Jewish Poverty on Menu at Met Council Luncheon Honoring Builder of the Year Jeffrey Levine

From Left, Scott Stringer,  Jeffrey Levine and William Rapfogel
Karen Leon
From Left, Scott Stringer, Jeffrey Levine and William Rapfogel

By Masha Leon

Published August 11, 2011, issue of August 19, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Jewish Poverty on Menu at Met Council Luncheon Honoring Builder of the Year Jeffrey Levine

Few believe that Jewish poor exist,” New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said in his keynote address at the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty luncheon, held July 26 to honor Builder of the Year Jeffrey Levine. He described Levine — past president of the Queens County Builders and Contractors Association, board member of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council and one of the National Association of Home Builders Pillars of the Industry — as a “nuts-and-bolts builder who has made character, integrity and community leadership the hallmark of his personal and professional life.”

Addressing the 325 guests at Guastavino’s, on East 59th Street, Silver added, “We need that leadership now more than ever, [because] amidst all the political posturing and debt ceilings and deficits, no one is talking about [Jewish] poverty. The city has made a lot of dreams come true. Made a lot of people wealthy beyond their imagination. But the true measure of New York will never be the number of billionaires and millionaires it has spawned, but rather how it treats the immigrant, the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the isolated, the very young and the very poor.”

Among the event’s high-profile attendees were Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer; UJA-Federation of New York president Jerry Levin; Bill de Blasio, public advocate for New York City; Met Council CEO William Rapfogel, and John Liu, New York City Comptroller. As he did at last year’s Met Council luncheon, Liu proclaimed, “My grandmother in Taiwan sends you a ‘Mazel tov.’”

Barry Cross, a resident since 2010 of The Linda and Jerome Spitzer Residence — a Met Council housing development for senior citizens, located in Manhattan at 351 East 61 St. — is a testament to Silver’s injunction that “ours is an obligation not merely to serve, but to educate, to combat ignorance with acts of charity and deeds of kindness [and] to recommit ourselves to ensuring that no one is left behind.” Cross, a divorced father of three, was born in England and came to the United States in 1949. He told the assembled:“ I want to thank the people who helped me. I had fallen on hard times. I was looking for an affordable way to [live] independently…. Fourteen years ago I took a dive…. I went down to Met Council on 80 Maiden Lane. Met Council helped me more than you will ever know.” A former chef, Cross often hosts small dinner parties in this apartment. He does yoga and lives with his dog, Misty.

Met Council operates nearly 1,400 affordable housing units for low-income New Yorkers, with another 700 units in the pipeline. The organization’s No Wrong Door policy includes a kosher food network; a family violence program, which offers crisis counseling and short-term therapy; legal and immigration services; home care therapy; handyman services, and more. Guests at the luncheon included Claire Schulman, past borough president of Queens; Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of Brooklyn Heights’ Congregation Mount Sinai; Rabbi Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, and Jeff Wiesenfeld, a principal at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.


Yiddish Language at the Heart of the Music of David Botwinik’s “From Holocaust to Life”

The July 21 performance of David Botwinik’s musical opus “From Holocaust to Life” was a gift to those of us who treasure Yiddish song. Sung by soprano Lisa Willson (a blond stunner), each song was lovingly articulated as though Willson — who is not Jewish but whose great-grandmother was — were to Vilner Yiddish born. Post-concert I suggested to Willson, whose international concert and opera credits include such roles as Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus and the title role in “Tosca,” that she add “Yiddish coaching” to her résumé. Elena Berman-Gantard accompanied Willson on the piano.

Among the works Botwinik set to music were Abraham Sutzkever’s “Di Yunge Mame” (“The Young Mother”) and Shmerke Kaczerginski’s “Khalutsim Lid” (“Song of the Pioneers”). The hour-long program included “Valdstsene” (“Forest Scene”) by M.M. Shaffir; “Di Litvishe Shtetele” (“The Little Lithuanian Town”) by Joseph Jaffe and Botwinik’s own “Kumt Tzu Undz” (“Come to Us”) — a paean to Yiddish, proclaiming: “Yiddish: Listen to Yiddish, our language, wonder language…. Come to us our estranged brothers and behold the treasure we possess….” Eight-year-old Emma Gantard and 13-year-old Dina Malka Botwinik (the composer’s granddaughter) were shown on a DVD, singing in Yiddish as though they, too, had been born and raised in Vilna.

David Botwinik was born in 1920 in Vilna and, as the program notes that “by the time he was 11, he had already appeared as a cantor at several local synagogues…. At 18 he was the prompter for a Yiddish version of Verdi’s opera ‘Aida.’ After World War II he worked with Shmerke Kaczerginski in Lodz (Poland) listening to survivors and transcribing… many unknown songs for the 1948 book “Lider fun di Getos un Lagern” (“Songs of the Ghettos and Concentration Camps”), which was edited by the great Yiddish poet H. Leivik.” He studied music at Rome’s Santa Cecilia Conservatory and immigrated to Canada in 1956. In Montreal he was a music teacher and choir director in the Jewish Peretz and the United Talmud Torah schools for 35 years.

Bravo to Alexander Botwinik for his 16-year long effort to produce his father’s book, “From Holocaust to Life: New Yiddish Songs With English Translations,” which was published in 2010 by the League for Yiddish and is now in its second printing. Botwinik grew up in Montreal and studied music and education at McGill University. Currently a Yiddish instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, he coordinates the annual choral youth group Zimria, sponsored by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.