Jewish Journal

Moving & Shaking: “Evening of Inspiration,” Suzy & Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award and more

The American Technion Society’s Albert Einstein Award went to David, Janet, Jeffrey and Robert Polak. Pictured at the organization’s Los Angeles dinner are (from left) David and Janet Polak; their grandson Ethan; Robert and Victoria Polak; and Lauren and Jeffrey Polak. Photo by Elaine Lee Photography

Unconditional love for Israel was in the air at the American Technion Society’s “Evening of Inspiration” on March 16.

“I’m here because I’m an Israel-loving, proud Jew, and because the Oscars never called,” comedian and event emcee Elon Gold said onstage in a ballroom at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills.

The gathering, which sought to increase support and awareness for the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, honored David, Janet, Jeffrey and Robert Polak with the Albert Einstein Award.

The Polaks, according to a press release, are “luminaries of the Los Angeles community and multigenerational supporters of the Technion.”

“This evening is more about the Technion than our family,” David Polak said upon accepting the award from Israeli biologist, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry and Technion distinguished research professor Aaron Ciechanover.

“No other institute can do the things we can do,” Ciechanover said, before presenting the Polak family with the award.

About 250 people attended the event, including Philip Gomperts, regional director of American Associates Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; financial adviser and pro-Israel philanthropist Barak Raviv; Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer Andrew Cushnir; StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein; Jewish Journal President David Suissa; evening co-chairs Rita and Steve Emerson; Helgard and Irwin Field; Denise and Bob Hanisee; and about 15 alumni of the Technion, which is located in Haifa, Israel.

During a showcase and cocktail-hour kickoff for the event, Yael Vizel, CEO of Zeekit and a former Israeli air force telecommunications officer, balanced the obligatory schmoozing with demoing Zeekit, an Israeli fashion startup enabling users to try on clothes while shopping online. She graduated from the Technion in 2010.

From left: IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous; Melissa Balaban, founding president and executive director of IKAR; and NewGround Executive Director Aziza Hasan attend the Suzy and Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award luncheon, where Balaban was honored. NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change organized the event. Photo by Shams Soomar

More than 300 guests attended the March 26 luncheon for the Suzy & Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award at the IMAN Cultural Center in West Los Angeles. The event — organized by NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change — exhibited the viability of interfaith work.

“This work between Muslims and Jews is more important than ever,” IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous said as she addressed the audience. “We do this work because it’s right. Now, after a decade of working together to build these relationships in the city, we do it not only out of sense of obligation but also out of sense of love.”

During the ceremony, several guests received awards from NewGround, which marked its 10th anniversary earlier this year. The recipients of the Suzy & Wally Marks Jr. Trailblazer Award were IKAR’s founding president and executive director, Melissa Balaban, and the Aga Khan Council for the Western U.S. The Day School Exchange, a project of New Horizon School Pasadena and Sinai Akiba Academy in Los Angeles, was given the inaugural NewGround Change-Maker Award.

The event had more than 30 sponsors, including Suzy Marks; David Weiner, CEO at Social Studies School Service; the Islamic Center of Southern California; and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. The Ismaili Choir of Los Angeles performed, singing a song in Hebrew, Arabic and English as the guests were served kosher and halal food.

Other guests at the event included Rabbi Sarah Bassin, of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and former executive director at NewGround, and Andrea Hodos, program director at NewGround and creator of Moving Torah Workshops.

Daniel Tamm, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s interfaith liaison and Westside representative, said he is a big fan of NewGround.

“It’s one of my most favorite organizations in Los Angeles,” Tamm said. “I love it because it builds bridges instead of creating boundaries.”

The event raised $85,000 for NewGround, which promotes discussions and partnerships between Jewish and Muslim communities.

Olga Grigoryants, Contributing Writer

Zane Buzby, comedy producer and Survivor Mitzvah Project founder, and actor Ed Asner come together at the Anti-Defamation League annual Deborah Awards. Photo courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) held its annual Deborah Awards dinner March 30 at the SLS Hotel Beverly Hills, honoring women who exemplify professional leadership and civic contribution.

This year, the ADL honored comedy producer and Survivor Mitzvah Project founder Zane Buzby, sports and entertainment executive Francesca Leiweke-Bodie of Oak View Group, and AEG Executive Vice President Martha Saucedo, who leads the entertainment firm’s external affairs, including its charitable involvement.

“The ADL is honoring Zane Buzby,” actor Ed Asner joked in Buzby’s introduction. “What is that? Is that a condition?”

Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke presented the award to Leiweke-Bodie, his daughter, and Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo introduced Saucedo.

The black-tie event, with about 300 attendees, raised more than $300,000 for the ADL.

Among the celebrity guests were actors Topher Grace, Allen Leech, Frances Fisher and Emmanuelle Chriqui.

Cal State Northridge Police Chief Anne Glavin delivered an address thanking the ADL for its work training law enforcement officers, saying a recent four-hour training session had helped her staff differentiate between hate speech and hate crimes.

Telemundo executive Mónica Gil and longtime ADL supporter and donor Suzanne Prince acted as the event’s co-chairs. Actress and musician Janina Gavankar was the emcee.

Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

Julie Munjack

Julie Munjack, director of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Los Angeles, was among 30 Jewish professionals and volunteer leaders from around the world selected by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation for the third cohort of the Schusterman Fellowship.

The foundation describes the fellowship as an “executive leadership program that features individualized professional development experiences.”

Fellows will gain leadership skills, develop strategic networks, and maximize their potential to affect “Jewish organizational and societal change,” the foundation said in a press release.

Munjack, who oversees a staff of eight and leads operations and development efforts for AIPAC’s second-largest market, is the only person from Los Angeles named to the latest cohort of fellows. She was selected through a competitive application process. Her goal, according to the Schusterman website, is to “grow the pro-Israel movement in Los Angeles and train our local leaders.”

From left: Daniel Levine, Amanda Khalil, Nerses Aposhian, Mary Isaac and Darion Ouliguian participated in a panel titled “Indigenous People Unite.” Photo by Mati Geula Cohen

Students Supporting Israel at UCLA on March 9 held an event called “Indigenous People Unite,” which brought together representatives of the Armenian, Jewish, Assyrian and Coptic indigenous communities to speak about their identities, struggles and futures in the United States and in their homelands.

Speakers included UCLA graduate student Daniel Levine, speaking for the Jewish community; Loyola Marymount law student Nerses Aposhian, president of the Armenian Law Students’ Association; UCLA alumnus Mary Isaac, for the Assyrian community; and UCLA undergraduate student Amanda Khalil for the Coptic community.

The goal of the event was to recognize and bring attention to indigenous people and their stories, to create a dialogue between the communities and show the similarities between each other’s narratives.

Some of the topics focused on biblical Jewish history and modern Zionism, the current conditions of the Coptic Christian community in Egypt, the Armenian genocide and communities in the Diaspora, as well as the Assyrian people’s desire to return to their homeland and how their community maintains its identity.

At one point, in response to a question by a member of Students for Justice in Palestine about “the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government,” Liat Menna, president of Students Supporting Israel at UCLA, responded, “The reason why we are doing this event is so that conversations get started.”

The audience included UCLA students from various backgrounds, as well as UCLA professor emeritus and Daniel Pearl Foundation President Judea Pearl, and Zionist Organization of America’s West Coast Campus Coordinator Leore Ben-David.

Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer

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