Jewish Museum's 'Night in Persia'

On The Go

By Masha Leon

Published March 18, 2009, issue of March 27, 2009.
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LAURIE TISCH AND THE TISCH FAMILY LAUDED AT ALICE TULLY HALL GALA

“Philanthropy for the Tisch family is what singing is to the [von] Trapp family,” said Frank Bennack Jr., Lincoln Center’s board chairman, at the February 23 “Leading Ladies of New York Celebrate Alice Tully” gala celebrating the opening of the renovated Alice Tully Hall. Event honoree Laurie Tisch told the black-tie crowd: “Alice Tully was born into a wealthy family and understood that [making] a serious impact on the world… was a responsibility and a blessing. I share Alice’s creed of making a difference in this city… by providing access and opportunity [to the arts] for all people, regardless of their backgrounds.” Touting her fellow “leading ladies,” Tisch lauded daughters Emily Tisch and Carolyn Tisch Sussman (“who is involved in Birthright Israel”) adding, “Despite all the roles I play, Jewish mother is always first and foremost.” The roster of the evening’s honorees included Billie Tisch, Joan Tisch, Lizzie Tisch, Mary Lake Bennack, Katherine Farley, Elizabeth Levy, Ingeborg Rennert, Alice Rogoff-Rubenstein and Ann Ziff.

Laurie Tisch is best known for her founding role in the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and the Center for Arts Education. Paying tribute to her extended Tisch family, she lauded her “remarkable late father, Preston Robert Tisch, and my beloved mother, Joan. There are few New Yorkers and New York institutions who have not been touched in some way by their tremendous generosity, their creative leadership.” Honored by Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law for her “foresight and generosity in establishing the Laurie M. Tisch Loan Repayment Program.” Tisch is also a trustee of the Whitney Museum of American Art, vice chair of the board of trustees of Columbia University’s Teachers College, and a member of both the mayor’s Cultural Advisory Commission and the board of directors of the New York Giants.

Alice Tully Hall’s new glass-enclosed lobby and the concert hall’s open space, exquisite acoustics and comfortable seats are a joy to behold and experience. The renovation details of the $159 million makeover (including the much appreciated rubber mufflers beneath Broadway’s subway tracks) I leave to architectural mavens. Now, vocal and instrumental artists are more accessible and pleasing to ear and soul. At the evening’s pre-dinner concert, there were welcoming remarks by Lincoln Center’s president, Reynold Levy and by Chairman Bennack, and performances by soprano Dawn Upshaw, accompanied by pianist Gilbert Kalish; the Juilliard Orchestra, conducted by David Robertson, and the Orion Quartet. During a pause in an Upshaw selection, a cell phone rang with jarring clarity. The phone’s owner was mortified, the audience aghast! Making light of this musical faux pas, Upshaw joshed diplomatically to everyone’s relief, “Great timing!”

At the post-concert dinner, held in The Lincoln Center Tent in Damrosch Park, Efraim Grinberg, CEO of Lincoln Center sponsor Movado, presented Laurie Tisch with one of the company’s signature watches. I first met Grinberg in January 2003 when his father, Gedalio Grinberg, then chairman of the Movado Group, introduced me to him. Grinberg père, who died of natural causes on January 4 at age 77, was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Jewelry Information Center’s Inaugural Gem Award gala at Cipriani 42nd Street. Born in Quivican, Cuba, in 1931, and inspired by Vance Packard’s 1959 best-seller, “The Status Seekers,” Gedalio transformed a small Swiss watch-making company into what would become Movado, a world-recognized status brand and a major charitable donor. That night in 2003, Gedalio told me his mother was from Lodz, Poland, his father from “somewhere in Russia, but I don’t speak Yiddish.” In Cuban-accented English, Gadalio introduced me to Efraim and his wife, who, he said, “speaks a fine Yiddish.” Sure enough, in geshmakn delicious Litvak/Lithuanian Yiddish — which she attributed to her father, who was from Bessarabia and to her mother, from Ivye/Yvia (now in Belarus) — she told me, “In English my name is Sonia; in Hebrew it is Yaffa and in Yiddish it is Sheyndl.”

In 1999, Movado created the 18-foot-tall TimeSculpture, a modernist clock tower designed by Philip Johnson. The tower has a clock face on each of its four sides. Located at the northern end of Dante Park, across from Lincoln Center, it is now a New York City and Lincoln Center landmark.


** BRAINY PERSIAN BEAUTY NAZEE MOINIAN HONORED AT JEWISH MUSEUM PURIM BALL**

For the first time in its 21 years of Purim balls, the Jewish Museum honored an authentic Persian Queen Esther. At the museum’s March 4 gala, “A Night in Persia,” Tehran-born mother of five Nazee Moinian, stunning in a white chiffon gown, was sexy enough to have inveigled King Ahashverosh and brainy enough (she works at the Council of Foreign Relations as a consultant on Iranian affairs) to have saved her people from — groggers, please! — any Haman, ancient or modern-day. Her co-honoree was husband, Joseph Moinian, who is described in his bio as “a noted philanthropist, a visionary developer, investor and owner of prime real estate around the country.” When Nazee asked her father, Ayouab Moinian, and her father-in-law, Jalal Nobandegani, to recite the Motzi, the Moinian’s hundreds of friends and family members in the Waldorf-Astoria’s ballroom responded with a reverence usually reserved for a synagogue. Emceed by Donny Deutsch, CNBC host and chairman of Deutsch, Inc., the evening’s Purim shpiel was by playwright/screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz. The entertainment was a sinuous Persian dance by Sanaz Partovi.

