Hollywood stars and dancing rabbis came together for the 32nd annual Chabad “To Life” Telethon on Sept. 9. Held for the first time at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, the high-profile fundraiser raised approximately $4 million for Chabad of California.
“At Chabad, there’s no greater joy than the joy of giving,” declared Larry King, whose hosting duties and interviews were recorded days earlier at KCET in Burbank and shown on screens straddling the stage.
KTLA Morning News’ Sam Rubin, “Good Morning Arizona” anchor Stella Inger and comedian Elon Gold co-hosted the event live, playing to a small studio audience at the Art Deco theater.
The three-hour telethon aired locally on KTLA 5, from 8 to 11 p.m., and was carried nationwide by cable and satellite providers, as well as stations in San Diego, San Francisco, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Actor Jon Voight, one of the evening’s main celebrities, remains an active supporter of Israel and Chabad, having appeared in multiple telethons.
“I’ve had many major roles in motion pictures, but one of my favorite roles is taking part in Chabad’s” yearly telethon, he said.
Onstage throughout the evening, Voight was in good spirits, surrounded by a house band, a rotating crew of people working the phone banks and an active tote board. He danced with black-suited Chabadniks young and old. “I’m learning new steps every day,” Voight said.
Then, catching his breath, he delivered his spiel, asking viewers to call the phone number that appeared on the bottom of their television screens and donate what they could.
In addition to Voight, speakers included actors Tom Arnold, David Arquette and Howie Mandel, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, L.A. City Councilmen Paul Koretz and Dennis Zine, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel and philanthropist Stanley Black.
Among the featured performers were 11-year-old piano prodigy Ethan Bortnick, Chasidic rock-and-pop duo the 8th Day and Chasidic singer and composer Lipa Schmeltzer.
The $4.03 million raised on Sunday — last year’s telethon raised $4.2 million — will benefit the international Chasidic movement’s social services and programs, including summer camp scholarships, support for children with special needs, community outreach centers, crisis intervention and drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
Seated near L.A. Clipper forward Trey Thompkins at the phone bank, actor-comedian Arnold made his pitch for Chabad. Never shy, Arnold highlighted his past as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict when requesting donations in support of Chabad’s drug rehabilitation services.
“They do wonderful work there and they help everybody,” Arnold said.
Highlights from the Chabad “To Life” Telethon:
7:58 p.m.: Backstage, two minutes until showtime, production assistants scramble to prepare performers, including Voight and dancing rabbis, for their cue.
8 p.m.: A message from King segues into Bortnick’s piano performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The rabbis follow — young men grab one another’s hands or shoulders, kicking up their feet as they dance in circles.
8:12 p.m.: Dressed in black sneakers to match his suit, comedian Gold warms up the crowd: “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy the Chabad Telethon, but it helps,” Gold says.
8:55 p.m.: King interviews Arquette about what it took to get sober. Building “a connection to God” and learning how to manage self-critical thinking both played a role in his road to sobriety, Arquette says.
9:10 p.m.: Consul General Siegel, City Councilman Koretz, County Supervisor Yaroslavsky and philanthropist Black share the stage with Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad. Black announces his own pledge for $250,000.
9:35 p.m.: Looking out at the theater’s numerous empty seats, Arnold quips from the phone bank, “How about a hand for all of Clint Eastwood’s chairs out there,” referring to Eastwood’s controversial speech at the Republican National Convention.
9:40 to 10 p.m.: Entertainment attorney and Chabad Telethon co-chairman Marshall Grossman pledges $25,000. Television producer Kevin Bright (“Friends”), who was not in attendance, pledges $180,000 and Ralphs supermarket representative Jose Martinez hands over a jumbo-check for $20,000.
10:10: An interview between King and TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal president David Suissa is screened. “Chabad means ‘love’ more than anything,” Suissa says.
10:55 p.m.: The tote board jumps to more than $4 million for the evening’s final total. The rabbis return for a final dance — until next year.