’Tis the season to keep building those bridges

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The Casita Maria Choir caroling at Jackie Weld Drake’s annual Christmas party in honor of Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education.

Holiday parties. Holiday pounds. Get out the Spanx: there’s more to come. In the meantime,  here are three evenings that registered — on my scale:

First off: Jackie Weld Drake’s yearly Christmas caroling party, showcasing some pretty adorable eight to ten-year-olds. The Casita Maria Choir, so pretty in their Christmas colors, sang their hearts out, then opened gifts Jackie had left under the tree.

“They are why I do what I do,” she told me. “Each year at Christmas, I like to bring the Casita Choir together to perform for the board and our stakeholders, to see the happiness and joy they feel in their finery and realize the kind of work we do.”

Martha Bograd, Jacqueline Weld Drake, and Mercedes Bograd Levin.

Jackie’s been the face of the Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education in the South Bronx for … ever.   It’s the oldest Latin charity in New York City, giving arts education and a positive community to kids in the city’s poorest zip code.

“Some of our kids, not necessarily those here tonight,” Jackie told me, “have parents who may have been stricken with Covid and are now being brought up by grandparents. We have autistic kids, homeless kids. So, they have all the challenges in the world. But, I like to say our kids are the advantaged ones, because their families bring them to Casita.  And they want to excel and succeed. We have graduated a whole lot of young people who have gone on to become doctors, lawyers and more.”  Rita Moreno and Tito Puente are alumni.

The Casita Maria Board with their adorable Casita Maria Choir.
Jacqueline Weld Drake, Mia Fernandez, Gail Heidel, and Kristina Lugo.
Presents for The Casita Maria Choir.

These days, Jackie keeps her guest list small and cozy. Among those nestled below her art-filled walls:    Casita Maria board members Martha Bograd, George Corton, Sissi Fleitas, Michèle Gerber Klein, Alberto Mariaca, Patrick Moran, Ben Rodriguez-Cubeñas, Jean Shafiroff, and Kristina Rivera Lugo, Interim Executive Director of Casita Maria as well as friends including Steven M. L. Aronson, Lady Liliana Cavendish, Sharon King Hoge, Mercedes Bograd Levin, Alicia Lubowski-Jahn, and Christopher English Walling.

Luisa Lopez, Alberto Mariaca, and Belen Moreno.
George Corton, Ben Rodrigez Cubanas, Gail Heidel, and Sissi Fleitas.
Eduardo Gonzalez Coro, Ben Rodrigez Cubanas, Sissi Fleitas, and Danay Martine.
Sharon Hoge, Roy Kean, and Angela Chen.
Hillary Latos and Dr. Nicholas Perricone.
Luisa Lopez and Angela Chen.
Michele Gerber Klein, Liliana Cavendish, and Lee Fryd.
Christopher Walling, Irina Serrano, and Andres Serrano.

“I’m a magnet,” Walling exclaimed, when he saw me. Always  a magnet for people and their stories, now, his likeness is literally on a magnet. He’s in the Alex Katz painting Round Hill, featured prominently in the Guggenheim’s publicity for their Katz retrospective — including on a magnet Walling brandished. “It was painted when we took a house together on the island of Nevis in 1977,” he told me.

Walling in front of Alex Katz’s On Round Hill. “Ada — famously his iconic muse — is in the center of the painting. Their then teenage son, Vincent, is reading Shakespeare. The brilliant art historian Sanford Schwartz has his back to us. And then there’s me! The work was just given to LACMA.”

Another night, another gala. And a Yuletide story with a twist.  Years ago, one Christmas Eve, a famous pop star was playing a single melody over and over. Finally, his wife begged him, “Please, PLEASE quit playing that record. Let’s get the presents under the tree, so we can go to bed.” “One more time,” he entreated.

That man was Pat Boone, listening to the theme from Exodus, the 1960 movie about the founding of the state of Israel, that starred Paul Newman as a blue-eyed Jewish freedom fighter. Pat loved the melody and contacted the publisher to see if he could sing it, only to find there were no words. Several lyrics had already been rejected. So, there was Pat Boone on Christmas Eve, trying to absorb the Zionist experience!

