Foundation Sings of Harmony at Songstress Denise Rich’s Home

By Masha Leon

Published April 08, 2005, issue of April 08, 2005.
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At the March 16 benefit for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, held at songwriter Denise Rich’s Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, home, Lawrence Kopp, the foundation’s executive director, lauded the hostess as “a prolific philanthropist.” Kopp cited the foundation’s programs, which include an antisemitism campaign and the Shared Dreams High School and College Curriculum Guide Project with United Negro College Fund and Hillel. Rabbi Marc Schneier, founder and president of the foundation, recalled the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. “During the two years it was missing, more people went to that museum to stare at the blank space than in the previous 12 years that it had hung on its wall…. It is our all too human tendency to fail to take note of the precious blessings we have.… Once taken from us, we become painfully aware of the blank spaces in our lives.”

South African-native Charles Goldstuck, president and chief operating officer of the Bertelsmann Music Group — and a recipient of the foundation’s Joseph Papp Racial Harmony Award — said of his onetime home, “The environment [was] totally racist.” His mother’s family was made up of shopkeepers near Cape Town. “My father’s… was the only Jewish family in a farming community. He taught us: ‘I am going to raise you not to be a product of your environment…. It was not enough to be a good person; you have to do good things…. ’ I did not understand the courage it took to live that way… in a sea of racial oppression…. I came to America to start a new life.” Goldstuck told me that his family “came to South Africa via England from Tallinn [Estonia] and Riga [Latvia].”

“I’m in a tough business, the garment business,” foundation chairman Russell Simmons said. “Hal Upbin [chairman and CEO of Kellwood Company — a $2.5 billion apparel firm based in St. Louis — and Papp Award honoree whose firm bought Simmons’s Phat Farm apparel company] knows that honesty and integrity are key to long-term success.” His wife, Shari, told me: “As a little girl — we lived on [Brooklyn’s] Pitkin Avenue — my grandfather taught me Yiddish so I could read the Forverts.” The foundation’s Business Leadership Award was presented to Donny Deutsch, chairman and CEO of Deutsch Inc., reportedly the nation’s ninth-largest advertising agency. Deutsch is the host of his own CNBC talk show, “The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch,” and like Simmons, he appeared in an episode of Donald Trump’s reality TV show, “The Apprentice.” Jimmy Khezrie, a member of the Sephardic Community of Brooklyn, received a Community Leadership Award. Among the guests at Rich’s duplex was David Renzer, Universal Music Publishing Group’s chairman and CEO.

* * *

An eclectic crowd mingled at the March 22 reception for Jan Aronson’s eye-popping A Reverence for Nature, an exhibit curated by Laura Kruger, at the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion’s museum. The show dazzles with its viscerally postmodern multicolored imagery of leaves, clouds, landscapes and portraits.

Out of the limelight stood a kvelling Edgar M. Bronfman, Aronson’s husband and one of her portrait subjects. At a corner table, author-professor Rabbi Arthur Herzberg (another Aronson portrait subject) with his wife, Phyllis, was holding court and matching “Let me tell you about…” stories with Holocaust survivors Sam and Lilly Bloch. Park Avenue Synagogue President Menachem Rosensaft — husband of museum director Jean Bloch Rosensaft, the Blochs’ daughter — told me his impressions of the 60th anniversary commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz, which he recently attended in Poland.

I chanced upon delightful 12-year-old-going-on-30 Mattie Kahn, whose work, “A ‘Naturalized’ New Yorker,” won in the 10-14 age category of the Forward’s “Brooklyn Boy” Essay Contest (in connection with David Margulies’s play of the same name). Her opinionated and glib assertions regarding subjects ranging from fashion to philosophy of life came as no surprise, considering that she is a daughter of painter/sculptor Tobi Kahn and novelist Nessa Rapoport. Stay tuned. Also present was Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College.

* * *

On opening night, the Helen Hayes Theatre was cold. But a back-on-track Jackie Mason, in his Broadway return with “Freshly Squeezed,” was hot. The audience was youngish, and other than his longtime friend, celebrity divorce lawyer Raoul Felder, I did not see the usual Mason entourage of fans (who are probably in Florida).

In addition to his signature “punctuation marks” — “sons of bitches,” “Nazi bastards” — Mason, among the few seasoned “heymish” comedy masters left, has expanded his colorful expletive-laden vocabulary to keep up with the times. His past obsession — goyim — seems to have been replaced by a fascination with gay men and their fashion sense. Mason’s convoluted dissertations on the Atkins diet and on women CEOs expecting men to pick up the check are hilarious. Just as you’ve caught your breath, he’s lacing into bin Laden, insider trading, Martha Stewart and Christo’s “orange curtains.”

Mason’s take on the touchy-feely subject of erectile dysfunction and prostate examination by a cadre of medical students had even men blushing. Deconstructing the admission to an emergency room of an incoherent, bleeding patient who can’t remember his mother’s maiden name is comic genius. Indian cab drivers have morphed into Indian doctors with unintelligible Delhi-Bombay-Calcutta articulation, which Mason delivers with sidesplitting perfection. But it’s time to retire the Puerto Ricans as comedy foils. Their offspring are probably now in academia or on Wall Street. Pick another Latin, Balkan or other new minority group — till they, too, object. Go laugh!

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