Gala Honors First-Ever Chairwoman Of The Board


By Masha Leon

Published November 07, 2007, issue of November 09, 2007.
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Let me put to rest the Jewish adage that one can’t dance at two weddings. On October 18, fleet of foot and with the help of New York City transport, I managed three simchas. First, a pause at the 950-plus black-tie Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria, where keynote speaker Tony Blair, former British prime minister, expounded on the war against terrorism. Then, on to the Park Avenue Armory for the preview party of the Haughton International Fine Arts and Antique Dealers Show to benefit The Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. There, I made small talk with champagne-sipping Ingeborg Rennert, home arts maven Martha Stewart and Stewart’s companion, Hungarian-born computer (Microsoft) marvel Charles Simonyi. A speedy bus ride across Central Park followed by an aerobic sprint got me to the American Museum of Natural History for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University gala. And in what must have been a speed-of-light costume change, there was a bejeweled Rennert in a different designer dress.

The 565 black-tie dinner guests roared with laughter as Y.U.’s president, Richard Joel, described the Einstein faculty’s reaction to his presentation of “the challenges and opportunities we’re going to undertake” under [the Einstein college’s] Dean Siegel’s leadership: “The allergists voted to scratch it. The dermatologists advised not to make any rash moves. The gastroenterologists had a sort of gut feeling about it. The neurologists thought the administration had a lot of nerve. The obstetricians felt they were laboring under a misconception. The ophthalmologists considered the idea shortsighted. The pathologists yelled, ‘Over my dead body,’ while the pediatricians said, ‘Oh, grow up!’ The psychiatrists thought the whole idea was madness. The radiologists could see right through it. The surgeons decided to wash their hands of the whole thing. The internists thought it was a bitter pill to swallow. The plastic surgeons said, ‘This puts a whole new face on the matter.’ The podiatrists thought it was a step forward. The urologists felt the scheme would not hold water. The anesthesiologists thought the whole idea was a gas. The cardiologists didn’t have the heart to say no. And I’ll leave it to you to imagine what the proctologists called me.”

The gala honoree was Ruth Gottesman, who was elected chairwoman of the board of overseers of Y.U.’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Professor emerita of pediatrics, she is the first faculty member in the school’s 52-year history to be named chair of the board, as well as the first woman to hold the office. Einstein college dean Allan Siegel touted the school’s challenges and accomplishments, as well as its stem-cell biology research with its potential “to treat cancers, genetic disorders, HIV, hepatitis and more.”


After being presented with the chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) by the French Embassy’s cultural counselor, Kareen Rispal, at an October 15 ceremony held at the Embassy’s Cultural Services, Raphael Rubinstein, senior editor of Art in America, said: “I’d like my country [the United States] to do something like this to honor its writers and artists in a broader way.”

An accomplished poet and writer, and a professor of critical studies at the University of Houston, Rubinstein spoke to me at length about his critically acclaimed book, “In Search of a Lost Ladino” (Ibis Editions, 2006), a translation of Marcel Cohen’s“Lettre à Antonio Saura”.

During our post-ceremony chat, Rubinstein was most passionate about the plight of Ladino — the disappearing Judeo-Spanish language of the Sephardic Jewish community, which is at the heart of Cohen’s book. “Cohen, whose parents were Turkish Jews and came to France in the 1930s, never wrote in Ladino, his mother’s language…. But [Cohen] attempted to rediscover the sound of his mother’s voice, which he remembered from his childhood…. [Still] there were Ladino words left untranslated into French — simply untranslatable.” I responded, “It’s the same when you attempt to translate Yiddish.” After Rubinstein described the pain of “inhabiting a dying language,” I said that it’s akin to the angst Yiddish speakers feel about the precarious state of Yiddish, “a Jewish language whose future was aborted after millions of its speakers perished in the Holocaust.” Rubinstein was born in Lawrence, Kan., and his New York-born father, Joseph Rubinstein, was a rare-books librarian whose parents came to America from Ukraine; Rubinstein’s mother was born in Mexico.

Also honored that evening was Richard Kendall, art historian, critic, curator-at-large for the Clark Art Institute, and Degas and Cezanne expert. He was presented with the officier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Kendall received the Hawthorne Prize for Art Criticism for “Degas: Beyond Impressionism” (a 1996 exhibition at The National Gallery, London and the Art Institute of Chicago). He also received a 2004 Peabody Award for his PBS documentary “Degas and Dance.”

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