The New York Festival of Songs’ (NYFOS) February 18 “Warsaw Serenade” program at Kaufman Music Center’s Merkin Hall was right up my linguistic alley — a juxtaposition of “Songs by Polish Composers” plus “Seven Yiddish Songs Opus 13 (1943)” by Polish-Jewish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996).
The evening starred Moscow-born American soprano Dina Kuznetzova and Montreal-born tenor Joseph Kaiser who handled the articulation of dense consonant challenging Polish and geshmakn (delicious) Yiddish with finesse.
Seated on stage at two pianos, NYFOS co-founders Artistic Director Steven Blier and longtime friend Associate Artistic Director Michael Barrett launched the evening with an unexpected comedic Victor Borge moment when a swaying microphone refused to stay put for Blier who was about to introduce the program. Though there were meticulous English translations of Polish lyrics, none was needed when Kuznetsova launched her glass-shattering rendition of Grazyna Becewicz’s 1955 three-line repetitive opus “Boli Mnie Glowa” (I have such a headache! Oh! I have such a headache! Only I know how much I’m suffering!”) It was akin to an articulated version of Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream.” The audience roared and loved it!
Following works by seven Polish composers –only two of whom — Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) and Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) — are well known, Blier informed: “We’ve heard from the Polish Catholics” then introduced Weinberg’s Seven Yiddish Songs Opus 13 (1943) — music set to the poetry of Yiddish literary giant Itzhak Leybush Peretz (1852-1815). Blier informed: “It was a grim time to be alive anywhere — and [Warsaw-born Weinberg} was then in Russia, the only survivor of his family which perished in the Nazi Trawnicki concentration camp. His father had been a composer and conductor of Warsaw’s Skala Theater. Dogged by anti-Semitism most of his life, Weinberg was arrested in 1953 for ‘Jewish bourgeois nationalism’ in Russia’… barely survived and was ignored by the Moscow music establishment.” As Blier informed: “Not until the end of his life was he honored by the government that had suppressed his music. ”
Informing that ”Weinberg first introduced Dmitri Shostakovich — an intimate friend — to the sweet-and-sour world of Yiddish song, ” Blier described Weinberg’s seven songs as portraying “childhood and family life [that] seem quite innocent and rosy. “Breitele” (little bread) is about eating. A boy wants to be a hunter (“Der Yeger”) and the mood shifts with no warning and he is suddenly an orphan (“Der Yesome’s Brivele”) — The Orphan’s Letter — like Weinberg was…You hear a nigun (theme) with a motif not unlike an inverted shofar with its signal that is either triumph or defeat.”
Finally gaining recognition, Weinberg’s 1968 opera “The Passenger” received its world stage premiere in 2010 at the Bregenz Festival and, a month ago, was remounted by the Houston Grand Opera in its first American production.
Special kudos to Joseph Kaiser for his crisp, clean articulation of Polish (which he told me was a new and challenging language for him) and his reverential tribute to Yiddish. Hopefully the Weinberg/Peretz repertoire will find a niche in the Yiddish Art Song arena in America.
(JTA) — Lena Dunham was trolling the Internet when she stumbled upon a shot of her boyfriend with his ex-girlfriend.
Relatable, right? Well, yeah, except for that her boyfriend, Jewish rock guitarist Jack Antonoff, used to date Scarlett Johansson.
It seems Dunham was perusing a little obsession of hers, a Tumblr blog called “Old Loves,” when she came across a photo of her beau (a Solomon Schechter alumnus) with the Sexiest Woman Alive and SodaStream spokesperson.
“The craziest thing that ever happen to me, was like, Old Loves is my passion, I check it, like, once a week. It’s how I kick back on a Friday night is to see what Old Loves has done,” “Girls” creator told Grantland Channel, according to The Daily Mail. “I saw my boyfriend and his girlfriend from high school. Scarlett Johansson.”
The two, it turns out, were together for a year when they were both 17 and attending the Professional Children’s School in New York City.
