Type to search

Hosts her 40th annual interfaith Passover Seder at Spago, Beverly Hills -By Debra Eckerling
local_spotlight MENSCHES Passover

Barbara Lazaroff


This year, Barbara Lazaroff­ will host her 40th annual interfaith Passover Seder at Spago, Beverly Hills. Lazaroff­, co-founder and owner of Spago, started the tradition as a way to honor the holiday, bring people from different cultures together and help those in need.

“I created this event at the original Spago in Hollywood when I realized there were others like me who felt detached from their families as life had become more fragmented,” Lazaroff­ says. “Over the years, this festive event continues to be a heartfelt and delicious tradition that brings together guests of all ages and beliefs.”

She adds, “I feel if you share your traditions and celebrations to all, no matter your religion, background or customs, it fosters tolerance, greater harmony and closer understanding among all people.”

The Seder, which takes place on April 23, the second night of Passover, will once again benefit MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. While this national nonprofit is working to end hunger among all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel, funds raised at the dinner will go to food-challenged families and individuals in Los Angeles.

“Barbara Lazaroff­ has generously hosted a community Seder on the second night of Passover at Spago every single year since MAZON was first launched,” says Naama Haviv, MAZON’s Vice President of Community Engagement. “It’s a really beautiful event.”

“The only time we didn’t do Passover Seder on the second night,” Lazaro­ says, “we had to do it on the third night, and it turned out it was Easter. So, people celebrate Easter there, too.”

In addition to an inclusive service, led by Rabbi Arnie Rachlis from University Synagogue who used to serve as MAZON’s board chair, and Cantor Ruti Braier (his wife), the West Los Angeles Children’s Choir, the Kings of Klezmer and beloved artist Craig Taubman will perform. Michael Libow will sing Hatikvah.

“We do an edited version of the Haggadah, and every year, I have a conversation with Rabbi Rachlis and Cantor Braier, and we talk about how we have to make this accessible to people,” Lazaroff­ explains. “Every part is important, but we do some of the most salient parts of the Seder, including the four questions, Elijah, and the plagues.”

They also talk about the story, because that’s what Passover is all about — passing the story from generation to generation.

“Just like in Native American, African American, Persian and other cultures, we pass along the stories to keep the legacy going,” Lazaroff explains. “We tell our children to be proud, to have pride in who they are, no matter who they are.”

Last year, Spago hosted about 200 people. This year, the restaurant is aiming for 300.

Executive Chef Ari Rosenson, Chef de Cuisine Chef Areg Avanassian and Executive Pastry Chef Della Gossett and their talented staff prepare an exquisite menu of holiday specials. This includes Chef Ari’s homemade gefilte fish, chicken and vegetables, matzah ball soup, roasted wild Alaskan king salmon, braised beef short rib “franken,” vegetable ratatouille and roasted Moroccan carrots. Chef Della’s gorgeous dessert buff­et ranges from matzah toff­ee, fromage blanc cheesecake and Passover pu­s with caramel sauce to sorbet and fresh fruit. Plus, there’s a variety of refined Kosher wine pairings from wine director Matt Dulle.

“The food is truly amazing, and the atmosphere is so warm and positive,” Haviv says. “Barbara makes sure everyone is aware that the event supports MAZON’s fight to end hunger, and she graciously offers us the opportunity to speak about our work during the Seder.”

MAZON is just one of the causes Lazaroff holds close to her heart.

While Lazaroff­ is a highly regarded restaurateur, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and owner/ president of Imaginings Design, Inc., she is perhaps best known for her mission as a community activist and philanthropist. She has been profoundly involved in fundraising for cancer research since the early 1980s, and she fundraises and serves on the boards of the Israel Cancer Research Fund and the Friends of Sheba Medical Center. She also serves as a member of the President’s advisory board for the Zimmer Children’s Museum. And the list goes on and on.

Since 1982, Lazaroff has been actively involved in myriad organizations for the enhancement of the Los Angeles, American and global communities. This includes cofounding the American Wine & Food Festival for Meals on Wheels, which has raised over $25 million for homebound elderly and other shut-ins.

“The annual Spago Seder has been an incredible source of inspiration and support since MAZON’s founding,” Haviv says. “Barbara has photos of every single event since 1985!”

from left:Cantor Braier, Lanie Kazan, Barbara Lazaroff, Melissa Manchester and Rabbi Rachis

Over the years, the event has raised more than $200,000 to support MAZON’s fight to end hunger.

