BLOOMBERG HAILED AS UNION-FRIENDLY BY JEWISH LABOR COMMITTEE
“What kind of Republican is Michael Bloomberg? The best kind: a former Republican!” said the Jewish Labor Committee’s president,Stuart Appelbaum (also president of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union), at the June 12 Human Rights Awards Dinner. Award recipient Bloomberg declared: “Jews and labor are linked together… some of my ancestors… worked in Egypt.” Touting New York City’s reduced unemployment statistics, he cited “the [high] number of women and minorities now entering unions,” and got a good laugh from the crowd at New York’s Sheraton Hotel by confiding, “I get union-made suits in Brooklyn.” The JLC also honored Bruce Raynor, general president of UNITE HERE; Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, and Greg Rosenbaum, president of Empire Kosher Poultry, Inc. With a passion reminiscent of labor rallies of yore, Appelbaum extolled the JLC’s vision “of an America free of intolerance and exploitation, where all women and men are treated with dignity and respect both on the job and in the community, and a nation where all of us [has] a seat at the table… and none of us [is] trapped on the outside looking in.”
Though it was a long speech, the audience was captivated. “When the JLC first organized, it was to mobilize American unions to stand in solidarity with Jews and others who were being victimized in Hitler’s Germany. After the war, JLC was instrumental in organizing labor support in this country or the new State of Israel.… We have been, and we remain, organized labor’s voice in the Jewish community — and a unique Jewish voice in the American labor movement.
“My dad worked as a clerk for the post office for some 40 years. But as time passes, fewer Jews can say the same. They don’t really know what unions are or what unions do.… When Harry Truman was first asked to back the creation of a Jewish state, he didn’t want a thing to do with it.… But he came around — and a big part of the reason why he did was the stand for Israel taken by progressives led by organized labor… Exxon couldn’t care less that Israel is the only country in that region where women have equal rights or where workers have the right to form a union.… Whenever and wherever antisemitism has reared its head, organized labor has come down on the right side.”
Appelbaum went on to detail the JLC’s role in exposing the dangers faced by workers at the Postville, Iowa, plant AgriProcessors, the largest kosher meatpacking plant in America. He lauded the Forward for helping to spread the news of the abuses. Bottom line: AgriProcessors made some positive changes. As an example of “how a kosher meatpacking plant ought to operate,” Appelbaum hailed Empire Kosher Poultry: “Greg [Rosenbaum] and the union, working together, helped [in creating] a ‘Justice Seal’ that would appear on kosher food products where workers are treated fairly and their rights are respected.”
And what would a labor event/rally/dinner be without a heckler? As Bloomberg spoke, an enraged woman at one of the tables railed about an unspecified injustice. Refusing to calm down, she was escorted out of the hotel’s ballroom. It was done quickly and expediently, with neither the mayor nor any diner missing a beat. Someone near me said, “So what else is new.”
As I was writing this column, I happened to catch (a possible repeat) conversation between Bill Moyers and Australian Clive James, author of the recent book “Cultural Amnesia” (W. W. Norton). The two men compared their youthful years, with Moyers recalling his family’s improved welfare: “My father made more money, $100 a week, because he joined the union.”
MAYOR BLOOMBERG HONORED BY HADASSAH’S FORMIDABLE WOMEN
Bloomberg was also honored with Hadassah’s prestigious Henrietta Szold Award, which First Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris accepted on his behalf at the organization’s July 17 banquet. The event capped the Hadassah’s 93rd national convention at New York’s Hilton. Harris — who, like the mayor, is a member of Manhattan’s Temple Emanuel — declared, “Hadassah has changed the nature of women and volunteerism and continues to be at the forefront of progressive social change.”
The newly elected president is Nancy Falchuk of Newton Center, Mass. Her predecessor, June Walker of Rockaway, N.J., was recently elected chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. My tablemate, Nava Ben-Zvi, was one of the convention’s speakers. With a doctorate in chemistry, the leader in science, technology and education for more than 25 years in Israel and the United States is president of Hadassah College, Jerusalem. Though born in Israel, Ben-Zvi, who displayed a wry sense of humor, admitted to Galitzianer roots, yet insisted that I speak to her in only Litvishn (Lithuanian/Litvak) Yiddish.
Over the years, Hadassah women have gotten a bad rap — mainly from Jewish comedians, both male and female, whom I wish could have seen the 2,500 articulate, intelligent, fashionably turned-out women of all ages in action. In the past two years, they have helped raise 78% of a $210 million goal toward a tower on the campus of Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem. According to a press release: “Only a week ago, Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator… within the philanthropic world, awarded Hadassah a four-star rating, its highest, for Hadassah’s level of fiscal responsibility.” The 14-story tower, scheduled for completion in 2012, will include 500 beds, 20 state-of-the-art operating rooms and 50 intensive care beds. A virtual tour of the tower, narrated by actress Natalie Portman, is available on Hadassah’s Web site at: www.hadassah.org.
(On a personal note: In 1994, the Queens Region of Hadassah presented me with the Myrtle Wreath Award for my weekly Forward reportage. My co-honorees were Charles Schumer [then a member of the House of Representatives] and Jewish Week’s staff writer Stuart Ain.)