There's nothing like a red-carpet rollout at Paramount Studios to shift attention from an epic election season to more pressing matters, like Rabbi Daniel Bouskila's plea to fund and build the world's first Sephardic rabbinical school in Jerusalem -- in just one year.
"Yes we can," Bouskila said, invoking President-elect Barack Obama's ubiquitous mantra.
This was his call at the Sephardic Jewish Film Festival's Opening Gala on Nov. 9, where he was honored with the Maimonides Leadership Award for his 15-year rabbinic legacy at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, a congregation of 800 families.
Nearly 500 people sat in an opulent Paramount movie theater to watch a tribute video, in which Israeli novelist Amos Oz and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi saluted the Sephardic rabbi.
In turn, Bouskila delivered his thanks to the community and especially his wife, Peni. "It takes a lot of strength raising three children -- especially when one [of them] is 44," he joked.
Bouskila also spoke of the irony in being honored at Paramount, which he called his childhood "backyard," a place where his father once worked as a tailor for Aaron Spelling. He recounted his early dream of becoming an actor, which ended when casting agents told him they were looking for an "all-American boy."
Perhaps the evening's other honoree, screenwriter-producer Eli Attie, fits that bill. The Harvard-educated, former White House communications adviser-turned-Hollywood screenwriter was feted with the Cinema Sepharad Award.
Once an assistant in President Bill Clinton's administration, Attie forayed into Hollywood to write for the critically acclaimed series, "The West Wing," and is now co-executive producer of the FOX drama, "House, M.D."
His tribute video featured an Al Gore cameo, in which the former vice president quipped that after the 2000 election, Attie must have been the only Democrat to get a job in the West Wing. The show's creator, Aaron Sorkin presented Attie with his award and said that hiring Attie was "the single most rewarding decision I've made in my career."
Attie humbly accepted, saying he was "nowhere near deserving" because he did not create the shows he works for and his involvement in the Sephardic community has been "sporadic." But, he said, "no matter how far you drift, your family and identity never seem to be that far behind you."
The gala began with all-you-can-eat sushi, open bars and a silent fundraising auction featuring original art, jewelry and designer handbags. It concluded with the screening of the Israeli film, "Three Mothers."
The six-day festival at the Majestic Crest Theatre in Westwood benefits the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem.
Young Iranian American Jews Gather to Watch Historic Presidential Election
Nearly 200 young, local Iranian Jews from the organization, 30 Years After, gathered at The Parlor sports bar in Santa Monica on Nov. 4 to mingle and watch the results of the presidential election.
While a substantial segment of Southland Iranian Jews were supporting Republican presidential candidate John McCain, some younger members of the community backed Democratic nominee Barack Obama and cheered the announcement of his victory during the night's television newscasts.
Those in attendance enjoyed drinks while talking politics and the direction of the new Obama administration, vis-à-vis Iran. During the past year, 30 Years After board members have organized various events to increase Iranian Jewish participation in the political process and said they were pleased with the turnout at their election night event.
"Regardless of one's political affiliation, no one can deny that this election represents a historic moment for our country and reminds us that our democracy is our most treasured asset," board member Jon Yagoubzadeh said. "By hosting an election-watch event, we wanted to provide our community the opportunity to witness this moment together and to discuss the outcome of the election."
Other 30 Years After organizers said they were planning post-election informational seminars on the expected directions and policies of the new Obama administration.
-- Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer