January 19, 2019

Moving and Shaking: Jeffrey Katzenberg, Harvey Weinstein, Rabbi David Wolpe and more

As the night’s master of ceremonies at the Simon Wiesenthal Center/Museum of Tolerance annual national tribute dinner, Jeffrey Katzenberg had two big jobs — to keep the presentations to heroes who’d risked their lives to save others moving along like clockwork and to convince the crowd that the night’s top honoree, Harvey Weinstein, is a good guy and a true humanitarian. The notoriously hard-driving and prickly head of the Weinstein Co., one of Hollywood’s most decorated and esteemed multimedia companies, is not known for soft-heartedness, so in his introduction, Katzenberg told the crowd of 850 gathered at the Beverly Hilton on March 24, “I’m going to tell you something you don’t know: He’s actually just a really nice Jewish boy.” 

Actor Christoph Waltz followed, listing substantial contributions from Weinstein and the company he co-founded with his brother, Bob, to amfAR, the AIDS research foundation, to New York City’s public school system, to the organization of a concert to raise funds for victims of Hurricane Sandy (which raised $62 million in one night) and more. Weinstein appeared humbled by the recognition for deeds other than moviemaking, yet his usual bravado showed through even as he addressed the issues of tolerance fundamental to the Wiesenthal center’s mission, saying of ISIS: “We’d better stand up and kick these guys in the ass.” 

He also spoke of his father, who served as a sergeant stationed in Cairo during World War II, who would “forget to close the door” to the cargo warehouse so the Haganah fighting for Israel’s independence might find some supplies. Noting the rapid rise in anti-Semitism in today’s world, Weinstein asked, rhetorically, “We’re all Semitic; what is there to be anti about?” And he spoke of being deeply moved during a trip with his wife to Jordan, where he witnessed the massive Syrian refugee camps. In a note of cautious optimism that could be a one-line description for a movie plot, Weinstein closed the evening by saying, “Good can triumph over evil — if the angels are as organized as the Mafia.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier (center) with the evening's Medal of Valor recipients (from left): Lassana Bathily, who hid Jewish shoppers at a kosher market in Paris during a hostage crisis; Rinal Trudi, widow of Zidan Seif, a policeman from Israel’s Druze minority killed trying to protect a West Jerusalem synagogue; Priscilla Schulte, who accepted the medal on behalf of her late grandfather, Eduard Schulte, who risked his life to cross the border into Switzerland to warn the West about the Nazis; and Kevin Vickers, who shot and killed a terrorist gunman at the Canadian parliament. Photo by Marissa Roth/courtesy of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

The evening also honored four others for acts of heroism with “medals of valor”: Eduard Schulte, the late German industrialist who risked his life by leaking the first report to the West of the Nazi’s plan to murder all Jews; the late Zidan Saif, a Druze police officer killed while trying to protect the congregation at the Jerusalem synagogue at Har Nof while it was being attacked by terrorists; Kevin Vickers, the sergeant-at-arms of the Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa who killed the terrorist who attacked the Canadian Parliament, and Lassana Bathily, the Muslim shop assistant working at the Parisian kosher supermarket, who saved many Jews’ lives by hiding them in a cold-storage unit when terrorists attacked the market just before Shabbat earlier this year.

Katzenberg also announced that the Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance in recent months raised 87 percent of the campaign’s goal for the building of its new museum in Jerusalem. The legacy gifts include: a naming gift of $26 million from Dawn Arnall in memory of her late husband, Roland; $10 million from Michael and Lori Milken plus $10 million from Larry and Carol Mizel to jointly name the Jerusalem museum’s campus; $18 million from Gordon and Leslie Diamond of Canada to name a 1,000-seat amphitheater; and an anonymous gift of $5 million.

— Susan Freudenheim, Executive Editor

CLI participant Mark Tseselsky and his wife, Marsha Shagalov. Photo by Ryan Torok

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Community Leadership Institute (CLI) held the graduation for its inaugural class on March 15. 

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, the commencement speaker, told the approximately 60 graduates that with power comes responsibility.

“If you’re going to be a Jewish leader, know something about the tradition that you are leading. Read Jewish books; visit Israel; listen to people who are educators — everything is online, everything is available, there are podcasts, lectures and so on,” he said. 

“Take pride in the depth of your own Jewish knowledge and, if not, then take pride in the deepening of your Jewish knowledge, so, when you say, ‘I’m a Jewish leader,’ you know that means from your own perspective and not because someone else tells you.”

CLI is a 15-month leadership-training program of Federation that offers four tracks for young professionals ages 25 to 40 who are part of the Russian-Jewish community or who work in real estate, entertainment or any other field. CLI participants travel to Israel, and each is paired with a mentor from a similar background.

Mark Tseselsky, 37, one of this year’s graduates and a lawyer originally from Azerbaijan, told the Journal that he joined the CLI Russian-Jewish track because he cares about his children’s future.

“I want my children to be involved with the Jewish community, and this is my way in,” he said at the recent event.

The event, held at a private home’s backyard in Sherman Oaks, started with a cocktail hour. Waterfall sounds from a grotto pool competed with the sounds of a live band playing from a second-floor balcony, while open bars served specialty cocktails named after each of the four CLI groups. The likes of Tal Gozani, Federation’s senior vice president of young adult engagement, mingled with Gamal Palmer, senior director of CLI.

Attendees then made their way to a large tent for the graduation ceremony. That’s where Wolpe — along with Jay Sanderson, Federation CEO and president; Federation chairperson Les Bider; Rachel Richman, a CLI graduate who works in entertainment; and Federation board member Brian Shirken, who helped create CLI — were among those who offered remarks.

