FROM VITEPSK TO LINCOLN CENTER — A STELLAR JOURNEY FOR MARTIN SEGAL
“Anyone who cares about the arts cares about civilization,” said Martin Segal, chairman emeritus of Lincoln Center and an honoree at the March 11 Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education gala. Following an eardrum-shattering performance by Los Lobos that got the crowd at Cipriani 42nd Street up and dancing, Segal quipped: “Very refreshing! I was born in Vitepsk, Russia, and could have used that music in 1916, 1917.” Presented with a Doctorate of Imagination Award by “60 Minutes” correspondent Andy Rooney, Segal, a cousin of Vitepsk-born artist Marc Chagall, later told me that after he came to America in 1921, he attended the Sholom Aleichem School in Brooklyn’s Boro Park. The festive evening included welcoming remarks by Reynold Levy, president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and LCI chairman Ann Unterberg. Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, was among the attendees.
“We have touched over 20,000 students over the years,” said Susan Rudin, a gala co chair. “We bring art to students and teachers; teach them to inquire, to use their imagination. Einstein’s imagination made him what he is.” Segal presented the Mark Schubart Award in Education to Sharon Dunn, a past president of the New York State Alliance for Arts Education. Also honored were LCI board members Robin Dubin Avram and her brother, Louis Dubin. The LCI was established 35 years ago. The program journal informs: “Lincoln Center Institute has brought arts into the New York City public schools curriculum in innovative ways.… In the NYC metropolitan area alone it works with more than 4,000 educators in 130 public schools annually…. LCI’s methods have been introduced via workshops to 45 cities which have been attended by educators from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan and South Korea.”
EXPLORERS CLUB GALA — ADVENTURE FOR THE STRONG OF LIMB AND BRAVE OF GUT
Not sure which was more astonishing at the 105th Explorers Club Annual Dinner — the kickboxing kangaroo on the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom stage, or such buffet goodies as infused Madagascar hissing cockroaches; honey glazed tarantulas and maggots suspended in gelee. Never was I so happy to see mushroom-stuffed chicken on the dinner menu! Hunk Josh Bernstein, executive producer and host of the Discovery Channel series “Into the Unknown With Josh Bernstein,” served as master of ceremonies of the March 21 gala. Addressing the 1,000 black-tie guests, Bernstein, whose father was born in Jerusalem, and who once contemplated becoming a rabbi, informed, “Since 1904, [ECAD members] have planted flags in places where few people have been.” Former Harvard University biology professor Edward Wilson, currently university research professor emeritus at Harvard and honorary curator in entomology of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, received the Explorers Medal. He raised the alarm that “at the current rate of eco-destruction, half of the species [we know] will be extinct” and “a large number of species is disappearing before we even knew they existed.” What we are facing is “a global issue that affects all mankind.”
Popularly called “the father of biodiversity,” Wilson is considered one of the world’s greatest living scientists. Recipient of more than 100 international medals and awards for his conservation efforts, Wilson said, “There are still remote areas and sites to discover, but compared to 50 years ago, these places can now be reached by plane or jet.” Peter Hillary, son of Sir Edmund Hillary, received the Tenzing Norgay Award, named for the Nepalese sherpa who accompanied his father and was one of the two first men to summit Mt. Everest, in 1953. Members of the Tenzing family were in the ballroom. The Lowell Thomas Award for Aviation was presented to William Anders (retired major general of the USAF Reserve), who is a NASA astronaut and a crewmember of Apollo 8, the first manned space voyage to leave Earth’s orbit, travel to the moon and return home. The Moon’s Anders crater is named after him.
Jim Fowler, a zoologist/naturalist and host of the TV classic “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” came onstage with a miniature owl on his arm. Several handlers bearing owls of assorted sizes — white owl, monkey-faced owl, towering Italian owl, European eagle owl — all in danger of disappearing, joined Fowler. “How you treat this earth affects human welfare,” Fowler cautioned. Following an anxiety-eliciting boxing bout between a human and an aggressive red kangaroo (the human survived, unscathed), Fowler delighted the audience with a spider monkey who produced art on paper (!), a blond-faced gibbon, a tufted Capuchin monkey who deftly unwrapped a straw and put it into a soda can, and a two-toed sloth who comes down onto the ground only once a week, to relieve itself.
