Celebrating A First

On The Go

By Masha Leon

Published May 21, 2010, issue of May 28, 2010.
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U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Celebrates First New York Gala

“We are in a battle for truth. The erosion of one truth leads to the erosion of other truths, “ United States Holocaust Memorial Museum director Sara Bloomfield told the 600 guests at the museum’s May 4 inaugural New York gala, held at The Pierre. The event honored Howard Ganek, national co-chair of the museum’s Founders Society. The society is a group of philanthropists, each of whom has contributed $1 million or more to the museum. The gala, which raised $1.8 million for the museum, doubled as a celebration of Ganek’s 80th birthday. Keynote speaker William Cohen, a former American Secretary of Defense, said he reread Elie Wiesel’s memoir, “Night,” when he served with former secretary of state Madeleine Albright as co-chair of the Genocide Prevention Task Force, of which the museum was a co-sponsor. “Genocide is preventable…. We have tikkun olam, a moral obligation to see that it does not happen again,” Cohen said. Among the evening’s guests were Vera Wang, Dennis Basso, Sheila Robbins and George Schwab.

Bloomfield informed: “A decade ago… following his visit to the museum, Washington, D.C. ’S new police chief, Charles Ramsey, commented: ‘… I saw photos of police… and kept asking myself… what led them to become complicit in mass murder? ’ Chief Ramsey then asked if we would train every new recruit in the Washington police force. Word spread… soon we were asked to train every new police officer in our region, including all FBI agents. Next week… we will begin working with the chief judge of New York to train all of your state judges.” A video presentation called “What You Do Matters,” highlighted the issue of “hate… Holocaust denial… sweeping across the Internet like lightning. So far, 138,000 digital images have been posted.” The video voiceover noted, “Every time we open an archive…[it] is a dagger in the heart of a Holocaust denier.”

“I feel the love in the room,” dapper birthday celebrant Ganek said. “I remember, during the Depression, there was the blue can [Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael — now called Jewish National Fund] with a picture of Palestine on the table [to put in] a few coins for those who could not help themselves…. If my family had not escaped Romania, we might not be here tonight…. Complacency is not an option. The lessons of the Holocaust must be passed on from generation to generation, [otherwise] what kind of world are our children and grandchildren going to inherit?”

Francine Lefrak, Linda Kaplan Thaler Among Honorees at Women Who Care Luncheon

“My extraordinary mother, Ethel [Lefrak], who is 90 years young and with us today, taught me the lessons of love,” said * philanthropist, entrepreneur and television, film and theater producer Francine LeFrak*, an honoree at the May 6 United Cerebral Palsy Women Who Care luncheon, held at Cipriani 42nd Street. Donna Hanover hosted the event. LeFrak’s most recent endeavor, Same Sky, helps HIV-positive women in Rwanda rebuild their lives as they earn income to support their families. Also honored Linda Kaplan Thaler, founder of The Kaplan Thaler Group. “I was brought up on the belief of tikkun olam — a Jewish phrase meaning ‘to leave this world a better place than you found it’…. Because it is not the great leaders who will change the world, but each one of us,” Kaplan Thaler said. Probably best known for her agency’s Aflac duck campaign, she told of a man and grandson walking on the beach, watching a million starfish struggling to survive: “[The grandfather] picked up one and threw it back into the ocean. The grandson said, ‘You can’t save them all.’ The grandfather replied, ‘No, but I can save this one.’”

Also honored was Pamela Gallin, described in the program as “one of a handful of ophthalmic surgeons who can literally give back eyes, working on the most extreme cases of defects, disease and injury.” As director of the Fight for Sight Children’s Clinic, Gallin, “the top female surgeon at New York Presbyterian University Hospitals of Columbia and Cornell,” spearheaded the medical evacuation of children from war-torn Bosnia. As defined in the program notes: “Women Who Care was created by Loreen Arbus, founder and chair, to honor female role models representing various segments of the community. It is a celebration of women who have blazed new paths, broken glass ceilings and inspired others to achieve.”

Whenever I run into LeFrak, she speaks about her mother’s accomplishments and philanthropy. In context with the imperative of Women Who Care, this is a good place to shine the spotlight on this remarkable woman. In addition to her support of New York City’s Guggenheim Museum, Temple Emanu-El, Queens College and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Ethel LeFrak donated in 2008 $750,000 to Seton Hill University’s National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education to establish the Ethel LeFrak Student Scholars of the Holocaust Fund. The fund provides annual student scholarships to support participation in Yad Vashem’s Summer Institute, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, in Israel, and a program for Genocide and Holocaust students.

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