Two Events Honor Israel’s Contributions


By Masha Leon

Published December 31, 2004, issue of December 31, 2004.
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Larry King, master of ceremonies at the December 7 American Friends of Rabin Medical Center dinner, alternately amused and dismayed the 500 guests at The Pierre with such zingers as “Remember, Catholics, we gave you your Lord!” and, “People look at me.… They look at her.… They look at me.… If she dies — she dies!” Re: the age disparity twixt him and his stunning Mormon wife, Shawn.

The evening opened with a beautifully textured brakha by yarmulke-topped opera great Sherrill Milnes and a joint Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony by Nava Barak (president, Israel Friends of Rabin Medical Center), Joshua Plaut (AFRMC executive director), Rudolph Giuliani and King. Greetings by dinner chair Bruce Mosler, president and CEO, Cushman & Wakefield Inc.; Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s ambassador to the United States “born in 1955 at RMC”; Dan Oppenheim, CEO, Rabin Medical Center, and Abraham “Barry” Cohen, AFRMC chair of the board, preceded the welcome announcement of RMC’s newly opened comprehensive cancer center — the only one of its kind in Israel and modeled on Sloan-Kettering and on MD Anderson — at Petah Tikva.

Keynote speaker Giuliani recalled “meeting Yitzhak Rabin aboard the USS Intrepid [in October 1995]. He invited me to Israel…. Ten days later, I was in Israel for his funeral.” Giuliani drew a parallel between the diagnosis of his prostate cancer and terrorism. “I’m an optimist. I believed I’d be okay…. I’m known as very tough. I got through 9/11. Had an $800,000 Mafia contract to kill me. But cancer had a larger impact” said Giuliani of the seed implantation done at Mt. Sinai (“I love the doctors there”). Citing the 1972 attack on Israeli athletes in Munich and the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, he added: “The world was just as dangerous before 9/11.… Like cancer it was festering.… A lot of my strength [during 9/11] came from my trips to Israel, where I saw how the government dealt with terrorism.” Asked by King if he would like to be czar of security defense, Giuliani smiled: “No!… I remember what happened to the last one.”

Honoree Alfred E. Mann, chairman and co-CEO, Advanced Bionics Corporation, and chairman and CEO, MannKind Corporation, could not resist kissing his wife, Claude, repeatedly throughout dinner. Listed among “The 50 Most Generous Philanthropists”(2004) in Business Week’s November 29 cover story, his medical innovations (i.e., cardiac pacemakers and drug-delivery technologies) have saved lives. Business Week’s article informs: “[Mann] gave $200 million for medical research institutes in Israel and at Johns Hopkins. ‘Money is only worth what you can do with it,’ says Mann, the 78-year old son of an immigrant grocer who… intends to leave his entire $1.4 billion estate to charity. ‘Other than that, it’s not worth a damn.’” Mrs. Mann, born in a concentration camp in Germany, where her mother was sent after “my father, who was in the Resistance… saving Jews, was betrayed,” told me, “Even if I am Catholique, my husband says I am more Jewish!” Apropos current antisemitism in France, she was adamant: “I will buy nothing French!” As we spoke, her husband walked by and gave her another kiss!

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Benjamin Brafman, a trial lawyer and master of ceremonies at Israel Cancer Research Fund’s December 5 Tower of Hope Ball at The Pierre, touted ICRF (“the single largest source for cancer research funding in Israel”), then linked ICRF’s mission of “helping” with the Maurice Sendak-illustrated children’s book “Brundibar,” about a Czechoslovak opera by Hans Krasa (who died in Auschwitz) “performed 55 times in Terezenstadt by children who were later put to death.” The English-language libretto for Brundibar and the English text for the children’s book are by Tony Kushner.

“I will skip my traditional… protestation of unworthiness,” said Awareness in the Arts Award recipient Kushner. “I’m a Diasporan Jew, and Jewish American rather than Israeli.… But I owe a lot to Israel…. Israel has changed every Jewish person…. Jewish intelligence applied to almost any of the world’s… problems has always had salubrious consequences, making peace, seeking justice, curing cancer… I’ve lost so many people to it, as I imagine is the case for [almost] everyone in the room — including breast cancer, which has exacted a terrible toll on the women of my family, including my mother, who died of it in 1990.”

Humanitarian Award recipient Elie Wiesel repeated his oft-articulated mantra about the “why” and “how” of the Holocaust. “I swear to you, I do not know,” said Wiesel, who speculated, “I don’t believe suffering leads to sacredness.” He mused: “How is it that Israel did not get a collective nervous breakdown?… That the Jewish people did not give up on humanity?… [That] parents sent children to school not sure if they will be attacked by terrorists?”

Recipients of ICRF’s Dr. Daniel M. Miller Excellence in Medicine Award were husband-wife plastic surgeons Drs. Helen and Stephen Colen, both on staff at The Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital. Dr. Helen Colen was born in Poland in 1947 and moved with her parents to Israel in 1957. Then in 1964 she came to New York, where, she said, “I learned English from watching Mr. Ed on TV!”

“Many are alive today and lead productive lives because of Dr. Yashar Hirshaut,” said Brafman of ICRF’s president. “The ICRF was founded to make it possible for those of us who work in science and who are Jews to have a fair playing ground in the world of science,” Hirshaut said. “Come to us the young and bright scientists of Israel and bring your ideas…. This year [ICRF founder] Dr. Miller’s dreams and the dreams of the other founders of ICRF came true when two of our three professors — Dr. Avram Hershko and Dr. Aaron Ciechanover — were awarded the Nobel Prize.”

Apropos the old adage about success having “many fathers” (or is it “mothers”?), in this case it’s worth noting that though Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Hebrew University, the State of Israel and Jews worldwide are schepping collective nachas, 22 years ago an ICRF grant enabled Ciechanover, a graduate student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to return to Israel to do research. He landed in Hershko’s lab. The rest is history!

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