Picture Perfect Event

By Masha Leon

Published July 27, 2007, issue of July 27, 2007.
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An only-in-America shidakh: Agnès Winter’s exhibit Monument to Smile — a spectacular projection of 250 photographs of smiling Americans on the nearly full-building-height facade of Manhattan’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza, supplemented by Elie Wiesel’s words and Charlie Chaplin’s music — was presented by Cartier jewelers. Rockefeller co-owners Tishman Speyer hosted the event. France-based Winter said she was inspired by “New York’s diversity and feeling of hope and optimism” and Frederic de Narp, president and CEO of Cartier North America, declared the exhibit “Cartier’s gift to all New Yorkers.” For the event, Wiesel — Nobel Peace Prize recipient and the author of 40 books — wrote an original poem, “Faces,” which was read by Al Roker, co-host of NBC’s “Today” show. The hundreds of champagne-sipping guests joined in to sing “Smile,” giving Americans the upbeat advice to “Smile, tho’ your heart is breaking.” (Although the melody of the song is from the score that Chaplin wrote for his 1936 film “Modern Times,” the lyrics, by John Turner and Geoffrey Claremont Parsons, were not written until 1954.) How apt to cast Wiesel — a Holocaust survivor, ruffler of conscience and chastiser of an American president — on the same program with Chaplin, the quintessential comedic commentator on the struggle of modern survival. He is also the creator and portrayer of a Hitler-inspired character in his prescient 1940 film, “The Great Dictator,” which, according to New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, was “a lacerating fable of decent folk in a totalitarian land.”

Inside the roped-off velvet Rockefeller Center Channel Gardens, straddling 49th and 50th Streets between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, stood the guests. As the facade was lit up floor by floor via projection equipment atop Saks Fifth Avenue’s roof, there was a loud communal gasp — akin to those heard at awe-inspiring fireworks displays. It was noted that the technical team was half French, half American. Among the celebrants at the evening’s launch of the exhibit (which ran through mid-June) were Marion Wiesel; Marie-Monique Steckel, president of Alliance Française; François Delattre, France’s consul general in New York; Rhonda Barad, Eastern director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Stephen Sadove, chairman of Saks Fifth Avenue.

The full text of Wiesel’s poem “Faces” — which has been translated into 11 languages — follows, as do the lyrics of “Smile.”


Men’s faces, women’s faces: their eyes illuminate their human ties.
Smiling faces, happy faces: sweet promises that fill all emptiness and soothe
all pain.
Children’s faces shining with innocence: the resigned smiles of old men,
marked by distant memories: they love and they are loved in turn.
Drawn faces, then a calm gaze: a mosaic of color and languages.
Generations and faiths woven into a moving and magnificent song.

Expectant faces, the faces of dreamers: so many pleas for human brotherhood,
vulnerable yet invincible.
But then too?
Anguished faces, eyes heavy with grief: men and women yearning for happiness,
for peace.

Men’s faces, women’s faces: a smattering of laughter as well as tears:
it is the humanity of them, in each of us, which proclaims that hope is still


Smile tho’ your heart is aching,
Smile even tho’ it’s breaking,
When there are clouds in the sky
You’ll get by,

If you smile
thro’ your fear and sorrow,
Smile and maybe tomorrow,
You’ll see the sun come shin-ing thro’ for you

Light up your face with gladness,
ide ev’ry trace of sadness,
Al-tho’ a tear may be ever so near,

That’s the time,
You must keep on trying,
Smile, what’s the use of crying,
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile,
If you just smile.


“I am involved in ELEM because my mother is involved,” said emcee Dan Abrams, MSNBC’s general manager and NBC News’ chief legal correspondent, at last month’s 25th anniversary of ELEM/Youth in Distress in Israel gala benefit, held at The Jewish Museum. “Elem has been rescuing Israel’s ‘human dust,’” as these abandoned, abused, hungry children are often called. Many are suffering from diseases or have been victims of sexual exploitation. Ann Bialkin, president of ELEM/America, informed: “This year, there are 50,000 youth in need…. On the good side of the ledger is the successful program with Ethiopian children — often violent girls — who are given the opportunity to get culinary arts training and give back to the community in restaurants, not in shelters.”

Nava Barak, president of ELEM/Israel, greeted the guests and introduced the evening’s honoree, the honorary Michael Carriero**, who, since 1992, has presided over Manhattan’s Youth Part, a court set aside within the adult court system to deal exclusively with cases of 13-, 14- and 15-year olds who are charged with the most violent crimes. For the past 10 years, judge Carriero, a member of ELEM’s Professional Committee, has participated in missions to Israel, visited ELEM’s programs, lectured at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, consulted with members of Israel’s Welfare Ministry and was keynote speaker at a conference on “Youth Violence,” organized by ELEM at Tel-Aviv University. Representatives of ELEM’s success included two of its own graduates — Avishai Malchi, an Israel-born 17-year-old who admitted: “I was doing drugs, was involved in violence, did not study, my parents were always screaming at me, I was expelled…. ELEM found me, gave me free coffee, cut my hair. I saw myself as a new person…. Now I am helping others… starting my own rock band. My parents don’t scream at me.” A beautiful young women, Avivit Ferada, described her harrowing journey as an 11-year-old from a remote village, before landing in Israel, “where no one would tell me anything.” Her mother was unable to help her, and so she was caught between an old tradition and disaster. Ferada flunked school and ended up in a school for children with special needs. After a dispiriting odyssey, she declared, “Now I work for ELEM, go to college…. have a future.”

The evening’s program also included an address by Ambassador Dan Gillerman, United Nations representative from the State of Israel, and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

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