December 8, 2019

Moving and shaking: Max Webb’s 99th birthday, Noa at the Pico Union Project and more

How do you throw a birthday party for a community treasure who’s turning 99? You invite a few hundred of his closest friends to a fancy dinner in Beverly Hills and celebrate his life. That was the scene last Saturday night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where friends, community leaders and family members gathered for Max Webb’s birthday gala.

The evening oscillated between the dark reality of Max’s past as a survivor of 12 labor camps and six concentration camps, and the inspiration of a life dedicated to the well-being of the Jewish people. Rabbi David Wolpe, in a moving tribute, referred to a promise Max made to his mother while the Nazis were invading his hometown in Poland: “If I survive this,” he told his mother, “I will do everything I can to make sure Judaism survives.” This became the theme of Wolpe’s tribute: “Max kept his promise.” 

Among the many highlights of the evening was a poem read by family members of several generations, inside stories of Max’s life in Los Angeles from Eric Diamond, one of his longtime associates, and a speech by Max that mixed nostalgia, personal stories, defiance in the face of unspeakable adversity, gratitude for “God’s miracles” and gratitude for all those who helped him along the way. Before the evening wrapped, Max’s assistant, Steven Bryan, announced that instead of receiving gifts for his birthday, Max would hand out gifts to his favorite charities. By the time the evening was over, representatives of numerous nonprofits (including the Jewish Journal) came up to receive checks that ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 for a grand total of $1.8 million. As he passed out the checks, the deep joy on Max’s face suggested that the promise he made to his mother was still on his mind.

— David Suissa

State Farm Insurance awarded $7,500 to local Jewish high school Harkham GAON Academy as part of the company’s 2015 Get to a Better State promotion, a partnership between State Farm and radio and television personality Steve Harvey. 

From left:  State Farm's Eddie Martinez, Harkham GAON Academy principal Debora Parks, Harkham founder Rabbi Moises Benzaquen, Harkham basketball coach Nat Harkham, Harkham supporter Efrem Harkham, radio D.J. Nautica de la Cruz and Harkham parent Joanne Adirim. Photo by Ryan Torok 

A check was presented during a Feb. 23 ceremony at the Westside Jewish Community Center, where the school rents classroom space. 

“I think every school needs a little boost, a little help,” KJLH-FM DJ Nautica de la Cruz told the Journal in an interview after the brief ceremony. KJLH, a Black-owned, urban contemporary station, airs “The Steve Harvey Morning Show.”

“Where’s Steve Harvey?” Harkham freshman Netanel Bibi asked at the outset of the event, perhaps expressing what was on the minds of many of the students present. Harvey, who is based in Chicago, did not attend. 

Eddie Martinez, community relations and philanthropy public affairs associate at State Farm, presented the prize to school Principal Debora Parks, founder Rabbi Moises Benzaquen and school supporter Efrem Harkham.

Harkham GAON Academy, formerly known as Yeshiva High Tech, combines traditional and online education for grades 9 through 12. The school has approximately 50 students. The award money will help pay for basketball uniforms recently purchased by the school.

Harkham was one of three schools across the country selected for the award. The grand-prize winner, in Illinois, received $10,000; the third-place winner is in North Carolina.

More than 300 schools participated in the contest. Harkham’s entry, which explained why the school needed basketball uniforms, “pulled on the heartstrings,” Martinez said.

Describing itself as the largest Jewish student gathering in the West, the Chabad on Campus International West Coast Shabbaton was held Feb. 5-7 at Cape Rey Carlsbad Hilton Resort.

More than 200 students from Santa Monica College, USC, UCLA, CSUN, Pierce College, UC Irvine and UC Riverside attended, as did students from other universities in California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

The event featured Maccabee Task Force Foundation Director David Brog discussing the fight against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement; Major League Baseball agent Paul Cohen speaking about how Judaism has enriched his life; a Shabbat celebration; and more.

Local rabbis in attendance included Chabad at Santa Monica College Rabbi Eli Levitansky, USC Rabbi Dov Wagner, UCLA Rabbi Dovid Gurevich, CSUN Rabbi Chaim Shaul Brook, Pierce College Rabbi Isser Kluwgant, UC Irvine Rabbi Zevi Tenenbaum and UC Riverside Rabbi Matisyahu Devlin.

CSUN student Shlomit Ovadia holds the 2016 Jewish Academic Innovation Award. Photo courtesy of Chabad on Campus International 

Additionally, the Sinai Scholars Academic Symposium, a joint initiative of Chabad on Campus International and the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, took place during the Shabbaton. It featured college students presenting academic papers on Jewish topics before a panel of judges that included Academy of Jewish Religion, California Provost Tamar Frankiel. Among the presenters was Shlomit Ovadia, a student at CSUN whose presentation received the Jewish Academic Innovation Award.

Musician, producer and Pico Union Project founder Craig Taubman came together with Israeli singer-songwriter Noa at Pico Union Project after Noa’s Feb. 8 performance at the venue. A vocalist and percussionist who performs pop-inflected world music, Noa was accompanied by guitarist Gil Dor.

Craig Taubman and Israeli singer-songwriter Noa come together at the conclusion of Noa's appearance at Pico Union Project. Photo by Ryan Torok 

The concert concluded with a panel about the cultural boycott movement against Israel, moderated by Jewish Journal Senior Writer Jared Sichel and featuring Noa; Jill Hoyt, director of Creative Community for Peace; and David Pine, West Coast regional director of Americans for Peace Now.

The concert drew more than 100 community members, with Naomi Ackerman, founder and director of the Advot Project, and Eric Greene, author and civil rights activist, among the attendees.

Taubman organized the panel after receiving backlash for booking Noa, who has expressed statements sympathetic to Palestinians.

During the panel, Noa, perhaps surprisingly to some, came to Israel’s defense after a member of the audience, during a Q-and-A, accused Israel of being an apartheid state.

“Israel is not an apartheid state. It is not. I live in Israel,” Noa said, “and it is not.”

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