Jewish Journal

Oh Brother! He’s Been A Big One

by Michael Aushenker

Posted on Jan. 16, 2003 at 7:00 pm

Marc Mostman recalls the first time he saw "Star Wars." "I remember waiting in line at the Avco at Westwood," said the 35-year-old attorney.

While most grown men in their 30s no doubt recall the first time they were taken to see the 1977 science-fiction classic, Mostman's memory of the pop culture milestone is particularly fond because he was taken to see the film by Karl Sussman, his Jewish Big Brother.

Mostman, whose parents divorced when he was 4, got Sussman a year later as a Jewish Big Brother (JBB), the program that pairs young adult males with young counterparts, ages 5-12, who are lacking a father figure in their life due to divorce or death.

"The fact that I had Karl in my life as my Big Brother, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me," Mostman told The Journal.

This week, JBB will honor Sussman, its past president (2000-2002), who for decades has visited temples and men's clubs as a tireless advocate to enlist volunteers and solicit donations for the organization. The director of Credit Suisse will receive the Sydney J. Rosenberg Lifetime Achievement Award at the Jewish Big Brothers/Camp Max Straus 11th annual dinner and auction gala on Jan. 18 at the Century Plaza Hotel.

Originally from North Hollywood, Sussman lost his father, a furrier, when he was 10. Sussman then found a paternal figure in Rabbi Aaron Weiss at Valley Jewish Community Center, now Adat Ari El in Valley Village.

"I found great comfort being around the temple," Sussman said.

At 23, Sussman was introduced to JBB through a friend. "I went to the meeting," Sussman recalled. "The following day, I called a social worker." Before he married at 34 and had two sons, Zach, now 26, and Josh, 21, Sussman mentored five youngsters through JBB.

The 63-year-old's community involvement transcends JBB. He has also been active with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Board of Trustees, Young Leadership of the United Jewish Appeal, Jewish Home for the Aging and the board of Friends of Sheba Medical Center, of which he is a past president. Sussman and his wife, Dee Dee, are also founding members of the Skirball Cultural Center.

"The survival of the Jew is very important to me, said the Tarzana resident who also has the honor of holding the title of Big Brother of 1984.

Survival of the Jew is also very important to Los Angeles' JBB, one of several such entities nationwide. Doug Gold, the Los Angeles group's president, has only been with the organization for about six months. However,  the former computer software company chief financial officer can relate to its mission.

"Personally, I've always had a passion for nonprofits," Gold said. "What I connected with here is that I'm Jewish, and I was raised by a single parent, so I understand it completely."

The Los Angeles JBB has plenty of work ahead in 2003. Two years ago, the national JBB merged with Jewish Big Sisters of America (JBS), thus freeing up Los Angeles' JBB to officially incorporate JBS into its program.

Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBS) is currently looking for Little Sisters to match with the numerous Big Sisters who have signed up. For this first year, JBBBS hopes to match about 20 Sisters, as compared to the 150 paired Brothers.

The organization, which has 87 years of history in making matches, will also launch a school-based mentoring program. Gold's goal at JBBBS is to nurture the new mentors, to "make more friends and serve more kids," to enlist more adults to a minimum one year JBBBS commitment and to help  reverse the decline in the U.S. Jewish population that was recently revealed in  a United Jewish Communities survey.

Gold explained that Sussman was essential in helping him come up to speed when he came aboard JBB.

"I don't think you can find a better representation for what Jewish Big Brothers and Jewish Big Sisters stands for," Gold said.

While Sussman officially mentored Mostman through JBB for eight years, he never really left the picture.

"Karl's been at my graduation from high school, college, law school," Mostman said. "He's been there for everything."

Sussman incorporated Mostman into his extended family, along with two of Sussman's other JBB matches, Richard, now 48, and Mindy, 33. That means that Sussman's Little Brothers and Little Sister have attended several of his Chanukah and Passover functions over the years.

"I was matched with Karl before he was married, and now he has two kids," Mostman said. "His kids were ushers at my wedding."

Today, Mostman mentors 13-year-old Jeremy, and after five years of tending to his own Little Brother, he saw the young man take to the dais at his recent bar mitzvah.

"I see a kid who doesn't have a male influence," he said of Jeremy, the product of divorced parents. "He was a lot quieter and shyer, and now he is involved in school plays. He's a ham."

The JBB program, Mostman said, having learned from both sides of the equation, instills confidence in young people.

"Jeremy's become more assured in who he is," Mostman said. "He's talking about a girlfriend now. Thirteen is such a tough age. It's nice to see that he is adjusting."

To get involved with Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Los Angeles, call (323) 761-8675 or visit www.jbbbsla.org .

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