Live from Merion Station … it’s Saturday night.
It might not have quite the same ring to it, but if all goes according to plan, the 35th anniversary of the Ida S. Mandell Memorial Event at Adath Israel on May 6 is going to be quite an occasion.
Returning from last year — at his own request — is Max Weinberg, best known as the drummer for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. The 66-year-old Weinberg rocked the place in 2016, not only with the sticks but by telling how his life and career were shaped by Judaism.
Joining him this time will be Kevin Nealon, a Saturday Night Live (SNL) cast member from 1986 to 1995, when he and Dana Carvey immortalized Hans and Franz, the musclebound characters who were there to “pump you up.” The 63-year-old Nealon, who went on to star in Showtime’s Weeds and is now on the cast of CBS’ Man with a Plan, will meet up with his old friend to give Adath Israel a dynamic combination of comedy and music.
“Max will be playing drums. Kevin Nealon will make people laugh a lot,” Adath Israel Rabbi Ariella Rosen said. “Last year, a lot of people connected with Max’s story.
“He talked about his relationship and upbringing with his Judaism and how, in many ways, drumming and music became his own religion as well — how it helped him become the drummer he is with the profile he has.
“What struck people was that he was going to Europe the next day to tour with the E Street Band. So it was such a hamish feel for this guy to want to share such a relatable story and connect with people.”
Nealon has many connections to Weinberg. Nealon was on the SNL set when Springsteen and the E Street Band made their television debut in 1992. Then, Nealon was the first guest on The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien, where Weinberg worked as musical director.
“This year, after Kevin does his comedy, Max will come in and accompany us in a musical Havdalah,” event chair Jordana Cooperberg said. “We’re also hoping to convince Kevin Nealon to play the banjo at the same time.
“And when we have our auction, Max has donated four VIP tickets to a Springsteen concert, and Kevin will draw a caricature of someone. It should be a great night.”
While the Mandell event has always been popular, with past guests including Benjamin Netanyahu, comedian Paul Reiser and violinist Itzhak Perlman, organizers felt the need to liven things up, so they revamped the format in 2016.
“Traditionally, it had been on a Sunday evening,” explained Cooperberg, who went to school in New York and became friends with Nealon after their sons began playing together. “We had a sit-down dinner, followed by the speaker and then dessert.
“We changed that last year to move it to Saturday night to get a more festive feel and turn it into much more of a party. Instead of a sit-down dinner, we’ve brought in a company to do the decor and changed it to a buffet with lots of stations.
“We’ve kept the speaker in the sanctuary. But the after-party is what’s really changed. We used to have a have few tables with dessert. Now we turn the auditorium into a lounge. We’ve brought in couches and do heavy hors d’oeuvres and bring in a bar with specialty drinks.”
If form holds, both Weinberg and Nealon, who’s not Jewish, will stick around for the after-party and mingle with the guests. Rosen finds it all kind of mind-boggling.
“We’re really excited,” said Rosen, who expects Rabbi Eric Yanoff to again play the keyboard during the event. “It’s a nice statement of a healthy community to be able to have this kind of celebration — a privilege to bring in people like this to the Jewish community. I almost can’t believe we’re doing it.”
Thank the Mandell family, who wanted to do something special for their community more than three decades ago.
“What I’ve heard was, 35 years ago, the Mandell family came to the rabbi with an idea to start for a fundraiser,” Cooperberg said. “They offered to fund a speaker or performer to hold an event like this. The year after that, Ida Mandell passed away, and they continued it in her memory.”
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