Jewish Journal

Moving and Shaking: Autism performing arts, Aish gala, and Mensch Foundation honoring Bush family

Steve Geiger (far right) presents the Mensch Award to former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush. Photo courtesy of the Mensch International Foundation

Holocaust aid organization Mensch International Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting Hungarian Holocaust survivors, honored former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush with the Mensch Award at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, the oldest Jewish congregation in Texas, on March 8.

“In a time today when we question our politicians’ ethics, when we question our politicians’ behavior and decency, this man, George Bush, and his wife were impeccable. They had no scandals, whether monetary or family-related. They are decent people and that’s what menschlikayt stands for,” Steve Geiger, founder of the Mensch International Foundation, said in an interview. Geiger, a former Los Angeles resident who currently lives in Palm Springs, said the former president played an important role in getting Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

“Without his help, it might not have happened,” Geiger said.

The organization promotes tolerance and offers Holocaust education programs in Hungary, which has the largest Jewish population in central Europe, he said.

Previous Mensch International Foundation honorees include Branko Lustig, a Holocaust survivor who was a producer on the movies “Schindler’s List” and “Gladiator.”

“We figure if we give the award to prominent people that the message will get across more,” Geiger said. “We also give it to very simple people.”

Special needs advocate Lucy Meyer, 17 — a Bel Air resident who has cerebral palsy and a Special Olympics athlete whose family belongs to Leo Baeck Temple — visited with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on April 3 at the senator’s Washington, D.C., office.

“Lucy loves Senator Feinstein,” said Jamie Meyer, Lucy’s mother.

Lucy, who is in 10th grade, was in the nation’s capital to speak at the UNICEF USA 2017 Annual Meeting, a four-day event that brought together UNICEF supporters, partners, constituents and students.

Special Olympics athlete and Leo Baeck Temple congregant Lucy Meyer meets with Sen. Dianne Feinstein at the
California senator’s
office in Washington. Photo courtesy of Lucy Meyer

During the trip, Lucy also met with U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to discuss “kids with disabilities and Lucy’s work to support the partnership between UNICEF USA and Special Olympics,” as well as ways to broaden the partnership between Special Olympics Southern California and the Los Angeles Unified School District, Jamie said. Lucy has met with more than half of the U.S. Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, to discuss the needs of athletes with disabilities, her mother said.

Sinai Temple Rabbi Erez Sherman participated in the Jerusalem Winner Marathon on March 17. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Erez Sherman

Sinai Temple delegation of 10 people, led by the congregation’s Rabbi Erez Sherman, traveled to Israel to participate in the seventh annual Jerusalem Winner Marathon on March 17.

The group ran as part of Team Shalva and raised nearly $31,000 for Shalva, an Israeli organization serving people with mental and physical disabilities. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said the event is the “most socially engaged marathon in Israel, with more than 6,000 runners participating to promote social causes.”

Sherman and his younger sister, Nitza, a nurse at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, participated in honor of their brother, Eyal, a quadriplegic.

Rich Garcia, head of Sinai Temple security, a U.S. military veteran and a Jew by Choice, also participated. Garcia ran in honor of a friend who died in a suicide bombing in Iraq.

Wendy Merchan, who is Catholic and a preschool teacher at Sinai Akiba Academy, also ran with the group, along with her two sisters.

“So, in short, not your normal group going to Israel,” Sherman told the Journal.

And for Garcia, the March 12-20 trip to Israel was about more than running in the marathon. He had his bar mitzvah during Shabbat at the Western Wall.

Students with autism and students from Sinai Akiba Academy came together Feb. 27 at Sinai Temple for a production of “The Intimidation Game.”

Scheduled in honor of February being Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, “The Intimidation Game” is an original musical about overcoming bullying and finding one’s true community. It is a production of The Miracle Project, a community theater group founded in 2004 by Elaine Hall that features cast members on and off the autism spectrum. The Emmy-winning documentary “Autism: The Musical” spotlighted the Miracle Project’s acclaimed arts program.

