“It’s a good news story… a change from cheating and scandal,” said WNYW FOX 5 news anchor Ernie Anastos, host of “Lightyears,” the November 10 Lighthouse International Salutes the Arts gala, held at the Plaza. The honorees were interior designer Mica Ertegun, composer Marvin Hamlisch, film star Arlene Dahl and cosmetic packaging maven Marc Rosen. For a bit of spice, there was auctioneer Joan Rivers, whose uncensored sound bites (for example, “If someone gives us $150, we can f—–g go home?”) had the black-tie crowd roaring and writing checks for such state-of-the-art devices as the Intel Reader, which converts the printed word to digital text and reads it aloud. Musicians who’ve lost their sight can now compose in Braille. “We’re in a visionless epidemic,” said Lighthouse president and CEO Mark Ackermann, who noted the “expansion of our school of music, the only school of its kind in the U.S.” The statistics are daunting: “One million in New York City with low vision or vision loss; 20 million Americans over age 45 who self-report a vision impairment… one in four New York City school kids testing low on vision tests.”
Board chairman Roger Goldman joined Ackermann in acknowledging that “philanthropy has sustained the Lighthouse for more than 100 years, and will continue to be indispensable to our success for generations to come.” Apropos philanthropy, Rivers was on a roll, demanding, “I need $2,500 for a music school scholarship. Music makes the world go round. unless you are Yoko Ono.
Between such indelicate asides as “Where are you, Ruth Madoff?” Rivers touted the Lighthouse program “Dancing With the Stars,” which helps children with vision loss discover the power of movement. Prefacing her pitch for “Ticket to Ride,” an $8,000 donation that funds transportation for 25 youngsters to the Lighthouse’s Saturday Youth Skill Program, Rivers confided, “After you watch Jay Leno, you should not drive or lift heavy machinery.” Checks were written. Everyone was happy.
The honoree line-up was inspiring and impressive. Romanian-born Ertegun founded the decorating form MAC II, which has been used by such high-profile clients as Bill Blass, Arnold Scaasi, Carly Simon, Sanford Weill, the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and former Disney head Michael Eisner. In addition to banks, stores, hotels and office spaces, Ertegun’s firm’s designs include the Republic National Bank, Kaufman Astoria Studios (formerly known as the Astoria Studio), Warner Communications and New York’s renowned Carlyle hotel. (Her late husband was Ahmet Ertegun, founding chairman of Atlantic Records.)
“Music is a pathway to the handicapped,” said Hamlisch, composer of scores for such films as “The Way We Were,” “The Sting,” “Sophie’s Choice” and “The Swimmer,” and for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway show “A Chorus Line.” After Hamlisch wrote and performed a special work he “dedicated to the Lighthouse,” he confided, “If you want to make it, have a good ENT [ear, nose and throat] doctor. Mine was Lester Coleman. In his chair, he had the daughter of Quincy Jones. He told her, ‘I want you to take this tape to your dad.’ It was a tape of a song of mine he liked. There was a movie that needed music [for a scene] from one side of the beach to the other…. Leslie Gore sang my first song.” That night, Gore sang “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows.”
Still gorgeous at 80 — and not slowing down — Scandinavian redhead Dahl lists among her many credits 30 movies; 19 plays, and16 books on beauty, health and astrology, as well as a syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate. A philanthropist, she has worked with Lighthouse on its annual “Posh” fashion fundraiser for more than 30 years. Film clips of Dahl from several of her movies just took your breath away. She is married to honoree Rosen, an internationally acclaimed designer in the fragrance, cosmetic and fashion packaging arena.
A seven-time winner of the FiFi Award — the fragrance industry’s equivalent of the Oscar — Rosen developed the award-winning fragrance Red Door for Elizabeth Arden. He teaches a course in fragrance bottle design at Pratt Institute, from which he received an honorary doctorate. Rosen’s designs are in the permanent collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and at Paris’s Musée de la Mode.
The November 8 American and International Societies for Yad Vashem Tribute dinner at New York’s Grand Hyatt started off with the seating of more than 70 dignitaries and diplomats on the dais. American and International Societies’ founder and chairman, Eli Zborowski, noted that the evening’s theme, “’Whoever Saves a Life, Saves Humanity,” has been central to the lives of our honorees, including Fanya Gottesfeld Heller, who owes her life to two Christians who hid her and her family from the Nazi death squads, and Tovah Feldshuh, a world-renowned actress who recently portrayed Irena Gut Opdyke, a Christian rescuer of 12 Jews, in the award-winning Broadway play “Irena’s Vow.” Poles saved Zborowski himself, yet his 40-year old father, Moshe Zborowski, “was brutally murdered by Poles in August 1943.” Hosted by Mark Wilf, a child and grandchild of survivors, the evening’s highlights included greetings by Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate in Jerusalem, and a riveting address — in impeccable English — by Isaac Herzog, Israel’s minister of social affairs and services and son of former Israeli president Chaim Herzog. Every mother should be touted as was Yad Vashem Leadership Education Award recipient Heller by her son, Benjamin Heller, an author and educator. His dissertation-long introduction covered a large swath of her survival history embellished by literary and Biblical references, and included a roster of her academic, philanthropic and Israel-centered commitments. “I am accepting [the award] for all those survivors who sought to tell their stories at a time when most refused to listen,” the younger Heller. “And for those who never had a chance to tell their stories,” he added.
An author and educator whose autobiography, “Love in a World of Sorrow: A Teenage Girl’s Holocaust Memoirs” (Devorah Publishing, 2005) — originally published as “Strange and Unexpected Love” (Ktav, 1992) — is now part of the Holocaust curriculum at Princeton University, Yale University, University of Connecticut and Ben Gurion University in the Negev, Heller stressed: “Yad Vashem is not only about those killed, nor about survivors. Yad Vashem is for and about the Ben Hellers of the world — the children and grandchildren who will take our message of memory and hope and carry it forth for generations to come.”