“She’s beautiful, he’s beautiful, but it was just so surreal to be looking through this blog that gives me so much pleasure and then there’s my boyfriend,” Dunham said. “And I was like, “My mind is going to explode.”
Good thing she’s not the jealous type, but even if she were, Dunham has nothing to worry about. Johansson is engaged to French journalist Romain Dauriac.
When news leaked that actor Andrew Garfield had been chosen to take on the role of Spider-Man, Jewish media responded with headlines like “‘Spider-Man’ is Jewish!”
But for some reason, Joel Kinnaman, AKA the new “RoboCop,” hasn’t enjoyed the same kind of exposure. Released last weekend, the reboot of the 1987 action classic made $25 million in its first 3 days.
Yanir Dekel sat down with the Swedish born actor a few days before “RoboCop“‘s release to talk about his role, his Jewish identity and his unique life story that spans America and Europe.
“When I’m in Sweden I feel like I have something that is not Swedish,” Kinnaman admitted. “And when I’m here I feel I have something that’s not American. I’d say I feel still more Swedish then American because I grew up there, but at the same time when I grew up I went to a public school that had English speaking classes, and when we played football in the breaks it was us against the Swedes.”
Joel’s father, Steve Kinnaman, is an American who left the United States in the 1950s. He immigrated to Sweden, where he met Joel’s mom, who is Jewish.
“The Jewish community in Sweden is an old community,” Joel says. “My family came from Ukraine in 1850. They’re very integrated, so it’s a silent presence. “
As for anti-Semitism? “We have a fascist party in our government, they’re very anti-Muslim, I don’t think that the Jewish community is affected by that. They wanna kick out all the immigrants. That is something that we’re dealing with in Sweden right now.”
Check out the full one-on-one interview below:
Photo credit: Getty Images.
It may have been raining outside, but the Philadelphia 76ers were in for a bright surprise.
Our favorite Miss Israel, Yityish “Titi” Aynaw, dropped in on their practice this week during her tour of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
The first woman of Ethiopian descent to win the competition in Israel is touring America on an ambassadorial trip that will include stops in New York, Washington D.C., Chicago and San Diego.
“I’m here as a representative of Israel, the Ethiopian community and of the Jewish people,” she told the Jewish Exponent.
The 22-year-old is apparently a huge basketball fan (but eat your heart out NBA, she supports Maccabi Tel Aviv) and was quick to crash the practice, showing off her moves and dribbling skills. “It’s so cool,” she said. “I want to play.”
While posing for a picture with the players, she joked: “I feel so short!” Aw.
At 6 feet tall, she has nothing to worry about.
(JTA) — James Franco has added yet another couple of lines to his epic resume. It seems the film actor, soap opera star, professor, muralist, and selfie-master is now also a New York Times contributer and defender of erratic celebrities—in this case actor Shia LeBeouf.
In an OP-ED piece titled “Why Actors Act Out,” Franco analyzes LeBeouf’s recent antics, which include alleged plagiarism, plagiarized apologies for the alleged plagiarism, a skywritten apology for the alleged plagiarism, wearing a bag over his head at a movie premiere, and wearing a bag over his head and staring at people at an art show (also possible plagiarism).
Is LeBeouf nuts? Maybe. But one thing’s for sure, per Franco: The guy is artsy.
“…I know that this idea has pretentious or just plain ridiculous overtones — that his actions are intended as a piece of performance art, one in which a young man in a very public profession tries to reclaim his public persona,” Franco says, before going on to list other examples of actors who fought back against the industry’s control over their images. Like Marlon Brando, Joaquin Pheonix, and of course, James Franco.
“At times I have felt the need to dissociate myself from my work and public image,” he writes. “In 2009, when I joined the soap opera “General Hospital” at the same time as I was working on films that would receive Oscar nominations and other critical acclaim, my decision was in part an effort to jar expectations of what a film actor does and to undermine the tacit — or not so tacit — hierarchy of entertainment.”