About 300 Sinai Akiba Academy students were in the audience for the performance of “The Intimidation Game,” which debuted last year at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.

Dahlia Trilling, a cast member and Sinai Akiba Academy student, raised funds and awareness for The Miracle Project as part of her bat mitzvah community service project. Her older sister, Lyla, also has volunteered for and performed with The Miracle Project. The sisters, who are not on the  autisum spectrum, are mentors at The Miracle Project. The program’s next musical, “Work in Progress,” will debut April 30.

From left, back row: Steve Gamer, Rabbi Susan Nanus, Steve Ross, Josh Moss, Shaina Hammerman and Dan Rothblatt, and from left, front row: Susan Mattisinko, Ross Melnick, Michael Renov, Vince Brook, David Isaacs and Lew Groner attend “From Shtetl to Stardom: Jews and Hollywood,” a discussion at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Photo by Steve Cohn/USC

More than 250 people attended “From Shtetl to Stardom: Jews and Hollywood,” a March 5 discussion at Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Irmas Campus in West Los Angeles.

The panelists in the discussion were Vince Brook, a lecturer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television; Shaina Hammerman, a Bay Area lecturer on Jewish film, literature, religion and cultural history; David Isaacs, a television writer who won an Emmy for his work on “Cheers”; Ross Melnick, a UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) associate professor of film and media studies; and Josh Moss, a UCSB visiting professor of film and media studies. Michael Renov, a USC cinema studies professor, moderated.

“The panel of prominent television and film academics and entertainment professionals offered a uniquely multifaceted and up-to-the-minute account of the remarkable role Jews have played in the entertainment industry and in American popular culture,” a press release said.

The panelists discussed Jewish comedians Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman; Jill Soloway’s television series “Transparent”; the Jewishness of Matthew Weiner’s “Mad Men” and more.

The USC Casden Institute organized the event, which was supported by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.

Jewish outreach organization Aish Los Angeles’ April 2 gala at the California Science Center celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1967 unification of Jerusalem; paid tribute to late philanthropist Charles Howard Boxenbaum, who died in 2016; and honored several of its supporters.

The gala’s opening reception and dinner were held in the museum’s entrance hall, and the honors and awards were presented in the Space Shuttle Endeavour exhibit, beneath the shuttle. The Leadership Award was given to Stacey and Julian Maimin, Lauren and Zigi Dromy, and Kellie and Jeff Singer for their underwriting of buses for Israel trips taken by Aish’s Jewish Women’s Initiative (JWI) and Jewish Men’s Initiative.

“I wanted to make a difference in the lives of Jewish families in Los Angeles,” Lauren Dromy said in a prerecorded video. “It was very important for us to underwrite a second bus for JWI. When I went back [to Israel] a second time, I went as a community leader. I became a teacher and a role model.”

The event also honored Aish L.A. rabbinic staff member Rabbi Yitz Jacobs in recognition of his educational excellence.

“I feel like I was created to invest in people and bring out their souls,” Jacobs said. “What keeps me inspired is the beauty of witnessing the spiritual journey of my students.”

Patrick Amar, who operates a tour company in Israel, emceed the event.

More than 800 people attended, including philanthropist Marvin Markowitz; Jewish Journal President David Suissa; StandWithUs co-founders Roz and Jerry Rothstein; Beverly Hills pawn broker Yossi Dina; philanthropist Barak Raviv; Israeli American Council National Chairman Adam Milstein and his wife Gila; and American Friends of Magen David Adom Regional President Dina Leeds and her husband Fred.

Rabbi Steven Burg, director general of Aish HaTorah Jerusalem, concluded the program with remarks.

“For Aish HaTorah … our job is to teach people that they have potential, to teach Jews that they have a job to do, that we have to be there for each other, be there for Israel, be there for Jerusalem, the eternal capital of our people,” Burg said.

— Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer

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