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Backstage with Jon Voight at Chabad Telethon ‘99

May 4, 2000 | 8:00 pm

Backstage at Chabad Telethon '99, Jon Voight was like the Beatles song -- "Here, There and Everywhere." One moment, the erstwhile "Midnight Cowboy" was huddling in a corner with a telethon point person, putting last-minute touches on a speech. Moments later, he was hovering around the extensive buffet, somewhere between the chili con carne and the roast brisket. Then the Academy Award winner was catching up with friends and obliging fans with autographs and photo opportunities.

"Here, There and Everywhere." One might say the same about Chabad itself, which has outreach chapters popping up all over the map, and the Telethon '99 advertising campaign blanketing the city with everything from billboards and lamppost banners, to truck-side displays riding up and down Pacific Coast Highway Sunday.

A regular Chabad fixture, Voight was one of many celebrities who spent the evening singing the praises on camera of Chabad's work. Anthony Hopkins, emcee Fyvush Finkel, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young, Shelley Winters, Dick Van Patten and Len Lesser ("Seinfeld's" Uncle Leo) all turned out to help make Chabad's 19th televised fund-raiser a success. The final tally: a whopping $4,701,412 in pledges.

Broadcast locally on KCOP, the telethon has become a familiar, annual parade of taped testimonials and live talent. Eclectic entertainment took place before the camera and backstage, from the comedy of Sid Caesar to bagpipe sensation "Wicked Tinkers" -- each segment culminating with the obligatory tote board updates and circles of dancing Chassidim.

Overheard behind the scenes was a parent's firsthand endorsement of Chabad's programs. Recounting the plight of her teen-age son, who was undergoing drug rehabilitation at the organization's Olympic and Hauser facility, the mother said that she had tried a leading rehab center, and all they did for her son was charge him a bill running in the thousands of dollars. Things changed when she enrolled her son at the Chabad center.

"They didn't care about the money," the woman said. "They said, 'Just bring in your kid.' ... Chabad is the only one that cares about the kids."

Last month's North Valley Jewish Community Center shooting echoed throughout the evening, as the messages of Chabad leader Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin and his celebrity guests often alluded to the incident and the importance of combating hate and prejudice in the world.

Commenting on the Aug. 10 tragedy, Voight told The Journal: "I've traveled all over the world. People are coming together more and more. This was an isolated, insane act."

Onstage, Voight reiterated his sentiment, also adding that the Jewish community will survive this latest tragedy because "the Jewish people are eternal. They will never be overtaken."

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