Fund Honors Cancer Survivors


By Masha Leon

Published July 22, 2005, issue of July 22, 2005.
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“In the room today is my wife, Linda, alive because of the work done by [the] Israel Cancer Research Fund,” said high-profile criminal attorney Benjamin Brafman, who served as master of ceremonies at the ICRF’s June 20 Women of Action Luncheon, held in New York City at The Pierre.

Honored was Luna Kaufman, who survived not only the Krakow Ghetto but also three concentration camps and breast cancer. An avid skier, Kaufman is president of the Newark-based New Jersey State Opera, the first woman president of Plainfield, N.J.’s Temple Sholom and current chair of the Sister Rose Thering Endowment at Seton Hall University’s Jewish Christian Department. Concluding her brief acceptance speech, Kaufman declared, “I am waiting for somebody to eradicate cancer and all the other cancers plaguing this society.”

“Oy! Jewish guilt. How can you give me an award when so many [others] have breast cancer?” said author Geralyn Lucas, director of corporate communications at Lifetime Television. Diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago, at 27, she said: “When I put on my lipstick and ‘Property of Mt. Sinai,’ gown, I wanted to be hopeful — a Jewish emotion. [I got] too much anesthesia, [yet] the lipstick stayed on for eight hours — a small victory. Everyone wanted to know what lipstick I wore.” The first translation of her book, “Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy” (St. Martin’s Press, 2004), was in Hungarian. “The next translation was in German, [titled] ‘100% Woman.’ I won’t be visiting Germany,” she said. (I found this puzzling. Today Germany welcomes tens of thousands of Jews, has the most stringent laws vis-à-vis Holocaust deniers and has amicable relations with Israel.)

“Early detection can save lives,” said honoree Karen Radkowsky, Ogilvy & Mather’s research director and senior partner. “Five years ago I completed radiation therapy,” she recounted. Radkowsky volunteers with Sharsheret, a national organization that provides peer support to young Jewish women facing breast cancer, and she is founding president of Limmud NY, a festival of Jewish learning and culture. ICRF grant recipients, whose research led to the development of the new drugs Doxyl, Gleevec and Velcade, were lauded by ICRF’s international president, Dr. Yashar Hirshaut. He also commended ICRF-funded researchers and Nobel Prize in science winners Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover.

* * *

Al Roker, co-host of NBC’s “Today” show and emcee at Calvary Hospital’s 22nd Annual Awards Dinner Dance, held June 22 at The Pierre, recalled his father, who’d been a patient at the hospital. Following an invocation by Edward Cardinal Egan, Frank Calamari, hospital president and CEO, described this “unique in the world” facility as one “where patients do not go to die, but where an end is put to your pain at a facility where we stand for the compassionate care and nonabandonment of patients at the end of their lives.” A video showing patient care by a multiethnic staff, for whom the work was “a calling, not a job,” showcased Debbie Feldman, a caretaker, who said, “We are a bridge as patients walk into another dimension.” Last year, Rabbi Mollie Cantor, the hospital chaplain, told me, “We serve Jewish patients, from secular to Orthodox.” This year, a longtime friend of mine was gently cared for at Calvary.

Honoree and Calvary Hospital Chairman of the Board Dr. Thomas J. Fahey (he is also chair of clinical oncology and medical director of the international program at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) acknowledged “friends and past Calvary medalists, dinner co-chairs Jack and Susan Rudin” who were present. Labeling cancer “the great leveler,” Fahey professed: “Many of you know that I’ve cared for royalty, deposed royalty, foreign heads of state, revolutionaries, politicians, movie stars, actors, actresses, artists and corporate CEOs…. Just consider trying to convince the shah of Iran [Reza Pahlevi] that it was in his best interest to get woken up at 2 a.m. to be transported through the tunnel connecting New York Hospital with Memorial to get his radiation treatment. Of course, the real reason was that we decided that if someone tried to kill him, there would be the least collateral damaged to other patients and staff at that hour!”

* * *

British actor Anthony Sher gives a bravura, intermissionless solo performance in “Primo.” Sher’s adaptation of Italian Jewish chemist Primo Levi’s dispassionate 1947 memoir, “Survival in Auschwitz,” offers a professorial recitation of the hell that was Auschwitz. Though the stage’s set suggests an entrance to a gas chamber, “Primo” is devoid of the gut-wrenching wallop of most survivors’ recollections. And if your film memory bank does not include such visual “aids” as Wanda Jakubowska’s “The Last Stop,” shot in 1948 at Auschwitz; the made-for- television film adaptation, “Playing for Time,” or the films “The Grey Zone” and “Sophie’s Choice,” Sher’s depiction of Levi’s precise recollection of the dehumanizing process from a man to a “naked worm” keeps you intellectually engrossed yet emotionally detached.

Levi remembers: “Those admirable and terrible Jews of Salonica, tenacious, thieving, wise, ferocious and so united, so determined to live, such pitiless opponents in the struggle for survival, those Greeks… whom even the Poles fear, even the Germans respect….” He reminded me of Salamo Arouch, a Greek boxer who, sent to Auschwitz, survived 200 boxing bouts and whom Willem Dafoe portrayed in the 1989 film “Triumph of the Spirit.” During my 1990 interview with Arouch — a tough, stocky man, whose father had been a dock worker in Salonica — he punctuated each of his Auschwitz recollections, regarding anything to do with Germany or Germans, with the phrase “Y’mach sh’mo!” Hebrew for “May his name be erased!” His vivid description of his wife, Martha, having her back, as well as the back of her head, ripped open in Birkenau by a whip-wielding German officer made me weak in the knees. But at no point during the monologue was a similar response elicited. Still, as a theatrical tour de force by a supreme actor, “Primo” should not be missed. You can catch it until August 7.

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