September 21, 2000
Laugh Factory founder continues 15-year tradition of hosting free High Holy Days services.
On the evening of Sept. 29, the line will start early at The Laugh Factory on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. About 500 people will wait patiently to jam every available space in the showroom or crowd around TV monitors upstairs.
If you think they're expecting Seinfeld, think again.
For the past 15 years, Laugh Factory founder Jamie Chaim Masada has hosted free High Holy Days services, advertised in large letters on the club's marquee. Anyone is welcome, but mostly the worshippers are struggling comics, artists, actors and musicians working on the fringes of showbusiness.
"They come to Hollywood with high hopes, and then reality strikes," says Masada, who was motivated to offer the services and other free programs because of his own struggle in Hollywood years ago.
He grew up in Israel and Iran, the son of a cantor and entertainer who used to take him along to wedding and Bar Mitzvah gigs. At the simchas, Masada's father played accor-dion while Jamie told jokes; one day a man visiting from Los Angeles who called himself a producer suggested the boy had a future in show business.
Before long, the 14-year-old was on an airplane to L.A., armed with only $850 and the producer's address at Sunset and La Cienega. When the man took the money and ran, Masada found himself alone and penniless in a strange city. Fortunately, the building manager took him under his wing, offering Masada a job cleaning apartments and a couch in an empty garage. Local comics befriended the immigrant comedian, allowing him to tag along to clubs and coffee shops in the wee hours.
Masada wasn't so lucky his first Rosh Hashanah, when he walked to a Fairfax-area shul and was turned away for lack of a ticket.
"I didn't know I needed a ticket, and I couldn't afford to buy one," recalls the 39-year-old impresario, who walked back home, dejected.
Masada remembered the feeling after he founded The Laugh Factory with borrowed money in a leased storefront on Sunset in 1979. As Steve Martin and Robin Williams began dropping by, the impresario started hosting free Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, which now seat more than 4,000 people each year.
In the early days, Masada also began buying High Holy Days tickets for Jewish comics with no place to go - until he realized the $2,000 he was shelling out for 10 seats could help establish a free service for hundreds of people.
In 1985, more than 200 worshippers gathered for the first Laugh Factory service led by a Reform rabbi and cantor; over the years, the congregants have included toddlers to nona-genarians, including a woman who attends annually in a wheelchair. Kirk Douglas and his son Michael have even put in an appearance.This year, the services are back, to be conducted by Rabbi Bob Jacobs, with apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah, and bagels and lox to break the Yom Kippur fast. Masada will greet everyone, as usual."I still don't have any family in Los Angeles," he explains, "so these people have become my family. I made it in Hollywood, and now I want to give back to the community."
For information about the free services, call (323) 656-1336, ext. 1.