By Michael Aushenker
"Mr. Rickles, I'm with the Jewish Journal."
"That's your problem."
So went my exchange with "Mr. Warmth" -- comedianDon Rickles -- at the Century Plaza Hotel.
With wife Barbara by his side, the legendaryRickles was on hand to pay tribute to an icon in another field --longtime friend and Loeb & Loeb attorney Harvey L. Silbert. Alongwith California Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk, Silbert was theguest of honor of the 50th Annual Legal Services Dinner.
Sponsored by the Jewish Federation's LegalServices Division, the gala banquet attracted many of the city'spracticing elite. But anyone expecting a roomful of rowdy, rivallegal eagles pounding drinks like gavels may have been disappointedat the level of camaraderie and respect circulating the pre-banquetcocktail reception. As Chair Bradley Pizer put it, the benefit dinneris "a crucial part of our campaign to broaden participation among thelegal community, especially the next generation of Jewishleaders."
Chair Andrew Caine echoed Pizer's sentiments,labeling the event a bridge between the young and old guard, an ideathat wasn't lost on the thirtysomething advocates inattendance.
"The Legal Services Division creates an instantunderstanding and familiarity with other young lawyers," saidattorney Barak Lurie, of Danning, Gill, Diamond & Kollitz. "I cantalk shop. I feel so strongly connected to the Jewishcommunity...while at the same time enjoying my profession. Itenriches my Jewish background."
"I work six days a week. I would not have theopportunity to meet other attorneys in the community [were it not forfunctions like these]," said fellow UCLA law grad David B.Felsenthal.
Jeffrey A. Kaye, who practices corporate law withSheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, declared the dinner "aworthy, important event, drawing from the incredible pool the Jewishcommunity has to offer." Intellectual-property specialist DavidBen-Meir agreed. This evening was a rare chance for the Lyon &Lyon attorney to catch up with peers such as Kaye.
The opinion from the senior set seemed inaccordance with their youthful protégés. Donald Etra,prominent criminal defense attorney and former Legal ServicesDivision chair, praised the wonderful turnout, deeming the annualevent "always a wonderful night for the Jewish and legal communityalike."
Following the reception, guests packed the banquethall, where a roast beef brisket buffet and a night of networkingawaited those in attendance.
Onstage, Justice Mosk exacted wry comic commentaryas he traced back the history of Jews in the United States judiciary.And former Legal Services Division chair Stanley Gage brought themeaning of tzedakah home with vivid examples of disadvantaged peoplebenefited by the Federation's work: the "bubbe from Moscow" who foundherself stripped of her job and home; the young barrister who losthis license because of drug addiction, and turned to the UnitedJewish Fund to help him find rehabilitation through Torah teachings;the large numbers living well below poverty level all over the world.Gage urged his audience to contribute generously and help theorganization reach its $50 million goal.
Poignant pleas notwithstanding, it was Don Rickleswho shined the brightest, working the room like it was the Sands.Nothing was sacred, as Rickles opened with a deadpan "Shalom...thisis the highlight of my career." The veteran comedian went on to roastthe honorees and comically assault every institution in sight.
Regarding the evening:
"What a great night. I could have been in amillion other places."
Regarding the roomful of lawyers:
"I look around, and I see no one here who's biggerthan I am!"
On the topic of Israel:
"The last time we [visited], we played a gamecalled "Duck!"
In reference to Mount Sinai:
"My mom's name is up there. My name's up therewith pride. And Alan King's name is up there, which really upsetsme."
On his Orthodox upbringing in Jackson Heights,Long Island:
"We used to hang out in front of White Castle andbelch at the cantor as he sang, 'Yom Kipuuuuuur!'"
Despite all the jesting, Rickles revealed asincere side, articulating his pride to be a Jew and a supporter ofthe Federation. And he demonstrated his respect for Silbert, who hashelped Rickles and his wife immeasurably over the years. Ricklesproved a tough act to follow for the satirical political quartet TheForeman, who closed the event with their topical ditties.