September 23, 2019

Community Briefs 3/22

Mel Gibson’s support of Survivor Mitzvah Project revealed

Actor and director Mel Gibson, infamous for an anti-Semitic tirade he made after being stopped for DUI in 2006, has been supporting an organization that provides direct financial aid to poverty-stricken Holocaust survivors in remote areas of Eastern Europe and Ukraine, the group’s founder recently revealed.

Zane Buzby, founder of the Survivor Mitzvah Project, said she contacted Gibson after learning that he had gotten involved in philanthropic work, seeking to make amends for his past behavior.

“I read an article maybe three years ago that Mel Gibson had been actively involved in philanthropy, with children at risk, that he’d changed his life around and had been clean and sober for 10 years. I didn’t know any of that. I contacted him hoping that when I told him Holocaust survivors were in desperate need he would want to help them too, and he did,” she said.

He requested anonymity when he first became involved with Survivor Mitzvah Project, according to Buzby, who will be honored March 30 by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) during the ADL Deborah Awards. Recently, as he has returned to the public eye — thanks in part to his 2016 film, “Hacksaw Ridge,” which follows a conscientious objector during World War II — Buzby asked Gibson if he would be OK if she publicized his contributions. He agreed; entertainment news outlet Extra reported the story on March 17.

“This is real. Gibson’s help is real,” Buzby said. “His big mistake in life was over 10 years ago. I’m not like his buddy, I don’t hang out with him, not involved in his personal life, nor do I know his family or his friends, but from where I sit, he has done a lot to help survivors and to me that’s a wonderful thing. It’s a wonderful story of redemption. It’s a mitzvah to ask for forgiveness and it’s a mitzvah to give it.”

Buzby declined to disclose how much Gibson, whose 2004 film “Passion of the Christ” drew condemnation from organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, has given to the organization. But she did say Gibson has also helped connect her to other entertainment industry professionals.

“He knew a few and reached out to them, did that right in the office. He got it. He understood what we are trying to do. He liked that [the organization] was small, hands-on and not connected to big organizations flooded with funding. He knew every dollar he gave would count and knew he was being asked more than just to give money,” she said.

In 2016, the organization raised $700,000, the “best [fundraising] year we ever had,” Buzby said.

Federation meeting addresses security concerns in wake of bomb threats

A March 15 town hall meeting at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Wilshire Boulevard headquarters attempted to assuage concerns over the increase in bomb threats targeting Jewish institutions across North America.

“In this community today we have the capacity to protect ourselves. Let’s work with those in law enforcement and others to do just that,” said Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, the former CEO of pro bono legal agency Bet Tzedek.

The event, attended by more than 100 community members, was organized by Federation’s Community Security Initiative, which trains Jewish organizations in security, and maintains a database that connects Jewish groups in the event of an emergency situation.

It featured Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck and Federation chief operating officer and chief financial officer Ivan Wolkind. Additional speakers were FBI agent Sean Ragan; Capt. Bobby Wyche of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins; Chris Grigg, chief of the terrorism and export crimes section in the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California; and Beatrice Girmala, LAPD assistant chief officer of special operations.

“We are concerned, quite frankly, that a wave of threats like this, that come in by telephone, social media or some other means, may be a precursor and other people may take inspiration from it and feel they actually do have a license to engage in violence on our communities. We will act to stop it, but we can only do that if you in the community provide the information to our police officers and our sheriff deputies, because they are the first lines of contact,” Grigg said.

The more than 160 bomb threats at Jewish organizations since Jan. 4 included two such threats against the Westside Jewish Community Center among eight total threats across California. No suspects have been apprehended in connection with the local threats.

Feuer emphasized Jews are not the only community that has been a target of “acts of hate.”