Bronx Jewish Historical Initiative Inducts Five Hall of Famers

There is something about being a “Bronx boy” or “Bronx girl.”

And that is more than enough reason why the Bronx Jewish Historical Initiative’s (BxJHI) Bronx Jewish Hall of Fame has already become a landmark event for
the area.

The event took place Tuesday, June 7,  at the Bronx Museum of The Arts. In its second year, the Hall of Fame inducted (see bios below) Arlene Alda, Avi Hoffman, Ezra Levin, Linda Kaplan Thaler and Lloyd Ultan.

Last year’s inaugural inductees included the Honorable Robert Abrams, Blu Greenberg, Robert Klein, Cynthia Ozick and David Reingold.

The effort to honor Jewish Hall of Fame inductees from the Bronx is the work of Howard Teich of the Howard Teich Network.

“Howard created the Bronx Historical Jewish Initiative,” said Marti Michael, a retired executive director of the Riverdale YM-YWCA and the Riverdale JCRC who is also helping to coordinate the Hall of Fame event.

“Our purpose is to preserve and honor past Jewish life in the Bronx,” she told the Jewish Link. “We wanted to provide a forum for the Jewish community who live in the Bronx now, or who did live in the Bronx or whose ancestors lived here.”

She said the event is an important way to bring people together and to remember those who made extraordinary contributions to society.

“It’s an opportunity to honor Jews from the Bronx both past and present,” she said. “We had a large group of people attend last year. Their reminiscence of life in the Bronx could have gone on all night. Everybody was thrilled to talk about their Bronx Jewish experiences.”

Mr. Teich said that the Hall of Fame is about “people who came out of the Bronx who had not been recognized and others who have done unbelievable things. This serves as a way to recognize them and to give them the credit they should be getting. There are people who may not be well known outside of their neighborhood but have done monumental things to serve people and they should also
be recognized. It’s just not only the so-called name people, but those people who have quietly done miraculous things in their lives.”

Ms. Michael said a committee of Jewish institutional leaders and activists has met regularly as part of the selection process of potential honorees. At this juncture, the committee only inducts those who are living, and attendance at the event is mandatory. She added that the committee is also discussing the future possibility of honoring deceased community members.

Ms. Michael used inductee Linda Kaplan Thaler as an example of what she experienced in the selection process.

“She is a superstar in the advertising world,” said Ms. Michael.  “Linda was thrilled. She told me that there was something about the nostalgia from her childhood in the Bronx. She told me ‘I’m just a girl from the Bronx and always will be.’ She wants to be here no matter what. The same with Arlene Alda. I got a call back saying she was thrilled. It taps into a real core human feeling of belonging to a neighborhood.”

“We have to make sure that the people we are inducting are at a significant level of accomplishment,” said Mr. Teich. “The inductees are not surprised, but delighted actually. They are seeing it at a high level.”

Mr. Teich added that the entire Hall of Fame concept was a winner from the very start. It would have been more difficult to do, he said, 20 years ago, prior to the Internet. The Jewish community of New York, he said is one of civilization’s great success stories.

“What we’ve done with freedom is extraordinary,” he said. “We’re letting people tell their stories and giving credit where credit is due. We’re making a real statement, especially about the Bronx. These are all of the things we want people to hear about and know about. It’s part of the telling of the story of the Bronx Jewish community.”

Why five inductees?

It’s a “good number” said Mr. Teich. The evening is set up as a panel with opportunities for the inductees to tell their stories. The committee is thinking in two ways. First, who is inducted, and secondly inductees who will be entertaining and give people a good feel of what it’s like to be from the Bronx.

The Inductees:

Arlene Alda

Mrs. Alda grew up in the Bronx, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Hunter College and then received a Fulbright Scholarship to study clarinet in Cologne, Germany .

Played in the Houston Symphony.

Switched careers when her children were young to become an award-winning photographer and writer.

Wrote 19 books, many of them for children. Her latest (for adults) is Just Kids From the Bronx: Telling It the Way It Was, An Oral History. Book consists of interviews of 63 accomplished women and men. They include luminaries such as Colin Powell, Carl Reiner, Mary Higgins Clark, Al Pacino and others.

Mother of three daughters, grandmother of eight, she and her husband, the actor Alan Alda, live in New York City and Long Island.

Avi Hoffman

Mr. Hoffman was recently nominated for the Drama Desk Award as Outstanding Actor in a Play for his portrayal of Willie Loman in the Yiddish Death of a Salesman.

He is the executive director of the Dachau Album Project ( for which he was invited to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis. Mr. Hoffman is the CEO of the Mendl Hoffman Foundation, which is now reviving the Joseph Papp Yiddish Theatre and is planning a Center for Yiddish Culture. He is best known for his award-winning one-man shows Too Jewish?, Too Jewish Two! and Still Jewish After All These Years.

Mr. Hoffman has been on Netflix’s “Bloodline” and A&E’s “The Glades” as well as the NBC series “Law and Order.”

Ezra Levin

Mr. Levin, a resident of Riverdale in the Bronx, is Chair-Emeritus and Senior Counsel of the international law firm Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP where he practices corporate law. He has been involved in several civil rights and Jewish communal activities during the course of his life. In the 1960s and ’70s, Mr. Levin served as secretary and board member of the Scholarship, Education and Defense Fund for Racial Equality and was later co-chair of the New York Coalition for Soviet Jewry.

Mr. Levin has also served as the president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and of the Hebrew Free Loan Society. He was the founding chair of the Solomon Schechter High School.

Together with his wife Batya, to whom he has been married for over 50 years, the Levins have two children and four grandchildren.

Linda Kaplan Thaler

Mrs. Thaler, an Advertising Hall of Famer, is responsible for some of America’s most famous and award-winning advertising campaigns, including the Aflac duck. She has composed jingles, some that are among the industry’s best known, such as “I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us Kid and “Kodak Moments.” Mrs. Thaler was formerly chairman of Publicis Kaplan Thaler with clients such as P&G, Citibank, Pfizer and Wendy’s. She was also CEO of the Kaplan Thaler Group, which she grew from a fledgling startup to over a billion dollars in billings.

Today, Mrs. Thaler is a motivational speaker and is president of Kaplan Thaler Productions. She has worked on presidential campaigns for the Clinton/Gore ticket in 1992 and with Hillary Clinton in 2008.

She has earned the prestigious Matrix Award, the Advertising Woman of the Year Award and NYWIFT’s Muse Award, and is one of Ad Age’s “Most Influential Women in Advertising.”

Mrs. Thaler is a Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude graduate of CCNY. She is married to award-winning composer Fred Thaler and has two children, Michael and Emily.

Lloyd Ultan

Mr. Ultan was born in the Bronx in 1938 and still resides there. He was educated in local schools, graduating from Hunter in the Bronx (now Lehman College) and Columbia University. Since 1964 he has taught history at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and since 2004 has taught courses on Bronx history at Lehman College.

He served as president of The Bronx County Historical Society from 1971 to 1976 and still serves on its board. Since 1996 he has been the Bronx Borough Historian.

Mr. Ultan says his greatest pleasure comes when he tells people some of the great events that have occurred in the Bronx. He does not use email, doesn’t own a cell phone and doesn’t have a driver’s license. Instead, he likes to use the bus or a train. He has written or co-authored at least a dozen books, all but one about the Bronx. His latest publication, co-authored with Shelly Olson is The Bronx: The Ultimate Guide to New York City’s Beautiful Borough.