Applauding the Adelsons

By Masha Leon

Published December 22, 2006, issue of December 22, 2006.
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YAD VASHEM HONORS THE ADELSONS — PHILANTHROPISTS EXTRAORDINAIRE

“I don’t remember so many people standing up as when I was on the chow line in the army,” said Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp. He and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, were honored at the November 19 American & International Societies for Yad Vashem’s 25th anniversary dinner at New York City’s Sheraton Hotel and Towers. “I’ve never been to an evening with 1,200 people,” said Adelson, who as a boy sold newspapers on the streets of Boston and now owns The Venetian, the largest hotel in the world. According to Fortune magazine, he was the third richest American last year; now he reigns over a resort empire that reaches Macau, China and Singapore. “I’m here among giants — Rabbi Israel Meir Lau [former chief rabbi of Israel and one of the evening’s speakers] who married us…. He’s like a mezuza, everybody who comes by kisses him, too.” Then somberly, Adelson noted: “I fear that the Holocaust will be forgotten…. Art, painting, are important in keeping the Holocaust alive in the face of deniers.” The Adelsons donated $25 million toward Yad Vashem’s museum of Holocaust art.

Fred Zeidman, chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, thanked the Societies’ founder, chairman and dinner honoree, Eli Zborowski, for inviting him to speak about “the special relationship” between their two museums. “In recent years, many other Holocaust centers and museums have been built throughout the United States and across the world… but, in the long term… there are only two institutions who have primary responsibility for how the Holocaust will be documented, researched, taught and commemorated well into the 21st century — and those are the exceptional institutions in the capital of the Jewish homeland and the capital of the free world.”

In a video tribute, Zborowski recalls his mother, younger brother and himself having been saved by a Polish family who risked their own lives, yet he adds: “It was the Poles, not the Germans, who killed my father.” Zborowski thanked the Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren in the room, for “your generosity that has enabled Yad Vashem… [to preserve] the memory of the Shoah and its victims for future generations.” In addition to spotlighting world leaders who over the years have visited Yad Vashem, the film showcases the remarkable expansion made possible by the generosity of wealthy Holocaust survivors and their children, as well as thousands of supporters. The film highlighted The Valley of the Communities — a rock construction with the inscription of each of the Jewish towns and cities destroyed by the Nazis; the Survivors Wall; the Memorial to the Jewish Soldiers and Partisans; the state-of-the-art learning center; the Steven Spielberg Righteous Persons Foundation-funded Visual History Center; and especially, The Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem, where 22,000 people to date have been honored for risking their lives to save Jews. Zborowski also informed that the Diana Zborowski Shoah Aftermath Research and Education Center is to be built in memory of his late wife, who died in 2004. The speaker roster included Arye Mekel, Israel’s consul general in New York; Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate; Julius Berman, chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and Yad Vashem board member; Ira Mitzner, Societies board member and dinner chair; David Halpern, board member, American Society of Yad Vashem; Rabbi Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress’s Policy Council; Rabbi Arthur Schneier, senior rabbi of Park East Synagogue, and a famed rabbi, Haskel Besser.

A personal postscript: Sitting in on my July 1991 interview with then Yad Vashem chairman Yitzhak Arad, held at the Forward building, were Mrs. Arad and Eli Zborowski. When I mentioned that my father (Mordechai “Matvey” Bernstein) had contributed Holocaust archives to Yad Vashem, Hebrew University and Yeshiva University, it turned out that Arad (who was born in Swieciany, Lithuania) had been in Warsaw at the same time as my father. Zborowski exclaimed: “Matvey was your father!… Do you know that he was a witness at my wedding [to Diane] in 1946 in Warsaw after we were liberated?!” My father, who had spent 1940-1945 as a prisoner in Stalin’s gulag empire, returned to Warsaw, where he reconnected with Zborowski. My father died in 1966 and could not have imagined that I would one day befriend Zborowski and write about Yad Vashem, and that this memory piece would appear in the Forward — a paper that I first read as a child in Warsaw, published in Yiddish as the Forverts. My father had been a contributor to the Forverts.


INNOVATIVE SLEEP LABORATORY FOR ISRAELI MILITARY AT SHAARE ZEDEK

“It’s not just high tech, but we offer the human touch,” said Dr. Jonathan Halevy, director-general of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, at the November 29 gala of the American Committee for Shaare Zedek. Since the hospital’s partnership with the Israel Defense Forces in 2005, more than 17,000 soldiers have been treated — most on an outpatient basis. For soldiers serving on the front lines, the hospital offers a unique sleep laboratory to help identify military personnel whose lack of sleep might inhibit their ability to serve at their peak. More than 1,000 soldiers are analyzed in the lab each year, and “experts believe this collaboration has dramatically reduced the potential for disasters that might occur to soldiers who fall asleep at the trigger, the wheel or any place where soldiers are required to maintain a high degree of alertness.” Halevy also touted the 102-year-old hospital’s state-of-the-art department of medical genetics, a sophisticated laboratory capable of conducting pre-implantation genetic diagnoses. By screening embryos or eggs of a woman who has a risk of giving birth to a baby with a genetic disease, only those “determined to be disease free are used to create new life… to bring healthy babies into the world. This technique is being used relating to such genetic diseases as Tay-Sachs, Fanconi anemia, Gaucher disease, Bloom syndrome, Canavan disease, and familial dysautonomia.”

