A PICKLE IN HIS EMINENCE’S DOMAIN
My friends have been known to refer to His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, as my rabbi. If you know anything about The Cardinal, you most certainly know that he is many things to many people and it’s not so far-fetched that some in New York consider him to be the type of clergy who transcends religious denomination. In short, he’s great at pinch-hitting, and in order to make all in New York feel comfortable in his presence, he has mastered just the right amount of Yiddish to get through a shiva call, the right amount of schmear to put on the bagels served at his business leaders breakfasts, the right falafel cart from which to order his on-the-go lunches and, more important than all-of-the-above, the right amount of change to drop in the cup of a destitute teenager panhandling in Times Square – followed by the right amount of cajoling in order to persuade the homeless youth to avail himself of a warm meal inside a nearby restaurant. This Cardinal is always quick to offer comfort – whether it is in the form of a hug, a prayer or for non-believers, carefully-selected, yet powerful words of encouragement. Two years ago, in a ballpark suite before a game, Cardinal Dolan put a hot dog on his plate, grabbed a beer and sat down to join a group of friends who ranged from atheist to Christian Scientist – and even the one who considers herself so jaded that she dabbled in Wiccan rituals as a cynical tween protesting Vespers service at summer camp sat mesmerized by Cardinal Dolan as he casually offered a few observations about baseball diplomacy which come in handy when one’s hometown and home team are in another state and one is thus obliged to don a Mets or a Yankees cap, depending on where one is standing.
After a few minutes of semi-awkward formal exchanges marked by one of our guests cursing loudly over a bobbled play on the field below, and another friend from Cali remarking in a Valley voice clearly heard by His Eminence, “Man, this Cardinal is one big dude,” we settled into seats surrounding the jovial robed and crossed holy man and purposefully ignored our cell phones – surely a first amongst this group. Then, much to their delight, Cardinal Dolan asked if anyone wanted to take a photo with him. In his down-to-earth manner of finding common ground with everyone (yes, there were a few Millennials in the group) he had anticipated that some were champing at the bit and drooling over the prospect of a Cardinal selfie to out-selfie all selfies.
After hearing The Cardinal’s unexpected offer of selfies, timidity was tossed to the wind and any hesitation to take him up on it quickly floated away as smoke did from the Vatican chimney last Pope vote. We lined up in preparation for our moment with the Cardinal and he was kind enough not to laugh at some in our motley crew who licked palms and smoothed cowlicks as if at fourth grade yearbook photo day. A few of the ladies went into auto duck lip mode, briefly practicing their pouts before common sense prevailed when they remembered just who would be standing alongside of them in their future Facebook posts. For the first time in recent selfie history, they smiled for the camera thinking more about their angels than angles. We still talk about it to this day, and it’s not the photos we most cherish (although more than a few of them made their way onto Instagram posts and screensavers) but, rather, the moment. Our moment. With The Cardinal. There is something about the presence of Cardinal Dolan that soothes the soul. If The Cardinal were ever to get a tattoo, I would imagine that it would read, “Peace Be With You,” because his very being exudes serenity. His spirit is one of healing and he is determined to do many groundbreaking things during his tenure, but the one goal that stands out above the rest is his effort to unify New York. He is The Inclusionary Cardinal or, as I like to call him, The Non-Notorious TCD. Yes, he is all that and even more to many of us who have grown to know him well over these last nine-plus years. And, yet, I always felt that something was missing in The Cardinal’s life, and I warned everyone that the time would come when I would not be able to resist asking him, “Would you consider adopting a rescue dog?” You might not be surprised to hear that when the opportunity finally arose, he looked at me with smiling eyes and replied, “You know, I might just do that.” And it didn’t take long before he did. Pickle, one of those beautifully-versatile mutts who can be whatever breed you want him to be (DoxieRottie? DobieDox?) is quite the lucky dog in that he has landed himself a cushy gig as the “house dog” in The Cardinal’s residence. A wonderful man named Antoine, who just happens to be the house cook, is Pickle’s pupsitter when The Cardinal is traveling. When I spoke to The Cardinal two weeks ago, and asked about Pickle, I was told that the dog, like all dogs, has a few quirks. I remarked that dogs, like humans, are not expected to be perfect. And it was then that I felt the need to ask The Cardinal yet another question which is on the minds of many who ponder the future of a world which has seemingly turned upside-down. “Is it ever too late to become a good person?” I asked him. The Cardinal paused and said that it was, indeed, a relevant question and particularly in light of current affairs. He replied, “In the eyes of God, we’re always a good person! True, we may do things that are hardly good, but it’s never too late to reclaim the goodness God always sees in us!” Well, if that doesn’t give you hope, perhaps future Empire Life columns will, because The Cardinal has told me that he is so enthusiastic about The Empire Life good news column concept, that he would love to become a regular contributor. And, needless to say, I’m not going to turn down an offer from the Non-Notorious TCD. May the Peace be with you.
WHERE’S THE GORILLA IN HER MIDST?
Tony and Emmy Award-winning theatrical and television producer, Francine LeFrak is one courageous woman. And it’s not just because she agreed to pose for a photo without a stitch of makeup a la another natural beauty named Alicia Keyes (who also happens to support Francine’s Same Sky initiative) but, rather, because she hasn’t hesitated to travel to the farthest reaches of the world (she is in Morocco as I type this) in order to carry out her hands-on approach to philanthropy. Francine is such a frequent flyer that Delta Airlines Chief of Protocol, the beloved and ubiquitous Shim Lew, has often remarked that they should have a seat permanently reserved for Francine in the Delta Sky Club in New York’s JFK International Airport and he has told me that she is one of his all-time favorite customers – words not to be taken lightly as he has proudly held his Delta diplomatic post for almost 46 years!
