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Stars Come Out for Israel Philharmonic

The American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall began without preamble on December 15. Zubin Mehta, the IPO’s conductor and music director for life, strode across the stage and led a standing orchestra in a stirring “Star-Spangled Banner” followed by a spine-tingling “Hatikvah.”

After thanking IPO’s “great friend Lily Safra,” who underwrote the concert “to ensure that all the proceeds will directly benefit the orchestra,” Mehta saluted “those who have taken a great risk and paid a high price in liberating Iraq.” He articulated his dream “of the day when [Arab and Jewish] musicians of the Middle East” can “teach Arab and Jewish children [the] music of the East and the West.”

Flu-induced coughing occasionally punctuated the IPO’s performance of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet score “Pulcinella Suite.” But silence reigned during Itzhak Perlman’s magical performance of Max Bruch’s “Violin Concerto in G Minor.” The program concluded with the IPO’s vibrant rendition of Modest Mussorgsky’s multilayered “Pictures at an Exhibition,” followed by a standing ovation.

At the post-concert gala dinner at the Plaza, celebrity red carpet maven Joan Rivers, wrapped in a floor-length black-and-white feather boa, posed alongside a very gracious Safra as a posse of photographers flashed away.

American Friends president Lynn Syms announced that $2 million had been raised. “Despite terror,” she said, “the orchestra performs night after night…. They are the heartbeat of the nation…[with] a mandate to travel the globe on behalf of the State of Israel.”

Mehta corroborated: “We have toured for eight weeks — five in Europe, two weeks in Japan.… Whether in Lodz or Osaka… the public’s reaction is a standing ovation… [in] recognition of the orchestra.… They earn it.”

Turning to Perlman, Mehta said: “I wish I did not have to move my arms [conducting] so I could have listened to Itzhak…. I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see you on stage.… Mir shpiln, we play together.” Touting the Perlman Music Program [in the Hamptons], Mehta noted, “Itzhak brings his kinderlakh [children] to this academy.”

Mehta, a Zoroastrian, mused wistfully in Galitzianer-accented Yiddish about their decades’ long collaborations: “gevezene zakhn, things of the past… un dus iz dus… and that’s that!”

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The 53rd annual National Jewish Book Awards on December 11, co-hosted by authors Samuel Freedman and Ari Goldman at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan, “played” to a full house. Welcoming remarks by Leon Levy, president of the American Sephardi Federation (award co-sponsors, with the Jewish Book Council) were followed by a D’var Torah by writer Francine Klagsbrun.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, who presented the Modern Jewish Thought and Experience Award to Rabbi Arthur Herzberg for “A Jew in America: My Life and a People’s Struggle for Identity,” said of the author: “He’s twice as smart, twice as liberal and twice as Jewish” as the average Joe. Nechama Tec, whose “Resilience and Courage: Women, Men, and the Holocaust,” won in the Holocaust category, said she accepted this recognition as “evidence that these voices have been heard.”

Michael Oren, author of “Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East,” accepted the Everett Family Jewish Book of the Year Award from Rabbi Maurice Corson, president of the Jewish Book Council. In the book — which took him on an “extraordinary research odyssey…. throughout Israel, in Washington… Ottawa… London… Paris, Moscow and Amman, Jordan” — Oren said he “decided to tell both sides of the story… fairly from both perspectives.”

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The December 18 preview of Vadim Perlman’s extraordinarily beautiful and wrenching film “House of Sand and Fog,” at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, had a memorable bonus “feature”: a post-screening interview with its star, Sir Ben Kingsley. In the film, Kingsley masterfully portrays Massoud Amir Behrani, a once-important man in Iran and now an immigrant laborer in the United States who tries not to “lose face” as he becomes trapped in a cycle of pain with Kathy (played by Jennifer Connelly), a woman whose house he has “bought” while in the pursuit of the American Dream.

“I wasn’t selected from a group of actors…I was just told [by Vadim] I was playing Behrani,” Kingsley explained. “There was something about Behrani,” said Kingsley, “links to ancient Persian mythology…a warrior who’s lost his king, his battlefield and finally his prince.” Asked about finding the heart of his character, Kingsley replied: “I need to find the ballast, what pins him to the earth—something I can put in my pocket and carry on to the set [that] won’t let me down.” Asked what was the ballast for his role as a Jewish accountant in “Schindler’s List,” Kingsley explained: “That character [Itzhak Stern, who typed the list] was a witness, had a conscience… No matter how much he wanted to, he had eyes that wouldn’t close.”

Karen Leon contributed to this column.

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