Sounding Off About Israel

On The Go

By Masha Leon

Published May 26, 2010, issue of June 04, 2010.
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Mortimer Zuckerman Sounds Off About Israel at Museum of Jewish Heritage Dinner

“Never have I been as concerned for the State of Israel as I am today,” said Mortimer Zuckerman, Heritage Award honoree at the May 13 Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust’s 14th Annual Heritage dinner, held at Edmond J. Safra Hall. “Israelis do not have the Americans at their back for the first time, and this distresses me,” said Zuckerman, chairman and CEO of Boston Properties, Inc.; co-founder, chairman and editor-in-chief of U.S. News & World Report, and publisher of the New York Daily News. “My family came to Montreal as immigrants,” Zuckerman said. Although he said he isn’t religious, Zuckerman credited his grandfather as “a great influence and mentor in my life. He is the inspiration for the passion I have for the Jewish people and Israel.”

Speakers: Sara Bloomfield and William Cohen.
Speakers: Sara Bloomfield and William Cohen.

Program participants included museum chairman and former Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau and museum director David Marwell. Most photographed around the fabulous buffet tables were former New York City mayor Edward Koch and the ever-effervescent sex therapist Ruth Westheimer, who proclaimed, “After the Israel Day Parade. I am off to Israel!”

Elegantly sporting a cane nine days following knee-replacement surgery, Zuckerman recalled a Montreal “[where there were parts [where Jews] could not buy homes” and French Canadian “gangs… attacked Jewish school kids…. At McGill [University] you were divided by religion. You were the Jews. When I became the first [Jewish] president of the honor society [it led to] bitter, horrible mail that a Jew was the president of the honor society!”

In a lighter vein, Zuckerman recalled his first — and last — kibbutz venture” “I was 16, and worked at a kibbutz where we got up at 5 a.m., had black bread and coffee…. There was no intellectual communication, [discussions] of Kant and existentialism! We [just] cut melons.” My romantic view was shattered. Still, “I was amazed at the energy and talent of those who built Israel.” He paused and, with a sigh, added, “I am concerned for its future….”

A bit of an antidote to Zuckerman’s angst-eliciting comments was provided by his award introducer, John Zuccotti, co-chairman of Brookfield Properties Corporation. A colleague of Zuckerman and a former lawyer, he elicited confirming nods of the head and knowing chuckles from the audience with his disclosure: “In a lawyer’s life, you can count on the fingers of one hand how many became your friends… Mort is one of those.”

The evening concluded with a musical performance by multitalented Israeli-born singer, musician, songwriter and trumpet player Magda Fishman — who while with the Israel Defense Forces was a soloist with the IDF Orchestra. She is currently enrolled as cantorial student at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Oh, yes. She was wonderful.

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