“When I was at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts,” recalled Kirk Douglas at the November 24 American Legacy Foundation dinner at Cipriani 42nd St., “I met Lauren Bacall. She was a beautiful 16-year-old…. I was a poor boy. I had no raincoat…. Her uncle gave me an overcoat that I wore for two years. How did I thank her? I tried to seduce her on a rooftop in Greenwich Village! I didn’t succeed, but we’ve become great friends since then.”
Douglas received Legacy’s Public Awareness Award for publicizing smoking-related illnesses. Praised for his refusal to smoke on screen or off, Douglas noted, “My father… and mother… died of smoke-related illness.” During our dinner chat, he surprised me with his extensive Yiddishisms, then amused the crowd with his version of the movie ratings system: “G: the hero gets the girl. R: the villain gets the girl. X: everybody gets the girl.”
Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the foundation, told the nicotine-averse crowd: “Smoking kills more Americans each year than AIDS, drugs, alcohol, fires, car accidents, murder and suicides combined.” Legacy, which works to combat smoking through education, also honored Deborah Fine, president of Avon Future, for her efforts to help reduce smoking among young women and Ellen Levine, editor in chief of Good Housekeeping, which has not accepted tobacco advertising for more than 50 years.
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The December 11 Anti-Defamation League tribute to its outgoing national chair, Glen Tobias, and his wife, Lynn Tobias, at the Pierre, was a mutual admiration fest. Mrs. Tobias complimented her husband who, in turn, touted his adoring wife for her dedication to volunteerism. Master of ceremonies Peter Atkins, in turn, credited her with having “a black belt in shopping.” Incoming National Chair Barbara Balser and the Tobiases then praised the ADL and its national director, Abraham Foxman.
A feel-good video highlighting the Tobias family’s safe and fortunate Jewish life in America contrasted sharply with Atkins’s allusion to the renewed spread of antisemitism: “Some of us now begin to understand what our parents and grandparents experienced.” In that vein, keynote speaker Elie Wiesel observed grimly: “I thought the world would change…. Our generation has antennas… and when we sense danger… believe us!… European Jews do not say: ‘If we should leave?’ but ‘when.’ Who would have believed… 50 years after a catastrophe, Jews have to leave!… Madness has entered history.”
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At the December 4 Israel Policy Forum dinner at the Sheraton Hotel, I spotted IPF honoree Lord Michael Levy, personal envoy and adviser on the Middle East to Prime Minister Tony Blair, huddled in animated conversation with columnist Thomas Friedman and Palestinian Geneva Understandings negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo. I could not help but think of Sally Bowles, the luckless character in the musical “Cabaret” who wishfully sings, “Maybe This Time?” During the reception, I asked Rep. Gary Ackerman (my congressman) his thoughts on the new initiative, he replied: “We have to give the dreamers a chance.”
Marvin Lender, IPF executive committee chairman, disclosed to the 750-strong crowd that Levy’s grandfather Nathan Birnbaum had been “a delegate at the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897.” Lender then introduced Levy’s son, Daniel, one of the drafters of the Geneva Initiative.
Levy, a member of the House of Lords who said that his grandfather had been “one of the first rabonim to preach Zionism,” urged “understanding for the Palestinian people.”
“I am proud to represent Tony Blair… one of the great world leaders,” said Levy, who told me his family came from Lomze, Poland. “He loves chicken soup and has great affection for the Jewish people.”
“I am Baron Levy… and my coat of arms is the first one ever with Hebrew letters: Ohev Shalom VeRodef Shalom, which means ‘to love peace and pursue peace.’”
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“Weizmann is internationally respected… its ‘mentsh power,’ a resource more important than [the] oil and gas of its neighbors,” Stuart Eizenstat, chairman of the board of governors of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, told the black-tie guests, scientists and Nobel laureates at its American committee’s December 7 gala at the Waldorf Astoria.
“There is no other solution: the State of Israel and a Palestinian state living side-by-side,” asserted Weizmann Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Shimon Peres, who tersely proclaimed: “We shall be free. They shall be free…. We don’t need a fence…. Peace is the best defense…. The future is science. What you are doing at Weizmann is freeing Israel… of the [limitations] of land.”
Land, however, was very much on honorees Helen and Martin Kimmel’s philanthropic agenda. “Their generosity to Weizmann’s future includes land and space to expand,” said gala chair Gershon Kekst. Israeli Consul General Alon Pinkas (who admitted stealing grapefruit from Weizmann’s orchards as a youngster) toasted the Kimmels, who met at Weizmann 18 years ago. “Israel… is helping make this world a better place for every human being,” said Kimmel, who thanked the institution “for a happy marriage,” then planted an applause-eliciting full-mouth kiss on his wife’s lips. L’chaim!