‘We’re both from Down Under,” statuesque Nicole Kidman said as she presented the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Humanitarian Laureate Award — a shofar inscribed, “He who helps mankind” — to Rupert Murdoch at the center’s January 11 dinner, held at The Waldorf-Astoria. “No other person… is able to touch so many people of this world,” Kidman said of “fellow Aussie” Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corporation. His mega media empire spans five continents (and includes the New York Post).
Emceed by Fox News Channel’s Lauren Green, the dinner — postponed from September 22, 2005, because of the death that week of Wiesenthal himself — was kicked off by Rhonda Barad, the center’s Eastern director. Barad touted Murdoch’s “steadfast support for Israel.” Nelson Paltz, co-chairman of the center’s board of trustees and chair of the evening’s dinner, described the center as “a security blanket for our children’s future.” A film about its stunning Center for Human Dignity, Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, narrated by Tovah Feldshuh, and a video clip of Ehud Olmert lauding “Murdoch’s friendship for Israel” set the stage for Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center’s founder and dean.
“I said at Simon’s funeral that when he chased after the cattle car carting his mother off to the gas chambers, she did not hear his calls, but thereafter the whole world heard the call of Simon Wiesenthal…. All his life, [Wiesenthal] grappled with the questions of how intelligent and cultured human beings could be transformed into barbarians,” said Hier. The rabbi also read from a letter that Wiesenthal wrote two weeks before the end of World War II in which he included a list of killers: “The musician Rokita murdered 8,000 in Tarnopol; medical student Hujar won numerous wages by firing one bullet through two heads at a time; restaurant owner Leo John, of Katowice [Poland], whose specialty was killing women and children.”
“Nearly four years ago,” Murdoch noted, “Simon Wiesenthal [said] of the mass murderers whom he hunted most of his life: ‘I have survived them all.’ Indeed he had…. Such a long life is a blessing for anyone, especially for a man who survived 12 concentration camps…. Antisemitism, like all viruses, is excellent at mutating to suit its own purposes…. The enormity of the Holocaust convinced many in the [past] century that antisemitism would always be a phenomenon of the extreme right…. Pogroms did not end with the Russian revolution… the doctors’ plot showed that the Soviets could be… more ruthless — and efficient — in their cruelty than the tsarist police. Several Middle Eastern leaders… supported Hitler…. Yet post-Nazi antisemites learned… one lesson from the Nazi experience: The antisemite’s own interests are best serviced if he masks his hatred with some barely respectable fig leaf… anti-Jewish violence rationalized as the… byproduct of Israel policy.” Murdoch urged: “The press must speak out and report the truth. Rather than combing the streets for Nazis and skinheads, we need to look more carefully in Dutch mosques, Parisian housing projects… and American and European university campuses.”
Contributing to the evening’s buzz were Myra and Robert Kraft (owner of the New England Patriots), Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein and music mogul Walter Yetnikoff former president of CBS Records (1975-1990). Yetnikoff, the author of the jaw-dropping autobiography “Howling at the Moon” (Broadway Books, 2004), told me his Yiddish name is Velvl.
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Could William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan have imagined that in 2005 they’d be catalysts for charitable giving to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research? Hang in there! My latest foray into G&S land was the January 12 New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ “Quintessential G&S!,” which consisted of “Trial by Jury” and “NYGASP à la Carte,” at New York’s City Center. Emceed by Albert Bergeret, NYGASP artistic director, stage director and conductor (posing as Richard D’Oyly Carte) — the impresario who brought Gilbert & Sullivan together — the evening was a hoot! “Trial by Jury,” with the cast in 1930s garb, resembled the musical “Chicago” more than London’s Old Bailey, and the “à la Carte” was a smorgasbord of selections from G&S’s other operettas. The audience was ecstatic.
A week later, at the Center for Jewish History, I spotted the YIVO newsletter Gaon Society, which contained a photo captioned: “The Tartells in costume: Lottie (as a sailor in Yiddish ‘Pinafore’) and Bob (a Bobbie in the Yiddish ‘Pirates’).” The Tartells established charitable remainder trusts at YIVO “as an expression of a lifelong love for Yiddish and the city of Vilna, YIVO’s birthplace and that of Dr. Tartell’s mother.” Dr. Tartell, a dentist, was associated with the Gilbert & Sullivan Light Opera of Long Island. Thirty years ago he stumbled on a recording of a Yiddish version of “HMS Pinafore,” which the Long Island group performed.
“Do you know of any Jewish connection of either Gilbert or Sullivan?” I asked Al Grand, whose more extensive Yiddish translation of “The Pirates of Penzance” has delighted audiences for years and was recently showcased by the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre at the 92nd Street Y. Grand faxed me part of an extract from “The Supposed Jewish Connection,” an appendix to the second edition of Arthur Jacobs’s biography, “Arthur Sullivan: A Victorian Musician” (Amadeus Press, 1992): “The assertion that Sullivan is Jewish is to be found in a number of references during or just after his lifetime.” Early issues of the Jewish Year Book, which began publishing in 1897, listed Sullivan among Jewish celebrities of the 19th century, placed among those who had one Jewish parent. From the Web site Music and the Rothschilds, Grand also excerpted a few references to the close friendship between the English Rothschilds and Sullivan.
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I found it interesting that Thomas Kretschmann, who plays a sympathetic German officer in Roman Polanski’s 2002 film “The Pianist,” and Adrien Brody, who portrays pianist Wladyslaw Szpylman himself, are reunited as the “good guys” in the amazing spectacle “King Kong.” At the end of the film, when the ape climbs atop the Empire State Building, you can almost see the Workmen’s Circle-Forward building, which is just a block-and-a-half away.