The Beit Hatfutsot gala on December 1 was a feast for the eyes and the soul as 500 guests gathered at the Mandarin Oriental to celebrate the Museum of the Jewish People’s future as an interactive hub of Jewish culture.
Alfred Moses, a past president of the American Jewish Committee, former advisor to President Carter and ambassador to Romania during the Clinton administration, was presented with the Yakir Beit Hatfutsot Award for exceptional dedication and service to the Jewish people. Currently chairman of U.N. Watch, Moses is also the only American to have received the Marc Cruces Medal, the highest award given by the government of Romania. After receiving the Beit Hatfutsot award— a chanukiah (menorah) made up of ancient oil lamps — from Eugene Ludwig, founder and CEO of Promontory Financial Group, Moses remarked, “I hope that Beit Hatfutsot will inspire our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be Jews and to be better human beings.”
Beit Hatfutsot CEO Avinoam Armoni described the museum as an “integral genealogy center for Jewish family history.” Designated in 2005 by the Knesset as the National Center for Jewish Communities in Israel and Abroad, Armoni explained, “it will tell the Jewish narrative to people of all ethnic, religious and national backgrounds.” Beit Hatfutsot museum designer Patrick Gallagher, who is overseeing a renovation of the museum’s 17,000-square-meter complex, and whose previous credits include the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia and the FDR Presidential Museum, touted the project as a challenge for “a changeover life… to design something different [that] redefines the museum for all its visitors.”
The youngest person to address the crowd was self-assured 10-year-old Miles Povich Agus, who described his visit last summer to the museum. “I compared Jewish rituals and customs practiced all over the world to my own practice at home in Los Angeles,” he said. “Using the museum’s database, I found my great grandpa Nathan Povich, who lived in the shtetl Butrimonys in Lithuania and moved his family to Maine in 1889.” Agus also described the children’s museum as “a huge indoor jungle gym where kids of all ages and from all countries hang out together and play fun games…even if they don’t speak the same language.” Kvelling at his grandson’s aplomb was Maury Povich, who attended the gala with his wife, broadcast journalist Connie Chung.
“We are here tonight to celebrate Israel and today’s New York Stock Exchange designation of ‘Israel Day,’” said America-Israel Friendship League Chairman Kenneth Bialkin at AIFL’s 2011Partners for Democracy Award Dinner on November 29. The evening’s honorees included Dan Senor and Saul Singer, authors of the New York Times best-seller, “Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” (2009, Twelve).
During the reception I introduced myself to Maged Abdelfattah Abdelaziz, Egyptian ambassador to the United Nations, who cheerfully posed for photos with Ron Prosor, Israel’s Representative to the U.N., and AIFL’s Israel Board Chairman Dan Gillerman. When I told the Egyptian ambassador that my father-in-law’s family once lived in Alexandria, he said, “That’s also where my family is from! Let’s talk.” But Abdelaziz did not stay for the dinner, which featured a panel discussion between Gillerman, Senor and former New York City mayor Ed Koch. Ido Aharoni, Israel’s consul general in New York, proclaimed that “Israel is a bastion of creativity and innovation.” In keeping with the evening’s upbeat mood, Peter Yarrow, of Peter Paul & Mary fame, got the 400 guests at The Plaza to join him in singing “Puff The Magic Dragon.” (He tweaked the final refrain from “in the land of Honah Lee” to “in the land of Galilee.”)
“‘Start-Up Nation’ has replaced Leon Uris’s ‘Exodus’ as the book that defines Israel,” said emcee Jonathan Medved, CEO of Vringo, a leading provider of software platforms. Medved said that the U.S., China and Israel are responsible for the most traded start-ups, with Israel and its population of 7.1 million “locked in combat” with Europe, which is home to 700 million. Senor spoke of the book’s impact on U.S. veterans. “They ask us to speak at West Point and U.S. bases,” he said. Appalled that the U.S. does not take advantage of the improvisational, innovative nature of military experience in the way that Israel does, Senor remarked: “In Israel they don’t ask ‘What did you major in?’ but ‘In what division in the service did you serve?’” In the book’s introduction, the authors write: “Technology companies and global investors are beating a path to Israel and finding audacity, creativity and drive everywhere they look. Which may explain why, in addition to boasting the highest density of start-ups in the world (a total of 3,850 start-ups for every 1,844 Israelis), more Israeli companies are listed on the NASDAQ exchange than all companies from the entire European continent.”
Responding to Medved’s query, “Does the world hate us?” Gillerman described Israel as “a country that contributes to mankind more than any other.” He said, “Israel is a bastion of democracy. Israel is judged more harshly than the other countries. We are on the front line for democracy without asking for a single U.S. soldier’s drop of blood.” Medved asked, “How do you change the narrative?” Gillerman replied: “Bring everyone to Israel. There is no substitute for smelling, touching the country…. When [the AIFL missions to Israel] come, they are transformed. Israel is [and has always been] ‘the canary in the coal mine’ to alert the world about dangers.” In his inimitable, no khokhmes style, Koch declared: “I believe that attacks on Israel are a way of expressing anti-Semitic feelings…. Some of our worst enemies are our own people…. I’d like to throttle them! We stand up for everyone’s rights but for ourselves.”
Also honored were Idan Ofer, chairman of the board of Better Place, the global provider of Electric Vehicles (EV) Networks and Services and Shai Agassi, CEO and founder of the same. Rabbi Arthur Schneier of Park East Synagogue delivered the invocation, and soprano Gan-ya Ben-Gur, accompanied by pianist Natalie Tenenbaum, thrilled the crowd with a performance of the national anthems of Israel and the U.S.