CUNY’s Chiefs Befriend Israel’s Open U.


By Masha Leon

Published November 14, 2003, issue of November 14, 2003.
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Presidents of a dozen City University of New York colleges joined 450 guests at the Waldorf Astoria’s Starlight Roof for the October 29 American Friends of Open University of Israel gala honoring the City University of New York’s chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, the first CUNY graduate to lead the prominent urban public university. The evening’s chair, CUNY trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a vice president at Bernstein Investment Research, was joined by the national chair Irwin Hochberg, New York state Senator Seymour Lachman and — via video — mazel-tovers Governor George Pataki, Israeli Trade and Industry Minister Ehud Olmert, as well as Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton in praising Goldstein for spearheading CUNY’s return to high academic standards.

Gershon Ben-Shakhar, Open University’s new president, underscored the “tremendous economic and social gap between the haves and have-nots of Israeli society.”

“The key to breaking this cycle of poverty,” he said, is “higher education.”

Through its 120 centers throughout Israel, the university offers 500 fully accredited academic courses on the Internet, enabling 40,000 students to earn bachelor’s degrees and more than 3,000 soldiers on active duty to participate in the curriculum. The school also offers Internet Jewish studies courses to 13,000-plus students in the former Soviet Union.

In a poignant and hilarious video screened at the event, Ann Goldstein, the honoree’s 88-year-old mother (who had died eight days earlier), recalled her son’s youthful years. “You didn’t become a doctor doctor, but an [academic] doctor,” she said, but “we are proud of you!”

Goldstein corroborated: “She hocked me all my life…. ‘You’re so smart and with such good looks, why don’t you become a doctor, you look so good in white?’”

“When I was a little boy on the Lower East Side,” Goldstein later told me, “I always bought the Forverts for my grandmother…. The paper was 2 or 3 cents; if I got a nickel, I kept the change.”

* * *

“My beloved daughter Gabrielle said, ‘Love defies all pain, even death,’” recalled G&P Foundation for Cancer Research co-founder Denise Rich — a songwriter (and the ex-wife of pardoned fugitive philanthropist Marc Rich) — at the October 27 G&P “Angel Ball” at the Marriott Marquis.

At 23, beautiful, talented Gabrielle Rich was struck with advanced-stage Hodgkin’s disease. During a 1993 remission, she wed Philip Aouad. In 1996 she was diagnosed with leukemia and, despite chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant, lost her battle for life — but not before founding G&P (G for Gabrielle, P for Philip). The foundation’s grants support cancer research at more than a dozen institutions, including Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Stanford University.

Emcee Barbara Walters touted honoree RCA Music Group chairman Clive Davis, “known in the industry as ‘the ear.’” In turn, Davis paid tribute to Stevie Wonder, calling him “the greatest songwriter of our time.” Dame Shirley Bassey thrilled the more than a thousand guests with an explosive rendition of the James Bond theme song “Goldfinger.”

Performers and guests included Marc Antony, Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, Joan Collins and honorees Bonnie Fuller, executive vice president and editorial director of American Media, Inc., and Marty Richards, president of the Producer Circle Co.

Donald Trump introduced honoree Sol Kerzner, chairman and CEO of Kerzner International.

“It’s great to be introduced by ‘Mr. New York,’” Kerzner said. Rising from poverty in South Africa, he has been dubbed “South Africa’s Entrepreneur of the Century” and heads a resort empire that includes Mohegan Sun in Connecticut and South Africa’s Sun City. Via videotape, Nelson Mandela praised Kerzner for enabling thousands to rise from poverty by creating jobs in his luxury hotels.

When I said to Kerzner, “You must be a Litvak” — as are most South African Jews — he replied, “Actually, my family came to South Africa from Opalin in the Ukraine” (Opalin is 100 miles north-northwest of Lvov).

* * *

More than 100 supporters of the Israel Cancer Research Fund (the largest source of private funds for cancer research in Israel) gathered October 27 at the Fifth Avenue home of Mona Ackerman for the annual Breast Cancer Awareness panel discussion. Honorary chairwoman Revital Pinkas, wife of Israel’s consul general in New York, Alon Pinkas, said: “You’re not only contributing to the well-being of Israeli women…. You are truly making Israel stronger.”

“Nowhere is cancer research more passionately carried out than in Israel,” said Dr. Kenneth Offit, chief of the clinical genetics service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

“Much of the research that we [at Sloan Kettering] do is in collaboration with colleagues in Israel,” he said. “I rate ICRF grant applications from Israel with the same level of rating that we do when I was down at the National Cancer Institute. And here this tiny little country has these scores of 1.1 and 1.3. These are the highest scores! That is truly extraordinary, that Israel is able to carry out this kind of world-class research… thanks to [your] funding.”

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