For Second Time, Israel Gala Group Makes Late Adjustments to Schedule

The Israel Forever Foundation has cancelled a planned MCI Center concert for Chanukah, choosing instead to partner with an Israel Philharmonic Orchestra concert already scheduled for next month.

This is the second time the fledgling organization has cancelled an event. The group hoped to produce a concert for Israel’s 55th birthday in May that was to feature comedian Jerry Seinfeld, among other celebrities, but the show was postponed a week before it was to take place.

The May concert, which organizers originally said would bring together President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, was rescheduled as a Chanukah celebration for Dec. 18, but that idea now also has been scrapped.

“It’s not a time, with so many people dying, to do it,” said Jeanne Ellinport, Israel Forever Foundation’s executive director.

Richard Heidemann, the organization’s chairman, said that when discussions began about the December event two months ago, Abe Pollin, owner of the MCI Center and the Washington Wizards NBA team, and a major contributor to the Israel Philharmonic, was asked about the orchestra’s availability. The organizers realized that the orchestra would be performing at the Kennedy Center four days before the planned MCI Center event, and they began preparations to combine the two programs.

Also planned for Dec. 14 is a reception for supporters of the Israel Forever Foundation, which Heidemann said may include participation from Israeli officials. A children’s Chanukah program is planned for earlier in the day.

Ellinport and Heidemann said the events are in keeping with the foundation’s mission to highlight Israeli contributions to society.

The foundation has experienced several public relations debacles since its formation last winter.

First, the White House said President Bush had not been invited to the May concert, despite the fact that organizers said he would appear alongside Sharon.

Then, the concert was cancelled without warning. Organizers said the cancellation came at Sharon’s request. But some Washington area Jews said poor ticket sales were a contributing factor.

Heidemann refused to say how much money was lost over the May event, which also was to include comedian Ben Stiller, singers Tony Bennett, Norah Jones and actress Tovah Feldshuh.

Heidemann did say, however, that no money was spent preparing for the December event.

Phyllis Heidemann, who co-chairs the organization with her husband, said the vast majority of ticket purchasers received refunds last spring, and that the foundation was beginning to notify others who held onto some 300 tickets to see if they wanted to attend the Dec. 14 event.

As of Friday, only 380 seats remained for the philharmonic’s appearance, according to the Washington Performing Arts Society, which is presenting the orchestra.

Phyllis Heidemann also said that the foundation was beginning this week to notify religious-school directors about the children’s program.

“It’s too late,” said Shoshana Marcus, religious-school director at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, who already had planned a school Chanukah party for that date. “You can’t just come a month before and say, ‘Can you bring your kids?’ “

Organizers said that when they began planning the May concert, back in January, they didn’t know that the United States would be engaged in a war with Iraq at the time and were hopeful that Israeli-Palestinian violence would subside.

“There was great optimism there would be peaceful times,” Phyllis Heidemann said. “We were not that lucky.”

“It may never again be the time to do what we had hoped and dreamed,” she said.

Richard Heidemann said organizers pressed Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon, who Heidemann says first asked them to put on the concert, to change the date once the war began, but they were rebuffed by the Israeli Embassy.

Moshe Fox, minister of public affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said all decisions about the May concert and the December event were decisions of the event organizers, not the embassy.

Richard Heidemann said that supporters of the foundation have backed the changes the group has made.

“The fact that the event did not go off shouldn’t dismiss the image of what we are attempting to do,” he said.

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