To Franco’s credit, the “General Hospital” stint was a pretty awesome way to stand up to the hierarchy of entertainment. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if LaBeouf pops up on mid-day TV sometime soon, too. Franco would surely be flattered. As he said himself, “I think Mr. LaBeouf’s project, if it is a project, is a worthy one.”
Photo credit: Getty Images.
The long-awaited “South Park” game has a little surprise for members of the tribe: you can play one.
A video preview of the game’s opening sequence, released on Friday, outlines the basic storyline. You, the player, are a new kid in the quiet little mountain town of South Park, Colorado. Your first quest? Make friends. To do that, you need to join the local kids in a Live Role Playing Game (LARP) (As Times of Israel points out, LARPing basically means engaging in a village-wide game of Renaissance Fair, costumes, characters and all.)
Once your first friend leads you (the player) to the main game headquarters, you are greeted by Cartman the Wizard — really just Cartman in a turquoise Dumbledore hat — who acts as a guide and explains the rules.
The mission is to find and control the mythical “Stick of Truth.” Each player must choose a character class to belong to: mage, fighter, thief or… Jew.
In the promotional video, the player chooses “Jew”. His costume? A tallit and yarmulke. His fearsome weapon? A shepherd’s crook and the “Sling of David,” which causes enemies to bleed Stars of David when struck (really it’s just an old sock).
“So, I guess we’ll never really be friends,” Cartman, also the show’s token anti-Semite (for satirical reasons, obviously), greets the new character. “Welcome to the KKK, Douchebag the Jew, who can probably also handle our finances.”
Overseen, written and voiced by the show’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the game stays true to the shows crude, satirical and yes, sometimes offensive, humor.Not for the faint of heart. Poseur “South Park” fans, beware.
The game will be released for Xbox 360 and Play Station 3 on March 4 in the U.S., and is rated for mature audiences only. But really, when has that ever stopped anyone? Get ready for some major LARPing, in a city near you.
Hey wait — is there an awards ceremony pegged to a Bette Midler performance on March 2nd?
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Divine Miss M will be performing at the 86th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres. Despite having been nominated twice, for her roles in”The Rose” (1979) and “For the Boys” (1991) , the actress and singer has never once performed during the telecast.
“We are thrilled to have Bette perform on the Oscars for the very first time,” Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron said in a statement. “We believe she will make our Oscar telecast an especially moving evening.”
Midler, 68, tweeted out the news to her 533,000 followers on Wednesday:
Now that the news is out, what shall I sing at this years#Oscars? http://t.co/t1v4r0zOaR— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) February 19, 2014
It’s almost enough to make us want to sit through the award for Best Sound Mixing. Almost.
The man about to give us biblical knowledge of Russell Crowe (see what I did there) has another trick up his sleeve.
Darren Aronofsky has announced that he will curate a “Noah”-themed art show, to be launched in conjunction with his upcoming epic of the same name.
“Fountains of the Deep: Visions of Noah and the Flood,” will include “never-before-seen works by more than 50 contemporary artists as well as comic book and street artists,” Page Six reports. The show will run March 7 through March 29 in New York City.
“The story of Noah and the book of Genesis has inspired artists for thousands of years,” Aronofsky told Page Six. “I wanted to see what other artists would do [with the subject matter].”
Look to Twitter in the coming weeks for a preview of the art to come — Aronofsky will be releasing images of the work on his Twitter feed leading up to the show.
Catch “Noah” — which also stars Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson and Anthony Hopkins — on March 28. Don’t forget to bring a friend!
Photo credit: Getty Images.
Honored with the Good Heart Award at the 15th Annual “Power of Your Heart” Valentine Salon Luncheon, which benefits Westhampton’s East End Hospice’s Camp Good Grief, was Life Camp founder Erica Ford, recognized by President Obama, who appointed her to the President’s Task Force on gun violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook Massacre.
