The Israeli-American Council has only been in operation for eight years, but on Sunday night the organization's fund-raising gala in Beverly Hills raked in over $23 million in donations.
Ten million of those dollars have been earmarked for the establishment of a community center in Los Angeles that will allow the local Israeli-American community to finally come together under one roof.
The IAC was first established in Los Angeles, though over the years it has spread to other US cities in its mission to build an engaged and united Israeli-American community.
IAC chairman Shawn Evenhaim told The Jerusalem Post that the fund-raising gala was significant because “it’s the first time so much money has come from the Israeli-American community across the board, from $100 from a teenager to $12m. from a donor [Sheldon Adelson]. It just shows how much the IAC has evolved.”
Having a home for the Israeli-American Los Angeles community, which is estimated to be around 200,000 people, has always been a dream of the IAC. Now that dream is about to become a reality.
The building that has been purchased is in the heart of the San Fernando Valley, in Woodland Hills, at 6530 Winnetka Avenue. It previously housed the Crippled Children’s Society Rehabilitation Center. Evenhaim said the IAC hoped to close escrow within the next 60 days and begin operations a few months after that.
Renowned local architect John Lautner built the single-property in 1979. The unique space-age design and its location in the heart of the Valley, where much of the local
Israeli-American Council has purchased this Israeli-American community lives, were two things that immediately appealed to the IAC.
“We want to be the heart of the Israeli American community in LA and we didn’t want anything that looked like an office building,” Evenhaim said.
The structure was originally built as a community center, which means there won’t be any need to obtain entitlements from the city.
As for the $10m. price tag, Evenhaim said part of the money was for purchasing the property, but there were plans to build an additional building to house offices on the premises.
“We wanted to raise enough money for it to be owned by the IAC for the benefit of the community, but without us having to take out a mortgage,” he said.
Some of the organizations slated to move into the premises are the Israeli Scouts, Bnei
building in the San Fernando Akiva and the Mati Israeli Community Center, a non-profit established seven years ago and run by volunteers.
Mati runs 40 events per year for the Israeli-American community, with everything from Israeli dancing classes that attract up to 300 people each week to large Jewish holiday events, the screening of Hebrew-language films and even the equivalent of a Tipat Halav well-baby center. The organization also has a thriving senior citizens group offering everything from social events to assistance in Hebrew to help members complete Medicare forms.
Orna Eilon is co-founder and president of Mati, and is excited that the organization will finally have a permanent home.
“We currently have about 600 square feet of office space, so we hope to now grow Mati and offer programs simultaneously,” she said.
Eilon added that having so many organizations under one roof “will enable all these different groups to get to know each other and help each other. We have a lot of mixed marriages [between Israelis and Americans] here and we can offer programs in English and Hebrew for them. You need a place for people to come and be together.”
The new community center will be named in honor of Miri and Isaac Shepher, IAC board members who donated funds to help build the center and whose philanthropic efforts have helped nurture and support the local Israeli community since they moved here 40 years ago.
“I have been involved in many different organizations over the years,” Miri Shepher said. “And one of the problems we always faced was that we had to beg people to donate space to hold events or activities. I’m so excited that we’ll now have a home that everyone will be able to come to.”