Maimonidies And Menorahs

On The Go

By Masha Leon

Published December 30, 2009, issue of January 08, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

FRENCH CONSUL GENERAL LIGHTS L’ HANOUKA CANDLES AND QUOTES THE RAMBAM

“I could pass for a Santa,” a jolly, white-bearded Rabbi Mikhael Cohen, of the Centre Communautaire Juif Francophone de New York, joshed as we chatted at the December 17 Hanukkah reception held at the French Consulate. With a yarmulke atop his head, France’s consul general,Philippe Lalliot, told the crush of celebrants that he had just come from “lighting the 15-meter-high menorah on Fifth Avenue, alongside Governor [David] Paterson and my friend, [artist] Ron Agam.”

Jews of Wall Street: Columnist David Brooks speaks at the holiday event.
KAREN LEON
Jews of Wall Street: Columnist David Brooks speaks at the holiday event.

The simcha took place in a room dominated by a wall-size 18th-century GobelinS tapestry, which, Lalliot noted, “was symbolic of the connection between France and its Jewish citizens.” He elaborated: “France’s Jewish community is the biggest in Europe [and] has contributed to France’s cultural, intellectual and economic wealth. The tapestry tells the story from the Book of Esther and the triumph of Mordechai delivering the Jews from the Persian Empire.” Lalliot continued, “From history, we have inherited and we share common values and aspirations to build together and live in a better world.”

Lalliot added: “Freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, the right to be different, democracy, the rule of law, tolerance… are those aspirations that I see shining in the candles lit by the flame of the Shamash….Given those ideals… antisemitism is our common enemy. The French government will not tolerate that any racist or antisemitic act go unpunished.” He also noted: “We have never ceased to recall that the Israeli people must be able to live in security within recognized and guaranteed borders. To paraphrase the president of the Republic in his historic speech in the Knesset last year, the security of Israel is not negotiable.”

Lalliot quoted 12th-century rabbi and physician Maimonides, who said that “Holy days are appointed for rejoicing and for such pleasant gathering as people generally need….” That prompted a genuinely surprised Rabbi Arthur Schneier of Park East Synagogue to declare: “This is the first time I have heard a diplomat quote the Rambam!” (Rambam is the Hebraic acronym for Maimonides’s full name and title.)

The choir of the Salanter Akiba Riverdale High School, directed by Kenneth Birnbaum, performed charming renditions of l Hanisim by D. Frimer, Maoz Tzur (Benedetto Marcello 1686–1739) and the traditional spiritual “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?” The SAR High School band, directed by Anat Barak, closed the evening with S.A. Goldfarb’s “I have a Little Dreidel” and with the Beatles song “Yesterday.”

As we were leaving, I spotted a pile of beautifully crafted petite wooden dreidels that were lying on a table in the consulate’s lobby. They were accompanied by a sign that read, “Veuillez prener un dreidel avec vous!” (“Please take a dreidel with you!”). A man hesitated and looked at me as he picked up a fistful of dreidels. “My son is having a bar mitzvah tomorrow,” he said sheepishly. “Take! Take! And mazel tov!” I absolved him of guilt. He smiled, and added another fistful.


UJA FEDERATION OF N.Y. WALL STREET DINNER REMEMBERS THOSE IN NEED

“Welcome, Jews of Wall Street, non-Jews of Wall Street… I am a proud Jew and like to say ‘Jew’ ” said master of ceremonies David Faber, CNBC anchor and chief investigative correspondent, at the December 16 UJA-Federation of New York Wall Street& Financial Services Division dinner, held at the New York Hilton. “I’m the grandson of a kosher butcher,” began the keynote speaker, New York Times columnist David Brooks. ”One hundred years of secularism in the family. I married a Protestant woman; three years later, she wants to have a kosher home [and] the kids go to a Jewish day school. Only God would screw me this way.” Brooks lauded President Obama’s grace under fire amid challenging events, invoking the phrase “no-drama Obama,” and spoke of the president as one who is “carried along by evidence [and is] a model for self-confidence.” And, if I heard him correctly in the room filled with more than 1,000 guests, Brooks noted that the president is surrounded by “very smart people… half from Harvard, half from Yale.”

“We live in a world not so lucky…. It is an enormous gift to give back,” said Marc Lipschultz, global head of energy and infrastructure business at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., and recipient of the Wall Street Young Leadership Award. He accepted the award from dinner chair Henry R. Kravis, co-founding member of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. “Most of our parents and grandparents crossed the ocean for a better life,” noted John Paulson, president, Paulson & Co. Inc., a giant hedge firm. Paulson received UJA-Federation’s Gustave L. Levy Award.

In a different spin on giving, the dinner guests were told that they could “text message” their donations “via your Blackberries or cell phone.” The gift pledge then appeared on the overhead screen behind the dais. Total pledged that evening: $19 million. There was also a plea for a “Gift of Life” — seeking a possible bone marrow donor for 49-year old Alan Cohen, “whose twins are about to be bar mitzvahed…. A five-minute swab can save someone’s life.” In keeping with the theme of “giving back,” about 100 dinner seats, valued at $350 each, were donated to unemployed professionals and business-school students from throughout the Metropolitan area.


MAESTRO PINCHAS ZUCKERMAN WIELDS BOW AND BATON AT ISRAEL PHILHARMONIC GALA

The December 14 American Friends of Israel Philharmonic Orchestra gala, held at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall and underwritten by Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert, was a grand success. The IPO’s renditions of “Hatikvah” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” were viscerally thrilling. Conductor and violinist Pinchas Zuckerman launched the program with a sublime rendition of the Haydn Concerto for Violin in C Major, followed by Haydn’s Symphony No. 83 in G Minor” (“The Hen”). Described in the program as one of America’s most dynamic cellists, Amanda Forsyth, dressed in a red-silk halter dress, was a visual and aural treat as she performed two works by Max Bruch.

Tully Hall’s Starr Theater was an intimate and acoustically pleasing setting for the program. During the orchestra’s dynamic performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture,” I was particularly impressed by the choreographic finesse of Ayal Rafiah, the cymbals-clashing percussionist with peyes.

Addressing the black-tie assemblage, Elaine Wolfensohn — who, with her husband, James Wolfensohn, and Rochelle and David Hirsch, co-chaired the benefit — paraphrased what appeared in the printed program notes about the orchestra’s 74th season. “This has been a particularly difficult year…. Due to the severe economic conditions in Israel, the orchestra took it upon itself to take a sizable salary cut in order to balance its budget. We are proud that AFIPO was able to help the orchestra continue some of the programs that would have been cut.” In contrast to years past, when guests were bused to a dinner at a hotel from the concert hall, this year the dinner was served in the lobby of Alice Tully Hall. And in lieu of floral centerpieces, plastic silhouettes of musical instruments graced each table.






Find us on Facebook!
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.