January 22, 2019

Moving & Shaking: Sharsheret California, Supporting Jewish Women Facing Cancer, Celebrates First Anniversary

Sharsheret California Community Advisory Committee members (front row, from left) Linda Powell Davis, Sari Abrams, Annie Spar and Courtney Mizel and (back row, from left) Dikla Benzeevi, Lisa Hofheimer, Abbi Hertz and Noam Drazin celebrate Sharsheret’s first anniversary. Photo courtesy of Sharsheret

Sharsheret California, a national nonprofit organization supporting Jewish women and families facing breast and ovarian cancer, held its first anniversary celebration at Robertson Art Space on Nov. 5.

In its first year Sharsheret hosted 62 outreach and education events from San Francisco to San Diego. The group has also held 13 cultural competency training sessions for health-care, mental-health and Jewish-communal professionals.

Nearly 150 guests attended the event, which included a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception and a performance by Israeli singer and songwriter Eleanor Tallie. Abbi Hertz, Lisa Hofheimer and Courtney Mizel — members of the Sharsheret California Community Advisory Committee — co-chaired the event.

“When we opened the California office last year, we knew we were addressing a critical need in the Jewish community here to educate women and men about their increased risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer,” Sharsheret California Regional Director Jenna Fields said. “We had laid the groundwork over the years to build our presence. But when we officially launched last year, we took a leap of faith, and our Sharsheret leadership took a leap of faith, with the hope that the dream of a few would grow to the vision of many, and it did.”

Attendees included Donna Schlessel; Shuli Bendheim Steinlauf and her husband, Avi Steinlauf; Sari Abrams and her husband, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of Congregation B’nai David-Judea; Annie Spar and her husband, Elon Spar; Sharsheret Executive Director Elana Silber; and Sinai Temple Rabbi Nicole Guzik.

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

From left: Talent agent Adam Berkowitz, actors Lior Ashkenazi and Ania Bukestein, Israel Film Festival founder Meir Fenigstein and Mark Ivanir attend the festival’s opening night. Photo by Robert Todd Williamson

The 31st annual Israel Film Festival (IFF) began Nov. 5 with a gala at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills that honored actor Jeffrey Tambor and Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi.

Tambor was presented with the 2017 IFF Achievement in Television Award by Israeli actress Ayelet Zorer, who had a role in the Golden Globe-winning and Emmy-nominated Amazon Studios series “Transparent,” in which Tambor plays a transgender woman. (Tambor subsequently announced he may be leaving the show after sexual harassment allegations were made against him.)

Ashkenazi, who received the IFF Cinematic Achievement Award, is starring in “Foxtrot,” which won the Ophir Award — the Israeli Oscar — and will be submitted by Israel for the Academy Awards’ best foreign language film category. Actor Mark Ivanir (“Homeland”) presented Ashkenazi with his award.

In his speech, Ashkenazi addressed the controversy surrounding “Foxtrot,” which was heavily criticized by Israeli Minister of Culture Miri Regev, who claimed the film supported the agenda of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

“There are those who try to mess with our art and work,” Ashkenazi said. “We as artists spark debate and make us all more tolerant, and we are going to continue creating and speaking our minds despite those who want to silence us.”

Yariv Mozer’s documentary, “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue,” winner of this year’s Ophir Award for best documentary, was the festival’s opening night film.

Adam Berkowitz, co-head of the television department at Creative Artists Agency, chaired the festival. Also in attendance was the festival’s founder and executive director, Meir Fenigstein.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

From left: Hailey, Todd, Dana, Ron, Sarah, Randall and Kathy Katz come together at the Katz Family Pavilion and Shalom Garden dedication ceremony. Photo courtesy of Stephen Wise Temple

Stephen Wise Temple in Bel Air dedicated its new Katz Family Pavilion and Shalom Garden on Nov. 5.

About 700 people turned out to celebrate the completion of the 18-month, $9.2 million building project, including lead donor Ron Katz and his family — sons Randall and Todd, daughters-in-law Kathy and Dana, and granddaughters Hailey and Sarah — for whom the facility is named. Also in attendance were Stephen Wise Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, Rabbi Emeritus Eli Herscher and Cantor Nathan Lam; its building committee chair Leandro Tyberg; and Ed and Deena Nahmias, benefactors of the pavilion’s Nahmias Family Plaza.

The 9,500-square-foot pavilion will be used for sports, cultural and lifecycle events. Working with Lehrer Architects, the temple replaced its historic Hershenson Hall at the center of its campus with the new pavilion. The project also transformed a parking area into a 7,000-square-foot park dedicated in honor of Herscher and his four decades of service to the Stephen Wise Temple community. He retired in 2015.

