August 20, 2019

Moving and Shaking: Israel Film Festival, Tour de Summer Camps and more

Choking back tears, Israel Film Festival (IFF) founder and director Meir Fenigstein thanked the 500 guests who attended a gala event Nov. 9 at the Beverly Wilshire hotel marking the 30th anniversary of the annual festival in the Los Angeles area.

“Thirty years ago, I could not have imagined how far this event would come. This festival has now brought over 1,000 Israeli films and hundreds of filmmakers to reach over 1 million people here in the United States,” he said.

Fenigstein recalled how he started the festival in Boston with only six Israeli films over four days. Today, the festival screens more than 30 Israeli films, including features, documentaries and students’ films and runs close to two weeks, ending this year on Nov. 23. The festival previously took place in other U.S. cities as well but has been only in Los Angeles the past few years. 

At the gala, a day after the presidential election, actress Natalie Portman accepted the Israel Film Festival Achievement award. Israeli-born Portman, who is pregnant with her second child and who supported Hillary Clinton, discussed the election without mentioning the winner, Donald Trump, by name.

“Let’s look into each other’s hearts, express our own and use our curiosity against future simplification and fanaticism. Fanatics have no sense of humor and very seldom are they curious. Tonight, let’s celebrate these curious artists exercising, in the words of Amos Oz, ‘the moral virtue of curiosity,’ ” she said.

Portman also talked about her directorial debut, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” based on the autobiography of Israeli author Oz. Portman also wrote the script and starred in the film.  

Actress Sharon Stone, the recipient of the IFF Career Achievement award, spoke of her friendship with the late Israeli President Shimon Peres, with whom she co-founded the YaLa young leaders’ peace movement, a global online organization. Peres “was one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met and I’m truly going to miss him,” she said.

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, received the Community Leadership award.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

Sam Grundwerg, consul general of Israel in L.A., with fellow riders at the Tour de Summer Camps fundraiser. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography

Despite a brief bout of inclement weather, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles hosted its fourth annual Tour de Summer Camps cycling fundraiser on Oct. 30.

The community-wide event raised $1.2 million to provide youngsters with scholarships to Jewish summer camps. The goal is to provide children with an opportunity to make lifelong friends and build a strong connection to Judaism through their camp experience.

More than 560 registered riders chose one of the four routes, which began at Camp Alonim at the Brandeis-Bardin campus of American Jewish University in Simi Valley. The routes were 18 miles, 36 miles, 62 miles and 100 miles in length. Among the riders this year was Sam Grundwerg, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles.

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of Federation, said in a statement, “Sunday was a once-in-a-lifetime experience as we set the record in raising money for scholarships to send kids to Jewish summer camp. We couldn’t have predicted the [rainy] weather — but in the end, the rain combined with the excitement of the riders made for an unforgettable day. This was our most successful Tour de Summer Camps to date. The community truly came together for an important cause.”

The $1.2 million raised by the event is enough to provide 1,500 children with camp scholarships.

— Julie Bien, Contributing Writer

From left: Philanthropist Claude Mann at the L.A. Sephardic Film Festival with Sephardic Legacy Award recipient Jeannine Sefton, SEC director Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Cinema Sephardic Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Enrico Macias, SEC president and film fest co-founder Neil Sheff and film fest co-founder Sarita Fields. Photo by Michelle Mivzari

During the recent 13th Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival, three honorees received the Sephardic Educational Center (SEC) awards. 

The Maimonides Leadership Award went to Rae Cohen, community activist and past president of the Los Angeles Sephardic Home for the Aging (LASHA); Jeannine Sefton, founding member of the SEC, received the Sephardic Legacy Award; and French singer Enrico Macias received the Cinema Sephardic Lifetime Achievement Award.

Algerian-born Macias, who fled to France following the Algerian War of Independence in 1961, gave an emotional speech. “You are my family, my people,” said the 77-year-old chansonnier. “Whenever I come to Los Angeles, I feel like I come home because I have friends here who accept me with lots of love.” 

Macias talked about his desire to see an end to the conflict between Jews and Muslims: “I want to have peace between all the people, no more wars, no more conflicts, only friendship and love. I also don’t want to see separation between Sephardic and Ashkenazi [Jews]. Our people had suffered and known tragedies throughout our history and I want to reunite them all to be stronger and united.”

Attorney Neil Sheff, SEC president, who helped create the film festival, and Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, SEC director, gave each honoree a golden menorah. 

“Being a Sephardic Jew in this day and age is no longer an ethnic definition — it’s open to Jews of all backgrounds, whether they are Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Reform or Orthodox,” Bouskila said.

Macias performed some of his signature songs: “Je quitte mon pays” and “Le millionnaire du dimanche” to the delight of the audience, which sang along with him in French. 

The SEC, an international nonprofit education and cultural organization, was founded 36 years ago and has a campus in Jerusalem. The weeklong film festival, which ended Nov. 20, featured 10 films about Jewish and Middle Eastern communities in Greece, Italy, Australia and Israel, and was held at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theater in Beverly Hills. 

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

Members of the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund gather with JVPF-LA grantees from ITIM, Jewish Women International and TRIBE Media Corp. Photo by Jonathan Gerber

At a Nov. 10 dinner in Brentwood, the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund–LA (JVPF-LA) awarded a total of $175,000 in investment grants to the nonprofits ITIM, Jewish Women International and TRIBE Media Corp., parent organization of the Jewish Journal.

JVPF-LA, which was founded in 2003, is an independent giving circle of individuals who pool their financial resources to fund innovative programs consistent with Jewish values. 

More than 30 JVPF-LA members gathered at the home of Steve and Julie Bram to celebrate the three final awardees, which were selected from a pool of 73 applicants. “Our JVPF awards dinner is hands down my favorite night of the year,” said Julie Bram, “We shine a light on remarkable organizations doing great work.”

ITIM helps people in Israel navigate the religious bureaucracy, providing Israelis with information and free advocacy services in order to simplify processes like conversion. JVPF-LA granted ITIM a $60,000 challenge grant to fund a conversion program for Russian Jews. 

Jewish Women International received $50,000 from JVPF-LA to expand one of its flagship programs, the Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN), to Los Angeles. YWLN helps  Jewish professional women in their 20s and 30s grow as leaders in their workplaces, communities and personal lives. 

TRIBE Media Corp. received $65,000 to significantly increase and expand video content. “This grant will enable us to bring our editorial vision and award-winning journalism to one of the most transformative and important mediums of our time” Journal Editor-in-Chief/Publisher Rob Eshman said. As a result, the Journal will be able to “dramatically increase the number of people we connect, inform and inspire on a daily basis, thus deepening connections to the Jewish community and understanding of the issues and events that shape our lives,” he added. 

“ITIM, Jewish Women International and the Jewish Journal serve diverse populations with different needs in the Jewish community,” said Gary Braitman, co-chair of JVPF-LA. “By investing in these three particular grantees, we are staying true to our mission to contribute to the strengthening of the entire Jewish community.” 

— Julia Moss, Director of Community Engagement