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Jewish Journal

The Circuit

by Michael Aushenker

September 20, 2001 | 8:00 pm

Reading Is Fundamental

Dustin Hoffman was one of many stars to kick off the third year of KOREH L.A. Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC)'s literacy program at the Downtown Central Library. The "Los Angeles Jewish Coalition for Literacy" program pairs volunteers with LAUSD students in grades K-3. Hoffman and "Happy Days" star Henry Winkler headed an impressive roster of Read-In VIRs (Very Important Readers). Other participants included "Just Shoot Me"'s Laura San Giacomo; Endeavor's David Lonner; L.A. Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Terri Smooke, representing Gov. Gray Davis. Frequent Jewish community contributors Monty Hall, Fyvush Finkel (fresh off of his Chabad Telethon emceeing duties), Elliot Gould and Mayim Bialik, who were at the launching of KOREH two years ago, all returned to support the literacy program.

"The celebs really came through," said a delighted Elaine Albert, who oversees the KOREH L.A. effort.

Delivering remarks were Deborah Kattler Kupetz, KOREH L.A. chair; Osias Goren, JCRC chair, and Jake Farber, incoming Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles chair (the JCRC is a Federation department). Winkler, who recently played himself in the Adam Sandler comedy, "Little Nicky," gave an enthusiastic reading of "The Big, Fat Enormous Lie" to an audience of children from Selma Avenue Elementary.

"I'm so happy to be here with you," Winkler told the kids.

After Hoffman read to the group, celebrities and grade-schoolers paired up for one-on-one reading sessions. Winkler partnered with 7-year-old Ricardo.

Upon completing the book, "Stop That Pickle," the erstwhile Arthur "the Fonz" Fonzarelli told The Circuit, "We had a most wonderful time."

Gould kibbitzed with another returning KOREH supporter, "Blues Brothers" director John Landis. Then, armed with a copy of "Nice Try, Tooth Fairy," Gould marched off to read to a young boy named Arnolfo.

JCRC Director Michael Hirschfeld said, "We hope to double our numbers and form enduring, substantive partnerships with companies and corporations who, like us, believe that community service and helping kids to read is a noble endeavor."

"It's such an important program," Albert echoed. "All we ask is that a person come to volunteer for us for one hour each week. One hour! That's a trip to Starbucks and back to change the life of a kid."

"In order to participate in society, one must have the ability to read," Goren said.

After reading to kids, "Felicity" stars Glen Grunberg and Joey Slotnick schmoozed with The Circuit. Grunberg hoped to read the Jake Drake series to Juan.

"My son is named Jake," said the proud father, who read "The Cat in the Hat" instead. Then Grunberg joshed, "Juan knows my Torah portion."

Hoffman tried his best to ignore hovering media while reading "Today I Feel Silly" to 6-year-old Briana. When a reporter asked him if he enjoyed this quality time with Briana, Hoffman replied, "I'm still in it."

KOREH L.A. not only attracted world-famous television and movie stars, but devoted volunteers such as Task Force member Eva Dworsky and staffer Karina Hodges.

"I wanted to get involved with a nonprofit," said Hodges, currently enrolled in college as a public policy major. "This is such a great cause."

"Legally Blonde" co-star Selma Blair was a magnet for photographers. Also present was her movie's producer, returning KOREH L.A. supporter Marc Platt.

Other attendees included: Abigail Yasgur, Jewish Community Library director ; Johanna CooperKCRW "Short Stories" creator ; actor Sean Astin (from the upcoming "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy); actor Steven Weber; and two "It's Like, You Know" alumni: the sitcom's creator, Peter Mehlman, and its very-pregnant star, Jennifer Grey.

"I just see how badly children are reading and writing," Mehlman told The Circuit. "I must assume they're learning to read really late or not at all." The former "Seinfeld" writer/producer added: " I was a precocious kid. I used to read 'Rosemary's Baby,' 'The Exorcist,' 'A Clockwork Orange.'"

Thankfully, Mehlman didn't bring those books with him.

To get involved with KOREH L.A., call (323) 761-8153 or visit www.korehla.org .

Democratic Dream Slate

On Sept. 9 at the Skirball Cultural Center, the Los Angeles Hillel Council honored former Congressman Mel Levine with the Rabbi Richard N. Levy Award. Congressman Howard Berman, Congressman Henry Waxman and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky waxed poetic about Levine's contributions to California and Israel. About 400 joined to honor Levine and support Hillel, including Michael H. Diamond, Hillel president , Michele Breslauer, chair, Bea Mandel, co-chair ; Tobi Inlander, Hillel executive director; and Levine's family, including new bride, author Connie Bruck. Levine saved his greatest praise for the work of Hillel, whose on-campus presence provides Jewish students with a home away from home and an outlet for activism. He also lauded the event's two student honorees: USC School of Cinema-Television student Daniel Rose and CSUN nursing student Behnaz Eshrat Zaghi. "They are terrific leaders and role models whom any of us would be proud to know," Levine said. -- Staff Report

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