My encounters with diplomat extraordinaire Richard Holbrooke, who died December 13 at age 69, span some 20 years. We met at events at which he or his wife, Kati Marton, author of “The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World” (Simon & Schuster, 2006) and “Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America” (Simon & Schuster, 2009), were solo honorees or speakers or, as at the May 14, 1997, Marc H. Tanenbaum lecture at the Park Avenue Synagogue were honored as a couple. That night, Holbrook told the crowd, “It was my wife [since 1995], Kati, who inspired me and without whom I would not be standing here today.” Alluding to the Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia, and of which Holbrooke was the architect, Marton said: It’s easy to get discouraged as we observe the world, but we can’t be held hostage for the injustices of the past…. God is not on the side of any group.”
At the May 9, 2001, dinner at the Council on Foreign Relations, at which the HBO film “Conspiracy,” starring Stanley Tucci as Adolf Eichmann, was showcased, a visibly shaken Holbrooke declared somberly, “The average filmgoer, particularly young students, won’t understand,” in reference to the film’s re-creation of the January 20, 1942, meeting at Wansee, Germany, at which Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution was set forth. The attendees that evening included Elie Wiesel; Paul Volcker, first chair of President Obama’s economic recovery advisory board; Michael Berenbaum, director of American Jewish University’s Sigi Ziering Center for the Holocaust and Ethics; Menachem Rosensaft, vice president of American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, and a very distraught Benjamin Meed, now the late co-founder and president of the American Gathering; he did not want stay for the screening.
At the Anti-Defamation League’s May 24, 2004, celebration of Wiesel’s 75th birthday, Holbrooke recalled the 1995 Conference in Krakow, Poland, the day before the marking of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. “Elie and I were co-chairmen of the official U.S. delegation. There were leaders from 15 nations, including then president of Germany Roman Herzog, and Nobel Peace Prize winner [for Poland] Lech Walesa…. Walesa’s speech,” Holbrooke said, “referred to the martyrs and victims of Auschwitz but did not mention the fact that over 90% of those sent to the gas chambers were Jews. To say that Elie objected would be an understatement! I have never seen a private citizen so completely overwhelm… presidents and prime ministers. What Elie said was simple: ‘These ceremonies must be faithful to the historic truth… the victims were Jews! Kaddish must take place.’”
Holbrooke said that despite Walesa’s bewilderment and hostility, “Elie would not relent. He simply declared that there would be no statement and no Elie at the ceremony the next day if the truth were not made clear. Walesa caved in.”
Richard Holbrooke and Kati Marton were most recently honored together at the May 9, 2007, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research benefit dinner.
During the pre-dinner mingling at the December 9 French Institute Alliance Francaise Trophee des Arts Gala at the Plaza, when I asked fashion icon and honoree Marc Jacobs whether he had had a bar mitzvah, he turned his head, the diamond in his ear lobe sparkling, and said, smiled, “No. I’m just born a New York Jew.” Jacobs told a young woman next to me that he designs things “intuitively” and that when he meets with Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, the gala award presenter, “we talk about art. I think of her in a maternal way, as a great mother to her children.” When Wintour, wearing a stunning Jacobs creation, presented the award to the designer, she touted his “intuition and grasp of places where different worlds meet.” Recently returned from China, Wintour told Jacobs that he should take his next trip there, “where everyone recently asked me if I knew him and wanted his autograph.” Named in April as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World,” Jacobs has been since 1997 the creative director of the French fashion house Louis Vuitton while maintaining his own personal brand.
FIAF Chairman Lorenzo Weisman welcomed the dinner guests and noted that FIAF brings “the best, the cutting edge of French culture to New York.” Among the high profile, chic assemblage were France’s consul general, Philippe Lalliot, Comtesse Elisabeth de Kergorlay, FIAF program director Lili Chopra and FIAF President Marie-Monique Steckel. Jacobs’s entourage included his business partner, Robert Duffy; painter John Currin and his wife, artist Rachel Feinstein, and actor Michael Pitt, who portrays Jimmy Darmody, one of my favorite characters in HBO’s brilliant hit show “Boardwalk Empire.”
Call it a nes - a miracle. Call it unprecedented, but on December 8, Pope Benedict XVI agreed to a four-hour postponement of a meeting with **Ronald Lauder at the Vatican so that Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, could be honored by the National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene at its annual cabaret dinner in New York. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, made the presentation to Lauder. Folksbiene board chairman Jeffrey Wiesenfeld said to Lauder, in Yiddish, “Tell [the pope] if he wants, the Folksbiene is ready to go via Al Italia - stand by - and you can tell dem heylikn foter, the Holy Father, that he’ll relish the performance.” Also honored were Elie and Marion Wiesel. City University of New York chancellor Matthew Goldstein presented the award to the Wiesels and announced that a professorial chair in the name of Elie Wiesel will be endowed at CUNY. His announcement that “Elie will teach, but the chair will exist at CUNY in perpetuity” left Marion Wiesel teary-eyed. The gala, held at the beautifully renovated Bohemian National Hall on East 73rd Street, accommodated 360. Who knew that there would be a waiting list of 90 with no scalpers in sight?
Lauder credited the late rabbi Haskel Besser for fueling his commitment to help revitalize Jewish life across Eastern Europe. Lauder recounted that during a trip to Poland, Besser put an ad in the paper: “‘If you believe you are Jewish, come to this address.’ They responded - secretly - in Krakow. One hundred and fifty to 200 people showed up. ‘I’m going to sing to you “Rozinkes mit Mandlen” (“Raisins and Almonds”)’ said Besser. Two people began to sing along as if they were children. These children had been raised as Christians, and it was at deathbed confessions that they discovered they were Jewish.”
“What you are about to see tonight represents some of the best of what we do,” Folksbiene President Moish (Mark) Mlotek told the audience about the music and program conceived and directed by Folksbiene’s artistic director, Zalmen Mlotek. The line-up included Israeli-born singer/songwriter and trumpet player Magda Fishman, actor/singer Tony Perry and opera’s gift to the Yiddish stage, Elmore James. The over-the-top talented cast included Rebecca Keren, Stuart Marshall, AvRam Mlotek, Marissa Mlotek, Sarah Mlotek, Daniella Rabbani, Ethan Sher, Dmitri (Zisl) Slepovitch, Nimmy Weisbrod, Maxine Wiesenfeld and Rachel Yucht. Fifth Avenue Synagogue’s cantor, Joseph Malovany, lit the eighth Hanukkah candle. Post-event, Wiesenfeld lamented: “So how can we top this next year?” My advice: “Stay tuned. Miracles do happen.”