After the event in an interview with the Journal, Zweiback expressed gratitude to the Katz family. “The way you say thank you,” he said, “is you live the values that inspire this place and then you build for the future.”

From left: Netiya Executive Director Devorah Brous, L.A. City Councilman David Ryu and L.A. Food Policy Council Executive Director Clare Fox.

Devorah Brous, executive director of Netiya, was honored as a Los Angeles Good Food Champion by the City Council on Oct. 24 as part of Food Day in Los Angeles.

Brous, whose organization is working to transform unused land at religious congregations into urban gardens, was one of 15 people honored from each city council district. She was chosen for the honor by District 4 Councilman David Ryu. Food Day was an effort organized by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council.

“They are all food champions,” Brous said of her fellow honorees. “One is
opening a restaurant. One has started a community garden in East L.A. That’s what makes the award cool. It’s really diverse, with people from every racial and ethnic background. It’s really interesting and exciting to see the council members are getting behind some of the initiatives we’ve been launching.”

Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, who bet on the Dodgers in the World Series, appears in a YouTube video about the bet. Photo from YouTube

Earlier this month, Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback lost a friendly bet to Rabbi Oren Hayon of Congregation Emanu El in Houston over the 2017 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros.

At stake were food and tzedakah. Zweiback and the Stephen Wise congregation promised to buy the Houston congregation a Factor’s Famous Deli platter and to make a donation to a cause of Emanu El’s choice if the Astros won. Emanuel El promised pecan pies and a donation to Union of Reform Judaism’s Camp Newman, which was devastated during the recent Northern California fires, if the Dodgers won.

The synagogues’ two rabbis exchanged humorous videos on YouTube over the course of the seven-game series. In one video, after the Astros beat the Dodgers, 7-6, in 11 innings, Hayon created a video of him eating pecan pie. Zweiback made a video in which he pretended to be on the phone with the Dodgers’ Jewish outfielder, Joc Pederson — who Zweiback referred to as “Yaakov.”

After the Astros beat the Dodgers in seven games, Stephen Wise sent the Houston congregation the Factor’s platter and made a donation to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. More than 150 families in the extended Emanu El family were affected by the storm. Despite winning the wager, Emanu El graciously made a donation to Camp Newman.

From left: Ben Savage, Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) honorees Dr. David Snyder and actress Bonnie Hunt, Avram Hershko, Candice Rosen and David Goodman attend the ICRF 2017 “Unlocking Cures” gala. Photo by Lindsey Boise

The Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) held its “Unlocking Cures” gala on Nov. 11 at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, honoring actress, producer, writer and director Bonnie Hunt and City of Hope Dr. David Snyder.

Hunt’s credits include the movies “Jumanji” and “Jerry Maguire.” Before getting into show business full time, she was an oncology nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where she worked closely with Dr. Steven Rosen, now CEO of City of Hope, a cancer treatment and research center in Duarte, Calif. She continues to support patient advocacy, medical research and many medical-related causes.

Snyder is an expert in stem cell transplantation for the treatment of leukemia and other blood disorders. He has been at City of Hope for more than 30 years.

The program for the event said Hunt and Snyder “exemplify the mission of the ICRF to improve the lives of those around the world by supporting world-class medical research in Israel.”

City of Hope and ICRF announced a collaboration in 2016 with the establishment of the Jacki and Bruce Barron Cancer Research Scholars Program to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information between cancer researchers in the United States and Israel.

The event, which opened with a cocktail reception and a silent auction, was attended by 250 people and raised more than $330,000. Actor Ben Savage was the emcee for the dinner and awards presentation, and Nobel laureate Avram Hershko, an Israeli biochemist, delivered the keynote speech.

Among those in attendance were ICRF Los Angeles board president and Jewish Journal advertising director Marty Finkelstein and ICRF board members David Cohan and Candice Rosen, who co-chaired the event.

“ICRF is that wonderful organization that merges the needs of cancer researchers with the ingenuity and resources of Israel,” Cohan said. “This gala is our opportunity to do our part to support them both. We must do our part!”

Curing cancer: Nobel laureate Hershko on whether it’s possible

Pick up any newspaper and there are certain types of stories that repeat day after day.

Armed men are killing each other in this or that war, car and train crashes claim varying numbers of victims, tearful politicians acknowledge sexual misconduct, and somewhere a scientist is working on a promising research project that might lead, according to the headline, to a cure for cancer.

So, with all these heralded “breakthroughs” in cancer research by brilliant scientists, supported by millions of dollars in public and private funds, are we actually winning the drawn-out war against cancer?