The Real Deal: My late father Isaac Fryd. Born in Palestine, fought for Israel. As in the movie, at age 16, as part of the Irgun, Daddy swam out in the middle of the night to bring refugees secretly ashore. At age 18, he joined the British Army to help guard Israeli kibbutzim, also serving in the Haganah. Here he is, age 21, about to board the boat for Miami Beach. In the ’80s, he partnered with WWII survivors, Dov Dunaevsky and Abe Resnick, to build Miami Beach highrises. They called the company FDR. The street in front of Art Basel is now called Abe Resnick Boulevard. And that’s the American Dream.

“The professional lyricists were trying to encompass the enormity of thousands of years of Jewish history,” Boone told me. “But, I wanted to capture individuality: ‘This land is mine.’ I saw the singularity of the ownership. Israel being owned by Israel; one person saying, ‘take my hand and walk this land with me.’”

For that and other shows of Israeli support, Pat Boone was one of those honored at the gala celebrating the 50th Anniversary of The Algemeiner, an independent online and print newspaper, covering the Middle East, Israel, and matters of Jewish interest around the world. Former Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, and philanthropists Ben and Annie Fisher were also honored. Dana Arschin, two-time Emmy award-winner and TV journalist, hosted.

The evening’s host, Dana Arschin.
Honoree Sebastian Kurz.
Simon Jacobson, Malcolm Hoenlein, Sebastian Kurz, and Dovid Efune.
Honorees Annie and Ben Fisher.
Simon Jacobson, Ben Fisher, Annie Fisher, Arielle Lazaros, Mendel Lazaros, and Dovid Efune.
Dovid Efune, Enes Kanter Freedom, Simon Jacobson, and Emily Austin.

“There’s so much misinformation and disinformation, especially when it comes to what is told about the Jewish people and the Jewish state, that a vehicle like The Algemeiner, that addresses the foremost issues facing us, is more vital than it has ever been before,” Event Chair, former Algemeiner Editor in Chief and CEO, Dovid Efune told me. “We live in the information age. Young people consume up to 11 hours of media every single day.” Too much of that is biased, repugnant and/or just plain untrue.

“As long as the world has been around,” Efune continued, “there’s been hatred, bigotry and prejudice.   Our job is to make sure that we are responding to it with everything that we have on a daily basis.”

Dovid and Mushka Efune.

Or as Pat Boone told me, “It’s amazing to me how blind many people are! They are growing up in ignorant ways. They deny the holocaust. It is totally imbecilic! We’ve got to keep on telling the truth about history.”

Enes Kanter Freedom and Pat Boone.

Another honoree, NBA star Enes Kanter Freedom, is also on a mission to combat hatred.   He grew up in Turkey, in a culture of antipathy towards America and Israel. It was instilled in classrooms. It’s how politicians got elected.  His friends learned to burn flags on TV. But, when he was eight and friends were burning them, Enes ran home, confused. “Don’t hate anyone before you meet them,” his mom advised.

Eventually he came to America. People were nice to him. He even made a friend he later found out was Jewish. When he was invited for Shabbat dinner, “I called my Turkish friend and said, ‘If you don’t hear from me in the next two hours, call the police.’”

Those lessons inspired him to set up a basketball camp in Israel, for Palestinians, Jews, Christians, and Muslims to play together.

“We had the most amazing time,” Enis said. “We need to leave our differences on the table and try to find what we have in common.”

Mark Moskowitz, Andrew Wilshinsky, and Julie Wilshinsky.
Ilan and Saul Greenfield.
Mendel Lazaros, Mendell Jacobson, Simon Jacobson, Dovid Efune, and Jason Pressberg.
David Yassky, with Ben and Annie Fisher.
Pat Boone and Mark Gerson.
Ari Ackerman and Eden Cohen.
Dan and Wendy Moskowitz.

