You don't have to be Jewish to sing at the annual Israel Independence Ball. Past balls have featured Diana Ross, Ben Vereen and Frank Sinatra, as well as Joel Grey and Sammy Cahn. Last night's co-honoree and singer, Ann Miller, had some in the crowd guessing until she accepted her Israel Bond Cultural award from Israeli Ambassador Ephraim Evron.
"I'm very thrilled, I think I'm the shiksa of the year," Miller, a Catholic, chirped.
After recalling how Jewish studio heads like Harry Cohn and L. B. Meyer had helped her Hollywood career, Miller burst into song. Fellow honoree Gene Kelly, more of a talky type, reminisced.
He remembered that his childhood neighbor in Pittsburgh, Mrs. Falansky, as assured him that "one day I would get my reward for being a shabbos goy."
Observing that the actual anniversary date of the independence of Israel had passed two months ago, Ambassador Evron remarked, "I hope it's not because the organizers of this event want to make sure we survive the day and go on."
He assured all that Israel would.
Kelly's presence sparked old memories for the ambassador. "My first visit to Paris was with you," said Evron, "but you didn't notice me."
The 1,100 invited guests had all bought at least $3,500 in Israel bonds between January and June. Patrons underwrote the actual cost of the ball. Kelly himself confirmed that the night was one for thank yous, not requests. He told the crowd that co-chairman Jerome Kaplan had not even asked him for a tree.