Workmen’s Circle Seder Hits High Note


By Masha Leon

Published May 02, 2003, issue of May 02, 2003.
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More than 300 guests joined in celebrating the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring star-studded April 13 gala Seder at the Grand Hyatt. Narrated by Eleanor Reissa and Adrienne Cooper, the streamlined program, under the baton of artistic and musical director Zalmen Mlotek, showcased the Workmen’s Circle Chorus, New Yiddish Chorale and a roster of artists including African-American bass Elmore James, whose Yiddish articulation was so “on key” and geshmak (delicious), that I suggested he coach Mandy Patinkin.

The Seder’s show-stopper: the Pripetshik Singers, a cadre of youngsters conducted by Binyumin Schaechter, gave a flawless performance of “Mu Asapru/Ver Veys?” (“Who Knows?”) at laughter-eliciting breakneck speed. Mina Bern, the Folksbiene’s “jewel in the crown” and honoree, brilliantly declaimed the poem tribute “In Varshever Geto” (“In the Warsaw Ghetto”).

Martin Schwartz, director of the Workmen’s Circle’s Center for Social and Economic Justice, lauded honoree Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York as “the voice of the Workmen’s Circle in Congress.” Nadler responded that he was pleased to “join with the Workmen’s Circle in its quest to create a shenere un besere velt, or tikkun olam, in the tradition I grew up in…. This is why I went into government service — to make a difference and to help those less fortunate.”

During the Seder, Fay Rosenfeld, senior assistant dean for student affairs at Hofstra University School of Law, told me that her mother, Sara Rosenfeld (nee Mlotek, sister of the late Yosl Mlotek), received the Order of Canada, the country’s highest decoration, at a February 21 ceremony at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa for “lifetime achievement on behalf of the Yiddish language and culture in Canada.” As a onetime student at the Workmen’s Circle shule in Montreal, I added my mazel tov!

* * *

On April 6, the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust honored its chairman, Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan District Attorney, at its “Heritage Dinner” at the Waldorf-Astoria. Museum director David Marwell touted “the East Wing — our expanded home,” which is scheduled to open this fall. “We have plans to dazzle New York,” Marwell told the guests who helped raise $1.5 million. Morgenthau fans included Bob Abrams, Alon Pinkas, Howard Rubenstein, Ben and Vladka Meed, Kenneth Bialkin, Jonathan Greenspun, Hugh Carey, Eliot Spitzer, Nita Lowey, Jack Rudin and event co-chair Kate Roosevelt Whitney.

Museum trustee Steven Spielberg narrated a 15-minute video tribute recapping the Morgenthau family’s three generations of public service to America: Henry Morgenthau Sr., who came to the United States in 1858 from Manheim, Germany, and was appointed ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1913 by President Woodrow Wilson; his son Henry Morgenthau Jr., who was appointed secretary of the treasury in 1933 by President Franklin Roosevelt, and grandson Robert Morgenthau, appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Spielberg joshed: “Can this be the face that terrified every bad guy in New York… for the past 30 years?”

Morgenthau credited Ed Koch with having asked him to serve as co-chairman of the New York City Holocaust Committee in 1982. “I said yes to Ed because… the events of World War II made me… an eyewitness to what happens when a government becomes a criminal enterprise and turns on its citizens and neighbors…. That we have to make sure that the rich, vibrant Jewish culture that was nearly destroyed by the Nazis would not be forgotten.”

* * *

Michael Steinhardt, co-chairman of the April 6 “Hillel Lights Up Broadway” farewell to the Jewish campus organization’s departing president, Richard Joel, created a tempest in a tchainik (a teapot) with his “unorthodox” roast-tribute to the departing Joel. Dressed in chasidic garb and punctuating his droshe with baruch hashems, Steinhardt told the 700 guests at the Marriott-Marquis, who helped raise $1 million for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, that “Richard [who will assume the presidency of Yeshiva University in the fall] has finally seen the light.”

“He is leaving the sinful world of the goyim with their orgies and gay and lesbian rabbis, Sodomites, shikkurs and pornographers… and that’s just from last week’s Shabbaton.… No longer must you hold your tongue as women parade half-naked before you… elbows, ankles, knees and pupiks brazenly revealed to arouse your lust khas v’shalom.… I used to be a mamzer myself… a leader in the world of atheism and moral philandering.… I spit on my own self… and made haste to change my ways.”

Steinhardt insisted during our chat last week that “it was greeted enthusiastically… in good spirit and good fun. I was surprised that the small portion of the Orthodox world who found this offensive weren’t there.”

* * *

The captioning of Rabbi Marc Schneier as “Rabbi Arthur Schneier” in the April 18 column would no doubt have been attributed by Isaac Bashevis Singer to the work of an imp — or a glitch based on “one degree of separation.” Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the North American Boards of Rabbis, who was highlighted in the article and photo, is the son of Rabbi Arthur Schneier.

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