Meet the Men Who Turned the Fundraising Party Serious This Weekby
KKR's Todd Fisher focuses on Holocaust and genocide prevention
Ken Langone: 'We are failing miserably in public education'
The waiters at Cipriani 42nd Street faithfully held their silver trays of bellinis, but the conversation was not exactly bubbly.
“I have a bit of a morbid fascination with trying to learn about not only the Holocaust but also Rwanda, Srebenica, Cambodia,” said Todd Fisher, chief administrative officer at KKR & Co.
Turning down what looked to be whipped cheese on a piece of bread, the writer Philip Gourevitch received a compliment on how well his 1998 book on the Rwandan genocide has held up. Gourevitch said he is currently working on a book revisiting Rwanda, titled “You Hide That You Hate Me And I Hide That I Know.”
So began the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s New York Tribute Dinner on Wednesday night. The theme was “What You Do Matters,” with Gourevitch the featured speaker. The honorees were Fisher and Howard Unger, founder of Saw Mill Capital.
Fisher was recruited into the museum’s leadership over lunch at Chelsea Piers with Tom Bernstein, chairman of its board of trustees, about five years ago. He’d returned to New York after 12 years in London and was looking to match his passions to a philanthropic outlet. The museum, in Washington, D.C., was a good fit.
Fisher helped arrange financing for a new center to house the museum’s collections, which have been growing as Holocaust survivors die. Content-wise, Fisher is especially drawn to the policy work at the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, directed by Cameron Hudson, a former U.S. diplomat who has worked in Darfur, Sudan.
“The Holocaust is massively relevant today,” Fisher said. “We can be a moral authority and voice on some of the issues that you read about in the paper, whether it’s migrants in Europe, Syria, the Rohingya.”
Fisher has taken his family to visit Cambodia’s killing fields and other sites of genocide. “It’s hard to go visit those places; it’s also, to me, quite rewarding,” Fisher said.
His conscience was nurtured by his grandfather, Ludwig Berger, who grew up outside Mainz, Germany, was married in 1936, and got out before Kristallnacht, along with his wife and his parents. Thirty-seven other relatives perished.
“They started their life in Scranton, Pennsylvania. My mom was born in 1940,” Fisher said. His grandfather, who didn’t speak English and had no money, found work at the local synagogue as a janitor. The rabbi got him a job in a department store. Eventually Berger opened his own variety store, which he ran for 20 years.
“I spent a lot of time with my grandfather and he was very important in my life,” Fisher said.
Friends began filing in, among them David Blitzer, Doug Korn and Marc Lipschultz. “I don’t love the attention of being honored, but I love the museum,” Fisher said. “It’s part of my history, and there are a lot of organizations that honor people that aren’t as connected.” The event raised $1.8 million.
On Thursday night, Timothy Cardinal Dolan conferred the status of “Living Landmark” on Ken Langone, the Home Depot co-founder who offered time and resources to restore the Cardinal’s home, St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The occasion was a benefit at the Plaza hotel that raised $1.4 million for the New York Landmarks Conservancy, which assists in the preservation of historic buildings, from churches and synagogues to individual homeowners’ brownstones.
“For one, Ken just turned 80,” Dolan said of Langone. “As Pope John Paul said, when somebody toasted him as a monument, when you’re over 80, you turn from a monument to a ruin.”
“Two, he’s an Italian, and Italians have a deep appreciation for antiquity and culture, and they know the past is to be cherished, never to be ignored,” the cardinal continued.
Langone, following the cardinal, didn’t dwell on his admiration of Italian Renaissance architecture or being labelled a landmark.
“Grandma and grandpa, thanks for coming to America,” Langone said. “Thanks for allowing me to live this wonderful life in America. We’ll keep getting better and better if we understand one thing: we are failing miserably in public education in this city.”
He continued: “I think of all the people who made sure things worked out for us, and it breaks my heart to know that hundreds of thousands of kids in this city will not be able to live the dream that Elaine and I had. We can’t lose these kids, and right now we are. It’s not left, right, Republican or Democrat.”
And then the cardinal and Paul Binder, a founder of Big Apple Circus, started singing “East Side, West Side, all around the town...” It was “The Sidewalks of New York,” and it provided a moment of levity.