American Jewish World Service (AJWS) marked 25 years of helping poverty-stricken people in developing countries. Naturally that called for a dinner last month at the Frederick Rose Hall at Lincoln Center to honor its president, Ruth Messinger.
ABC News anchor Christiane Amanpour called Messinger “a model of global citizenship.” She added, “You are our conscience and you teach us what it means to be a human being.”
Messinger, who served as Manhattan borough president during the ‘90s, also celebrated her 70th birthday at the dinner. She introduced a short promotional film called, “A Public Service Announcement by Judd Apatow and Jordan Rubin Not Approved by AJWS.”
For this video, writer/director Apatow and comedian Rubin asked a few of their Jewish and gentile friends to roast AJWS and raise some money for its programs. Some 22 names responded, among them Gilbert Gottfried, Helen Hunt, Julie Louis-Dreyfus, Tracy Morgan, Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman (the funniest of the bunch), Kiefer Sutherland and Patrick Stewart.
Lindsay Lohan was happy to participate, but whispered to no one in particular, “These things pay well, right?”
Andy Samberg got into the spirit of the public service announcement and told viewers to call the number at the bottom of the screen. Realizing there is no number, he said you should text “dreidel.”
“All right, just send a donation with a self-addressed stamped matzah.”
Ben Stiller argued that AJWS is an awful acronym. “Change it to Jewish American Service—then you’re saying JAWS. Now that’s punchy! You can have a JAWS month on the Discovery Channel.”
Triumph, the Insult Dog, suggested something simple, like “Jews Helping Goyim.”
“People ask if I’m Jewish because of the way I talk,” the Insult Dog said, chomping on a cigar. “I choose to be like Madonna. I don’t want to announce I’m Jewish until I need the publicity.”
The PSA, which can be seen on YouTube, also features Brian Williams. He admits he’s not Jewish but supports the organization. “Why? As Tevye said, it’s tradition.”
Zamir Lifts Women’s Voices
To be a Jewish musician is easy, says Matthew Lazar, but to be a Jew and a musician is sometimes difficult.
Nevertheless he has overcome many hurdles over the years as he guided the co-ed, world-renowned Zamir Chorale, serving as its director and conductor in a time when Modern Orthodox Jewish sensibilities shifted fundamentally to the right.
At the 50th anniversary dinner Saturday at the Park Avenue Synagogue, Lazar lamented just how difficult it has become for Jewish musicians.
“When we started out it was possible for mixed singing, for men and women dancing together, for yeshiva sports teams to have girl cheerleaders. How times have changed!”
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and former dean of Ramaz School asserted, “I absolutely identify with the whole idea of men and women singing together in chorus and performing together on stage. I was insistent on coeducational choirs at Ramaz and Kehilath Jeshurun.”
He deplored the silencing of women’s voices, which he called “one of the most terrible developments in Judaism.”
He has seen it in his own family. His granddaughters were musically gifted and sang beautifully until they hit the sixth grade. Then they were expected, because of the prohibition on kol isha, the concern that men might be aroused at the sound of a woman’s voice, to stop singing in their Modern Orthodox school.
“How could you not sing? How could you not sing Jewish music?”
Rabbi Lookstein described his Friday night table alive with music. “But it’s the grandsons who are singing. My granddaughters — you can hardly hear their voices. That’s very sad.”
The rabbi praised Zamir for having transformed Jewish music for the entire community.
Theodore Bikel presented Lazar with a specially embroidered tallit. Bikel placed his hands on Lazar’s head and said, “I will invoke my privilege as a kohen and bless you.” He pronounced the priestly blessing in Hebrew.
The next day Zamir presented its 50th anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall, where Elie Wiesel presented an award to Lazar.
“You created links between Jews in America and Israel,” Wiesel said. “You have perpetuated the ancient music of the Levites.”
“Elie Wiesel is the only Nobel laureate who is also a choral director,” Lazar noted. “He conducted choirs in Paris after the war.”