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Jewish Journal

Circuit

by Michael Aushenker

February 15, 2001 | 7:00 pm

The Wizard of "Oz" Honored

Okay, eggheads, Contemporary Comedy 101 is in session. Pop quiz: Who's the funniest comedian to have appeared on HBO -- Dennis Miller or Bill Maher? If your answer to this trick question was Home Box Office CEO Jeff Bewkes, proceed to the head of the class.

Bewkes, an HBO heavyweight since 1979, helped turn cable into blue-chip television with Emmy-sweeping programs such as "The Sopranos," "Sex and the City" and "Oz." Accepting his Sherrill C. Corwin Human Relations Award from the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Bewkes, of Danish origin, had guests coughing up their salmon soufflés with laughter. Bewkes's speech -- a facetious recollection of his childhood as a disadvantaged non-Jew struggling to break into Hollywood -- outshined the aforementioned comedians, who were both in attendance to honor the HBO exec so crucial to their careers.

After remarks by National AJC President Bruce Ramer; local AJC President Richard Volpert; Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, Western Regional director; and an introduction by CNN Senior Analyst Jeff Greenfield, Bewkes began, "When I was very young, I told my parents that I wanted to be in the entertainment industry. That's when they sat me down and broke it to me that we were not Jewish."

But Bewkes caught on fast: "By the time I was 12, I was sending back soup in restaurants."

Throughout his speech, Bewkes milked laughs from this premise, before appreciatively accepting his award. Offstage, talent at the Regent Beverly Wilshire gala included "Matrix" star Laurence Fishburne and Don Cheadle, featured in "Traffic"

My Sunday Walk

Woke up Sunday morning and thought I'd stroll over to Beth Jacob Congregation, where the Orthodox Union was holding a Israel solidarity gathering.

En route to the temple I saw people planting trees along Pico Boulevard as part of a Tu B'Shevat project co-sponsored by TreePeople, ACCESS and B'nai David-Judea Congregation. One participant reported that 55 trees had been planted by midday, and more were on the way.

Rally for Israel

Despite weather wobbling on the brink of a rainstorm, the lot next to Beth Jacob was filled with supporters to hear Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center rally support for Israel. (See Jewish Journal 2/2/01 for a powerful opinion piece by Dr. Larry Eisenberg, "Together for Israel" announcing the event). Hier railed against media hypocrisy, particularly the press's frequent allusions to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's alleged war crimes in Lebanon while failing to invoke Yasser Arafat's outrageous, well-documented record of terrorism.

"There is a word for this," cried Hier. "Hypocrisy!"

In closing, Hier said, "Thank God we have an Israel, and let us never take her for granted."

A young man followed, reading the names of Jewish victims of Middle East violence since October. In retrospect, the weather was appropriately somber.

Israeli Consul General Yuval Rotem, Congressman Henry Waxman, and mayoral candidate Steven Soboroff also took to the stage; and Cantor Avshalom Katz led the crowd in singing. Spotted among the largely Orthodox crowd: Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel and local filmmaker David Notowitz.

My Sunday Drive

Drove down Olympic to the Westside Jewish Community Center (WJCC) on Sunday afternoon, where a community-wide reception was being held for architect Michael Lehrer, chosen to redesign the timeworn WJCC campus (Lehrer's firm, Lehrer and Associates, recently worked on Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach). Lehrer and his colleagues were on hand to discuss the long-simmering renovation of the WJCC. Head of Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles Lee Smith, WJCC Director Michelle Labgold and WJCC Board President Paula Pearlman spoke about the fundraising drive, which will push to raise the readjusted goal figure of $7 million (up from the original $4 million estimate). In the center of the auditorium, Lehrer led about 50 people in attendance (including WJCC members and board members) through a model of the present building, explaining some "notions" he is kicking around, including tentative plans to restore the center's dormant cafe and elevator shaft, utilize the roof space and the alleyway, create office terraces, and refresh the landscaping. An architectural blueprint hung on the wall envisioning an addition that has been dubbed "the black box" -- the S. Mark Taper Foundation Center for Creative Arts. Parking accessibility and security were prime concerns on the minds of both Lehrer and JCC members, which included Charlie Mesnick, the center's first director.

The master planning phase of the renovation is projected to end in three months. At that point, pending continued architectural exploration of the present building and city approvals, design of the new center may take anywhere from six months to a year.

"For us, this is a distinguished commission," said Lehrer, who will conduct a March 25 community workshop to help coordinate efforts with WJCC members.

A Shoe Business for Show Business

Celebrities can now sleep at night knowing that their favorite Manhattan-based shoe designer, Stuart Weitzman, has opened up shop in their own backyard -- at the Rodeo Collection.

Plenty of chic Weitzman wear was on display at his Beverly Hills opening, where a proud Weitzman was all smiles, in the company of wife Jane Weitzman and 20-something daughters Elizabeth and Rachael. Creativity evidently runs in the Weitzman family. Elizabeth writes movie reviews for Marie Claire. And Rachael, under the name Rachael Sage, has performed folk pop alongside Suzanne Vega and Chrissie Hynde on the Lilith Fair tour. Her new album, "Painting of a Painting," hits stores March 20. She told us her mother is her great Jewish role model, and "Better From Mars," a song about the Middle East, resulted from an AIPAC function her mother took her to.

At the opening, the Weitzmans were greeted by Hillel Silverman, New York rabbi and father of actor Jonathan Silverman.

Randy Fuhrman's Creative Concept special event planners scored big with an epic cake shaped like a giant red pump.

"You know what this cake is made of?" Weitzman quizzed the Circuit with a smirk. "Tirami-shoe!"

Until Trent Lott takes over the role of Mr. Big on "Sex and the City," I am...

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