March 21, 2002
A Hungry Mob
It was a moment that the members of Women's Department of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles' Business and Professional Division will never forget: a kitchen full of young women learning about and noshing on the Sicilian culinary stylings of chef Henry Hill.
Yes, that Henry Hill -- the former Mafioso who entered the FBI's witness protection program and helped the Feds root out organized crime.
By night's end, there was red liquid splattered all over the kitchen. Thankfully, it was just leftover marinara sauce on empty plates from quickly devoured homemade Italian delicacies: chicken marsala with mushrooms, grilled eggplant rollatine, piping hot penne pasta -- all kosher.
It was slightly surreal to find a former "wiseguy" giving cooking tips to 50 upstanding young Jewish women, mostly in their 30s. But there's more to the story. Hill -- best known for his Howard Stern appearances and being portrayed by Ray Liotta in Martin Scorcese's "Goodfellas" -- has been struggling to put his underworld past behind him. For 2 1/2 years, Hill, 58, has been a Beit T'Shuvah rehab resident, trying to kick his alcoholism. Hill told the room that he was proudly sober, despite a setback 10 months ago in the progress of his recovery.
The evening's hostess, Janis Black Goldman, generously opened up her Beverly Hills home for this unique experience.
"You can be here for a good cause and meet old and new friends in a comfortable environment," said Goldman, the daughter of philanthropists Stanley and Joyce Black. Goldman had suggested Hill to the Women's Department after she had met the ex-mobster at a Beit T'Shuvah Shabbat event, where she enjoyed a firsthand encounter with his formidable cooking prowess.
"He's someone in recovery that made a success in his life," said Goldman's sister, Jill Zalben. "People today want to see that. He's teaching us that we can have a life and you can move on."
Hill told The Circuit of cooking's therapeutic nature. "It relaxes me where a psychiatrist doesn't excite me." His cookbook will be released by Penguin Books in October.
Hill and The Circuit notwithstanding, there was only one other XY-chromosomed guest present -- Black family friend Jono Kohan.
Kohan himself comes from a Jewishly active family. His mother, the lively Rhea Kohan, emcees Jewish galas with her dazzling wit. His brother, David Kohan, co-created NBC's hit sitcom, "Will & Grace."
"There's a lot of female energy in the room tonight. I find it very positive to be around," said Kohan, obviously enjoying this most fortuitous male-to-female ratio.
Also contributing to that female energy: Michele Sackheim, division chair; Harriet Rossetto, Beit T'Shuvah director; Laurie Konhiem, The Federation's Women's Campaign chair; Sharon Janks, vice chair liaison; outreach committee members Cynthia Baseman, Andrea Corsun, Sara Essner, Marilyn Sonners, Galia Nitzan and Barbara Zolla; Bobbi Asimow, Women's Campaign director, and Jody Moss, Women's Campaign professional staff.
"I couldn't have done this event without Henry," said Greer Sanders, division outreach chair. "He planned the whole thing from soup to nuts."From salad to spumoni is more like it. But you get the picture.
For information on Women's Business and Professional Division, which will hold its annual banquet at the Four Seasons on May 8, call (323) 761-8275.
More than 500 people honored Abraham Spiegel and Fred Kort at the American Society for Yad Vashem's first West Coast Tribute Dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills. For more than 30 years, Spiegel has been instrumental in helping expand Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the world's leading Holocaust artifact repository and research center. Holocaust survivor Kort has also contributed greatly to Yad Vashem's cause. The evening, where "The Young and the Restless" star Eric Braeden was master of ceremonies, featured a message from Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Omert and raised nearly $500,000 for Yad Vashem.
A Dozen Good Eggs
Twelve University of Judaism second-year students took part of the Sid B. Levine Service Learning Program over winter break, working with the elderly, the homeless, the disabled and adults with autism.
A Taste of the Best
Journal food writers Judy Zeidler and Judy Bart Kancigor signed their cookbooks at the delectable Food Fare, sponsored by Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. Fifty of Los Angeles' best chefs, restaurants, caterers and wineries gave out tasty samplings of their work, while everything from cookbooks, personal trainers and symphony tickets were bid on during a silent auction. Organizers said that the annual fundraiser, which took place in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, raised more than the $400,000 the event brought in last year.
Generation to Generation
Second-generation Holocaust survivor Ricci Zuckerman visited the students of Hebrew Academy High School in Huntington Beach. The Second Generation group founder responded to an invitation by the school's Jewish history teacher Helen Kern.