Rapprochement was the subtext of the Anti-Defamation League’s November 14 International Leadership Award dinner, held at Cipriani 42nd Street. The event was in honor of Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, chairman and CEO of L’Oréal. The white tablecloths, white-covered chairs and white gardenias in water-filled vases reflected the evening’s theme of reconciliation and a past best forgotten. (The past in question here was the 1995 accusation that L’Oréal had observed the anti-Israel boycott imposed by the Arab League. ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, put the allegation to rest in a March 9, 1995, Le Monde interview in which he stated: “From the moment when L’Oréal started doing business in Israel, invested, and [acted] to improve the quality of life.… The matter of the boycott is closed.”)
Keynote speaker Elie Wiesel expressed dismay that “in my lifetime, we still have to fight antisemitism.” Foxman said: “Since he became its chairman and CEO in 1988, Sir Lindsay has worked his magic at L’Oréal [which] employs 50,000 people… in more than 150 countries [and is] a multilingual, multicultural… firm.” Maurice Levy, chairman and CEO of media giant Publicis Groupe SA, said of Owen-Jones: “The knight is a mensch…. What he does comes from the heart, not the brain.” Levy noted that L’Oréal’s is “the only cosmetics factory in Israel [that] exports to Greece, Portugal, France, Russia.” Sir Lindsay touted the ADL’s “leadership in acting and speaking out for justice and fairness in a world that so often ignores or — worse — defies both.” Of his trip to Israel with his wife, Cristina, “which changed us profoundly,” Owen-Jones said: “It was a revelation to see firsthand the energy and engagement of people daily living their ideals despite a hostile environment all around…. We planted a tree… were welcomed to the Knesset by [onetime Knesset speaker] Avraham Burg, whom I am so happy to meet again here this evening. The feeling of personally belonging to the Israeli community is one that I will soon have the pleasure of sharing with a man who next year will become L’Oréal’s new CEO, Jean-Paul Agon.”
Among the guests were France’s consul general, Francois Delattre, French Ambassador to the United States Jean-David Levitte, and fashion mogul Ralph Lauren (né Lipschitz) who told me, “My grandparents lived on Mosholu Parkway [in the Bronx] and read the Forverts.” Emcee Larry King’s reaction to the Harlem Boys Choir’s impeccable Hebrew rendition of “Hatikvah” was: “I knew they were Jewish.” But he raised some eyebrows when he confused a menorah (one was given to Sir Lindsay) with a mezuza that King claims to kiss when entering his home.
* * *|
The Danish American Society November 11 dinner at Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room honoring ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. opened with the presentation of the Danish and American colors by 19th-century uniformed members of the New York State Artillery. The singing of the Danish national anthem and “The Star-Spangled Banner” followed. With glasses of Sonoma-Loeb Vineyards limited edition cabernet sauvignon aloft, there was a “royal” toast (to Queen Margrethe II), “a military toast” (Veterans Day), and a “presidential” toast (President Bush). Syndicated talk show host Barry Farber, the evening’s emcee, recalled that when “King Christian X was told by the Nazis to round up the Jews, the king said: ‘We have no problem with our Jews. We do not feel inferior to them.’ [Yet] on the eve of Rosh Hashanah 1943, it was a German in the consulate in Denmark who tipped off the Danish underground about the German plan to round up all the Jews.” In 1974, I attended a tribute to the Danes, held at The Plaza Hotel and hosted by Farber, where members of the Danish underground who helped spirit almost all of Denmark’s Jews to safety in Sweden expressed surprise at being honored.
In a delightful video bio, “Man of the Year,” Loeb was described as having “grown up on the mean streets of Putnam, N.Y.” and at 23 so deftly negotiated with the aircraft industry that he saved the United States government $23 million. “Having once been the American ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark… is part of my heart, part of my soul…. It is through my great-grandfather Adolph Lewisohn that I can claim some Danish ancestry,” said Loeb, whose family came from Rendsburg, once part of Denmark. “Three of my distant Lewisohn cousins still live in Denmark.” During his tenure in Denmark (1981-1983), “at the height of the Cold War tensions, death threats from the Middle East, the Soviet Union’s arms build-up,” to relax he accepted invitations to galleries by art dealer Jacob Asbaek. After a few “affordable” purchases, Loeb began what is now the largest private collection of 19th-century Danish art in the United States or Denmark. He hung the canvases in the embassy’s “gloomy basement, [which] had once been the bomb shelter for the Nazi leader Dr. Werner Best — the infamous ruler during the German occupation of Denmark.”
When I was introduced to the society’s president, Allen I. Milman, he greeted me in Yiddish. Milman told me that Denmark is the only country other than the United States that celebrates July 4. (In 1912, Max Henius, a Danish Jew who prospered in America, bought land in Denmark for a park to celebrate America’s Declaration of Independence.) At another tribute to the Danes in 1995, Count Christian Castenkjold (a nephew of king Christian X), recalled that during the World War II occupation, the Germans took down the American flag, “yet each year it was hoisted again and again, and no one knew who did it.”
* * *|
Earlier that day, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, five American veterans who helped liberate the Ohrdruf, Mauthausen, Gunskirchen and Flossenberg concentration camps (and the Flossenberg subcamp, Kircham) were presented with medals by the Israeli Consulate: Raymond Callanan from Kansas, Mickey Dorsey of South Carolina, Maynard Hanson of South Dakota, Robert Patton of North Carolina and (posthumously) Lynn LaBarre. Among the 150 present were 10 survivors who had been liberated by the 65th and 71st Infantry Divisions. David Marwell, the museum’s director, hailed the liberators. One of those rescued was the later Rabbi Lipot Yehuda Meisels, a Hungarian Jew. His daughter, Hadassah Israel president Miriam Griver-Meisels, was in attendance. She asked that her government “honor these men; to and award them medals usually reserved for soldiers living in Israel.”