Women Trailblazers Honored


By Masha Leon

Published September 23, 2005, issue of September 23, 2005.
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“I am convinced that there is a place in hell for women who do not help each other,” honoree Madeleine Korbel Albright said at the September 7 Women Who Changed the Landscape for Women dinner. The event was held at The Waldorf-Astoria and was sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Women. “When I was ambassador to the U.N. [1993-1997],” Albright recalled, “I lived in this hotel. It makes me nervous to know that John Bolton is now sleeping in my bed.” Lauding the center for its work in protecting women’s rights, she stated that “countries are more stable where every individual counts [and] women are politically empowered.”

Emcee Joy Behar launched her barrage of zingers: “First Madeleine found out she was Jewish, then I found out I wasn’t.” She kept the crowd laughing and squirming with tidbits about “the Forces of Evil, aka the Bush administration.” Included were such quotes as: “It’s not politics that is hurting the environment, but impurities in the air.” Honoree Gloria Steinem’s j’accuse included an allusion to Condoleezza Rice: “This secretary of state… who’d been… shoe shopping on Madison Avenue and going to a Broadway show while people suffered.” The fashionably rail-thin author and activist, co-founder of Ms. Magazine, had Ruth Westheimer gushing, “If I had your figure, I’d be famous!” Cornered into divulging her age after Behar “outed” her (“She has not had a facelift”), Steinem declared, “I’m 71.” Behar’s retort was: “My doctor told me a smile is a natural facelift. I wish my a-s had a sense of humor.”

“One advantage of turning 60 — the new 50 — is you have memories of what was and now is,” said honoree Sherry Lansing, chairman of Paramount Pictures’ Motion Picture Group since 1992. She recalled the sexist newspaper headline following her appointment: “Ex-model Appointed Head of Studio.” Lansing has overseen more than 200 films, including “Titanic,” the highest-grossing movie of all time. She echoed what Faye Wattleton, center president, had cautioned in her own comments at the event: “Women today take for granted all the advantages of the past 20 years…. There is a danger of complacency…. Our rights are really fragile. [Small steps] can set us back.” Onstage were anchor Lesley Stahl and Kathleen Turner. The latter did the voiceover for a video detailing some high points of women’s history. Among the guests were Jill Eikenberry and husband Michael Tucker, and Donna Hanover.

* * *

’Twas an evening of delicious musical zakuski (Russian for appetizers) when the Russian National Orchestra Wind Quintet performed works by Georges Bizet, Alexander Alyabyev, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Piotr Tchaikovsky at a September 12 reception hosted by developer Janna Bullock at her East 64th Street New York townhouse. The five young musicians — Maxim Rubtsov (flute), Andrei Rubtsov (oboe), Andrey Shuty (clarinet), Alexey Serov (French horn) and Andrey Snegirev (bassoon) — are part of the full RNO, which will launch its American tour in March 2006 with a gala at Lincoln Center. Chairing the gala will be Marianne Wyman, Sophia Loren and Martha Stewart. Pianist Yefim Bronfman will perform.

Sergei Markov, the RNO’s CEO, told the guests that the RNO was founded “after glasnost [and] is independent of the government.” Among the music lovers chez Bullock were Elaine Sargent, R. Couri Hay, Michele Gerber Klein, Karen LeFrak, Arlene Dahl and husband Marc Rosen, and maestro Gilbert Levine. In fact, Levine said to me, “What a thrill… to be in New York and hear such wonderful symphonic musicians in an intimate setting.” Levine just completed a musical memorial to late pope John Paul II (scheduled for the fall on PBS). He also participated in the festivities surrounding Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cologne this summer. “What struck me” about Benedict’s visit to Cologne’s synagogue, Levine said, “was the openness to dialogue with Jews [and] that it was done in Germany. Remember, it was not on the pope’s regular schedule!”

* * *

Now you can add the Yiddish Hamptons to the East-West-North-and-South Hamptons, thanks to the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre’s September 3 performance at Westhampton Synagogue. “It was an historic occasion for the Folksbiene,” the theater’s executive director, Zalmen Mlotek, told me. “They had never had a Yiddish program there before. This was all thanks to Jeff Wiesenfeld, our new chairman of the board.” Rabbi Marc Schneier greeted the 700 guests, who packed the synagogue for a show that opened with an overview of the history of the Yiddish theater. Knockout performances by Eleanor Reissa and Mike Burstyn followed. Schneier announced that Dudu Fisher has become the new permanent cantor of Schneier’s East 58th Street synagogue. “Now every night will be a concert,” Schneier told me. (I first met Fisher when he portrayed Jean Valjean in the Broadway production of “Les Misérables.”) The next night, 470 guests gathered for the Hampton Synagogue Summer Gala, held at the fabulous Quogue, N.Y., home of Nazee and Joseph Moinian. Among the guests were Israel Consul General Arye Mekel and his wife, Ruth. There were no speeches — just fabulous food, music and dancing.

* * *

The opening of artist Marc Ash’s first American exhibition, Tous Ensemble (All Together), was held September 8 at the Remy-Toledo Gallery. There I chatted with David Marwell, director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Marwell, who wrote the introduction to the exhibit’s book, praises Algerian-born Ash for his “attempt to animate and give voice to an inadequate vocabulary.” But I found Ash’s works — colored triangles used by Nazis to categorize prisoner types, suggestions of railroad tracks — to be intellectually distancing from the human aspect of the Holocaust. Mingling with the drink-holding crowd around what I thought were sand-filled receptacles similar to those in which one extinguishes cigarettes, I was shocked to discover that these sand-filled “art installations” contained gold rings, hair and other personal objects. However, these chilling allusions to Auschwitz didn’t seem to mute the “buzz” in the room.

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