Knowing When The Fight Begins

By Masha Leon

Published March 09, 2007, issue of March 09, 2007.
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PETE HAMILL PRAISES LATE, GREAT NEW YORK CITY CHAMPION MOYNIHAN

“As a writer [Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan] did not need rented fingers to shape a major speech. He wrote it himself,” stated author and journalist Pete Hamill at the February 5 Citizens for NYC New Yorker for New York Awards Gala, held at The Waldorf-Astoria. The event was emceed by Citizen for NYC’s president, Peter Kostmayer. Recipient of the Moynihan Medal for Lifetime Public Service, Hamill recalled: “He was no ideologue [and] knew that ideology was not thinking but a substitute for thinking…. He was a New Deal liberal… not dogmatic… conservative in the style of Edmund Burke. And he was human. Most of us remember the interview he gave on November 24, 1963: ‘I don’t think there is any point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually.’ It broke [his] heart more than once. But he was a New Yorker who knew that the fight doesn’t begin until you’ve been knocked down.” Hamill added: “He lived to see September 11. And [he] was not surprised on September 12, when the whole goddamn city got up.”

Hamill is equally articulate in his insightful and evocative introduction that graces the W.W. Norton & Company book “A Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life From the Pages of the Forward” (due for publication next month). CNYC was founded shortly after the 1975 Daily News headline blared “Ford to City: Drop Dead!” when a committee of New Yorkers enlisted public figures along with neighborhood block associations to help transform the city.

Today there are 12,000 civic organizations in 400 neighborhoods. Also honored at this year’s gala were international opera star Martina Arroyo, who received the Elizabeth Chapin Award for Volunteers in the Arts; Hill & Knowlton, Inc., senior vice president Jonathan Capehart, who received the Jacob Javits Young Philanthropist Award; Children’s Health Fund’s executive director, **Karen Redlener, and its co-founder and president, Dr. Irwin Redlener her husband, who received the New Yorker for New York Award, and chairman of the board of Jazz at Lincoln CenterLisa Schiff, who was presented with the Brooke Russell Astor Award for Philanthropy.

At its 2005 gala, Citizens for NYC presented Arthur Schlesinger Jr. with the New York Marietta Tree Award for Public Service. That evening, Schlesinger, who died February 28 at age 89, told the black-tie guests, “In the opening chapter of the grand panoramic novel about our city, ‘A Hazard of New Fortunes,’ author William Dean Howells has a New Yorker instruct a Bostonian: ‘There’s only one city that belongs to the whole country, and that’s New York.’ If Howells were writing today, he would say that New York is the only city that belongs to the whole world…. And it belongs to the whole world because of the spunk, initiative and democracy of its citizens.”

On a personal note, I first met Schlesinger in June 1962 at the American Booksellers Association Convention gala reception for Robert Kennedy, held at Washington, D.C.’s Shoreham Hotel. Kennedy’s book, “The Enemy Within,” had just been published by Harper & Bros. Later, my husband, Joseph, and I spoke with Schlesinger when he and future New York senator Kennedy stopped by our exhibit booth, which was next to Harper & Bros’. My last chat with the formidable historian was at the September 20, 2005, book party for his friend, film director Norman Jewison, celebrated Jewison’s autobiography, “This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me” (St. Martin’s Press, 2005). The party was hosted by Canada’s then consul general, Pamela Wallin, at the consulate’s New York City residence.


REMEMBERING GREEK HOLOCAUST VICTIMS AND HEROES

Survivors and children of survivors — some who had been hidden during the World War II Nazi occupation of Greece — were among those gathered at New York City’s Greek Consulate for the February 6 Remembrance of the Holocaust of Greek Jewry commemoration. Hosted by Catherine Boura, consul general of Greece in New York, the attendees included Solomon Asser, president of the American Friends of the Jewish Museum in Greece, and of Kehila Kedosha in Ioannina, Greece; John Catsimatidis, chairman and CEO of the Red Apple Group, and his wife, Margo. Also in attendance was Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, director of the Ecumenical Office of the Greek Orthodox Church of America; the bishop spoke eloquently about the “bonds between Christians and Jews” in Greece.

