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Jewish Journal

The Circuit

by Michael Aushenker

September 6, 2001 | 8:00 pm

Stars Align for Chabad

When it comes to telethons, Chabad knows how to put on a good show. Yet despite the parade of stars, this year's 21st telethon was bittersweet due to events in Israel and the recent passing of two longtime friends of Chabad -- Steve Allen, whose widow Jayne Meadows attended again this year; and Carroll O'Connor, the co-host of Chabad's very first broadcast in 1980.

Chabad's West Coast founder, Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, emphasized that in the coming year, the Chassidic outreach organization will work on "strengthening all of the new seven branches we've opened. It takes nurturing."

Rabbi Chaim Cunin, one of Boruch Cunin's 13 children, said the telethon is one testimony of the persistence and power of the Jewish people.

"Because we stayed together and are proud of who we are and are not afraid to show our pride in public," the 27-year-old rabbi said.

Chabad extended its Web broadcast this year to include live chats with telethon stars after their performance on the screen. One Webcast star, raunchy pop vixen Apollonia, the former Prince protégé, was a little far from Minnesota, where the Minneapolis funk sound took off in the early 1980s. What brought her to Chabad?

"My Sephardic Jewish roots," Apollonia told The Circuit, referring to her father's side of the family. She then jokingly boasted of growing up on two forms of unleavened bread -- matzah and tortillas.

"It's absolutely wonderful," said photographer Gary Bernstein, who will lend his talent to upcoming issues of the Chabad-produced Farbrengen magazine. "This takes me back to my roots and fills me with emotion for all the work that Chabad does."

Golden-throated Gary Owens, the original voice of "Space Ghost," employed his esteemed pipes on the phone and fielded contributions, as did a pair of writers from the TV show "Yes, Dear."

Also present: Elliot Gould, Scott Baio, Sally Kirkland, Bernie Kopell, Fred Travalena and consumer advocate Judd "The Troubleshooter" McIlvain, most recently of KRLA 870 AM, which simulcast the telethon.

By the evening's end, the seven-hour fundraiser pulled in $5,104,533 in pledges toward Chabad's 2,500-center network. "Once again, TV at its finest," said Congressman Brad Sherman, who jokingly handed out combs with his name on it as calling cards (he's follically challenged). "'The Sopranos' and 'Friends' better watch out," he said.

Old Hollywood's Party Planner

Barry Mirkin remembers how George Burns would like his soup: very, very hot.

"Burns would always tell the waitress that if she could bring it to the table, 'it wasn't hot enough,'" recalls Mirkin, 85, who would often meet with Burns for lunch at the Hillcrest Country Club.

Mirkin has many more memories of dining with Burns, who always turned to Mirkin for a confidant and friend, especially during his later years.

Ever since the celeb-filled dinner party Mirkin made for Burns and wife Gracie Allen at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles about 40 years ago, he has been sought after by Jewish and non-Jewish organizations to produce parties honoring and hosting some of the world's most famous entertainers, including Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Al Jolson and Gary Cooper.

"It was a labor of love and civic duty," Mirkin says.

He charmed Liz Taylor and Jackie O into being the guests of honor at fundraising dinners for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, each of which raised approximately $7 million, a staggering amount in those days. He raised the same amount for a dinner honoring Burns' 94th birthday. Mirkin has retired from making parties, but he still enjoys them.

In May, the Cedars-Sinai board of directors made a party for Mirkin to honor him for his fundraising contributions.

"For the past 40 years, he's been very helpful to our institution in a variety of ways -- reaching out to the community and getting their support," Steven D. Brody, chair of the board of directors at Cedars-Sinai said. -- Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer

Field of Dreams

Back in 1941, Herb Lewis' nearly realized dream of playing Major League baseball was dashed when he went to serve his country during World War II. Upon his return, Lewis married and spent 55 years working in the jewelry business.

On their 48th wedding anniversary, wife Anne gave Lewis, then in his early 70s, a trip to Dodgers Fantasy Baseball Camp.

Lewis was the oldest player to have ever participated. He also became an Outstanding Player, batting .400.

This year, Lewis, now 86 and a frequent lecturer, completes his 14th season at Dodgers Fantasy Camp.

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