US Chabad holds telethon for Katrina victims

Rabbi: It's impossible to see images of destruction from Gulf Coast and not be moved to action.

The California-based West Coast Chabad's annual star-studded telethon is making a special appeal for victims of Hurricane Katrina. The lineup of stars asking for donations includes Academy Award-winning actor Jon Voight, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Los Angeles Lakers basketball legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Earvin "Magic" Johnson. "It's impossible to see the images of destruction and loss coming from the Gulf Coast and not be moved to action," said Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad-Lubavitch. "Our hearts go out to the hundreds of thousands who are suffering from this disaster, and we will continue to do everything we can to help the survivors," he said. The nine-hour telethon is taking place Sunday from 3 p.m. to midnight (1 a.m. to 10 a.m Monday in Israel). The fundraiser, named "Celebration 25" to mark its 25th anniversary, is being broadcast nationally in the U.S. and globally on the Internet at Viewers have the opportunity to chat live with some of the celebrities. Of all the celebrities who have lent their name to the Chabad telethon, none is more personally committed to the cause than Voight. The Academy Award-winning star of Midnight Cowboy has been a guest on Cunin's telethons since the late 1980s. Voight is not Jewish, but he told author Sue Fishkoff in her book The Rebbe's Army that he appreciates the value Judaism places on good deeds. "It's not how much you know, although learning is certainly a great aspect of it, but what you do," he said. "I think that is certainly portrayed by Chabad. And that's why I help them." Hollywood actor, director and author Shelley Berman has also been a longstanding supporter of Chabad's outreach efforts. After Berman's 12-year-old son was hospitalized in 1977 with a brain tumor, Chabad helped him through a time of despair, Berman said. "It wasn't looking good," Berman said. "There was no chemotherapy yet. Two [Chabad] guys came walking through the hall in shirtsleeves and hats. These two guys, with nothing more than their hearts to help me, made a great dent in our pain. They were like a great aspirin. I never forgot how kind they were." "I have no misgivings about supporting these people," he added. In addition to Voight and Berman, the telethon has hosted appearances by such leading entertainment industry figures as Martin Sheen, Bob Dylan, Matt LeBlanc, Tony Danza, Whoopi Goldberg, Drea de Matteo and Jerry Weintraub over the last 25 years. Cunin has become something of a celebrity by showing off his dancing skills during the telethons. Every hour, the total raised is flashed on a large board, and Cunin joins the celebrities onstage for a celebratory hora. He said telethon donors, who contributed $6 million last year, would be asked Sunday if they would like to earmark a certain amount of their donation to the hurricane effort or to add an "extra amount" for hurricane relief. "Chabad has a long, proud tradition of nonsectarian crisis intervention," he said, "and now is the time for all of us to step forward." That tradition of service includes drug-rehab centers, soup kitchens, aid for the homeless, Chabad day schools and counseling for state prisoners.