Roger Ailes, the eminence of Fox News, has been coming to the annual benefit dinner of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) ever since he was guest of honor in 2005. Last week he hobbled into the Pierre Hotel with the aid of a cane, which startled Michael Miller, longtime JCRC executive vice president and CEO.
“Oy vay!” Miller gasped. “It’s his last dinner. Not gonna make it.”
“It’s just a sore leg, Michael,” Ailes assured him. “It’s not life-threatening. You probably missed my recent appearance on Dancing with the Stars.”
You can always depend on the Fox News Channel chairman/CEO to cheer up a sober awards program.
Ailes introduced one of the three honorees, Sharri A. Berg, senior vice president of news operations at Fox News Channel and Fox Television Stations.
“But first,” he said, “I want to acknowledge a few friends here — because I only have a few.” By the mirthful feedback from the audience of 700, you could tell he had more than a few fans in the ballroom.
Berg proved to be one of his most ardent friends. In order to receive a JCRC Corporate Leader Award she must have done something right in her career. Eighteen years ago, when Ailes invited her to join his launch team, she was ecstatic. But instead of immediately accepting the offer, she tried to talk him into giving her more responsibility.
“This is what I need you to do, Berg,” he snapped. “You come here, work hard, do a good job and good things will happen. But I’m a little busy. So I suggest you take the job.” Ever since then, Berg listened to the boss, whom she calls a “courageous and inspiring leader.”
One thing that inspires Berg to honor and respect her heritage through JCRC is an experience from her teenage years. She and her mother were cast in the play The Diary of Anne Frank at their local community theater, Antrim Playhouse in Suffern, N.Y. She has never forgotten how, at the end of the play when the stage turned dark, she heard the increasingly urgent footsteps of the Nazis running up the stairs to the attic.
“My mother and I both stared at each other, bonded. We were frozen, tears in our eyes. We were transported to another place in time, a terrible time, one we must never allow to happen again.”
New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio dropped by and described his two trips to Israel. “It was particularly challenging to see the children’s center in Sderot which resembled a war bunker.” He praised Michael Miller as the best guide you can have in Israel.
“We will use every effort to confront any evidence of anti-Semitism,” the mayor pledged. “We will not accept any such incidents.”
The two other honorees at the dinner were Elizabeth L. Velez, president of the Velez Organization construction firm, and Gary Jacob, executive vice president of Glenwood Management Corp., owner/builder of luxury apartments.
JCRC president Ronald G. Weiner announced that the dinner raised $1.5 million. See what Roger Ailes’s sunny disposition and one-liners can achieve — even with a cane!
Tim Boxer was a columnist at the New York Post for two decades. He has been writing a column for The Jewish Week for 35 years and is a writer/photographer at 15MinutesMagazine.com. He is the author of “Jewish Celebrity Hall of Fame,” interviews of Hollywood stars about their Jewish roots, with an introduction by the non-Jewish Bob Hope.