“Much more, considering that Barbara has inspired countless others to join her in supporting MAZON,” Haviv adds. “Even during the pandemic, when it was not possible to hold the Spago Seder in person, Barbara graciously encouraged her community of friends, family and customers to support MAZON’s work. She is a true mensch, and we are so grateful for her longtime partnership.”

Children’s choir bringing young voices to celebrate the Seder. Photo by Maxine Picard

Where did the idea for this Seder come from?

It came from my neighbor, who’s no longer alive. I used to call him Good Neighbor Sam. He was doing a bar mitzvah for his grandson — this was over 40 years ago — and he mentioned donating to this organization.

He said, “If you have a mitzvah, if you have a good thing coming up, the suggestion is, if you donate a certain percentage of what you’re spending, you have greater joy. When you can do something positive in the time that you’re able to celebrate great food and wine and festivities and good moments, there’s so many people who don’t have that. ­ they’re without, or they’re suffering, or they’re just lacking.” So I said, “Well, Sam, that is such a great thing. I’m going to look into that.” So I did.

I came to L.A. in 1975, and in 1979 Wolfgang Puck and I met. ­ The first year, I said to him, “I want to do a Passover Seder, because I’m all alone. My parents are elsewhere. I have no family here.” I always feel so funny, because even if somebody invites me, it’s all their family.

I thought it would be a good idea. And it won’t be just Jewish people coming. We’re going to have it for the community, and it will dispel a lot of myths about Judaism. It will allow people to understand other people’s belief systems.

Why focus on food charities?

I think that it’s very sad that we have people in this country who don’t have access to food. I think that healthcare, food and shelter are essentials, and everybody should have a right to that.

We have so many hungry children in this country, and so many hungry elderly eating out of garbage cans. ­There’s so much abundance on one side, and on the other, the disparity.

It’s a huge issue. And you know, No Kid Hungry is doing an excellent job, too. They provide three meals a day in schools to students all around the United States. And when the pandemic hit and kids weren’t in school, the organization set up food distribution areas in parking lots all over schools to keep getting these kids food. And what they found over the years is that the attendance rate doubled, tripled because kids knew they could come to school and get a meal. How can a child think? How can anybody think if their stomach is rumbling and you’re hungry all the time.

Guests getting ready to read the Haggadah to start the Passover Seder

Where did your interest in philanthropy come from?

My mother was a really good person and very wise — the wisest person I knew.

She had little, but still would help the neighbors. She would give them things … and she would help them in many different ways. In retrospect, my mother didn’t eat some nights, or she ate very little so that the kids would have enough to eat.

My mother taught me there’s always somebody who’s worse o­ than you are. She also said to me, “Don’t judge people upon meeting them for the first time, because you don’t know what’s going on that day, and you don’t know what’s going on in their lives.”

I think altruism and this idea of philanthropy starts when you are young. You can’t instill it in somebody much later in life. Sure, you can convince them to give money for charity, and you can get them involved. But I think this real feeling of being a citizen of the world, of feeling a greater responsibility for other people, starts at a very early age.

How can people be more philanthropic in their lives?

Whatever you have — how much, how little, how moderate — there are always people who have less. Understand that giving any amount you can give has this ripple effect. It all adds up and has such an impact on people’s lives. Just remember, some child or elderly person will have a full stomach that evening. This could have been your child, your grandmother or grandfather.

Be grateful for what you have and share a little bit. If everybody shares just a little bit, it can make such an impact. Don’t think that the little amount you’re giving doesn’t matter. It matters a great deal.

There are a lot of people out there doing good, but there can always be more. If you can’t donate money, see who around you needs some help. What about taking somebody to chemo? What about carrying somebody’s groceries? What about bringing somebody some fresh fruit once a week or every couple of weeks? There are always ways to help.

What is your favorite Passover food? And what is your favorite Jewish food?

Matzah ball soup is my favorite soup. My grandmother used to make it. I also love barley soup, lentil soup, potato latkes.

We make the most delicious gefilte fish and chicken liver, too. Our matzah at Spago is made in the wood-burning ovens, so it’s a take on our lavash bread. At the end of Seder, our guests get a ticket they have to hand in, and everybody gets a package of the Spago matzah to take home. Everybody fights over it. It’s really good.

Spago’s 40th Annual Interfaith Passover Seder is on April 23. To reserve your
spot, go to https://www.sevenrooms.com/experiences/spagobh (where you
can also make a donation) or call Spago at 310-385-0880

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *