At ELEM Benefit, Nava Barak Shares Sorrow Over Distressed Youth


By Masha Leon

Published April 02, 2004, issue of April 02, 2004.
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Braving an unseasonable blizzard, 400 boosters of ELEM/Youth in Distress in Israel headed to Sotheby’s for the March 16 benefit, where they helped raise $500,000.

Greetings by ELEM/America president Ann Bialkin were followed by an invocation by Rabbi Arthur Schneier of Park East Synagogue, anecdotes by emcee Jason Flom, president of Lava Records, and comments by Consul General Alon Pinkas of Israel.

Nava Barak, honorary president of ELEM/Israel, said that she was “haunted” by that week’s Israeli headlines. “More people killed, more incidents of family violence and… youth… being victimized,” she said. ELEM/Israel social worker Inbar Palmor touted Tel Aviv restaurant Lilit, “so that a vocational training program for youth in distress could be established.” The restaurant was donated to ELEM by one of its honorees, Karen Hendler-Kremerman.

ELEM adviser Kenneth Bialkin introduced Ehud Olmert, Israel’s vice premier of industry and trade. “We have concluded that it is impossible for Israel to reach a negotiated compromise with the Palestinian leadership,” Olmert said. “We are unwilling to delay confronting the serious problems facing our society and have decided to move forward without a partner, even if we have to do it unilaterally.”

* * *

Israeli director Nir Bergman’s prize-winning first feature film, “Broken Wings,” deals with the unraveling of the dysfunctional Ullman family of Haifa whose spiraling emotional fallout follows the accidental death of the family’s patriarch. His widow, Dafna, works as a midwife on a midnight shift in a hospital; his 16-year-old son is a dropout; his 11-year-old son is a risk-taker, his 6-year-old daughter wets her bed and his 17-year-old daughter, an aspiring singer-songwriter, seethes at being harnessed to the role of surrogate mother.

Though at first dispiriting, what gives this finely honed film universal appeal is that there is not a single reference to a terrorist incident nor the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Adding to the rewarding journey are the compelling, sensitive performances by the cast — in particular Orli Zilberschatz-Banai as Dafna — and the upbeat ending as the family reconnects and rediscovers hope. Well worth seeing.

* * *

Mortimer Zuckerman and his daughter Abigail joined nearly 1,000 adults and children mingling at the March 9 “Bunny Hop” benefit held at American Girl Place on Fifth Avenue. “How quickly a year passes,” I noted; Zuckerman concurred, then turned to Abigail, who handed him her doll so she could join the other children playing with the Berenstein Bears. Proceeds from this festive candy and face-painting bash are earmarked for the Teen Room at the Department of Pediatrics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

* * *

While photographing United Way of New York City’s president and CEO Lawrence Mandell at the March 8 Gridiron Gala reception at Jean-Georges Steakhouse at the Time Warner Center, Karen Leon (this column’s photographer) discovered that Mandell came from a Forward-reading family! “That’s what my zayde and bubbie used to read,” he told her. “I spoke Yiddish before I spoke English because we lived with my mother’s parents… since my father was in the Army serving overseas in World War II.”

Mandell told me later that the family’s original name was Mindlin. His mother’s family came from Lodz, his father’s from St. Petersburg. “Both my grandfathers were dressmakers,” he said, adding that in the 1940s, his grandfather was an ILGWU union organizer. The United Way, he said, deals “with the frail, the elderly and the unemployed… [and] support programs that make a measurable difference in the lives of New Yorkers,” he said. Look at the role models he had!

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