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Jewish Journal

Chabad rocks!

by Michael Aushenker

September 5, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin with actor Adam Sandler. Photo by Richard Schoenberg

Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin with actor Adam Sandler. Photo by Richard Schoenberg

Chabad of California's 22nd annual "L'Chaim to Life Telethon," hosted by Dennis Prager, was humming along nicely with a long roster of talent that included classic actors James Caan and Elliott Gould, comic actor Dom DeLuise and Israeli singer David "Dudu" Fisher. Then 10:30 p.m. rolls around and the KCET soundstage -- where the telethon is broadcast -- went amok. Enter the Sand Man.

Yes, Hollywood's most bankable comic actor, Adam Sandler -- as in "The Waterboy," "Big Daddy" and "Mr. Deeds." While he didn't pander to his Jewish audience with a performance of "The Chanukah Song," Sandler did show some support for his pal, Arthur Brooks, who belted out his soothing-as-chicken soup rendition of "My Yiddishe Mama."

"You dance amazing, rabbi," Sandler told Chabad patriarch Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin onstage, as Cunin and sons whirled around the bewildered "Happy Gilmore" star.

Sandler, who is known for not giving interviews, nonetheless said a few words to The Circuit.

"I'm glad to be here and I'm honored to be here," he said.

Sandler was not the only surprise guest of the evening. Arguably the most triumphant moment of the evening came when singer Neil Diamond melted hearts by singing "America" from "The Jazz Singer." Hot off his performance, Diamond told The Circuit that his Chabad experience was "terrific. It was a wonderful time."

In the VIP room, The Circuit caught up with other notables happy to support Chabad.

"Their persistence intelligence, energy, spirit, heart and soul" is what attracted Gould, who played legendary gumshoe Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman's "Long Goodbye" and looked very Chandleresque in his floppy gray Stetson.

Caan, the gritty actor who shined in "The Godfather" and "Honeymoon in Vegas," told The Circuit that Chabad's drug rehab facilities helped his late sister, Barbara Caan Licker, who lost her battle with leukemia in 1981.

The "Brian's Song" star affectionly recalled being prodded by her to attend High Holiday services. "She used to tell me, 'Put on your blue suit, go to the Beverly Hills Hotel.'"

Also touched by Chabad's good deeds: Dmitriy Salita, who will be fighting at Mandalay Bay in Vegas on Sept. 13, told The Circuit, "Chabad is what got me involved in Judaism. They turned my life around," said the 20-year-old junior welterweight and Russian immigrant who gave props to Rabbi Zalman Lieberoff of Chabad of Flatbush in Brooklyn for showing him the Jewish way.

Looking grownup in his suit and tie was 10-year-old Daryl Sabara of the "Spy Kids" movies.

"I'm here to say some Jewish prayers and talk to the crowd," said the redheaded Sabara, of German and Russian Jewish descent. Later onstage, the dancing Chabadniks turned the spy kid into a sky kid when they began hoisting him up in the air.

Onstage, freewheeling rap sensation Casanova was cool as a cuke as he stalked the phone banks and freestyled rhymes about the volunteers. But behind the scenes, the starstruck Casanova freaked when he recognized Gould. Gould came over and the two shared a moment of conversation.

"It's an honor to be here again among my Jewish brethren," said the rapper, who was once a wrestler named Oscar for the former WWF and has played the telethon on many occasions in the past decade. "I find Chabad awesome, and I look forward to coming back again," he said

The Circuit also hung out between performances with Sephardic singing sensation Jo Amar, who flew in from Israel just to sing his signature "Barcelona" on the seven-hour program, reggae singer Elan and members of Rebbe Soul. Elan, who sang "Nothing Is Worth Losing You (Jerusalem)" and "Praises" on the telecast, is a reggae-rooted pop-rock-soul pastiche being groomed in the Shaggy tradition, with two tracks on the upcoming Santana album.

Elan's connection with Chabad is personal. While on tour in Australia during Passover 1997, Elan found himself at Coffs Harbor, four hours from Brisbon.

"We were literally in the middle of nowhere," Elan said. That's where Chabad of Byron Bay came in, including him in their holiday services.

Ditto on an occasion when Elan and wife, Orly, were vacationing in Hawaii over Simchat Torah.

"They attend shul in Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts," mused Elan of that Chabad's constituency. "If I'm on tour, I always have a place to go."

Actor Robert Guillaume ("Benson"), game show host Peter Marshall ("Hollywood Squares") and California Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Dist. 24), were among the recognizables circulating through the VIP room. Also greeting fans was Fyvush Finkel ("Boston Public"), who has been the telethon's master of ceremonies for the last three years, and was now the recipient of Chabad's L'Chaim-To Life! Humanitarian Award.

Honorary Chabadnik and Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight once again proved himself the "Midnight Cowboy," staying up and partying till the telethon's midnight close, when Chabad scored its biggest grand total ever: $5,473,793 (edging last year's $5,104,533).

As usual, Chabad knew how to throw a fundraiser party. Those in attendance stayed all night long. Perhaps Cassanova summed up the evening's spirit with his economical exclamation: "Chabad rocks!" -- Gaby Wenig contributed to this report.

About 200 people attended the gala dinner for the Southern California Jewish Center gala at the Beverly Hilton for the 22 Israeli victims of terror visiting Los Angeles. Attendees included a wide roster of celebrities and community members, such as Buzz Aldrin, Tom Arnold, Jaime Pressly, Renee Taylor, Joseph Bologna, Susan Blakely, Lanie Kazan, Charlene Tilton, Tina Louise, Leah Remini, David Suissa and Shelley Ventura-Cohen.

The event was chaired by Rabbi Shimon and Rebbetzin Vered Kashani from the Southern California Jewish Center. CNN anchor Jim Moret was the master of ceremonies, and Oscar-winner Jon Voight gave the keynote address.

Each of the victims of terror was awarded a medal in commemoration of their visit to Los Angeles, and a video presentation was shown of the impact of the terror attacks on the lives of the victims.

"I think it's very important that we support the victims of terror," Voight said. "It is important to put a face to the events and to realize the horror of them and stand up and speak out against them."

"Normally we are here to honor people who play heroes," said Arnold, referring to the fact that the Beverly Hilton is the home of the Golden Globe Awards. "So it's good to be here to honor actual heroes themselves." -- GW

Stanley Gold has been elected chairman of USC's Board of Trustees replacing John C. Argue, who died Aug. 10. The president and CEO of Shamrock Holdings Inc. and nine-year USC boardmember will assume leadership immediately.

Gold, who graduated from the USC Law School in 1967, joined the USC board in 1993 and has been vice chairman since June 2002.

He is a governor and former chairman of the board of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and serves on the board of councilors of the USC Law School, board of overseers of the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the board of the Walt Disney Company.

Gold, with his wife, Ilene, has two children, Jennifer and Charles (a USC master's of business administration graduate). The Golds reside in Beverly Hills.

Fundraising veteran Wallace "Bud" Levin has been installed as national major gifts chairman for Jewish National Fund.

"While I knew that over the past 100 years, JNF has helped to reclaim, restore and nurture the Jewish homeland," Levin said. "When I was in Israel this summer, I really saw how vital their immediate work is -- both responsively and proactively."

Levin began his career as a lay leader 40 years ago in St. Louis with the St. Louis Federation, United Hebrew Congregation Capital Campaign, and National United Jewish Appeal.

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