Stars Shine In Alzheimer Gala

By Masha Leon

Published December 15, 2006, issue of December 15, 2006.
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GLITZ AND GLAMOR IN SERVICE OF ALZHEIMER RESEARCH

At the mingling reception ritual of the November 14 Alzheimer Association “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” Rita Hayworth Gala at the Waldorf-Astoria, I got a “hello” kiss from bearded actor Ron Silver, was heymishly hugged by Broadway producer Marty Richards, exchanged a quip with Ivana Trump, was greeted by Carl Bernstein (of Woodward and Bernstein Watergate fame) and joshed with singer Neil Sedaka about “New Yorkers kvelling when he sang in Yiddish at the Folksbiene 2004 Gala at Carnegie Hall.”

A video of a young, sexy Rita Hayworth in a diaphanous green gown, dancing with Gene Kelly to the music of The Tops, heightened the anguish of the disease that struck the Hollywood legend in her 50s. “One of you at each table — one in 10 — will get Alzheimer’s at 65,” said Hayworth’s daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, who cared for her mother until Hayworth’s death at 69. In her memory, Khan established the gala which to date has raised $44 million for Alzheimer’s disease research. “We both lost our beautiful, intelligent mothers,” gala honoree Phyllis George told the black-tie crowd. “There is no cure. Celebrity, fame, wealth does not exempt you from the pain of a family member succumbing to this disease.” Gala chair Donna Dixon introduced the evening’s guest artist, singer-songwriter Michael McDonald, by turning to the silver-haired Grammy winner and saying wistfully, “We both have loved ones who have suffered from Alzheimer’s.”

Bryant Gumbel, whose mother has Alzheimer’s, announced that Ronald McDonald House agreed to donate $50,000 to Alzheimer’s research if someone in the ballroom could match the offer. Within a heartbeat, there came a matching bid from someone in the ballroom. The gala was underwritten by Rolex Watch USA.


A WESTPOINTER CONFRONTS THE HOLOCAUST “I am honored to be here tonight representing the 12 cadets and midshipmen from [the U.S. Military Academy at] West Point, [Naval Academy at] Annapolis and [U.S. Air Force Academy at] Colorado Springs,” said Ethan Orwin, special guest at the November 16 Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust’s “Generation to Generation” dinner at The Hotel Pierre. A West Pointer, Toronto-born Orwin — recipient of the “Distinguished Cadet” award, and active in the Jewish community at West Point — was among a group of cadets and midshipmen from the United States sent to study at the Auschwitz Jewish Center, which recently merged with the Battery Park-based museum. Ann Oster, a museum trustee, told the guests that Orwin — who will be graduating West Point with honors this summer — was one of a select group of cadets “who take part in an intensive three-week program dedicated to the study of the Holocaust… the events leading up to it… to help our future military leaders understand the ongoing relevance of the Holocaust.”

“Like most young Americans, we Army, Navy and Air Force cadets who went on the Service Academy trip [to the Auschwitz Center] have been hearing about the Holocaust all our lives,” Orwin said. “I had visited both the Holocaust museum in Washington and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. This did not prepare me for what I would see… on my trip to Poland…. I was born on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and my parents gave me the middle name Mordechai after Mordechai Anielewicz, the 23-year-old commander of the [1943] Warsaw Ghetto uprising…. Imagine me last June, reaching out to touch the rust-colored bricks of the ghetto’s last remaining wall, staring at the sight of the bunker at 18 Mila Street where Anielewicz and his comrades challenged Nazi military might…. These things… affected me as a Jew — actually I was the only Jew on the trip — but it also affected all my fellow cadets as future officers.” Orwin, who that week learned he had won the prestigious Marshall Scholarship (he will be spending the next two years in the United Kingdom, first at St. Andrew’s in Scotland and then at King’s College in London), assured the guests, “The trip was not simply doom and gloom.” There was Krakow’s nightlife, the bonding with their Polish hosts, the righteous gentiles and the Jewish studies students he met at Jagiellonian University, as well as the exceptionally “beautiful Polish girls.”

“This dinner is different from most of the other philanthropic dinners that dot our collective calendars,” museum director David Marwell told the 450 guests. “We honor ourselves, acknowledge members of the museum family, and — at the head of our family — our chairman, Robert Morgenthau,” whose tablemates included museum trustee Larry Silverstein and former New York mayor Ed Koch. Museum “family” members whom Marwell acknowledged included “Moshe Klueger, whose ancestral home is now part of the Auschwitz Jewish Center; the center’s director, Tomasz Kuncewicz, and his wife, Aleksandra, who also works at the center; museum trustees Fanya Heller, Amy and Howard Rubenstein, Patti Kenner, Rosa Strygler and Jonathan Greenspun, representing Mayor Michael Bloomberg.”

Amid the celebratory aura, a poignant moment as museum trustee and dinner chair Rita Lerner recalled: “Today would have been my mother Henny Durmashkin Gurka’s 83rd birthday…. [She] sang in the concentration camp orchestra in Dachau. After the war, she was accompanied by Leonard Bernstein when he came to conduct the orchestra in the DP camps of Lansberg, Feldafing and Munich. She felt honored when asked to sing “Hatikvah” and “The Star Spangled Banner” at the museum in 1997.


JIMMY CARTER MISSTEPS FROM PAST TO PRESENT

Escalating claims of inaccuracies, distortions and outright lies in former President Jimmy Carter’s latest book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” (Simon & Schuster), prompted me to revisit the 25-page, single-spaced transcript of my July 19, 1982, taped interview with Morris Abram, former national president of the American Jewish Committee and U.S. representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The interview, held in New York City at the Park Avenue office of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, where he was a partner, coincided with Abram’s autobiography, “The Day Is Short” (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982). The book chronicles his prolonged, successful battle with acute myolocytic leukemia, his wide-arced political and public life, and his visceral disdain for Carter, who in 1979 had appointed him chairman of the President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems of Medicines. The interview ran as a two-parter in the October 17 and 24, 1982, issues of a Forward insert included in the Forverts.

Abram wrote: “… I was increasingly worried and rankled by Carter’s refusal to speak out against the public anti-Semitic remarks by his close friend Bert Lance and his brother, Billy…. Nor had I any confidence whatsoever in Carter’s profession of ‘friendship for Israel.’” Though Abram’s disdain for Carter singes the pages, mine was not a political “Gotcha!” interview but a friendly exchange. He reminisced about his Georgia childhood and asked me if Gus Tyler, “who had been “a big influence on my life and had known [Forward founder Abe] Cahan… still writes for the Forverts.” The interview — which launched a warm friendship until his death in March 2000 — was troublesome. I had sent Abram a transcript and asked if he would prefer to tone down some of his barbs about Carter. “What I said is true and how I feel,” was his reply. But he left it up to me. What I omitted from the 1982 printed interview was Abram declaring that Carter “was a feckless, hopeless leader of this country who was leading the country into a psychological depression…. The only honest way of voting against Jimmy Carter… the only honest thing… was to vote for Reagan because he would get rid of Carter.”






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