Letterman sidekick brings ‘magic’ to MetroWest

Letterman sidekick brings ‘magic’ to MetroWest

Paul Shaffer reads from his memoir about growing up in an Orthodox synagogue in Ontario at UJA MetroWest’s MetroMagic Feb. 4.
Paul Shaffer reads from his memoir about growing up in an Orthodox synagogue in Ontario at UJA MetroWest’s MetroMagic Feb. 4.

The crowd at UJA MetroWest’s MetroMagic Evening of Entertainment were clearly pleased with the presentation and performance by Paul Shaffer, the renowned bandleader and show biz veteran. They laughed and applauded at his sometimes poignant, often humorous anecdotes from his nearly four decades in the world of pop music and TV entertainment and responded with noisy approval to the few lively numbers he played on the piano at the Feb. 4 event.

But it was also clear that Shaffer, best known as David Letterman’s sidekick, was himself impressed by what he had heard before he took the stage that evening at the Parsippany Hilton. UJA MetroWest Campaign chair Scott Krieger had described the wide-ranging activities funded by the charity in the local community and abroad — including recent efforts to help the people of Haiti following the Jan. 12 earthquake.

At the conclusion of Shaffer’s performance, the entertainer told the 360 people in attendance that what Krieger had related held particular significance for him.

“UJA was one of my mother’s favorite causes,” he said. The “wonderful work” he had heard about, he said, “makes me really proud as a Jew.”

The Grammy-Award-winning musician shared with guests — contributors who had given $1,000 or more to the annual UJA campaign — passages from his new memoir We’ll Be Here for the Rest of our Lives: A Swingin’ Showbiz Saga, including the “Semitic” part, which touched upon his childhood in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

After recounting his youthful pianistic triumph with his performance of the theme from Exodus — which, he said, wowed the audience at the Orthodox synagogue where he grew up — he repeated the performance.

Shaffer talked about his early days in show business and his friendships and collaborations with a host of such future stars as Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, and, with particular affection, the late Gilda Radner, whom he knew well from his years working on Saturday Night Live.

In Krieger’s talk, he talked about the more than $3 million in aid for Haiti raised by the constituent agencies of the Jewish Federations of North America. “We stand for Jewish community,” he said. “We help countless millions in need.”

To give a first-person account of the value of local efforts funded by UJA, musician and former investment manager Larry Levy of Maplewood told the crowd of his several years’ struggle with joblessness and his turning for help to Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest. His participation in JVS job-search workshops and the career counseling he received from agency representatives, he said, convinced him he “wasn’t alone” in his struggles. He told the gathering that after using the tools he acquired through his JVS assistance, he is now working, for which, he said, he owes “a deep debt of gratitude to JVS,” and to audience members “whose support makes such programs possible.” Your support, he said, “does make a difference.”

Event cochairs were Joyce and Bill Friedman of Morris Plains and Sharon and Stephen Kepniss of Short Hills. The national anthems of Israel and America were sung by Abbi Halpern of Livingston. The event raised more than $135,000 in new and increased gifts

“We are here because we care,” Sharon Kepniss said in her remarks. “We believe in tikun olam, healing the world.”

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