September 23, 2019

Moving and Shaking: FIDF gala, Mike Burstyn honored, David Suissa named Humanitarian of the Year

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region Gala on Nov. 4 raised a record $38 million from supporters such as GUESS founders Maurice and Paul Marciano, who donated $5 million, and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, who donated $6 million.

The high point of the gala came when the event’s chairman, Haim Saban, took the microphone and conducted the fundraiser. At times, the fundraising sounded like a bidding war at an auction, with guests taking turns at outbidding others, although there were no prizes to bid on.

As it does at each year’s gala, the FIDF flew in several soldiers whose stories helped open the guests’ hearts and checkbooks. Allison Bressand, a soldier from France, left her family behind when she enlisted in the IDF. Bressand served as a squad commander in the Israeli border police and was responsible for stopping a terror attack last year. She had moved to Israel to fulfill her late father’s dream of returning to the Jewish homeland. Bressand’s mother, who had not seen her daughter for nearly a year, was flown into Los Angeles from France to surprise Bressand onstage. The emotional reunion managed to move even Robert De Niro, one of the event’s celebrity guests.

Mike Burstyn and his wife, Cyona, celebrate after Burstyn accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 25th Silicon Valley Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Mike Burstyn 

Mike Burstyn, the talented, multilingual actor and West Los Angeles resident, was honored on Oct. 27 with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 25th Silicon Valley Film Festival in San Jose. Two nights later, the festival reprised Burstyn’s Israeli comedy hit “The 2 Kuni Lemel” to mark the film’s 50th anniversary.

With his wife, Cyona, at his side, Burstyn accepted congratulations from far and wide, including a message from Michael Oren, deputy minister of diplomacy in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. “(Burstyn’s) contributions to the performing arts — and especially Jewish arts — are legendary,” Oren wrote. “In Israel and throughout the world, he has enriched countless lives and brought joy to millions.”

Burstyn is now prepping for his solo show, “Rozhinkes mit Mandlen” (Raisins and Almonds), to be performed on Nov. 13 at Sinai Temple in Westwood.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor 

David Suissa (third from left) attends the American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA) Red Star Ball with his five children (from left): Tova, Shanni, Noah, Eva and Mia. Suissa, president of the Journal, was named the AFMDA Humanitarian of the Year. Photo by Ryan Torok

More than 1,000 philanthropists, clergy members, elected officials and others came together Nov. 1 for the American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA) fourth annual Red Star Ball in Beverly Hills, which honored Jewish Journal President David Suissa as Humanitarian of the Year; Stanley Black with the Lifetime Achievement Award; and Zach Zalben, Black’s grandson, with the Next Generation Award.

Such events “remind us how much we need one another and how much the community would be nothing without the character trait of generosity,” Suissa said, accepting his award from Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman. “All of you here tonight are givers.”

Co-chaired by philanthropists Dina and Fred Leeds, and hosted by Adele and Beny Alagem, the event at Beny Alagem’s hotel, the Beverly Hilton, raised more than $14 million toward the construction of the National Marcus Blood Services Center, an underground blood bank in Israel, and other initiatives. Attendee and philanthropist Maurice Kanbar, creator of Skyy Vodka, donated $5 million; Lynn Shall, a congregant of Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach, whose husband, Allen, died in 2015 after being struck by a bus, donated $125,000 toward the purchase of an intensive care ambulance in her late husband’s memory.

“It [the ambulance] will go all over Israel and his name will live on — and to me it’s really important,” Shall said. “He was a Jew’s Jew.”

Entertainer Diana Ross performed a medley of hit songs, much to the delight of Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin. “She’s fabulous,” Galperin said, snapping selfies at the foot of the stage. “I want be like her when I’m 72.”

Ross’ performance aside, the focus of the event was the work of Israel’s primary ambulance, blood service and disaster relief organization, which does not receive government funding.

“The work that Magen David Adom does is essential,” said Sam Grundwerg, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles. “They’re on the front lines with incredibly fast reaction times, both for civilian emergencies and even for our soldiers once they’re over the line in our territories. And the work they do is saving lives.”

— Ryan Torok, Staff Writer  

From far left: Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and his wife, Julia, actor  Jason Alexander and musician Todd Schroeder attend the Friends of Sheba Medical Center gala. Photo by Kyle Espweleta

Friends of Sheba Medical Center held its 46th annual gala at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Oct. 30 and commemorated the work of Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer, Israel. Titled “The Hero Gene,” the evening drew approximately 700 attendees.

The gala, hosted by Jason Alexander (“Seinfeld”), honored Arnon Adar, a member of the organization’s board of directors, with the inaugural Professor Mordechai Shani Lifetime Achievement Award, and Hadar Greenberg-Almog, a Friends of Sheba supporter and volunteer, with the Laurel of Leadership award.

Throughout the evening, Friends of Sheba chairs, board members, volunteers, doctors and a patient highlighted the hospital’s MSR (Hebrew for “Mercaz l’Simulatzia Refu’it”), the Israel Center for Medical Simulation. The simulations at MSR provide training for civilian and medical personnel in real-life scenarios, without human and medical errors.

The goal of the simulation center is to reduce the number of medical errors that occur at the hospital and beyond, according to Adina Hepner, director of development at Friends of Sheba. In the United States, medical errors are the third leading cause of death, and at least 60 percent of these cases are considered preventable, according to the British Medical Journal. Each year more than 15,000 people are trained or tested at MSR, and the demand is on the rise, Hepner said.

The proceeds raised by the gala — topped with a $1 million gift by The Nazarian Family Foundation — totaled $3.2 million. The funds will go toward growing the facility.

“Sheba Medical Center is the best that Israel has to offer and showcases the incredible lifesaving work that Israel offers the world,” Hepner said. “It is essential that we spread this message and raise the funds necessary for this hospital to continue its unique and heroic mission.”

— Kylie Ora Lobell, Contributing Writer

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