When Francine first showed me the photo from her last trip to Africa, I felt her eyes scanning my face for a sign that I was seeing what she had experienced at that very moment on that particular day at the edge of the jungle in the misty mountain terrain of Rwanda. I had carefully examined that photo and had remarked that her skin looked luminous and that her blue eyes sparkled with mischievous delight under her floppy Paddington Bear bush hat. My observations were met with a sign of resignation over the fact that I wasn’t seeing what I was supposed to see. The elephant in the room was that there was a gorilla in her midst, and the dark shadow looming behind the brush just over her left shoulder was, indeed, one of Rwanda’s finest mountain gorillas – the critically endangered eastern gorilla subspecies, beringei beringei.
“You don’t see it?” she asked, pointing to a patch of dark gray hidden behind leafy shrubs.
“I think I see it,” I replied, bringing the photo even closer to my nose and then asked if she had a magnifying glass.
“There!” Francine pointed to another dark patch a few inches above the other dark patch. “The gorilla is right there,” she tapped a perfectly-manicured finger sporting a Same Sky ring on the photo. “It was watching me. I was very quiet and didn’t move and it came right up behind me and just sat there.”
I never doubt Francine, as she is a woman of her word and not one to embellish for she certainly has no need to in light of her unusually adventurous and often risky life experiences. With that said, I just could not see that optically-elusive gorilla in her midst. I hope that you can – which is why we have added a visual aid in the form of a red arrow to assist you in your search for said gorilla.
Naturally, there were plenty of witnesses to that gorilla sighting – including the person who took the photo of Francine standing in front of the curious gorilla. Francine’s fellow-travelers regaled me with stories of the gorillas in all of their glory – including baby gorillas who went undisturbed when photographed from afar because the guides were careful to keep the humans a good distance from them so as not to unwittingly train the Rwandan gorilla population into the great ape-equivalent of Bronx Zoo seals clapping for carp.
When I failed to see the gorilla in the photograph, Francine let me off-the-hook and we moved on to discuss the main reason why she travels to Rwanda: The Same Sky jewelry trade initiative. Francine also started a foundation which runs parallel to the for-profit Same Sky initiative and together, these two entities empower Rwandan women, many of whom are HIV-positive, survivors of the Rwandan genocide, victims of rape and systematic abuse and were previously shunned by their communities and unable to support themselves and their children. This innovative self-aid program allows them to establish self-worth and confidence through education, training and ultimately, self-sustaining employment. Francine is quick to add that the Rwandan artisans who create these lovely and meaningful bracelets (I have worn mine for over four years and rarely take them off) are afforded a new status in their communities, and therefore, face a reduced risk of violence.
The proven success of Francine’s Rwandan model for female empowerment inspired her to find a way to provide similar work to American women upon their release from prison. She met with former inmates who would likely be stigmatized as ex-convicts upon re-entering society and her program trained them while offering emotional support needed in order to overcome their shame and addictions. Not only has the American version of Rwanda’s Same Sky initiative succeeded, it has flourished. These former prisoners are now entrusted with expensive materials, tasked with processing financial transactions, and are currently taking orders from all over the world. In fact, one of my favorite bracelets was purchased at a pop-up shop run by these industrious women at Newark International Airport.
Francine points out that the recidivism rate for women who’ve been incarcerated in the United States is nearly seventy percent. It is with great pride that she is announcing that the recidivism rate for the Same Sky women in America is zero percent – which she believes is a clear indication that giving access to work, works.
Before she hopped aboard yet another flight, Francine called me from the airport to discuss the latest Same Sky news and how it has impacted her personal philosophy regarding the prevailing archetype of philanthropy.
“It simply is not sustainable,” she said of the current model. “So much money is not getting to the people who need it most. I want to disrupt the way we give. That’s why we needed Same Sky. And now we know, without a doubt, that it actually works.”
For more information, please go to www.SameSky.com
IT WAS ALL FRESCO (BY SCOTTO) AT “GOOD DAY NEW YORK”
The fashion was fresh (MLB/Gucci collaboration with heritage teams) and the news was optimistic during our visit to the GOOD DAY NEW YORK set to announce “THE EMPIRE LIFE” column in EMPIRE REPORT.
Anchors ROSANNA SCOTTO and JENNIFER LAHMERS discussed our “10-Minute-A-Day Happiness Fix” and the need to devote more time to acknowledging good news.
Behind-the-scenes, New York-born actor Jerry O’Connell, fresh from playing guest host at the 2018 Royal Canin National Championship in Orlando (alongside former USMC K9 handler, Megan Leavey) had the makeup room in stitches with his antics while they readied him for one of his always-hilarious guest appearances. At the other end of the hallway, the green room was packed with notables, including pugilist-turned-promoter and four-time world heavyweight champion, Evander Holyfield. In town to talk about bringing boxing to Brooklyn, “The Real Deal” was the genuinely soft-spoken Southern gent as he fielded questions from awestruck members of entourages assigned to others awaiting their on-air time – and he even offered to share his sofa space.
Of all of the boldfaced names gracing the Fox 5 NY halls on that balmy winter’s day, one especially warm and welcoming empress stood head and shoulders among all others – anchorperson extraordinaire, Rosanna Scotto. Always-effervescent Rosanna told me that she eagerly starts her day at 4:30 a.m. and that she truly looks forward to every morning because she believes it is a continuation of a unique learning experience afforded to her through the news business – and that celebrity is a gift to be used to give back to her community and to raise awareness for causes close to her heart.
A tip of the caps (both Mets and Yankees) to Rosanna Scotto for living The Empire Life.