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Jewish Journal

Chabadmania, Ed Asner, Jewish Big Brothers and Sisters

by Danielle Berrin

September 20, 2007 | 8:00 pm

Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin blowing the shofar before a portrait of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Photo by Israel Bardugo

Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin blowing the shofar before a portrait of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Photo by Israel Bardugo

The Chabad Telethon. You've heard of it, you've seen the banners all over town, you recognize the dancing rabbi image, maybe you caught snatches of the televised event, and maybe you even picked up the phone and made a pledge. But if you've never been to the studio during the taping of the six-hour fundraising extravaganza, you haven't really experienced it.

I spent two hours at KCET studios on Sunday, Sept. 9, and if I hadn't had to be somewhere else that evening, I would have gladly stayed longer. The atmosphere burst with infectious energy. The lounge teemed with smiling rabbis, happy sponsors and jovial performers.

Televisions displayed the celebration of life going on in the building next door and the crowd alternated between watching, commenting, socializing and eating (there was a fully catered kosher(!) meal of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes).

The stage buzzed with fervent activity, and not just between acts. I expected the place to grow quiet during the taping, with the small audience sitting in a respectful hush, the crew moving about soundlessly. But not at the Chabad Telethon.

People moved in and out of their seats in the separated women's and men's sections. A hodgepodge of presenters, performers and spectators crowded around the sets, chattering. Everyone conversed, and not in whispers.

But the constant buzz did not detract from the main event unfolding on the colorful set before us. Long-time Chabad friend and avid supporter Jon Voight stumbled to find his words and to find the right camera to face, but then he delivered a heart-felt plea for donations to support the many incredible services Chabad provides to the Los Angeles community.

Host Elon Gold made a few funnies. Dennis Prager lent his words of wisdom. Six-year-old prodigy Ethan Bortnick sang a charming tune he wrote about birds of the world, and little vest-clad Yakov Gerstner performed with astonishing passion a duet with Mordechai Ben David.

Viewers pledged close to $7.2 million to Chabad, compared to last year's $6 million. I bet the rabbis were dancing up a storm when they tallied that figure!

-- Dikla Kadosh, Contributing Writer


Scene and Heard ... Ed Eisner
Outspoken activist and prolific actor Ed Asner received an Emmy nomination for his role in "The Christmas Card." The romantic tale focuses on a U.S. soldier stationed in Afghanistan whose life changes when he receives a holiday greeting from a mysterious woman in California.

Although he did not win the Emmy on Sept. 16, during the broadcast he did join his "Roots!" castmates for a tribute to the 30th anniversary of the groundbreaking miniseries (Asner played the slave ship's captain, Thomas Davies).

To date, Asner has won a whopping seven Emmys and five Golden Globes and is almost as well known for his political views as he is for creating the legendary role of Lou Grant on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Mazel tov!


It's a musical world -- from the bimah to the stage -- and learning to chant trope may be the new Hollywood ticket. During the High Holy Days of her youth, Lizzie Weiss was a cantorial soloist divinely inspired by Jewish music. Encouraged by her mentor, Cantor Yonah Kliger, Weiss led the New Emanuel Minyan, an intimate and musical alternative service at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills. This week, the Los Angeles native stars as the brainy Martha Cox in a Toronto stage production of the mega-success "High School Musical." As reported in Canada's Jewish Tribune, Weiss credits her Jewish roots and cantorial training for launching her professional singing career. But her newfound success comes at a price. With eight performances a week under her belt, Weiss says she's missing leading High Holy Days services at home, but she hoped to make it to synagogue despite her rigid schedule: "This will be the first time in eight years that I won't be on the bimah singing."
Chabad of the Conejo celebrated a historic groundbreaking Sept. 9 -- the beginning of construction for the long-anticipated New Chabad of the Conejo Community Campus on Canwood Street in Agoura Hills. They plan to build a bustling Center for Jewish Life and then demolish their current home, laying the foundation for a new synagogue that will take its place. Rabbi Moshe Bryski, the Chabad's executive director, hopes fundraising efforts will continue while the project is under way.

"The critical thing now is for us to get the word out with greater urgency and have this campaign generate the excitement it needs and deserves," he said in a statement. "We've come a long way over the past 28 years, but the greatest days for Chabad of the Conejo are yet to come." From his mouth to God's ears ...


Margy Feldman is a gal who's still breakin' the glass ceiling. Honored for her achievements in business, the CEO and president of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles was chosen as the nonprofit executive director of the year for Women in Business (WIB). The WIB Awards recognize individuals who contribute to the economic vitality of Southern California.

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