Amidst tributes from rabbis, abounding video clips on Jewish history and a hearty rendition of the Israeli national anthem, one Greek Orthodox man stood out from the pack at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s 2013 National Tribute Dinner. Jim Gianopulos received the center’s Humanitarian Award before an international crowd June 11 at the Beverly Wilshire.
“Now you know how beautiful this will look in a Greek household,” Gianopulos quipped when Jeffrey Katzenberg, along with Rabbis Marvin Hier and Meyer H. May, presented him with his honorary menorah.
Gianopulos played an integral role in the Wiesenthal Center’s latest fundraising campaign, which culminated in a $2.2 million donation to the center and its Museum of Tolerance.
“The museum gives voice to those who can counter hatred and intolerance, and their personal stories are a powerful reminder of what’s at stake,” Gianopulos said.
Attendees of the dinner included many high-profile members of the industry, including Rupert Murdoch, Bob Iger and Ron Meyer.
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By and large, Katzenberg avoided the usual warmhearted wisecracks, instead making a plain and earnest tribute to Gianopulos’s philanthropic efforts and contributions to the film industry. As he read a lengthy list of the honoree’s triumphs, Katzenberg made a sort of mantra out of the affirmation that each achievement was quintessentially “so Jim.”
“I can personally attest to something that is ‘so Jim,’” Katzenberg said, referring to the execs’ years together on the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s board of directors. “Jim’s commitment is just beyond and total. He’s in every board meeting, every event, every fundraiser — there’s nothing he doesn’t show up for. I’m amazed how he’s seemingly able to be everywhere, for everybody, always.”
But even Katzenberg couldn’t avoid making one joke.
“In order to be a true humanitarian, I guess you’ve got to first be a true human,” he said. “Or as Jim might say in Greek, a mensch.”
The Wiesenthal Center also awarded honors to Martha and Waitstill Sharp, American Unitarians who helped Jews escape from Nazi-occupied Europe; Mother Maria Elisabetta Hesselblad and Mother Ricarda Beauchamp Hambrough, Catholic nuns who sheltered Jews in Rome during WWII; and Murry Sidlin, a celebrated conductor who discovered and re-created an iconic musical performance by Jewish concentration camp inmates.