Peace, Love and Understanding


By Masha Leon

Published May 19, 2006, issue of May 19, 2006.
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‘We’re in the people business. We stand for diversity,” Antonio “L.A.” Reid said to the crush of guests that he and his wife, Erica, were hosting for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding’s April 25 benefit. Past foundation honoree Reid, chairman of The Island Def Jam Music Group, added, “Thank you for not spilling anything” — a reference to the room’s white upholstered sofas and rug.

Founded in 1989 by Rabbi Marc Schneier and late theater impresario Joseph Papp, the foundation is involved in strengthening inter-group relations among diverse communities. After executive director Larry Kopp gave welcoming remarks, Schneier noted, “Today is Yom HaShoah… remembrance of the 6 million Jews exterminated” in the Holocaust. Schneier recalled an emergency meeting, held a year and a half ago by the World Jewish Congress and the American Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which addressed the emergence of antisemitism in Europe. “After the meeting,” Schneier said, “I called [foundation chairman] Russell Simmons and explained to [him] how the civil rights of Jews were now threatened…. It was one month before Martin Luther King Day, and we were traveling to different cities on talk shows about black-white, black-Jewish relations. [As a result] Russell designed a celebrity campaign, which will include Beyoncé [Knowles], 50 Cent and Eminem, to help combat antisemitism. The first of these public service announcements will be rolled out this summer in France, with Russell and the rapper Jay-Z discussing the horrors of antisemitism. The voices will be transformed into every language.” Sample PSAs were screened with the tag line: “Antisemitism is racist. Don’t be silent. We are one.”

“I have a little secret,” said Israel’s New York consul general, Arye Mekel. “This [Park Avenue] address used to be the home of the Jewish Agency and the American Conference of Presidents…. For seven years [1993-2000], I was consul general in Atlanta [where] I befriended Coretta [Scott] King. After the assassination in 1995 of Yitzhak Rabin, Mrs. King invited me [over]. She wrote a handwritten letter to Leah Rabin, ‘widow to widow,’ and asked me to deliver it to her, [which] I did in Memphis, Tenn., in 1996, when Rabin was honored posthumously…. Lea later told me that the one letter that touched her the most was the one from Coretta King.”

Three Joseph Papp Racial Harmony Awards were given. Richard Parsons, chairman and CEO of Time Warner, presented one to a reticent Aviv Nevo, president of California-based strategic investment firm NV Investments Inc. The firm focuses on global trends in the cable, telecommunications and entertainment industries, and Nevo has provided analysis, with global vision, for all types of businesses. His charitable endeavors are as extensive as his global enterprises. Simmons presented the award to Clive Davis, chairman & CEO of BMG US, who recalled: “I grew up in a family with no means. I went to school at the beneficence of others… was at the top of my class… got [an interview] with a senior partner at a Wall Street firm. [They said,] ‘Everything looks good, but I don’t think he is right for us.’ It gave me the shudders.”

Holding the award aloft, Davis said, “Papp believed in color-blind casting.”

Bruce Gordon, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, presented the Papp award to stunning, statuesque fashion maven Kimora Lee Simmons, whose Baby Phat clothing label is hot, hot, hot. With a jewel-encrusted Blackberry in hand, Lee smiled and offered a modest “Thank you.” Behind me, someone quipped about the Blackberry, “That could pay off my Hamptons mortgage.” Among those wary of spilling anything were Ron Perlman, William Thompson Jr., Leslie Moonves, Lenny Kravitz, Harvey Weinstein and Charles Goldstuck, last year’s foundation honoree.

* * *

“Why, in a world of Sandy Weill, Carl Icahn, Lenore Annenberg, Henry Kravis, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg — billionaires — would Pratt Institute choose Barbara Tober to be the first to receive their Philanthropist of the Arts Award?” asked Tober, an honoree at the April 18 Pratt Legends 2006 Scholarship Benefit Gala. Tober, chairwoman of the Museum of Arts & Design, was editor in chief of Bride’s magazine for almost 30 years. She said: “Oxford’s new dictionary defines ‘philanthropy’ as love of mankind and benevolence, [as well as] ‘charity on a large scale.’ But thousands of average citizens across America daily give money on a small scale to causes they believe in, and in my book, that, too, is philanthropy. Seventy percent to 80% of Americans — regardless of their income bracket — contribute annually to at least one charity.… Each one of you has something besides your daily work that you think is worthy of your support. In the world of giving, September 11, 2001, AIDS, other diseases, battered and indigent women and children, and natural disasters have touched the hearts… of Americans who reached into their wallets. But we must never forget the importance of both the performing and visual arts. ‘Music and art must have their prominent seats of honor, and not merely a tolerant nod of recognition,’ poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore said.”

Also honored were artist and designer Michele Oka Doner, whose public works includes the mile-long terrazzo concourse at Miami International Airport, and glass artist Dale Chihuly, whose creations can be seen in 200 museums worldwide. (Several years ago, Chihuly was honored by Israel’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. Participants of the program, which was emceed by actor Richard Thomas, included Pratt Institute board of trustees member (and former chair) Robert Siegel and Legends award dinner co-chair Marc Rosen, award-winning package designer. Rosen’s wife, flame-haired, former film star and horoscope maven Arlene Dahl was among the evening’s philanthropic guests at Gotham Hall, as were Barbara Taylor Bradford, Nurit Kahane Haase, Barbaralee Diamondstein Spielvogel (with her husband, United States Ambassador Carl Spielvogel) and a beaming Donald Tober.

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