Recipient of the Yad Vashem Remembrance Award, Feldshuh, in the Milwaukee accent she nailed for her role as Milwaukee-born Golda Meir in her Broadway tour de force in “Golda’s Balcony” told the 1,000-plus strong audience: “My 99-year-old mother is at table seven! I went to Yad Vashem in December 1982, pregnant with my son Brandon…. In the Hall of Records [I] found the names of Feldshuh relatives who had perished…. Standing at Yad Vashem, everything makes sense.” As only an actress of her stature and Jewish commitment can declaim, Feldshuh averred: “Never again!” adding, “Survival is a privilege that entails obligation.”
“Voices around us call for our annihilation,” Herzog declared. “Following World War II [we wanted to make sure] there will be no more Holocausts…. The ‘Family of Nations’ set laws…and all of sudden these international laws were used by [the] enemies of the Jewish…when Israel tries to defend itself, it is called an enemy of the people.” He addressed the “arena of propaganda… hate mail on the Web…as if nothing had been learned from the past. We need to educate the world that there was a Holocaust and Yad Vashem is at the front of the battle against antisemitism and Holocaust denial….It is a holy cause out of the earth of Jerusalem….to explain the story of Israel, the plight of Zion and that someone must defend the rule of law.”
I never expected the November 11 American Folk Art Museum “Advocating for the Arts” Fall Gala Held at the Tribeca Rooftop to channel into the spring holiday Purim, Queen Esther and lox. Hosted by Citigroup chairman Richard Parsons and his wife, Laura Parsons, president of the museum’s board of trustees, the evening’s honorees included Dorothy Lichtenstein, founder of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, which was created in memory of her late husband; twin brothers Leigh and Leslie Keno (of the addictive Public Broadcasting Service television show “Antiques Roadshow,” which has viewers regretting that ratty chair thrown out years ago that may have been an heirloom treasure), and award-winning New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, whose most recent book is “Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008).
Having just seen the New York City Opera’s stunning production of Hugo Weisgall’s “Esther,” about the ancient Jewish queen of Persia who saves her people from extermination at the hands of the Hitler of their time, a man named Haman, I remembered that Gopnik had penned a witty “Purim shpiel”, a Jewish “Saturday Night Live” version of the saga, for the Jewish Museum’s 2001 Purim Ball. During dinner, I recalled the satire, in which Gopnik compares ancient Persia to present-day New York — “a radiant, wealthy city of fashion and public relations.” The king is Donald Trump, obsessed with image. His wife leaves him to open a magazine. Esther, the trophy wife, is a model from Odessa associated with the Russian mob. Gopnik’s conclusion was that “the lesson of comedy — from Molière to Shakespeare — is that it is the honest man who is the man of the world and that [Esther’s uncle] Mordechai [who foils a plot to assassinate the king], lives in the world and, like all of us has to work within the system and rises in a moment of crisis.”
When Gopnik amplified that “The Folk Museum is one of the three most beautiful museums in America…. It is always a place we’ve taken our children to,” I remembered another of Gopnik’s New Yorker moments: his detailed tribute to Sable’s, an offshoot of the West Side’s Zabar’s. Laughing, Gopnik said: “It’s the only place where Asians with dignity slice lox with Jewish intensity…. For me, it sums up why we live in New York.”
The American Folk Art Museum is the premier institution devoted to the aesthetic appreciation of traditional folk art and creative expressions of contemporary self-taught artists from the United States and abroad. Also honored that evening were philanthropist Arpad Busson; folk art collector and museum trustee emeritus David Davies; museum trustee Taryn Leavitt and her husband, Mark Leavitt, president of the board of directors Jacob’s Pillow Dance in Massachusetts; Jeffrey Pressman, board member of the New York State Historical Association and curator of the 2008 exhibition Of, by and for the People: The Art of Presidential Elections at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.; Paige Rense, editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest, and Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, award-winning architects of the American Folk Art Museum’s Manhattan home.
Raising money for a good cause “brings out the Jewishness in everyone,” said Michael Nierenberg, chairman of the board of the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, at SWCRF’s November 18 “Collaborating for a Cure” fundraiser, held at the Park Avenue Armory. The more than 1,100 networking young corporate executives and guests helped raise an amazing $4.2 million for cancer research. When I asked SWCRF founder Dr. Samuel Waxman what was the catalyst that set him on the path to raise funds for cancer research, he replied, “My mother died of cancer when I was 17.” Then he added, “We’ve been working with [the] Weizmann [Institute of Science] and [the] Sheba [Hospital] in Israel.” Among those who mingled and bid were Sheila Jaffe, casting director for HBO’s “Entourage,” and artist Peter Tunney, who had one of his original works among the auction lots. The evening’s entertainment included a performance by singer Steve Winwood and an after-party concert by The Lost Trailers.
The SWCRY was founded 35 years ago, and its mission is to develop therapies to reverse abnormal cancer cell behavior. In his journal message, Waxman, SWCRF scientific director and distinguished service professor OF MEDICINE at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, states: ”Our mission is to reverse abnormal cancer cell behavior and recover normal controls and function.” Nierenberg further amplified that “the foundation has become a path-breaker in cancer research [that] has already cured a devastating form of leukemia and made tremendous inroads in the treatment of melanoma, liver, prostate and breast cancer. SWCRF supports three core facilities that expedite collaborative research…. Massachusetts General Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical School and, in China, the Shenyang Pharmaceutical University.”