December 8, 2019

Moving and shaking: Purim celebrations, TEBH honors and more

The ninth annual Beverly Hills Purim Ball, a benefit for Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills (TEBH) held March 10 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, honored Bunni and Murray Fischer with the Humanitarian Award, Steve Ghysels with the Community Spirit Award, and Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel and Myra Clark-Siegel with the Leadership Award.

Television personality Jerry Springer served as master of ceremonies.

Murray Fischer, a prominent Beverly Hills attorney, and his wife, Bunni, a travel consultant, are lifelong Temple Emanuel members.

Ghysels is senior vice president and regional managing director for Wells Fargo Wealth Management of Beverly Hills and sits on the board of Cedars Sinai-Medical Center.

Siegel, for his part, has represented Israel as a diplomat in Los Angeles since 2011. His wife, Myra, is director of communications and senior strategic counsel for American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange.

The approximately 300 attendees included TEBH Senior Rabbis Laura Geller and Jonathan Aaron; TEBH Associate Rabbi Sarah Bassin; TEBH Cantor Lizzie Weiss; businessman and philanthropist Stanley Black; evening working committee members Michelle Kaye and Lisa Kay Schwartz; and others.

A March 20 discussion featuring Rabbis Sharon Brous of IKAR, Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Ari Schwarzberg of Shalhevet High School and Elie Spitz of Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin explored “How to Live as Jews in the World: Particularism vs. Universalism.”

From left: Rabbis Sharon Brous of IKAR, Ari Schwarzberg of Shalhevet High School, Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Elie Spitz of Congregation B’nai Israel participated in a panel at Academy for Jewish Religion, California. Photo courtesy of Academy for Jewish Religion, California. 

“I believe there is one God but there are many spiritual paths to that God. That is universalism,” Geller said during the Sunday night panel, which was organized by the Academy for Jewish Religion, California (AJRCA) and took place at the school’s Koreatown campus. “And at the same time, I want to claim and own that for me the particular Jewish path is mine.”

The moderator, AJRCA President Emeritus Rabbi Mel Gott-lieb, prompted the speakers to weigh in on the positives and negatives of universalism and particularism.

“What does it mean to be both universalist and particularist?” Brous asked. “What does it mean to be a human being and part of a family?”

“ ‘Here I am, just another Jew, just another rabbi, living in a modernized Jewish shtetl,’ ” Schwarzberg said, summarizing his  occasional ambivalence about living in the predominantly Jewish Pico-Robertson.

The event, which perhaps raised more questions than offered answers, was part of AJRCA’s effort to raise its visibility in the community.

AJRCA differs from the two other Los Angeles seminaries (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and American Jewish University) in its pluralistic approach, coupled with the fact that it serves many “second-career students,” Gottlieb said in an interview at the conclusion of the well-attended event.

Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park’s Rabbi Robin Podolsky, one of approximately 100 attendees, said the speakers “asked the right questions, went to the right places and provoked the necessary thought.”

Additional attendees included AJRCA interim President Lisa Owens, AJRCA provost Tamar Frankiel and others.

Owens described the event as “particularly and universally wonderful.”

Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) North America has hired Rabbi Philip Graubart as West Coast vice president and Rabbi Joshua Ladon as Bay City manager, according to a March 10 announcement.

Shalom Hartman Institute North America Bay City manager Rabbi Joshua Ladon. Photo courtesy of Shalom Hartman Institute

The hirings mark the continued expansion of the organization’s West Coast operations. The two join Michelle Stone, SHI North America’s Los Angeles city manager, and Rachel Allen, SHI West Coast program coordinator, to complete the SHI West Coast presence, according to a press release.

Launched in 2010, SHI North America is a self-described “leader in sophisticated dialogue and study on major Jewish questions,” according to a press release. 

With the addition of these two professionals, the broad expansion of SHI programs and initiatives on the West Coast will continue to flourish,” the release said. 

About 100 Sephardic Jewish community members, leaders and others attended the March 6 installation of Rabbi Raif Melhado at Kahal Joseph Congregation.

Rabbi Raif Melhado of Kahal Joseph Congregation. Photo courtesy of Melhado

“It is a very special community. It’s my honor and pleasure to be able to be working with them,” the 33-year-old Modern Orthodox rabbi, who began last August, said in a phone interview. 

Melhado was ordained at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (YCT) in 2015. Prior to coming to Kahal Joseph Congregation, he served as a rabbinic intern at Hebrew Institute of White Plains in New York. 

The evening program featured remarks by Melhado; Kahal Joseph Rebbetzin Jessica Melhado; de Toledo High School Jewish studies department chair Rabbi Devin Villarreal; Hebrew Institute of White Plains Rabbi Chaim Marder; YCT President Rabbi Asher Lopatin; and Kahal President Ronald Einy.

A dinner reception followed the installation, featuring a concert by Sephardic band Bazaar Ensemble’s Asher Levy (vocals, oud), Yoni Arbel (guitar) and Sean Thump (saxophone).

Among attendees were Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, director of the Sephardic Educational Center, and Kahal Joseph Congregation Senior Chazzan Sassoon Ezra.

Kahal Joseph Congregation is a Sephardic Orthodox community with Iraqi and Syrian founders serving approximately 300 member families. The synagogue is located in Century City.

As usual, this year’s Purim festivities brought out the creativity and light-heartedness of the local Jewish community, evidenced by a host of carnivals, costumes and more. 

