November 20, 2018

Moving and Shaking: Amos Oz, Ari Shavit, Natalie Portman and Cantor Yonah Kliger

“I love Israel even at moments I cannot stand it.”

Israeli author Amos Oz has complicated feelings about the Holy Land, and he wasn’t afraid to share them during a conversation with journalist Ari Shavit at a recent gala celebrating the fifth anniversary of the UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies.

The May 5 event at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts raised close to $900,000 and featured UCLA Chancellor Gene Block presenting Younes and Soraya Nazarian with the Visionary Award — more recognition for the $5 million endowment the two set up in 2010 to transform the university program into a full-fledged center — but the evening’s centerpiece was Oz.

Oscar winner Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”) presented the author with the UCLA Israel Studies Award, a sculpture made by Soraya Nazarian titled “Strong Roots, Grounded.” The award honors extraordinary individuals in the fields of academia, public service, business or the arts and includes a $10,000 prize.

“As both an Israeli and an American, I understand well the importance that Israel is,” Portman said before presenting the award to Oz in front of 400 people. “Truthfully, for its amazing achievements as well as its many, many challenges.” 

Natalie Portman presented the UCLA Israel Studies Award — a sculpture by Soraya Nazarian — to Amos Oz. Photo by Vince Bucci

Portman directed and stars in a 2015 film adaptation of the best-selling Oz memoir, “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” She plays Oz’s mother in the film, which is slated to debut at the Cannes Film Festival this month and which Shavit said Oz had a chance to watch during a private screening the morning of the event.

As emcee of the evening, Shavit conducted an onstage interview with Oz following the award presentation, during which Oz called Israel “the most vivacious, the most fiery society on Earth. … It’s neither a country nor a nation but a fiery collection of arguments.”

Shavit, for his part, drew comparisons between Israel and California: “Most Israelis want Israel to be California, and we have so much in common with California. We have the same orange groves, the same high-tech, the same beach boys and beach girls, the same blue skies, the same shortage of water.”

Oz countered, “I would like Israel to be more galvanized intellectually than California.”

The talk ended with Oz saying he doesn’t believe in happy endings — they are neither true to real life nor present in his writing. But ultimately, the writer said, “The human story … is one of gradual improvement.” 

The evening concluded with a dinner at the Beverly Hills venue’s terrace. Musicians Jacqueline Rafii, Jack Bastian and Cole Brossus performed, with Rafii singing “Happy Birthday” to Oz, who turned 76 on May 4. 

The assembled crowd included Oz’s wife, Nily; Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel and his wife, Myra Clark-Siegel; Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, executive director of Hillel at UCLA; Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple; media mogul Haim Saban; president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jay Sanderson; and Los Angeles City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield

Sharon Nazarian, daughter of Younes and Soraya Nazarian and chair of the UCLA center’s community advisory board, was among the participants in the program.

The UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies is housed alongside other international studies departments at the university and educates students about life, culture, politics and more in contemporary Israel. 

Cantor Yonah Kliger. Photo courtesy of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

Cantor Yonah Kliger of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills (TEBH) is joining the clergy of Temple Judea in Tarzana on July 1. The move follows nearly two decades of service — and a lifetime of involvement — with his current congregation. Kliger attended day school at TEBH and celebrated a number of life cycle events there, including his bar mitzvah, confirmation and wedding. 

“This has really been my spiritual home and professional home,” he said. “There are very mixed feelings about leaving the comfort and safety of a place that has nurtured and supported me lovingly for so long, but I kind of feel like I am having my Abraham moment when he was called to lech lecha, he was called to go. … I am also very excited to be starting something new, a new professional adventure.” 

Kliger told the Journal he will miss working at the congregation where he co-created the popular Shabbat Unplugged service and started an educational program for post-b’nai mitzvah students. TEBH Student Cantor Lizzie Weiss is going to serve as interim cantor while the synagogue conducts a nationwide search for a successor, according to TEBH Rabbi Jonathan Aaron.

According to the Temple Judea website, Kliger’s responsibilities will include serving as co-director of the synagogue’s b’nai mitzvah program alongside Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot; tutoring religious school students and teaching in the early childhood center. His hiring completes a clergy team that includes Senior Rabbi Joshua Aaronson and Assistant Rabbi-elect Sam Spector.

TEBH will honor the departing cantor’s “19 years of inspiring service, spirited song and passionate leadership at Temple Emanuel” during a May 30 event, according to the TEBH website. The synagogue is gathering congregants’ anecdotes, including written memories, photos and more, to publish in a book that will be presented to Kliger that night.

“There’s going to be lots of singing and music and laughter, and it’s going to be a great event,” said Aaron, who began working at the synagogue the same year as Kliger. “There’s going to be a lot of crying, too, to tell you the truth.” 

From left: Kathy LaTour, co-founder of Cure magazine; Valerie Harper; Denise Weiner; Carson Weiner; nurse Laura Vasquez; Peyton Lexi Weiner; Anthony Weiner; and Mike Hennessy Jr., president of Cure Media Group. Photo courtesy of

Laura Vasquez, a nurse at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, was this year’s winner of Cure magazine’s 2015 Extraordinary Healer Award for Oncology Nursing.

A third-generation nurse, Vasquez was nominated by Anthony and Denise Weiner for the award after she assisted their daughter, Alexa, who died from brain cancer several years ago. She was the only nurse who was able to bond with Alexa, who entered the hospital at age 5, and convince her to accept her shots, according to an essay that Denise Weiner wrote.

“Laura knew that [Alexa was a master of stalling], and she was the only one who could give her a shot in under an hour’s time because they just got each other,” Weiner wrote in the essay.

The Weiners flew out for the April 23 ceremony honoring Vasquez, who was chosen among several finalists. The event took place in Orlando, Fla., in conjunction with the Oncology Nursing Society’s 40th annual Congress. Actress Valerie Harper delivered the keynote.

It was a hot ticket: Anthony Weiner told the Journal in a phone interview that there were approximately 1,000 nurses in the room — and “hundreds who couldn’t get in.” 

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