Fortuitously, Technion — Israel Institute of Technology’s Dr. Avram Hershko, co-winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was recently in Los Angeles, and the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), which supports his work, arranged an interview to provide an expert’s view.

Hershko, 74, and a child Holocaust survivor,  shared the Nobel Prize with a fellow Israeli and an American scientist for their discovery on how individual cells kill or get rid of malfunctioning proteins.

The way that proteins, which carry out the directives of genes, are formed in cells has long been a major research focus. But just as important is how to detect and eliminate “bad” proteins before they destroy or over-stimulate the “good” cells, leading to cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other dreaded diseases.

Among the benefits of Hershko’s past and continuing research has been the development of an effective drug against a specific cancer, multiple myeloma.

However, instead of focusing on Hershko’s own research, which has been widely reported, The Journal asked Hershko to make some sense of the layman’s confusion about the endless, and sometimes contradictory, claims of new advances to end the scourge of cancer.

The key to understanding the fight against cancer is that it is not a single disease, like polio, which can be prevented with a single vaccine or other magic bullet.

“There are thousands of different kinds of cancer, and just one kind, breast cancer, can be triggered by 15 different causes,” Hershko said.

Other experts narrow the list of cancer types, but the numbers are still impressive. The American Cancer Society, for instance, lists 71 types; other compilers cite 200 types.

The Imperial Cancer Research Fund in England enumerates six different theories, each by a distinguished scientist, to try and explain why apparently normally functioning cells at some point “begin to grow and multiply in an abnormal way in some part of the body … [and then] invade and destroy the surrounding tissues.”

Hershko is quite skeptical of claims and expectations of a “cure” for cancer. To achieve that, he says, “We must remove every cancer cell in a patient’s body. If only one remains, it can grow and proliferate again.”

Hershko’s prognosis is not as pessimistic as it sounds. Even absent a cure, the goal of cancer research, he believes, should be to point the way to treatments that will “not merely prolong life, but allow for a reasonably good quality of life” for years to come.

There has been considerable progress in developing such treatments against, for instance, breast cancer and leukemia, especially if these diseases are detected in their early stages.

Ask Hershko what he prizes most in his life, and it’s not the Nobel or other honors, but his six grandchildren. Unlike the stereotype of the ivory tower scientist, completely consumed by his work, Hershko spends two or three days a week taking the kids to school, sports games or dance lessons.

One key to such devotion may be his own childhood experiences, which he is reluctant to discuss, particularly with his family, “because I don’t want to traumatize my grandchildren,” he said.

He was raised in the Hungarian town of Karcag, where both his parents were teachers. In 1944, when Hershko was 6, Nazi troops arrived and deported Karcag’s roughly 1,000 Jews, two-thirds of whom perished in concentration camps.

Hershko’s family was relatively lucky. The boy, with his mother, brother and paternal grandparents, were put on a train to a labor camp in Austria, were they worked in the fields near Vienna.

The family was liberated shortly before the end of the war, in April 1945. Eventually, Hershko’s father, having survived forced labor camps in Hungary and the Soviet Union, rejoined the family. However, the boy’s maternal grandparents and other relatives perished in Auschwitz. In 1950, the Hershkos made aliyah to Israel.

In 1969, Hershko started his research on how the body cleanses itself of unneeded and malfunctioning proteins, but his work was largely ignored or dismissed for the next 10 years.

“People just weren’t interested in my research; they didn’t realize how important it was,” he said. “Some scientists started avoiding me.”

With his theories now validated by tests and the Nobel Prize, Hershko has become something of a celebrity and is often enlisted as an all-purpose maven by the media.

At the Technion in Haifa, Hershko carries the title of distinguished professor, which exempts him from the university’s mandatory retirement-age rule, and in conversation he comes across as a modest and humorous man.

His work is also supported through a research professorship, funded by the ICRF, an organization founded in 1975 by American and Canadian oncologists to help underwrite the work of promising young researchers in Israel and prevent their migration to more lucrative offers at foreign institutions. (See related story on Page 22.)

The ICRF draws its support from American and Canadian contributors, and its grants “are very significant and make a big difference,” Hershko noted. All grant recipients must conduct their research at Israeli institutions.

Last year, ICRF gave out 69 grants, totaling $2.5 million, to scientists at 22 Israeli universities, hospitals and medical centers, according to Lynn Addotta, director of operations for ICRF’s Los Angeles office.

Toward the end of a lengthy interview, Hershko expressed his apprehension about the perceived diminished interest of American Jews, especially the younger ones, in the future of Israel.

“We need your support in every way, not only money,” he insisted. “Israel is the only country we have.”