Showing ‘Spirit,’ Going Red and Taking Time for Israel


By Masha Leon

Published May 28, 2004, issue of May 28, 2004.
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“Most of us who have passed the 60-year mark are living proof of the advances made in medical research,” said Texas’s former governor, Ann Richards, at the May 4 “Spirit of Achievement” luncheon of the National Women’s Division of Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

Richards praised the college for its “pioneering research on diabetes, prenatal care and cancer.” She joshed: “I have enough titanium in my mouth to set off metal detectors…. I take a new medication that builds my bone mass… [to] defeat osteoporosis…. And I am counting on research to come up with a cure for [what] the next few years might bring…. Not so long ago, women were not even included in clinical trials for new drugs and treatments at the National Institutes of Health…. Like a doctor friend of mine said, ‘Even the lab rats were white males.’”

“I am an ordinary person to whom something extraordinary happened,” said “Spirit” honoree Trisha Meili, known worldwide as “The Central Park Jogger.” In 1989, she was raped, beaten, left for dead and so brain damaged that she had to re-learn how to read and write. “During my journey over the past 15 years, I have learned about healing… a process of combining body, mind, spirit…. The outpouring of support… that I was not alone… enabled me to reclaim my life.”

Also honored were Tovah Feldshuh, who lit up Broadway with her award-winning performance in “Golda’s Balcony”; Patricia Fields, Emmy-winning designer for HBO’s “Sex and the City”; television soap diva Susan Lucci; and Deborah Kligler, associate dean of Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Mingling at the Waldorf-Astoria with the honorees and 462 guests (who helped raise $360,000) was Yeshiva University’s beaming president, Richard Joel.

* * *

Dr. Nieca Goldberg, chief of Women’s Cardiac Care at Lenox Hill Hospital and co-chair of the May 6 American Heart Association-sponsored “Go Red for Women” luncheon at The Pierre, underscored the disparity in heart attack symptoms between men and women. “More than 500,000 women die each year due to cardiovascular diseases,” announced Goldberg, author of “Women are Not Small Men” (Ballantine Books). She cautioned: “Women should have their first cholesterol test at 20. Aspirin is not an option for most women. There is no one diet to save your life… [just] eat less.” And the number-one risk factor, according to Goldberg, is, “having a mother with a heart problem.”

The luncheon honored Dr. Norma Goodwin, founder, president and CEO of Health Power, Inc.; Karen Katen, president, Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals; Martine Reardon, executive vice president of sales and promotion, Macy’s East; and Judith Shapiro, president of Barnard College, who touted its “smoke-free campus” and “high priority” vis-à-vis “women’s health.”

Among the 500 guests who raised $390,000 were several heart episode “survivors”: One had a heart attack at age 22 and then bypass surgery; another spoke of her open heart surgery, which was followed by a stroke and subsequent pacemaker. At my table, the rich dessert plates were left mostly untouched.

* * *

The realization that tens of thousands of children in homeless shelters and foster care never have owned pajamas — nor knew what they were — galvanized Genevieve Piturro to found the Pajama Awards Program. Last year, more than 30,000 children in the New York area received their first pair of pajamas.

At the program’s April 30 award luncheon at The Pierre, Kitty Carlisle Hart (whose most recent starring role was as 1976-1996 chairperson of the New York State Council on the Arts) was dubbed “Woman of the Year.” When she was asked: “What is your secret for looking so well?” Hart, wearing her ninth decade as elegantly as her pearls, replied: “If I knew, I’d be the richest woman in the world.”

Meredith Vieira, moderator of ABC’s “The View,” was presented with the “Mother of the Year” award by last year’s recipient, Ivana Trump. “I’ve learned that the most important thing I can give my children is time,” said Vieira. “Nighttime, when they don their pajamas… and let down their defenses…. It’s at such moments that sons Ben, 15, Gabe, 13, and daughter Lilly, 11, ask: ‘Am I going to get what Dad has?’ [referring to husband Richard Cohen’s 30-year struggle with multiple sclerosis]. They ask: ‘Did you ever have sex before you were married? Was it with Daddy?’… It’s what happens when a child dons pajamas — a vulnerability, coziness, warmth.”

On a personal note: Arriving in Lithuanian-occupied Vilna in 1940 after fleeing Nazi-occupied Warsaw, my mother bought a hand-operated Singer sewing machine and began sewing pajamas for me and other refugee children who arrived with just the clothing they wore. It offered some normalcy in a world of chaos. Decades later, she would sew pajamas for her granddaughters. To this day, I find the scent of a bolt of flannel fabric as evocative as that of some perfumes.

* * *

“As Henry VIII said to his six wives, ‘I won’t keep you very long,’” likewise assured Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, as he addressed the 250 guests (who raised over $19 million) at the May 6 State of Israel Bonds Dinner at the New York Hilton.

“Think of Israel not in terms of images on TV screens, bloodshed and conflict,” said Gillerman. “No other country… while fighting a bloody war… has contributed so much to the world and mankind…. Israel… has not kept its achievements to itself… [it] made deserts bloom in Latin America and Africa… [it’s] making limbs move all over the world… Christopher Reeve has only recently started to move his limbs, thanks to innovations developed in Israel.”

Describing in graphic detail the execution of the eight-months pregnant Israeli mother and her four small children, Gillerman emphasized: “While we do these excellent things, we will continue to fight terrorism until we win…. Because these people cannot be appeased and cannot be legitimized.… They bring up children to be suicide bombers. We bring up children to be scientists.”

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