Guest of Honor: Nazee Moinian at the gala.
KAREN LEON
Guest of Honor: Nazee Moinian at the gala.

Nazee Moinian’s acceptance speech, praising the audience, as well as Queen Esther, seesawed among the past, present and future:

“Like you, Queen Esther, our noble heroine in the court of Akhashverosh or Khashayarsha, was remarkable for her spirit in choosing vigilance over victimhood, and action over apathy. She did not ask why, but how, when she saw the future of the most ancient Jews in the world in jeopardy. Persia, the bridge of Turqouise, the land of the Peacock throne and rose gardens, of blessed poets, scientists and the first ever bill of rights that granted equal protection to all its citizens, including Jews, was to trample her people’s rights. [Esther] saw something, and against all odds, did something about. it.”
Speaking for herself and her husband, “Joe… who grew up in our beloved Iran and made this immensely wonderful country our home,” “Queen Nazee” universalized their journey, noting: “Life has had its moments of uncertainty, and along the way, regardless of gender, race, religion or country, we have met many Queen Esthers. Neither Iranian nor American, Jewish, Christian or Muslim. We have met citizens of the world who have transcended enormous barriers, taken great risks and made a difference.

“So for me, there’s the lesson of why we celebrate Purim. We celebrate it because in each one of us there is a Queen Esther whose spirit strives to bridge the gaps, and in the cusp of a new presidency and perhaps a new world order, does not ask, but states: Let me listen, learn and do. Let me be part of Queen Esther’s legacy. Let me show that there’s more that makes us the same, as citizens of the world, than different.”

The Moinians were presented with a replica of a silver Persian Kiddush cup, based on an original in the museum.

Baitz, whose brilliant plays “Substance of Fire” (both onstage and on screen) and “Three Hotels” garnered awards and my unqualified applause, left me puzzled with his disjointed Purim shpiel. His memory piece about his parents in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in a Chinese restaurant, where his father, suddenly panicking when he realizes it is Yom Kippur, digresses to the personas of kings — King Lear, Henry VIII, Oedipus Rex — and ending with the postscript, “The only king I liked was Yul Brynner,” left me wondering about its relevance to Purim. Gradually, out of the Purim fog, Baitz honed in on Mordechai “trying to move into a condo in Elat.” And with what may have been his most profound statement that night, apropos Mordechai, he observed, “To be a Jew is to be a master of ambivalence.” Now that’s a theme I would have liked to have Baitz amplify.

The evening’s menu, created by Chef Abbas Zanguiabadi of Foremost RAM Caterers (formerly of the Waldorf-Astoria’s Shah Abbas restaurant) listed chopped Shirazi salad, stuffed grape leaf with minted tabouli, pita crisps and hummus, and falafel pancake with techina and watermelon juice shot. The main dish was grilled Persian chicken kabobs, jewel Rice, Napoleon (!) of grilled vegetables and, to top it off, A chocolate-dipped Almond tuile basket with tropical fruit salad. So, how do you say “yummy” in Farsi?


IT’S TO LAUGH WITH AVI HOFFMAN IN HIS REVIVAL OF “TOO JEWISH?”

You have until March 27 to laugh, chuckle, roar, reminisce and have a side-splitting kishke good time at “Too Jewish?” starring Avi Hoffman and now playing on Long Island at the Jeanne Rimsky Theater on Main Street in Port Washington. It is a retrospective, both serious and hilarious, of Yiddish song, shtick, memory pieces, poetry, nostalgia and more. Not only is it good-for-the immune system, but it’s also a wonderful — and possibly the only — chance to experience Second Avenue theater, Jewish Vaudeville and America’s Jewish/Yiddish cultural treasures that are disappearing. For the younger text-messaging generations who have never been to the Catskills and for whom Second Avenue is just an address, this is a golden opportunity to experience this reservoir of humor “in the flesh” so-to-speak, rather than archivally. And, you don’t have to know Yiddish! Hoffman will have you speaking mameloshn in a flash. In fact, you don’t even have to be Jewish to enjoy. For tickets, call (516) 717-3991.

Yes! It is on Long Island! But it’s closer than Florida where, for the past decade, Hoffman has performed to standing room only audiences in theaters, condos, arenas, resorts, shtiblakh — wherever Jews like to laugh. Seriously speaking, in Hoffman’s 90-minute stand-up and improvisational recitative, his bravura performance serves as a bridge between the old world and the new, and includes works by such Yiddish writers and poets as Itzik Manger and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Hoffman is the son of Holocaust survivors Mendl and Miriam Hoffman (a professor of Yiddish at Columbia University, a playwright and a regular contributor to the Forverts). He made his stage debut at 10 in a production of “Bronx Express.” His theatrical curriculum vitae lists his many credits. Among them are the National Yiddish Theatre — Folksbiene; the Joseph Papp production of “Songs of Paradise,” presented at the Public Theater/NY Shakespeare Festival; appearances on NBC’s “Law & Order,” and performances at Carnegie Hall. He was nominated for both the NY Drama Desk and Outer Critics Award, starred in a revival of Jerry Herman’s “Milk and Honey,” and, with Fyvush Finkel, had the audiences roaring in “Finkel’s Follies.” He appears in the PBS documentary “They Came for Good: A History of the Jews in the U.S.” There’s more, but, I don’t want to hold you up from calling (516) 717-3991 for tickets; 1-888-440-6662 for mishpokhe-size reservations. And if you are reading this on the Forward’s Web site, you can go to www.toojewishli.com. Now go and laugh.






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