November 11, 2019

Moving and shaking: FIDF Gala, Texas Hold’em Poker Classic, Our House and more

Hollywood A-listers Barbra Streisand, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Pamela Anderson were among those who attended the eighth annual Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region Gala on Nov. 6; the event raised an unprecedented $33 million to fund the educational, cultural, social and economic needs of IDF soldiers and their families.

In the purple-lit ballroom of the Beverly Hilton hotel, a cocktail reception was followed by a three-course dinner and a program emceed by political analyst and best-selling author Monica Crowley.

Notable donors included Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison; brothers Maurice and Paul Marciano of Guess Inc.; event chairs Cheryl and Haim Saban; casino mogul billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam; New York Giants’ Chairman Steve Tisch; and Dell Inc. founder Michael Dell and his wife, Susan.

Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean — whose band canceled its performances in Israel this past summer during the Gaza war but will play three sold-out shows there next year — made a donation as well. 

Judy and Bud Levin donated $5,000 on behalf of their son, Cpl. Max Levin, a Lone Soldier and New Community Jewish High School graduate who was injured during Operation Protective Edge. 

Entertainment included David Foster and Friends, The Tenors and, for the finale, Ricky Martin.

Aside from the glitz and glamour, the gala had plenty of serious moments. One IDF first lieutenant took the stage and said, “This summer, too many [IDF soldiers] made the ultimate sacrifice.” His twin brother, 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, was one of 66 fallen soldiers. 

“Every single one of them is a hero,” Haim Saban said. 

— Tess Cutler, Contributing Writer

Actor Jason Alexander (“Seinfeld”) and Teri Hatcher (“Desperate Housewives”) were among the famous faces who turned out for Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) second annual Texas Hold’em Poker Classic on Oct. 26 at the Commerce Casino.

From left: Josh Neufeld, Jim Hess, Teri Hatcher, Jason Alexander and Rob Schiller competed in the Jewish National Fund’s second annual Texas Hold’em Poker Classic. Photo courtesy of JNF

“For a second time, this event was really well run, a lot of fun and has tremendous growth potential,” Alexander said in a press release. “I look forward to playing with JNF again.”

The event drew nearly 100 attendees, who each paid $200 to buy into the pot. Poker stars Josh Neufeld and Jim Hess were among the participants, as was Hollywood director Rob Schiller (“The King of Queens”). 

The fundraiser helped collect $54,000 for JNF Project Baseball, which, according to the JNF website, is focused on building state-of-the-art baseball and softball fields across Israel. The organization’s mission is developing Israeli land and infrastructure.

JNF associate director Lou Rosenberg deemed the event a success. “We are extremely pleased at the level of excitement and positive response within the community that this event generated, and we believe it will go a long way toward building the foundation of an annual event that should double in size for next year,” he said in a press release.

The Women of Reform Judaism’s (WRJ) Pacific District has named Phyllis Bigelson, a member of Temple Ahavat Shalom (TAS) in Northridge, as its president. 

“It was either move up or out,” Bigelson, 62, said of her appointment. “It’s something I really enjoy.” 

Temple Ahavat Shalom Cantor Jen Roher (left) and new WRJ president and Ahavat Shalom congregant Phyllis Bigelson, who was installed Oct. 25. Photo by Sheri Langer/WRJ Pacific District

Bigelson previously served as vice president of the WRJ Pacific District. Her installation ceremony, held at the Hilton Pasadena on Oct. 25, was a highlight of the WRJ Pacific District Convention. Musician Julie Silver, TAS Rabbi Barry Lutz and WRJ Vice President Sarah Charney participated. TAS Cantor Jen Roher was part of the day’s events as well.

The mother of two and grandmother of four succeeds Ellen Bick of Congregation Beth Israel based in Portland, Ore. Judie Shor-Ning of Albuquerque, N.M., the vice president of WRJ Pacific District, will succeed Bigelson in two years. 

When not working on behalf of Reform women, Bigelson, along with her husband, William, run the CPA firm William Bigelson CPA Inc. The two have been married for 44 years. 

More than 170 attendees turned out to the multiday conference, whose theme was “Dreams to Reality: Planning the Next 100 Years.” Bigelson served as the event chair, Lillian Burkenheim Silver was program chair, Rachel Fabulich and Flo Cohen were local area arrangement co-chairs, Cher Krichmar was workshop chair, and Jackie Zev was budget chair. 

WRJ provides training, assistance and support for sisterhood organizations around the country. The Pacific District includes 57 sisterhoods that collectively serve more than 7,500 women throughout California, Nevada, Arizona and several other states, as well as British Columbia.

Our House’s House of Hope gala, at the Skirball Cultural Center on Nov. 1, raised $640,000 for the nonprofit California-based grief support center.

Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe and Sheri Rapaport, Our House board chair and recipient of the Founder’s Award. Photo by Vivien Bes

The event spotlighted Sheri Rapaport, the organization’s board chair and recipient of the Founder’s Award, in recognition of her “contributions to the advancement of Our House’s mission,” a press release said. 

Additional honorees included the Wells Fargo Foundation and the Primetime Emmy-winning HBO documentary “One Last Hug: Three Days at Grief Camp” (2014). Jonathan Weedman, senior vice president of the Wells Fargo Foundation, accepted the Good Grief Award on behalf of the foundation. Greg DeHart, producer of “One Last Hug”; Paul Freedman, producer-director; and Lauren Schneider, associate producer and Our House clinical director, received the H.U.G. (Helping Understand Grief) Award on behalf of the film. 

“These award recipients were recognized for their work in helping grieving children, teens and adults embark on their journey to hope and healing,” a press release said.

The 2013 Good Grief Award recipient, Melissa Rivers, daughter of late comedian Joan Rivers, emceed the event, along with TV personality Andrew Krasny. Rivers acknowledged the passing of her mother and her commitment to the organization that honored her just last year.

“It’s unbelievable that within the year that I was honored and became an ambassador for Our House Grief Support Center that I was hit by the sudden death of my mother. Our House has taken on an even greater significance in my life, and I am so grateful that everyone has access to the support that they provide,” Rivers said in a release.

The gala featured Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood delivering opening remarks and leading a prayer before the commencement of the program. 

Our House was founded in 1993 by Jo-Ann Lautman.

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