Among the gowned, the beautiful, the allergic and their loved ones at Food Allergy Initiative’s December 6 Food Allergy Ball were Marion Wiesel, Mary Richardson Kennedy and Ingeborg Rennert**. Gala co-chair and FAI vice chair Sharyn Mann told the black-tie crowd at the Waldorf-Astoria that “over 13 years, to date, more than $75 million has been raised.” FAI’s Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to co-founder of Gramercy Tavern and chef/owner of the chain known as Craft Restaurant Tom Colicchio by Drew Nieporent, founder of Myriad Restaurant Group. Colicchio recalled: “Fifteen years ago, a woman allergic to eggs and poultry told the waiter about her allergies. The waiter did not take her seriously. She took one bite and was rushed out in an ambulance.” It was then that Colicchio “decided to run a meticulously careful operation.” Aware “how scary every day can be — I have a nephew allergic to dog saliva,” Colicchio offered the following advice: “Carry a card with you, listing your allergies. Call the manager — not the waiter — and have him staple the card to your ticket, which, in restaurant language, is called ‘the duke.’ They will think you know the restaurant business.”
It was hope and good news from FAI chairman and gala co-chair Todd Slotkin, who announced that despite “… this economic climate,” the event raised $4 million. “Thirteen years ago, food allergy organizations were working on one specific allergen — peanuts. Today we are working on more than nine potential therapies. Five of these would target a single specific food allergen, and four would be used to treat multiple food allergens.” The evening also honored the Mount Sinai Hospital and its international leadership in food allergy research and treatment.
“Being Jewish is not simply lighting candles on Hanukkah, it is fighting for justice,” Jewish Labor Committee President Stuart Appelbaum said at the JLC’s December 7 Human Rights Award dinner, held at the New York Hilton. “A good Jew might eat a kosher chicken, but a real Jew makes sure those working at the [plant] get a working wage.” Rabbi Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, dubbed Hanukkah a “festival of rights… fighting for religious rights, civil rights, human [and] workers’ rights.” JLC’s executive director, Martin Schwartz, said: “When unions are strong, the middle class is strong. If the middle class is strong, the country is strong.” Appelbaum lauded JLC Human Rights Award recipient Nelson Peltz, co-founder and CEO of Trian Fund Management, for “saving the jobs of 300 workers [of the applesauce company Mott’s] in upstate New York. An award presenter, New York State AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes, described the evening’s other Human Rights Award recipient, Christopher Erikson, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 3, as a mensch. “I learned about Jewish labor — butchers, fur [workers] the Triangle [Shirtwaist Factory] fire — at Electchester, where there was a little bit of ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’” Erickson said, referring to a cooperative housing complex established in 1949 in the Flushing area of Queens, by Harry Van Arsdale Jr. and the union. He touted Local 3’s “relationship with Israel Bonds” — the union bought $3.5 million — “when things were not so good.” He added, “We support UJA.”
“The values taught by my grandmother about what happened in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory are values as strongly shared today ,when we work on minimum wage, health care and poverty,” said Ethan Felson, vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “And,” he continued, “ the terrible threat posed by boycotts, divestments and sanctions — BDS — are not just a threat to Israel. It is an attack on American values and often American workers. Just go to Peoria [Ill.], and ask the thousands of employees of Caterpillar, a company targeted by divestment. Just ask the employees of Estee Lauder, targeted because its owner has been a volunteer leader of the Jewish National Fund. Just ask the company in California building electric car charging stations, employing Americans, and working on projects from Australia to Denmark to Hawaii — but also Israel. And for that reason, because the owner is Israeli, this cutting-edge green technology company is being boycotted. Those are not Jewish values; they are not labor’s values.”
During my post-dinner conversation with Peltz, he told me that three of his grandparents were from Vienna, but his Russian-born grandmother in Brooklyn “spoke in Yiddish so I would not understand.” Starting his career at his family’s food business, which he turned into a $150 million publicly held company, Peltz would — along his journey —own Wendy’s/Arby’s Group, Inc., the third-largest quick-service restaurant company in the United States. He is a director of H.J. Heinz Co., co-chairman of the board of directors of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and chairman of the New York Tolerance Center. When I asked Peltz — who has 10 children, ranging in age from 4 to 41 (eight with this third wife, Claudia, a model) about his successful intervention in the Mott’s labor dispute impasse, he replied, “I feel good about it.”
On December 4, Hungarian-born Shimon Farkas, cantor of the Central Synagogue in Sydney, serenaded his 92-year-old mother with “Mayn Yidishe Mame” in both Yiddish and Hungarian at New York’s Park East Synagogue’s “Symphony of the Soul” Hanukkah concert, hosted by Rabbi Arthur Schneier. There was some eye dabbing, along with smiles. Held jointly by Park East and the Australian Consulate in New York, the concert showcased the cantorial pyrotechnics of Farkas and Park East’s chief cantor, Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. Australia’s consul general, Phil Scanlan, told the crowd: “In Australia we light Hanukkah candles 16 hours earlier. On Thursday this week, hundreds of families headed out to the menorah lighting in Sydney’s Martin Place — its Rockefeller Center.” Scanlan told the overflow crowd in Park East’s sanctuary: “The first Jews came to Australia on the first day of European settlement in 1788. By 1861 there were 5,000 Jews; by 1901, more than 15,000. There was little or no organized anti-Semitism or persecution.” Scanlan described the transformation of the Jewish community in the 1930s and ’40s by talking about “the arrival of refugees from Nazi Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia” and the addition of “some 35,000 survivors of the Holocaust — from nearly every death camp. It is said that Melbourne’s Jewish community has had the highest percentage of Holocaust survivors of any Jewish community in the world.”
Schneier expounded on the “cultural links of the U.S. and Australia” and the uniqueness of this being “the first time that a sovereign state joined in a cantorial concert with a synagogue.” The concert was launched with Helfgot and Farkas, who were joined by the Park East choir. Led by Australian conductor Russell Ger, they pulled out all the stops with a window-vibrating Shehechiyanu, set to music by composer Meyer Machtenberg (1884–1979). This was followed by followed by Helfgot singing “Modim” and Farkas performing the Hungarian song “Solo Kokosh.” Farkas told the audience, “‘Solo Kokosh’ was the song Hungarian [Jews] sang [on the way to] Auschwitz.”