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"Mike has always been very supportive of me and Lord & Taylor, but I still froze when I saw the phone message," Elfers told the crowd of 700 at the AJC fund-raiser Thursday night at the New York Hilton, where over $2 million was raised.
"My mind started racing....What did I do to him? What did my people do to him? Who did we hire from Bloomingdale's? What vendor did we put on sale?"
When they spoke, and Gould said he needed to see her, Elfers panicked even more. "Oh God, it must be really bad," she thought.
Turns out, it was all about Gould asking Elfers to be honored by the AJC.
"After my initial relief, I was humbled by just how dedicated Mike is to the AJC. For Mike to be working so hard for this organization in the middle of the most important time of year for a retailer speaks volumes to his commitment."
Oscar Feldenkreis, vice chairman, president and chief operating officer of Perry Ellis International, also received the National Human Relations Award. The Cuban-born fashion executive, who settled in Miami as an infant with his family, cited AJC's work to advance liberty and tolerance, and explained that for him the concept of tsdakah meant not only charity, but justice as well.
"Oscar always has a helping hand for anyone who needs it," said his father, George Feldenkreis, chairman and ceo of Perry Ellis. "It's very hard for a father to talk about his son. I don't have a better friend than Oscar."
The 102-year-old AJC fights bigotry, anti-Semitism and terrorism, provides humanitarian relief and works to safeguard minorities, religious freedom and for Israel's right to exist. Among those at the dinner were Burberry's Eugenia Ulasewicz; Bloomingdale's Tony and Grace Spring; Frank Guzzetta, the former Marshall Field's ceo; Joseph Abboud; Warnaco's Joseph Gromek, and his wife, Gail Pisano; Creative Design Studio's Susan Davidson; Marvin Traub, and Paul Rosengard from Perry Ellis.