What’s one of the world’s greatest rock stars doing at a Jewish benefit dinner? The answer came Monday night when Bono, the voice and wordsmith driving the fabulously popular band U2, became the first rock and roll personality to receive the Humanitarian Laureate Award from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Bono, a 43-year-old native of Dublin, was honored for his international campaign to raise public awareness of the AIDS epidemic killing millions in Africa and forgive the crushing monetary debt of poverty-stricken Third World countries.
Besides penning multimillion-selling, Grammy-winning albums, and fronting sold-out arena tours, Bono is busy lobbying world leaders to help Africa’s suffering and dying.
“He is fulfilling the prophetic vision of tikkun olam — to help repair the world and leave it in better condition than when we found it,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the center named after the famous Nazi hunter whose mission is to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and promote tolerance.
“When the center started its award process this year, only one name came to mind — Bono,” said Wiesenthal Center Eastern director Rhonda Barad. “Not only does he address issues, he creates concrete viable plans to make the world a more equitable place.”
So there was Bono (real name Paul Hewson), unaccustomedly dressed in a suit and tie and peering from behind his trademark light-tinted wraparound sunglasses, addressing a room full of sixty-something tuxedo-clad diners — some who had no clue who he was.
During a low-key heartfelt address, Bono told of the horrific suffering of families devastated by AIDS he witnessed during a recent mission to Africa.
Referring to himself as the new kid on the block in humanitarian work, he explained his new organization to help Africa called DATA (Debt, AIDS Emergency, Trade).
“We’re mishpacha now,” Bono told the audience, using the Hebrew word for family. “Once I’m in, I don’t leave easily. I’m going to be calling on you.”
Following in the rock star/humanitarian tradition of John Lennon, Bono, who recently bought a home in New York, admitted to using his celebrity status as currency to sell his ideas to improve the world.
“A great idea is like a melody,” he said. “The United States is a great idea. New York is a great idea. Simon Wiesenthal and seeking justice is a great idea.”
Bono revealed that he sought and received permission from Rep. Tom Lantos, (D-Calif.), a Holocaust survivor, to liken the plight of Africans dying of AIDS as the world turns a blind eye, to Jews being forced into death camp-bound trains, while the world did nothing.
“Are we not watching them being put on trains again?” Bono said. “I want to offer my services to at least just lay on the tracks.”
Columbia University macroeconomist Jeffrey Sachs, who became good friends with Bono over the Third World debt issue, told the audience: “You are honoring without question a great humanitarian. I think the two of you belong together.”
Legendary rock star Lou Reed, no stranger to social activism, told The Jewish Week that Bono is “very, very deserving” of the award.
Yehuda Lancry, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nation, speaking as representative of a nation “experiencing hatred and discrimination,” called Bono “an outstanding humanitarian leader and one of the world’s greatest social activists, reflected not only in lyrics but in deeds.”
Wiesenthal Center officials also announced that its multimillion New York Tolerance Center will open on May 8 at the old New York Daily News building on 42nd Street.
So far, $11 million has been raised for the project, announced dinner co-chairman Ira Lipman.
The tolerance center will offer tolerance and training to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, teachers, community leaders and corporations.