At B’nai David-Judea on March 23, young people dressed up as characters from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and battled each other with toy light sabers in the lobby of the modern Orthodox Pico-Robertson synagogue. This followed a Megillah reading that was brought to life by a theatrical play in which Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky performed the role of Haman.

One attendee, however, stood out as a little more old school than those who were inspired by last year’s blockbuster movie. Israel Gootin, 12, a student at Yavneh Hebrew Academy, dressed as the classic video game “Tetris,” with a costume that involved a foam-like sandwich board with a graphic from “Tetris” imprinted on it. Nearby, a teenager dressed as the villainous Joker wore a royal-purple suit and thick red paint on his face to enlarge his smile. 

Israel Gootin, 12, a student at Yavneh Hebrew Academy, attended a Megillah reading at B’nai David-Judea dressed as one of the iconic video games, “Tetris.” Photo by Ryan Torok

Across town, college-age community members dressed up as cowboys and cowgirls to celebrate at Chabad Jewish Student Center at USC’s “Purim in the Wild West.” They roasted s’mores on a campfire, took turns riding a mechanical bull and posed for snapshots in a photo booth … when they weren’t being told by the rabbi running the party, Rabbi Dov Wagner, to separate by gender on the dance floor. Wagner and his wife, Runya, oversee the center, which is located downtown. 

The Chabad event was not the only themed party to celebrate Purim. “Purim in the Stadium,” a March 23 concert with Moshav band, was held at Chabad SOLA (South La Cienega) and was co-organized by Israel education network AMIT. The event featured an hourly Megillah reading, kosher food and more. Attendees included AMIT Western Region Director Michal Taviv-Margolese, Moshav band vocalist Yehuda Solomon and others.  

“Hot Jazz and Cool Cats,” a New Orleans-style party, took place at Rabbi Yonah Bookstein’s Pico Shul, in Pico-Robertson, on March 24. Pico Shul served up margaritas as well as gumbo and jambalaya for the adults, while children enjoyed swinging at Haman piñatas, according to the rabbi, who dressed as Zionist icon Theodor Herzl.

 “You know, we are the originators of the Hamañata,” Bookstein said in a phone interview. “Haman got totally crushed and destroyed. It was brutal. Haman met a brutal end at the hands of children. Yeah, he went down fast.”

Rabbi Joshua M. Aaronson in the dunk tank. Photo courtesy of Temple Judea

In the San Fernando Valley, Temple Judea put on the spiel “Shmaltz,” a spoof on the musical “Grease,” before a celebratory Purim carnival on March 20. There were rides and carnival games, not to mention kosher barbecue and a vendor marketplace. As part of the fun, Rabbi Joshua M. Aaronson was among those who took part in a dunk tank. There was even some Shushan royalty on scene, as Cantor Yonah Kligman dressed up as King Ahasuerus and Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot appeared as Queen Esther.

The American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem honored local businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz on March 24 at Sinai Temple during “A Shushan Purim Costume Gala.” 

American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem honorees Marvin Markowitz and Barak Raviv. Photo by Robert Lurie

Comedian Elon Gold emceed the evening that raised over $200,000 and drew more than 350 attendees, according to Paul Jeser, director of the organization’s Western region.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa presented Markowitz with the award, saying, “Shaare Zedek and you have something in common. You have committed your life to repairing the world.” Upon receiving the honor, Markowtiz, who has been in a wheelchair due to declining health brought on by West Nile virus, managed to stand up with the aid of an assistant and a walker.

“I feel like I am standing taller than ever,” he told the Journal later. The evening featured live music courtesy of Mike Burstyn, who sang “My Yiddishe Momme” to Markowitz’s mother, Lili, a Holocaust survivor who recently turned 90. It also recognized Barak Raviv of the Barak Raviv Foundation with the NextGen Award.

Special guest Monty Hall, former host of the TV game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” was seated alongside Markowitz, whose business ventures include The Mark for Events, a popular venue for parties and fundraisers, and Factor’s Famous Deli.

“When I walked in and saw the costumes, I thought I was doing the show all over again,” Hall said. 

Others who were seen included Markowitz’s family members, including his wife, Libby, three daughters and two sisters; StandWithUs founder Roz Rothstein; Journal president David Suissa; philanthropist Daphna Ziman; prosecutor Elan Carr; and Sam Yebri, co-founder of 30 Years After.

The progressive spiritual community known as IKAR held a Purim Justice Bonanza consisting of a Megillah service, a spiel featuring filmed and live sketches, and an after-party co-sponsored by JQ International at Café Club Fais Do-Do on March 23. The event drew nearly 400 people to hear the Megillah reading and 200 for the after-party, which featured a drag performance. Some revelers went outside to visit food trucks and to schmooze in a quieter outdoor seating area. Another room featured a silent disco, where participants could dance along to music played directly into their earphones.

From left: IKAR Executive Director Melissa Balaban and IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous attend IKAR’s Purim Justice Bonanza. Photo by Steve Sherman 

Rabbi Sharon Brous, who wore a “Snow White Privilege” costume, appeared with her husband, David Light, who dressed as the character Mugatu from the “Zoolander” movies. Associate Rabbi Ronit Tsadok came as the late singer Amy Winehouse.

This year’s spiel highlights included “Clergy in Cars Getting Coffee,” a filmed parody of the Jerry Seinfeld web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” IKAR’s version featured Brous going for a drive, getting a cup of coffee and singing “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen” with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. The video (and others from the spiel) can be viewed on IKAR’s YouTube channel.

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

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