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Stirring ‘Harts’ And Minds at A Tribute Gala

At the November 21 Metropolitan Opera Guild’s “Hart to Hart: A Celebration of the Lives and Achievements of Kitty Carlisle Hart and Moss Hart” at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, those in the audience who never knew or who had forgotten Carlisle Hart’s vocal pyrotechnics discovered what a magnificent soprano the “To Tell the Truth” (1967-1981) panelist and former chairwoman of the New York State Council on the Arts had been, and still was, at age 94.

Beverly Sills (who shared the emcee spot with Julie Andrews) could not resist a laughter-eliciting aside about Carlisle Hart: “She sang at the Met!” Diva Sills never did! Performances by Michael Feinstein, and by Robert Goulet and Audra McDonald (both of whom were accompanied by Steven Blier on piano) were followed by tributes from Rosemary Harris, Celeste Holm, Anna Moffo and Jane Alexander. Daughter Catherine and son Christopher recalled humorous family anecdotes. Clips from one of Moss Hart’s plays (“Lady in the Dark”) and from his films (“Gentlemen’s Agreement,” “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot”) delighted the audience. Following scenes from the zany 1935 movie “A Night at the Opera,” in which Carlisle Hart sings an aria from “Il Trovatore” as the Marx Brothers wreak havoc, she confided that her first meeting with Hart was on that movie’s set, where, approaching him, “I tripped.”

During intermission, I reminded George Soros that we had met at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research dinner when he was honored in May 2003. He quipped, “Were you among those for or against?” Not sure what he meant, I smiled. He smiled, and we parted. My daughter, Karen, offered to photograph Tovah Feldshuh with Carlisle Hart. The star of “Golda’s Balcony” was beside herself as she clasped Carlisle Hart’s hands. At the dinner it was humorously suggested that “Kitty’s longevity” could be attributed to Geritol (sponsor of “To Tell the Truth”). Each “goody bag” contained a bottle of Geritol and the November Opera News “Diva” issue.

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The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring’s December 6 “Yiddish in America 2004” gala honored Chana Gordon Mlotek and her late husband, Yosl Mlotek, z”l, whose research and archival quests uncovered “a treasure trove of Yiddish songs and poetry” to enrich future generations. Matriarch of the Mlotek clan — sons Zalmen and Moish; nephew Moishe Rosenfeld (the gala’s producer), and many grandchildren — Gordon Mlotek (Max Weinreich’s assistant), was my “boss” at YIVO Institute for Jewish Research’s first New York City home on 123rd St.

Nostalgia reigned as Eleanor Reissa, Theodore Bikel, Josh Waletzky and Adrienne Cooper plucked at the audience’s Yiddishkeit heartstrings. A sassy Feldshuh in a magenta silk top and skintight black pants wowed the audience with a replay of her edgy cabaret performance, “Tovah: Out of Her Mind!”

“Last night I played Golda Meir of Israel. Tonight I am playing a shopping mall!” she joshed, referring to the Rose Theater on the fifth floor of the new Columbus Circle Time-Warner complex. With her racy patter and her poignant monologue about her beloved grandmother’s advice on becoming an actress, Feldshuh had the audience alternating between roaring with laughter and becoming tearily farklempt.

Iris and Stanford Ovshinsky, scientists and “socially responsible entrepreneurs” — whose groundbreaking inventions advanced the use of solar cells and hybrid cars — were also honored, as was the “innovative… socially responsible” Amalgamated Bank of New York — “America’s Labor Bank.” It was noted that Amalgamated Bank was “the first to begin action against Enron.”

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Steve Sterner, who portrayed Abraham Goldfaden, and his peppy sidekick, David Mandelbaum, set the “stage” for the Folksbiene’s current season’s production of Goldfaden’s “Di Kaprizne Kaleh” (“A Novel Romance”), last seen in New York 122 years ago. Set your mental clock back to the dawn of Yiddish theater for this vaudevillian drama-cum-musical. A clever touch — the gothic typeface of the English supertitles approximating the Daitchmerisch (Germanized Yiddish) then in use in the theater.

The plot: Khane (Ibi Kaufman), influenced by the novellas of the time, will only marry a man named Fritz who has a mustache. Her father objects. Khane rebels and marries a no-goodnik who passes himself off as a Fritz (think: silent movie villains). Among the Yiddish theater fans at the December 2 opening night party at Manhattan’s Jewish Community Center were Leo and Betty Melamed, who were in from Chicago.

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At the November 18 Foundation for Ethnic Understanding reception, hosted by Mona Ackerman at her Fifth Avenue apartment, Executive Director Lawrence Kopp announced the foundation’s campaign to fight antisemitism by using such high-profile spokespersons as Denzel Washington, Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ricky Martin and Beyonce (whose mother, Tina Knowles, was among the guests that evening).

Rabbi Marc Schneier, foundation founder and president, presented the Joseph Papp Racial Harmony Award to the evening’s honorees. One of them, Colin Callender, president, HBO Films, recalled: “As a British Jew raised in London, I experienced antisemitism daily… I was bar-mitzvahed in the school hall because the school had been burned down by Neo-Nazis…. I now live in a world where an African-American can wish his Jewish friends a happy Hanukkah.” Honoree Julie Greenwald, president of Atlantic Recording Group, said, “I’m a white Jewish girl from the Catskills who became queen of hip hop.” Still another honoree, Lorraine E. Schwartz, president, Lorraine E. Schwartz, Inc., a third-generation diamond dealer and the jeweler to such stars as Elizabeth Taylor, Barbra Streisand and Sean “Puffy” Combs, explained: “I grew up in Israel [and] did not know what prejudice was until I moved to the U.S… . Naomi Campbell calls me to come to [my home] for Shabbat dinner. I see no color. I only see people.” And Morris L. Reid, founding partner and managing director, Westin Rinehart Group, declared, “It’s not what you do, but how you treat people.”

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