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A Compassionate, Convivial Purim Party With Dancing Puppets and New York VIPs

The Jewish Museum’s annual Purim Ball featured a Chinese-Jewish connection and former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, who spoke of the holiday’s ‘timeless’ lessons

Masha Leon
March 06, 2017
Karen Leon
Karen Leon
Karen Leon
Karen Leon

The Jewish Museum celebrated its annual Purim Ball on Feb. 22 at the cavernous Park Avenue Armory, which was decorated with a ceiling-to-floor installation of multicolored streamers and shapes, eliciting oohs and ahhs from the more than 700 festive guests as they mingled with dancing giant anthropomorphic Purim Puppets on stilts.

Museum Director Claudia Gould welcomed former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg whom she lauded for his support of the museum. As self-proclaimed Purim shpieler, Bloomberg joshed: “See! I am ready for my costume… And just in case I have to spell it out, I am dressed as a ruggedly handsome fashion icon and Bradley Cooper look-alike.”

“When I was mayor, I always looked forward to celebrating Purim with the Jewish community. It was the only time when it’s good to hear people boo and hiss during my speech… Jewish history has critical lessons to teach people of all backgrounds. … The story of Purim tells of an immigrant queen—Esther—and a king who felt Jews were responsible for all of his kingdom’s problems and had to be eliminated … As the story goes, Esther intervenes… convinces the king he was wrong and saves the lives of the Jews.

“It is an ancient story—but the lesson is timeless,” said Bloomberg. “Whenever a group of people is used as a scapegoat—be it because of their race, their religion, their immigrant status or anything else… We have a responsibility to speak up just like Esther did. And I think the Jews have a special responsibility to fight intolerance because we’ve seen how incredibly dangerous it can be. One of the first boards I became involved with when I came to New York is the museum. It is one of the jewels in the crown of New York’s cultural institutions. It is so close to my heart and I am always glad I named a gallery in the museum after my mother.”

Purim Ball Co-Chair Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman and CEO of the Blackstone Group, presented Global Corporate Honoree Chairman Wang Jian, co-founder of HNA with a crystal bowl decorated with two roosters in keeping with the current Chinese calendar’s “Year of the Rooster.” Chairman Wang Jian heads a global Fortune 500 company with a workforce of more than 410,000 whose focus is on tourism and financial services whose largesse includes 6,500 eyesight recovery operations around the world. In his acceptance address, which he gave in Chinese with simultaneous English translation, Chairman Wang Jian proclaimed that the Jewish and Chinese cultures are “the two oldest cultures in the world with the imperative of responsibility for the less fortunate.”

Fanya Gottesfeld Heller—Holocaust survivor, author, educator and museum trustee—was presented with the Mayer Sulzberger award (a handcrafted Kiddush cup) for “her contribution to the perpetuation of art, culture in the context of the Jewish experience.” Also honored was Deborah Kass—whose works are in the museum’s collection and a paddle-shaped replica of one of her Warhol-inspired Deb Series was at each guests seat.

The ball raised $2.2 million and ended with an after party-till-midnight bash for more than 400 young revelers who were joined by the dancing giant Purim Puppets.

Masha Leon is an award-winning journalist and longtime cultural columnist for The Forward and other publications. She has won Poland’s Knight Cross of Merit Medal for articles relating to Polish-Jewish affairs, and is a frequent speaker on her history as a Sugihara survivor.