New prize named for Kol Ami founding president
Over this past weekend, Congregation Kol Ami held our Annual Gala, “One Singular Sensation: Broadway in West Hollywood.” Three outstanding and deserving congregants were given awards, and we celebrated Kol Ami’s 28 years as West Hollywood’s Reform Synagogue.
Building on the success of last year’s virtual gala, the online event welcomed more than 300 guests Saturday night, April 24 via Zoom. The show opened with a special welcome message from Chita Rivera, and included fantastic performances from Carter Calvert, Ilene Graff, Gillian Munsayac, Anthea Neri-Best, and Charles Turner, along with Kol Ami members, Joshua Finkel and Allen Weaver, and staff member Ruth Featherstone. Some of the performers sent their video tributes, while most were accompanied in Kol Ami’s sanctuary by pianist Lisa Edwards.
In addition to unparalleled musical entertainment, the highlight of the evening were the awards given to members of our Kol Ami community for their dedication and commitment to our synagogue.
Dr. Susan Igdaloff earned the Spirit of Kol Ami Award, and Glenn Rosenblum was honored with the Allan Rich Award for Exemplary Achievement in the Arts and Humanities.
John Altschul has been a part of West Hollywood community since Cityhood. Originally Mr. Altschul was appointed by Councilmember John Heilman to the first Public Safety Commission. John later moved to Planning Commission serving as a direct appointee of both Councilmember John Heilman and then newly elected Councilmember John D’Amico. Altschul is the longest serving Planning Commissioner in West Hollywood history and has been an integral part of the development and success of the city of West Hollywood as well as a founding father of the Kol Ami Congregation.
Notably for readers and residents here in West Hollywood, this year the congregation honored Stuart Leviton, Esq. with the inaugural presentation of the John A. Altschul Leadership Award, named for Kol Ami’s founding President, John Arthur Altschul.
Over several decades, John has exhibited exemplary leadership at Congregation Kol Ami. His warmth, insights, and strength of character have shaped our congregation in countless ways.He has remained through the years a source of advice and counsel, humor and goodwill for the entire congregation. Of course, he has also demonstrated decades of leadership to the City of West Hollywood, both through the Public Safety Commission, and serving more than 25 years on the Planning and Zoning Commission. His vision, dedication, and leadership thus helped to shape and grow our city, in addition to our temple community. As we celebrate the inspiration and friendship that John has given to Kol Ami through our 28 years, we know he will continue to provide our congregation with his good cheer, and sage council for many years to come.
Rabbi Denise L. Eger, the founding Rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami, reflects: “Not only was John was the first President of Kol Ami, but he even hosted our first worship service, in May of 1993, and has been an invaluable advisor and leader to our congregation, and to me, personally. I have learned so much from him through the years, including patience, and a lot of stories! John has so many funny stories that he has shared.I am thrilled that we have this award as a lasting legacy to John at Kol Ami for all he has done for our community, and for the City of West Hollywood.”
Loren Ostrow helped to make the award possible as the Platinum Sponsor of the gala. “I attended that now legendary first Friday night service at John Altschul’s home” he said on Saturday, “and I still recall how gracious and warm John was, and how wonderfully engaging was his humor. Kol Ami is so extraordinary in its commitment to social justice, in deed, not just words; in its innovation; in its being a Jewish community of choice. Many, many people have contributed in significant ways over the years to the wonderful shul that Kol Ami has become, as evidenced by the fantastic honorees this evening, Stuart, Susan, and Glenn; but none more so than John Altschul, whose extraordinary leadership as its first President served to underpin the synagogue’s foundation. With his warmth, practical insight, and strength, he guided a fledgling synagogue to the world leader that it is today in the Reform synagogue world. All of us who find community at Kol Ami owe him a large debt of gratitude. So I am thrilled that this year, Kol Ami has inaugurated the John A. Altschul Leadership Award, and I am particularly delighted that its inaugural recipient is the most deserving Stuart Leviton.”
Stuart himself is a Past President of Kol Ami, along with a past national president of Men of Reform Judaism and a former trustee for the Union for Reform Judaism. An accomplished lawyer as both a practitioner and teacher, Stuart’s leadership at Kol Ami helped make him the perfect recipient for the inaugural presentation of this award.
In accepting the award, Stuart reflected on his relationship with John as well: “Thank you, my dear friend and mentor… you’re the power of positive thinking – you see the good in situations. And John, you see the good in other people and bestow grace far more often and ably than I could ever do. I could not have written these words some number of years ago – I did not have the insight or the wisdom. Only now am I able to begin to understand, appreciate, incorporate and practice so many of these important values.”
While we were not able to gather together in person, Congregation Kol Ami’s annual gala was a resounding success. With talented performances, worthy honorees, and the inaugural presentation of the John A. Altschul Leadership Award, the congregation has indeed created a lasting legacy for an outstanding leader in both the Jewish community, and here in our City of West Hollywood. You can connect with Kol Ami, or donate to help sustain the congregation by visiting our website, kol-ami.org.
Written by Rabbi Denise L. Egar & Rabbi Max Chalken