December 10, 2019

Moving and shaking: FIDF Western Region Gala; Mega challah bake and more

The annual Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region Gala on Nov. 5 was a star-studded event that raised more than $34 million. The evening at the Beverly Hilton Hotel drew more than 1,200 attendees, including celebrities Jason Alexander, Gene Simmons, Liev Schreiber, Antonio Banderas, Mark Wahlberg, Jason Segel and Ari Emanuel.

FIDF is an organization supporting Israel Defense Forces soldiers, families of fallen soldiers and wounded veterans. It was founded by a group of Holocaust survivors.

Entertainment included performances by the Beach Boys, David Foster and Friends, and Asanda Jezile. Haim Saban, an FIDF national board member, and his wife, Cheryl, served as co-chairs.

“For the past nine years, I have watched this gala grow into the pre-eminent charity event it is today, and I am truly humbled by the funds raised yesterday, which are a testament to the importance of the FIDF organization and its mission,” Saban said, as quoted in a Nov. 6 press release. “The overwhelming support from the Los Angeles community continues to amaze me.”

Others at the event included FIDF Western Region President Tony Rubin and his wife, Linda; entertainment executive Casey Wasserman and his wife, Laura; retired Maj. Gen. Meir Klifi-Amir, FIDF national director and CEO; former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly; and businessman Steve Tisch. News analyst and author Monica Crowley served as emcee.

Was Superman God? Was Moses a superhero?

From left: Author Jonathan Lethem, Rabbi Sharon Brous and television writer Damon Lindelof discuss “Hero Worship.” Photo by Ryan Torok

Television writer, producer and screenwriter Damon Lindelof (“Lost,” “The Leftovers”) and author Jonathan Lethem (“The Fortress of Solitude”) appeared in conversation with Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR on Nov. 2 at the Moss Theater in Santa Monica to discuss this and more during a conversation titled “Hero Worship: Are All Superheroes Secretly Jewish?” 

During the talk, which attracted approximately 140 attendees, topics ranged from Jewish values embodied by the actions of Batman, Spider-Man and Superman to the role of the Holocaust in shaping the attitudes of Jewish comic book creators and more. Lethem and Lindelof also mentioned how the work of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee (collaborators on the Hulk, X-Men and the Fantastic Four) inspired them. 

“These were guys I could relate to; these were like my uncles making comic books,” explained Lethem, who said in a prior interview that he grew up in a secular Jewish household.

A reception with food and drinks followed the discussion, which included a Q-and-A with the audience. 

The gathering marked the first of three discussions by IKAR last week as part of its inaugural Culture Lab series. It was followed by discussions with writer Peter Beinart on Nov. 4 at Beth Chayim Chadashim and behavioral economist Dan Ariely at UCLA Hillel. Brous pointed out that the discussion with Beinart coincided with the 20th anniversary of the death of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and said the leader’s death “marks one of the saddest moments in the last 70 years of Jewish history.” 

Jonathan Benartzi, grandson of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, traveled from Israel to appear at a Nov. 3 memorial event at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills marking the 20th anniversary of the leader’s assassination.

Yiddish performer Mike Burstyn emcees the Yitzhak Rabin memorial Nov. 3 in Beverly Hills. Photo by Ryan Torok

Addressing approximately 1,000 people, Benartzi said support of Israel does not need to be blind, that criticism of it is OK. But he also thanked the American-Jewish community for supporting Israel, garnering a standing ovation from many in the crowd.

Additional speakers included Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel, former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Christian pro-Israel performer Pat Boone, Israeli-American Council Regional Director Erez Goldman, L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin, Rabbi David Baron of Temple of the Arts and actor Josh Malina.

Siegel recalled the time he escorted Rabin on an aircraft runway and said, “[Rabin] left an indelible impression on me … as though the patriarch of my own family had been shot.”

Yiddish performer Mike Burstyn emceed the event, which began around 7:30 p.m. It included live music from Cantors Marcus Feldman of Sinai Temple, Nathan Lam of Stephen Wise Temple and Chayim Frenkel of Kehillat Israel, as well as news footage from the time of Rabin’s death. The late prime minister was killed by an Israeli religious extremist on Nov. 4, 1995, after speaking at a peace rally in Tel Aviv. 

Baron, for his part, remembered Rabin as a man whose legacy of striving toward peace will live on. “People die, but beliefs and ideals don’t,” he said.

Other attendees included Roz Rothstein, CEO of pro-Israel organization StandWithUs. “It was a beautiful night,” she said after the event. “It was the dream — the dream of peace — that everybody hopes for, the theme of the evening and theme of his life, the dream that everybody wishes were true.”

An Oct. 29 Mega Challah Bake held at the Hyatt Westlake Plaza and organized by the Chabad Jewish Centers of the Conejo Valley and surrounding areas attracted more than 500 women and girls for dancing, dessert and — of course — challah-braiding.

From left: Dina Loncar; Bree Marlin; Karen Marlin; Orly Moline; Stefanie Friedman; Matty Bryski; Nanette Sigel; Sophie Sigel and Molly Sigel participate in a Mega Challah Bake. Photo courtesy of Shula Bryski 

Rebbetzins Shula Bryski, co-director of Chabad of Thousand Oaks and Devorah Leah Heidingsfeld, co-director of Chabad of Moorpark, co-organized the event, which attracted participants from various denominations as well as organizations such as Hadassah. 

“The air was palpable with the energy of unity, as 530 women danced and danced until they could no longer!” Bryski told the Journal in an email following the event.

It was one of many gatherings of its kind held last month under the auspices of The Shabbos Project, a community-building initiative. In Los Angeles, activities included a 3,000-person Shabbat dinner along Pico Boulevard.

Others who helped organize the Conejo Valley event included Chabad of the Conejo Rebbetzins Matty Bryski, Tovi Bistritsky, Mushka Friedman, Bassie Gurary, Chana Stery Kahanov, Leah Levine, Brocha Sapochkinsky and Tzippy Schneerson

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email