A ‘Sex and the City’ Kind of Purimspiel


By Masha Leon

Published March 19, 2004, issue of March 19, 2004.
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“Spring is in the air to celebrate Purim, and biblical films seem to be all the rage,” proclaimed an upbeat Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the Jewish Museum’s “Centennial Purim Ball” at the Waldorf-Astoria on March 3. Event co-chairs Phyllis and William Mack and Amy and Howard Rubenstein welcomed the 750 black-tie and masked guests who helped raise $1.6 million for the museum, which, said Bloomberg, “is a magnet for 200,000 tourists a year.” Jewish Theological Seminary Chancellor Rabbi Ismar Schorsch offered the blessing.

Before the presentation of kiddush cups to the seven honorees — museum chairmen emeriti David Finn, Richard Scheuer, James Weinberg, Morris Offit, Axel Schupf, E. Robert Goodkind and Robert Hurst — museum board chair Susan Lipton said: “In 1904 we were a fledgling collection of 26 objects donated by Meyer Sulzberger to the Jewish Theological Seminary. In 1938-39, we were a safe haven for the treasures of the Danzig community and other collections of Judaica from [Europe’s] destroyed communities.… In the 1960s, we were the leading venue in New York for avant-garde art. Today, we are a place to explore Jewish culture and history through art.”

This year’s spicy Purimspiel was penned and presented by Cindy Chupack, who recalled Purim in Tulsa, Okla., “when my mom dressed me and my sister as a political statement: ‘Fight Inflation!’” A writer and executive producer of the award-winning HBO series “Sex in the City,” Chupack got the Purim-story media right: sex sells, sex wins and sex saved the Jewish people.

In her version, Persia’s King Ahasuerus wanted to show off his “hot, hot, hot… trophy wife, Vashti… who refused to come to court nude…. Mordecai the Jew enters his orphaned beautiful niece, Esther, in a pageant, advising her, ‘Let’s not mention the Jewish thing.’” The king is bowled over by her beauty. Mordecai overhears a plot and saves the king’s life. “‘You don’t look Jewish,’ says the king. ‘And you don’t look like Tom Cruise,’ replies Esther, who saves the Jewish people.” The rest is hamantashn history. Grogger-twirlers included Ruth Westheimer, Gabriel Erem, Fanya Heller and Judy and Michael Steinhardt.

Speaking of “Sex and the City” with its Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo shoe fixation, I spotted a few of those pointy-toe beauties peeking out from under some gowns. The sight reminded me of my chat earlier that week with Dr. Stuart Mogul, a foot surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital whom I met at a book party for his tootsie-coddling “Perfect Feet: Caring and Pampering,” hosted by Rosie Hefferman and Cynthia Maltese at Maltese’s East Side townhouse. “Mogul? What’s the name’s origin,” I asked the doctor. “Call me later,” he said.

Mogul, a regular on ABC-TV’s “The View,” Fox News and NBC-TV’s “Extra,” told me, “I do not do surgery so people can fit into a particular shoe.… I do perform cosmetic foot surgery for people who have toe deformities.” As for his name: “The family’s original name was Mogulansky…. They came from Bobroisk and Kharkhov, Russia…. My grandfather, who came here in 1906 and had seven sisters, developed a bungalow colony in northern Westchester.… We were secular Jews, [but] I was bar mitzvahed in an Orthodox shul in Mohegan Lake [N.Y.] The rabbi took pity on me, prepared me a week before, and I did it all in phonetics.”

* * *

“We’ve got to face it: France invented the cinema,” said Bruce Goldstein, founder of Rialto Pictures and director of repertory programming for New York’s Film Forum. “I’ve been to Lyon, and lemme tell ya… there’ ain’t no Rue du Premier Film in New Jersey.” Along with Paolo Cherchi Usai, senior curator of the motion picture department at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y., Goldstein was honored with the Order of Arts and Letters at the February 23 ceremony held at the New York headquarters of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. To the cinema-savvy audience, which included Isabella Rossellini, Goldstein revealed: “The tie pin I am wearing with the initials ‘E.L.’ was given to me by the daughter of Ernst Lubitsch, the great German director who made movies in Hollywood — about Paris.”

As a teen, Goldstein trekked from Amityville, N.Y. to Manhattan’s Thalia cinema, where he saw his first French film, “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” (“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”). “I feel gratified to present films by people who were once well-known here, but have now been virtually forgotten.” Fellow honoree Usai said: “Fighting against the loss of our film heritage is less important than fighting against poverty, disease, social injustice and political oppression.… Yet I believe that cinema can be a powerful messenger of all the values we would like to promote.”

Sipping Veuve Clicquot, Goldstein confided: “The shirt I’m wearing was given to me by Jules Dassin.” It looked like the Aegean-blue shirt Dassin (director and star of the 1955 hit “Rififi,” a Rialto release) had sported a few years ago for our interview, during which he told me that, like David Opatoshu, he began his career at the Artef studios, where, with Stella Adler’s help, he learned Yiddish.

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