The eclectic list of guests that flooded Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse in Grand Central Terminal on April 14 for an installment of The Week magazine’s “Conversation” series, titled, “Middle East Peace: What Will It Take?” — moderated by the magazine’s editor at large, Sir Harold Evans — included actors Christopher Walken and Daniel Day-Lewis; music industry giant Ahmet Ertegun; fashionista Mary McFadden; media mavens Geraldo Rivera, Tina Brown, Abe Rosenthal, Mickey Dolenz (formerly of The Monkees) and Broadway powerbroker Gerald Schoenfeld.
In her comments, via telephone, Jehan Sadat, widow of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, said: “In my opinion, the Palestinians [have] to stop the violence and the killings.… For the Israelis… stop building settlements on the Palestinian territory.”
Dennis Ross, counselor at The Washington Institute and a onetime American Middle East envoy, spoke of “each side… dealing with its own mythologies.” His co-panelist, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, said, “The first thing to get clear… is what is compatible with the survival of Israel.” He lauded Ariel Sharon as “one of the great men of this period… abandonment of the settlements on the West Bank… is a heroic step.” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs president Dore Gold, Israel’s representative to the United Nations from 1997 to 1999, said: “We have a problem with an entire model of expectation… I’d like to suggest a term, ‘imperfect diplomacy — imperfect outcomes.’ We are at a calm. It’s not a cease-fire.”
* * *
The Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York’s April 13 luncheon, emceed by NBC anchor Jane Hanson at The Pierre, honored author and preservationist Barbaralee Diamonstein, a founding member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and her husband, Carl Spielvogel, former ambassador to Slovakia (2000-2001). In 1995 Spielvogel was appointed to serve on America’s Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is responsible for Voice of America and Radio Free Europe as well as for the American government’s other nonmilitary broadcast media.
Following foundation board member Sally Goodgold’s presentation of the award, Diamonstein said, “On behalf of both of us… with humility and… a bit of discomfort, we accept this award.” Later that evening, at The Urban Center, Diamonstein was lionized at a book-signing reception for her magnificent and hefty new work, “The Landmarks of New York: An Illustrated Record of the City’s Historic Buildings” (Monacelli Press). When she was at the May 8 Heritage Dinner at the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, she told me, “My grandmother taught me to read the Forverts.” The next day, at the Four Seasons, she autographed her book for me in Yiddish.
Honoree Linda Kaplan Thaler, CEO and chief creative officer of The Kaplan Thaler Group, Ltd. (creator of the Aflac campaign), cautioned: “Be nice.… Leave positive imprints wherever you go…. Whatever you received, give it back tenfold.” In line with the foundation’s goal to create a better life for Jewish women and girls — victims of poverty and domestic violence — Thaler noted: “One person can change the world… whether an abused wife… old widow, orphaned child.… I believe that one of those women you help… one of their daughters… might just be the one to end disease or poverty or world wars.”
“I chose to become a Jew out of a deep love of Judaism,” said Monica Rodgriguez, grant recipient of the foundation’s Jewish Outreach Institute “Empowering Ruth” program, which is designed to benefit Jewish women who are new to Judaism. “I was exposed to Jews and Judaism early in my life since my mother worked at Yeshiva University’s school of medicine.” At Vassar, Rodriguez found a “vibrant Jewish community… I was able to explore Jewish history… philosophy. I am proud of my Puerto Rican heritage, and sometimes it has been hard to be both Hispanic and Jewish and be accepted by Jews.” She and other women like her, she said, “are are taking our new experiences home with us, to our boyfriends and husbands, to our Jewish and non-Jewish families… friends… and hopefully adding another layer of richness to the Jewish people.”
On May 2, Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, co-author (with Mary Swartz) of “The Fugu Plan: The Untold Story of the Japanese and the Jews During World War II (Gefen Publishing House, 2004), told the audience at the 92nd Street Y about Japan’s prewar offer to provide a safe haven for “all of Europe’s Jews… without visa or passport.” Tokayer touted the heroism of Japanese consul Chiune Sugihara, who, in Lithuania, in 1940, issued 2,139 visas (against his government’s orders), saving 6,000 Jewish lives — including my mother’s and mine (visa #1882). This little-known history of the Japanese-Jewish relationship in the 1930s and 1940s is detailed in a superb documentary, “Sugihara, Conspiracy of Kindness” which aired May 5 on PBS. It is by far the best and most accurate accounting to date. Watch for reruns. Do not miss!