September 17, 2019

Gearing Up for 50

The peace process is stalled, pluralism issues remain unresolved and the Netanyahu government is in turmoil. But organizers of a major, star-studded 50th anniversary tribute to Israel later this year are focusing their attention on celebration, not contention. Indeed, a rare in-gathering of major Hollywood celebrities, Jewish communal officals and organizational leaders has come together to mark Israel’s first half century. &’009;

First among the planned events is “America Salutes Israel at 50,” scheduled to take place April 14 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The producers of the Academy and Emmy awards shows, Gil Cates and Don Mischer, respectively, are teaming up for the first time to produce what is promised to be a Hollywood-style, entertainment extravaganza that will be broadcast on CBS April 15 to millions in the United States and around the globe. Hosted by actor Kevin Costner, it will feature other well-known stars — for the moment unannounced. The Jewish Federation and Simon Wiesenthal Center have joined together in the effort to make the event a resounding success.

During a kickoff sales meeting last week at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, speakers did not completely ignore the troubled state of current Israeli politics. Extravagant plans for an official jubilee celebration in Israel have been stymied by lack of funds and internal wrangling.

But in Los Angeles, organizers are more sanguine about the festivities. “We all know what is going on in Israel,” said honorary co-chair Lew Wasserman, former chairman of MCA Universal and a major Jewish philanthropist. “I think it’s vital that people in Israel know that they still have the support of the rest of the world.”

“With all the things that separate the Jewish people, we can use a 50th anniversary to bring us together in celebrating the accomplishments of the Israeli state,” added Herb Gelfand, president of the Federation and the other honorary co-chair of the Los Angeles at 50 celebration.

“It’s important to remind ourselves what Israel has done for world Jewry,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Details of the evening at the Shrine are somewhat sketchy. Costner, who isn’t Jewish, is expected to have a crossover appeal to non-Jews. “M*A*S*H” creator Larry Gelbart is the show’s head writer. The lineup of stars isn’t set yet and won’t be for a while, said Mischer, whose credits include the opening ceremonies for the 1996 Olympic Games and gala events surrounding the hand-over of Hong Kong last year. Mischer said the show’s roster would include major names in film, television and music. “It should be an All-American show.”

Other plans for the two-hour event include: a satellite link-up with Israel, film clips of highlights from Israel’s first 50 years and possibly a pre-taped musical performance from Masada. “We’re going to party for Israel,” added Cates, who has produced seven Academy Awards shows and more than 25 films. “It’s going to be a very emotional event that should make us feel proud to participate and to be Jews.”

Two other Hollywood veterans, Merv Adelson and Marvin Josephson, are overseeing the CBS special and many other events in conjunction with Israel’s 50th. Both were appointed to serve as international co-chairs of the 50th celebration, at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, but have denied that politics is a factor in their involvement. “I didn’t give a single shekel or dollar to Bibi, the Likud or Labor,” Josephson, chairman of the powerhouse talent and literary agency, ICM, told The Jerusalem Report recently. “I am not Likud or Labor. I’m interested in Israel.”

“I truly believe this will be the most important event of the 50th outside of Israel,” said Adelson, speaking via speaker phone to the Four Seasons gathering. The show transcends politics and “who is on the left and who is on the right,” added the former chairman and CEO of Lorimar Pictures. “This is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the greatest friend America has.”

The overall budget for the event is about $6 million. CBS is paying $3 million for the broadcast, with the other $3 million being raised by the jubilee committee, headed by Adelson and Josephson. Los Angeles’ share is about $1 million, which is expected to be raised by sales of the 6,000 Shrine seats and to the gala that will follow, as well as by sales of ads in the tribute journal. The Wiesenthal and Federation have agreed that any extra dollars raised will be used to send children to Israel.

The tribute book, expected to run over 50 pages, will include decade and “mega-event” pages outlining key moments in Israel’s history, as well as personal eyewitness accounts of people who played a role in that history. The pages will be sponsored at $5,000 per page, with $10,000 as the price for the two-page decade and mega-event spreads. Eyewitness tales of Israel’s first 50 years are being sought.

Tickets to the Shrine event will range from $18 (block sales only), $25 and $100 general seating (available through Ticketmaster) to $1,000 for VIP tickets which will entitle the ticket holders to sit in a special area, and admission to a gala reception after the show. The reception menu will be created by Jewish cookbook author Judy Zeidler in partnership with Terry Bell, former Federation president and general campaign chair. Since the event occurs in the middle of Passover, the meal will include a charoset tasting and a variety of other Pesach entrees and desserts.