JNF Laughs and Cheers for Israel’s Birthday
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JNF Laughs and Cheers for Israel’s Birthday

The "Platinum Jubilee" celebration looks to the future as well as to the past.

Marcia Caller Jaffe

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip). On the side, Marcia is Captain of the Senior Cheerleaders for the WNBA Atlanta Dream.

Ziv Zusman (left), the founder of JNF's Sababa Society, listens to Alan Lubel's vow to keep JNF vibrant for generations to come April 19 at the Buckhead Theatre.
Ziv Zusman (left), the founder of JNF's Sababa Society, listens to Alan Lubel's vow to keep JNF vibrant for generations to come April 19 at the Buckhead Theatre.

The Buckhead Theatre hosted a high-vibe crowd to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday with Jewish National Fund’s “Platinum Jubilee” at the close of Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) on Thursday night, April 19.

“We’ve had 70 wonderful years developing water and land,” co-event chair Barbara Lincoln said. “Now we plan for the next 70.”

Alan Lubel, a past co-president of JNF in Atlanta, said, “JNF gives us direct contact to the land. Almost all the projects are about improving quality of life.”

Headliner Sarge visits with Ziv Zusman, the founder of JNF’s Sababa Society for young people.

After the entertainer for the night, Steve Pickman (aka Sarge), autographed his book, “Black Boychik,” for board members and patrons, and guests enjoyed a buffet dinner and drinks, the program began in the theater with a march of flags by Israel Scouts and Atlanta teens.

Robert Max, days before handing over command of Jewish War Veterans Post 112, holds the U.S. flag while Israel Scouts bear Israeli flags at the opening of the jubilee program.

JNF Atlanta Executive Director Beth Gluck and co-Presidents Michael Jacobson and Howard Wexler charged up the crowd in front of a dramatic backdrop of breathtaking, changing Israeli scenery.

Gluck evoked the emotions we all felt the first time we heard the plane wheels land in Israel.

JNF Atlanta Executive Director Beth Gluck and co-President Michael Jacobson listen to co-President Howard Wexler welcome the crowd to the “Platinum Jubilee.”

“We have all arrived. We have won the lottery. … We have seen the Tel Aviv beach at sunset,” she said. “From bare land 70 years ago, Israel entered the 21st century with 260 million trees. Even as the Negev blooms, we are developing and populating the north.”

She added: “We are celebrating 70 years of Israel’s accomplishments and our involvement in securing and building the modern state. Jewish National Fund is celebrating this Independence Day by facing forward toward a future enhanced quality of life for all Israelis and our ability to be of assistance in translating Israel’s advancements to the world.”

Robyn Bernstein (left) and Barbara Kaplan are passionate about programs that improve life in Israel.

Six JNF “doers” spotlighted their areas of interest with the agency: Roni Wolk, Special in Uniform, which helps people with developmental disabilities serve in the Israel Defense Forces; Eyal Postelnik, Lotem, which makes nature accessible to people with physical disabilities; Michael Levison, Arad task force, which helps the Negev municipality; Debbie Levy, JNFuture, JNF’s young-professionals arm; Seth Bernstein, housing development task force; and Stacy Lewin, water task force.

Thirteen-year-old Ziv Zusman, a recent bar mitzvah at Congregation Or Hadash, spoke about founding JNF’s Sababa Society for youngsters ages 10 to 14: “I am your future.”

Alan and Lisa Lubel talk with Jeff Kaufman about the direct programs JNF provides.

Lubel accepted the challenge from the teen to keep the agency growing.

Bam! Sarge took the stage. To say that the audience was shrieking in laughter is an understatement.

He told me earlier that he is not a comedian, but a storyteller à la Alan King and Myron Cohen. He said, “My life experiences … you can’t make it up.”

One scenario after the other touched our funny bones with relatable topics, such as senior citizens in Florida driving through building lobbies, the tribulations of serving Jewish patrons as a waiter and shoe salesman, the diminished role of Jewish husbands, and the purchase of Dead Sea mud to bring home to his wife.

“Jews always have a guy,” says Sarge, performing a one-man routine that shows he’s the guy for Jewish laughs.

Only Sarge, a man reared by Long Island Jews after his adoption from an Orthodox Jewish mother and black father, could cross such cultural and politically incorrect lines. “The Jewish part of me doesn’t work on Shabbos. The black part of me doesn’t want to work the other six days.”

A child prodigy and Juilliard student, he ended with a rousing piano medley.

“I thought Sarge was an entertaining balance to the first part of the program, which was inspirational and celebratory of JNF’s partnership with Israel,” said fan A.J. Robinson, the president of Central Atlanta Progress. “Sarge reminded me of my childhood watching Don Rickles with my father and witnessing him laugh till he literally cried. … I was equally impressed with his piano skills. The musical piece combining ‘Hatikvah,’ our national anthem, and many well-known Jewish-inspired songs was brilliantly compiled and performed and a very nice way to end the program.”

Co-President Howard Wexler, with his mother, Estelle, says, “No other organization besides JNF allows us to help Israel in the particular ways that we ourselves choose.”

We saw only a tiny bit of his story. His book is a must-read to understand his journey from battling drug and alcohol addiction to helping fellow Jews and others recover. Addiction ruined his careers in sports and fashion, but after hitting rock bottom, Sarge got sober and rose through standup comedy. Today he is a husband, a father and a mentor to thousands.

I read the book in two days. He is real. He is hilarious. He doesn’t write jokes; he writes about life.

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