From Obama, With Love

On The Go

By Masha Leon

Published March 24, 2010, issue of April 02, 2010.
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Bob Balaban Honored at East Hampton Guild Hall Academy of the Arts Gala

The Guild Hall of East Hampton 25th Anniversary Academy of the Arts Lifetime Achievement Awards dinner on March 8 was a Hamptons-haimish, inside-joke kind of evening. Performing Arts Lifetime Achievement award recipient Bob Balaban described the academy’s arts committee as being “like mishpokhe… a small family where everybody knows everybody.” Balaban, director, actor, award-winning theater and film producer and successful writer of children’s books, interrupted his acceptance speech to muse, “Nothing says entertainment as much as a juggler.”

No sooner said than onto the stage bounded three of the four Flying Karamazov Brothers (who were not listed in the program)! Wearing suits, ties and bizarre black fabric head coverings, they juggled balls, rubber chickens, bowling balls and hammers. Seemingly unconcerned for his safety, Balaban continued to speak. The crowd at Cipriani 42nd Street roared, as did the event’s other honorees: philanthropists Susan and Alan Patricof, playwright Marsha Norman and visual artist Richard Prince.

During my reception chat, lyricist Sheldon Harnick (“Fiddler on the Roof,” “She Loves Me,” “The Rothschilds”) told me that he was at work on a new project, the “Moliere-inspired ‘Le MédecinMalgré Lui,’ to be called ‘The Doctor in Spite of Himself.’” With his wife, Marjorie, at his side, Harnick smiled and added, “In one of the lyrics, the lead character says, ‘I worked for a brilliant Jewish doctor.’”

Woodstock Vibes Courtesy of Richie Havens and Arlo Guthrie Take Center Stage at Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts Education Gala at Alice Tully Hall

“Good evening Mr. Vitebsk!” is how I greeted Martin Segal, chairman emeritus of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (and alumnus of the Sholom Aleichem School, in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn), at the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education’s March 9 gala, held at Alice Tully Hall. The “Vitebsk” reference — which elicited a chuckle from Segal — was apropos his cousin Marc Chagall’s birth shtetl. Honored were Metropolitan Museum of Art President Emily Rafferty and Verizon, on whose behalf Patrick Gaston, Verizon Foundation president, accepted the award. Laidback yet vibrant performances by Guy Davis, Richie Havens and Arlo Guthrie rewound the musical clock for many of the baby boomers in the audience and introduced young attendees to these American artists and folk music treasures. Ann Unterberg, gala co-chair, paid special tribute to two supporters of the institute, Jack and Susan Rudin, who were among the 300 festively clad guests.

Guitar in hand, gray-bearded rock-folk legend Havens tapped into the audience’s nostalgia with the 1969 George Harrison Beatles classic “Here Comes the Sun” followed by his Woodstock signature paean, “Freedom.” With harmonica and acoustic guitar at the ready, Guthrie, with Buffalo Bill-inspired wavy locks and moustache, sang “City of New Orleans,” which Steve Goodman penned in 1972. Ever true to the activist imperative of both his parents and himself, Guthrie (who had received his bar mitzvah instruction from Rabbi Meir Kahane), informed that he had sung this classic ode to the Big Easy to help raise funds for victims of Hurricane Katrina. He then led the warmed-up audience in a rousing rendition of “This Land Is Your Land” — words and music by his father, American music legend Woody Guthrie.

The Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education has worked for 35 years with educators in New York City public schools, bringing the arts into the curriculum in innovative ways. As noted in the gala journal, “LCI is a model for arts-education organizations on four continents [reaching] more than 5,000 educators and 400,000 pre-K to grade 12 students nationwide…. Its workshops have been attended by educators from across the United States [as well as] Australia, Canada, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea.”

President Obama Wishes Rabbi Arthur Schneier a Happy 80th Birthday

On March 17, a beaming Rabbi Arthur Schneier, his right leg in a cast, held court at a double simkha — his 80th birthday and the 120th anniversary of Park East Synagogue, where he is the senior rabbi. Held at the LVMH Tower’s Magic Room, on East 57th Street — with its spectacular view of Manhattan — the event was hosted by Renaud Dutreil, chairman of LVMH Inc.. With a gleam in his eye, Park East Synagogue President Herman Hochberg read a congratulatory letter, and at the end he identified the signatory: “Barack Obama.” There was an audible gasp from the 160 guests, among whom were Israel’s consul general to New York, Asaf Shariv; Tamir Sapir (who has two children that attend Park East Synagogue’s school); Kenneth Bialkin, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. The letter read as follows:

Dear Rabbi Schneier:

I am pleased to send my warmest wishes as you celebrate your 80th birthday. You have witnessed great milestones in the history of our Nation and the world, and your life represents an important part of the American narrative. From your commitment to building bridges of peace, to your efforts to advance cultural and religious tolerance, you have touched the lives of countless individuals. As you reflect upon eight decades of memories, I wish you all the best for health and happiness in the years ahead.

Barack Obama

Hobbling to the microphone on crutches, a teary-eyed Schneier declared, “My philosophy is to look forward and not look to the past.” Holocaust survivor Schneier stated, “America, with all its shortcomings, is still the best place in the world.” He also stressed, “A strong Jewish community is vital to the United States… to every Jew in the world.”

Workmen’s Circle Activist Seder Addresses Plagues of a Different Kind

There were three kinds of charoset, along with wine, gefilte fish and matzo, at the March 21 Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring Cultural Seder, held at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

But, to paraphrase that vintage commercial, “It’s Not Your Father’s Cadillac,” this was not your grandmother’s Seder! Written and curated by the Workmen’s Circle’s external affairs officer, Adrienne Cooper, and titled “Seder for a Better World,” it followed the Seder order of the traditional celebration, but each step of the Haggadah had a subtext: After reading the section “Grateful for the Matzeh, the performers and participants added, “We are activists for nonviolence — for political freedom.” After the four questions were recited, they noted, “We are activists for the environment — or women’s health.”

The recitation of the poem “The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Passover 1943,” until last year the signature declamation of Yiddish theater legend Mina Bern, was given by Ruth Baran, musical director of the Workmen’s Circle’s Camp Kinder Ring and had the subtext, “We are community activists.” The Seder was enriched by the combined efforts of the Workmen’s Circle school’s student chorus of East Meadow, N.Y.; the Workmen’s Circle Shule Klezmer Band under the baton of Deborah Strauss, and “jazz rabbi” Greg Wall’s orchestra with a special guest, Haitian drummer Gaston Jean-Baptiste.

If my table was an exemplar, the three charoset samplings were the culinary hit of the day. There was the traditional Ashkenazi charoset * recipe — apples, walnuts, cinnamon, wine and honey. Second on the list: “blood orange *charoset” (from Main Event Caterers) made with dates, blood-red orange, honey, cinnamon, cloves, almonds, walnuts and red wine. And finally, the pièce de résistance, “tangy charoset bites” from Jayne Cohen, author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover’s Treasury of Classics and Improvisations” (a 2009 James Beard Foundation award finalist in the international cookbook category). Cohen, who was present, announced the winner for best charoset, based on a survey of the Seder guests. I won’t divulge the winner, but each table had its partisan following.

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