Movers & Shakers: Chabad Telethon, Gili Yalo, Big Sunday

Jewish Journal
September 13, 2018
By Ryan Torok

The 38th annual Chabad “To Life”telethon on Labor Day weekend raised more than $3.6 million for Chabad West Coast, according to Rabbi Simcha Backman, co-director of Chabad of Glendale and the Foothill Communities.

The nationally televised event, broadcast live on Sept. 2 from Illuminate Hollywood in Studio City, benefited Chabad-Lubavitch’s West Coast headquarters, which funds day schools and preschools, a drug rehabilitation program, community outreach programs and other activities and services.

Participants included Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of California; Rabbi Shalom Cunin, director of Chabad of Westwood; actors Jon Voight and Elliott Gould; attorney Marshall Grossmanand his daughter, actress Leslie GrossmanDonna Miller, director of Chabad Treatment Center; Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz; and L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin.

Chabad emissaries who recently moved to Los Angeles also attended, which energized the telecast, Backman said. 

“That’s the future of the Jewish people,” Backman said in a phone interview after the telethon. “We’re really doing a lot in those arenas to try to engage young people Jewishly, early on, to try to counter all the negativity you read in the news today about the polls, where the Jewish people are heading, the nonaffiliation rates. One by one, we have to engage people, and we’re doing a lot of that.”

Longtime telethon producer Michael Levin produced the event. 

The Chabad telethon first aired in 1980 after a fire struck the organization’s headquarters in Westwood. 

Backman said the event always enjoys a broad appeal. 

“Many different types of people come together for a common cause, and that common cause is to help others,” he said. “That to me is the most important thing — to see people from all walks of life, all denominations of Judaism, politicians, white people, black people, Asian people — coming together for a very simple cause. It’s a beautiful thing to see in this day and age.” 

Nonprofit organization Big Sunday’s ninth annual Back to School Night sent low-income students back to school with the supplies they need. Photo by Bill Devlin, Temple Ner Simcha

Nonprofit organization Big Sunday held its ninth-annual Back to School Night on Aug. 9, which provided new backpacks and school supplies to low-income students.

The gathering drew hundreds of volunteers to Big Sunday’s headquarters on Melrose Avenue, where they collected supplies, including 1,500 backpacks, for students enrolled at 24th Street Elementary School, Hooper Elementary School and other schools across Southern California.

Participants sorted, counted and stuffed all kinds of donated items into the backpacks — such as notebooks, pocket folders, pens, pencils, crayons, markers, colored pencils and more. Representatives of the schools were present to receive the backpacks.

Volunteers also hand-wrote and decorated cards, which were placed into the backpacks to welcome children to the new school year.

The all-ages event concluded with a dinner for the participants.

Founded in 1999 by David Levinson, Big Sunday is a Los Angeles-based organization that holds year-round social service activities. The nonprofit grew out of a mitzvah day at Temple Israel of Hollywood and is one of the nation’s premiere groups for pairing people with volunteer opportunities. The philosophy of the organization is there is something everyone can to do pitch in and give back.

Ethiopian singer Gili Yalo and his band take a bow on the final night of the Skirball Center’s Sunset Concerts series. From left: Daniel Mindelman, Brian Griffin, Navad Peled, Yalo, Hagar Ben-Ali, Stewart Cole. Photo by Ryan Torok

The Skirball Cultural Center’s Sunset Concerts series came to a rousing conclusion Aug. 30 with the Los Angeles debut of singer Gili Yalo. The Ethiopian Jew, who escaped the war and famine of his birthplace and now resides in Tel Aviv, charmed the audience, which filled the cultural center’s Mark Taper Courtyard. 

A lithe, charismatic performer whose voice at times resembles Ziggy Marley’s, Yalo performed an hourlong set of his rhythmic songs that add a touch of reggae and schmears of jazz and rock to slinky Afro-Middle Eastern grooves. 

“You cannot hear Ethiopian music sitting down,” he joked, and many people in the  multigenerational audience were on their feet, dancing and singing along.  As one member of the crowd told the Jewish Journal, “This might be the only time you’ll see hipsters dancing alongside Holocaust survivors.”  

Backing Yalo was a tight, supple five-piece band that included Hagar Ben-Ari, an Israeli-born bassist best known as a member of the band on “The Late Late Show With James Corden.”

In her introduction to the show, the Skirball’s Mia Cariño said that by presenting Yalo and other international performers, such as South Africa’s Goapele, Zimbabwe’s Peter Mawanga, and South Carolina’s Ranky Tanky, previously in the concert series, the Skirball embraces the Jewish value of welcoming strangers. Yalo said he hoped he would have a chance to welcome the crowd to his adopted home. “I grew up in Israel,” he said. “It’s a wonderful country.”

— Steven Mirkin, Contributing Writer 

Photo by Betsy Annas, City of Los Angeles

A Sept. 4 celebration at Los Angeles City Hall drew city leaders, clergy and Jewish Federation leaders to honor the Jewish New Year.

Speakers at the pre-Rosh Hashanah celebration included city council members Paul KoretzBob Blumenfield and David Ryu; City Attorney Mike Feuer; Controller Ron GalperinRabbi Jason Weiner, president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and director of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Spiritual Care Department; Eitan Weiss, deputy chief of mission at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; Becky Sobelman-Stern, executive vice president and chief program officer at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; and Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Joshua Hoffman, vice president of the Board of Rabbis.

Los Angeles entrepreneur and philanthropist Behzad Kianmahd was recently elected to the American Friends of Tel Aviv University’s board of directors. Photo courtesy of Amer. Friends of Tel Aviv Univ.

Los Angeles entrepreneur and philanthropist Behzad Kianmahd recently was elected to American Friends of Tel Aviv University’s (AFTAU) board of directors, the nonprofit organization announced.

Kianmahd is chairman and CEO of Maxim Commercial Capital, a specialty finance company dedicated to providing capital to underserved, small and midsize businesses. He has served on the board of for-profit and nonprofit organizations and is a co-founder and advisory board member of TAU Ventures, a university-sponsored fund investing in early-stage startups, AFTAU said in a press release.

“We are delighted and fortunate to welcome Behzad to our board of directors,” AFTAU President and CEO Gail Reiss said in a statement. “Behzad is a distinguished leader in the philanthropic and business communities, with a passion for strengthening higher education in Israel and elsewhere. I know he will serve as an important partner as we work to further elevate Tel Aviv University’s visibility and stature on the global stage.”

AFTAU board Chairman Richard Sincere echoed Reiss’ words of praise.

“The commitment of our board members allows us to continue to support and advance the most prestigious, prolific and entrepreneurial academic institution in Israel, and we are proud to count Behzad among them,” Sincere said. 

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[Thanksgiving Stuffing Event] “Our Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without you guys. It warms my heart and replenishes my faith to witness such kindness in action.”

- -A.Z., Los Angeles