Addressing the 204 elegant women at 583 Park Avenue who braved a cold Manhattan day Ford said: “A Lot of people don’t have the tools that some of us have. They become victims of the tragedy by taking their lives, getting addicted to drugs, causing pain and anger to someone else. So Camp Good Grief is valuable to our future. Some of the parents could not make it because they were scared of the challenge to change. But when you are stuck on your fear and pain—you don’t see tomorrow…. We have the ability to let people see they can live past their pain…we can live past our tragedies.”
Erica Ford and Debra Halpert. // Photo by Karen Leon.
“I love what I do at ‘Hamptons Magazine,’” said its publisher, Valentine Salon honoree Debra Halpert. Accepting the award from event co-founder Jacalyn Weinstein. Halpert stated: “Nelson Mandela said ‘You should do things with passion and compassion.’ My for-profit life supports my non-profit life.” Echoeing EEH Board Member Ellen Lowey’s observations, she amplified: “This is a world-renowned bereavement program” and described the children served by the camp as “silent mourners“ who can share their grief “in a safe and comforting environment.” This year’s group of 150 campers encompassed 79 who experienced the death of a mother or father and included women who lost children to street violence.
Priscilla Ruffin, president and CEO of East End Hospice stressed: “They’re sad. They’re mad. They are scared and they come away [from camp] with the ability to self-soothe during troubled times, a greater understanding of who you are and a catalyst for change… I listen to parents talk about what we mean to them.” A wrenching example was a father, left with three little children — his wife died in childbirth. “Each night I give my children one kiss on one cheek for me and the other for their mom.” He left the camp empowered. His story left some in the room teary-eyed.
The Josh Schwartz wedding of your dreams has finally happened.
Adam Brody, 34, and Leighton Meester, 27, have tied the knot in a super-secret wedding ceremony, only three months after announcing their engagement, Us Weekly reports.
The couple, who starred in two Josh Schwartz-produced cult shows (Brody as Seth Cohen in “The O.C.” and Meester as Blair Waldof in “Gossip Girls”) first met on the set of “The Oranges,” in 2011. In February 2013, Us Weekly confirmed the rumors that the two were dating, though neither has commented on the romance in public.
We’re happy for them, but really, nothing can top this Josh Schwartz wedding scene:
Israeli model and entrepreneur/party wizard Eliad Cohen has made it, once again, to OUT magazine’s “Top 10 Eligible Bachelors” list.
2013 was Cohen’s most successful year as a party promoter. Through his startup business, Gayville — a (sort-of) gay interpretation of Airbnb.com — his “Papa” parties, which started in Tel Aviv, have taken off and Cohen has been travelling to New York, Paris and Sydney to make thousands of party people happy. In the next few weeks Eliad will also be traveling with his party to London, Rio and Singapore.
“The international success of the Papa Parties has a lot to do with the high-energy vibe that translates from music to show to theme to crowd interaction,” Cohen explained to the Australian magazine Star Observer this week. ” There is very much an interactive quality to the parties .No party is good without great music, so that’s always our number one concern.”
This isn’t the first time that Eliad Cohen has made OUT’s list: last year, the magazine’s readers ranked Cohen at #2, right after ‘Glee’ star Chris Colfer. The 2014 list was voted on by the magazine readers out of 100 potential gay bachelors.
Cohen is also far from the only Jewish guy to have made the list. American Idol alumnus Adam Lambert topped this year’s list, grabbing almost 22% of the votes. Actor Wentworth Miller (who came out as gay last year) was ranked at #9.
Other Jewish nominees who didn’t make the cut: Daniel Mendsohn, Billie Eichner, Ken Mehlman, Andy Cohen and Nate Silver.
Photo credit: Facebook/Eliad Cohen.
Move over, Gal Gadot. There’s a new Israeli taking Hollywood by storm — and she’s only 16.
Teenage actress Odeya Rush, who just wrapped filming for her role in “The Giver” alongside Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges, has reportedly landed the female lead in “Goosebumps.”