The black-tie and native-dress crowd included a sizable number of adventurers who had been on as many as 50 to 100 expeditions! As they nibbled on the selections of the exotic buffet, they compared notes on such delicacies as crispy scorpion on endive dotted with herbed goat cheese; deviled eggs with larvae; beer-battered (assorted) testicles; pork intestine “chitlins” (treyf version of gribenes — chicken skin cracklings); spiced roasted alligator; stuffed eyeballs (not sure whose); Asian sweet chili pickled duck tongues; Rosemary rattlesnake cakes, and “succulent fresh strawberries immersed in white chocolate and sprinkled with memorable Musca Domestica Pupae” (translation: house flies). For those less adventurous, [there was ostrich, goat, venison and rosemary elk. If you are still with me — as far as the buffet is concerned — I was just an imbedded observer. Imagine my delight and relief when the dessert turned out to be critter-free triple chocolate mousse cake and vanilla crème anglaise!
CALL ME LERER — TEACHER — NOT DOCTOR OR PROFESSOR, INSISTS DAVID ROSKIES, HONOREE AT WORKMEN’S CIRCLE/ARBETER RING CULTURAL SEDER
“I was a red-and-blue diaper baby,” said David Roskies, honoree at the April 5 Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring Cultural Seder, held at Manhattan’s Congregation Rodeph Sholom. A professor of Jewish literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary, author of nine books and winner of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize in 1984 for “Against the Apocalypse: Responses to Catastrophe in Modern Jewish Culture” (Harvard University Press), Roskies amplified: “Red for solidarity with the common folk; blue for fierce pride in being a Jew.” Describing how in the 1940s, his parents’ escaped from Europe and landed in Montreal, and the life he lived in Outremont (where I, too, landed in the 1940s), Roskies noted that he was not interested in politics. “What captured my imagination was the curriculum of Montreal’s prime Jewish school di Folkshul” (my alma mater). Citing the Yiddish/Hebrew classics, Roskies noted, “[The school] served as a mirror of society; the purpose of teaching Jewish culture was to provide us students with a multicolored lens through which to view that society.”
“I can teach in red and blue,” said Roskies, who next spring will teach at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba. “I teach the intersection, the synergy, the spectral interplay between Yiddish and Hebrew and Yiddishkeit. I teach my students about Jewish responses to catastrophe — about a cumulative, unbroken literary tradition, a grammar of remembrance, inscribed in the liturgy and transmitted through prayer and song that was tested and transformed in the Nazi ghettos and camps, and that would give rise to what is now known as ‘The Literature of Holocaust.’ Lately — very lately — I have instructed my students to address me not as Dr. Roskies, nor Professor Roskies, but as Lerer [teacher] Roskies, the way we addressed our teachers in the Folkshul in the days when a lerer was an honorific title, the signifier of a brave new world with Yiddish and Yiddishkeit at its very center.”
In keeping with its own ethos, the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring Cultural Seder (once known as “The Third Seder”) has evolved over 76 years into an iconic celebration that merges the traditional Haggadah storytelling of the Exodus from Egypt, with contemporary consciousness-raising imperatives. Led by the Workmen’s Circle’s artistic director, Adrienne Cooper, the Seder interfaced tradition with innovation. There was much kvelling, as youngsters from Midtown WC Shule and I.L. Peretz Jewish School of East Meadow recited and sang — in impeccable Yiddish —the Exodus story, but with a WC twist!
The celebration opened with alternating verses in English and Yiddish that proclaim:
“On this Pesach day, we dedicate ourselves to liberation from:
The tyranny of poverty
The tyranny of war
The tyranny of ignorance
The tyranny of hate….
And augmenting the traditional removal of a drop of wine for each of the 10 ancient plagues “to show our bounty is diminished by the suffering of others,” instead of listing frogs, vermin, darkness, etc., this Haggadah proclaims:
Our cup is diminished,
When children are abandoned in failing schools….
Where the ills that afflict women command lesser attention and resources….
When our fears of difference blind us to the common humanity and rights of all….
When the plague of AIDS… is met with ignorance and malign neglect…. etc.
As at past Workmen’s Circle Seders, Mina Bern, the doyenne of Yiddish theater — and now in her 10th decade (!) — declaimed Bunim Heller’s wrenching poem “In Varshever Geto Iz Haynt Khodesh Nisn (“Tonight in the Warsaw Ghetto Is the Month of Nisn — the Eve of Passover”). The poem immortalizes April 19, 1943, the first night in the Warsaw Ghetto, as the beginning of resistance when “Jews rose up against an implacable enemy,” the Nazis.
Also honored were Workmen’s Circle board member Marci Pepper and Peter Pepper, a past two-term national president of the organization.