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Community members convene Nov. 22 for the Malibu Strong Community Thanksgiving at Pepperdine University. Photos by Maile Mason/22nd Century Media
Malibuites Emily Walker (left) and Noah Klapp hand out free pies. Pies were donated by families in Malibu, including the owner of Pacific Coast Greens.
California State Sen. Henry Stern (left) and Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Jefferson Wagner were among attendees of the event.
My Intent provided bracelets and necklaces to guests.
Erica Lippy, who helped host and organize the event, poses by a wall of hearts on which attendees wrote what they were thankful for.
Attendees peruse piles of donated goods.
Clyde Yeroomian and Kay Lu handed out hats donated from
Barbara Burke, Freelance Reporter
2:10 pm PST November 26, 2018

“Gracias a la vida, that’s what I’m singing today,” said Cantor Marcelo Gindlin as he approached the stage to entertain at the Malibu Strong Community Thanksgiving, hosted Thursday, Nov. 22, by Pepperdine. “Our faith community is reconstructionist and we will help Malibu reconstruct.” 

Many attendees echoed his sentiments, expressing that Malibuites are grateful to be alive. As one walked in, a welcome table provided attendees an opportunity to write down what they are thankful for on a heart-shaped piece of paper.

“I’m thankful that my house didn’t burn down,” Abby Hersel, 6, wrote.

Her sister, Nellie, 8, said, “I’m thankful for my family and my dogs.”

Brother Nathan, 10, piped in, “I’m thankful for my family and my mom and for living in Malibu because it is such an opportunity.”

Boy Scout Troop 224 and Cub Scout Pack 119 welcomed attendees and handed out care packets the boys had assembled.

Attendees were treated to a feast with all the traditional fixings and then some. The lines didn’t stop and neither did the love. 

“I felt low this morning,” said Mikke Pierson, a lifelong Malibuite and newly elected councilmember. “To see this huge crowd gather has lifted my spirits and the sense of community is awesome.” 

Some took the stage to sing and entertain, while others did so to provide leadership.

“I know Malibu has lost a lot and I am here to serve you in any that way I can so just call me and please know that you are not alone; this community is strong and we will rebuild Malibu,” State Sen. Henry Stern said. 

The crowd clapped heartily as Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner took the stage. He smiled broadly as he explained that he is recovering from injuries sustained while trying to battle the fire at his home.

“We thank Pepperdine for sponsoring this event which shows that 90263 and 90265 are bonded,” Wagner said.

Attendees in need found a room full of clothes of all sizes, linens, blankets and household goods. Gratefully, they gathered.

“This year, we had such an overwhelming amount of support from the community,” said India Sposato, coordinator of the annual Thanksgiving donation event traditionally held at Malibu Methodist. “I hope that all Malibuites remember this amazing event and join us again next year to give.”

Despite the disruption caused by the fire, Malibuites’ lives have carried on.

“We had a bar mitzvah and a bat mitzvah since the fire,” Rabbi Michael Schwartz said. “The girl who had the bat mitzvah had her house burn down and it was moving and powerful to still share the unforgettable event in those children’s lives.”

Although the synagogue had not reopened as of this writing, the congregation still held services, Schwartz said.

“Last week, we celebrated the traditional Havdalah service that distinguishes one week from another and that provided our community with a way to look forward,” he said. “At that service, Cantor Gindlin sang a beautiful, moving melody derived from Exodus 3:2 which states ‘The bush was aflame, but it was not consumed,’ a message that served as a nice metaphor for what our entire community has experienced.”

Performer Leslie Bixler sang familiar and comforting songs. 

Bixler, who lost her home, said, “We’re a little shaken up from the loss but we are wired to handle change and we will find a sense of comfort and normalcy again.” 

Singer Annie Bosko, who grew up in Thousand Oaks but spent her childhood visiting Malibu beaches, invigorated the crowd with the lyrics of her song “Fighter”: “I can see those black clouds rolling in, feel the fear creeping into heart again, sometimes life is like a ruthless fight you can never win ... so bring on the fire try to burn me out, bring on the wind try to knock me down, bring on the rain and all of the pain, cuz I got faith that will never drown, just when think I can’t take no more, I come back stronger than I was before.”

Joining Bosko onstage was little Justus Mancuso, 3, who sported a firefighter’s outfit and smiled sweetly.

“What do you say today?” Bosko asked Mancuso.

“Thank you firefighters!” the tot replied.

As attendees lingered, savoring the conviviality, Stern expressed the feelings of many attendees who are temporarily displaced but who drove to Malibu for the event.

“My list of gratitude is way too long to list and my place is gone, but I came home,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere until we make this right, so let’s eat some pie and be together.”