Giving Children at Risk a Future


By Masha Leon

Published June 02, 2006, issue of June 02, 2006.
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‘Three hundred thousand young people are seriously at risk in Israel and likely to become part of a criminal underclass unless something is done,” ELEM/America’s president, Ann Bialkin, cautioned at the organization’s May 10 ELEM — Youth in Distress in Israel benefit. “Each year, 23,000 juveniles are referred to the service and account for 45,000 crimes,” said Rachel Shavit, director of Israel’s Juvenile Probation Service. ELEM honorary director Nava Barak, wife of former Israeli prime minster Ehud Barak, added: “For thousands of youngsters in Israel, the street is their home, the bench is their bed.” But then 17-year-old Karina from Netanya told the guests at The Waldorf-Astoria: “Thank you for giving me a normal life. I was 9 when my family came from Uzbekistan. I was a street person… I beat my grandmother, was charged by the police. Without [ELEM case worker] Dalia, my life would not have changed…. No yelling, no hitting, no swearing. I now get A’s…. I got into an ELEM work program. I work for a law firm. I was a violent dropout; now I have a future. I hope to get into the army. I want to be a good Israeli.”

“We can’t afford [such] social problems or to leave anybody behind in our small country,” said Israel’s consul general, Arye Mekel. “We are a country that has contributed to the world more than most others,” said an upbeat Dan Gillerman, Israel’s representative to the United Nations. “We made the desert bloom, patents, innovation, art, culture. No other country exports so much beauty, culture, excellence. [Businessman] Warren Buffet just invested $4 billion in an Israeli company, a show of confidence in a country fighting for its life! This is not a time to talk of Hamas or terror. Israel will prevail, and ELEM will help make sure of its future. If you want to touch the past, touch a stone. If you want to touch the future, touch a child.” Emceed by MSNBC anchor Dan Abrams, and co-chaired by Joan Weill, chairman of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Foundation and her husband, Sanford Weill, chairman, Citigroup, Inc., the benefit raised $775,000.

* * *

After a little girl in a shelter asked her, “What are pajamas?” Genevieve Piturro founded The Pajama Program, which, to date, has distributed more than 60,000 pairs of pajamas and 70,000 books to children who have been abused, abandoned and part of “the [child welfare] system.” At the program’s fifth annual luncheon, held May 5 at the Hotel Pierre, a teary Piturro informed that 11,000 pairs of pajamas had been distributed directly into the hands of Hurricane Katrina survivors. Songwriter-socialite Denise Rich presented the program’s Mother of the Year Award to her friend, soul-singing legend Patti LaBelle. After losing her third and only surviving sister to cancer —as she had lost the other two — LaBelle adopted that sister’s four children. “I’m 61 years young, and I have so many more things to do in this life,” LaBelle said. “Our responsibility is to take care of others when someone leaves this planet.” Then LaBelle, a brown halo of a hat framing her face, stood up and, a cappella, belted out a window-rattling gospel rendition of the Lord’s Prayer that had some of the guests weeping. On May 11, Pajama Program event chair Sharon Marantz Walsh and Princess Anna Christina Radziwill hosted a champagne reception at Bulgari’s, located on Madison Avenue. A percentage of that evening’s purchases were earmarked for the program. Here’s my personal pajama memory: Having lost everything in the 1939 bombing of Warsaw, my mother and I fled the Nazi-occupied city and in 1940 reached Vilna, where one of the first things my mother did was sew a pair of flannel pajamas for me.

* * *

“It is an extraordinary honor and pleasure for me to welcome you, the family members of Arthur Rubinstein, one of the most celebrated pianists of the 20th century,” Germany’s consul general, Hans-Jürgen Heimsoeth, said to Eva Rubinstein, Alina Rubinstein and Paul Rubinstein, three of the pianist’s four children (the fourth, actor John Rubinstein, was on location). The historic May 5 event, hosted by the consul and his wife, Lizabeth, at their Park Avenue residence, celebrated the transfer of 71 pieces of sheet music from a German library to the pianist’s family. “In 1940, Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg confiscated the property of Arthur Rubinstein in Paris. His private library was removed from Paris to Berlin. In 1945 it was taken to the USSR by the Soviet military, then came back to Berlin in the course of a partial return of German cultural assets in 1958 to ’59 and was assigned to the music department of the East-Berlin State Library, where it was kept till German reunification.

“In the course of the Second World War, a large number of cultural assets were misappropriated and brought to other countries,” Heimsoeth said. “The German federal government is aware of its special responsibility for the damages national socialist Germany inflicted on its neighbor states, as well as on many museums, libraries and private individuals. The federal government and municipalities have committed themselves to the ‘discovery and return of stolen cultural assets and, in particular, Jewish property.’ It is a pleasure for me that today, for the first time, musical documents, too, can be restituted.” Pianist J.Y. Song, artistic adviser for chamber music at New York’s Mannes College of Music, performed a masterful interpretation of Heitor Villa-Lobos’s volcanic “Rudepoêma for Piano 1921-26.” She noted that the composer had dedicated this work to his friend Rubinstein “as a musical portrait of the pianist.” Though Rubinstein performed the work at the Museum of Modern Art, Song noted that there is no recording of the work by the pianist.

* * *

Among the guests at the May 18 reception at the Japanese Consulate, who were there to meet Japan’s consul general in New York, Motoatsu Sakurai, and his wife “on the occasion of [Sakurai] assuming the post of consul general of Japan,” was music impresario Charlotte White. Her April 25 Salon de Virtuosi Shalom Israel concert at Steinway Hall New York featured Israeli soprano Chen Reiss and Israeli cellist Amit Peled. Also mingling was Linda Senat, director of international relations for the American Jewish Committee.

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