January 16, 2019

Moving and shaking: Sinai Akiba Academy, JFS Family Violence Project, Hillel 818 and more

Sinai Akiba Academy in Westwood honored longtime faculty member Rivka Shaked, as well as Luiza and Andrei Iancu, alumni parents who have held various leadership positions over the years, during its annual event and auction Jan. 24.

Honoree Rivka Shaked and Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple. Photo courtesy of Sinai Akiba Academy

Shaked, who taught Judaic studies at Sinai Temple and Sinai Akiba Academy for 46 years, received the Torch of Learning Award, and the Iancus received the Akiba Leadership Award. Sinai’s Head of School Sarah Shulkind and board Chairman Gary Lainer presented the awards, both of which were given for the first time.

The sold-out event at Sinai Temple attracted about 470 people and raised more than $400,000. More than $100,000 of the proceeds raised were for a new program at the school called J-STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts and math with a Jewish approach. 

A silent auction was held throughout the evening and offered more than 200 items, including a weekend in San Francisco and a chance for a child to be Sinai Akiba’s head of school for half a day. Bidding began online for many of the items a few days before the live auction. 

In line with this year’s theme, “A Night in Tel Aviv,” the dinner and ballroom decor was Mediterranean style. A live band played at the event and attendees danced late into the night, with the last person leaving around 1:30 a.m.

— Leilani Peltz, Contributing Writer

Nina C. Leibman, once an up-and-coming scholar of film and television teaching at UC Santa Cruz and Santa Clara University, was murdered by her husband nearly 20 years ago, but she lives on thanks in large part to her family — her two children, Phil Donney and Journal calendar writer Laura Donney; her mother, Joan Leibman; and her twin sister, Abby J. Leibman, CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger — who continue to honor Nina through their support of the Family Violence Project of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS). 

From left: Present for the dedication were Abby Leibman, Phil Donney, Sheila Kuehl, Debby Barak, Laura Donney and Paul Castro. Photo courtesy of JFS 

On Jan. 28, the family joined with a small group of close friends to dedicate the Family Violence Project Counseling Center Conference Room at JFS’s facility in Sherman Oaks in her memory. Among those who attended were Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, former L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel, Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood and his wife, Barbara Rosove, a MAZON board member. JFS President and CEO Paul Castro, Jewish World Watch President and co-founder Janice Kamenir-Reznik and Debby Barak, chair of the JFS board of directors, were there as well.

The JFS Family Violence Project operates two 30-day emergency shelters, one transitional housing shelter, a counseling center, and two emergency hotlines for survivors of domestic violence and their children. As in past years, Abby Liebman, who also is a JFS board member, used their shared birthday to honor her twin and support the project. 

Susan Freudenheim, Executive Editor 

Hillel 818 has named David Katz, 33, as its new executive director. Currently assistant director of the Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh, he will begin his duties here in April.

David Katz. Photo courtesy of David Katz

Serving an estimated 8,000 students at CSUN, Pierce College and Los Angeles Valley College, Hillel 818 announced Katz’s hiring on Jan. 22. He succeeds Hillel 818 interim director, Rabbi David Komerofsky.

“I think what I’m very excited about is the diversity of the community that exists, understanding that there are all types of Jewish students with different Jewish identities, from the Persian community to the Russian community to the Israeli community, and I really believe there is a great opportunity to utilize those Jewish identities and engage a large number of Jewish students,” Katz said in a phone interview. 

A graduate of The Ohio State University, Katz has called Pittsburgh home since 2005, according to an online biography. He previously worked as a congregational youth director and at J’Burgh, a program for young professionals under the aegis of the Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh.

Katz told the Journal he hopes to bring new energy to Hillel 818’s board of directors and to “enhance the vibrancy of Jewish life in the Valley.”

Aasif Mandvi of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” appeared at the Skirball Cultural Center Jan. 28 and read a passage from his new comedic memoir, “No Land’s Man.” He also appeared in conversation with scholar of religion Reza Aslan, author of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.”

From left: Aasif Mandvi and Reza Aslan. Photo by Ryan Torok

Mandvi’s recently published book — about an awkward immigrant teenager who goes on to become “senior Muslim correspondent” of Stewart’s popular and influential satirical news program — was the focus of the evening.

At 7:30 p.m., Mandvi walked onto the stage and delivered a reading of the book’s chapter, “You Can’t Be Michael Jackson All the Time,” which explains how the late singer’s album “Thriller” had a profound effect on him as a teenager living in Tampa, Fla. As an immigrant ignorant about life in the States, Mandvi said he expected classes to be held on the beach, to become best friends with a dolphin and to see girls in bikinis everywhere. The audience of approximately 400 was in stitches. 

Mandvi, who was born in India and spent his childhood in England before the family moved to the United States, does more than comedy: He was a cast member in the Pulitzer-winning drama “Disgraced.” During a Q-and-A, Jordan Elgrably, executive director of the Levantine Cultural Center, asked if audiences were “ready to have diverse and high-brow representation of Muslim characters,” such as the one that Mandvi portrayed in the play. Mandvi replied that once Muslims secure more jobs in production and writing, then audiences will see more Muslim characters in popular entertainment. 

Book Soup sponsored the event. 

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