You could almost smell the newsprint and hear the purr of printing presses at the Harvard Club on June 2, when Seth Lipsky, founding editor of the Forward and the New York Sun newspapers, was presented with the American Jewish Historical Society’s 2010 Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty Award. Applauders included Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, former New York City mayor Ed Koch, police commissioner Raymond Kelly and Forward editor Jane Eisner.
Checking the guest list ahead of the event, Lipsky told the journalist-filled crowd, “I told my [four] children: “Can you imagine what it would have been like if I had been a success? We all loved the Forward and loved the Sun…but it’s also true that I have lost an awful lot of other people’s money in the process of editing these papers.”
One of the evening’s toaster-roasters, philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, said of Lipsky, “Given that foolishness does not distract from his nobility, he seduced me to buy the English edition of the Forward. Let it be clear: I expected to get rich with my investments with Seth.”
Toaster-roaster Roger Hertog, president of the Hertog Foundation, described “my friend Lipsky” as “ a Jew…unabashed in his worship of Churchill, Reagan, Thatcher, Sharon…a man in love with newspapers.” He characterized Lipsky as a “bow tie-wearing, low-to-the-ground with glasses…too much a schlemiel to be given a serious glance” individual who, like “Clark Kent, became Superman, with [his wife, fellow journalist] Amity Shlaes as his Lois Lane who got her man.” Lipsky, he added, is “[a man] whose headlines in the Forward — with its minimal circulation — were extraordinary.”
Philip Gourevitch, another of the evening’s toaster-roasters, now a staff writer at the New Yorker and one of the journalists whom Lipsky mentored at the Forward, recalled his interview with the then-Forward editor. “‘Have you done any reporting? No. Good. No bad habits.’ I was a proletariat who worked for Seth…at odds in our politics…who saw the world differently. He made it clear where his politics lay….Fundamentally an agnostic about the world, …Seth’s idea of a Jewish newspaper was: You cover Jewish issues—civil rights, politics, economy, justice.”
Among the many digressions in his award acceptance speech, Lipsky noted: “Forward publisher Sam Norich sent me a brief cable: ‘Thought you’d like to know that Marek Edelman died.’ Sam knows that I regard Marek Edelman as a titanic figure in Jewish history…even though he was a man of the left — the dug-in left, the Bund. But it was after the suicide of Mordechai Anielewicz that the leadership of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising fell to him.” Lipsky said that it was “after Sam sent me that telegram” that he went to the American Jewish Historical Society’s [archives] and wrote a column about one “of the greatest Jewish figures” he admired. (In “Towering Example,” Lispky’s October 2009 tribute to Edelman, which was reprinted in the dinner journal, he writes: “….In fact, the Forward was never a Bundist paper, and, I learned in due course, the relationship between its editor, Abraham Cahan, and the Bund was decidedly rocky.”)
As a more apt model for a newspaperman, Lipsky spun a tale about Theodore Herzl, “who was a working foreign correspondent. The truth is that Herzl’s dream was to start a Jewish newspaper, like **Paul Gigot ** (editorial page editor and vice president of the Wall Street Journal) and Forward editor Jane Eisner….It was I who told Herzl [that] the man he ought to call is Michael Steinhardt. So Herzl went to see Steinhardt, [who said], ‘So you are going to make me a rich man? Steinhardt said he needed two more investors. Long story. Herzl went back to Paris for the Dreyfus Affair [trial], told his wife it was too difficult to start a Jewish newspaper, ‘So I am going to start a Jewish state.’ He took the easy way out.”
The evening’s participants included: Kenneth Bialkin, AJHS chairman emeritus, Daniel Kaplan, AJHS president, Sidney Lapidus, AJHS chairman of the board; toaster-roasters Peter Kahn, Tom Tisch and Amity Shlaes, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who disclosed that Lipsky’s parents, Karl Lipsky and Jenifer Gendler Lipsky, “instructed their children to call them by their first names so they would become adults sooner.”
Among the guests: Ira Stoll, Harvey Krueger, Morton Klein, Bernard Nussbaum, Norman Podhoretz, Judy Steinhardt, Ingeborg and Ira Rennert, Mort and Miriam Steinberg, Joseph Lelyveld, Midge Dichter, Charlotte Frank and Bruce Slovin.
“Jill and I have both been affected by Alzheimer’s,” said author/actor Michael Tucker, who, with his wife, fellow author/actor Jill Eikenberry, and Mike Tannenbaum, executive vice president and general manager of the New York Jets, emceed the June 7 New York City Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association’s “Forget-Me-Not” gala.
“My mother died 11 years ago,” said Tucker, who, with Eikenberry are known as stars of the long-running NBC series “L.A. Law.” Tucker, whose father came to America from Kovno, Lithuania, told the audience, “…. Jill’s mom, 91, lives across the hall with dementia.” Also honored was Francesca Rosenberg, Museum of Modern Art’s director of community and access programs, which include “Meet Me at MoMA,” a program that makes art accessible to individuals with dementia and is a model for other museums around the country.
“My mother was on the decline for 10 years,” Eikenberry told the nearly 500 guests at the Pierre who helped raise $1.1 million for the association. “I was really lost…[In] the darkest moment…someone suggested I call the Alzheimer Association,” she said. “There are people out there, caregivers, trained to deal with Alzheimer patients….I was taught to accept my mom for who she is rather than for who she used to be….My mom relaxed, stopped trying to hold onto someone she couldn’t be anymore.”
“Community Leadership” honoree, Bronx-born Kevin McDonnell, told of his mother’s 14-year battle with Alzheimer’s, which developed when she was 61. Giving the evening a “leg up” were the Rockette Alumnae Dancers — former Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, who dazzled with their precision routine to “I Want to Be a Rockette.”
During our post-event conversation, Tucker told me: “My father, an orphan, sailed from Riga [Latvia]. He arrived on Nov. 15, 1895, and later sent for his siblings….I went to Hebrew school for six years in Baltimore at Beth Jacob. My mother’s parents belonged to Congregation Beth Tfiloh, whose rabbi was Samuel Rosenblatt, son of the famous cantor Yossele Rosenblatt.” A bit of research: So famous was Yossele Rosenblatt that Toscanini appealed to him to sing the leading role in Halevy’s “La Juive.” Rosenblatt reportedly replied that he would use his gift only for the glory of God and service to religion.