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Jewish Journal

Wiesenthal dinner honors heroes and movie moguls

by Danielle Berrin

June 27, 2007 | 3:02 pm

L-R: Rabbi Meyer May, SWC Executive Director; Queen Latifah; President & COO Time Warner Inc, Jeff Bewkes; Michael Lynne; Robert Shaye;emcee for the evening, CNN’s Larry King; SWC Dean & Founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier; CEO Dreamworks Animation, Jeffrey Katzenberg; and SWC Board of Trustees Chairman, Larry Mizel.(Not pictured, Dinner Chair, Universal Studios President & COO, Ron Meyer)  Photo: Marissa Roth. Courtesy Simon Wiesenthal Center

The foot-tall invitation boasts a cast of dinner chairmen as A-list as a Spielberg film: Jeffrey Katzenberg, Ron Meyer, Jeff Bewkes (the granddaddys of Dreamworks, Universal Studios and Time Warner Inc., respectively), David Geffen, Brad Grey, Sumner Redstone - a formidable group. The head honchos of Hollywood and prime benefactors of The Simon Wiesenthal Center gathered at The Beverly Hilton (Wed., June 20) for a dinner honoring New Line Cinema CEOs Robert Shaye and Michael Lynne for their commitment to cultural diversity, social responsibility and philanthropy.

At the hotel, guests were ushered through metal detectors into an unusually dark ballroom, where a plate of roast beef posing as a steak awaited. After Rush Hour director Brett Ratner said Hamotzi, emcee Larry King took over the podium. With that million-dollar CNN voice, he butchered Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s last name while introducing him to the few-hundred guests apathetically picking at their plates. The Mayor praised the Wiesenthal Center’s mission, as well as its founder and dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier, who in turn, lauded the contributions of the crowd. A short video generated buzz about the Wiesenthal project being erected in Israel—the anticipated magnumopus of architect Frank Gehry’s career, though not without its challenges. Following that, Nikki Blonsky who will star in the film version of Hairspray belted an uninspiring rendition of “Good Morning Baltimore”.

By the time the ice cream melted, the evening took on a more serious tone. Holocaust survivor and engineering Professor Liviu Librescu was posthumously honored for his selfless act during the Virginia Tech massacre, when he used his own body as a shield and allowed endangered students to escape through the windows. Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, whose efforts towards peace still resonate years after his death, was honored as well.

The highlight of the evening was an elegant Ann Curry, who received a medal of valor for reporting on humanitarian crises in Africa. “I am truly humbled and wish to be worthy,” she stated earnestly, acknowledging the magnitude of the company she was in. She eloquently recounted her experiences traveling to refugee camps and war zones. She spoke of genocide, rape and disease. From memory, she recalled the individual names and stories of people she encountered. She gave voice to their plight and admitted that it wasn’t enough. Her tone was somber and heartfelt, and without the camera in the way, her eyes met every face in the room.

People may have gone home hungry, but after that, hearts were full.

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