The 10th Annual Communitas Awards ceremony at the Church in Ocean Park on September 6 was nowhere as long as the Academy Awards, but it had about as many musical numbers.
The awards, given every year by the Church to individuals “whose impact can be seen in the community and beyond,” went to Herley Jim Bowling, Ross Altman, and Bruria and David Finkel.
Former Church in Ocean Park minister and Mayor Jim Conn introduced the proceedings with the comment that “all this is part of the political process in Santa Monica,” and that community service is “one of those things that happens,” possibly a reference to the Republican National Convention’s jibes at Obama’s community service record.
Herley Jim Bowling was honored for his numerous community activities, including being L.A. Education Coordinator for the Mono Lake Committee, local organizer of the ONE Campaign working against poverty, and singing with the Church’s A Capella Jam group. Introducing Bowling, another former minister at the Church, Sandie Richards, spoke of him as “one of the gentlest, kindest people I ever met.”
Instead of making an acceptance speech, Bowling appeared on stage dressed in a black cassock and sang along with the A Capella Jam on a Latin hymn, “Ego Sum Pauper.” Following this, Bowling shed his cassock to reveal a tank top and long ballet skirt, and he and a young girl danced to a multi-ethnic music mix.
Ross Altman, folk singer and “songfighter,” was honored for both his music and the way he uses music to teach and to heal. Louise Dobbs of A Capella Jam, in her introduction to Altman, said that he claimed to have played for “Communists and FBI agents-usually at the same event.”
A videotape was played, featuring Altman’s friend Len Chandler singing Altman’s song “Tiananmen Square.” Altman played two numbers, one of them a delightful song about his discovery of the Church In Ocean Park some 40 years ago.
Bruria Finkel, a multi-media artist who was born in Israel, has a long history of social commitments and contributions to culture in the Los Angeles area, including her involvement in the women’s art movement of the 1970s. She was introduced by her daughter Amy Finkel Shimson, who had the audience in stitches with her lively and funny description of her mother’s life and what it was like to be the daughter of such a dynamic person. “She expects us,” said Shimson, “to create, and to overcome obstacles.”
Bruria Finkel didn’t sing or dance, but her brief acceptance speech was to the point. In addition to thanking and praising the Church, she noted that the secret to her long marriage to the evening’s 4th honoree, her husband David, was “collaboration, cooperation, and respect.”
David Finkel has been a lawyer active in the civil rights movement, a City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem, a judge, a legal advisor to the Rent Control Board, a trustee of SMC, and a teacher. His former City Council colleague Dennis Zane spoke of Finkel’s courage in the face of the anti-leftist paranoia of the early 1950s. Finkel was also saluted by musician Ry Cooder, who played an old blues favorite “Let’s Work Together.”
Finkel accepted with a short speech, musing about how he had learned as a judge that “winning and losing is not what it’s about-it’s about finding what people can give up and what they need the most.”
“I love Santa Monica,” he added. “It is a microcosm of all the problems and all of the opportunities that exist in the world.”