At the Appeal of Conscience Foundation’s 45th anniversary awards dinner last month, the chairman/CEO of Coca-Cola, Muhtar Kent, was delighted to find himself seated next to Bernard Arnault, chairman/CEO of the Paris-based LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
“Our two companies,” Kent said, “have a passion for bubbles — Coca-Cola and Dom Perignon.”
“That comparison smells of high treason!” exclaimed Arnault.
That amused the dinner guests at the Waldorf-Astoria, including Israeli President Shimon Peres, New York Observer publisher Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump, Henry Kissinger and numerous ambassadors and diplomats in town for the United Nations session.
Rabbi Arthur Schneier, founding president of the foundation, enlisted Kissinger to present awards to John Elkann, chairman of the Fiat Group; and Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman/CEO of the Blackstone Group; and Dr. Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India and a Sikh.
“What Appeal of Conscience has been doing to build bridges among religions is something I grew up with,” Elkann said. “I had an extended family with many religions.”
Elkann said he was born 34 years ago in New York, grew up in Brazil and France, and graduated in engineering in Italy. “I come from a Jewish family and grew up with those values from my father.”
His father was Jewish; his mother was Catholic who later remarried a Russian Orthodox. “We teach our children to be free and respect each other,” Elkann said.
Turmoil in Kashmir kept the prime minister of India at home. Speaking by video he affirmed “the whole world is one and all faiths are equal.”
Kissinger said he’s been coming to the dinner for 21 years to present the awards. “Rabbi Schneier gives me a schedule of the program, but it doesn’t help. I was set to speak five hours ago. I thought tonight we’d make history if I would speak on schedule.”
Peres was exuberant about Israel’s standing in the world with excellent relations with China and improved relations with Russia.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu has joined me in the two-state solution,” Peres said. The Palestinians have a choice to make — either a state or continued strife. I hope we shall bring peace to our children, to the Arab children and to all children.”
Tim Boxer is editor of 15MinutesMagazine.com.