HEN the American Red Cross in Greater New York honored Mortimer Zuckerman with its Humanitarian Award at the Pierre Hotel, it got more than the thanks it expected.
The publisher of the New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report charged the parent body based in Switzerland with gross injustice.
“Israel’s Magen Dovid Adom,” he said, “because it does not use the Red Cross symbol, is not permitted to join the International Red Cross.”
He pointed out that other emblems have been allowed. The Moslem countries use the Red Crescent. Iran used the red lion before the revolution, but now uses the Red Crescent.
Only Israel is not permitted to join with its Magen Dovid, the six-pointed Star of David.
“It’s been disappointing, especially for the Swiss,” Zuckerman said.
But he praised the American Red Cross, led by Dr. Bernadine Healy, for taking the leadership to rectify this wrong.
Zuckerman tried to keep his speech short. He said he once spoke at length, and a man started to walk out.
“Where are you going?” Zuckerman asked.
“I’m going to get a haircut.”
“Why didn’t you get one before?”
“I didn’t need one before.”
Dr. Healy, president and CEO of the American Red Cross, said it was quite appropriate that a doctor run the organization. “Our goal is to help people get back on their feet,” she said. “The Red Cross is an army of mercy.”
Healy said she’s a Queens girl, having grown up at the base of the Queensboro Bridge.
“I went to St. Patrick’s parochial school in Long Island City. I graduated Hunter High School when it was a girl’s school. My light reading then was Heidegger.”
She recalled her first day at Hunter when she I told a classmate she’s from a parochial school in Queens. “You’ll be comfortable here,” her friend said. “It’s a parochial school too – only Jewish.”
“My dad never graduated high school,” Healy said. “But he believed you could always make it in America. I went to Harvard Medical School when women there were an oddity. I became a cardiologist. Dad said that I had learned to think Yiddish and speak British.”
Zuckerman praised the New York chapter for raising $500,000 at his dinner, and recalled the story of an agent from the Internal Revenue Service who called a rabbi.
“I have to verify that one of your congregants claimed a charitable deduction of $250,000 to your congregation. Is that true?”
“It will be,” the rabbi said.
Zuckerman was on a roll. He had them in the aisles. He offered the story of a man who told a pushy fundraising solicitor, “Does your research show that my brother is ill with cancer and is unable to pay for his treatment?
“Does your research show that my mother-in-law has to go to a nursing home and can’t afford the rates?”
“Does your research show that my uncle is disabled and needs a wheelchair?”
“If I didn’t give to them, why do you think I’d give to you?”
Jonathan O’Herron, chairman of board of trustees of the New York chapter, and managing director of Lazard Freres & Co., was bowled over by Zuckerman’s superb delivery.
“If David Letterman ever has another operation,” O’Herron cracked, “I will be the first to recommend that Mort Zuckerman be the guest host.”