“Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg. It would have been better if you’d sent $10 million or something… but a plaque is much appreciated,” joked Mitch Winehouse, father of the late British global music star Amy Winehouse, at the March 21 Amy Winehouse Foundation Inspiration Awards Gala. He was referring to a plaque the mayor sent honoring the Amy Winehouse Foundation. Winehouse thanked the 350 guests in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Starlight Room for their support. Among the guests were Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte and Monte Lipman, founder, chairman and CEO of Republic Records.
“As you know, Amy ultimately succumbed to her alcohol addiction,” Winehouse said. “But in 2008, when she won her five Grammys, it was Tony Bennett who uttered the immortal words: ‘The winner is Miss Winehouse!’ We went crazy! Amy said, ‘Dad, I can’t believe Tony Bennett knows who I am.’ It was from that moment that she really started to deal with her drug addiction. She was clear of drugs two years, nine months prior to her death [July 23, 2011]. Unfortunately, she did not deal so successfully with alcohol… Thank you, Tony! You’ve brought a lot of peace to me and my family. Amy created the Amy Winehouse Foundation [to prevent drug and alcohol misuse by young people] long before it was [officially] the Amy Winehouse Foundation.”
Then Belafonte took the podium, and the mood shifted. “This hotel used to be one of the most racist pieces of real estate in the world,” he said. “[It] hired a wonderful French Jew [banquet manager], Claude Philippe, [who] spoke to an agent of mine, Louis Wasserman, who booked me here. I was on Broadway in ‘3 For Tonight [a 1955 hit], and I was on my ascendancy. When the hotel realized that Belafonte wasn’t some Frenchman — in the tradition of [Maurice] Chevalier — when I showed up, they went ape s–t and wanted to cancel my contract! Lou would not let them, and so they fired Claude-Philippe! They then put me in this [18th-floor Starlight] room. No black people worked around here. Now I see things have improved. We have one black waiter here tonight and, after 50 years of history, I’m glad to see the Waldorf is catching up.” The crowd roared.
Belafonte said: “What you don’t know is, Tony’s record when it comes to human relations.” He described the [March 1965] “Selma to Montgomery [Ala.] civil rights marches,” and “ Dr. Martin Luther King’s attempt to bring artists and celebrities to endorse the movement [whom] I had to assure that their careers would not end…. The first celebrity I asked to come down was Tony Bennett, who said, ‘I’m in!’ What Tony didn’t realize was that the most vicious police in the world was on duty…. Tens of thousands of people wound up at St. Jude, a Catholic University, where the nuns gave us the grounds for the performance. The night before, it rained — the worst rain in a decade – flooding, ankle deep.” Belafonte recalled how a group of young men who worked for funeral parlors in the area found 50 empty coffins and “lined them up on the soggy field.” Because of their buoyancy, the coffins, which were used to support the stage, did not sink. Belafonte added, “Standing on a platform atop the coffins, as in the background KKK signs burned brilliantly, Tony sang ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco.’”
“I’ve heard a lot of introductions in my life,” Bennett said, “but this was the most wonderful one.” With a catch in his throat, he added: “What I remember most about Amy Winehouse is her sweet mother, [Janis Winehouse Collins, who was present]. She came to my house in New York and told me: “You know I feel different than almost anybody else about Amy’s dismissal from this planet, because her whole life, her dream was to become famous as a singer. As far as I am concerned, even though she had a lost life, she had a great life.” Bennett electrified the crowd with his rendition of “Maybe This Time” from “Cabaret.” Among the celebrities present was John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s son, Sean Lennon, in a gray Fedora.
“My Jewish faith is represented by my values and love of education,” said Joy Hirsch, professor and neuroscientist at Yale University’s School of Medicine, Hirsch was one of three remarkable women honored at the Jewish Women’s Foundation Benefit Luncheon, held on March 14 at The Plaza. “I come from a small community in Oregon,” Hirsch said, responding to moderator NYC-Arts host Paula Zahn’s query about the “impact of Judaism on her persona.” “My parents were farmers… probably the only Jewish farming family in Oregon.” Also onstage was Roberta Kaplan, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. On March 27 she appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court, defending Edith Windsor in challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of the Marriage Act .Nazee Moinian, “fluent in French, English, Farsi and Arabic” was onstage, as well. Her multiple talents were listed in the program under the title “Consultant on Iranian Politics.”
Hirsch, one of the developers of the diagnostic marvel the MRI, has made pioneering breakthroughs in understanding the workings of the human brain. “I feel strongly about mentoring young women through their science careers…. brains are beautiful, and a smart woman is really an important person,” she said, When Zahn asked Kaplan if arguing before the Supreme Court was a realistic goal,” Kaplan — whose credentials include “New York super lawyer and one of the 500 leading litigators in the United States,” responded lightheartedly: “I was very lucky.” And as for her Judaic commitment, Kaplan replied: “In my bat mitzvah in Temple Emau-El in Cleveland, Ohio, my Torah portion was Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof [Deuteronomy: 16:20: Justice, justice, thou shalt pursue].” The coincidence elicited lots of chuckles.
During her give-and-take with Zahn, Moinian replied: “I don’t think I chose the path — the path chose me, and I was happy to follow. I come from an underrepresented section of the community — an Iranian Jew — and when I speak to important people, they don’t have any notion of Iranian Jews”
In 1995, five women founded the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York. These women realized that only a small percentage of money raised by the Jewish community made its way to programs specifically targeting women and girls in the Jewish community. To date, JWFNY has awarded more than $2.5 million to 100 innovative programs in the United States and Israel.