A Jordanian Prince Dazzles Benefit-goers


By Masha Leon

Published February 13, 2004, issue of February 13, 2004.
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The Abraham Fund Initiatives’ January 29 “Coexistence Benefit” opened with invocations in Arabic, Hebrew and English by Muhammed Fahili, director of the Jewish-Arab Community Association in Akko, Israel, a city he described as “one-third Arab, one-third Jewish and one-third immigrant.”

A Buddhist blessing, a meditation about “food on one’s plate,” was read by the Very Rev. James Parks Morton, dean emeritus of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and founder and president of the Interfaith Center of New York.

Abraham Fund co-founder and chairman Alan Slifka warmly introduced the evening’s keynote speaker: Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, whose impressive curriculum vitae lists his seven books (among them “A Study of Jerusalem” and “Search for Peace: The Politics of the Middle Ground in the Arab East”) and his positions as president and patron of the Arab Thought Forum, president of the Club of Rome and moderator of the World Conference on Religion and Peace.

Removing his jacket, the Oxford-educated prince, the younger brother of the late King Hussein, began his far-ranging, encyclopedic lecture across time and history by invoking “the spirit of Leo Baeck [and] his work during… the Holocaust.” He proceeded to share recollections of a visit to Auschwitz and, in excellent Hebrew, read biblical quotations, cited Ecclesiastes and related the euphoria of his “late brother and Prime Minister Rabin after the signing of the peace treaty.”

Dazzling the 310 guests with his erudition, the prince noted, quoted and commented on topics including Maimonides, Vasco de Gama, Elie Wiesel, Vaclav Havel, the Dalai Lama, Erasmus, Socrates, Minerva, Yehudi Menuhin, Jacob Schiff, the Vatican Council, the late South African prime minister Jan Christian Smuts and Levanos, “a Byzantine sophist after whom Lebanon is named.”

“We have to go on believing and doing the right thing… because it is the right thing,” the prince said. “I believe that Prime Minister Sharon [is] a man with whom you can negotiate.”

He then identified the “lodestar” of the three religions as follows: “Christianity is love; Judaism… the rule of law; and Islam, justice.” He repeatedly underscored the “Abrahamic ancestry of the Jews, Arabs and Christians,” then posited, “Why can’t we interface?”

On a lighter note, he cited “the Anglo-Saxon who said to the Arabs: ‘Isn’t it time you people matured and began living like Christians together?’”

The fund’s incoming president and chief executive officer, Ami Nahshon, touted the organization’s expanded initiatives and philosophy of “shared citizenship, co-existence and equality” among Jews and Arabs in Israel, and announced that $425,000 had been raised that evening. A sculpture of intertwining hands, the fund’s logo, was presented to its designer, outgoing president Judith Eigen Sarna.

* * *

The buzz is that Alfred Molina, the latest incarnation of Tevye in Broadway’s revival of “Fiddler on the Roof,” portrays Sholom Aleichem’s milkman as something of “a hunk.” Unlike some of Tevye’s legendary portrayers — Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, Theodore Bikel and Topol — the British-born Molina, with his Italian-Spanish ancestry and El Greco-ish visage, gives the character a younger, sexier edge.

Among the attendees at the January 25 post-preview benefit reception sponsored by the Jewish National Fund’s Sapphire Society (which raises funds for JNF projects in the Negev) were “Fiddler” producers Stewart Lane and Bonnie Comley, plus several cast members, including Yusef Bulos — “I’m Lebanese” — who plays the rabbi, and Mark Lotito, who portrays the bookseller.

Wading through the crush of mazel-toving, autograph-seeking fans, I exchanged pleasantries with Molina, who has lost much of the schmaltz he sported as the portly Diego Rivera in the film “Frida.” As personified by Molina, Anatevka’s Tevye is indeed a hunk. Molina congratulators included Antonio Bandini, Italy’s consul general in New York, and his wife, Consuelo, and Uri Palti, Israel’s acting deputy consul general. I was told that Norizam Rastam Mohd Isa, wife of Malaysia’s ambassador to the United Nations, who saw the preview, declared she “loved it.” (As a critic, I will not get to the “Fiddler” till next month.)

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