A Mega Bar Mitzvah for Actor Fyvush Finkel


By Masha Leon

Published July 16, 2004, issue of July 16, 2004.
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The June 21 tribute to Yiddish-English stage, film and TV star Fyvush Finkel — hosted by The Yiddish Artists & Friends Actors Club and The Yiddish Theatrical Alliance at the Lincoln Square Synagogue — was akin to a mega bar mitzvah. As the 350 guests mingled, noshed and wished 81-year-old Finkel nor oyf simkhas (“only at celebrations”), the Mitch Kahn orchestra’s horas, freylakhs and kazatzkes got the crowd onto the dance floor.

YAFAC and YTA President and emcee Corey Breier acknowledged community and cultural leaders and actors young and ageless in the room. In a sentimental detour, he elicited a few tears when, in Yiddish, he declared himself “gebentsht” (blessed) “to still have a mame un a tate — a mother and a father — whom he then invited onto the floor for a solo Latin dance turn.

Mickey Freeman (aka Private Zimmerman in the 1950s Phil Silvers TV show “Sgt. Bilko”) served up a motherlode of crowd-pleasing Borscht Belt chestnuts such as “I grew up on Essex Street; we slept five to a bed. I did not sleep alone till I got married.” (Oy!) “A rabbi at a battery factory stands at the assembly line and yells: ‘Long life! Long life!’ (Double oy!..)”

Among those adding stellar artistic luster to the evening were Claire Barry, Mina Bern, Shifra Lerer, Irving Fields and Finkel’s sons, Elliot (at the piano) and Ian (a mallet virtuoso on the zymbalom), who performed a sizzling “Rumania, Rumania” and a medley of Gershwin works. Papa “Bowtie Finkel” kissed his tree-tall sons and declared the evening “the pinnacle of my heart”; and, in tribute to his wife, he sang “Abi Tzu Zayn Mit Dir” (As long as I’m with you).

* * *

“For a brief period, I was Michael Jackson’s lawyer until I returned to earth,” emcee Benjamin Brafman said to the 200 guests at the June 21 Israel Cancer Research Fund “Women in Action” luncheon at The Pierre.

Brafman’s introduction of ICRF honoree Tovah Feldshuh (“She plays a well-dressed, personable attorney — a female Ben Brafman — on [TV’s] ‘Law and Order’”) had the “Golda’s Balcony” star retort: “I’m the daughter of a litigator; a wife of a negotiator.” Also honored was Linda Fairstein, a former prosecutor, best-selling crime novelist and media consultant on issues of criminal justice and violence against women. Real estate executive Mildred Gershen (whose father was a criminal lawyer “till someone showed up with a gun”) boasted that she knew the names, birthdays and Hebrew names of her 23 grandchildren — who were all present to see “Bubba Extraordinaire” honored.

ICRF President Dr. Yashar Hirshaut expounded on the new drugs — Doxyl, Gleevec and Velcade — developed as a result of the funding given to talented scientists by ICRF, “the single largest source of private funds for cancer research in Israel.” Brafman noted: “There are people in this room and in the city who are alive today because of the research funded by ICRF.”

* * *

During a chat last week with Brafman, he elaborated on the July 1 mock trial held at the Hampton Synagogue, at which Moses (portrayed by Rabbi Marc Schneier) was put on trial for killing an Egyptian. Brafman was Moses’ defense attorney; Joel Cohen, an attorney and the author of “Moses: A Memoir,” was the prosecutor; the judge was Leslie Crocker Snyder, a former New York State Supreme Court justice. ”After a two-hour trial, a jury of seven deliberated for only 10 minutes,” Brafman said. Seven hundred attendees heard the verdict. “Moses was unanimously found not guilty.… It was more pressure than representing Puff Daddy or Michael Jackson. Because if we lost the trial of Moses… we would have had to rewrite the Torah.”

* * *

Guests sipped Piper-Heidsieck champagne and nibbled on La Maison du Chocolat truffles at a June 17 reception at the French Embassy Cultural Services. The reception was for the unveiling of a bronze statue, “In Oneness,” by Cecelia Rodhe, which was commissioned by the Milton and Betty Katz Jewish Community Center of Atlantic County, N.J. (where it was dedicated on June 28). Katz JCC Executive Director Jack Fox (who told me his grandfather read the Forverts) said: “There is no ‘Y’ — we’re it… a community of oneness with 4,500 members… open to everyone in the community.”

Rodhe, a “Miss Sweden” 1978, who said she was “ born a Protestant, married a French-African Catholic (French tennis champion Yannick Noah),” described the sculpture, which reminds one of “a pregnant woman about to give birth” as “a tribute to peace… to drive people’s attention away from war.”

* * *

Skol! We have combined architecture, art, remembrance and news,” said Sweden’s consul general, Olle Wästberg, who, with Mrs. Inger Claesson Wästberg, hosted a June 21 reception at the Wästberg residence for the release of Fredric Bedoire’s “The Jewish Contribution to Modern Architecture 1830-1930” (Ktav). “It is my hypothesis,” Bedoire said, “[that] Jewish influence played an important part in modern architecture, both as patrons and architects…. The avant-garde of the ’20s could hardly have developed without the contribution of the Jewish people.”

Barbara Spectre, director of Paideia –The European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, told the gathering: “Paideia came [to be] through the joint efforts of the Jewish community and the Swedish government to reimagine Jewish culture [within] multiculturalism… to teach young Europeans that there is a reawakening of Jewish culture in Europe. Sasa Petrásová (of Bratislava), Paideia project coordinator and a graduate of their program, touted its positive impact “because you can’t build identity on negative terms… Paideia attracts people who are hungry to learn about Judaism.”

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