Written Words

On The Go

By Masha Leon

Published November 12, 2009, issue of November 20, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share


Honorees, award presenters and guests at the October 27 “So Near & Yet So Far” Alzheimer’s Association Rita Hayworth Gala had a vested reason for the urgency to find a cure for a disease that currently afflicts 5.3 million Americans. When she was 19, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan discovered that her mother, Rita Hayworth, then in her 50s, was suffering from Alzheimer’s. After caring for her mother until her death in 1987 at age 68, she founded the Rita Hayworth Gala. Alexandra Lebenthal, gala chair, wistfully recalled her once “glamorous, vital mommy,” now 79, who no longer recognizes her or her sister.

Rita Hayworth Award recipient Muffie Potter Aston told the audience about her grandmother, “a widow at 28 with a young daughter — my mother — in German-occupied Yugoslavia. “She was interrogated by the Nazis… and later honored by the OSS [Office of Strategic Services] as a vital code-breaker for the British. She went from speaking seven languages to barely speaking one.” Attorney Lonnie Wollin, recipient of the Rita Hayworth Lifetime Award, lost his father, three uncles and two aunts to Alzheimer’s. In 1977, Wollin founded the Alzheimer’s Disease Society, which eventually evolved into the National Alzheimer’s Association. Among the guests was a stunning Brooke Shields, whose dementia-afflicted mother once orchestrated young Shields’s rise to fame.

The gowns were dazzling, and the statistics mind-boggling: “By 2015, there will be 16 million with Alzheimer’s in the U.S.,” Aga Khan informed. “Somewhere in America, every 70 seconds, doctors diagnose a new case…. Alzheimer’s annually afflicts more [people] than breast cancer and prostate combined. It is the seventh leading cause of death, and affects people in their 30s, 40s and 50s.” And as a kicker for the women in the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom, she added, “Twenty percent of women reaching 65 will develop dementia.” On a large movie screen set up onstage, a film retrospective of Alzheimer’s victims included headshots of George Balanchine, Estelle Getty, Abe Ribicoff, William Powell, Perry Como, Cyrus Vance, Eddie Albert, Vincente Minnelli, Aaron Copeland, Barry Goldwater, Charles Bronson, Otto Preminger, Arlene Francis, Dana Andrews, Floyd Patterson, Burgess Meredith, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Rosa Parks, Charleton Heston, Ronald Reagan and others.

“Alzheimer’s took both my grandfather and my father,” said David Hyde Pierce, who whimsically informed, “Yes, I used to be Niles” — a reference to the character he portrayed in the long-running TV sitcom “Frasier,” currently in reruns. “There are two dozen drugs in clinical tests at this time,” Pierce said. A star of such recent Broadway hits as “Spamalot,” and “Curtains,” Pierce, who also had a supporting role in the 1988 film “Crossing Delancey” (back then, he was known as David Pierce), admitted that being “unemployed” was the reason he was able to attend the gala.

Underwritten by Rolex Watch USA, the event raised $2 million. Roger Waters, founding member, lyricist and principal composer of Pink Floyd, performed “Wish You Were Here.” The Pointer Sisters topped off the evening’s entertainment.


Hoping for an emotional yet science-vetted pick-me-up following the dire statistics of the Alzheimer’s gala, I went to hear Dr. Alon Monsonego, keynote speaker at the October 28 Greater New York Region American Associates Ben-Gurion University of the Negev benefit dinner, held at the JCC in Manhattan. Addressing the theme “Curing Alzheimer’s: An Innovative Approach,” in the elegant academic lingua franca understood by scientists and members of the intellectual-exchange group Mensa, he cited details of his research, which focuses on the interaction between the immune system and the brain during aging and on the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. First, the bad news: the revelation that “by the time Alzheimer’s symptoms appear, the disease may have already established itself 10 to 15 years ago, and by the time we see it, we’re in the middle of it.”

The good news: Alzheimer’s is not an inflammatory disease as once thought, and the new direction focuses on “boosting the immune system.” Responding to questions from the audience about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, Monsonego concurred, “Fish, vegetables, olive oil… vitamin D3; anti-radicals, anti-oxidants are all very important.”

Monsonego is the first incumbent of the Zehava and Chezy Vered Career Development Chair for the Study of Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. After completing a doctorate in neurobiology at Weizmann Institute of Science, he moved on to Harvard Medical School to earn a fellowship in postdoctoral research. His research in the immunological mechanisms involved in Alzheimer’s disease won him a grant ($80,000) from the Alzheimer’s Association, which enabled him to establish and head a research group at Harvard University. Still, he opted to return to Israel. During dinner, I asked Monsonego for additional comments on the importance of diet and its impact on the immune system and Alzheimer’s. Expounding on a statement he had made earlier in his address, he said: “We begin aging in our 20s…. Evolution does not care about quality of life, but about survival…. If the immune system is not treated well, the body can’t cope with disease.”

The evening’s recipients of the Humanitarian Award were the Gural family, whose real estate empire —begun by Aaron Gural and now known as Newmark Knight Frank — was, according to journal notes, “one of the first to see the potential for restoring industrial sites on the West Side and abandoned buildings in the Garment District.” Gural’s acquisitions included the 1902 Flatiron Building, at the juncture of 23rd Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway, and the old McGraw-Hill building on West 42nd Street (since sold).

Ben-Gurion University was inspired by the vision of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who “believed that the future of the country lay in the Negev region, a desert area comprising more than an 60% of the country’s land mass.” With a campus comprising 125 buildings, 19,500 students, 808 senior faculty and 228 junior faculty, it is a world leader in desert studies, alternate energy, ecological conservation, and water purification and management. Ben-Gurion also takes price in its graduate Dr. Rania Ogby-Kweidar, the first female Bedouin physician in Israel.


An illuminated monolithic sculpture — 14 feet high, 12 inches wide and 3 feet deep — constructed entirely of bundles of newspapers and replicating Israel Museum’s logo, greeted the 550 guests arriving at Cipriani 42nd Street for the October 26 American Friends of Israel Museum gala, “The Written Word.” The event celebrated “the encyclopedic nature of the Israel Museum’s holdings by highlighting works of art spanning six millennia in which letters and words play a central role.” Amid the festive crowd were Josh Bernstein, host of the Discovery Channel show “Into the Unknown”; Vera Wang; Julie and Billie Macklowe; Matthew Bronfman; Judith and Michael Steinhardt, and Ingeborg and Ira Rennert.

Located in Jerusalem and currently undergoing a $100 million renewal and expansion, the Israel Museum is a leader among the world’s encyclopedic museums. It is the home of the Dead Sea Scrolls housed in the landmark Shrine of the Book, the five-acre Billy Rose Art Garden designed by Isamu Noguchi and the site of the model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple.

While diners ate and chatted, artist Ellie G., poised on a very tall ladder, painted a huge white canvas with configurations of “The Written Word” — a work that was later auctioned off. A video presentation of memory fragments by Israeli senior citizens remembering the museum’s beginnings has a universal resonance: “A dream,” one said. “It was a fairy tale come true… a dream… an empty hill that would one day be a museum!” Film clips of the evolution of the space “on the side of the hill,” with a roster of Israel’s early leaders and notables of international renown at the Jewish state’s “birth,” were in startling contrast to the museum’s present heft and import.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.