/BY MARCIA JAFFE/ //AJT CONTRIBUTOR//
I am not usually a “name dropper,” but in my travels, I have mentioned that U.S. Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, Secretaries of State, Israeli Prime Ministers, and Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners all just happened to be guest lecturers at our local Ahavath Achim Synagogue.
Moreover, other larger than life Israeli figures, such as Shimon Peres, Teddy Kollek, Ehud Omert, and Simcha Dinitz, addressed us.
On one occasion, Ambassador Abba Eban (raised partially in Ireland, England and South Africa) spoke from that same podium. His majestic accent sent chills through the audience.
Speakers of such magnitude are, for the geo-political minded, the adult equivalent of seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. This doesn’t just happen like manna falling from heaven. It’s “who you know, Baby.”
How jazzed are we to have the homegrown Atlanta prodigy, Stuart (Stu) Eizenstat – one of our lifetime’s most trusted and long lasting Presidential advisors, scholar, author, attorney, ambassador and Washington insider – among our members!
He is the spark, catalyst, conduit; the man who retains his loyalty to the Atlanta Jewish community.
Eizenstat got the idea for this program of speakers from former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who executed a similar lecture series in honor of his own mother.
Enter the Eizenstat Series in 1987 with Elie Wiesel, and each year thereafter. The famed New York Times columnist and best-selling author Tom Friedman will be the next 2014 Eizenstat Lecturer.
Former CEO of DeKalb County and State Senator, Liane Levetan said, “Madeline Albright was one of my favorite speakers, as a role model a great inspiration to women and so dynamic. I was amazed that Bill Clinton spoke for 90 minutes with no notes.”
Stu has given us the opportunity to hear from so many in different walks of life. New dimensions through education are one of his missions.”
It’s amusing what women remember. I (Jaffe) best recall Albright’s declaration of using jewelry “as a political arsenal.” The Secretary’s wearing a gold bumble bee pin on her shoulder was a symbol of frustration toward Yasser Arafat. She also wore a snake to repudiate Sadam Hussein.
Noticing her penchant for symbolic jewelry, Leah Rabin gave her a gold dove pin. This was all dramatized by the discovery of Albright’s own Jewish roots.
Community leader, Doris Goldstein said, “Natan Sharansky’s talk was spellbinding for me. Just who he was and what he represented for Soviet Jewry. ‘The redemption of prisoners’ as stated in our prayers. We actually did it!”
Cousin Phil Medintz said, “Kissinger was my favorite, because on TV we saw him as dour and grumbling. In person, he was entertaining, funny, informative and personal.”
Phil also remembers the day Rabbi Goodman called Stu, at the last minute, to say that the Braves were in the playoffs against San Fran (time difference); and that no one would show up for Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek if held at the scheduled night time.
No stranger to Atlanta’s loyalty to the Braves (which Stu shared) he changed the lecture to 4 p.m.
Family friend Susan Feinberg has been to every lecture. She mused, “Stu’s late wife Fran (of blessed memory) would have appreciated my comment that, from the second row, I stared the entire time at Senator Hillary Clinton’s makeup and outfit.
On the serious side, I was most intrigued by author Herman Wouk.”
“What we need to remember is that speakers like Natan Sharansky to the newly appointed Ambassador Ron Dermer came here because of their personal relationship with Stu,” furthered Feinberg. All at no charge and open to the general public!
The Early Years
Lectures and name dropping aside, what can we learn about someone who ascends from Morningside and Grady Schools and a Conservative shul to ride on Air Force One with kings and Presidents?
Eizenstat has fond memories of Ahavath Achim (note that at the time there were four to five synagogues in Atlanta – a city of 25,000 Jews. And certainly the Atlanta Jewish community was not as spread out as it is now).
“In those days, there was a true sense of community,” said Eizenstat.
Stu’s mother Sylvia started the AA pre-bar mitzvah Minyonaire program. Stu also benefited from religious school under the tutelage of Leon Steinberg and the warm and entertaining Dave Alterman.
The young Stu remembers a story his father Leo told him when Leo was a young boy on Washington Street with Stu’s grandfather Ezor.
A well-dressed man in a suit knocked on their door selling Coca Cola stock. His grandfather relayed to Leo in Yiddish, “We won’t buy it: no one will drink colored water.”
Stu’s and Fran’s sons, Jay and Brian joke to this day about how the family fortunes would have been transformed if Ezor had bought only one share of Coca-Cola stock! They would be beaming today to know that this grandson became chairman of the Coca-Cola International Advisory Board.
At Grady, Eizenstat describes himself as “bookish and shy, and the least likely to be involved in politics and public affairs in later life.” He excelled in basketball, being selected in 1960 as All-City and Honorable Mention All American.
Stu says it should be with an asterisk – as his basketball career was pre-integration in the then-segregated Atlanta public school system, where white players had a better chance of excelling.
