Shul of Rock
Actor Jack Black wowed the crowd during Beth Chayim Chadashim's (BCC) Humanitarian Awards Brunch at the Omni Hotel on Feb. 22 when he played his "saxaboom" -- a toy saxophone that belts out prerecorded tunes. Black emceed the brunch for the first gay and lesbian synagogue in the world and was introduced by his sister, BCC member Rachel Seigel, who told the crowd about his generosity and charitable works.
At the brunch, the "two Steves," BCC members and partners Steven Hochstadst -- a volunteer for AIDS Project Los Angeles and Jewish AIDS services, as well as the clinic director of Verdugo Mental Health/Glen Roberts Child Study Center -- and Steve Sass -- the president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California and the vice president of business and legal affairs for Comedy Central -- received the BCC Presidents Award. The congregation's Rabbi Lisa Edwards presented the Steves with the award for their years of service to BCC, which has been around since 1972, and the Los Angeles Community. In her speech Edwards paid tribute to the Steves' love for each other, despite the many differences between them.
The brunch also honored Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg and Lambda Legal senior attorneys Jon Davidson and Jennifer Pizer. The three received the Rabbi Erwin and Agnes Herman Humanitarian Award for their work in getting legislation passed that provides legal protection for gay and lesbian couples. Lambda Legal is the country's largest legal organization dedicated to the civil rights of gays and lesbians, and Goldberg was the first open lesbian to be elected to the Los Angeles School Board and the Los Angeles City Council.
At the end of the brunch, Black signed the saxaboom and donated it to BCC and was presented with an honorary membership by Edwards.
"BCC is your 'shul of rock,'" she said.
Hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean and R&B singer Chaka Kahn were two of the featured performers at Children Uniting Nations' 2004 Awards Celebration and Viewing Dinner. But according to the organization's founder, Daphna Ziman, it was a group of dancing children who stole the show at the Feb. 29 event at The Factory in West Hollywood.
The talented young performers are first-hand beneficiaries of the Los Angeles-based charity organization, which matches at-risk foster children with individual mentors.
This year, the event's organizers hoped to promote a bill that would forgive some university loans in exchange for mentoring hours and recruit volunteers for their International Day of the Child at which mentors take an excursion with underprivileged youth.
Former Gov. Gray Davis and former first lady Sharon Davis were among the 1,200 who partied in the Bedouin-style fabric tent, including Babyface, Freda Payne, Vivica A. Fox and Alex Kerry, the daughter of Democratic presidential front-runner Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.
Although the atmosphere was celebratory, Ziman was surprised -- and pleased -- at how many guests became emotional during Wyclef Jean's performance of his song, "The Next Generation," which he wrote about the plight of a neglected foster child.
"It showed people were really listening," she said. -- Lea Silverman, Contributing Writer.
Dead Sea Scrolling
The Los Angeles Temple Visitors Center held an open house for its Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit on Feb. 21. At the event, Justin Levi, public affairs officer for the Israeli consulate presented a proclamation from Consul General Yuval Rotem to Norman J. White, the director of the center.
Hollywood in the Holy Land
February was a star-studded month for Israel. "Seinfeld" star Jason Alexander was in the country on a peace initiative with OneVoice. He visited the Bar-Ilan University campus in Ramat Gan where University president professor, Moshe Kaveh, presented him with an engraved Bible. Alexander toured the campus and addressed an auditorium packed with students.
"My goal is that for my son's bar mitzvah next year, I will be able to bring my family to Israel and take them to Jerusalem without fear," he said.
On a more somber note, on Feb. 22, "The Young and the Restless" star Eric Braeden was sitting in his room at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem when he heard the explosion of a suicide attack on a bus. He immediately headed down to Shaare Tzedek Medical Center in Jerusalem where he comforted the family of a teenage girl who was fighting for her life after receiving a severe leg wound. He also visited a patient who sustained numerous shrapnel wounds and a neck injury. Family members told the actor that the victim's sister had been killed in a terrorist attack just two years prior.
"If something like this happened to my own son, I don't know what I'd do," said the actor, who played on the 1972 championship Israeli national soccer team.