October 15, 2019

Local Mensches Do Lunch

Pictured (left to right standing) Dan Rothblatt, EVP, Jewish Community Foundation; Marvin Schotland, President & CEO, Jewish Community Foundation; David Nimmer; Mel Wacks; Nancy Mishkin; Bruce Rosen; Michael Ullman; David Suissa, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, Jewish Journal; and Rachel Sumekh. (Left to right seated) Victoria Nodiff-Netanel, Betty Cohen, and Alana Yakolev. (Photo by Leah Lau)

The venue was a conference room in the Jewish Community Foundation building on Wilshire Boulevard, the occasion was a luncheon, and the 10 invited guests were all past honorees of the Jewish Journal’s Mensch lists.

To date, the Journal has published 12 annual Mensch lists that spotlight extraordinary Jewish Angelenos who donate their time, energy and passion to making the world a better place. However, this is the first year a luncheon has been held for honorees. 

The honorees at the Sept. 13 event came from the past three years’ lists and included Fruit for a Cause’s Bruce Rosen; SOVA Community Food and Resource Program volunteer Michael Ullman; lead architect of B’nai David’s twice monthly homeless lunch program David Nimmer; Swipe Out Hunger founder Rachel Sumekh; attorney Alana Yakovlev, who works with the homeless and mentally ill; the Child Safety Pledge’s Rochel Leah Bernstein; Mini Therapy Horses founder Victoria Nodiff-Netanel; Board Chair for Tower Cancer Research Foundation and Beit T’shuvah, Nancy Mishkin; Betty Cohen, a 97-year old Holocaust survivor who volunteers with multiple organizations; and Jewish-American Hall of Fame creator Mel Wacks (and his wife, Esther).

“Just sitting at the table beside such amazing and dedicated people was one of the most humbling experiences,” Yakovlev told the Journal. “Their actions demonstrate the epitome of chesed, and we should all continue to be a beacon of light.” 

The Foundation came up with the idea to honor the Mensches shortly after this year’s list came out in January, which seemed a natural extension of the organization’s mission to help build enduring legacies and strengthen the Jewish community. 

In 2017, with the support of 1,300 donors, the Foundation distributed a record $100 million to Jewish and nonsectarian causes locally, nationally and in Israel.

Foundation President and CEO Marvin Schotland told the Journal at the luncheon, “The people who are on the [Mensch] list are really doing very much the same thing that our donors are doing. They are not necessarily doing it through us, but it doesn’t matter. They are helping build community.” 

He added that introducing the Mensches to one another was a way for them to share their values and experiences, and relate to and learn from one another. Although many of the Mensches were meeting for the first time, they quickly bonded over lunch. 

“I give in limited doses during my spare time, so it was totally inspirational to be amidst people who dedicate their whole lives to helping others.” 

— David Nimmer

“People were attentive, sharing, interested in what other people were doing,” Schotland said. “None of that would have occurred but for the fact that they were in this room. And the starting point for that was the Jewish Journal.”

“I give in limited doses during my spare time when I can,” Nimmer said, “so it was totally inspirational to be amidst people who dedicate their whole lives to helping others in the most meaningful fashion.”

During the lunch, the Mensches asked the Foundation to connect them all via a shared email list, and made plans to stay in touch.  

“It was such a privilege and pleasure to attend the luncheon and meet all these incredible Mensches and hear their moving stories of compassion, kindness and positive action,” Foundation Executive Vice President Dan Rothblatt said. “They are truly inspiring people and epitomize the best that our community has to offer.” 

The Foundation’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications Lewis Groner added, “And what better time of the year than to do it at the start of the Jewish New Year to recognize the accomplishments of all of these Mensches around the table?