What Litvaks Accomplished in Brazil


By Masha Leon

Published October 29, 2004, issue of October 29, 2004.
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Alzheimer’s disease, an equal opportunity assassin of memory, felled movie star Rita Hayworth in 1987. “In the 1970’s, when Rita began to manifest strange symptoms, people said she was drunk when she’d get off a plane,” Barbara Walters told the 600 black-tie guests at the October 5 Alzheimer’s Association “Beauty Under the Big Top” Rita Hayworth Gala at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.

In 1984, Hayworth’s daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, established the galas, which to date have raised $39 million for research. Khan spoke of her mother as she accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award: “She had cared for me.… It was so important that I return [the favor] to her.”

“If not for Yasmin, we would not be heard,” noted Alzheimer’s Awareness Award recipient Maria Shriver, whose father, Sargent Shriver, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2002. “My mother (Eunice Shriver) is my greatest heroine… Barbara (Walters)…is my role model,” Shriver said. “Then someone named Arnold (Schwarzenegger) rudely interrupted my career…. Since my father was diagnosed, I have struggled to explain [Alzheimer’s] to my children.” Shriver read several excerpts from her new children’s book, “What’s Happening to Grandpa?” (Little, Brown/Warner Books).

Sheldon Goldberg, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, touted its “Maintain Your Brain” campaign. Among the evening’s guests and chairs were Claudia Cohen, Muffie Potter Aston, Denise Rich, Joan Collins, Nurit Kahane Haase and Howard Solomon, chairman and CEO of Forest Laboratories, Inc.

“Yasmin had been the greatest inspiration in my life [when] I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s,” said gala chair Nancy Corzine, a furniture and textile designer. Corzine hosted a September 14 pre-gala party at her spectacular Museum Towers apartment. The guest list included Walter Fischer, chairman, Rolex Watch, USA, Inc. (which underwrote the gala); Phyllis George, Charles Gargano, Alan Grubman, and Sugar Foods Corp. (makers of Sweet’N Low) Chairman Donald Tober and his wife, Barbara. “My grandfather, who was raised in England, landed on Walden Avenue in the Bronx, then in Brooklyn, used to read the Forverts,” Tober reminisced.

In keeping with the gala’s “big top” theme, members of Neil Goldberg’s Cirque performed “ahh-eliciting” acrobatic feats throughout the evening.

* * *

The Bronx Museum of the Arts director, Olivia Georgia, and museum trustee Michèlle Gerber Klein hosted a cocktail party for the museum’s upcoming exhibit, Tropicália: A Parallel Modernity in Brazil, at the home of Simone Klabin, a noted Brazilian art gallery owner.

“Amazing what the Litvaks accomplished in Brazil,” I said to Paulo Klabin, Simone’s husband. He nodded and smiled. According to “The Klabin Empire” by Guilherme Faiguenboim (published by the Jewish Genealogy Society of Brazil; May 1995, Vol. 1, No. 2), the Klabin family history begins in 1885 in the Poselva (Zelwa), Vilkomir district, Kovno Gubernia, from where Moshe Elkhanan Lafer fled, eventually landing in 1889 in São Paulo, Brasil, where he changed his name to Mauricio Klabin. He (and the extended mishpokhe he brought over from Poselva) founded a huge industrial, commercial, real estate and agricultural complex. The family now deals in reforestation, cellulose and paper. Members of the Lafer-Klabin family helped establish B’nai B’rith in Brazil, the Chevra Kadishe of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Renascença Hebrew School and Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital.

Among the guests at the eclectic art-enhanced East Side Klabin townhouse was Brazil’s Consul General Julio Caesar Gomes dos Santos, whom I complimented on his welcoming words at the September 8 opening of the American Sephardi Federation’s exhibition, “Pernambuco, Brazil: Gateway to New York” at the Yeshiva University Museum at the Center for Jewish History. The exhibition, developed by the Arquivo Historico Judaico de Pernambuco, focuses on life in Recife, Brazil, in the state of Pernambuco, shortly before the departure in 1654 of the 23 Portuguese (Dutch) Jews who founded the first Jewish community in New Amsterdam in 1654.

At the center, Ambassador Santos told the more than 300 guests that the Jews are now welcome in Brazil, where they can enjoy religious freedom, free from danger of any kind. At the center’s exhibit opening were Boris Berenstein, president of the Jewish Community of Pernambuco; Edmond Saftie, a noted member of Brazil’s Jewish community, and the sponsor of the exhibit; José Mendonça Filho, vice governor of Pernambuco, and Walter Oostelbos, deputy consul general of the Netherlands.

* * *

Unlike Jewish women comics who tend to malign their mothers, Elena Kagan, dean of Harvard Law School (whose awesome curriculum vitae includes a stint as associate counsel to the president (1995-1999), paid homage to hers. At the October 19 American Friends of the Hebrew University lawyers lunch at Cipriani 42nd Street, Kagan told the sea of suits that (despite all her accomplishments) her mother “would be proud” that she was the keynote speaker at this George A. Katz “Torch of Learning” luncheon honoring Robert Katz, a philanthropist and partner at The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. I was delighted when my tablemate, David Parker of Kleinberg, Kaplan, Wolff & Cohen, P.C., told me: “”My grandfather, Samuel Dolgins, from Kiev, was one of the founders of the Arbeter Ring (Workmen’s Circle).”

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