Event co-chairs Michael Arnall, Adam Winnick, Jackie Flesh, Michelle Flesh, Daniella Essako and Dan Flesh accept a $5,000 check from The Jewish Federation. Photo by Rachel Heller
Hundreds of well-dressed, young Jewish philanthropists packed Cuban restaurant La Bodeguita de Pico the night of Aug. 14 to show off their support of the Cuban Jewish community.
The "GenD: Making a Difference" fundraiser, hosted by Los Angeles-based social action initiative, GenD, took in more than $62,000 to help sponsor food, medical and cultural programs for Cuban Jews through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).
West Los Angeles native Jackie Flesh, 25, founded GenD earlier this year after a trip to Cuba with the JDC to see their relief efforts in action.
"I saw how much of an effort people make to preserve the Jewish religion and maintain a connection with their past," she said of the country's 1,500-member Jewish community. "It was really inspiring. The community is so tight-knit."
When she got back home, Flesh joined forces with several siblings and friends to continue to support the JDC's work. "We wanted to show our age group doing something positive," she said. "We're so happy -- every dollar we make does something good over there."
Attendees at the event, mainly in their 20s and 30s, sipped on cosmos and mojitos from the open bar and puffed on -- what else? -- Cuban cigars as they listened to a live Cuban band. Many bid on silent auction items, such as Madonna concert tickets, Dodgers tickets, an Ed Hardy gift certificate and a sparkling Stila cosmetic set.
Actress Mischa Barton made a brief appearance, and socialite Nicky Hilton showed up with producer David Katzenberg.
The funds raised will support JDC programs in Cuba, such as a Jewish summer camp for children, bar and bat mitzvah lessons and a weekly Shabbat chicken dinner at a Jewish community center, explained Sarah Eisenman, JDC program director for NextGen engagement.
The Jewish Federation, which co-sponsored the evening with the JDC and L.A. Direct, presented Flesh and the other GenD chairs with a $5,000 check to aid the effort.
"This is exactly what the Jewish community asks of young people -- that they take the initiative to help others," said Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, where the Flesh family is members.
Wolpe praised the young crowd for showing their support by simply showing up.
"The fact that you're here helping people who you've never met and likely will never meet doesn't only change them," he told attendees, "it changes you."
-- Rachel Heller, Contributing Writer
Fall in Love With Judaism
In ancient Jerusalem, the holiday of Tu B'Av was celebrated when unmarried women would dress in white and dance through the vineyards, hoping to catch a man's eye. JConnectLA put a modern spin on the ancient ritual with an Aug. 14 "Love Fest," a late-night romp at Fu's Palace that focused on Jewish culture over romance.
But not everyone gave up on love. Michal Taviv, JconnectLA's program director, donned a wedding dress for the occasion.
Jewish pride seeped through every act: Moshav and comedian Smooth-E entertained a raucous crowd; Modern Tribe, Jewcy, Rabbi's Daughters and Threaded Heritage sold their goods in a "Heebster shuk" (thongs with Jewish catchphrases, anyone?); Rabbi Yonah and Rachel Bookstein, creators of Jewlicious, presided over "Instant Matchmaking"; and author and event co-organizer, Lisa Alcalay Klug, debuted her new book, "Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe."
"There is an organic synergy between the work JConnectLA does and the aims of Jewlicious and my own aims," Alcalay Klug said. "My book is celebration of Jewish culture, a rally call to identify as a proud and informed Jew -- it elevates Jewish unity and community and having fun with who we are."
It's the new Tu B'Av: Fall in love with being Jewish.
Photo: Michal Taviv and Elliot Schiff dress up in full regalia and go all out for Love Fest '08. Photo by Jonah Light Photography