The dancing rabbis returned Sept. 12 at the 24th annual Chabad L'Chaim -- To Life! Telethon. The program was beamed into homes in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas and on the Dish Network.
The telethon raised more than $5.8 million for Chabad's social services on the West Coast, which includes a drug rehab center, 110 community outreach centers, more than 25 day schools and 40 summer camps, homeless programs and crisis intervention.
This year, telethon co-chairman Jerry Weintraub, producer of the upcoming "Oceans Twelve," introduced Jerry's Place. The new Chabad program will provide a place to stay for families of patients at the UCLA Medical Center, so they can be close by while their loved ones are convalescing.
"You don't have to be Jewish to be helped by Chabad," Weintraub said. "Chabad helps everyone."
Highlights of the telethon included the Miami Boys Choir dressed in metallic green vests and bopping away to Hebrew songs, and a clip that featured former "Friends" star Matt LeBlanc sitting on a couch with his "Joey" co-star Drea DeMatteo and calling the telethon to donate a matzah.
The telethon was co-hosted by actress Mindy Sterling, Israeli singing star Dudu Fisher and radio talk show host Dennis Prager. It included appearances by Jerry Lewis, Dick Van Dyke, Vic "The Brick" Jacobs, Joshua Molina, Lori Petty, Bruno Kirby, Bill Bellamy, Steve Harvey, Shawn Green, Max Alexander, Craig Fergusen, Elon Gold, and Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa.
The old telethon favorites were also on hand, like actor Jon Voight, who narrated a video clip about Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the late Lubavitcher rebbe who was the spiritual leader of the Chabad movement. Voight is not Jewish, but his association with Chabad has almost made him an honorary member of the tribe.
Actor Elliot Gould made his way down to the studio to do his part for the telethon. Gould told The Journal that he always likes to help out Chabad when Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin asks him. Cunin is the director of West Coast Chabad Lubavitch and is known for being the first one to kick up his heels every time the telethon tote board flashes a new total.
Pint-sized cuties Evan and Darryl "Spy Kid" Sabara appeared live again this year. Darryl, sporting a mop of orange-colored curls, told The Journal that the two are going to be celebrating their b'nai mitzvah next year and will do so with a trip to Israel and Europe.
"Joey" and "Friends" producer Kevin Bright also appeared on the telethon, along with his children and parents. Bright, the telethon's creative executive and segment producer, is a big financial supporter of Chabad activities in California.
In between the Chasidic dancing to celebrate the tote board totals, a number of musicians took center stage. Among them, Perry Farrell, Bruce Adler, Chasidic reggae artist Matisyahu, The Mighty Echoes, Ron Eliran, Neil Sedaka, Avraham Fried and Daniel Rodriguez. Adam Lambert, who plays Joshua in the new musical, "The Ten Commandments," at the Kodak Theater, debuted the song, "Is Anybody Listening?"
The politicos came on board, too. Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, Police Chief Bill Bratton and his wife, Rikki Klieman and three Los Angeles mayoral candidates -- Mayor James K. Hahn, City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa and former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg -- urged viewers to get out their checkbooks and donate to Chabad.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's representative, Michelle Kleinert, deputy director of community affairs, read a letter from the governor congratulating Chabad on its 24th telethon and wishing the Jewish community a happy New Year.
This year, the dancing rabbi telethon logo got a groovy makeover from artist Andre Miripolsky. Miripolsky, who has designed advertising campaigns for Absolut Vodka, redrew the rabbi and covered his form with designs of open hands and had him juggling a Star of David, a peace sign and a globe. He also designed special yarmulkes for telethon participants that were covered with paint spikes.
"When the Chabad rabbis came down to the studio to see the design, they freaked out, because it turned out there were 18 hands inside the body," said Miripolsky, noting that 18 is the Hebrew numerical equivalent of chai, life, which is a telethon theme. "I can't take subconscious credit for that. I am not observant, but Chabad considers me a Chasid, because my energy and my spirit are what they are all about."