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The Boomerang Effects of Acts of Kindness

The spectacular Park Avenue apartment of Island Def Jam Music Group chairman Antonio “L.A.” Reid and his wife, Erica Reid, was the setting on March 18 for The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding’s spring benefit. The event raised $250,000 to support such projects as its new Ethnic Congressional Caucus in Washington, D.C., and the Shared Dreams High School and College Curriculum Guide Project with United Negro College Fund and Hillel. Among the guests were Lyor Cohen, a chief executive officer of Warner Music Group; New York City Comptroller William Thompson, and Moshe Fox, minister of public affairs at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C.

Foundation chairman Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Records, got the evening off to a humorous start by referring to its president and co-founder, Rabbi Marc Schneier, as “The Reverend [Al] Sharpton of the Jews.” Schneier spoke of the foundation’s late co-founder, Joseph Papp: “He was colorblind. If not for Papp, Morgan Freeman would never have had a chance to play Shakespeare.”

“So many times, acts of kindness boomerang,” said Michael Goldstein, chairman of the Toys ‘R’ Us Children’s Fund and a recipient of the Joseph Papp Racial Harmony Award. “When I was a college student,” Goldstein said, “I could not get a job with an accounting firm because I was Jewish. Ten years later, I was a partner [and] then president in a Jewish [accounting] firm. When you become a partner, you had to give time and effort.… I picked the 92nd Street Y….. As a result…. I was recommended to Toys ‘R’ Us.… I am now president of the 92 Street Y.”

Goldstein, a director of the special contributions fund at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, touted his involvement with that organization. A number of years ago, he said, “I agreed to be a corporate honoree for a dinner.… There was some scandal at the time.… But now the NAACP is thriving.” (Goldstein joins a long list of Jewish NAACP supporters, beginning with Rabbi Stephen Wise, one of its founders in 1909, and Louis Marshall, then head of the American Jewish Committee, who argued on its behalf before the Supreme Court; also Herbert Lehman, Felix Warburg, Felix Frankfurter and William Rosenwald.)

Also honored were Kedar Massenburg, president and CEO of Motown Records; Tom Freston, chairman and CEO of MTV Networks; Rossana Rosado, publisher and CEO of El Diario-La Prensa, and Leslie Koch, CEO of the Fund for Public Schools. Walter Yetnikoff, former president and CEO of CBS Records (who was to be honored) was unable to attend. I was told that Yetnikoff — whose new tell-all autobiography, “Howling at the Moon: The Odyssey of a Monstrous Music Mogul in an Age of Excess” (Broadway Books) — is raising eyebrows and blood pressures — will appear at the foundation’s summer event on the West Coast.

* * *|

The cavernous Gotham Hall, a former bank near Herald Square, echoed with mazel tovs from the 450 friends and admirers of Edith and Henry Everett, feted March 21 at Hillel’s “Night on the Town.”

The evening was launched by the 6-foot-4 father-of-12 Rabbi Carlos Huerta, a U.S. Army major, the chaplain and Hillel adviser at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who recently returned from Iraq. He concluded his invocation with a booming “Hoo-rah!” Among the participating Hillel and Everett boosters were Hillel’s president, Avraham Infeld; chairman, Neil Moss, and past president, Richard Joel, who is now president of Yeshiva University.

Edgar Bronfman, chairman of Hillel’s International Board of Governors, introduced Senator Hillary Clinton, who touted the Everetts’ “generosity, dedication,” praising them for their “support of the arts, culture… a pluralistic Israel… [and] for helping make Hillel the largest Jewish campus organization in the world.” The Everetts’ beneficiaries also include the New York Botanical Garden, the Everett School in Hatzor, Israel, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, National Public Radio, the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews and many more.

The Everetts met on a blind date when she was 18 and he, 21. According to the dinner program notes, on their second date they attended a lecture by Socialist presidential candidate Norman Thomas. “In 1960, [living] on 21st Street,” recalled Henry Everett, “We worried we could not make mortgage payments.”

In 1961 Edith Everett became one of the few women of her generation to enter the male-dominated world of Wall Street. Henry Everett left department store A & S, after a 15-year career there, and joined his wife in forming their own investment firm.

The rest is philanthropic history.

“I like to go to the movies so I can hold Edith’s hand,” admitted Everett, who claimed the magic formula for their 54-year marriage-partnership was “because Edith lets me have the last word: ‘Yes, dear.’”

Edith Everett, who was celebrating her 75th birthday, lauded Hillel for providing campuses “a means of understanding Jewish values… to be concerned about others… be willing to take stands on unpopular issues.” Looking up at the building’s soaring cupola, I noticed the faint remains of a gilt-letter inscription: “Waste neither time nor money, but use both for your own and your neighbor’s gain.” How Everett! How Hillel!

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