Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring Sets Up Shop in New York City’s Garment District

On the Go

By Masha Leon

Published October 13, 2011, issue of October 21, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring Sets Up Shop in New York City’s Garment District

The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring marked a grand opening at its new home, on West 37th Street, with a celebration that was both historic and haimish. “I welcome you to our beautiful new home,” Allen Breslow, vice president for development, announced to the assembled crowd. “We’re here thanks to the achievements of a century’s worth of heroes and visionaries whose passion and commitment to a shenere un besere velt far ale, a better world for all, continues to inspire us today.”

President Madelon Braun declared: “Workmen’s Circle has come a long way from its beginnings [111 years ago] on the Lower East Side.” Daughter of the late Harold Ostroff, who served as general manager of the Forward Association, Braun reflected on her parents’ passion for social justice. As a child, she said, she and her siblings “thought all families had at least one parent at a [labor concerns] meeting.”

Bel Kaufman with Ann Toback, Madelon Braun and Sidney Gluck.
Karen Leon
Bel Kaufman with Ann Toback, Madelon Braun and Sidney Gluck.

Executive director Ann Toback, a labor leader for the Writers Guild of America, East, led the successful 2008 Writers Guild strike in New York, presented author Bel Kaufman with the Workmen Circle’s “gold key.” With husband Sidney Gluck looking on, Kaufman strode up to the dais in high heels and huge owl-style eyeglasses. She recalled a student who, introducing her, asked what he should say about her: He looked at me, and I told him to say, ‘The less said, the better.’” Kaufman then quoted some of her grandfather Sholom Aleichem’s favorite quips: “It’s an interesting thing about Jewish humor, how self-wounding and detracting it is. For example, ‘Before you call me stupid, I’ll tell you how really stupid I am.’”

Kaufman reflected: “My grandfather loved Yiddish. He corresponded with Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gorki. He raised Yiddish to the heights of literature.” She cited his directive that he be buried among the poor people so that “their graves may shine on my grave as my grave will shine on theirs.”

She continued: “When I came to America [from Russia] I went to [what is now] Kinder Ring camp. It was run in Yiddish. The counselors were great, there was singing of Yiddish songs, hiking.” Reflecting on a memory, she briefly faltered, pausing and looking out into the audience. “I’m 100 years old!” she exclaimed, without missing a beat. “This would not have happened to me when I was 99!”

Across the street from the Workmen Circle’s new home, on the side of a building that dates from the garment industry’s glory days, an advertising mural is still faintly visible. Several company logos appear in faded white paint: Gigi Young Originals, The Perette Silhouette, Lombardy Dresses, Inc. Noxall Waist & Dress Co., Suzy Perette. None of these labels exists today, but in my attic closet I have several Suzy Perette dresses tagged under the label of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union that, decades ago, as a Workmen’s Circle alumna, I was able to buy from the manufacturer wholesale.

Celebrating Germany’s Day of Unity at Lincoln Center With Wurst and a Kosher Table

It was a meet-and-greet evening October 3 at the “Celebration of the Day of German Unity” reception. Peter Wittig, permanent representative of Germany to the United Nations, and his wife, Huberta von Voss-Wittig, along with Busso von Alvensleben, German consulate general, and his wife, Maria-Theresa von Alvensleben, stood for nearly two hours on a receiving line and good-naturedly shook hands with each of the guests (there were more than 1,000). The celebration — which in past years took place at the Central Park Boathouse — was held this year on the marble floor promenade of Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater.

At each end of the promenade stood Elie Nadelman’s massive Carrera marble statues — “Circus Women” on one end, “Two Nudes” on the other. Each sculpture was bracketed by two humongous flags — one German, the other American. Along the periphery of the promenade were several serving stations offering sausages on a bun; Weisswurst, or white sausage; cabbage salad; German potato salad, and sauerkraut.

Near the kosher table — there has always been a kosher table at this event — stood a very anxious server who periodically waved away attendants bringing replacement plates and cutlery. “Go Away! This is the kosher table!” he warned.

As I waited for the usual instrumental rendition of Germany’s national anthem and welcoming remarks from the consul general, I exchanged pleasantries with David Marwell, director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust; Renee Schreiber, director of cultural events at the Israeli consulate in New York; Harriet Mandel, president of Jewish Global Associates, and writer Tuvia Tenenbom, who founded the Jewish Theater of New York and had just spent six months in Germany. Near the end of the evening, I asked von Alvensleben if he was going to address the crowd. “No speeches,” he told me cheerily. “We decided that this year we would just greet and shake hands with each of the 1,000 guests who were invited.” I agreed that it was a good idea.

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!
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • 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.