Some 500 guests at the November 2 American Friends of Rabin Medical Center gala at the Waldorf-Astoria were treated to a Russian-accented “God Bless America” by diva Elena Bokorova; a sublime “Hatikvah” by Israeli-born opera star Hadar Halevy De Vito and a bravura “Star-Spangled Banner” by Metropolitan Opera great Sherill Milnes. They chuckled at master of ceremonies Larry King’s jokes; applauded Senator Hillary Clinton’s deft side-stepping repartee (“Get Larry King”) when asked if she would accept a presidential draft, and applauded dinner honorees Stephen Siegel, a chairman at CB Richard Ellis Real Estate Services, and his wife, Big Apple Circus’s president, Wendy Siegel.
Nava Barak, president of Israel Friends of Rabin Medical Center, touted the 1,300-bed center serving 1 million patients annually with 150,000 emergency-room admissions and where 70% of Israel’s organ transplants are performed.
Introducing himself as “an alumni of Rabin [Medical Center] 47 years ago — a successful delivery,” Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, described “Israel’s mothers and fathers who send their children daily to school” as heroes who “could not do this unless Rabin Medical center existed.”
Keynote speaker John Major, former prime minister of Great Britain, leapt across time and history as he recalled his grandfather’s stint in Pittsburgh “to work at Shell,” hailed Great Britain as “the largest investor in the U.S.,” mused about the Queen Mother’s 101-year life span and updated Churchill’s “London can take it” clarion call to “New York showed it could take it.” Major recalled a helicopter ride he had shared with Rabin — “the warrior-politician” — to the Golan Heights, then quoted Rabin: “We must deal with terrorism as if there were no peace process and deal with the peace process as though there were no terrorism.”
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“It took a lot to bring this puppy to the screen,” 20th Century Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman told the high-profile cinema and celebrity crowd at the November 1 world premiere of “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” at Manhattan’s Beekman Theatre.
Based on two books from Patrick O’Brien’s 20-volume naval series set during the Napoleonic wars, this oceanic thriller, starring Russell Crowe as violin-playing Captain Aubrey, is a must-sea!
Red-carpet flashbulbs greeted the film’s director Peter Weir and Crowe’s co-star Paul Bettany, and his wife, actress Jennifer Connelly. Inside the theater, a surprisingly accessible Crowe mingled with guests including Martha Stewart, Lachlan Murdoch, Israeli-born film producer Arnon Milchan (“Once Upon a Time in America,” “L.A. Confidential”) and Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein. When Crowe spotted my daughter Karen Leon with camera, he jokingly admonished: “I think you’ve taken enough shots of me.” (Crowe owns a caricature of himself as “Gladiator” created by Karen, a cartoonist-illustrator.)
Rothman introduced a renowned CBS veteran as “Captain Walter Cronkite, a sailor in his own right.” Cronkite shared his recollections about sailing on Marjorie Merriweather Post’s yacht, the Sea Cloud, with naval action author Patrick O’Brien. “Patrick insisted that we only sail on a calm sea and within sight of land!”
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Another port of call was the Naval Order of the United States New York Commandery November 3 luncheon at the Racquet and Tennis Club at which John Lehman, secretary of the Navy under former president Ronald Reagan and staff member to Henry Kissinger on the National Security Council, received the Rear Admiral Samuel Elliot Morrison Award for naval literature for his latest book, “On Seas of Glory: Heroic Men, Great Ships, and Epic Battles of the American Navy.”
Addressing the 75 Navy veterans (many fans of O’Brien’s books and a few familiar with the Forward), Lehman decried “the lack of attention in our schools to history — no longer required courses in college or university.” He touted the Navy’s current “flexibility and technology” but labeled “our intelligence community dysfunctional.”
In the chapter “Commodore Uriah Philips Levy: Pride and Prejudice,” Lehman covers the life of Levy (1792-1862), who rose from cabin boy at age 10 (he returned home for his bar mitzvah) to become the first Jewish commodore in the United States Navy. Lehman writes: “In 1837, appalled at the ruin of Monticello, Jefferson’s estate, Levy bought and restored it.” While in command of the Mediterranean fleet (1859), “Levy took home a wagonload of earth from Palestine for the use of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York.”
According to figures supplied to me by Julie Koven, reference librarian at the American Jewish Historical Society, there were 45 Jews in the U.S. Navy during the Spanish-American War; 800 to 1,000 during World War I, and 8,840 during World War II. Under an Office of Naval Research grant, my navy veteran husband, Joe, ran the first electron microscope laboratory at Columbia University.