One of his most vivid memories occurred when he was 13 and coming home from the AA Synagogue on a bus. He recalls that he got the last seat in the “whites-only” section and did not give-up his seat to an elderly black lady laden with shopping bags, afraid he and she might be arrested for trying to integrate bus system.
He was also a pitcher on the Grady High School team, where his cousin Philip Medintz and Uncle Barney Medintz (after whom Camp Barney was named), joked that he had three pitches—“slow, slower, and slowest.”
He played softball for his Devoted Sons of Israel group at the Atlanta JCC, and sees sports as an important discipline for success in life: teaching teamwork, how to perform under pressure, how to win, and how to accept losing. His basketball prowess developed when he widened his sports horizon beyond the Jewish community to Georgia Tech basketball camp under head basketball coach Whack Hyder.
Being an only child, his parents took an intense interest in his academic and athletic activities. His mother never missed a game, and got so excited at his basketball games that other family members would move to the other side of the Grady High gym to enjoy the game in peace.
Doris Goldstein, Chairman of the Rabbi Riskin event said, “We shouldn’t underestimate Stu’s mother’s drive in this regard. In the Lecture planning meetings, she organized the agenda and made it clear that she knew how to get things done. And she did.”
Childhood friend Henry Bauer, Jr. said, “Like the rest of us, Stu didn’t like polishing his ROTC buttons and shoes; but on the court, to get the highest scoring average, he took every shot.
“Stu really broke out from the crowd when he went to college; and the nature of his work became more pressing than the rest of ours. He took on issues that had international/ national ramifications-dedicated to make the world a better place; and not just for Jewish causes.”
Youthful Inside Jokes
Medintz gets tickled telling the tale of how his (and Stu’s) Uncle Coleman, who owned a haberdashery store, gave them both tuxedos and a thousand dollar check (big money in those days) for their Grady graduation.
Beaming while driving home, Stu noticed that the uncle’s checks were not signed. Stu volunteered to be the one to approach his uncle who was waiting at the door for them to return. The checks never got signed; and to this day Stu ‘checks his family checks’ for signatures.
Bauer’s favorite chuckle is about Eizenstat’s Atlanta days as an attorney at Powell, Goldstein.
Stu represented an insurance company for a large Boston construction business which had mysteriously discovered over a million dollars in their checks had been made out to a fictitious person, James D. Quisenberry, and cashed in large denominations at a small North Georgia bank.
Stu interrogated the bank clerk who handed over the money, day after day, check after check by asking, “Didn’t you notice anything suspicious about this guy asking for so much money in your small bank, with no local address?”
The clerk said, “Well, yes, I guess so. As he was cashing one check, his moustache fell off; and he asked me for tape to put it back on.”
“Stu was not overtly smiling at that point,” Bauer muses, but knew he had won the case with that one answer.
Chutzpah, College, and Harvard
Off to University of North Carolina which Eizenstat describes as “seminal” by thrusting him into student political activism, interning in the U.S. Congress with only four others chosen from Chapel Hill.
He really wanted to intern for the colorful Florida U.S. Congressman Claude Pepper because of the expectation that he might be the only Southerner to vote for the Civil Rights Act; but was told by the UNC professor that Pepper “was too old.”
Stuart laughs now as he notes that, “Pepper only lasted another 30 years.” He ended up with conservative Congressman G. Elliott Hagen from Sylvania, Ga.
His appetite and chutzpah for public affairs were rampant as he and his fellow UNC interns “made a pledge after work hours to meet as many famous people as we could to learn from their experiences.”
This earned them meetings with House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, NBC-TV news star David Brinkley and others who energized him.
Next summer (1964) he was working in the Postmaster General’s political office. Harvard Law School (1967); and then the fast track into the White House under several administrations.
Off The Time Clock
Stu is just “Zaydie” to his seven grand children, whom he takes to swimming, soccer, park and museum visits, Washington sporting events, and Shabbat dinners (with special service for Fran his beloved wife of 45 years.) He recently took everyone on an Alaskan Cruise where they had kosher accommodations.
Bauer says, “Stu plays a good game of tennis; but he doesn’t like to lose. He is super competitive and gives or gets no breaks. He also swims, but with a purpose. Everything he does is with purpose.
“He is a UNC Tar-Heel fan, but you won’t see him at games painting his face blue.”
Lessons in Sincerity and Friends Not Left Behind
More than 50 years after leaving Atlanta, Eizenstat has a pristine reputation in this turbulent and cutthroat world of law firms, Washington politics and potential for misspeaks.
He is always careful to give credit to others for his accomplishments, to never say anything negative about
someone, even a political figure with different views from his. The thematic word among friends and colleagues is “mensch.”
