Hailing an Immigrant Landmark


By Masha Leon

Published May 05, 2006, issue of May 19, 2006.
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It was a glorious day as the Circle Line boat looped past the Statue of Liberty and docked at Ellis Island for the April 19 Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards 2006 ceremony. “This is a symbolic journey into the past,” said Cynthia Garrett, superintendent of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island. “Since 1990, nearly 25 million people have visited [Ellis Island’s] museum.” P. Lynn Scarlett, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, stressed: “This is a landmark of freedom, hope and enterprise. Some of my ancestors came through Ellis Island. We, and all Americans, are the benefactors of its restoration.” “Ellis Island is where American history and family history come together. To date there have been 9 billion hits on the Ellis Island Web site,”informed Stephen Briganti, president and CEO of The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. “My grandfather’s name, Anastasios, is etched on the ‘Great Wall’ [behind Ellis Island’s building],” said WNYW Fox anchor Ernie Anastos, master of ceremonies. “Four out of 10 Americans today can trace their roots back to someone who stood where we are at this very moment.” Of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball legend Tommy Lasorda, Anastos said, “Tommy claims that his family was so poor, and the soles of his shoes so thin, if he stepped on a coin he could tell whether it was heads or tails.” Lasorda recalled: “In 1920, my father Sabatino La Sorda from Tollo, Italy, came here; had five sons [all present]. My father believed in himself [and told me], ‘Whatever you do, don’t ever quit. Tough people last; tough times don’t. You are so lucky to be living in the greatest country in the world.’ He’d say, ‘I’m the luckiest man in the world.’ ‘How can you say that?’ I asked. ‘You drive a truck.’ My father said: ‘Sit down and shut up! When I came from the Old Country, I had nothing. I got a wife, five sons, a little house.’ He loved America. Thank God he did not miss the boat.”

Shelly Lazarus, chairman and CEO of the world’s sixth largest advertising agency,Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, recalled: “It’s amazing and inspiring that three of my grandparents went to work [when they were] children. They had 10 people to support. My grandmother went to work at 10. Work was okay, but lunch terrified her. Her mother gave her a quarter. She went into the restaurant.” Unfamiliar with menus, “she recognized ‘hot dog.’ And for the rest of her working life she had hot dogs for lunch. I tried to be grateful for the courage of my grandparents.”

Frank McCourt, author of “Angela’s Ashes,” recalled his onetime commute to Staten Island: “Twice a day I passed Ellis Island, and my heart broke for the ones that did not get in. I thought of those who sent them back, mostly Irish officials [because they were the earlier immigrants]. This is a place of great joy and great tragedy.” “Wow! It is really terrific!” exclaimed former secretary of state Madeleine Korbel Albright, sporting one of her signature lapel pins — an American flag. “In Britain during the war, people would say to me: ‘We’re sorry. When are you going home?’ When I came to the U.S., it was: ‘We’re sorry. When can you become a citizen?’” Participating in a swearing-in of new citizens, she said she told them, “Put this [citizenship certificate] in a safe place; it’s the most important piece of paper you will ever have.” Recalled Lee Iacocca, The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation’s founding chairman: “When my father from San Marco [then 13 years old] came here in 1903, among the questions he had to answer were, ‘Are you an anarchist?’ Are you a polygamist?’ Our country is a better place because they came here.” As tourists looked on, everyone joined in singing “God Bless America” by Irving Berlin — né Israel Isidore Baline of Mogilyov [Belarus], Russia.

* * *

“It’s been my experience that people draw as much strength from building bridges as they do by simply crossing them,” said architect Wendy Evans Joseph, an honoree at the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York’s April 5 luncheon at The Pierre Hotel. The foundation addresses the unmet needs of women and girls in the Jewish community. Founder of an eponymous architecture firm, Joseph completed her latest project: the pedestrian bridge over 63rd Street at Rockefeller University. Also honored and proclaiming her pride in her “Jewish heritage” was Jamie Morse Heidegger, former president and CEO of the beauty product line Kiel’s Since 1851 (sold to L’Oreal in 2000). Heidegger is now publisher of Show Circuit magazine.

Education Award recipient Rabbi Joy Levitt, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan: “Fifteen years ago, during a trip to Dharamsala, India, Jewish leaders met with the Dalai Lama, at his request, to help him figure out how to live in the Diaspora; we asked him a favor. ‘Thousands of Jews come to you seeking meaning in their lives. We want you to send them home.’ The Dalai Lama answered: ‘Of course I will send them home. But if you cannot provide a life of meaning for them, they will only come back.” Among the more than 200 lunchers was foundation board member Sally Goodgold and past foundation honoree Chief Joanne Jaffe, commanding officer, NYPD Housing Bureau Police.

* * *

As the April 29 anti-war protest wended its way down Broadway from Union Square, my daughter, Karen, photographed the sea of marchers and the banners of political organizations, groups and individuals, such as Vietnam and Iraq vets, “Grandmothers Against the War,” mimes, giant puppets, two women on a balcony blasting conch shells, and young people with red T-shirts emblazoned with the hammer and sickle. There was an unexpected sighting of that once-upon-a-time Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring Camp Kinderring’s ideological adversary from across Sylvan Lake, N.Y. — a Camp Kinderland contingent with a yellow banner in English and Yiddish. Another déjà vu apparition was a vintage contingent bearing a gray “[Abraham] Lincoln Brigade” banner. Imagine a Jay Leno “Jaywalk” moment with a California college student unfamiliar with this American red group’s 1936 Spanish Civil War connection, guessing they were American Civil War Union soldier reenactors!

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