Part fundraiser, part pop concert and part celebration, the “Live For Sderot” gala last night at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills was quite the scene. Allow me to elaborate…
Only fifteen minutes after the doors were opened, hordes of people were already crowding the entryway to the theater - picking up tickets at will call, schmoozing, bottlenecking at the front door, where metal detectors and security guards were checking everyone airport-style.
“Do I have to take off my shoes?” cracked one guy.
Large Israeli flags decorated the balcony. Paparazzi snapped photos of Sylvester Stallone, Mayim Bialik and Maria Conchita Alonzo on the red carpet.
Around 8 p.m. the lights in the lobby were dimmed to signal the start of the show. Hardly anyone budged. They continued to enjoy conversations and cocktails well into the hour. It was nearly 9 p.m. before the 1900 seats filled up and even after the theater had gone dark, late-comers continued to stream in casually - Israelis most likely.
For the next two hours, local dignitaries, politicians, speakers, B-list celebrities and musicians trotted onto the stage, declaring their solidarity with the people of Sderot. It was a long line-up and a bit long-winded, so I’ll spare you the details and give just a quick recap.
Contrary to rumors that Paula Abdul volunteered to host the night, Noa Tishby, an Israeli model and actress, acted as MC instead. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said “Shalom” and a few more nice words in support of Israel. Rabbi David Wolpe led the audience in the “She’echianu.” Valerie Harper from “Golda’s Balcony,” stage actor Mike Burstyn, and the kid from Jerry McGuire (“the human head weighs eight pounds”) were a few of the modest celebrities who took part in the show. Consul General Jacob Dayan spoke a little too forcefully but with evident passion; lover of Jews Jon Voight expressed his dedication to Israel, saying that “the Jews are a gift to all of humanity;” and Eli Tene, the co-chair of the Israeli Leadership Club, which funded the entire “Live for Sderot” project, had his time at the mike.
Wait, there was more.
Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barak Obama each recorded statements addressing the situation in Sderot as well as Israel’s 60th anniversary of independence. Hillary was articulate as always. Obama was booed loudly, much to my surprise. And McCain, who received roaring cheers, pronounced Sderot “sharat” and seemed to be having trouble making eye contact with the camera.
The Star Spangled Banner was sung, then the tikvah by an incredible young lady whose name I can’t remember. Then a duet was sung by another set of unknown singers, accompanied by a gospel choir. Miri Ben-Ari, the hip hop violinist, performed two songs, said a few words and then, finally, Ninette Tayeb, the headliner strolled onto the stage.Beautiful and talented, Ninette sang an odd assortment of English cover songs, Hebrew songs, the very first song she wrote in English, up-beat tunes, quiet ballads and a prayer-turned-song that succeeded in getting a very hushed audience to come to life. A mega-starlette in her home country, Ninette was noticeably nervous on stage and mumbled in Hebrew at one point, “why are you guys even listening to me.”
What was memorable about the evening, however, was not the star-power or the musical performances. It was the resounding message of support for Sderot, repeated over and over again, in many ways and by many different kinds of people: politicians, Israelis, Americans, religious leaders, celebrities, and community members.
The most poignant moment of the entire affair was when one of the teenagers from Sderot spoke on behalf of the delegation of children who came to L.A to tell their stories.
Clearly nervous and visibly emotional, he said, “I don’t know for how long I will have to endure this reality, but I do know that I will never be alone. Here, I found you. Here, I found a family.”
The crowd stood in a prolonged, thunderous ovation, nearly moved to tears; moved to internalize the plight of Sderot. Which was precisely the point of “Live for Sderot.”
(Sylvester Stallone photo courtesy of Chris Hatcher/PR Photos)