The Museum of Tolerance held its annual National Tribute Dinner last week at the Beverly Hilton, with hundreds turning out to see the museum confer a humanitarian award on producer Jerry Bruckheimer, an entertainment industry titan best-known for expensive blockbuster franchises such as “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “National Treasure,” along with a slew of successful television series, including “The Amazing Race” and the New York and Miami versions of “CSI.”
During dinner, images of the sleekly modern museum that the Simon Wiesenthal Center is building in Jerusalem were projected on giant screens. Also, a joint project between the Wiesenthal Center and UNESCO that explores the “3,500-year relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel” was announced with great fanfare, with plans for exhibitions at UNESCO headquarters in Paris and at the United Nations building in New York.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Wiesenthal Center, paid his debts to the main attraction, a group of Hollywood moguls sitting together at a long communal table in the mezzanine.
“People don’t come here because the rabbi tells them to,” Hier said. “They come here because guys like Jeffrey Katzenberg and Ron Meyer ask them to.”
Katzenberg returned the flattery by referring to Hier as “commander-in-chief.”
“There are not many rabbis who have won two academy awards and a distinguished honor from the French government” — Hier won France’s Chevalier dans l’Ordre National du Merite in 1993 — “in fact, there’s only one of that kind.”
As usual, the emotional crux of the evening came during the medal of valor presentations, honoring a mix of modern-day heroes including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, and a group of elderly Tuskegee Airmen who were the subject of a 2012 film produced by George Lucas.
Giffords, who was initially unsure whether she would ascend the stage to accept the honor, walked stiffly but surely to the podium sporting a pair of chic and shiny tennis shoes, with her husband on her arm. She was beaming. After an emotional video detailing her ascent through the business world and into the U.S. House of Representatives, where her term was cut short by the assassination attempt that left her with a gunshot wound in her head, Kelly spoke to the crowd.
“Gabby always says the same thing to me as she leaves for therapy each morning,” he said. “Her last words are ... what?” he asked, turning toward her.
“Fight, fight, fight!” she said with a radiant smile.
“Gabby is a fighter,” Kelly said. “She is tough; tougher than anybody I know. She’s not willing to accept failure or defeat, and she reminds me [of this] every single day. Her dreams for a stronger America are not yet fulfilled, and her future is bright.”
The center also presented a medal of valor to Holocaust survivor Elisabeth Mann, who, after being liberated from a concentration camp, became a teacher and mother figure to hundreds of orphaned Jews at a school in Sweden. Another medal of valor was presented to a group of Tuskegee Airmen, African-American members of the U.S. Air Force who flew combat missions over Italy and Germany during World War II.
Actress Emily Procter, star of “CSI: Miami,” presented Bruckheimer with his award, but instead of focusing her remarks on the producer, she told an impromptu story about her first real-estate purchase. After a seemingly meandering tale about the obstacles to purchasing the home and the magnificent orange trees that sat in the backyard, it turned out the owner was a Holocaust survivor who, when learning of her appreciation for the trees, granted her the sale.
Visibly choked up, Procter said, “He planted those trees in honor of his family” — who perished in the Holocaust — “and he said, ‘I’ll sell you the house if you care for the trees.’ ”
By the time Bruckheimer took the podium, it was nearly 10 p.m. and the evening had reached its denouement. Surprisingly, there was no video montage of Bruckheimer’s greatest hits, so the producer nervously offered a few remarks, quoting Hannah Senesh, in an effort to ferret out the humanism in his blockbuster body of work.
“I’ve never been mistaken for a message producer,” Bruckheimer said, adding that though moral tales have not been the aim of his filmmaking, they have nonetheless found their way into the heart of his oeuvre. He specifically mentioned his pride in films like “Remember the Titans” that have “explored race through sports.”
The evening raised $1.4 million for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.