Boys May Be Boys, But Boys’ Town Makes Men


By Masha Leon

Published April 30, 2004, issue of April 30, 2004.
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Brother Anthony D’Amato, executive vice president of Boys’ Town of Italy, jokingly told the multinational, multiethnic black-tie crowd at the April 2 “Ball of the Year” at the Waldorf-Astoria: “If you have qualms about eating meat on Friday… [rest assured] we were given special dispensation by the archdiocese.”

Founded in 1945, the Rome-based Boys’ Town of Italy — a model for Israel’s Boys Town of Jerusalem — now houses children from 17 countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and, in the past, Israel. The 450 guests included model Carmen Dell’Orefice, artist Maria Cooper (Gary Cooper’s daughter); Count and Countess Pier Braschi, and Mercedes Ellington, Duke Ellington’s granddaughter.

Humanitarian Award recipient Marty Richards (whose films include “The Boys from Brazil” and the Oscar-winning “Chicago”), praised Boys’ Town for helping “generations of kids from every race and every nation to succeed and grow into respectable adults.”

Richards — whose Yiddish is rusty yet serviceable — said; “I want you to know that [thanks] to the Italian cooking of the mothers of my Italian friends, I now have a small amount of Italian blood.”

Dispensing with her usual shtick, Joy Behar (who on May 6 will star in “An Evening with Joy Behar: Are You Sure She’s Not Jewish?” at the 92nd Street Y), introduced “Woman of the Year” award recipient Caroline Hirsch as “a compassionate liberal who puts her money where my mouth is.”

In her acceptance remarks Hirsch said: “It’s irresponsible to ignore the failure around us… [by] political and religious leaders.” Hirsch currently runs Carolines on Broadway, a showcase for the who’s who in comedy. In the 1980s, her Chelsea Comedy Club gave a start to such stars as Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Gary Shandling and Sandra Bernhard.

“Man of the Year” honoree Louis Cappelli, chairman and CEO of Sterling Bancorp/Sterling National Bank, began his career 50 years ago as a 19-year-old mailroom messenger at Sterling. His roster of civic and community honors and achievements include involvement with the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies and State of Israel Bonds, which presented him with the Gates of Jerusalem medal.

* * *

“Moments of Hope: Melodies and Memories of the Ghetto,” the April 22 concert commemorating the 61st anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, held at New York City’s Polish Consulate, had as its centerpiece a program of 18 beloved Yiddish songs and hymns performed by clarinetist Gilad Harel and pianist David Rosenmeyer, both Israelis. Co-sponsored by Poland’s consul general in New York, Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska, and Alon Pinkas, consul general of Israel, and in association with the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, the attendees included Motl Zelmanowicz, Miriam Weiner, Vera Stern, Fanya Heller, Corey Breier, Claire Barry, Dasha Rittenberg and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik.

Referring to the previous Monday’s “March of the Living” to Auschwitz, Magdziak-Miszewska noted proudly: “There were 600 young Poles together with 6,000 Jewish marchers.” Alluding to a “legend” that “on the first day of the… uprising, there appeared two flags on the [ghetto] wall: one with the Star of David; the other, Poland’s red-and-white flag,” she said, “Perhaps it is not true, but last week, both flags flew at Auschwitz.”

“We will never forget the Poles who helped the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and elsewhere,” Pinkas said forcefully. He read an excerpt from the April 19, 1943, report that Warsaw’s German commander, Jürgen Stroop, sent to his superiors: “These people are jumping on my soldiers from windows… and for the life of me I don’t understand what motivates them?”

David Engel, a professor of Holocaust, Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, read an appeal issued by the Jewish Fighters Organization in the Warsaw Ghetto to Poles: “Poles! Freedom fighters! Citizens!… We are trapped… [we send you] heartfelt greetings of brotherhood…. Though we may all perish, we shall not give up…. Like you, we seek revenge and we shall avenge the crimes of Auschwitz, Treblinka.… Long live liberty! Long live [our] struggle!”

It may appear unseemly to criticize a memorial concert, but I (and others) were distressed that, notwithstanding the impressive credentials of the young performers — who may or may not know Yiddish — I ached for a human voice to articulate at least a few of the poetic gems which, undifferentiated instrumentally, became blurred in a recital of piano and clarinet virtuosity. Imagine not hearing the Yiddish words to Smerke Kaczerginski’s “Shtiler” (“Silence”); Leah Rudnicki’s “Dremlen Foygl Af Di Tzvaygn” (“Drowsing Birds on Tree Branches”); Leah Rosental’s “Yisrolik” and Mark Warshavsky’s “Oyfn Pripetshik” (“On the Fireplace”). And why perform “Yugnt Himn” (“Hymn of Youth”) Basye Rubin’s in-your-face anthem celebrating courage in the face of death, as a dirge?! Cantor Joseph Malovany concluded the evening with “El Male Rachamin.”

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