It was “Cheers” to prime minister Gordon Brown of Britain, “à votre santé” to Bernard Arnault, Chairman and CEO, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and “sagliginiza” (to your health in Turkish) to Muhtar Kent, the Coca-Cola Company’s chairman and CEO — honorees at the September 22 Appeal of Conscience Foundation Awards Dinner. Also a lusty l’chayim to Rabbi Arthur Schneier, senior rabbi of Park East Synagogue and the foundation’s founder and president, who informed that Kent’s father, Necdet Kent, Turkey’s consul general in Marseilles, helped save Jews during World War II.
The 800 black-tie guests, 50 Dais notables, world religious leaders and diplomats at the Waldorf-Astoria’s ballroom who stood for the anthems of the United Kingdom, France and the United States, included Queen Rania of Jordan, U2 lead singer and songwriter Bono, fashion designer Donna Karan, artist Jeff Koons, New York City Police Commissioner, Raymond Kelly, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, actress Uma Thurman, News Corporation chief executive Rupert Murdoch, former New York City mayor Ed Koch and (mayor wannabe) John Catsimatidis.
“I perform a unique role, which changes year to year,” said award presenter Kissinger. “Last year I introduced the speaker after he had spoken. This year I introduce a speaker who is somewhere else.” Kissinger was referring to ACF World Statesman Award Recipient Prime Minister Brown, whom he declared “a good friend of the United States,” who had left shortly after the reception. “Seems Rabbi Schneier will have to find a new approach to introductions.” Kissinger continued, “Rabbi, the only anthem missing was the Russian anthem. If not for the allied victory over Nazi Germany, for which millions sacrificed, I, for one, would not be alive today were it not for that alliance.”
Alluding to world strife and sectarian wars, Kissinger, noted for his wry humor, recounted an incident during the 1970s “The Troubles” conflict in Northern Ireland: “A mob went on a rampage in a Jewish department store. The owner pleaded, ‘But I am Jewish.’ The rebel leader demanded: “Are you a Catholic or a Protestant Jew?”
“We all have many identities [as well as] loyalties to our own beliefs and humanity as a whole.
What is of essence is co-existence and respect for one another,” said ACF president Schneier as he and Kissinger presented the Appeal of Conscience Award to Arnault, one of the richest men in France, “for applying his global vision and business acumen to advance international cooperation, the arts and the environment.” In heavily accented English, Arnault alluded to the history of luxury “back to the Italian Renaissance,” touted “French secularism and respect,” expressed hope for “a solution for the Palestinian people and the stabilization of the financial situation,” and averred: “We don’t borrow from our children.”
A biographical profile of Arnault noted, “Vuitton is about to open its 450th Boutique in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.” As head of LVMH, whose liquid treasures include Moet and Chandon and Veuve Cliquot Champagnes, Hennessy Cognac, Chateau and Cheval Blanc vintages wines, Arnault was credited with taking pride in the company’s commitment to human rights, working conditions and the environment.
Placing a bottle of Coca-Cola next to the mike, Coca-Cola’s CEO, Muhtar Kent, recalled a waiter in Paris dubbing the ubiquitous quencher “‘American champagne.’” Recipient of the Appeal of Conscience Award “for his contribution in the fields of education, the environment and as a bridge builder in furthering intercultural cooperation and tolerance,” according to Schneier, Kent declared: “Today I am merely a proxy for the 1 million associates of the Coca-Cola Company and our 300 bottling company partners around the world who are deeply committed to our mission of refreshing the world, inspiring moments of happiness and making a positive difference in the communities we are so proud to serve.” Born in New York City, Kent, who from 1999 to 2005 served as president and CEO of Efes Beverage Group, the majority shareholder of the Turkish Coca-Cola bottler headquartered in Istanbul, is a leader in sustainable development with the Coca-Cola Company unveiling the revolutionary PlantBottle, a recyclable plastic bottle made partially from plants like sugar cane and molasses.
“This morning, I participated in the Opening Plenary of the Clinton Global Initiative … the imperative to bring new innovations and economic development to the developing world,” said Kent. “Last year, Coca-Cola made a commitment … to help create between 1,300 and 2,000 new independent distribution businesses in Africa by the end of 2010 … [to] create 5,000 to nearly 9,000 new jobs — owned and operated by local entrepreneurs [which] will generate revenues of $320 to $520 million dollars. … Like all of you, we believe in creating a better world through cross-cultural understanding — a noble and crucial calling.”
