Saluting The Fresh Prince

By Masha Leon

Published December 28, 2006, issue of December 29, 2006.

MULTITALENTED WILL SMITH HONORED AT MUSEUM GALA

“I salute all of you who contributed to my career,” Will Smith, honoree at the December 3 Museum of the Moving Image dinner, told the black-tie crowd at the Waldorf-Astoria. “I want to thank my mother for making love to my father… I know it was not easy,” Smith joshed. Star of “The Pursuit of Happyness” (which just opened to Oscar buzz), Smith paid homage to several stellar friends in the ballroom: “Stockard Channing! John Guare! Queen Latifah! Jamie Foxx!” The high-profile guest roster also included Randy Quaid; Cedric the Entertainer; two Tisches, Andrew and Steve; Jerry Tallmer; past Queens boro president Claire Shulman; her current successor, Helen Marshall, and Sir Howard Stringer, chairman and CEO of Sony Corporation.

A montage of Smith’s screen and TV filmography included clips from “Six Degrees of Separation,” “Independence Day,” “ Enemy of the State,” “I, Robot” and “Hitch,” plus a side-splitting, incongruous, German argot-dubbed segment of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” In a self-revelatory mode, Smith confessed, “At 15, I always knew I wanted to be married and have a family.” Attributing a young girlfriend’s “cheating on me” as the result of “not being good enough,” Smith said he “made a decision that 99% was not good enough… only acceptable is 100%…. Then I met my wife, Jada [Pinkett], and she made it clear to me, ‘You are more than good enough for me.’ She accepted all my faults.” Mrs. Smith responded tearily: “I honor him as my husband…. Thank you for your friendship, wisdom and patience.” When son Jaden — who appears as Smith’s on-screen son in “Happyness” — joined his parents onstage, Smith smiled and said, “You were a real good actor, but I taught you everything you know.”

The museum’s chairman, Herbert Schlosser, and its director, Rochelle Slovin, were kvelling. In her introductory remarks, Slovin lauded Smith as “…the kindest, most generous honoree we’ve ever had.” (Past museum honorees include Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, Steven Spielberg, Sidney Lumet, Mike Nichols, Sidney Poitier, Goldie Hawn, Barbara Walters and Mel Gibson.) Slovin said she’s been told that “many visitors would rather see us than the Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty.” Of course — visit those two New York landmarks, but don’t skip the Museum of the Moving Image, because it houses the world’s most important film, television and digital-media collection — more than 100,000 objects, including memorabilia and interactive displays. More than 400 films are screened annually, and there are conversations with directors, actors and scholars. This one-of-a-kind museum in America — and probably the world — is worth the short trip to Queens.


AMERICA-ISRAEL FRIENDSHIP LEAGUE TOASTS VISIONARIES

“We are democracies in action,” said the America-Israel Friendship League president and chairman of the board, Kenneth Bialkin, at the league’s November 27 “Partners for Democracy” award dinner, held at The Pierre. “We bring journalists, clergymen [politicians] to Israel… and the result is understanding, cooperation and a greater appreciation of one another.” The evening began with a blessing by Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, followed by video greetings from Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert. Israel’s New York-based consul general, Arye Mekel, offered an unabashed salute to the United States for its friendship and support of Israel, and then came the award medals presentations by AIFL vice president Charlotte Frank, AIFL chairman of the board Benjamin Gaon and AIFL board member Harvey Krueger.

Honored was Elliott Broidy, chairman of Markstone Capital Group, who also manages to have time to act as commissioner of the Los Angeles City Fire and Police Pension Fund and to serve as a member of the United States Homeland Security Advisory Council and the Department of Homeland Security’s Future of Terrorisms Task Force. He was appointed by the president to serve on the board of trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Broidy, a trustee of USC Hillel Foundation, also serves on the national board of directors of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.

