From Forest Hills and Hillel to the International Debutante Ball

By Masha Leon

Published January 05, 2011, issue of January 14, 2011.

From Forest Hills and Hillel to the International Debutante Ball

“I was brought up Jewish. I went to Hebrew school at Forest Hills Jewish Center… and my father gets the Forward and Sports Illustrated,” Abigail Tufts, a 2008 International Debutante Ball alumna, told me at this year’s 56th ball, held last year, on December 29, at the Waldorf-Astoria. If yikhes, or family pedigree, counts, then her father, Robert Tufts —former American League baseball pitcher with the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals, board member of Maccabi USA and convert to Judaism —traces his ancestors’ arrival to Newbury, Mass. in 1636. The evening’s highlight was the presentation of more than two dozen debutantes, each flanked by a military and a collegiate escort from England, France, the Republic of Georgia, Scotland, Sweden and the United States. America’s large Texan contingent IS noted for its unique courtesy dip, with head nearly touching the floor. Proceeds from the ball went to the Soldiers’, Sailors’, Marines’, Coast Guard and Airmen’s Club, Inc., whose chairman and CEO, Ivan Obolensky, was among the 600 black-tie guests. Prior to the presentation, those guests stood in a long receiving line to congratulate and shake hands with each of the debutantes.

KAREN LEON

“Judaism is important to me,” Tufts, a member of Dickinson College’s Hillel, told me following the night of dining and dancing that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. “It was nice to go to services at school… but I miss going home for services.” A member of the USA Maccabi Women’s Indoor Volleyball Team, she was awarded two silver medals. She is also a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution “My maternal grandparents — Abraham Israel [of Magdeburg, Germany] and Henrietta Langer Israel [of Vienna and Antwerp] — came to the U.S. from Switzerland in 1950, with the help of Mrs. Roosevelt and the International Rescue Committee,” she said, adding, “My grandfather was on the track team in Magdeburg and would have been on the [1936] Olympics team if….” she trailed off. “He was in the diamond business in Belgium and worked in the diamond business in the U.S. “

Suzanne Tufts, her mother, served as president and CEO of the American Women’s Economic Development Corporation for eight years. For her work with AWED in the aftermath of 9/11, she was honored by the second President Bush and by Hillary Rodham Clinton, who at that time was a New York State senator. When I asked Abigail Tufts what her long-term plans were, without hesitation she proclaimed, “To work for the Boston Red Sox in administration, or for the Yankees.”


Stuart Eizenstat Honored By American Jewish Historical Society & Citi Foundation

“Stu was the perfect model for this award,” said Lew Kaden, vice chairman of Citigroup Inc., before presenting the Kenneth J. Bialkin/Citigroup Public Service Award to Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat at the December 15 award ceremony, held at the Center for Jewish History. “His devotion to public service [serving] four Democratic presidents since Carter, is best reflected in Carter’s observation that if he were to limit himself to one adviser, it would be Stu Eizenstat.” Sponsored by the American Jewish Historical Society, the evening’s participants included Jonathan Karp, executive director; Paul Warhit, president, and Kenneth Bialkin, chairman emeritus.

At the heart of his address was an avalanche of facts, figures and observations with the imperative to “not forget.” “During the war… the press buried stories about genocide on pages 10 to 15 of The New York Times…. The British kept 50,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors on Cyprus….” He said that it was “the Eichmann trial” that brought the Holocaust “worldwide awareness,” along with Claude Lanzmann’s film “Shoah,” Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” and now the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Memorial to the Holocaust.”

Eizenstat noted how deeply Arthur D. Morse’s book “While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy” (Random House, 1968) influenced him. As to what “Roosevelt really knew,” Eizenstat added that “at the time, Jews believed in di velt (this world) yene velt (the afterworld) and Roosevelt.” Eizenstat noted the $2.5 billion settlement of the 54,000 Swiss accounts belonging to survivors. “Why go through this for something that happened 60 years ago?” he posited. “If we don’t tell the story, it will be forgotten. It is part of world history and Jewish history, a lesson for future genocides.”

Eizenstat compared the Holocaust “to the destruction of the First Temple and Second Temple…. There were 17 million Jews before the war. Now there are 13 million. We may never get back to that number again…. Of 525,000 survivors, 260,000 now live in poverty; 25% of survivors live in the USA; 36% survivors live in New York City; 35% in Israel. There are now 27 countries that have mandates about education about the Holocaust. In the U.S., only eight states require Holocaust education — New York and New Jersey among them. It is a depressing list. The only one in place in the U.S. where one can get help was set up by former New York governor George Pataki, with only eight people [to process claims].”

“There is Holocaust fatigue…. In the U.S. capital, every member of Congress comes to Yom HaShoah [commemoration]. Every member of the European Union has a Holocaust Remembrance Day.” He added, “No country measured up to what Germany has done to admit [its guilt].”

The provenance of the award according to the program notes stated: “Citi Foundation has established the Kenneth J. Bialkin/Citigroup Public Service Award at the American Jewish Historical Society [to be] presented to a person or organization whose achievements have made a difference in an area of concern that reflects Kenneth Bialkin’s lifetime of accomplishment and commitments: law, business and finance, education, public service, the defense of freedom and individual rights, American Jewish identity, and support and defense of the State of Israel. Citigroup believes that the Award will stimulate interest in these areas for this and future generations.”



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