The second annual Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (LAJFF) kicked off April 21 at the Writers' Guild of America Theatre in Beverly Hills with the world premiere of Hilary Helstein's "As Seen Through These Eyes." The Maya Angelou-narrated documentary looks at the Shoah through the stories and artwork of artist survivors, including Ela Weissberger, Dina Babbitt and the late Simon Wiesenthal.
The evening began with the presentation of the MorningStar Commission's Marlene Adler Marks Woman of Inspiration Award -- named after the late Jewish Journal columnist -- to founding chair Joan Hyler. Hadassah started the commission 10 years ago to promote positive portrayals of Jewish women in the entertainment industry and media.
The evening's hosts, Laraine Newman and current commission chair Olivia Cohen-Cutler, were among those honoring Hyler, who went from being a secretary to a vice president at the William Morris Agency. Amber Tamblyn presented Hyler, her manager, with the award.
After the screening, Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom moderated a Q-and-A session where Weissberger and Babbitt lauded Helstein for working on the film for 10 years, traveling around the world to get these stories and building a bridge between them and future generations.
"It is your stories that have inspired me," said Helstein, who was also the festival director. "Don't take your hats off to me; I think everybody has to take their hats off to you."
The LAJFF, a collaboration of the New JCC at Milken and Westside Jewish Community Center, ran through April 26. Other highlights included the April 22 Family Day Event at the JCCs; the April 23 Jewish World Watch Night at Valley Beth Shalom; the April 25 Bringing Kosher Back event, a young professionals night of short films at Sinai Temple, and the closing night screening of "O Jerusalem" at Laemmle Town Center.
-- Sara Shereen Bakhshian, Contributing Writer
The Force of Poetry
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky spoke at the Claremont Graduate University's 15th annual Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Awards ceremony, held recently at Zipper Hall. Leonard Nimoy introduced the winners and read poems from each of their award-winning books.
The ceremony was followed by a patron dinner at the Omni Hotel honoring the winners. Award recipients were Rodney Jones ($100,000 Kingsley Tufts Award) and Eric McHenry ($10,000 Kate Tufts Discovery Award), with a special recognition to emeritus president John D. Maguire.
A Smart Way to Help Kids
Actress Jean Smart was among those recognized for their commitment to Hillsides, a nonprofit that works to protect children and families as well as ending the cycle of abuse that tears families apart. Celebrating their commitment to serve others, Hillsides honored dedicated volunteers with Special Recognition Awards at its recent annual volunteer awards ceremony.
International speaker Dr. Astrid Heppenstall Hegar, executive director of the Violence Intervention Program, addressed guests on the plight of children who have been abused, encouraging audience members to continue advocating for these children.
Smart, an Emmy Award-winning stage and screen actor, brings smiles and love to Hillsides youngsters by celebrating birthdays, holidays, and special occasions with them. Halloween is especially memorable for the children when Smart, dressed as a witch, goes trick-or-treating with the kids on campus.
Smart, known to many as a star of "Designing Women" and the hit series "24," has taken the boys to the zoo and the girls to a beauty salon, sponsored dinner outings, baked cookies with them, read to the children in the library, and has even planted seeds in the spring.
Another Hillsides volunteer, Encino resident Constance Miller, has followed her passion for sailing by inviting Hillsides' children on numerous educational sailing trips to Anacapa Island, Santa Cruz Island and Catalina Island. She has also set up additional educational outings at the Los Angeles Maritime Institute, provided fishing trips, taught sailing to the Boys Satellite Home and donated private boat trips. During the holidays, Miller and her husband organize the annual Christmas Gift Giving program for St. Nicholas.
Miller delights in seeing the faces of the kids when they catch a fish for the first time or see a pod of dolphins swimming and jumping around the boat. For Hillsides' children, Miller's sailing trips are new experiences that provide a sense of accomplishment and offer educational and cultural explorations of their world.
Another longtime supporter of Hillsides, Pasadena resident Beth B. Gertmenian, has been involved in the creation of Hillsides' library, the annual benefits held at the Keck Center, and was a Brownie troop leader to one of the children at Hillsides in 1977.
To learn more about hillsides, visit www.hillsides.org.