran and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. He also staffs the international relations program along with AJCLA Associate Regional Director Gosia Weiss and AJCLA Assistant Regional Director Anna Prager.

“AJCLA’s mission is to enhance the well-being of the Jewish people and Israel, and advance democratic values in the United States and around the world,” according to 

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