Bloomberg, Sarkozy Honored


By Masha Leon

Published October 17, 2008, issue of October 24, 2008.
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“In 1776, when we were trying to win our independence, it was France that came to our aid,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, at the Appeal of Conscience Foundation dinner, which honored both men. Bloomberg, who admitted that he had received “a ‘D’ in French,” invited Sarkozy to “come back and spend lots of money here.” Noting that the wine served to the more than 900 guests at the Waldorf-Astoria was from France, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the foundation, hailed Sarkozy as “a new world leader of courage and integrity… You have challenged religious leaders of the world… don’t let religion become [a] problem, help define a solution.” Sarkozy handed the crystal globe award to his wife, Carla Bruni Sarkozy, who stood near the dais with Henry Kissinger and Ralph Lauren (chairman and CEO of Polo Ralph Lauren; Lauren told me he used to read the Forverts). The French president noted that antisemitism “is a stain on our tricolor flag. There is no excuse for the inexcusable… I have waged war on it… I chose a government of diversity. We wish to respect everyone’s rights.”

In French (with English translation available via earphones at each table), Sarkozy continued his extemporaneous impassioned address: “When the rabbi [Schneier] invited the pope to pray in his [Park East Synagogue], it was a shining example.… I am not a liberal, but I am for justice… freedom, but not the law of the jungle… I have tried to modernize my country.… We don’t want a religious war… we respect Muslims.… What we need is a United States of America which does not turn its back on the world.” With Tom Brokaw of NBC’s “Meet the Press” serving as master of ceremonies, the evening was launched with a pre-dinner private reception that can be described only as a sardine-tight assemblage. So prominent were the black-tie notables and gowned ladies that one awestruck guest was prompted to exclaim, sotto voce, “Schneier must be some kind of magician. How does he get all these people to come?” Following the United States and France’s national anthems, sung by Charity Tilleman-Dick, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, prefaced his invocation: “I wish I could pray as well as she can sing.” Brief greetings by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte were followed with award presentations by Henry Kissinger to Schneier; Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric Co., and Bloomberg. The foundation’s World Statesman Award was presented to Sarkozy. The evening concluded with a benediction by Archbishop Demetrios, Primate, of the Greek Orthodox Church of America.

Here’s a random selection of the impressive dais guests: Yaacov Agam, artist recipient of the Unesco Comenius Medal for “Agam Method”; Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA; John Catsimatidis, chairman and CEO of Red Apple Group (also wannabe New York City mayor); New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine; Charles Edelstenne, CEO of Dassault Aviation**; Muhtar Kent, president and CEO of Coca-Cola; Yassine Mansouri, head of intelligence at the Kingdom of Morocco; Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, chairman of American Red Cross; Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress; James Wolfensohn, chairman and CEO of Wolfensohn & Co, LLC; archpriest Alexander Abramov, representing the Moscow Patriarch in the U.S.A.; Alfred Gusenbauer, chancellor of the Rep. of Austria; Bernard Kouchner, foreign minister of France and founder of Doctors Without Borders; Jean-David Levitte, diplomatic adviser to the president of France, and more.


If you thought Tovah Feldshuh was superb in her award-winning role as Golda Meir in “Golda’s Balcony,” you cannot miss her impersonation of Irena Gut in Dan Gordon’s play “Irena’s Vow,” about the 18-year-old Polish-Catholic nurse who hid 12 Jews in the home of an SS officer in Tarnopol (now Ukraine). Before the play’s September 25 performance, Rabbi Arthur Schneier and The North American Council of the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews (in Warsaw) hosted a reception at Park East Synagogue, attended by Poland’s first lady, Maria Kaczynska, representing her husband, President Lech Keczynski. Also present was Gut’s daughter, Jeannie Smith and Roman Haller — who was born under the floorboards of SS Eduard Rugemer’s house, where Gut served as a housekeeper. Haller’s amazing post-script: Shunned by his family for allowing the Jews hidden in his basement to escape just days before the war ended, Rugemer moved in with the Hallers (in Munich), where Roman called the former SS officer zayde until the day he died!

The reception was co-hosted by Sigmund Rolat, chairman of the museum’s North American Council, and attended by more than 150 who watched as Gut’s family was given Poland’s highest award. I had attended several readings by Feldshuh of excerpts from the play, and I was blown away by the production’s powerful impact, which had the rapt audience alternating between laughter and tear-dabbing. Special kudos to Michael Parva, whose direction of the nine-member cast transformed the play into a Holocaust “memoir,” offering a message about human decency that transcends time and place.

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