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Thursday, July 8, 2010

What kind of Jew are you? Part Two of Three

Please read Part One first.

1996: Back at the party in the Penthouse….

This daylong celebration for Frederic Brenner’s first American book was due to the largesse, a $350,000 gift, of a very successful woman on Wall Street -- a non-Jew, who was so moved by the work of this extraordinary man, that she wanted his vision of what the celebration should be, to be brought to fruition.

How does one choose to create an event for guests who included a sitting member of the Supreme Court, the honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg; the author of Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and Pulitzer Prize winning -- Arthur Miller; the star of Casablanca and one time wife to Humphrey Bogart -- Lauren Bacall -- and sexologist Dr. Ruth and Olympian Mark Spitz? This, my friends, was a once in a lifetime question!

Thus, the $350,000 was easily spent.

But the truly extraordinary treasure of the evening was a very special little book in a leather slipcase; a small intimate reflection --- not available to the public. This was the gift that Lauren Bacall was so graciously thanking Frederic for in fluent French, as I stood nearby listening in; a very limited edition (only 180) of each icon’s portrait individually printed and fastened into a leather bound book with less than 100 pages entitled Icons. A vellum overlay preceded each portrait and contained the sitters’ response to “What are your hopes as a Jew for America, as we enter the new Millennium?”

Frederic had asked only this as acknowledgement from this extraordinary group; these incredible individuals who had been responsible for redefining their worlds. Many chose to respond, but for some it was too late: in the time between photograph and publication, they had passed away. This included Director Billy Wilder, Physician and Scientist Dr. Jonas Salk, Comedian George Burns, Art Historian Meyer Shapiro, and Cosmetics Entrepreneur Elizabeth Arden.

Most chose to hand write their response, some chose to type; others, like Alan Ginsberg, Saul Steinberg and Richard Avedon, chose to respond with illustrations and Phillip Glass submitted 8 elegantly hand-scribed bars of music. Henry Kissinger provided only his autograph.

It was fascinating to read the unedited, private thoughts of these very accomplished and eminent Americans; these individuals who normally don’t reveal themselves without a publicist or editor’s intervention.

These do not belong to me and it is not my intention to usurp any publishing rights, but I include just a sprinkling of my favorites and hope that someday this singular collection will be shared with the audience it deserves.

I hope for a time in which all of us ask courageous questions; are not satisfied with superficial answers; are open to wonder and at the same time subject all claims to knowledge, without exception, to intense skeptical scrutiny; are aware of human fallibility, and cherish our species and our planet. -- Carl Sagan

As a Jew in America, my hope is that before too very long the question of one’s faith will become a private matter, and that all Americans will be seen and treated as equals not only in the eyes of the laws, but in the eyes of their fellow citizens. -- Arthur Ochs Sulzberger

To look back often is a blessing. It gives us tolerance to leap ahead. -- Steven Spielberg

I don’t have hopes “as a Jew” for America. I hope that America doesn’t become the stupidest country on earth. -- Phillip Roth

My hope is that in the year 2999, another American Jew would be asked the question about his hopes for America as we enter the new millennium. -- Itzhak Perlman

My hope is for all children -- that they may inherit a country and a world that turns its attention from meeting the challenges posed by enemies beyond their borders to the challenges that face us from within. I refer mainly to the challenges of education and adequate health care. Without them; the foundations of our society will begin to crumble; will not be able to compete, and our children will begin to lose hope. But with them, the new millennium can offer unparalleled security and opportunity. -- Michael Milken

Yes, that Michael Milken. And I close my selection with a Nobel Laureate --

My hope for America is that, in the next century, it will justify our faith in the nobility of man. Elie Wiesel

I haven’t even mentioned Walter Annenberg, Kirk Douglas, or Dr. Milton Friedman, all luminaries, all with deep and thoughtful responses -- or the other party attendees who were, like myself; contributors on the sidelines to this wondrous occasion.

I have only now, all these years later, just begun to reflect upon these hopes, these visions of a future, and this singular moment, in a pre 9/11 New York City on a beautiful Autumn evening. How could this experience not color my hopes, as a Jew, as a human being, for America, as we entered the new millennium?

What does our Identity do to us?

What kind of Jew are you?

Part Two of Three

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