Running On "Jewish Time"

By Masha Leon

Published March 02, 2007, issue of March 02, 2007.
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There’s that old saw about Jewish events starting on “Jewish time” — 20 minutes late or, as Israel’s consul general, Arye Mekel, once joshed, “Israeli time, which is 20 minutes after Jewish time.” Since the February l Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert began at 7 p.m., not at 8 p.m. as guest artist Thomas Hampson apparently assumed, the program sequencing had to be altered with conductor Zubin Mehta half-jokingly telling the audience at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, “Heads will roll.” An energized Mehta led the IPO in Carl Maria von Weber’s “Der Freischutz” overture, shifting Hector Berlioz’s “Symphony fantastique” from the evening’s finale to pre-intermission position. The IPO dazzled with this upbeat work, vibrating the Isaac Stern Auditorium’s rafters with Berlioz’s spine-tingling allegro, “Dreams of a Witches’ Sabbath,” which featured a timpanist who — from my vantage point — appeared to be sporting peyes!

Noted baritone though he is, Hampson performing Gustav Mahler’s “Rückert Lieder,” with lyrics about suffering, pain and death, was a dark note on which to send the IPO audience out into the chilling New York night air to board the buses that took the black-tie guests to the post-concert gala at The Waldorf-Astoria.

Elaine Wolfensohn — president of the American Friends of the IPO — co-chaired the post-concert gala with Charles Bronfman. She told the festive crowd in the ballroom: “This is not only an orchestra, but the orchestra that represents the people of Israel, that tries to reach out to all the people.” Mehta declared: “This is a miraculous evening. There is no hall like Carnegie Hall…. We do this gala once a year… and I’m glad to see so many young people here. I hope that at the end of the evening, there will be a lot of shidukhs” During dinner, Mehta was besieged by well-wishers and gorgeously gowned women — like Fran Drescher, who insisted on hugging and kissing him. Among the AFIPO boosters that evening was Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman. Other boosters included Ruth Westheimer, Michael Steinhardt, Malcolm Thomson, Judith and Burt Resnick, and Ingeborg and Ira Rennert.


The National Jewish Outreach Program’s January 31 Discovering Our Past – Defining Our Future” dinner should have been subtitled “Miss Jewish Convert.” Among the beautiful young women whom Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald converted was Kayla Cooper, a cellist, who thrilled the crowd at The Waldorf-Astoria with her insightful interpretation of J.S. Bach’s solo cello suite Prelude No. 1 in G Major. She told me: “My mother is Japanese, my father, a non-Jew; I was converted to Judaism by Rabbi Buchwald and married a Jew.” Cooper now resides in Israel with her husband, Lem Rosen. Buchwald also introduced several beautiful young women whom he converted and brought into Judaism: Lisa Harvin, a very intelligent and attractive African American lawyer and actress who delivered an outstanding Dvar Torah at a Sabbath beginners service; Eva Kramer, who was born in Peru to an Israeli family, married an American and, by accident, stumbled upon a Yom Kippur beginners service at the New York Historical Society, where she had gone to check out an exhibit about Slavery in New York. With her at the dinner were two of her daughters, one of whom starred in the Broadway hit “Mamma Mia!” Another Buchwald convert was “Barbados columnist and TV host Cindi King, aka ‘the Oprah Winfrey of Barbados’…. And now she is here with us,” Buchwald beamed.

“President Bush has been promoting an educational reform program known as No Child Left Behind. I say to you… let us promote our own educational reform program of no Jewish child left behind, no Jewish adult left behind, no sincere non-Jew who is interested in Judaism should be left behind.” Alluding to the “significant numbers of non-Jews who are intrigued by Judaism,” Buchwald said, “Many non-Jews who come to learn about Judaism come with no other motive than their interest in Judaism, and they are often the elite of the non-Jewish world.” He underscored this citing: “Onkelos, the primary translator of the Bible into Aramaic; Shmaya and Avtalyon, the first century B.C.E. teachers of Hillel and Shamai; Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir were descendants of converts. The Talmud tells us that the grandsons of the wicked Titus who destroyed the second Temple studied Torah in B’nei Brak.”

Bemoaning “the great losses of Jews around the world to assimilation,” Buchwald lamented that many Jews consider “the past irrelevant” and “have no sense of appreciation for the historic Jewish values and priorities that have kept our people alive.” He was adamant that unless “young [Jewish] investment bankers and hedge fund managers [are brought] into more intensive Jewish life and practice, their charitable contributions will be lost to the Jewish community. Their funds will go to secular universities and museums who can wine them and dine them, far better than we can.” As for wining and dining — the evening’s imaginative Asian theme table settings and décor, with the main entrees served in bamboo steam containers, was as pleasing to the palate as to the eye.

NJOP’s campaigns include the now acclaimed Shabbat Across America/Canada; Read Hebrew America/Canada; Passover Across America, and its various “Crash Courses” in Hebrew Reading, Basic Judaism and Jewish History. The dinner honored Alec Ellison, an investment banker to technology companies, and his wife, Tamar Sadeh Ellison, who is active with the American Jewish Committee, and also Elliot Gibber, president of Deb-El Foods Corporation, which is a major international producer and supplier of egg products. (Gibber’s many hats include senior vice president of the Orthodox Union.) The Special Service Award was presented to Suri Kasirer and her husband, Bruce Teitelbaum. Kasirer served as special assistant to former New York State governor Mario Cuomo (1983-1994). In addition to founding Kasirer Consulting, she is a board member of the National Jewish Democratic Council. Teitelbaum, who became mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s chief of staff after working on his 1993 mayoral campaign, lists, among his various philanthropy and board positions, executive vice president of Israel Discount Bank’s holding company in New York.

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