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Life, Love, Laughter and Lions: The 2016 Lion of Judah Luncheon

The flowers were artfully arranged; the name tags were neatly organized; the wait staff was ready. And when our Federation’s proud Lions of Judah arrived at the Sylvia Weisz Women’s Philanthropy 2016 Chai, Emerald, Zahav, Ruby & Lion of Judah Luncheon, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel was electrified with their energy!

Held on Wednesday, February 17th, this year’s event continued the annual tradition of uniting women in support of the work of our Federation. Thirty-six new Lions joined the pride this year, ready to bring their ideas, dedication, inspiration and philanthropy to our community.

New Lion Heidi Bendetson said, “I didn’t realize before how many Lions I knew! When I heard Lion of Judah started because women wanted to have their own part of the Federation, I loved what that stood for and how these powerful women are ‘owning’ it.”

Standing back from the crowd and watching the Lions’ symphony of smiles and hugs gives even the casual observer great joy. In fact, their friendship is what makes our pride of Lions continue to grow. When asked what inspired her to become a Lion, Lena Labowe, Outreach Co-Chair, replied, “I have great role models as friends!”

Even more inspiring is their shared commitment to our Federation’s work. Lion of Judah Outreach Co-Chair Jodie Fishman described a feeling shared by many:  “In my life as a Jewish woman I’ve been very fortunate, so I want to give back to our community. It’s my duty and where my compassion lies.”

The program began with Lion of Judah Co-Chairs, sisters-in-law and friends Carin Freeman and Nancy Lushing Greenstein introducing Federation leadership and past Women’s Chairs. Next, Co-Chairs Sharon Gersh and Linda Schwimmer recited the Motzi. Everyone was encouraged to attend this year’s International Lion of Judah Conference in Washington, D.C. from September 11th-13th to join the pride in honoring Bobbi Endler and Joyce Powell with the national Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award from our community.

Afterward, Sylvia Weisz Women’s Philanthropy Co-Chairs Debi Graboff and Kathy Guccione presented a series of video vignettes in which three individuals described how our Federation has touched their lives. Laurie Cohen, a Lion for more than 10 years, was inspired by the videos. “Year by year I’m constantly amazed by Federation’s new programming and outreach and how we are affecting the lives of more and more people of all ages,” she said. “I felt really proud today.”

As a delicious lunch was served, keynote speaker and fashionista extraordinaire Melissa Rivers took the stage, pointing out where she bought each of her items of clothing and accessories as she addressed the well-dressed crowd.

Reflecting on the loss of both of her parents, Melissa highlighted what she calls the “four pillars of strength.” She first encouraged the women to give themselves permission to laugh through challenging times. “When you make someone laugh,” she said, “you give them a mini-vacation.” Infusing her speech with humorous memories of her mother, the outspoken Joan Rivers, Melissa went on to share that family isn’t easy, but that it should be everyone’s “safe place.” She also touched on the importance of bouncing forward instead of bouncing back, and how crisis can be a chance to reset and understand one’s vulnerabilities. Finally, Melissa mentioned proven research about how endorphins are released when one gives back, implying that the generous women in the room must have a great deal of happiness.

When asked if her mother passed down any sage advice from generation to generation, Melissa quickly answered, “Don’t pay retail, and if you can, marry a doctor.” Her confidence, perseverance and wit were well-appreciated within the room.

Said Women’s Philanthropy Vice Chair Evy Lutin — there with her two daughters Robin Lutin and Carrie Scott — “Melissa represents someone who has gone through tremendous grief. She showed us all that you have to find the good in life and laugh and appreciate every day.”

Ada Horwich was honored with the 2016 Lea Rabin Award, Women’s Philanthropy’s highest honor, as the program continued. Ada graciously thanked her outstanding role models, including her husband Jim and many of the women in the room, who taught her the principles of leadership and generosity.

Next, Amy Masor was honored with the 2016 Ruby Award. She expressed great pride in our Federation and shared that she became an endowed Lion, ensuring that she will always support our life-saving work.

The luncheon concluded with Ruby Chair Lesley Wolman’s second annual musical rendition of upcoming events, which delighted Lions both old and new. Laurie Cohen said, “I thought this year’s event was fantastic, uplifting and real. Everyone at my table was inspired.”

As the last women left the room, vases of pink tulips, vibrant red roses, and green and purple orchids remained. They were as diverse an arrangement as the Lions themselves:  young women, mothers and daughters, and grandmothers up to age 97, each one full of life and blossoming for our global Jewish community.

If you are interested in becoming a Lion of Judah, please contact Jenna Fields at (818) 668-2340 or JFields@JewishLA.org for the Valley, or Karen Sternfeld at (323) 761-8275 or KSternfeld@JewishLA.org for the City.

Learn more about Sylvia Weisz Women’s Philanthropy.

Hear why the philanthropic women below became Lions of Judah.

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