The evening concluded with Laurent Korcia performing several works including Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So” on the Zahn Stradivarius violin made in 1719, on loan from LVMH Moet Hennessy Luis Vuitton. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington and ACF vice president delivered the closing benediction. Worth noting: the evening’s goody bag included recyclable aluminum bottles of Coca-Cola.
Calling the September 15 American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science gala at Cipriani 42nd Street “A Smart Evening,” was, according to emcee Jeff Greenfield, akin to “calling [Artur] Rubinstein a pretty good pianist.” Greenfield, a CBS News senior political correspondent, applauded the evening’s “turnout in the face of current circumstances.” Alluding to a T.S. Eliot quote about “economic life in jeopardy, outright criminalities, greed, betrayal of friends and families,” Greenfield boasted, “in contrast, Weizmann Institute is “a place of intelligence, where life is enriched and [where] men and women would rather light a candle than curse the darkness. ACWIS chairman Lawrence Blumberg said: “Tonight we celebrate the ‘brain gain’” — the institute’s incredibly successful drive to bring the brightest young scientists back to Israel and the Weizmann Institute — home to 2,600 of the world’s most talented students and technicians who call the campus at Rehovot, Israel, their home. The ‘brain gain’ entourage at the dinner included Dr. Jacob Hanna, an Israeli-Arab, born and raised in the Galilee, who earned both His Ph.D. and M.D. at Hebrew University. “Caught in a bind as an Israeli-Arab, a Palestinian,” Hanna recounted the frustration at being unable to rent an apartment. “Eventually,” he said, “I rented a small room with a group of Jews and Arabs in Tel-Aviv. I refused to be enemies. I immediately realized this is where I come from. It is my home.” A post-doctoral Fellow at Whitehead Institute, affiliated with MIT, focusing on the study of “embryonic stem cells and iPS cells for modeling development and disease” Hanna declared, “I have Israel [to thank] to start my career as a scientist in my own country.” Hanna will join Weizmann’s Department of Immunology in April 2010.
Greenfield waxed euphoric about Weizmann’s research, which encompasses “development of disease-resistant crops and weapons against cancer, watching stars explode into black holes — the equivalent of our 401Ks.” Apropos, he mentioned his recent encounter with Elie Wiesel. “I asked him, ‘After you have had a very bad year, are you still an optimist?’ Wiesel’s answer was: ‘I have to be, I have no choice.’” As they say in Yiddish, m’hot nit kayn andere breyre (one has no other option).
“The institute recruits the best scientific minds in the world, then gives each individual the freedom and resources to follow his or her curiosity,” said Blumberg. “There are none of the departmental restraints of [other] universities. … Biologists, chemists, mathematicians, physicists, work as equals on joint projects. [Weizmann] inquiries are producing treatments for cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s diseases; how memory works or doesn’t work, sophisticated protocols for everything from protecting online information to detecting a drop of poison in our drinking water. The Weizmann Institute represents Israel’s ambition and its strength.
Another member of the dinner’s “brain drain” team, Maya Schuldiner, a post-doctoral fellow (who on September 16, at Weizmann-sponsored “A Day of Science” at the Asia Society, lectured on “From Pea Pods to iPods — Mendelian Genetics in a Robotic Era”) credited her mother for becoming a scientist. “My mother was clever, organized, sharp, compassionate. Fifty years ago she had to choose to continue a career, but chose to stay with us [at home]. She always told me, ‘never give up on your dreams,’ a dangerous thing to say to a woman today — we don’t have the support system to fulfill [those dreams]. My dream is to be for them what my mother was for me—to be the best scientist I can be. For me, Weizmann offered that [community] support system. Not a place where I work, but where my dreams can come true”
For a kosher dinner served at an event for the benefit of an Israeli institute, I was amused by the extent of French on the evening’s menu, which was headlined by Entrée: The Herzog wine was a Chardonnay; the salad dressing, vinaigrette; the bundled baby string beans, Haricots Verts; the carrots were julienne (slivered); the dessert was a timbale of a chocolate Ganache (a waistline-devastating rich creamy concoction); and the sherbet was labeled sorbet. All that was missing was “bon appétit.”
Prof. Ada Yonath, of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s chemistry department, has been awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for her groundbreaking work using crystallography to map the atomic structure of ribosomes. What a positive addendum to the event.