First Annual Red Star Gala Raises Awareness for Israel

Willie Brown, Joy Venturini Bianchi, Maurice Kanbar & Wayne BradyPhoto Credit: Vasna Wilson/ Drew Altizer Photography

On Sunday night, San Francisco’s well-heeled Jewish community gathered at the Hilton in Union Square for the inaugural Red Star Gala to benefit the American Friends of Magen David Adom (MDA). In Israel, there are no government funded emergency medical services, so the nation relies on the privately-funded ambulance and life-saving medical team that is Magen David Adom. MDA runs the national ambulance, blood-services, and disaster relief programs serving as the first responders to more than 8 million people. With the current state of strife in the Middle East and the constant presence of terrorists such as Hamas and Isis, the people of Israel live in constant fear of attack. At the Red Star Gala, illustrious San Franciscans and the American Friends of MDA gathered to support the cause and help raise money for a state of the art underground, bomb-protected national blood center. MDA is known in the medical world as one of the fasted first responders and many of the group’s 13,000 volunteers (MDA relies heavily on volunteer medical professionals) were dispatched to help after natural disasters ruined Haiti and Nepal.

Things started off with an open bar cocktail and passed appetizer party in the second floor ballroom. The evenings Lifetime Achievement Award honored Maurice Kanbar, a local philanthropist and the founder of SKYY vodka, so vodka beverages were the drink of choice. Toast points with mixed mushrooms and chicken with apricots were just a couple of the kosher finger foods. From there, guests moved into the ballroom which was decorated in a blood red, silver, and white color palette. Bouquets of tight red roses were surrounded by metallic silver votives filled with glittering candles; wooden gold chairs with white cushions and red satin napkins upped the elegance ante of the large ballroom. The stage was anchored by two flags — the American and Israeli — and a pretty backdrop — of deep blue velvet dusted with twinkling stars — evoked the night sky. The gala program was hosted by Emmy Award-winning actor, singer, and comedian Wayne Brady.

When Brady took the stage, he was quick to make a joke about an African American, non-jewish man hosting the benefit. “I am here representing the AAFMDA,” he said, “the African American Friends of Magen David Adom. So far we have two members. Me and the guy I was posing with on the red carpet outside.” Brady was of course referring to our ex-mayor, current man about town, Willie Brown. Other notable guests included Alice Radio’s Hooman Khalili, Joy Venturini Bianchi looking chic as ever in yellow and black Balenciaga and her signature Gucci spectacles, Heidi Pettit, Teresa Rodriguez, and Clara Shayevich. Entrepreneur Dr. Lior Tamir was presented with the Next Generation Award and a moving video, presented by Dina Leeds, highlighted the amazing services of the MDA. The crowd was shocked and delighted when the stars of the video, a young father, Jehan, who was badly injured protecting the child guests at his son’s birthday party when a rocket hit and the MDA first responder who saved Jehan’s life, appeared on stage. The ambulance that saved the man was funded by a family in San Diego demonstrating the impactful significance of the donations made by guests at the gala.

The three-course plated meal started with a composed salad of endive, greens, radicchio, candied walnuts, and dried figs. For the main course, event goers sliced into prime rib slathered in a delectable horseradish-watercress sauce served on a bed of fluffy rice pilaf. A trio of desserts — rich flourless chocolate cake, apple strudel with raisins and nuts, and mini fresh fruit tart — completed the dinner which was served with red and white kosher wines. A performance by spoken word artist In-Q had the crowd thinking about the world today. Brady wrapped up the event soon thereafter, but the crowd lingered for some time, snapping photos, mingling, and discussing the important cause.