“YOUR PLACE IN JEWISH HISTORY IS SECURE,” WIESEL TELLS GEORGE SHULTZ , HONOREE AT AMERICAN JEWISH HISTORICAL SOCIETY DINNER
“Israel owes you. The Jewish people owe you,” said Elie Wiesel as he presented the Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty Award to George Shultz — secretary of state under President Reagan — at the American Jewish Historical Society’s April 25 dinner. In a richly detailed speech, Shultz reminded the black-tie crowd at The Waldorf-Astoria of the debt that American Jewry, Soviet Jewry and Israel owe to former president Ronald Reagan. A leading advocate for the rights of Soviet Jews to emigrate, a supporter of refuseniks and defender of Jews to observe their religion in the USSR, Shultz revisited the unwavering Reagan-fueled diplomatic route that eventually enabled “over 1 million Jews to leave [the Soviet Union].” He cited the 1982 “direct and personal” two-hour meeting with then Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin , during which “Ronald Reagan made clear that human rights and Soviet Jewry were at the top of his agenda…. So our first deal with the Soviets was a human rights deal, and the Soviets got the message [that] President Reagan cared about the fate of Soviet Jewry in a nonpolitical way.”
“As dean at the University of Chicago during [Israel’s] 1967 war,” Shultz recalled, “I learned that my favorite student, Joseph Levy, had been killed in action…. I thought to myself: ‘What an amazing country to command such instinctive loyalty from such a gifted human being.’ For me, Joseph Levy’s heroism came to symbolize the State of Israel.” He cited the February 11, 1986, moment when Natan Sharansky “crossed the Glienicke Bridge to West Berlin,” and recalled an April 13, 1987, Seder (in Moscow) with “dozens of the most famous refuseniks…. I put on a yarmulke… and then said exactly what all of us felt: ‘You are in our minds… in our hearts… never give up.…’” About “the effect of allowing Israel to absorb much of Soviet Jewry,” Shultz described a party at his home on the Stanford University campus, at which “Herb Stein — who with Stan Fischer , had worked with me on the successful effort to stabilize Israel’s economy in 1986 — announced, ‘Israel has struck oil.’ He got everyone’s attention. Really? Where? How much? ‘Not real oil… something better, Soviet immigrants: engineers, scientists, doctors, musicians, Jewish boys and girls. Human beings. The ultimate resource.’ We drank to that.”
Turning to the evening’s keynote speaker, Elie Wiesel , Shultz said: “It is much easier to live with the charge that we went too far, made too much noise, caused too much trouble, than with the bitter realization, after the fact, that we did too little…. As Elie said at that famous December 1987 rally in Washington, D.C.: If we had rallied in the 1940s, ‘millions of Jews would have been saved’…. If we are to live in a civilized world, what was accomplished for the Soviet Jews, must become the rule rather than the exception. We must not only preach the doctrine of human rights. We must learn how actually to be our brothers’ keeper.” Wiesel responded: “In the beginning, there was no way to move the Jewish leadership in America…. It was the young people, teenagers, who were the heroes. High school kids came to our rallies…. They did not want to be accused of indifference as some of their elders were” during World War II. Turning to Shultz, Wiesel declared: “You should know your place in Jewish history and U.S. history is secure.” The evening’s participants included: Yuli Yoel Edelstein , a former prisoner of the U.S.S.R. and currently the deputy speaker of the Knesset and an AJHS trustee; Kenneth Bialkin , AJHS chairman, and Sidney Lapidus president of AJHS.
SALMAN RUSHDIE KVELLS AS FRANCE HONORS FELLOW WRITER PAUL AUSTER
Beaucoup de buzz at the April 23 ceremony at the French Embassy’s Cultural Services at which Salman Rushdie delivered a brief keynote address — in French and English — on the occasion of his friend, American-born French author Paul Auster . The author was presented with France’s prestigious Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters for “his contribution to the spread of French culture.”
“Of all American writers, you are the most French,” said France’s ambassador, Jean-David Levitte to Auster (a writer whose grandparents came from Minsk, Warsaw and Stanislaw, Poland), before placing the tri-color ribbon and medal around his neck. In an exceptionally literary tribute, Levitte lauded Auster for whom ‘my compatriots feel profound admiration and immense love.” The ambassador waxed euphoric as he recounted Auster’s “bohemian life” in France and his translation of French poets. “As many here in New York know, your latest film, “The inner Life of Martin Frost,” was a selection this year of the New Directors, New Films series at the Museum of Modern Art and at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. “For you, literature does not provide soothing answers…your leitmotif of [your body] of work seems to remind us that we are all authors of our own lives, at the same time both individuals and characters.” Comparing Auster to “ grands anti-hommes Samuel Beckett and Buster Keaton,” Levitte credited him with having “struck a chord in the French soul.”
Following Levitte’s avalanche of praise, author, novelist, poet and screenwriter Auster was all but speechless. “I hardly know what to say…. France has been my home away from home…. This medal is a connection between the writer and his readers.” In one of the biographical references I accessed, New Jersey-born Auster is compared to Woody Allen , in that he [too] is a “chronicler of the city which is a setting for much of his work.” It notes that his opus, “The Invention of Solitude” (1982) — part memoir, part autobiography–is also in part a biography of his father. In search of something haimish and American, I asked Auster for details about his family roots and background. He politely informed, “My parents were born in America.” With his grandparents’ Eastern European roots, there must be a rich tale there… mais what?