The movie, which also stars Jack Black, is an adaptation of the novels of R.L. Stine — you know, those terrifying books that used to make you check under the bed before climbing in (or still do — no judgement here).
According to the Wrap, the 16-year-old will play niece to Black’s character, Mr. Shivers, an R.L. Stine-like author who is forced to hide from his scary literary creations when they jump off the page. Basically, your average “Goosebumps” plot.
Rush was born in Haifa, but grew up in the U.S. She was last seen in Disney’s “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” and has starred in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Law and Order, SVU.” Coming up: a role as the virgin Mary in a Jesus film starring Ben Kingsley and Julia Ormond.
(JTA) — Monday Night marked Jimmy Fallon’s debut as host of “The Tonight Show.” It was also the first time Joan Rivers, among the parade of stars who took the stage to settle a $100 debt, appeared on the show in over 25 years. Even more monumental: It was the 49th anniversary of her first-ever “Tonight Show” appearance, on Feb. 17 1965.
“It’s about time!” Rivers said in a statement of her return, per The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve been sitting in a taxi outside NBC with the meter running since 1987.”
Rivers was banned from the show by Johnny Carson after leaving her gig as his permanent guest host to helm Fox’s “The Late Show With Joan Rivers,” a competitor.
“Being in the studio brought back the most wonderful, wonderful memories of the night that jump-started my career,” she said. “So when people ask me, ‘Why was last night different from all other nights?’ I’ll tell them that it certainly beats Passover!”
See Rivers’ big comeback (plus Seth Rogen, Tina Fey, Lady Gaga, Lindsay Lohan, and many more) right here.
Photo credit: Getty Images.
Opening night of internationally renowned photographer Robert Farber’s solo exhibition “Farberesque: From Pensive to Provocative” by 3 West Project 57 Cavalier Gallery (next door to Bergdorf-Goodman) was an uber trendy New York happening. Adding sizzle to the 400-strong crowd were — what I call “tree tall” those extraordinarily leggy stunners who mingled with the international crowd of collectors, prominent figures in art, fashion, finance and beauty. Lots of hugging and kissing, with Farber admirers anxious to be photographed with the artist who seemed to be having the time of his life.
The wine flowed and the chatter din was several decibels above deafening. Among the cadre of major collectors was Monarch Wealth Management’s Barry Klarberg, a member of the Super Bowl Host Committee who, I was told, stopped by between NFL activities to admire Farber’s famous nudes, fashion montages and images of New York City. Among a cadre of young collectors: Sara Leibovitz, Chantel and Marcel Goodman, Bill Goodman and Maria Anna Goess.
Photo courtesy of Karen Leon.
The first time I met Farber about a year ago at an earlier exhibit at his atelier, he told me “I came to photography through painting…. My first show was in [New York’s] Washington Square where a woman came up to me and asked ‘Are these paintings or photographs?’ When I replied ‘photographs,’ she told me to leave!” The highlight of his success, he said was when Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis saw his work. “I showed photographs, a lot of my Riviera work, and she said ‘Let’s take pictures all over and do a book, ‘By the Sea.’” After its publication, Farber said, “she sent me a handwritten note, ‘Dear Robert’ followed by a typed letter thanking me for the book. It was signed ‘Best, J’ and was dated February 29, 1984. It was Leap Year and my birthday!” Farber added: “That book was in her estate auction and was bought for $48,000!”
Among the crush of collectors and must-see-and-be-seen crowd — philanthropist Jean Shafiroff, Baroness Sheri de Brochgrave, journalist and author Rita Cosby, art dealer and publisher Ian Shapolsky and power attorney, philanthropist David Hryck who someone mentioned was “a tax lawyer to stars.”
Farber and gallery owner Ron Cavalier appropriated a portion of the sales from the entire run of the exhibit (through February 26) to go to the National Meningitis Association, his favorite charity. The evening’s guest hosts included NMA president Lynn Bozof and NMA Gala chairs Klarberg, Sara Herbert Galloway, Errol Rappaport and Gary Springer.
