Clinton Gives Food For Thought — But Hold the Gluten

By Masha Leon

Published December 02, 2005, issue of December 02, 2005.
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‘I believe every Palestinian in Europe or America is either a millionaire or a college professor,” Bill Clinton told the more than 700 attendees at the November 10 State of Israel Bonds’ Real Estate and Construction Division lunch at The Pierre. The former president, who was speaking in reference to the Palestinian diaspora’s apparent tightfistedness, added, “I’ve never met a poor Palestinian except in the territories.”

Clinton joshed: “What’s great about not being president is saying what you think…The terrible thing is nobody cares what you think.” In his extensive off-the-cuff overview of events in Iran, Iraq and the Middle East, he lamented: “A lot of people paid a high price for Arafat’s emotional needs…. I’m sure I made some mistakes, the Israelis made some mistakes.… But the fundamental error was… walking away from peace.” Clinton praised Prime Minister Sharon for “getting out of Gaza,” and offered his hope for the best possible outcome in the Middle East, adding, “It’s darkest before the dawn.” The luncheon — which raised $101 million in Israel bond sales — honored Harry Macklowe, chairman and CEO of Macklowe Properties.

* * *

Greetings from Mayor Michael Bloomberg were read by Stephen Lash, incoming president of American Friends of the Israel Museum. Its outgoing president, Ronnie Heyman, bid an adieu that raised the curtain on the November 6 gala celebrating the museum’s 40th anniversary. “Fiddler on the Roof” star Harvey Fierstein told the black-tie crowd at Cipriani 42nd Street: “It’s nice to know there are people who value culture…. I was 9 years old when I saw ‘Fiddler.’ I grew up at a time when no one wanted to be Jewish [and] changed their names.” In Tevye garb, Fierstein let loose with “If I Were a Rich Man.”

A black-and-white documentary of the May 11, 1965, museum inauguration ceremony in Jerusalem offered glimpses of some of Israel’s past luminaries: Yigael Yadin, Zalman Shazar, Levi Eshkol, Lea and Yitzhak Rabin, David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Billy Rose, Samuel Bronfman, architect Isamu Noguchi (designer of the Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls) and Teddy Kollek. The museum is one of the world’s largest repositories of art and archeology. It boasts collections ranging from European Old Masters to contemporary art and rare objects from the Americas, Africa and the Far East. Among the guests were Consul General Arye Mekel and his wife, Ruth, Ambassador Dan Gillerman, Erica Jesselson and Michael Steinhardt (who told me his latest zoo addition was a “zonkey” — a cross between a zebra and donkey). A memorable “goody bag” included a dinner journal-cum-art book designed by Tana Kamine, plus a new hard-cover volume, Yigal Zalmona’s “The Israel Museum at 40 — Masterworks of Beauty and Sanctity” (The Israel Museum, Jerusalem). Both works are bookshelf keepers.

* * *

“He’s a pistol, isn’t he,” Michael Douglas quipped, referring to his dad, Kirk Douglas, when I told him, “I always spoke Yiddish when we met.” Though the younger Douglas was one of three honorees at the November 7 “Stand Up for a Safe America” dinner at Cipriani 23rd Street, sponsored by the Brady Center To Prevent Gun Violence, no pun was intended in his remark about his father. “Ah, the Jewish Daily Forward,” said stand-up comic and evening emcee, Richard Belzer, as I introduced myself. “It’s now a weekly.,” I countered. Peering over his glasses, Belzer responded: “What’s the difference? It was still part of my life [in Connecticut].” Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy presented the award meant for Jack Rudin — who was unable to attend — to his niece, Beth Rudin DeWoody. When I asked New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly what he would have done vis-à-vis the then two-week-old riots in France, he retorted, “I would have taken action immediately.”

* * *

Lisa Liman chaired the November 10 benefit for The Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, held at the Metropolitan Club. “Next to me is my 5-year-old daughter, Abigail, who was diagnosed with Celiac Disease three years ago,” Liman said. “My husband and I had never heard of it. [Yet] an estimated three million Americans have it and 97% of those cases are undiagnosed.” Celiac Disease is an auto-immune condition characterized by intolerance to gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, barley and oats. The immune system of people with celiac responds to gluten by destroying the small intestine lining, leading to the malabsorption of necessary nutrients. In most cases, the solution is meticulous attention to a gluten-free diet. No medication needed.

Dr. Peter Green, the center’s director, cited some of the manifestations of untreated Celiac Disease: “In children, it may include a failure to thrive and short stature. In adults, osteoporosis, anemia, type 1 diabetes, infertility, neuropathy, certain cancers [lymphoma] and more.” According to Green (an author of a multi-center study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine), the prevalence of Celiac Disease in the United States is one in 133. In Italy, 6-year-olds are tested for it; in Finland, you can get a McDonald’s Big Mac on a gluten-free bun; in Buenos Aires, ice-cream parlors offer gluten-free cones! But in the United States, it may take more than a decade plus visits to several doctors before the disease is diagnosed. “Education of patients and physicians is most important,” Green stressed.

The event honored Anne Roland Lee, the Celiac Disease Center’s nutritionist, and Wegmans Food Markets Inc., an innovative 68-store supermarket chain, in recognition of its gluten-free program. Among the center’s sponsors are the Fribourg Family Foundation, the Bernard and Toby Nussbaum Foundation, Ariel and Tal Recanati, Patricia and Emanuel Gantz, and Lynn Kroll. Following the presentations, the more than 200 guests feasted on a gluten-free buffet complete with devastatingly delicious cookies and cakes.

Last spring, my daughter Laura Leon chaired Spring Forward for Celiac, a gala concert held at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at C.W. Post College to benefit Columbia University’s Celiac Center. Performers included: Grammy award-winning saxophonist Richie Cannata, actor, writer and former member of “STOMP!” Peter Marino and Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre alumna Eleanor Reissa accompanied by Leon on the piano.

STAND-UP GUYS: Actor-comic Richard Belzer (right) emceed the November 7 ‘Stand Up for a Safe America’ gun control dinner. Actor Michael Douglas (left) was among the honorees.

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