Afterward, the graduates raised their glasses during a champagne toast. The next CLI class begins in the fall; applications open April 15.

From left: Righteous Conversations Artistic Director Cheri Gaulke, wth survivors Curt Lowens and Gabriella Karin. Photo courtesy of LAMOTH

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust’s Righteous Conversations Project short film “Curt Lowens: A Life of Changes,” won top prize in the Harvard-Westlake School Film Festival on March 20. Curt Lowens was a member of the Dutch resistance during World War II whose family had fled Berlin after Kristallnacht.

Students from a variety of schools worked together on the film, which blends animation with a live interview. The students were Justin Binder (Milken Community Schools), Robert Carlson (Milken), George Khabbaz (AGBU Vatche & Tamar Manoukian High School), August Blum (Aveson Charter Schools), Levi Glaser (Wildwood School), Kayla Mossanen (Milken) and Tammy Shine (Milken).

They worked in collaboration with Lowens and with Righteous Conversations mentors Alyssa Sherwood, a Harvard-Westlake animation teacher; Cosmo Segurson, a CalArts animation teacher; and Liran Kapel, an Israeli animator, during a workshop last summer.

Lowens, who was among those who attended the festival at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, said he was honored to have been the subject of the six-minute film.

“It was a wonderful evening,” Lowens said, as quoted by a press release. “The variety of student work was fascinating.”

The festival also honored a second Righteous Conversations Project film, a public service announcement about gun violence in schools titled “It Shouldn’t Be This Easy.” The one-minute, 30-second film shows a high-school student who is able to purchase a firearm from an innocuous-looking vending machine. The film won Official Selection honors. Students Trey Carlisle (Aveson Global Leadership Academy), Ned Jacobs (Colina Middle School), Connor Reese (Harvard-Westlake) and Cameron Stine (Harvard-Westlake) worked on the film. 

The Righteous Conversations Project is a program of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in which high school students, working with Holocaust survivors, develop short films and public service announcements that are upon completion gifted to nonprofit organizations. 

Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback serenades Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin. Photo courtesy of Stephen Wise Temple

Three generations of Stephen Wise Temple senior leadership — Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, Rabbi Eli Herscher and Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback — came together during the synagogue’s Founder’s Day on March 20.

The event spotlighted Zeldin, who is in his 90s and who established the hilltop Reform community in 1964. It has since grown into one of the largest synagogue communities in the world, with 2,200 member families. 

Herscher became the temple’s senior rabbi in 1990; in December, it was announced that he would be succeeded by Zweiback, head of Wise School.

The event also celebrated Metuka Benjamin, the synagogue’s former director of education, the community’s staff and lay leaders. Many elementary students from Wise School participated in a presentation about the life of Rabbi Stephen Samuel Wise, for whom the school is named and who led American-Jewish efforts to denounce Germany during World War II. 

Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu is one of four Jewish camps across North America chosen for a new joint project from the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) and the Ruderman Family Foundation, known as the FJC Ruderman Inclusion Initiative. Aimed at increasing the number of children with disabilities in attendance at Jewish camps, the program is possible because of a three-year grant funded by the Ruderman Family. The $45,000 grant will go toward the hiring and training of inclusion coordinators.

“We are pleased to be able to bring this specialized training to fruition at Camp JCA Shalom and begin to increase access to Jewish camp, making our camp population more reflective of the overall Jewish population,” Jeremy Fingerman, FJC CEO, said in a press release.

Camp JCA Shalom, a program of the Shalom Institute, a camp and conference center, has had an inclusion program for the past 15 years and has a goal of professionalizing its program, according to Bill Kaplan, Shalom Institute executive director.

“In previous years, we had a community inclusion specialist, but we had to share them with other camps,” he said. “The grant will allow the new coordinator to be full time during the summer and part time during the year.” 

Rachel Adler has been hired as the new inclusion coordinator; her job responsibilities will include meeting with the parents and children. The camp hopes to immediately start bringing in more campers for summer 2015. 

“I’m very excited about this opportunity to build on our supportive environment at Camp JCA Shalom,” Joel Charnick, director of Camp JCA Shalom, said in a press release. “Rachel Adler is a phenomenal individual who will help us grow as an organization.”

— Leilani Peltz, Contributing Writer

Past AJC President Fredrick S. Levin appears at an event commemorating the Armenian genocide.

More than 300 people gathered to recall the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide during a March 22 event that stressed the tragic histories shared by Armenians and Jews.

Titled “100 Years Later: The Shared Reflections of Two Communities,” the event, at St. Leon Armenian Cathedral in Burbank, was sponsored by American Jewish Committee Los Angeles (AJCLA) and the Western Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of North America, and honored the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. 

An array of guest speakers included Western Diocese Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, AJCLA president Dean Schramm, and Rep. Adam Schiff, of the 28th Congressional District.

“We believe … that it is critically important for the Jewish community to stand with the Armenian community to embrace the shared tragedy of our peoples’ history,” Schramm said, as quoted by a press release.

Additional attendees included Assemblyman Matt Dababneh and L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz.

More than 1 million Armenians living in present-day Turkey perished during the killings, which occurred in 1915. The Turkish government has rejected calling what happened a genocide — saying it was the result of civil war — but a number of countries and organizations, including the AJC, have called on Turkey to recognize it as such. 

“The process of healing of this nearly century-old wound can only begin when the truth of that sorrowful era is confronted,” a 2014 AJC statement read.

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