On The Avenue

A Rich Purim Party Promotes Sino-American Ties

by Michael Gross Photographed by Aria Isadora/BFA.com
Thursday, February 23, 2017
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"I'm dressed as a ruggedly handsome fashion icon and Bradley Cooper lookalike," Michael Bloomberg was saying.

The great divides New Yorkers leap on a daily basis were on full display Wednesday night at The Jewish Museum's lavish 31st annual Purim Ball at the Park Avenue Armory.  Making his welcoming remarks, Bloomberg was actually dressed as, well, himself, despite the invitation's injunction to, "Wear your mask, leave your black tie at home."  Most guests at the party left their masks home, too.  Fortunately, the evening's cultural honoree, artist Deborah Kass (of Oy/Yo sculpture fame), provided a mask with her self-portrait at every place setting at the massive event.

Bloomberg spoke at cocktails, noting that The Jewish Museum's board was one of the first he joined after coming to New York, and that a gallery there is named for his mother.  Then, he made a not-so-veiled reference to contemporary politics, discussing the origin story of the jolly Jewish holiday Purim, referencing "an immigrant queen," Esther, the Jewish Queen of Persia, Ahasuerus, "a king who wanted to kill Jews," aided an abetted by his anti-Semitic prime minister Haman, and their scapegoating of outsiders.  Knowing laughter rippled through the crowd, a typical Manhattan mix of ethnicities and nationalities.

Later, during dinner, Holocaust survivor, author, and educator Fanya Gottesfeld Heller received the organization's Mayer Sulzberger Award, and Wang Jian, chairman of China's HNA Group, was presented a corporate award by one of the evening's co-chairs, Stephen A. Schwarzman, the corporate titan and adviser to President Donald J. Trump.

Founded in 1993, HNA , according to Bloomberg L.P.'s company profile, offers "airport management, aircraft leasing, insurance, and investment banking solutions; tourism services, including aviation, hotel, tourism finance, traditional tourism, and IT Internet services; and financial services, such as securities, banking, futures, fund, investment banking, insurance, wealth management, etc., as well as currency exchange services. In addition, the company operates retail stores; provides logistics services comprising shipping and marine engineering construction, marine transportation, bulk commodity trading, third-party payment, logistics finance, and special logistics services; and engages in cultural investment, media operation, cultural estate, film and teleplay production and distribution, and performance management activities."

The mighty multinational conglomerate might seem to be a potential target for America's Tweeter-in-Chief, who has railed against China's economic might. But Schwarzman, whose philanthropic endeavors include a $100 million scholarship program for Chinese students, modeled on the Rhodes Scholarships, has an unabashed admirer in Mr. Wang.

After the Blackstone Group CEO introduced him and gave him an award, the Mao-jacketed Mr. Wang praised Schwarzman through a translator as "the God of Fortune."  He added, "Steve has the key to opening the chest of treasures,"  before promising 10,000 free airline tickets for travel between the U.S. and China, a program administered with the museum to facilitate cultural exchange.  HNA already donates domestic travel in China for Schwarzman scholars.

That was hardly the only entertainment. During cocktails, a Purim pageant of giant puppets created by Great Small Works snaked through the throngs. Seven hundred people attended cocktails and the dinner. David Stark Design and Production created the 100-foot-wide by 24-foot-tall backdrop that divided the Armory’s vast drill hall into separate cocktail and dinner rooms.  It was made of brightly-hued party favors—including traditional Purim noise-makers (groggers), crowns, streamers, paper balls, fans, fish and hamantaschen sculptures, Hebrew letters, and masks.  The evening also included a special performance by Don Byron with Jack Falk featuring the music of Mickey Katz and an after party attracted and additional 400 guests and continued until midnight with an open-bar and DJ.

The event raised $2.2 million for The Jewish Museum.  (www.thejewishmuseum.org)
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