Dais-designated New York Post columnist Cindy Adams — on line with power attorney Barry Slotnick for the VIP reception at the January 17 Congress of Racial Equality Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Living the Dream 2005” dinner — was miffed because her red plastic VIP admission bracelet was delayed and the promised-to-be-there recipient of CORE’s “Public Servant Award,” Karl Rove , senior adviser to President Bush, turned out to be a “no-show.”
At the eclectic VIP crush, I had brief chats with “dais-seaters” Barry Farber , Curtis Sliwa and velvet jacketed Mel A. Sachs , general counsel of CORE (who also represents the Yankees). Myrtle Whitmore retired commissioner of New York City Housing Authority in Crown Heights explained that her Indian headband was a tribute to her great-great-great-great grandmother, “a full blooded Cherokee.” She asked me if I had yet visited the [Chabad] Jewish Museum in Brooklyn.
Edward Cox (husband of Tricia Nixon ), a corporate attorney at Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler, LLP, who is chairman of the New York State Parks Commission, told me that former NYC Parks Commissioner Henry Stern dubbed him “finch.” I told Cox, “Stern dubbed me ‘vitality.’”
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a principal at Bernstein Investment Research and a Folksbiene board member, introduced me to William Hetzler , chairman of the Steuben Day Parade. Hetzler, a member of the Leo Baeck Institute and an honorary member of the Garment Center Synagogue, has been “attending Wagro (the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance organization) commemorations for years,” Hetzler told me that as owner of Lefrak City’s Adrian’s bakery, “We baked challahs till they came out of our ears.” He recalled: “As a child in Munich… I remember… the Nazi party… they took my father away… I am writing a book, ‘Thank You, America.’”
Sporting a chest full of ribbons, chaplain Jacob Goldstein detailed his roundabout journey to get five sets of etrogs and lulavs to the Jewish chaplains in Afghanistan and Iraq in time for Rosh Hashanah. Informed that they would wilt in 100-degree heat, and that it is best to deliver them personally, he told me: “Like a good Lubavitcher Hassid, I said ‘I’ll do it!…” A 2,000-mile route north to Iraq… flying in a slow prop jet, then seven hours to Afghanistan… turnaround to Kuwait then Iraq… it took two days…. In order to bring the mitzvah to the soldiers, I ‘leaned forward’’’ — military jargon for “You step up.” Goldstein’s inspiration: “Growing up, listening to the rebbe… ‘you go out of the way.’”
TV Fox Channel/radio personality and emcee Sean Hannity launched the dinner with, “ Ted - hic - Kennedy could not be here tonight.”
When the laughter died down, he told the 1,800 guests in the New York Hilton Grand Ballroom: “Martin Luther King was the right man, in the right place, in the right time in this nation’s history.… [And] we would not be here tonight if not for [CORE National Chairman] Roy Innis … the right man, in the right place in history, just as Bush is the right man, in the right place in history.”
“I’m just back from Africa and South Africa, where I spoke to small African farmers,” Innis said. “Most small farmers in Africa are women with small children using age-old techniques.” Outraged at “the plague of malaria,” a killer of children and women, he cited the solution: “DDT. But sophisticates in New York, Paris, London would rather preserve snails and eagles instead of people. DDT should be an option to keep women and children alive.”
Hugh Grant , chairman, president and CEO of Monsanto Company, touted his company’s contribution “to biotechnology for the good of all people.” Grant amplified: “The romance of farming is mythology. You get up in the dark, use tools our ancestors in Europe used 100-150 years ago, pull bugs off by hand and harvest in rain…. With biotechnology, when bugs eat plants — they die.… Farmers in Africa should have the same choices as farmers in the First World.” The evening’s honoree was scientist. Norman Borlaug , a Nobel Peace Prize laureate known as the Father of the Green Revolution,who will be a panelist of the January 18 CORE-sponsored daylong “World Conference - Biotechnology” at the United Nations.
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“Look at that punim !” the red-haired woman seated on my left said to her husband as Billy Crystal stepped onstage in “700 Sundays,” his one-man marathon recollection fest at the Broadhurst Theatre. During the nearly two-hour roller-coaster ride of laughter, reminiscences and revelations, the redhead and many in the audience dabbed at their eyes, articulated surprise, and relished the recognition of places, times and names that surfaced in Crystal’s nostalgia spiel.
Hopefully Crystal’s uproarious description of his own brith milah will deter neither Jew nor gentile from circumcision — be it for religious or for health reasons. There is a Chaplinesque poignancy to his body language, and the memory painting of the father-son bond — those 700 Sundays spent with his dad — had many a man in the audience visibly moved. Among the show’s aha!-eliciting vignettes were Crystal’s uncle and father’s involvement in jazz, the family’s bond with black musicians, the history of the Commodore record label, and the film cameo recollection of young Crystal on Billie Holiday’s lap, watching the movie “Shane.” As for his sexually obsessed puberty, the men in the audience got it! His brilliant minutes-long pantomime of a foul-mouthed uncle at a barbecue — simply priceless! I would have preferred a little less time spent on his mother’s strokes and death, but hey, it was his mother who kept him on course after his dad died of a sudden heart attack in a bowling alley. Crystal’s parting words to the audience were,“Call somebody and tell them you love them while you can.” Talk about dabbing at eyes. Don’t even think about missing bravura Billy the punim , Billy the “face.”
Oh yes. That redheaded lady and her husband to my left: They were Sylvia and Mort Dresher , parents of “The Nanny” star Fran Dresher , and once-upon-a-time “Flushing-near Queens-College” residents, now Florida-based. Where else?