On June 11, 2014, I attended the annual gala dinner for the Municipal Art Society (MAS), on whose Board of Directors I serve. The gala dinner honored two good friends of mine: Bruce Ratner, Executive Chairman, and Maryann Gilmartin, President and CEO, both of Forest City Ratner Companies. Both shared the honor of receivng the prestigious Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis Medal Award. The evening for a great success for MAS, raising over $1 million for the organization!
For more than 120 year, MAS has made New York City a more livable city by advocating for excellence in urban planning and design, a commitment to historic preservation and the arts, and the empowerment of local communities to affect change in their neighborhoods. From saving Grand Central Terminal and the lights of Times Square to establishing groundbreaking land-use and preservation laws that have become national models, MAS is at the forefront of our City’s economic vitality, cultural vibrancy, environmental sustainability, and social diversity.
I had the wonderful experience of visiting the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn over the weekend of June 14th and walked from Greenpoint to Dumbo. The area is dynamic and changing so quickly. During my walk, I spent time at the Bedford Avenue Street Fair which was filled with so many activities and events, not to mention the fresh grass that was temporarily installed in the street transforming concrete roads into green sanctuaries! What a terrific experience!
Our final stop that we made as part of the Israel Bond Leadership Conference was to the U. S. Capitol on June 10, 2014. There, we met with Terry Gains, the immediate past Sergeant of Arms (38th) to the House of Representatives, and with the current Sergeant of Arms (39th), Drew Wilson. Terry Gains gave us a brief history of the U.S. Capitol and shared with us many personal amusing and touching stories during his tenure as Sergeant of Arms.
We next went on a tour of the Capitol which is always interesting and so lively. It is a testament to our country to walk through the Capitol and see all of the tourists walking among the many Congressmen as they walk from their meetings and votes. This intermixing of American citizens and our Representatives is unique among the World’s governments and is a physical manifestation of our democracy and its openness!
The Israel Bond Leadership Conference in Washington D.C. also met at The White House on June 10, 2014. Specifically, we met in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where we spent 90 minutes listening to three high level briefings which followed a warm welcome by Matt Nosanchuk, Director for Outreach at the National Security Council.
The first briefing was given to us by Jason Miller, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director within the National Economic Council who provided us with an overview of the economy of the United States.
The next briefing was given by Laura Blumenfeld, Office of the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotions within the U.S. Department of State who provided us with a very insightful perspective of Secretary of State John Kerry’s view of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The final briefing was given by Nitin Chadda, Director for Iran within the National Security Council who spoke about the very sensitive negotiations going on with Iran in regards to the nuclear issues. His talk was very candid and certainly highlighted the great sensitivity and urgency with the nuclear negotiations that are currently ongoing.
On June 9, 2014, the Israel Bonds Leadership Conference participants visited Arlington National Cemetery after departing from briefings and a tour of the Pentagon. At Arlington, we had a private tour of the Museum building and then viewed the “changing of the guard” at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I was given the extreme honor of laying a wreath just after the changing of the guard ceremony.
As this honor is predominately reserved for Heads of State, I was overwhelmed at being selected to participate. To commence the ceremony, we walked down the stairs from the Museum to where the honor guard was waiting. From there, we presented the Israel Bonds wreath to the guard and together, laid the wreath at the Tomb.
Then, the honor guards played “taps” while we stood with our right hands placed over our hearts (the soldiers stood at attention and saluted).
We then turned around, and walked back up the stairs to the Museum as the honor guard escorted us up.
Also escorting us was Lt. General Michael S. Linnington, U.S. Army, who turned to me and thanked me. When I asked why he was thanking me, he responded that during his 34 year career in the military, (and even being posted with President Obama), he never had the honor and privilege to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier until this day. And, he continued to tell me, that this was among the great honors in which he was able to participate. I was overwhelmed by the General’s graciousness and openness.
Needless to say, the entire ceremony was deeply emotional and it was very difficult not to openly shed tears. This was a day that I will certainly never forget and ranks among my most proud moments.