Comic Sebastian Maniscalco and wife, Lana Gomez, headline YLD Big Event Fundraiser

First ever virtual Big Event raises spirits and funds

Maniscalco Big Event image
Sebastian Maniscalco works the virtual "room" at Big Event

"Why Would You Do That?" "Aren't You Embarrassed?" "You Bother Me." 

These aren't insults-- they are titles of comedy specials performed by Sebastian Maniscalco, who headlined this year's JUF Young Leadership Division's first-ever virtual Big Event Fundraiser in January. At the event, the Italian Catholic comedy star was interviewed by his Jewish wife, painter Lana Gomez. 

Seven hundred accounts Zoomed into the show, but in many cases, small groups of friends and family watched together. Many participated from across the US- Maniscalco and his wife Zoomed from L.A. The evening-which garnered 950 donations-raised $130,000 for the 2021 JUF Annual Campaign, a sum enhanced by The Hineini Initiative, which matched every new gift and increase to the Annual Campaign. 

DJ Matt Roan kicked off the evening. He was followed by a cocktail demo by mixologist Devin Kidner of The Hollow Leg- who taught viewers how make a "Sebast-GIN Martini" with the swag boxes the first 400 people to sign up received in the mail. Then came the wizardry of magician and mentalist Gary Ferrar. Maniscalco and Gomez headlined the show. After the main event, Maniscalco visited several Zoom break-out afterparties, some of which highlighted various community resources. 

"We look forward to YLD's Big Event Fundraiser- it's the largest gathering of Jewish young adults in the country," said Ali Karmin, 2021 YLD Campaign Chair. "It's times like these- when we feel isolated and alone, when there are growing communal needs- that remind us of the very reasons JUF exists." 

"We missed the schmoozing, networking, learning, and hanging out-a lot," YLD Board President Marc Karlinsky agreed. "But for JUF and YLD, the show has truly 'gone on.' We've moved programs and events online, created new programs, and kept people connected and engaged. The Big Event Fundraiser celebrates what this organization was designed to do. And we had an unforgettable time doing it!" 

The pandemic has been very personal for Karmin. As a physician's assistant in orthopedic surgery, she was assigned to cover a COVID unit. Seeing JUF offer meals to her and other front-line coworkers, she said, "I was blown away by the strength of the Jewish community. There are moments in every generation when the path we choose forges the way for generations to come. This is one of them." 

"Now that we've lived through a crisis, we know things can change at a moment's notice," Karlinsky added. "I'm so grateful to be a part of an organization that's prepared, focused on providing for those in need, and here to bring us together for good- today and always. JUF has always been my community and an important part of who I am." 

Maniscalco showcased his usual wry mood. "I sold out Madison Square Garden [in the past] and now I'm doing comedy from my office-my career is really taking off," he joked. 

He also mentioned his career change "from comedian to principal" since his children began remote learning.  

"Together, we're running a B&B and a preschool," Gomez said.

The comic couple reminisced about their 101-degree outdoor wedding and debated if an audiobook counts as "reading." Arlington Heights native Maniscalco told of attending Career Day at Northern Illinois University in his silver formal suit, impressing no job recruiters, and so turning to comedy.   

Maniscalco and Gomez spent much of the show interacting with the virtual crowd about their pets, fashion choices, room décor, and pandemic beards.  

Maniscalco also talked about the prep work he put into the evening. "I have a degree in corporate communications, which translates right into Jewish fundraising," he laughed. "I've been working my whole life for this night." 

To learn more about YLD and how to get involved, visit juf.org/yld. 

 



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