Stellllaaa! A Tribute to an Icon


By Masha Leon

Published December 03, 2004, issue of December 03, 2004.
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At the November 8 “Stella by Starlight” tribute to her mother at the Pierre Hotel, Ellen Adler recalled “Thirty years of… daily phone conversations with Marlon [Brando],” the evening’s designated Stella Adler Award recipient. Ellen Adler’s son, Tom Oppenheim, president and director of the Stella Adler Studio of Acting (which will benefit from the event) touted his great-grandfather Jacob Adler’s idealism and contribution to the Yiddish theater.

Following an anti-Bush fusillade, director Mike Nichols’s tribute to the Yiddish theater included “Yiddish words that crept into our language—farfetched…farflung.” Nichols presented the Jacob Adler Award to Tony Kushner whose supersonic stream-of-verbiage left me and, I suspect, many in the room dazzled and puzzled. He interconnected the Yiddish theater’s father Avram Goldfadden’s play “Schmendrick,” produced in Odessa in 1877 with Jacob Adler (a then member of the Odessa troupe) with the “Jewish exploration of the subtle dialectics of identity, forged in revilement and suffering, attaining freedom by exploiting bravely and to the fullest powers available to the powerless, which include poetry, dramatizations complexified, strategic self-representation, and mother wit.” It was mystifying.

“Warren [Beatty] is the only one fit to fill Marlon’s shoes as the studio’s honorary chairman,” declared Ellen Adler of Beatty, who accepted Brando’s posthumous Stella Adler Award from director Arthur Penn. Beatty (“Reds,” “Bullworth,” “Bugsy”) recalled “my incomparable teacher Stella’s attitude regarding excessive make-up… She said, ‘Luther [her brother] had a play with a beard. In the middle of the first act, [their father] Jacob stood up and called out: ‘Beard! Beard! Where are you going with my son?’”

A tribute to Brando by Whoopi Goldberg brought down the curtain on an evening whose sparkling guests included: Lauren Bacall, Anne Jackson, Eli Wallach, Tony Danza, Ron Howard, Jessica Lange, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Adler Studio chairman Mike Medavoy and its co-chairman Roy Scheider.

* * *

Arthur M. Blank was the recipient of the Humanitarian Laureate Award at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s November 20 dinner at the Marriott Marquis “anchored” by the center’s Eastern Director, Rhonda Barad. Blank credited his mother Molly (in the audience), as the dominant influence in his life. She was the one who taught him to “make lemonade out of lemons; to be a guiding light to others; that we are my brother’s keeper.” Though raised on Flushing’s Kissena Boulevard, his mother informed me that “he went to Stuyvesant High.” In 2001 Blank retired as co-chairman of Home Depot, which he co-founded in 1979. He now owns the Atlanta Falcons and is chairman of the Arthur M. Blank Foundation, which to date has donated $185 million to various entities. The International Leadership Award was presented by Stanislas De Quercize, president and CEO of Cartier, North America, and Gabriel Erem, CEO, Lifestyles Magazines, to Gerard Djaoui, International Director, Cartier. “I was born in Algeria,” said Djaoui whose family was among the 250,000 Jewish refugees who fled to France after Algeria’s independence. “I am deeply rooted in my Sephardic roots,” Djaoui said. He praised his wife Corinne “who went from French Christian to practicing Jew [and] keeps a kosher home.” After a Moslem Paris taxi driver had been ranting against the Jews, “My wife gave him the shabbes challah she was bringing home.”

Noting that “six decades ago on this date the most notorious pogrom of the 20th century — Kristallnacht — took place,” Wiesenthal Center’s founder and dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier, addressed the injunctions vis a vis memory: “Remember and Do Not Forget!” That remembering is assigned to “preserving our heritage, recalling past deeds…epic moments…Exodus, July 4, Thanksgiving — cognitive, ceremonial, reflective.” But during “bleak times in history,” the operative response is “not to remember, but Thou Shalt Not Forget…a wakeup call… in a world skirting danger where fanatics want to force their way of life upon us.” Apropos, he cited a roster of recent Islamic-fueled attacks in Canada, Holland, Denmark, England and France. In his conclusion, Hier stated the Center’s mission: “to help repair the world one day at a time.”

* * *

Memory and remembrance was the agenda at the American & International Societies for Yad Vashem November 20 dinner honoring “The Survivors, Their Children and Grandchildren.” The Societies’ chairman, Eli Zborowski, touted the involvement of the second and third generations “who will carry on the sacred obligation to tell the story of Jewish resistance — how they lived, how they died.” Members of the family that hid Zborowski and 12 members of his family were among the nearly 1000 guests at the Sheraton New York Hotel.

Arye Mekel, Israel’s Consul General in New York, described how his parents met in Uzbekistan; how he was born in 1946 in Kazakhstan on a the floor of a train where a pair of old scissors was used to cut the umbilical cord. Of his parents who arrived in Israel in 1949, he said, “They helped create the State of Israel.” Returning to the theme of memory, Mekel stressed, “A people that does not know where it is coming from, does not know where it is going. We know where we came from. We know where we are going.”

Limor Livnat, a member of Israel’s Knesset and eighth generation Israeli, articulated what some of the diplomats on the 100+strong dais most likely had not heard before. Citing Rome’s Arch of Titus commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem 1934 years ago, Livnat said that after the 1967 Six-Day War, an American Israeli scribbled the following graffiti on the arch: “The Jewish People Lives On.” Passionately she stated: “Where others perished, we survived. The Shoah is part of our history. We can’t remember six million, but each one of us has the responsibility to remember one family, one community.”

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