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Pomp and Portrait

Hip, Hip, Hooray for National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene Hit ‘Hershele Ostropolyer’

What?! You haven’t seen “The Adventures of Hershele Ostropolyer”? The National Yiddish Theatre- Folksbiene’s delicious, delightful 80-minute musical, which opened on June 3 at the Baruch Performing Arts Center and runs until June 27, is, based on the positive reviews compiled by, the top-rated show in the city! It stars the inimitable Mike Burstyn as Hershele, the do-gooder vagabond who outwits mean gold-lamé garbed pawnbroker Kalmen (I.W. “Itsy” Firestone). Kalmen, however, reneges on returning a wedding band to Tsipke (golden-voiced Dani Marcus) preventing Tsipke from marrying Berl (Nimmy Weisbrod).

Post-performance, Firestone told me: “This is the best role I have had in over 30 years!” Kalmen’s frazzled maid, Dvoshe (the wonderful Daniella Rabbani), is a hoot, and her Warsaw dialect (written into the script) with its “yats”and “yits” — lingua franca on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s favorite Krochmalna Street — would give a Yiddish Henry Higgins goose bumps. Eleanor Reissa’s inspired adaptation, direction and choreography have Burstyn, in the guise of a medical specialist from Kiev, channeling Groucho Marx. Don’t ask. Go see. Then tell — everyone. The English and Russian supertitles are so good that non-Yiddish speakers will — between belly laughs — assume they actually understand mameloshn.

The play, based on a real folk hero, was originally produced in the 1950s by the Bronx’s Workmen’s Circle Shul 3. Moyshe Gershenson wrote the current version, which was adapted by Joseph Glickson, with musical score compiled by Chana Mlotek, Folksbiene artistic director Zalmen Mlotek and Reissa. The uniformly excellent cast includes Lori Wilner as the grandmother’s ghost and the innkeeper, whose husband, Zaydl, is played by Folksbiene veteran Steve Sterner. Special kudos to Shane Bertram Baker, whose role is listed as “everybody’s friend” Bunim. Edward Furs, who portrays Stanavoy, the town’s Yiddish-speaking policeman, happens to be Polish (“My mother is from Lomze, my father from Vilno”). Furs, whose credits include Krakow’s Stary Teatr (Old Theatre) told me, “I’m a goy playing a [Yiddish-speaking] goy.” Special applause for the Folksbiene klezmer band, and bravos for costume designer Gail Cooper-Hecht.

Among the applauders at the sold-out matinee performance I attended June 13 were members of New Paltz, N.Y.’s Mame Loshn as well as members of Allentown, Pa.’s Yiddish Club.

A Double Simcha:

Rabbi Arthur Schneier’s 80th birthday and Park East Synagogue’s 120th Anniversary Celebrated With Pomp, Praise and Portrait

“[How] to talk about Rabbi Arthur Schneier in [just] five minutes…” began Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, at the June 7 celebration, held at the Waldorf-Astoria, of Schneier’s 80th birthday and Park East Synagogue’s 120th year. “He has his own family, Park East Synagogue for the past 50 years and the Appeal of Conscience [Foundation], which he has made into an instrument of peace…. He has never been afraid to talk to the worst dictators in the world… and make a difference. Like Elijah, he was never afraid to tell the truth.” World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder credited Schneier for inspiring him to found the Lauder Foundation, thanks to which “70,000 children [in Eastern Europe] now go to Jewish schools.” Schneier thanked New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Kelly’s wife, Veronica, for “helping us feel safe.” Congressman Charles Rangel, sporting a red yarmulke, lauded Schneier for “doing God’s work.”

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Tel Aviv, former rabbi of Israel and chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, began his keynote address-cum-tribute to Schneier by alluding to his own survival at Auschwitz and to Schneier’s Kristallnacht trauma and near death in 1945 in Budapest. Comparing Schneier to Moses, he lauded his dedication “to the Jewish people,” in Schneier’s mission “21-years ago to the Soviet Union, with three other rabbis, to look after our brothers.” Lau noted that “Moses’ only concern was: ‘Who will replace me?’ ‘Who will continue my leadership?’ ‘Who will lead by personal example?’ Schneier is such a leader.”

Acknowledging the many high-level diplomatic guests and religious leaders in the ballroom, Schneier proclaimed his pride in the day school he nurtured. The evening of accolades and tributes concluded with Park East Synagogue’s chief cantor, Yitzhak Meir Helfgot, performing the aria “Vincere” from the opera “Tosca.” But not before the synagogue’s president, Herman Hochberg, unveiled a near life-size portrait of Schneier by Park East congregant artist Marc Klionsky.

Czech Torah Finds Home at Calvary Hospital

Rabbi Charles Rabinowitz addressed the black-tie crowd June 8 at the 27th annual awards gala of Calvary Hospital, held at the Pierre. Rabinowitz is Calvary’s Jewish chaplain: “Good evening and shalom. Let me share one special life story with you. Calvary Hospital has a Czech Holocaust memorial Torah scroll from Taus-Domazlice in our Ark. It is over 150 years old. About two months ago, in doing an admission, the patient shared [with me] that he came from that town. He watched the Nazis burn his synagogue with his father [in it]…. He knew the scroll had been saved, but never knew where it went. He said it was bashert [fated] that he found it here and at this moment. I brought the Torah up to him. We read his bar mitzvah portion together. It was a very special moment.”

As at past Calvary dinners, Al Roker, who co-hosts the NBC show “Today,” and whose father spent his last days at Calvary, was the master of ceremonies. Hospital president and CEO Frank Calamari explained Calvary’s compassionate approach to “the body, mind and spirit of a patient who cannot be cured.”

“I’m proud to be the only Jewish co-chairman of Innisfree M&A Incorporated ,” said Calvary Medal recipient Alan Miller. “My uncle Joe spent his last days at Calvary.” Miller, whose company specializes in mergers, acquisitions and proxy contests, said, half-jokingly: “Proxy contests… are not at the top of the food chain.” When I asked him if he was familiar with the Forward, he told me his grandfather, who came to American from the shtetl David Harodok, near Pinsk, was an avid reader of the Forverts. He then told me to talk to his mother, whose reaction was akin to just hearing from a long-lost relative.

The Calvary Citation of Excellence to Newman’s Own, Inc., given in recognition of the company’s unique business model to support philanthropic works that share Calvary’s mission of service to the community, was accepted by Newman’s Own’s president and chief operating officer, Thomas Indoe, who informed: “Today, Newman’s Own, Inc., has 175 varieties of goods with 100% of the profits donated to charities.”

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