Also honored was Itzhak Forer, chairman of Ernst & Young Israel. He transformed Ernst & Young into Israel’s largest accounting, tax and business consulting, firm with 1,300 employees. Ernst & Young Israel audited more than half of the IPOs of Israeli companies in the United States. The program notes informed, “Second only to Canada, Israel lists the highest number of non-U.S. stocks on Wall Street (100+ companies).” Presenter Krueger described honoree Yitzhak Tshuva as an [Israeli] version of “a true Horatio Alger story.” Described as a “mega-mover” and a “visionary,” Tshuva came to Israel in 1949 as an infant, after his family immigrated. “He began work at 12 and understood the true meaning of the Torah [injunction] ‘to love your neighbor as yourself.’” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, lauded Tshuva for establishing housing for Russian Jewish immigrants and for providing air conditioners for bunkers during the recent war in Lebanon.

In his acceptance speech, Tshuva alluded to his “vision” — the establishment of a “Peace Valley” — a canal that will connect the Red Sea and the Dead Seas, “a vision credited to Shimon Peres.” The canal will produce electricity and the desalinization of sea water, enabling millions to settle in the Negev. This will include the creation of lakes and boardwalks, and hotels for Israelis and for tourists. According to the dinner journal notes: “The ‘Peace Valley’ vision in the Negev has [such] prominent partners as former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal Abdulaziz Alsaud and King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud. Like Shimon Peres, Tshuva believes that [this project] will produce hundreds of thousands of jobs, electrical energy and drinking water for the benefits of the Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Israelis.”

Tshuva’s Delek Group is one of the leading companies in the Israeli economy: in the natural gas industry, the desalinization of the Mediterranean Sea water, real estate, automobiles, biochemistry, communications, fuel stations and leisure shops. Its subsidiary, Delek USA, operates in the United States as the parent company of hundreds of fuel stations and refineries in Texas. This past May, the company went public. It now trades on the New York Stock Exchange. Tshuva is also active in the El-Ad Group, Ltd., a real estate and hotel enterprise named after his son. In October 2004, the group purchased New York’s Plaza Hotel, which it considers its “crown jewel.” Hopefully the refurbished Plaza’s calendar will include an AIFL dinner.

Award recipient Jack Kemp, former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, was unable to attend but sent greetings. The evening concluded with a keynote address by Daniel Ayalon, who presented an overview of his four-and-a-half years of service as Israel’s ambassador to the United States.


AMERICA-ISRAEL CULTURAL FOUNDATION NURTURES ART AND ARTISTS

“Talent is a gift. Nurturing talent is an obligation,” said artist Dina Recanati upon accepting the Aviv prize from Rivka Saker, chairman of Sotheby’s Israel, at the December 3 America-Israel Cultural Foundation gala concert at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center. “As the world explodes around us, art brings us sublime moments,” Recanati amplified. Emceed by legendary flutist Eugenia Zuckerman, the concert was indeed sublime. The “curtain-raiser” was the Israel Contemporary String Quartet’s exquisite performance of two movements from Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet. Described as one of Israel’s most influential ensembles, the quintet consists of Hadas Fabrikant, Tali Goldberg (violins); Amelia Hollander (viola); Hilla Epstein (cello), and Ran Dank at the piano.

Pianist Dank — who has won almost every major prize in Israel and has been a recipient of the AICF’s scholarships since 1992, as well as the Gina Bachauer prize at The Juilliard School and more — performed a powerful rendition of Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat major, Op 53. Had Dank showcased this for a Polish audience, I have no doubt there would have been a standing ovation or its European equivalent of foot stomping. Another treat was Israel-born tenor Guy Manheim, accompanied by Dank in a wrenching interpretation of Maurice Ravel’s “Kaddish.” This was followed by a superb rendition of Kurt Weill’s musical composition of Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!”

Established in 1939, the AICF currently grants more than 1,100 study scholarships annually. It remains the largest private funder of artistic study for talented students of all the performing and visual arts in Israel. In fact, 60% of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s musicians are AICF scholarship recipients. Past recipients include violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist/conductor Daniel Barenboim and choreographer Ohad Naharin.

When art historian Karl Katz presented the King Solomon Award to Israeli arts and culture patron Jerome Stern, Stern endeared himself to the audience by declaring, “A speech should be like a woman’s skirt — long enough to cover the essentials, short enough to be interesting.” Short it was, and the delighted audience applauded con brio. Among the guests were AICS chair of the board Vera Stern and vice president and gala chair Margalit Meidar.



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