Although the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel ballroom glittered with the promise of the American dream during the Dec. 1 celebration, Erwin Chemerinsky, newly appointed dean of UC Irvine's Donald Bren School of Law, sobered the crowd with the message that fundamentalism crumbles freedom, and if we want to sustain the concept of liberty, we need the ADL "now more than ever."
"I was told a speech should be funny and uplifting. I have failed at that tonight," Chemerinsky said. "I have no doubt that when historians look back at the last quarter century, they will say the most important development has been the worldwide rise of fundamentalism," which he acknowledged in Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
He warned that the wall separating church and state is becoming too porous, that evangelical Christians are talking about "the rapture" in mainstream circles and said, "When government becomes enmeshed with religion, this country could become inhospitable to Jews."
Leave it to the ADL to inspire the inspired to rally to the cause once again. You already give big? Give more. Like board members George and Ruth Moss or the evening's honorees, Fred and Lenore Kayne, who set ADL records with their annual gifts and received the Humanitarian Award.
There's also Allen and Suzanne Lawrence and Jurisprudence and Justice Award honorees Marshall and Marlene Grossman, who clock in with assets and activism. All these people contribute significantly because they believe that the work ADL does is always relevant, always necessary.
And the strength of this crowd showed: ADL National Director Abraham Foxman shared a table with new-to-L.A. Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) made the rounds and met Argentine Consul General Jorge Lapsenson and his wife, Rosa Matzkin.
Not that the evening lacked humor: Emcee Elon Gold did an Al Gore impersonation, and when Marshall Grossman took the podium to accept his honor, he cracked, "This is much more organized than the chaos you see at the Chabad telethon" -- of which he is also a staunch supporter.
With ADL's focus securing fair treatment for all citizens of the world, Grossman brought it home with an anecdote about the once racially exclusive Jonathan Club, a private social retreat in downtown Los Angeles, where Jews, blacks and Latinos were prohibited membership until the 1970s. Following the ADL's involvement, including drawn-out negotiations and a court battle, the club no longer considers race, creed or color as conditions for membership.
For an organization like the ADL, there are always triumphs, as Grossman reminded everyone, and always more work to be done, as Chemerinsky urged. Parties like this one may be reason to dust off gowns and don locked-up jewels, dine among friends and feel darned grateful that you can give, give, give, but it's also a moment to reflect: The problem is big, the consequences are real and every million raised has a million people that need it. It's nice to be part of a community that cares.
(From left) Former UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale, Robin Gerber Carnesale, event co-chairs Ges and Seth Gerber.