Tale of Twos Marks an Activist’s Life


By Masha Leon

Published October 15, 2004, issue of October 15, 2004.
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Richard Fisher, a senior partner at Fisher Brothers, and his mother, Emily Fisher Landau, were honored at the September 22 Top Dog Gala, which raised $800,000 for The Animal Medical Center, a state-of-the-art facility that treats more than 50,000 patients each year. To the delight of the 500 black-tie guests in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Grand Ballroom, Nancy and Henry Kissinger walked Winston, a black Labrador retriever — and the evening’s third honoree — onto the stage. Rescued from a shelter when he was a year old, Winston, now 7, is a star NYPD Detection Canine whose job includes protecting the president and dignitaries at United Nations functions. He showed his mettle as he honed in on a lipstick-size stick of dynamite that had been hidden onstage in a potted palm!

Mrs. Landau, a philanthropist, grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of two, established the Fisher Landau Center for the Treatment of Learning Disabilities at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. A pioneer of Einstein’s National Women’s Division and a member of its board of overseers, Landau, who lives in New Mexico, is a vice-chairman of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

Mr. Fisher, CEO of the New York City Investment Fund, an $800 million fund co-sponsored by Fisher Brothers to invest in real estate in New York’s five boroughs, is a board member of the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum. His late uncle, Zachary Fisher (son of an immigrant Jewish bricklayer) — a construction worker who became a builder and a philanthropist — used $50 million of his own money to rescue the USS Intrepid from the scrapheap.

Fisher spoke movingly about the role that his dogs played in helping him deal with his depression following the death of his brother, Anthony, last year in a plane crash. It was Link, a Burmese mountain dog and Max, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, who, he said, helped him deal with the trauma when he came home. His dogs “saved me and my mother’s life.” In turn, he saved his dog’s life, Fisher recalled. When a decorator brought him an unacceptable painting of a hunting dog with a dead rabbit in its mouth, the picture was placed on the floor against a wall. Max, the spaniel, would sit and stare at the painting. One day, Fisher found that the rabbit had been “eaten,” and he rushed Max, who was suffering from lead poisoning, to The Animal Medical Center, where his life was saved.

Among the evening’s animal-loving guests were New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson; Annette and Oscar de la Renta; Sharon Bush; Andrea Stark; Intrepid Foundation Vice Chairman Martin Edelman, and the foundation’s president, Bill White.

* * *

More than 120 well-wishers and family members helped celebrate Harold Ostroff’s 81st birthday at a party held at the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Leonid Pinchevsky presented a portrait of Ostroff, who is general manager emeritus of the Forward Association.

“The portrait will grace the walls of the chief executive’s office at the Forward alongside the portrait of Baruch Charney Vladeck, the general manager from 1918 to 1938,” said Samuel Norich, the Forward Association’s current chief executive. Norich added: “Vladeck was among those who drove the Forverts to its peak in circulation and influence. In the 1920s, just after Congress cut off immigration from Eastern Europe, the Forverts was selling a quarter-million copies every day. It was Vladeck who made sure the Forverts would make use of the new technology of broadcast radio” with hundreds of thousands listening to Vladeck’s weekly broadcasts on WEVD. Norich continued: A “political force in the life of New Yorkers… Vladeck [and his] socialists and Fiorello LaGuardia’s Republicans together beat the Tammany Hall machine…. Vladeck… in line to become LaGuardia’s successor as mayor… died in 1938 at the age of 50.”

When Ostroff became CEO of the Forverts in 1976, explained Norich, “only the Forverts, among general circulation Yiddish newspapers, was left.… After the late 1940s it was clear that there would never be another wave of Yiddish-speaking immigrants…. The miracle, of course, is that the Forward did not just survive, but that Harold found a way to relaunch it as an English-language paper and then also a Russian-language paper in the 1990s.… By the time Harold retired as general manager at the end of 1997, the Forward’s entire outlook had changed…. We again had a claim on the future, a family of newspapers… that can inform and entertain and give power to ideas.”

Dr. Barney Zumoff, president of the Forward Association, read “Harold,” a poem by Forward contributing editor Gus Tyler. Zumoff recalled: “I met Harold 40 years ago at Tamiment…. Our paths crossed over the next four decades.” Doctor in residence at Camp Kinder Ring for the past 47 years, Zumoff chuckled: “I took care of his children.” Boris Sandler, editor of the Yiddish Forverts, wished Ostroff “biz a hundert un tzvantzik yor (till 120 years).”

A wistful, emotional Ostroff focused on the loves of his life — his late wife, Frieda, and his partner, Adrian Bernick. “My life is intertwined with the number two — two children, two daughters, two grandchildren each, two jobs; United Housing Foundation, which created 50,000 affordable housing units — and then the Forward.” His lifelong goal: To make this “a shenere un a besere velt (a more beautiful and better world).”

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