Honoring the President’s Mensch

ON THE GO

By Masha Leon

Published July 23, 2004, issue of July 23, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

“As a Jew I have found myself becoming angrier and angrier at the current times we face,” declared Kenneth Bialkin, chairman of the board of the America-Israel Friendship League at its July 1 lecture — “Agenda Setting in the Middle East: Media, the Third Party in the Conflict Between the Israelis and the Palestinians”— held at the offices of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

“When it comes to the PR war, we’re doing a lousy job,” admitted Gideon Meir, deputy director general for public affairs, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “The camera is used as a weapon,” said Meir, who then offered a video presentation of rage-fueling images. Meir stressed: “We do not have a unified message…. The foreign press can cover anything…. There is no censorship…. We pay a price for having a democracy.”

Citing the “[never-happened] massacre of Jenin with its Nagasaki-like photos,” Meir pointed to a photo enlargement: “See… if the lens were opened, it would show the [miniscule] area that had been demolished.” The full-scale picture never received the front-page coverage that the alleged “massacre” did. “Our job is to take the policy of the Israeli government and market it around the world,” Meir said.

* * *

“Yiddish was my first language,” said Bernard Nussbaum, who, with his wife, Toby, was honored at the June 22 Jewish Community Relations Council of New York dinner gala at The Plaza. “We are a very diverse umbrella organization,” touted Toby Nussbaum, a JCRC vice president. “Politically we go left to right…. We serve the full spectrum — Ashkenazi, Sephardi, new arrivals… reach out to other ethnic and religious groups [on] issues of common interest.”

Bernard Nussbaum, a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, was a senior member of the staff of the House Judiciary Committee, which conducted the 1974 Watergate Impeachment inquiry, and White House Counsel to President Clinton until he was forced out during the Whitewater investigation. In December 1993, when he was honored by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Nussbaum said: “To be honored for my commitment to Jewishness is a little like being praised for breathing.”

He then told the 600-strong YIVO crowd that he’d recently received a copy of the Yiddish Forverts profile, “Dem prezidents mentsh.” “I rushed into [the First Lady’s] office,” Nussbaum recalled. He said: “‘Hillary, look… someone has a good word to say about me!’ Hillary looked up, she looked down and we both had a good laugh.” His mother, Molly, later told me: “Call him in Washington.” I did, and said, “Bernie, I’ll do an interview that Hillary can read.” A few weeks later, the English Forward’s “The President’s Mensch” was on Mrs. Clinton’s desk.

Nussbaum’s father, Feyvel, was a union organizer, active in The Workmen’s Circle and the Jewish Labor Committee. He also was a member of the Forward Association.

* * *

The elegant Neue Galerie museum — housed in the former Vanderbilt mansion on Fifth Avenue — was an ideal setting for a June 22 reception, hosted by Jo Carole and Ronald Lauder, for Warren Kozak’s new book, “The Rabbi of 84th Street: The Extraordinary Life of Haskel Besser” (Harper Collins). It was ideal because from 1955 until its 1994 move to the Center for Jewish History, YIVO’s books, memorabilia and archives of Eastern European life — the world from which Rabbi Besser sprung — had filled its rooms.

Kozak’s book reads like a thriller-with-soul punctuated with harrowing by-the-skin-of your-teeth escapes and life-saving encounters that culminated in the bashert meeting of the rabbi with [then] Ambassador Ronald Lauder in Vienna. The outcome, thanks to the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, was a post-World War II Jewish renaissance in Central and Eastern Europe: schools, camps, synagogues.

Watching Besser fans line up for autographed copies, I tried to reconcile this white-bearded, 80-year-old Hasidic rabbi (who loves classical music) with the trim brown-bearded young man pictured skiing in St. Moritz in 1960. At the reception: Malcolm Hoenlein, Samuel Norich, Carolyn Hessel and Poland’s chief rabbi Michael Schudrich and Poland’s consul general in New York, Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska.

* * *

At the July 14 Bastille Day celebration at the French Consulate, Richard Duque, the consul general, noted the presence of representatives from the World Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League. Among the crowd: Harriet Mandel, JCRC director of Israel and international affairs; Matthew Maryles, incoming JCRC president; new JCRC board member Vladimir Kvint, a professor of international business at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business Administration; and (medal presenter to an American World War II veteran) Guy Wildenstein, president of the American Society of the French Legion of Honor, Inc.

Consul Duque cited the tragedy of September 11; lamented “[American] French-bashing”; and thanked the “fidelity of [its] American friends.” And in a demonstration of Franco-American amity, the assemblage joined in singing, a capella, “La Marseillaise” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.