Among Greeks who risked their lives to save Jews, Christopher Christodoulou, a strategic management professor at Swinburne University of Technology, recalled Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens (1891-1949), who had demanded a halt to the deportations of Greek Jews and ordered the clergy to provide Jews with fake baptismal certificates and with shelter in convents. Christodoulou also remembered Athens chief of police Angelos Everts (1894-1970), who ordered police stations to issue to Jews identification cards with Christian names. Deputy Foreign Minister Theodoros Kassimis’s message to the Greek Jewish community was read. In it, he noted that “in fulfilling its duty toward the Greek Jews, the Greek Parliament established January 27 as a memorial day for Greek Jewish martyrs and heroes of the Holocaust.” The message further noted that “a monument was erected in Thessaloniki (Salonika), [which was] unveiled in the presence of [Israel’s] president, Katsav.” He informed that “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will publish a special edition, ‘The Greek Jews,’ pertaining to the history of the Greek Jewish community.” He added, “It is our duty to maintain the memory of the Holocaust and fight against the evil of antisemitism which offends the meaning of humanity….” It was also noted that, last year, a commemorative exhibition, The Hidden Children in Occupied Greece, was inaugurated in New York.

Hopefully Maurice Amaraggi’s 2006 film, “Salonika, City of Silence,” “Salonique. Ville du Silence”, which I showcased two weeks ago in this column, will be part of the Holocaust curriculum — particularly in Thessaloniki (Salonika), as well as throughout Greece. I would also like to recommend a remarkable volume, “Faces & Facets: The Jews of Greece,” photographs the late Morrie Camhi and published by Aristide D. Caratzas (Melissa International Ltd. 1995). The book offers portraits of Greek Jews — young and old from all walks of life — amid their possessions or tools of their trade: a hat seller in Larissa; an advertising executive in Athens; a dry-goods seller in Trikkala; greengrocers in Larissa; a shoe wholesaler in Salonika; a music student in Volos. Fascinating.


AHOY! JEWISH PIRATES OF PENZANCE RETURN FOR MORE APPLAUSE BOOTY!

So great the word-of-mouth, and so successful — but too short — a run was last fall’s National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene’s production of “Di Yam Gazlonim” (“The Pirates of Penzance”) that New York City Opera has taken note and decided to follow in the Folksbiene’s footsteps (in the original English, of course).

But for those who missed the fall run (who knew it would be such a hit?), you’re in luck! By popular demand, the “Gazlonim” pirates will be pillaging, posturing and singing from March 18 to April 1 at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. If you are Yiddishly challenged, not to worry. There are first-rate English and Russian supertitles. I’m assuming that you are familiar with the classic Gilbert & Sullivan operetta about an orphan lad adopted by buccaneers.

Al Grand’s inspired Yiddish lyrics transform the British lad into a heder bokher, the buccaneers have yeshiva degrees and the entire production is a riotous laugh-fest.

I don’t know if you happened to read Alexander Gelfand’s spin on the “Gazlonim” in the December 15, 2006, issue of the Forward, but I must challenge his observation about “few teens and young adults” at the performance he attended. It’s not much different at many a Broadway matinee, even when the budget allows for more musicians and elaborate costuming. The times I visited the production — evening and matinee — there was a visible presence of young adults, middle-agers and even a few college-age fans. And why criticize seniors for going to the Yiddish theater? As a rule, supporters of non-English productions — be they in Polish, Spanish, Hebrew, Russian, etc. — do not expect Broadway-budget staging, but come for a bit of “soul” — in the Folksbiene’s case, neshome and fun. And this “Gazlonim” offers this by the shipload. Go to sea… and laugh!






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