Important work continues. His Defiant Requiem Concert-drama performances. These previously took place at the Kennedy Center in Washington, Lincoln Center in New York, Budapest, Prague, and on March 4 in Berlin and May 1 in suburban Washington as a tribute to his late wife Fran.
He teamed with UJA Federation of New York to raise $2.3 million for needy Holocaust survivors in New York. The concert honors the courage of the Terezin Concentration Camp’s “artistic prisoners” uprising.
Susan Feinberg, a friend since their sons were in preschool together, said, “Stu wants to share his success. He enables us to share these experiences together. His plight is to better our world with little known gestures like raising money to bring Holocaust survivors on busses to events.”
Leventan says further, “Stu is a source of pride for Atlanta. He is so scholarly and remembers his strong roots here. And he is still down to earth.”
Medintz said, “Stu still has his two feet planted. He drove his old Dodge in DC while others had drivers. The trappings don’t mean anything. He gave up big money to leave the law firm and enter public service.
“He will be remembered for three things: love of family, love of Judaism, love of country.”
Bauer agrees, “Stu made incredible sacrifices: economically, personally and with his time for government service.”
“I truly believe he will be remembered as one of the leading Jewish Americans of our generation.”
We beam with pride picturing Stu and Fran having the first kosher Embassy in U.S. diplomatic history, as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union in Brussels.
LBJ- “I was writing domestic messages and speeches of support for Congressman for his legislative initiatives. He was an imposing figure who was physically just big. Giant hands, big ears.
He had been the master of the Senate; and for me, being in my 20s, I was awed by him. He instilled the “fear of the Lord” when he came into a meeting at the White House. I was shocked when he decided not to run for re-election, having put the finishing touches on a campaign memorandum due the next morning for Joe Califano, the President’s chief domestic adviser ( later (Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Carter Administration).
Humphrey– “I was working on his campaign when he narrowly lost to Nixon. He was a truly great man, ‘the Happy Warrior’ from Minnesota, who was a great champion of civil rights and of the disadvantaged. When he lost, that sent me packing back home to Atlanta… into the law firm, and a first meeting with an aspiring gubernatorial candidate, Jimmy Carter, at the insistence of my best friend, Henry Bauer.”
Roosevelt-“He was beloved by the Jews. I recall a Yiddish expression:
‘Di Velt (this world), Yennen Velt (heaven-the world to come) and Roosevelt’
However, during the Humphrey president campaign, it was a profound shock to learn that the President and his top aides knew about the genocide of the Jews and failed to help. I discovered this from my colleague, historian Arthur Morse, who had just published a book using newly declassified papers, ‘While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy.’ I pledged then that if I could ever help rectify this injustice I would do so. “
Carter-“During his administration, I am proud that the President followed the recommendation of fellow White House Staff member Bob Lipshutz and I to establish the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, headed by Elie Wiesel, which resulted in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Over 4000 people a day visit it; three fourths of whom are non-Jewish.
“I found out from Alan Dershowitz (on a panel with me at Hofstra University) that President Carter was publishing the controversial book ‘Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,’ whose title was historically, morally, and legally inaccurate.
“I was initially shocked and immediately reached out to him to withdraw it (the cover especially). Carter stated that it was too late- that the books were already printed and packed in boxes.”
“Yes, I was deeply disappointed; but we have maintained a strong relationship. Through the Camp David Accords and the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty and the military and economic assistance the U.S. provided, we measurably improved Israel’s security.”
Rabbi Epstein-“My grandfather was on the committee to interview the young Chicago rabbi. He was a truly great rabbi and educator who had an important influence on my life. My grandfather said he really knew his ‘pentaluch’ (laws and practices). My disappointment was that he did not use his pulpit at the AA to speak out more forcefully on civil rights, as did the Temple’s Rabbi Rothschild.”
Anti-Semitism-“When I returned home to Atlanta graduating Phi Beta Kappa (Junior year), cum laude from UNC, from Harvard Law School, working in the LBJ White House, clerking for a U.S. District Court Judge in Atlanta who made calls of recommendation for me, I got only one job offer from a major law firm, founded by a Jewish partner, Powell, Goldstein, Frazer and Murphy.”
Holocaust Action-The dust jacket of Eizenstat’s book states, “Much of the interest in providing belated justice for victims of the Holocaust and other victims of Nazi tyranny during World War II was the result of my appointment in the Clinton Administration as Special Representative of the President and Secretary of State on Holocaust-Era Issues. I successfully negotiated major agreements with the Swiss, Germans, Austrian and French, and other European countries, covering restitution of property estimated at $8 billion in payments for slave and forced laborers, recovery of looted art, bank accounts, and payment of insurance policies. And consequently wrote the book, ‘Imperfect Justice: Looted Assets, Slave Labor, and the Unfinished Business of World War II.’”
For a more in depth look at Eizenstat’s bio and accomplishments, go to the Atlanta Jewish Times’ website.