Are you ready to “Get Chosen?”
That’s what JDate is asking in its new ad campaign, which made its grand debut in New York City’s Times Square on Thursday.
The ads come to you courtesy of Terri & Sandy Solution, a New York-based advertising firm, who created the campaign based on Jewish humor and culture. As Sandy Greenberg, one of the firm’s co-founders, told the New York Times: “We don’t care if non-Jews don’t get this work.”
The campaign reportedly cost between $2 and $3 million dollars, according to the Times. The Pew Research Center’s 2013 survey on American Jews showed that the intermarriage rate among non-Orthodox Jews who had wed since 2000, was 71%. Among Jews of no-religion, who identify culturally as Jewish but are not religious, that number rose to 78%.
Some of the taglines include: “Find someone who shares your love of gefilte fish;” More Jews than a Chinese restaurant on Christmas;” “Meet someone who wasn’t on your Birthright trip;” and our personal favorite (not), “6,000 years of persecution just so you can go on Match.com?” (see above.)
Photo Courtesy of Terri & Sandy Solutions
Wait, is it Purim already?
Not quite yet, but Zach Braff has decided to start spieling early. The “Scrubs” and “Garden State” actor is launching the season of fun with a parody of an ad promoting Yeshiva University.
Braff seems to be turning to his Jewish roots for inspiration lately. His next film, “Wish I Was Here,” tells the story of a father who has to pull his kids out of day school after his ailing father (Mandy Patinkin) announces he can no longer pay for it. The movie, reportedly inspired by Braff’s own “very strong Conservative/Orthodox upbringing,” also stars fellow tribe-members Kate Hudson and Josh Gad.
Jewish single men, read it and weep: Sarah Silverman is off the market.
Jesus must have given Sarah a good pep talk during their recent hangout sesh (he appeared in Sarah’s kitchen to give her the truth about women’s reproductive rights — and stayed for a CSI marathon); Us Weekly reports that the Jewish comedian is dating actor Michael Sheen.
“They were making out at Soho House,” an eyewitness told Us. “They were all over each other for a lot of the night.”
Guess that’s what happens when you go to a birthday party celebrating the star of “Masters of Sex.” (Sheen plays Dr. William Masters.)
Silverman’s five-year relationship with Jimmy Kimmel ended in 2009. Sheen has been linked to VH1 “Morning Buzz” host Carrie Keagan and “Midnight in Paris” co-star Rachel McAdams since his split with Kate Beckinsale in 2003. The two were married for 8 years and have a 14-year-old daughter, Lily.
Per a very credible “insider”: “Sarah and Michael came and left together. She drove,” an insider tells Us. “When they left, Sarah opened her trunk so Michael could put all of his gifts in and then they drove away.”
Now, for the real question: If they get married, will he pull a Benjamin Millepied and join the tribe? Fingers crossed.
Photo credit: HBO/Janet Van Hamm
Veteran Jewish comedian Sid Caesar, who died in Beverly Hills on Wednesday at the age of 91, was one of the greats. Jewish comedians took to Twitter to pay their respects and hail their departed chief:
Sid Caesar was a giant-maybe the best comedian who ever practiced the trade & I was privileged to be one of his writers & one of his friends— Mel Brooks (@MelBrooks) February 12, 2014
We've lost the greatest, monologist, pantomimic, sketch comedian TV has ever known! Word GENIUS is oft misused but not so here. HAIL CAESAR— carl reiner (@carlreiner) February 13, 2014
Saddened by the death of Sid Caeser. He was one of the greats. When you watch him today, he still makes you laugh like he did 60 years ago.— Joan Rivers (@Joan_Rivers) February 12, 2014
A childhood highlight was going to the taping of “Your Show of Shows.” I’m just sorry I never had the opportunity to work with Sid Caesar.— Joan Rivers (@Joan_Rivers) February 12, 2014
RIP Sid Caesar. A pioneer and a genius.— Jon Favreau (@Jon_Favreau) February 12, 2014
I was watching old Sid Caesar shows this week. No one could make me laugh harder. Very sad to hear he is gone.— R.L. Stine (@RL_Stine) February 12, 2014
RIP The amazing Sid Caesar. Sorry we didn't get to talk.— marc maron (@marcmaron) February 12, 2014
The brilliant Sid Caesar, gone. There was no one like him. Although it was expected, it's still a blow.— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) February 13, 2014
Sorry to learn about the passing of Sid Caesar-a dear friend, a comic genius & an American classic- there will never be another one like him— Larry King (@kingsthings) February 12, 2014
Soshi Games Tumblr
(JTA) — How would Shoshanna Shapiro, Zosia Mamet’s Jewish American Princess on crack (literally, sometimes) from “Girls,” fare at the Olympics? “Shoshi Games 2014” helps get your imagination going.
