Hearing the Story Behind the Tale of Long Ago

Pleased by the sartorial tribute to her best-selling novel, "The Red Tent," Anita Diamant began her remarks at the Women's Voices Luncheon on Monday by complimenting the hundreds of women who'd come to hear her: "I don't know when I've seen so many red suits," she said, smiling.

Guests at the popular benefit staged by the Women's Division of the Jewish Federation of Orange County sat at tables crowned with scarlet roses to hear Diamant speak about the book that gave a voice to Dinah, a figure in Genesis.

In the Bible, "Dinah is silent; she says nothing," observed Diamant, who came from Massachusetts to speak at the Hyatt Regency Irvine. "I gave her a voice, as I imagined it, for 300 pages."

People have criticized her "nerve" at putting words in the mouth of a biblical character, she said. "I tell them it's my birthright to take liberties with Scripture."

After all, "The Red Tent" ($14, Picador USA) is a work of "historical fiction based on a biblical story," she reminded the crowd. "I had no goal to be faithful to the sacred text."

After years of researching Mesopotamian culture--"gleaning materials from all over the place"--Diamant wove a moving, often poetic account of women who come together in a red tent symbolic of the close-knit society they established in the premodern world.

"My mother and my mother-aunties told me endless stories about themselves," Dinah says in the book. "No matter what their hands were doing--holding babies, cooking, spinning, weaving--they filled my ears."

Luncheon guest Judy Bart Kancigor said the novel appealed to her because she was raised in a home where "mothers, daughters, aunts and nieces" were always around to support and nourish her.

During the festivities, Beverly Jacobs, a member of the Women's Division, was presented with its Anne Entin Woman of the Year award for her work on behalf of the Jewish community in Orange County.

Proceeds of about $400,000 from the event, co-chaired by Ellen Glasser and Lois Jacobs, are earmarked for the federation's annual campaign to support Jewish community services in Orange County, Israel and around the world.

Orange County's Gold

Saying California's reputation had been maligned by naysayers, Huell Howser, star of KCET-TV's "California's Gold," appeared at a luncheon benefit sponsored by the Assistance League of Newport-Mesa to set the record straight. "Back in the '20s, '30s and '40s, California was a frontier," Howser said Friday, mingling with league supporters during a VIP reception at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Tennis Club. "People who lived here had a sense of pride. But somehow, over the years, people began to think of that as corny and the idea that California was a wonderful place to live became passe."

Howser visits state landmarks from Eureka to San Diego to "excite people--make them feel good about living here," he said.

His frequent visits to Orange County have highlighted landmarks such as the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, Mission San Juan Capistrano and the blimp hangars in Tustin that are the "largest wooden structures in the world," he said.

Howser said he was pleased to address the hundreds of league members who attended the annual event. "These women are involved in so many worthwhile community projects and when you see an event like this one today, so elegant and upscale, it's important to remember the work they do on behalf of people in need," he said.

League vice president Nancy Viands became a fan of Howser's when she moved to California from Maryland seven years ago. "When we came here, we didn't know know a thing about it," she said. "Huell has toured us through the whole state. I've talked to women who have lived here their whole lives and I know more about the state than they do!"

Luncheon proceeds of about $60,000 will help support the league's community outreach programs, which include the Children's Dental Health Care Center in Costa Mesa. Jocelyn Gilbert and Lauren May were co-chairwomen. Ann Marie Alford is league president.

Charity Scorecard

* Olive Crest Homes and Services for Abused Children and Mighty Ducks CARE staged a "2001: A Child's Odyssey" on Saturday at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. The event raised about $300,000 for Olive Crest's foster family and adoption agencies, residential group homes and treatment centers for neglected and abused children. Recognized at the event was Brenda Hampton, executive producer of the TV series "7th Heaven," who received Olive Crest's "TV Family Show of the Year" award.

* The Assistance League of Anaheim raked in $67,000 when it staged a "2001 Fashion Odyssey" last week at the Disneyland Hotel, where philanthropists Carl and Margaret Karcher were recognized for their community leadership. Marilyn McCorkle was chairwoman.

* The Hispanic Bar Assn. of Orange County netted about $25,000 for its scholarship fund for Latino law students when it staged an installation dinner at the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel in Costa Mesa. Recognized at the event were members of the Avila family, owners of eight El Ranchito restaurants in Orange and Los Angeles counties. Guests included restaurant founders Margarita and Salvador Avila.

* The Orange County High School of the Arts Gala on Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Irvine raised about $145,000 to provide support for the Santa Ana-based school's tuition-free arts programs. Shari Esayian and Karen Ellott were co-chairwomen.

* The Orange County chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society netted $60,000 at its recent Casino Auction at the Robert Mondavi Wine & Food Center in Costa Mesa. The proceeds will support research and community outreach programs that assist patients with multiple sclerosis.

Ann Conway can be reached by phone at (714) 966-5952 or by fax at (714) 966-7790.

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