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The Schmooze

Joe Biden Gets Freedom Award And Salutes Gabby Giffords At Intrepid Gala

At the May 26 Salute to Freedom 25th Anniversary Gala aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum I congratulated Vice President Joe Biden on being the 2016 Intrepid Freedom Award recipient. When, during dinner I mentioned that I was a Holocaust survivor, he unexpectedly kissed me on both cheeks. Grasping both my hands in his, he said in a tremulous voice: “When Beau was fourteen”—referring to his 47-year old son who died last May after battling brain cancer— “I took him to Dachau…I want you to know I also took my four grandchildren to Dachau.”

Welcoming the 850 uniformed and gowned American and Canadian military and civilians guests, Susan Marenoff-Zausner President, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum informed: “We call this event ‘Salute to Freedom’ because above all else, we see it as our opportunity to honor and thank those here tonight who have served, or were serving in our country’s armed forces. “ We salute you for your commitment to the security of our nation…for protecting the freedoms we enjoy each day… Like our honorees we embrace your role connecting history to the future…shaping the dreams of our children and our children’s children.”

Image by Karen Leon

She presented Howard Lutnick with a proclamation “for your support of the museum”—and a piece of the original flight deck from 1943. Lutnick, Chairman & CEO, Cantor Fitzgerald L.P. and CEO, BGC Partners, recalled how 25 years ago he asked the company’s trainees to pick a philanthropy project. “If I liked it I would back it. They decided on The Intrepid, which was struggling financially. We named it the “Salute to Freedom Award” [and] created this dinner. For years I was the dinner’s chairman. I was great friends with Zachary Fisher. He built the ship—saved it from being scuttled for scrap… Cantor Fitzgerald was on the top of the World Trade Center…. We rebuilt the company and take care of the families of the 650 men and women we lost.”

Image by Karen Leon

Accepting the award from Co-Chairman of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, Bruce Mosler, Vice President Biden led off with: ”I want to talk about a warrior—someone with great courage—Congressman [Intrepid’s 2012 Salute To Women Award recipient] Gabby Giffords”. As all rose to their feet, Biden said to Giffords: “You are an inspiration to so many people…the courage you had, the way you fought…to stay in the public eye…. You and your husband [on earth] Mark Kelly [twin brother of Capt. Scott Kelly, USN [Ret] former Astronaut NASA and the evening’s recipient of the Intrepid’s 21st-Century Pioneer Award]— have done an enormous amount to make the country better.”

“It’s great to be here—anywhere with gravity!” joshed Capt. Kelly alluding to his year-long solitary sojourn in space…”In that space station I changed position so many times you would have thought I was running for president…. Crediting the book “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe — in the audience in his signature white suit and a tall wooden cane with a chiseled head of a wolf— Kelly cited his book—“which as an 18-year old… pointed me in the right direction…I decided right there and then that I was going to be like one of those guys.”

Kenneth Fisher, Co-Chairman, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, presentedScott Rechler Chairman & CEO RXR Realty, with the 2016 Intrepid Salute Award. Reflecting on the importance of faith in the military, Rechler said: “Just as they bring faith and values to their relationships on and off the battlefield, so too can we apply them to the imperatives before us…. My Hebrew School teachers would be surprised to know that I actually learned something in class…like the concept of Tikun Olam—the responsibility of each and every one of us to literally ‘repair the world.’”

I first met Zachary Fisher—who knew The Forward and with whom I always spoke in Yiddish— at my first Salute to Freedom Gala in 1993. Born in Russia—a bricklayer who never finished high school— with his three brothers founded Fisher Bros.—an American real estate success story. In 1976, with $45 million of his own money, he saved the ship…making it what it is today—a museum to educate the pubic about the cost of freedom.”

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