The anonymously created Tumblr superimposes Mamet’s face onto shots of different athletes, complete with Shosh-esque quotes as captions. Think lines like “Curling? I’ve been doing that since my bat mitzvah,” and “Are we going to a Drybar? #helmethair.”
Good stuff, mysterious Tumblr genius.
Shirley Temple in 1988 // Photo by Karen Leon.
Shirley Temple Black — who died at 85 on February 10 — may have indirectly helped my mother and me get a visa to America.
I became a Shirley Temple fan after seeing her in “The Little Colonel” in pre-war Warsaw. For weeks I ran around singing “Polly Wolly Doodle” in a Yiddish-Polish-English gibberish. During the bombing of Warsaw I grabbed my Shirley Temple doll as we fled our firebombed building — a doll my mother later traded for food and shelter. In Soviet-occupied Vilno [Vilnius] in 1940, I saw her in “The Little Princess” in which her character searches for her missing father. It was just after my father had been arrested by the Soviet NKVD (precursor to the KGB) and his whereabouts were unknown.
I corresponded with her during her tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Ghana (1975), but did not meet her until June 1988 at an American Booksellers Association Convention in Anaheim, California, where she was feted as author of her autobiography “Child Star.” It was a banner year for celebrity authors that included Ladybird Johnson, Natan Sharansky, Charles Schulz, Jane Russell, Shirley MacLaine, Maurice Sendak, Dr. Theodor S. Geisel (a/k/a/ Dr. Seuss) E. L. Doctorow, Betty White, and U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist gymnast, Mary Lou Retton that was capped by extraordinary parties including (“Scruples”) author Judith Kranz’s then $50,000 party held at a hangar at the John Wayne Airport.
But it was meeting Shirley Temple who was mobbed by fans at her autograph session that has remained an indelible memory. She stopped to listen as I told her how she might have unwittingly been instrumental in my coming to America. I also sang a fragment [English version] of “Polly Wolly Doodle” that got her laughing.
When after V-E Day in 1945, at which time my mother’s and my “Duration of the War” visas in Canada expired, we were informed by the government that we were being repatriated to Poland! We did not know where my father was — or if he was even alive. Our families had been exterminated in the Warsaw Ghetto and by Einzatzgruppen [execution squads] in what is now Belarus. There was no one and nothing to return to.
My mother ordered me: Shreyb Mrs. Roosevelt. (write to Mrs. Roosevelt!). “Bist meshuge?“ — “Are you nuts?” — I countered. “Write! and tell her our plight!” she insisted. I wrote a 14-page handwritten letter — which I was informed is now at the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Archive stating, “I want to come to America because of Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire and Shirley Temple.”
A week later, my mother and I were called into the U.S. Consulate in Montreal and were greeted with: “So you are the little girl who wrote to Mrs. Roosevelt who wants to come to America because of Shirley Temple!” He showed me the letter in our dossier. A cousin in Chicago provided affidavits for us.
Mrs. Black smiled, shook my hand warmly, wished me luck and continued signing autographs.
She was a light during some of my darkest moments.