Ambassadors for Humanity gala honors Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks and Parkland, Fla., teacher Ivy Schamis
Kicking off the Ambassadors for Humanity gala with a moment of silence for those who died in the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Oprah Winfrey said from the podium, “We are never going to let hate triumph over love.”
The gala dinner, chaired by Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg, honored Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks for their commitment to tolerance, understanding and respect for others. Raising nearly $4 million for the USC Shoah Foundation — the Institute for Visual History and Education, the Monday affair at the Beverly Hilton also bestowed an inaugural “Stronger Than Hate” Educator Award on Parkland, Fla., teacher Ivy Schamis as part of an initiative to address a rising tide of hatred, both in America and abroad.
A combination of short speeches, videos and musical entertainment offered a message of hope to the audience, which included — along with the superstar chairs and honorees — 12 survivors of the Parkland shooting and veterans of World War II, including liberation witnesses of the Holocaust.
As host, Martin Short lightened the mood by sprinkling topical humor into a series of good-natured barbs aimed at Wilson, Hanks, Capshaw and Spielberg. Among them:
“I’m very optimistic about tomorrow,” the “Saturday Night Live” alumnus said about the midterm election day. “If the polls are right, this will be the first time a divorce court wasn’t involved when Trump lost the house.”
“This is the greatest honor Tom and Rita have ever received ... on a Monday night,” he said, beginning something of a roast.
“It’s funny, when I think of Tom and Rita … I reflect on two people that I’m proud to call my friends -- and it’s not because they’re successful or rich. It’s actually because they’re both.”
Moving on to Spielberg, Short joked, “Steven has had such an amazing career, but I do have to say, if you take away ‘Jaws,’ ‘ET’, “Close Encounters,’ ‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘Schindler’s List,’ ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Lincoln,’ there’s really not much there.”
He closed with a few “rules of show business,” including, “You never try to take Alec Baldwin’s parking space,” referring to that actor’s recent brush with the law.
Melissa Etheridge sang two songs requested by the foundation: her composition “Pulse,” written after the Orlando nightclub shooting; and the powerful Janis Joplin classic “Piece of My Heart.”
Among those looking on were fashion designer-director Tom Ford and an abundance of entertainment- industry VIPs, including George Lucas, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jim Gianopulos, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Ron Meyer.
“‘Stronger than hate’ is a message that resonates deeply with me,” said Schamis, speaking of Shoah’s initiative to help educators warn against hatred and violence. “In Pittsburgh and in Parkland and everywhere else, becoming stronger than hate is what all of us need … [Hate] is never OK. Being a bystander is not OK. We must be upstanders and stand for what is right.”
Of Schamis and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, Hanks said, “The truth is, we all wish they were not here … but the fact that they are here … sharing a story — their story — by way of, and through, the Shoah Foundation, is just another testament to two things: one is the work of Shoah, and two is the extraordinary spirit and responsibility of those high schoolers and that teacher.”
Added Wilson, “In 2018 is there any better way to invest time and treasure than in connecting the events of [the past] to the headlines of now? Shoah proves that we accept ignorance at our peril ... Who hasn’t thought of Shoah’s message in the last few months?”
Presented by Dolby Laboratories, the gala saw more than 700 people buying tickets that started at $1,500. Proceeds will help fund the new Stronger Than Hate initiative at Shoah, an organization created after the film “Schindler’s List” to collect and preserve video testimonies of Holocaust survivors and now testimonies from genocides in Asia, Africa and central America.
Ellen Olivier is the founder of Society News LA.
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