December 10, 2019

Moving and shaking: Chabad telethon and Rabbi Jason Weiner

Minutes before joining Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of Chabad West Coast, and fellow Hollywood star Jon Voight in front of TV cameras to make a pitch on behalf of the international Chasidic movement, Elliott Gould enjoyed a moment of calm.

“It’s a privilege, and it’s also a blessing,” Gould, wearing a suit and a fedora, said of his participation in the Chabad Telethon while sitting in a swivel chair in the dressing room of West Los Angeles TV studio KSCI.

This year’s installment — the 35th annual — aired live Sept. 6 from 5 to 11 p.m. and raised about $3 million for Chabad West Coast programs, Cunin said. That’s similar to past years, he added, but not enough to satisfy the great need that exists in the community. 

With headquarters adjacent to UCLA, Chabad West Coast’s programs include hundreds of Chabad synagogue branches throughout the West Coast, a Los Angeles-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, and an organization called Friendship Circle that serves children living with special needs. The telethon also supports Chabad education centers, summer camps and more, according to its website.

From left: Chabad Telethon co-chair Marshall Grossman and Voight turned out for the event. Photo by Ryan Torok

“They combine traditional good work with social services in a way that no other organization I know of does. So I’ll always be here to support them,” L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz said after he had finished wrapping tefillin with Cunin in the dressing room before appearing on-air.

Many people came together to work on this year’s telethon, including show producer Michael Levin; Chabad of Glendale and the Foothill Communities Rabbi Simcha Backman; and radio personality and Journal columnist Dennis Prager, who co-hosted the event with attorney and telethon co-chair Marshall Grossman, who donated $36,000 during the event. Leslie Grossman, his daughter and an actress, joined in with others to help, as well.

The event also paid tribute to the late Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub, who died in July and was a major supporter of Chabad.

“Jerry and I came together at the Chabad Telethon,” Voight told the Journal. “He was a very strong supporter of Chabad, somebody Rabbi Cunin and Marshall [Grossman] could count on.” 

As for his own interest in participating every year, Voight said, “We’re trying to help people out here. I’m not Jewish, but I have great love for Judaism and the Jewish people.” 

Throughout the evening, a tote board decorated with the famous image of a dancing rabbi displayed the evening’s ever-increasing fundraising total. A few feet away, about a half-dozen local volunteers fielded calls from donors. 

“Hello, good evening, and thank you for calling the Chabad Telethon,” community member Debra Borodinsky said, holding a phone to her ear and reading from a script that sat before her. “How may I help you?”

The annual event blends interviews with people who have been helped by the organization, appearances by joyous, dancing Chabad rabbis and musical performances. To cut down on costs, much of the footage at this year’s telethon incorporated footage from earlier telethons.

As for the fundraising total, Cunin, as he packed up the tote board at the end of the night, said he’s never satisfied. “I can spend far more money than anyone can ever give. That’s how great the need is on the streets.” 

Rabbi Jason Weiner has been named the rabbi of the Beverlywood shul Congregation Knesset Israel. He will serve part time, as the shul only holds services on Shabbat and holidays. He succeeds Rabbi Dovid Bressman.

Rabbi Jason Weiner

Weiner, who begins his new job during the High Holy Days, will continue in his current position as senior rabbi and manager of spiritual care at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Knesset Israel Vice President Adam Hyman said in an email. 

“We are elated to have Rabbi Weiner with us because he is warm, wonderful, intelligent and funny,” Knesset Israel President Rabbi Avraham Schefres said in a statement. “Rabbi Weiner has the ability and fortitude to take Knesset Israel to the next chapter of the shul as a dynamic modern Orthodox shul.” 

Hyman said the hiring represents a great match: “It is a perfect shidduch.”

Weiner, for his part, said he is excited about taking on the position. “I have been incredibly impressed with the genuine warmth, friendliness and love of Torah among the Knesset members, and am excited to begin spending Shabbat and holidays with them,” he said in a statement. 

Weiner received his ordination in 2006 at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York City, after which he started at Cedars-Sinai as the Jewish chaplain. He served as assistant rabbi of Young Israel of Century City from 2006 to 2009. 

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