Fireworks lit up the Manhattan sky on Monday as the city celebrated the 100th birthday of its most famous hotel, if not the most famous in the world. The Plaza has appeared in numerous movies, had illustrious guests and also starred in the story of a little girl named Eloise who came to stay.
During the celebrations, the Plaza's owner, Yitzhak Tshuva, stepped out of the hotel and along Fifth Avenue to greet the New Yorkers and visitors who lined up behind security barriers to watch the celebrations from the sidewalk.
Among the crowd was an African-American man with Rastafarian dreadlocks, a missing front tooth and a baby carriage, and Tshuva stopped to be photographed with him. There were elderly New Yorkers who embraced the Israeli businessman and thanked him for refurbishing the building so dear to citizens of the city. Another well-wisher who caught the Israeli's eye was a young man in simple collegiate dress. Tshuva not only spoke with him at length in intimate whispers and with warm handshakes, but also shook hands with his girlfriend at his own initiative.
Tshuva quietly joked with one bystander that he was now considering a new career as a singer, as an earlier he joined singer Paul Anka on stage in a medley that ended with "I Did It My way."
With another man on the street, Tshuva discussed the four-meter-high cake recreation of the Plaza Hotel that stood within a fenced-off area. Tshuva said he had no idea what they would do with the gargantuan dessert.
To a great extent, this scene is the story of Tshuva: One moment on top of the world, the focus of attention in the U.S. media, and the next he and his wife Haya are strolling down the street in a very ordinary fashion with their grandchildren, Haya scolding them for fighting, and Yitzhak finding time for everyone on the street, absolutely everyone.
Outside the Plaza, just before the crosswalk, in front of the crowd, he stops to say his farewells to the "Yitzhak Tshuva gang", his young CEOs, including Uzi Levy, who manages the Elad firm's business in Canada ("a business of thousands of residences in Canada", Tshuva says), and he begins praising Uzi Yamin, the CEO of Delek USA, in front of the video camera. Yamin disengages from Tshuva's stronghold, flees the praise and leaves alone, rushing down Fifth Avenue to the hilarity of his friends.
"The American public is enjoying itself," Tshuva manages to say in the street before being corraled into a round of handshakes, embraces and souvenir photo ops. "They are happy that the Plaza is to be returned to them."
This is the glory of Yitzhak Tshuva. No limousine picks him up at the end of the celebration to carry him away. He continues to rub shoulders with the man in the street and behaves like one of them. Pretty soon the show is over, and it's back to life. But this was a show. An undeniably impressive one, and like so much in New York, breathtaking.
The event opened with speeches in the Edwardian Room at the Plaza, limited to VIPs only. There were many representatives of the Israeli press, and the American as well. It was odd to see the mixture of top management from the Delek Group like Uzi Levy, who has newly left Bank Leumi to join the group, Gadi Sukenik, Tshuva's consultant, senior personnel from the New York Municipality and officials of Central Park, which has been a recipient of Tshuva's largesse.
But the real celebration was to take place outside. Famous cake designer Ron Ben Yisrael made the huge cake. The master of ceremonies was stage and screen star Matthew Broderick (who is also well-known as the husband of Sarah Jessica Parker of "Sex in the City").
The guests in the second part of the evening included Martha Stewart, the high priestess of American homemaking who recently served jail time for stock trading offenses.
The celebrating guests also included former Bank Hapoalim chairman Shlomo Nehama and his wife Nira, who said they had come to New York on a private visit and dropped in to pay homage, and Yafit Grinberg, aka G. Yafit and the former number two of the Calvin Klein empire, the brother of Tommy Hilfiger. There was also a small contingent of New York society and fashion personalities - it is, after all, the Plaza.
Orly, Tshuva's youngest daughter, gave the first speech, inviting her father to follow. Tshuva apologized for needing his glasses, but the rest was far less apologetic and replete with pathos, enthusiasm and more exclamation marks than ever heard from him before. He opened with a wish of "happy birthday" to the Plaza.
"When I was young, said Tshuva, "I had many dreams. One was to build a castle like the Plaza. Another was to sing with Paul Anka. This evening Paul Anka invited me to sing, but I didn't want to steal the show." Despite his joking, it was hard to mistake his excitement and recognition of the occasion: The contractor from Netanya, of all people, had revived the glory of New York.
Many of the New York speakers had far more concrete memories of the hotel, not just fantasies. New York's supervisor of parks, for instance, was a junior waiter at the hotel a few decades ago. His first day at work was also the evening of the great New York blackout, and he and his coworkers lit up the entire hotel with candles.
Harvey Kruger, former vice chairman of Lehman Brothers, told of the nerve-fraught day before the wedding of his daughter at the hotel, when he arrived at the ballroom and discovered that its ceiling was dripping gold. Literally. The former owner of the hotel, Donald Trump, who arrived a little while later, participated in the painting of the ceiling.
Tshuva had originally intended to open the refurbished Plaza, which will include apartments, an apartment hotel and exclusive shopping center, on its 100th birthday. But plans and construction were delayed, and the grand opening will take place in a few months. The cost of the project has gone up as well. The final price tag for the conversion of the Plaza will reach an estimated $400 million. All told Tshuva has paid about $1.1 billion. The Plaza will open on December 1.
No doubt, meanwhile, the Plaza's 100 birthday will be remembered by Tshuva as an autumn evening in Manhattan when the world helped celebrate the fact that his childhood dreams had come true.
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