Grace Hightower De Niro, Dr. Diane Reidy Lagunes and Dr. Emily Sonnenblick Honored at American Cancer Society

On the Go

By Masha Leon

Published March 15, 2012, issue of March 23, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

“When I was getting ready [to play] Jake La Motta [in Martin Scorsese’s 1980 film “Raging Bull” and battling cancer and winning, it was nothing like the pressure of this speech,” Robert De Niro said before introducing his wife, Grace Hightower, one of three honorees at the March 1 American Cancer Society of New York’s Mother of the Year Award Luncheon, held at the Plaza. “I better do a good job or I won’t have a place to sleep tonight. You are one tough woman, Grace! I am proud of you. Mother, wife, friend, she is our mother-of-the-year every day. Today she is yours.” Hightower replied simply, “Nursing, protecting, caring, we are all mother of the universe.”

Also honored was Dr. Emily B. Sonnenblick, a founder of Rosetta Radiology. Trained in ultrasound and imaging at the Mount Sinai Medical Center, where she maintains a teaching appointment, her expertise in women’s imaging includes mammography, ultrasound, breast biopsy and breast MRI. Sonnenblick is married to Dr.Ken Offit, who heads the clinical genetics department at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The couple’s three daughters, Anna, Caroline and Lily Offit, were present. “My mother leads by example,” Anna said. “Our mother treats her patients like her daughters. One patient thanked my mother for finding a small tumor others could not find. My mother can find the tiniest imperfection in a sweater and return it the next day.”

The third honoree, Dr. Diane Reidy-Lagunes, began with, “I am a daughter of an Irish Catholic New York City firefighter and an Italian- Jewish high school math teacher, and I married a Mexican; therefore, I like to call myself a New Yorker.” An assistant attending in the Department of Medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, she was honored for research initiatives, including developing methods to integrate molecular-based therapies into the treatment of colon cancer. Bilingual in English and Spanish, and recipient of the 2010 Memorial Sloan Kettering Department of Medicine Teaching Award, she and her husband of six years, Sergio Lagunes, are parents of Alec, age 4, and Keira, 2.

The event was hosted by broadcast journalist Paula Zahn, who lost both of her parents to cancer. Diana Feldman, the American Cancer Society’s volunteer chairman of special events, thanked the three honorees for “paving the way with arduous steadfastness.” In his message in the luncheon’s journal, Donald Distasio, CEO of the American Cancer Society’s Eastern Division, congratulated the honorees and praised the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge New York City for providing “lodging and support programs to cancer outpatients and their caregivers while the patients are receiving lifesaving treatments at our city’s hospitals.” Hope Lodge, which opened in 2007 and offers its services free of charge, has helped reduce the financial and emotional burden for 5,500 guests who have come through its doors from 26 countries and 46 states.

Lily Safra was a vice chair, and the benefit’s co-chairs were Muffie Potter Aston (an honoree last year), Somers Farkas, Diana Feldman, Prudence Inzerillo, Cynthia Lufkin, Gianna Palminteri, Maureen Reidy and Rachel Roy. Among the guests were designer Donna Karan filmmaker and artist Mira Jedwabnik Van Doren and uber-publicist Peggy Siegal.


X-Men Writer Chris Claremont and Comics Historian Paul Levitz Unmask Jewish Creators of Comic Book Superheroes

Park Avenue Synagogue was the setting for the well-attended March 6 discussion “From Superman to X-Men,” featuring X-Men writer Chris Claremont and former DC Comics president Paul Levitz, author of the 720-page “75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking” (Taschen, 2010). Moderated by Jeremy Dauber, director of Columbia University’s Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, the discussion focused on the Jewish subtext of America’s comic book heroes. “Comics were at the bottom of the food chain,” Levitz said. “These heroes resonated so indelibly with the public.” As an example he cited Superman, the “ultimate out-of-towner” who comes from nowhere, “sets up shop and makes good and saves the world.” And as for Spider-Man’s Peter Parker, Levitz said: “He is a working-class kid. His primary job is to find money.” He noted that each superhero has “human concerns.”

Thinker: Chris Claremont
karen leon
Thinker: Chris Claremont

Claremont, who is donating his papers to Columbia University, defined the X-Men as “a metaphor for the Jews… accessible to adults as well as to kids.” The character of Magneto (aka Erik Magnus Lehnsherr), created by Stan Lee in 1963, is a former teacher of the New Mutants who has absolute control of magnetism. He is tortured by the fact that he could have stopped the Nazis in Auschwitz if only he had been aware of his incredible powers at the time. In 1966 Lee turned over the writing and illustrating of the X-Men comics to other artists, including Claremont. In “Up, Up, and Oy Vey!: How Jewish History, Culture, and Values Shaped the Comic Book Super Hero” (Leviathan Press, 2006), Simcha Weinstein writes that “it was Jewish writer Chris Claremont who gave the original characters their complex personalities and backgrounds and developed the background that confirms the Jewish link to the X-Men.”

Recalling his work on Magneto, Claremont reflected: “I was trying to figure out what was the most transfiguring event of our century [that] would tie in the super concept of the X-Men as persecuted outcasts. It was the Holocaust! Once I found a departure for Magneto, the rest fell into place. It allowed me to turn him into a tragic figure who wants to save his people.” In his book, Weinstein quotes Claremont as saying,“ I had the opportunity to redeem him, to see if he could start over again, if he could evolve in a way that Menachem Begin had evolved from the guy that the British considered ’Shoot on sight’ in 1945 to a statesman who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976.”

The appreciative audience left the discussion on a superhero high and armed with a reading list on the topic of Jews and American Comics.

-“Jews and American Comics: An Illustrated History of an American Art Form” by Paul Buhle (New Press, 2008) -“Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero” Danny Fingeroth (The Continuum, 2007) -“Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and the New Land,” edited by Harvey Pekar and Paul Buhle (Abrams ComicArts, 2011)


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!
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • 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.