Centennial Celebration, With Sunflowers
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Centennial Celebration, With Sunflowers

Sandee is the arts and culture editor at the Jewish Week.

One hundred years, 1,000 sunflowers.

That was photographer Frederic Brenner’s idea for a centennial birthday portrait of his dear friend Ralph Goldman, the esteemed honorary executive director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

“Why sunflowers?,” Brenner responded to The Jewish Week, “I love them. This is Ralph. Shining.”

In the group photo, Goldman is at the center, wearing a signature bow tie and holding a single sunflower. Brenner is smiling, at Goldman’s left.

The ever-humble Goldman has been involved in nation-building, international affairs, and significant cultural and educational initiatives around the Jewish world for many of the last 100 years, and has left his indelible mark.

In the 1940s, Goldman, who was born in Ukraine and grew up in Boston, assisted the Haganah in its arms purchasing operations in the U.S. He later served in Prime Minister Ben-Gurion’s office, helped establish The Israel Museum and accompanied David Ben-Gurion when he visited the U.S. In 1969, Goldman began working at the JDC and became executive director in 1976, rejuvenating the JDC’s efforts in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union as well as Ethiopia. At 100, Goldman still works every day and sometimes goes to the JDC office in Jerusalem.

Goldman was celebrated last week at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem, by family and close friends; they included his two daughters, daughter-in-law (his son David was killed in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, where he was deputy chief of mission), grandchildren, and great-grandchildren (wearing T-shirts with his bow-tied image), including the most recent, a 2-week-old. Miriam Rosenberg, who had been his secretary when he worked on behalf of the Haganah, and her husband Lenny, traveled from Washington, D.C. Alan Gill, CEO of the JDC, is holding sunflowers in the photo, as is Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.

Brenner, whose major international show, “This Place,“ opens next month in Prague, has known Goldman for 34 years. Next year, he hopes to shoot the birthday photo with 10,000 sunflowers.

“The party was great,” Goldman said by telephone, and then, in his usual style, turned the conversation to ask about his caller.

steve@jewishweek.org

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