An inspiring tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. by the Consulate General of Israel, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the Jewish National Fund was hosted by Israel’s consul general, Alon Pinkas, at his residence. The January 22 event honored Rep. Gregory Meeks, former St. Johns basketball coach Mike Jarvis and Baraka Sele, assistant vice president of programming at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
Referring to the trip he took to Israel this summer with Meeks, JCRC of NY executive vice president Michael Miller recalled: “The bus driver announced there’d been a suicide [bombing nearby].… The next day, Meeks visited Hadassah Hospital.… He was a tower of strength.” An angry Meeks said: “I don’t know why people don’t get it! Boys and girls eating in the back of a restaurant for fear of someone coming in and blowing them up.” Citing Rabbi Marc Schneier’s “Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King, Jr. & the Jewish Community,” Meeks said: “If not for the Jewish people working with Dr. King, America would not be what it is today…. If not for Martin Luther King, I would not be a congressman today.”
Jarvis lamented, “A few days before Christmas, I was given my walking papers.” In an aside, Pinkas consoled him: “Your tenure is longer than Israeli governments’.” On a somber note, Jarvis said: “People watch things happen… atrocities against Jews.… Silence is not golden. We must continue to speak the truth and say things that need to be said and not worry if anyone is going to be offended by it.”
Baraka Sele described the 1968 conflagration “that nearly killed me, my mother and brother in a small white rural community… outside of Detroit… when our white next-door neighbor set fire to our home with us inside and poisoned our dog…. When the fire department and police arrived… no neighbors came forward to incriminate the monster.… So, on that night, an 18-year-old black girl decided that everything Dr. King stood for was, in fact, a nightmare come true.”
“For more than 20 years I have been bringing together artists of cultures from all over the world.… Excellence in the arts knows no cultural, racial, ethnic, religious or social boundaries. I found this to be true in my journeys to Israel.” Sele expressed amazement at “the legacy of trees [for the honorees] to be planted [by JNF] in the Martin Luther King Forest in Israel.”
* * *
After placing a small ad in The New Yorker for her CD “Songs in the Key of Yiddish,” former Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre artistic director Eleanor Reissa received more than 100 replies, including one from an American soldier now serving in Iraq. “Dear meydele,” he wrote in an e-mail to Reissa, “Missed breakfast to go into the field because [the] military found improvised explosive devices.… Missed lunch supervising Kurds installing a fence.… Missed dinner, as spent time in a bunker after seeing incoming fire.… I’ll try to hear it… but it’s lights-out in helmets and vests.”
* * *
Late last month I relished seeing the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players in “H.M.S. Pinafore,” with its spoof of class distinctions, and “The Mikado,” with its bribery-addicted Pooh-Bah whose portrayal of the corrupting influence of power is as relevant in 2004 as it was in 1885. As in the past years, the latter musical included an updated “Little List” of “people who won’t be missed” that included: “trilaterists, spammers… and compassionate conservatives who sing, ‘Give war a chance.’”
Coincidentally, the Gilbert & Sullivan Yiddish Light Opera Company of Long Island was wowing audiences in a seven-city Florida tour of “Di Yam Gazlonim” (based on “The Pirates of Penzance”). When Al Grand, who provided the masterful and hysterically funny translation, called me upon his return from Florida, I passed along regards from Albert Bergeret, artistic director of the New York G&S Players (whose company will be touring cross-country). In English or in Yiddish, try not to miss it!