Historic Hungarian Concert
Allen Robert Gross, conductor and music director of the Santa Monica Symphony, recently returned from a concert tour of central Europe with the Santa Monica Chamber Philharmonic.
But for Gross, this concert tour had a special meaning, because one of the concerts was a fundraiser for the restoration of a synagogue in his mother's hometown. Gross's mother, Renee Engel, came from the region of famed wine region Tokaj in Hungary. Before World War II, 1,000 Jews lived in Tokaj, and the synagogue was one of the finest buildings in the town. When the Jews were deported to Auschwitz in 1944, the synagogue was laid waste.
Engel immigrated to American in 1938, and her surviving family members joined her in 1956.
Recently, two of Gross' cousins, Marta Fuchs Winik and Henry Fuchs, the children of Renee's sister Ilona Engel Fuchs, from Pasadena, started raising funds to complete the restoration of the synagogue, which is why they got their cousin involved.
The benefit concert was to be held in the synagogue itself, but heavy rains made that impossible. Instead, the concert was held in the town's deconsecrated Russian Orthodox church, which is now a community center.
It was a full house at Bais Machon Menachem Chabad of the Valley in Tarzana on July 1 when more than 1,000 people gathered for a dinner in honor of the 10th anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The keynote speaker was Rabbi Moshe Herson, dean of the Rabbinical College of America and head shliach, or emissary, to the state of New Jersey. Herson spoke about the importance of optimism and encouragement.
Other speakers included Rabbi Joshua B. Gordon and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks). The evening was emceed by Rabbi Mordechai Einbinder.
A little more than a week later, on July 12, West Coast Chabad Lubavitch's new French Department held an event at new Bais Chaya Mushka School on Pico Boulevard. Chabad started the department in response to the growing needs of the French Jewish community in Los Angeles, which has seen its numbers grow in the past few years as more Jews are leaving France because of rising anti-Semitism. The department is headed by Rabbi Shmuel Attal, a Parisian-born rabbi who speaks fluent French, English and Hebrew. Attal oversees the new publication Pensee De la Semaine (Thought of the Week) and creates French-language programs for his community.
The event was held in honor of the late Rabbi Leibel Raskin, who was the Chabad Rabbi in Morocco for 44 years. Also at the event were Chabad honcho Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin and Raskin's daughter, rebbetzin Dvonya Korf from Chabad of Los Feliz.
Jewish Writers honored
Screenwriters were honored at the 30th annual Humanitas Prize luncheon on July 8 at the Universal Hilton in Universal City, which highlights quality screenplays with cash prizes. Jacob Aaron Estes won the $10,000 Sundance Feature Film prize for his recently released Paramount Classics' film "Mean Creek," partly based on his brutal experiences with bullies at a Jewish summer camp near Lake Tahoe.
Toni Ann Johnson won the $10,000 Children's Live Action prize for Showtime's "Crown Heights," the story of two men trying to end black-Jewish tensions in the New York neighborhood. Johnson said she wrote the script because her story subjects wanted, "to take a small piece of the world and repair it," quoting from the Talmud: "All men are responsible for one another."
Tony Kushner took the $25,000 90-Minute prize for his HBO adaptation of his hit stage play, "Angels in America."
Attending the awards were writer-producer Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, "M*A*S*H" legend Gene Reynolds, TV director Aviva Jacobs and longtime filmmaker Arthur Hiller. Emcee Charles Hauck told the luncheon audience, "There are no losers in this room, except for that guy with the Camry."
Democrats and Republicans held competing summer bashes, with Democrats hosting a house party and Republicans enjoying the company of vintage cars.
Democrats for Israel (DFI) attracted about 150 people to their Aug. 22 backyard affair at a private home high in the Pacific Palisades. Along with chapter President Howard Welinsky, DFI board member Paul Kujawsky and L.A. City Controller Laura Chick, the Sunday afternoon party saw two Los Angeles current Los Angeles mayoral candidates working the crowd -- former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg and Los Angeles City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa. There was little speechmaking about Israel itself as most city and state politicians instead discussed local matters and the Kerry-Edwards campaign.
Several hundred Republicans, including about 30 local and state candidates, attended the July 25 annual summer party put on by the L.A. chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition. The event has grown substantially since it began as a backyard barbecue with 80 people four years ago. Now, hundreds sat and ate amidst the French-made horseless carriages at the Petersen Automotive Museum near the Fairfax district.
Ex-Secretary of State Bill Jones said he wants to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Babrara Boxer, because that would mean, "giving Arnold Schwarzenegger a partner in Washington." -- David Finnigan, Contributing Writer
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) held its 17th annual Dore Schary Awards ceremony on June 22 at the St. Regis Hotel and Spa in Century City.
Established in 1982, the Dore Schary Awards honor talented college and university students majoring in film and television whose work has been judged to best exemplify the themes that fall within the ADL's mission: to promote human rights, combat anti-Semitism, hatred, prejudice and bigotry and to secure justice and fair treatment for all people. The award's namesake was a filmmaker and an ADL national chairman.
This year's winners were Tanja Mairitsch of the American Film Institute in the Narrative Film category and Kristin Pichaske of Stanford University in the Documentary category.
Mairistch's film, "Fueling the Fire," explores how human perception is colored by social backgrounds, prejudices, life experiences and influences the way "we judge, and often, misjudge," Mairitsch said.
"I can't imagine anything more fulfilling as a filmmaker than having people walk out of your film and take something with them insights into the human condition, values, a social or political consciousness, etc.... I was always fascinated with how differently two sides can perceive the same issue or situation," she said.
Pichaske's film, "Guguletu Ballet," follows a white South African ballet dancer who begins teaching ballet to black children from the poorest of South African townships as part of South Africa's Dance for All program.
"I was especially intrigued by the idea of African township kids engaging in a traditionally white, elitist European activity -- that always strikes people as being odd, but once you see the kids dance and think about it a little, it becomes so obvious that it doesn't matter where you come from or what color you are. I thought that was a great message," Pichaske said.
Both women received a $2,000 prize.
Also honored at the event were Mark Ordesky, executive vice president of New Line Cinema, recipient of the Distinguished Entertainment Industry Award, and Cary Brokaw, president and CEO of Avenue Entertainment Group, recipient of the Fred Zinnemann Humanitarian Award. -- Lauren Bragin, Contributing Writer