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Jewish Journal

Circuit

by Michael Aushenker

February 8, 2001 | 7:00 pm

Off to a Super Start

I spent the day after Super Bowl Sunday at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which has wasted no time kicking off the new millennium with a helping hand. The Special Projects unit of Federation's Real Estate and Construction Division recently presented the key to a new donated van to Gateways Beit T'Shuvah.

At the United Jewish Fund's (UJF) cabinet meeting, 2001 campaign chair Michael Koss and campaign director Lee Rosenblum laid out a busy fundraising calendar for 2001, which will include a donors mission in May to Poland and Israel.

Larry Tishkoff, executive director of the Israel Aliyah Center, spoke about the kibbutz volunteer programs available through his Federation-based organization. And Super Sunday chair Glenn Gottlieb opened his remarks this way: "Yesterday was just a football game. Feb. 25 is Super Sunday."

Super Sunday -- the Federation's annual community drive that includes phone-a-thon pledge solicitations -- netted more than $5 million last year. That's 10 percent of last year's entire fundraising campaign. Twenty percent of that total, it was reported, came from the Women's Division's efforts.

The highlight of the cabinet meeting was the firsthand accounts from people who have benefited directly from Federation aid. An emotional Ronna Sundy and her adopted daughter, Christina Wright, thanked Federation for helping them after Wright lost her family to AIDS (see Naomi Pfefferman's Oct. 6 article "Family Matters" at our online archive at www.jewishjournal.com). The Federation's burial program assisted with funeral arrangements, the Jewish Free Loan Association provided low-interest financial assistance, and an orthodontist in the community even donated free braces for Wright. A Federation program also made it possible for Wright to visit Israel.

"Israel gave me a sense of history and spirituality that I was missing," said Wright, who is Jewish but was not raised with any sense of her Jewish identity.

Charming the room with her winning Russian accent was 20-year-old Victoria Gendel, whom Federation also helped connect with her Jewish heritage. Raised in Russia, Gendel had no idea that she was even Jewish until her family received a phone call from a JAFI Youth Camp. Gendel asked her parents why a Jewish camp would be interested in her. That's when her parents -- who had concealed their background out of fear of discrimination -- informed her, matter-of-factly, "'Because you're Jewish.'"

"That's good to know," said Gendel, recalling her deadpan response, which drew big laughs. Gendel, who now lives and studies in Israel, has since helped her parents make aliyah.

Elias Inbram -- an Ethiopian Jew studying business at Ben Gurion-University on a Jewish Agency Student Scholarship -- proved equally engaging. The 28-year-old Inbram opened, "Shalom, It's good to see you after 2,000 years."

Inbram recounted his tortured journey, at age 8, among the caravan of Jewish Ethiopians who, under the cover of night, walked from Ethiopia to neighboring Sudan and escaped, via Operation Moses, to Israel.

Terri Smooke -- Gov. Gray Davis's liaison who will chair an upcoming Women's Division dinner -- spoke for many when she commended the guests for their strength in the face of adversity and thanked them for sharing their incredible stories.

Also presented at the UJF meeting were the latest advances of The Federation's technological capabilities, which will include comprehensive e-learning and e-training. Thanks to Federation Web master Sara Kocher and system architect Jacob Shavit, the Federation's Web site now includes nine videos, boasting some very fluid streaming.

Earlier that morning, Federation exercised its exciting new technology with a live link-up to Israel. The broadcast, the third such videoconference, brought Ha'aretz reporter Zev Schiff into 6505's conference room for a three-way conversation with the Federation's Valley offices. The exchange allowed Federation brass and staff to ask Schiff questions on current Middle East affairs, discussing peace negotiations, Jonathan Pollard and this week's elections. Chief information officer Robert Haberman, along with Shavit, helmed the videoconference.

Craig Prizant, Federation's newly installed senior vice president of marketing and communications, told the Circuit that the videoconferences may go monthly. Another conference, featuring Tel Aviv University Prof. Tamar Herman, is slated for Feb. 7 and will focus on post-election analysis.

Through Super Sunday and generous grants, such as the $95,000 Anheuser Busch contributed, Federation intends to continue helping people locally, in Israel and in 58 other countries with its humanitarian and social service programs.

Youth Movement

Usually, adults are depended on to be role models (Johnny Knoxville notwithstanding). However, here are some examples of our community's youth leading the way... About 350 members of Young Judaea, the Zionist youth movement sponsored by Hadassah, converged on the Capitol in Austin, Texas, to rally solidarity behind Israel.... Meanwhile, LAUSD seventh-graders convened at the University of Judaism for the Fifth Annual Prejudice Awareness Summit on Feb. 5.... And the children of Kadima Hebrew Academy in Woodland Hills will commemorate the 100th day of school by doing 100 acts of kindness, raising money for Make A Wish Foundation and Camp Simcha. The theme: children helping children.

Keepin' It Legal...And Regal!

Here are some pix from the law community fundraisers we recently reported on: "The Liberal & Conservative Perspectives" panel on the Supreme Court decision that made George W. Bush the victor in the 2000 presidential election, sponsored by Federation's Legal Services Division, and Bet Tzedek's annual dinner.

The King of All Media Circuses

Last Tuesday, the Circuit managed to sneak in a couple of questions to the self-proclaimed King of All Media about his Jewish identity. Howard Stern -- who was in town from New York for a weeklong West Coast broadcast at E! Entertainment's studios -- held a "press conference" on his show, where the Circuit was positioned between KTLA Morning News reporters Sam Rubin and Sharon Tay and a flamboyant Odyssey magazine columnist in glam metal drag. The Circuit asked the controversial shock jock to clarify whether he was half-Jewish, as he's often claimed on the air, or full-Jewish, as reported in Israeli interviews. We facetiously inquired: If he were the latter, on behalf of Jewish people everywhere, would he consider converting to another religion? Stern responded by chanting his Bar Mitzvah Haftorah.

Evidently, security was so tight that even longtime Stern devotee Melrose Larry Green was shut out from the proceedings. Standing outside the building with a large sign, Green said he wasn't complaining like Jessica Hahn, who had telephoned Rubin to complain about feeling slighted for not being invited to Stern's Playboy Mansion broadcast.

"Howard's a great guy," said Green, who believed that Stern and his wife Alison will reunite. Then Green, who is on the official ballot of this year's mayoral race, leaned in, somewhat confidentially, to answer one of the questions he had heard the Circuit pose on the air.

"I've got news for you," said Green, somewhat confidentially. "Howard's all Jewish."

Until Stuttering John becomes a panelist on the McLaughlin Group, I am...Michael Aushenker

The televised version of Howard Stern's show that featured this press conference will air during the week of Feb. 19 on E! Check your local listings for air times.

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