An Evening of Two Elies: Wiesel, Tahari


By Masha Leon

Published May 23, 2003, issue of May 23, 2003.
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The American Jewish Committee New York Chapter’s April 30 Stanley M. Isaacs Human Relations Award dinner at the New York Hilton — at which Elie Wiesel presented an award to fashion designer Elie Tahari — will be remembered as “The Evening of the Two Elies.” Delighting the 350 guests who helped raise $400,000, the biblically nimble Wiesel alluded to “a clothing factory in Paradise owned by God who prepared clothing for Adam and Eve,” and staying with the “fashion” theme, cited the multicolored robe worn by Joseph.

An emotional Tahari said: “The biggest gift in this life was to meet my wife [Rory]. It’s as though God struck me with a magic wand…. My parents are from Iran; I grew up in Israel…. I left for England where they called me a ‘bloody Pakistani.’ This country accepted me with open arms.”

After September 11, 2001, Tahari wrapped the five-story building he owns at 510 Fifth Avenue in a 50-foot by 150-foot American flag. “I give back to society…. I want my boy [the 21-month-old Jeremey] to live in a world where there is freedom… and equality.”

Mimi Alpern, the AJCommittee’s national chair of programs and policy, expounded on AJCommittee’s monitoring of “state-sponsored” text books in Saudi Arabia from which she cited the following excerpts: “Christians and Jews are the enemies of Islam, therefore a Muslim cannot befriend or emulate them…. The Jews are responsible for the French Revolution, the Bolshevik revolution and the outbreak of World War I.”

She referred to a two-volume set of path-breaking books published by the AJCommittee called “Children of Abraham” (2001) — one on Islam for Jews, the other on Judaism for Muslims. “Even before the [series] was published,” Alpern said, “a fatwa was pronounced against the author.

“We will continue to seek out those in the Muslim world — and they do exist — who are willing to reassert the common values shared by Islam with the world’s other religious faiths.”

* * *

On May 4, I “escalatored” between the New York Hyatt’s main floor — where at its 95th anniversary dinner, B’nai Zion honored New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi and New York Board of Rabbis president Rabbi Joseph Potasnik — and the third-floor ballroom, where Jerusalem’s former mayor Ehud Olmert, now a vice premier and Israel’s minister of trade and industry, was the keynote speaker at a State of Israel Bonds dinner.

During the B’nai Zion award presentation ceremony, and within earshot of dinner chair New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Potasnik turned to Hevesi and, alluding to his recent expose of the MTA’s “double set of books” accounting shenanigans, said: “Look, I don’t want any problems with the Board of Rabbis…. I’m going to surrender to you our two sets of books — a Torah and a Talmud.”

Meanwhile, upstairs, Olmert touted Israel’s improving economy. “Anyone who ever invested in Israel Bonds,” he said, “knew his money [was] guaranteed. With these bonds, we literally built what we have today in Israel.”

Turning to the war in Iraq, Olmert stated: “We are with President Bush and with the American people. I don’t care what they find…. If they destroyed it, they had it; if they had it, what did they need it for — if not to use one day? We don’t need Americans to search in Iraq to know what they are capable of…. When in 1981 the Israeli air force destroyed Iraq’s atomic reactor, all the world attacked [then prime minister] Menachem Begin. Imagine if we would not have done it!… We never had any doubt about G.W. Bush, a great president…. But, it doesn’t mean that we have to be in agreement on everything.”

* * *

Because of events in Iraq, King Abdullah II and Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan were unable to attend the April 28 Seeds of Peace “Concert for Peace in the Middle East” at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, where they were to receive the John P. Wallach Peace Prize.

Among the 2,500 Seeds partisans who helped raise $1.5 million at this stellar event (which included performances by castmembers from some of Broadway’s hit musicals) were Seeds vice president Janet Wallach, widow of John Wallach, who founded Seeds of Peace in 1993 and died in 2002; Morton Olshan, part owner of the N.Y. Yankees, N.J. Nets and N.J. Devils; Malcolm Thomson, a principal in Bernstein Investment, Research & Management, and actress Tovah Feldshuh.

Tweaking an old Jewish joke for the occasion, emcee Jerry Stiller said, “I came from a family that did not have a single day of peace: My mother was a Litvak and my father a Galitzianer… one a Sunni, the other a Shiite. Seeds president Aaron Miller touted the organization for “creating common ground for thousands of young people caught in conflict…. Our center in Jerusalem is bringing together thousands of Israelis and Palestinians… The Seeds program has been exported to Cyprus, Pakistan, India and the Balkans.”

Speakers included Seeds chairman of the board Fredric Gould, Egypt’s Ambassador Nabil Fahmy and Thomas Pickering, senior vice president for international relations for Boeing Co. Pickering, a former U.S. ambassador to India, Israel, the Russian Federation, Nigeria and Jordan who is fluent in French, Spanish, Swahili, Arabic and Hebrew, praised “Bush’s and [Secretary of State] Powell’s leadership.”

“We now have a new opportunity… to move to the conclusion of the Middle-East program,” Pickering said. “It’s time for America to bring the parties together.”

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