Comics Yuk It Up for 92nd Street Y, Raising $1.1 Million


By Masha Leon

Published June 13, 2003, issue of June 13, 2003.
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The roster of standup comics who headlined the 92nd Street Y’s “Comedy Tonight! A Funny Monday in New York” May 19 benefit elicited roars, chuckles and stunned silences from the 920 guests who raised $1.1 million for the Y.

ABC’s “The View” regular Joy Behar expressed alarm that “Buchanan wants everyone in the country to be Christian…. So who will do my taxes?” Judy Gold confided having “a yeast infection during Passover,” then asked, “If a Jewish guy wears a toupee, does he also need a yarmulke?”

As for Joseph Lieberman’s campaign in the fall, ‘the Jewish season,’” Gold imagined his answering machine message, replete with an incredibly long list of candle-lighting hours and the days his office will close at sundown. “I’m sure the troops will enjoy the Jewish humor,” said Gold, alluding to the printed legend that this “live taped” show “will be shown to U.S. military personnel in 177 countries and on board U.S. Navy ships around the world.”

Escalating “offensive” to “outrageous,” Sarah Silverman asked why so many Jews were driving German cars, positing that if “Mercedes [Benz] had had the foresight” to see that “Jews would be their greatest customers,” or if blacks had lived in Germany then, “there would not have been a Holocaust — for the Jews.” She added that “the Nazis were a–holes.”

In contrast to Gilbert Gottfried’s spastic shtick and Mario Cantone’s gay gamboling, veteran Freddy Roman’s wit was welcome: “I can’t stand the French,” he said. “I have no problem giving up French cheese and wine, but ménage à trois!” Colin Quinn, bless his soul, mercifully left the Jews alone and despite his “blue” routine, showed respect for the institution and its audience by acknowledging being awed by such names as “Spinoza” inscribed along the walls of the Y’s Kaufmann Concert Hall.

* * *

During Israel’s War of Independence, roughly 3,500 volunteers from 43 countries were recruited into Machal, an acronym of Mitnadvay Chutz La’aretz, meaning “Volunteers From Abroad” who were integrated into Israel’s fighting forces. On June 1, 60 American Machalniks — of 160 invited — were honored aboard the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum.

Greeting the veterans and their families, Intrepid Foundation president Bill White recalled the late Zachary Fisher: “Born in Russia, a bricklayer who never finished high school and with his three brothers founded Fisher Bros., an American real estate success story…. In 1976, with $45 million of his own money, he saved this ship from the scrap heap… making it what it is today, a museum to educate the public of the cost of freedom.”

“Next year,” White said, “we hope to have an Israeli ship participate in Fleet Week.” He added, “The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, begun by Zachary Fisher, sends $10,000 grants to each spouse [or dependent] of the 170 American and British troops who fell in Operation Iraqi Freedom…. A $10,000 grant was also sent to the widow of [Israeli astronaut] Ilan Ramon in his memory.”

“I am honored to be part of this event,” said a visibly moved Alon Pinkas, Israel’s consul general in New York, as he and Major General Moshe Evry Sukenik, Israel’s defense attaché in Washington, prepared to distribute proclamations — some posthumously — to the Machalniks gathered in the ship’s Lutnick Theater.

“You have been present at the creation of the greatest miracle, the establishment of the sovereign state of Israel,” said Pinkas.

As these aging men and women — some spry, some with canes — approached the dais, one could hear small intakes of breath as their “credentials” were listed: “airplane pilot,” “deep-sea mine detector,” “illegal ship commander,” “nurse,” “tank operator” and many more.

* * *

“Nothing means more to me than my three children,” said “Mother of the Year” honoree Ivana Trump, addressing the 105 guests at the May 15 inaugural Pajama Program Awards luncheon at Hôtel Plaza Athéneé. Turning to her 6-plus-foot son, Eric, businesswoman Trump poked a bit of fun at herself: “When they were young, they teased me about my accent… Can you imagine that!”

Founded three years ago by Genevieve Piturro, the program provides new pajamas and books to children in hospitals and foster care centers.

Over lunch I chatted with songwriter Denise Rich and Jacky Teplitzky, who was born in Chile, served as a sergeant in the Israeli army, and is now vice president of the Corcoran Group.

Event chair Sharon Maranz Walsh told me that as a 5-year-old she used to get the Forverts for her grandmother: “Without the Forverts it wasn’t a day…. She’d read it without her glasses until 98… As only a European grandmother would, she’d hold the paper in one hand and scratched my back with the other…. She died at 100.”

* * *

More than 100 composers, record executives and artists gathered at the Jewish Museum for the May 19 launch of the Milken Family Foundation’s Archive of Jewish Music CD series. A team of musicologists, musicians and Jewish scholars contributed to the 600 works to be released on 50 CDs on Naxos. As he sipped wine and noshed on hors d’oeuvres, Neil Levin, a professor of Jewish music at the Jewish Theological Seminary and artistic director of this project, commented: “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Jewish music.”

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