Very different at first glance, Barbara Tober and Machine Dazzle have found commonality in their creative spirits and joie de vivre. They met when the Museum of Arts and Design held a Machine Dazzle retrospective. This spring, Dazzle will create the costumes and Barbara will chair the opening night for Opera Lafayette.

Barbara recently sponsored Machine’s participation in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Live Arts production, Bassline Fabulous: J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations with Machine Dazzle.  To get to a private dress rehearsal for 70, we walked through a dramatically lit Temple of Dendur into the  Museum’s Vanderlyn Panorama in the American Wing (which depicts the palace and gardens of Versailles). There, friends were treated to a private concert, featuring Dazzle’s whimsical yet reverent interpretive performance of a rendition by the Catalyst Quartet.

Machine Dazzle in Bassline Fabulous at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Catalyst Quartet — Abi Fayette, Karla Donehew Perez, Paul Laraia, and Karlos Rodriguez.

Then, we were feted in the grand reception rooms of the Frederick R. Koch Foundation townhouse across the street. The Met’s Limor Tomer, Lulu C. and Anthony W. Wang General Manager of Live Arts, joined guests Carrie Rebora Barratt, Chiara Clemente, Layla S. Diba, Tiffany E. Dubin, Fe and Alessandro Fendi, Christopher Forbes, April and Roddy Gow, Maria Eugenia Maury and William A. Haseltine, Nizam Kettaneh, Guillaume Kientz, William Ivey Long, Jordan Roth, Ben Rodriguez-Cubeñas, Ruben Toledo, and Adrienne and Gigi Vittadini. 

Karlos Rodriguez, Eileen Keane, Machine Dazzle, and Jordan Roth.
Alisa Regas and Linda Brumbach.
Barbara Tober, Machine Dazzle, Adrienne Vittadini, and Gianluigi Vittadini.
April Gow and Gianluigi Vittadini.
Ben Rodriguez-Cubeñas and Kevin Alexander.
Catalyst Quartet members Karlos Rodriguez, Abi Fayette, Karla Donehew Perez, and Paul Laraia, with Machine Dazzle (back row) and Limor Tomer (second from right).
Dame Jillian Sackler and Roddy Gow.
Daniel Chain, Tinu Naija, and Barbara Tober.
Eileen Keane and Elissa Auther.
Jill Esterman, Dame Jillian Sackler, and Kip Forbes.
Jill Esterman, Nizam Kettaneh, and Layla Diba.
John Olsen and Barbara Tober.
Afsaney Akhtari and Isabelle Orlansky.
Limor Tomer and Carrie Barratt.
Timothy Johnson and Abi Fayette.

General Manager, Live Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art Limor Tomer greeted all. “Met Life Arts is the performance department at the museum,” she explained. “We commission and present new performance works that are inspired by and rooted in the Met collection.” She put the Catalyst Quarter, this year’s resident artist, together with Dazzle.

Limor Tomer greeting guests.

“The Catalyst Quartet gave me this incredible landscape,” Dazzle told me. “I feel like they have given me a cake and I am the decorator, perhaps putting one of those little ballerinas on top — or just bringing my little queer cupcake into this secret room.

“I’ve performed at the Met before. It’s a really, really cool program. They activate different parts of the museum and there are performances almost every day. Full disclosure: I did not know what the Goldberg Variations were, when they called me a year ago. But, I started listening to it every day, so the music is really, really in there. It’s a very, very deep choreography.”

Machine Dazzle in Bassline Fabulous at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

And so we end as we began, with music as a bridge to bring us together: whether it is Jackie Weld Drake’s angelic Casita Choir making the trip from the Bronx to Park Avenue, Pat Boone’s Christmas Eve epiphany of the Jewish longing for a homeland, Enes Kanter Freedom’s realization that Jewish prayers echoed Muslim melodies, or Machine Dazzle bringing his queer eye to classical music.

’Tis the season to keep building those bridges towards peace and good will. So, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Festivus to all. Don’t forget, we’re in this together.

Photographs by Jared Siskin/PMC (Algemeiner); Casita (Jill Nelson/Annie Watt Agency); Jenny Gorman &  Stephanie Berger (Met)

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