Sharon Stone, Natalie Portman Take Top Honors at Israel Film Festival Gala

As expected, the 2016 presidential election was the underlying thrust of Wednesday night’s gala dinner honoring the 30th anniversary of the Israel Film Festival where Natalie Portman, Sharon Stone, and Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, were honored for their philanthropic and cultural contributions.

“Good evening, my fellow Canadians,” joked comedian Elan Gold, who emceed the night’s festivities, held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. “So we survived day one,” he quipped. “It should have been called a big erection because a d-ck won.”

Meir Fenigstein, founder and executive director of the fest, was on hand to tout its achievements in bridging cultural divides between Israel and the rest of the world. In its three decades, the fest has showcased nearly 1,000 feature films, documentaries and television series and brought more than 450 filmmakers to the United States.

“We are not just promoting Israeli film in Los Angeles,” said Fenigstein, who started his career as a rock musician with the band Kaveret, dubbed the “Israeli Beatles.”

“We’re acting as ambassadors to show the world the real Israel,” Fenigstein continued. “Doing anything for 30 years is tough, but when you love something it’s easy.”

Honoree Jay Sanderson, violinist Miri Ben-Ari, and Israel Film Festival founder Meir Fenigstein. (Brian To/Variety/REX/Shutterstock)

Grammy Award-winning, hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari was on hand for musical entertainment, playing her soulful “Symphony of Brotherhood,” an ode to Martin Luther King Jr., and a song that promotes peace and denounces racism and hatred.

“I told myself I wasn’t going to get political,” said Ben-Ari, “but music gives us the privilege to deliver a message and this is something I truly strive to do with my violin.”

“2 Broke Girls” star Kat Dennings introduced fellow actress and friend Portman, who received the IFF Achievement in Film Award for her oeuvre of cinematic work, including her role in “Jackie,” Pablo Larrain’s biopic of Jacqueline Kennedy in the days following President Kennedy’s assassination, and “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” a big screen adaptation of Israeli writer Amos Oz’s memoir in which Portman stars and makes her directorial debut.

Kat Dennings and Natalie Portman pose for a photo together. (Brian To/Variety/REX/Shutterstock)

In accepting her award, a very pregnant Portman shared a comforting poem by Oz.

“A curious person is a better person,” Portman went on to say. “Fanatics have no sense of humor and very seldom are they curious. Tonight let’s celebrate these curious artists exercising, in the words of Amos Oz, ‘the moral virtue of curiosity.’”

Stone, recipient of the IFF Career Achievement Award, ended the night on an uplifting note, recalling her humble beginnings as the product of a working-class, blue-collar family in Pennsylvania and how that lead to a life dedicated to philanthropic causes, including her work as the global campaign chair for AmfAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, a position she took over from Elizabeth Taylor in 1995 and has held for 21 years.

“It’s such a honor to be here tonight, to have come from such an unlikely place to come here to such an unlikely place,” said Stone. “Over the course of my career, I picked working. I believed my job was to work. I picked parts. I picked learning. I picked growing. And as my career grew and work turned to stardom — a maddening kind of fame — I realized, this is just crazy. And I thought, what am I going to do with this maddening kind of fame. For me, I had to apply it to human rights. It’s not about AIDS. It’s about seeing the person sitting next to you.”

“Did I vote for Donald Trump?” Stone went on to ask. “I did not. Do I respect the office of the presidency? I do. What we do, what we say matters. I am grateful. Grateful for us to move forward in peace, in love, in humor, and in creativity.”

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