Dinner honorees included Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and his wife, Fraydie. Another honoree was Leah Susskind, whose Jewish organizational affiliations include longtime chair of the executive committee of the Israel Cancer Research Fund. Many of the 420 guests at the Marriott Marquis, who had been patients or whose loved ones had been patients at Shaare Zedek, gave the hospital a thumbs up for the doctors’ medical expertise and the warm, caring nurses and staff.

During the break between award presentations and dinner, I chatted with Shaare-Zedek boosters Ronald Lauder and Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, who led a 2006 Shaare Zedek mission to China. One of the pages in the dinner journal, signed by more than 50 of those China travelers — including the Hoenleins — proclaims: “Hello, Hello! With gratitude to Rabbi Marvin Tokayer…. You gave us the experience of a lifetime and for that we are eternally grateful.” That journey included a visit to the Ohel Synagogue in Shanghai, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall and the Foreign Ministry in Beijing. Tokayer, an experienced Asia hand — he had spent nearly a decade as a rabbi in Japan — has been shepherding tours to China and Japan for decades. With Mary Schwartz, Tokayer co-authored “The Fugu Plan” (Paddington Press, 1979), later issued as “Desperate Voyager — The Untold Story of the Japanese and the Jews During World War II” (Dell Paperback 1980). It is a factual thriller in which Tokayer showcases Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul general in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, who in 1940 and 1941 issued 2,139 visas against his government orders. This saved the lives of 6,000 Jews — including my mother and me.

Unable to attend — and greatly missed at the dinner — was Erica Jesselson, whose family established the Jesselson Heart Center at Shaare Zedek, a 70,000-square-foot facility that encompasses the hospital’s entire 10th floor. In his preface to the medical center’s latest upgrades and accomplishments, titled “Overview,” Halevy notes, “According to statistics, heart disease is the leading cause of premature death and disability in Israel — more than 40% of all deaths can be attributed to cardiovascular disease.”


A GLIIMPSE OF POST-WORLD WAR II BRITISH RACISM AND ANTISEMITISM

If you missed “Wondrous Oblivion,” the British film written and directed by Paul Morrison, shown in New York in November and early December and now heading to theaters across America, you can catch this evocatively provocative film during its December 21-26 run in New York City at Makor on West 67th Street.

The film’s portrayal of antisemitism and ethnic tensions of the 1960s demands a mental-historical leap backward to a time and place very different from the American antisemitism of that period. The British experience comes across as genteel despite the film’s disturbing undercurrents. And, I suspect, it may be “contaminated” with today’s politically correct, multicultural bias.

In “Oblivion,” young David Wiseman (Sam Smith, who appeared in a recent BBC production of “Oliver Twist”) attends public school (British for private school), where the fact that he is Jewish does not elicit any overt antisemitism. It’s his athletic ineptness that makes him an outsider. A cricket fanatic — Britain’s equivalent of America’s culturally homogenizing baseball — he is far from being wicket capable. His parents are survivors (his mother from Germany, his father from Poland) in a seemingly loveless marriage in which the father is a workaholic. Their new neighbors are a loud, gregarious, easygoing Jamaican family with a passion for cricket. And it is the proximity and interaction of the two families plus the cricket factor that impacts on the Wiseman marriage and proves the catalyst for young David’s coming of age.

During my interview with Morrison, I got a chance to personally congratulate him on his first film (made in 2000), “Solomon and Gaenor,” about Jews as outsiders in 1911 Wales. The film’s centerpiece is a romance between a Jewish boy and a Welsh girl. Morrison — who is familiar with the Forward — recalled growing up Jewish in 1950s-’60s England and feeling “invisible.” It was a depressing period for him. The family originally came to England from Odessa and Novogrod after the 1905 pogrom, leaving behind 11 brothers and sisters whom they never saw again. “They were anarchists, and the name was Moskovitch. They were not religious, never went to synagogue,” he said; still, they considered themselves Jews. Raised a Reform Jew, he volunteered, “I changed my name to Morrison when I went to university.” When I asked him how the film was reviewed in Britain, he raised his shoulders and shook his head. “Some were good. Some not.” Did he discern a difference between Jewish and non-Jewish critics? “In England you don’t know who is or is not Jewish,” Morrison replied. “They’ve all changed their names.” As I was leaving, I asked, “In ‘Oblivion,’ was that a recording by Aaron Lebedeff singing a Yiddish version of ‘Figaro’?” No, he said, “it’s Mickey Katz” (a late madcap Yiddish parodist and the father of actor Joel Grey).






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