Just before Chanukah began, influential members of the community, including Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad, outspoken Muslim pro-democracy advocate Wafa Sultan and American Jewish Congress Pacific Southwest Director Gary Ratner, along with 1,100 other guests, gathered to honor Alan Dershowitz on Sunday, Dec. 2 for StandWithUs' Festival of Lights dinner at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza.
Hosted by StandWithUs President Esther Renzer and Roz Rothstein, guests enjoyed kosher wine before entering the banquet hall to hear the renowned Harvard Law School professor speak. Dershowitz, who had to catch a flight back to Boston shortly after his speech, warned that about 50 percent of students will adopt an anti-Israel philosophy by the time they graduate college.
And they are not alone. Dershowitz mentioned former president Jimmy Carter's hostile words of an Israeli-inflicted apartheid and DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein's and MIT professor Noam Chomsky's accusations against Israel.
While in town, Dershowitz also delivered his case for "Peace in the Middle East" at UC Irvine on Nov. 29 and attended two private events, accompanied by Rothstein.
Dershowitz challenged his audience, questioning why there is a disproportionate amount of negative attention paid to Israel in the United Nations. One table's shared sentiment implicated money. The crowd chimed in with below-the-breath whispers on various points outlined in his passionate talk about Israel, some not agreeing with his equally pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli viewpoint.
In a wholehearted plea to garner continuing support for the organization, director of StandWithUs' Israel and European programs, Shannon Shibata, swung her arms and gripped at her heart on stage with the passion of a televangelist and the honesty of someone with a deep connection to Israel. She proclaimed her father an anti-Semite but added that she became enriched and enlightened through her education at StandWithUs.
After the event, Rothstein said, "I believe that the thing we are most proud of is that our organization is inclusive. The attendees were from both main parties; the rabbis were from every possible Jewish denomination; there were non-Jews in the room; and approximately 100 students, representing all ages.
"This is why we are strong: It is the strength of the organization that we have created a broad tent that understands the importance of education during these challenging times."
-- Celia Soudry, Contributing Writer
Brad Pitt, Youth Meet in New Orleans
During the New Orleans reunion for Etgar 36 -- a summer travel program that inspires Jewish youth to get involved socially and politically -- the burgeoning leaders met with Brad Pitt, who was in town to help build sustainable housing for low-income families. Beverly Hills locals Dani Goodman and Alli Farfel were two of the lucky gals who got some face time with the handsome celeb in late November.
Over the course of a weekend, participants visited a destroyed synagogue, held Shabbat services, embarked on a historical walking tour of the city and relished the sound of bona fide New Orleans jazz. As they cleared dirt and debris in the Lower Ninth Ward, Pitt joined the group and told them about his charitable efforts.
If You Build Sufganiyot, They Will Come
Chabad celebrated Chanukah this year with a delicious (and novel) idea: It built a giant chanukiah made of doughnuts. The sweet and spiritual structure towered 12 feet, linked by poles smothered in plastic wrap and stacked with delectable sufganiyot, the mushy jelly ones piled up as the base. Topped off with tiki torches serving as candles, this menorah lighting lit the West Valley.
First conceived by Rabbi Elly Andrusier from Chabad of Irvine, the doughnut superstructure made its sophomore appearance before a crowd of 200 at the New JCC at Milken on Dec. 9 for the lighting of the sixth candle. A formidable cohort of rabbis from Chabad of Woodland Hills and Chabad of West Hills gave speeches on the meaning of Chanukah, including Rabbi Joshua Gordon and Rabbi Avi Rabin, followed by an address by Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis P. Zine.
After 12 Los Angeles yeshiva students sang and danced in circles, the crowd devoured the donated doughnuts from CafÃï¿½(c) Elite.
Rabin praised the event as a physical and spiritual inspiration, "spiritual because of the words shared about the message of Chanukah, which is that one candle is able to light many candles, bringing light and warmth into the world -- and physical, because of the immense amount of doughnuts."