“I worked hard to bring Russian Jews to Brighton Beach,” said Senator Charles Schumer at the UJA-Federation of New York’s Russian Division 2013 Charity Ball at the Harmonie Club on June 2 — right off Fifth Avenue — at which philanthropist and art patron Felix Komarov was honored with its Global Leadership Award.
“Why Brighton Beach?” asked Schumer. “I was an assemblyman. There were no older Jews in the four-story walkups… We offered landlords bonuses. With the support of four of the biggest shuls in the area, we handed out leaflets in Yiddish and Russian ‘Do you want to live in a nice Jewish neighborhood?’ Many were from Odessa [“by- the- sea”]…The Russians cried khelp! And now they are helping and giving back.”
Mingling and nibbling on superb lox, delicious sautéed potatoes while sipping Vodka, there were a number of chic young people among 200 festively attired guests. The atmosphere was upbeat — resonant of that day’s Israel Day Parade. Dinner co-chair Galina Pincow — who shared the honor with co-chair Gene Rachmansky — was aglow “because this is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Russian division.” Also touted was Honorary dinner chair Lawrence Wajnberg, who established the Russian division.
A dapper, leaner, Congressman Gerald Nadler presented the award to Komarov whose list of kudos and credentials includes: vice-president of the Creative Union of Artists in Russia — himself a collector of 15,000 frog (!) sculptures. The first Russian entrepreneur to join the Rockefeller Club, he started a Rolls-Royce dealership in Moscow. A patron of the arts, film and ballet and sponsor of “My Kosher Lady” at Moscow’s Shalom Theatre (one of the few theaters that still stages plays in Yiddish) Komorov said, “Thank you for appreciating my efforts on earth. I am pleased to be part of this [UJA] effort, thrilled to help people on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Award presenter Nadler added that “COJECO (Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations) raised and distributed $10 million for Hurricane Sandy Relief. The Red Cross raised $100 million [for Sandy] none of which has yet been distributed.”
Speakers included outgoing UJA-Federation president Jerry Levin who said his speech would be short because he was hungry, having walked the length of the parade “twice.” He also noted that, “Almost fifty years ago, Russian Jews did not have the freedom to practice their religion.” UJA-Federation executive vice president and CEO John Ruskay informed that among its many programs “We feed 100,000 Jews meals…send 8,000 Russian kids to camp…. accept responsibility in 60 countries around the world” and touted the parade as the “one-day a year we stand with Israel.”
Also honored was Michael Zurakhinsky, recipient of the “Lydia Vareljan Young Leadership Award.” A member of COJECO, he founded Art Story, a nonprofit organization that is a resource for modern and contemporary art. Buzzing about the elegant affair and chatting up the guests, was Russian Division Director Lilly Wajnberg in a black décolleté gown. Having nurtured the Russian Division from its beginning, she decided to retire, which elicited a standing ovation with a few “NO!”s from the crowd.