Hamptons Host Parties for Peace

By Nathaniel Popper

Published August 27, 2004, issue of August 27, 2004.
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Like any good Hamptons host, banking heir Ivan Wilzig kept the guests at his July bash awaiting his arrival in proper Jay Gatsby style. The guests at the Wilzig Castle in Water Mill on Long Island, N.Y., mingling among Arabian tents and animal skin carpets, curiously examined the multicolored peace medallions being handed out by a phalanx of hired dwarves — “oompa loompas,” as they were told to call themselves — in fluorescent yellow wigs with orange-painted skin. Eventually Wilzig came bursting out with a Day-Glo cape trailing behind him. He preened for the assembled cameras and endlessly beat his foot to an inaudible rhythm while receiving kisses from his scantily clad girlfriend, Mai Sve.

The dwarves were the idea of Sve, who “always wanted to have a party with oompa loompas,” Wilzig told the Forward afterward. “Instead of one, I ordered a half-dozen of them. It turned out to be a big hit.” He saw the dwarves as the best symbol of the kind of tolerance he was promoting at the party: “The diversity of the crowd, and how well everyone got along, was sort of the way I’d like the whole world to get along. From showing respect to the midget oompa loompas, to the gays, to the Asians, to the Jews.”

The bizarre mansion Mardi Gras was a release party for the third electronic music single put out by Wilzig — also known as Sir Ivan or Peaceman, depending on when you catch him. Wilzig takes his nickname — the latter one — from the capes he wears, which always have peace symbols incorporated into their design. He only sings songs about peace, in honor of the 56 Wilzig relatives who died during the Holocaust, as well as his father, Siggi, who survived Auschwitz to become a millionaire banker and oilman.

The liner notes inside the new single, “Peace on Earth,” have a quote from Siggi Wilzig and a tribute by his son to the 1.5 million Jewish children killed by the Nazis.

Last month’s party was the first at the castle since Siggi Wilzig became sick three years ago. Ivan and his brother, Alan, built the castle in 1997, and during the boom years of the late 1990s, the Wilzig fetes were famously attended by Donald Trump, Playboy playmates and other celebrities. The less prominent but no less glitzy crowd last month was made up of young partiers and Ivan’s older friends. Wilzig’s hand-picked disc jockey played a soundtrack fas the sun set over the Long Island hills. On columns above the pool, two Russian contortionists dressed in silver suits did something akin to synchronized yoga.

Wilzig has big plans toward spreading his message of peace. He hopes his music will get big enough for him to set up a concert series called Rave to Save the World. They will have “the top half-dozen D.J.s in the world, and the top half-dozen dance performers, like myself, in the world,” he said. With the Peaceman character he has created, he can see an “action hero doll, a children’s book series, even a movie.”

While his music has not started generating profits yet, when it does, all the proceeds will go to a Peaceman Foundation that he plans to set up, which will direct money to charities like Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation.

Wilzig has always dreamed big. The mezuzah on the front door is a monstrous replica of the castle; it is among $16,000 worth of mezuzot in the house. Covering the front wall of the house on Saturday night was an outsized banner that read “Sir Ivan.” (“I thought if I was going to build myself my own castle,” Wilzig said, “I was also going to knight myself.”)

None of this was ever to the taste of Wilzig’s father, Siggi, a famously stern man who shunned the Hamptons for Kutscher’s Resort and Country Club in the Catskills. Only when he came down with cancer did Siggi Wilzig visit the house of his sons to “recuperate and play gin rummy with his chef,” according to Ivan. While Siggi Wilzig died last winter, to this day, one of the kitchens at the castle remains kosher even though Ivan gave up his own religious sentiments while studying intellectual history at the University of Pennsylvania, when he became a “free thinker.’

His life always has been a push and pull between his own dreams and the more traditional desires of his father. Both Ivan and his brother avoided getting married while their father was alive, in part because of Siggi Wilzig’s prohibition on marrying outside the Jewish faith. Following his father’s wish, Ivan stayed at the family’s Trust Company Bank until he and his brother sold it earlier this year for more than $700 million.

But Wilzig always dreamed of being a performer. On nights and weekends, he would sing at open mics and cabaret shows, waiting to be discovered again. He says he was discovered the first time at his bar mitzvah, at his synagogue in Passaic, N.J., when he sang for his guests. Within a few weeks, he says was singing “My Yiddishe Mama” in a duet with Shalom Katz at Town Hall in New York.

“There was not a dry eye in the place,” Wilzig remembered, “and I got a standing ovation for my performance.”

On Saturday, the climax of the night came when Wilzig gave a live performance of his new single on the indoor stage. After gathering the crowd, he came sweeping out to the front of the stage, where he grabbed two long orange light sticks and ran around waving his arms like a frantic air-traffic controller while singing to the pre-mixed beat of his producer.

“It’s almost like a Hasidic trance” he said afterward, breathless. “Here I am, spinning around in my peace cape, and I’m also in another state of mind.”

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